[one_half][W]hen I first heard mention of “National Men Make Dinner Day,” I thought it was some kind of joke. What’s next? “National Women Change Light Bulb Day?” I’ve since made two key realizations:
It takes place in Canada (which is perhaps all I needed to know).
According to the website, I am apparently exempt from this activity:
Are you a man who makes dinner on a regular or semi-regular basis?
If the answer is ‘YES”, do not go any further!
National Men Make Dinner Day is NOT for you!
Still, the premise of a “National Men Make Dinner Day” fascinates, though I’d like clarification on a few things. For example, is the phenomenon distinct from Valentine’s Day? How does it work for gay and lesbian households? If I lived in Canada, would Matt Berninger be making me dinner? Presumably, these questions are addressed in the FAQ …
While it seems mildly condescending and more than a little sad to imply that Canadian men are so far gone that they might consider cooking one day out of 365, I do laud the intent, which is to encourage people (perhaps as many as 15 million of them) to cook their own food. I exist in a peer group where people, male or female, generally don’t cook. And I’ll admit that I myself occasionally indulge in a bit of non-cooking by way of South Asian-inspired paste that I’ve squeezed from a foil envelope. But it never hurts to remember that, in less than 17 minutes (the duration of one televised intermission in ice hockey) I can make a meal with fresh ingredients that tastes good, makes me feel good, and costs less than $2 per person.
So let’s lower the barrier, shall we? Canadian National Man: In the time it takes for you to drink a beer, I can promise that you’ll learn how to pick and peel ginger, how to use a knife, and how to make a killer sauce that will get you dinner on the table before 17:00 have expired. You can thank me during the second intermission.
[one_half][O]ccasionally, a shockingly simple combination of ingredients will transcend the sum of its parts. Marcella Hazan’s Chicken with two lemons is a notable example. David Chang’s ginger scallion sauce is another. Both now make regular appearances in my weekly diet.
If you follow this blog, or say, talk to me for about five minutes, you’re likely to get the impression that (1) I am a hardcore carnivore, and (2) I have recently become more than a little obsessed with David Chang. (But you know, not in like a threatening way … More like, You are my culinary soulmate. Let’s hang out together; maybe check out some antiques! Text me?) It’s true. I am a big fan of the meats (and David). So honestly, when I first read this recipe excerpted on Amazon.com, I was a bit dubious that a vegan dish could elicit such a passionate response from a devout porkatarian like Chang. I just didn’t get it. It’s basically a bunch of raw onions and ginger. How good could it be? I’m not even a huge ginger guy. But there wasn’t much to lose, so I gave it a shot.
As my sister described in her über-popular guest post, it ain’t easy to impress my mother in the kitchen. The one dish I remember making for her that she liked was a rice salad that I saw on Lidia’s Italian Table. She liked it so much, she told me how she planned to make it herself:
I’m not going to use cheese. I’m going to make my own way. Some chamgireum, a little bit of gochujang, some gim …
So you’re basically going to make bibim bap.
Mom was visiting from LA, and I was pretty certain she’d never had this before, so I made her the ginger scallion sauce. She was, as always, deeply suspicious of my measuring the ingredients. She’s constantly giving me a hard time about this.
Why did you measure that?
I just wanted to make sure I was close. It doesn’t have to be exact, but the ratio should be close.
She was actually most excited about trying the fresh ramen noodles, which she had never had before. We ate lots of the instant stuff growing up. Sapporo Ichiban, Original Flavor, soup base diluted two-fold. I joke with my Asian friends all the time about this. How much soup base does your mom use? To a man: half. My mom actually felt the need to remind me of this fact. You know, you should only add half of the powder. Yes, Mom. I remember. And I don’t eat instant ramen.
Bottom line: Not only were the noodles a hit, my mom ate the noodles, continued to spoon more of the sauce onto her rice, and started listing things that she would use that sauce on. Bibim bap. Brown rice noodles (good call). Mook (another excellent call). Dad’s really going to like it. Jason might not like it, because he doesn’t like ginger. She ate the rest of the sauce the next day while I was at work, and asked me to buy more green onions on the way home. And then went out and bought green onions herself. She made the sauce herself that night, and—I am not shitting you—measured the ingredients. I could not believe what I was seeing. Mom, are you actually MEASURING that??? She short of shushed and waved me off. I didn’t push it, and instead took it as the greatest possible compliment. She was so intent on reproducing the recipe that she sucked it up and used measuring spoons. I’m 38 and I’ve never seen that happen. Mom also emailed me several times after she went home to ask me where I thought she might be able to find usukuchi and exactly what kind of sherry vinegar to buy.
So what is it about this dish that makes it so magical? It’s the transformation that occurs when you combine ingredients that, if taken alone, would be unpalatable to most people. The intensity of the onions and ginger is cut by the oil. The oiliness is mitigated by the acid. The sauce does not taste overwhelmingly of onions or ginger, but instead adopts an emergent third flavor that is robust and clean. It gives you the sensation (which I rarely get from vegan food) that you’re eating something substantial. And it’s fucking delicious.
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Ginger scallion sauce from Momofuku (dresses roughly 6 – 8 four oz servings of noodles)
2 1/2 C thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites; from 1 to 2 large bunches)
1/2 C finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 C grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 1/2 tsp usukuchi (light soy sauce)
3/4 tsp sherry vinegar
3/4 tsp kosher salt, or more to taste
That’s the whole recipe. The additional tips Chang offers are: correct the seasoning (if necessary) and allow the mixture to sit for 15 – 20 minutes. That’s it. Of course, being who I am, I couldn’t possibly let you off the hook without offering a few tips of my own.
Ingredients Since scallions and ginger play such a prominent role in this recipe, it stands to reason that you want those particular ingredients to be as fresh as possible. It’s usually pretty easy to find fresh scallions. My go-to neighborhood grocery does not generally have good fresh ginger. How can you tell? It should be firm, fragrant, and have smooth skin. Break off the size you want from a larger piece. If it is dry and fibrous on the inside, dump it! And make a mental note to scold your grocer. It is worth being anal about this. I get mine from a Chinese market, because I know that it’s high turnover.
Re: usukuchi. This is a type of soy sauce that is lighter, sweeter and saltier. Kikkoman and Yamasa are common brands. If you can’t find it, you could substitute 1 tsp of regular (not low sodium) soy sauce. You may need to add a bit more salt to taste.
Prep My only comments here are about the ginger. Since the skin is very thin, you can remove the peel easily and quickly by scraping it with a spoon. A vegetable peeler also works. Can you use a microplane here, instead of mincing? You could. I like knife work, so if a recipe calls for mincing, I generally do it with a chef knife. The reason I don’t use a grater or a microplane to mince is that I find that doing so releases a lot more juice. You also end up with very fine strings instead of small pieces, so the texture is different.
Yield I usually don’t discuss yield, because people tend to have their own ideas about what constitutes a “serving.” But in this case, the book claims that the recipe makes about 3 cups. Not the case. The sliced scallions take up space because they’re little rings. When you add liquids, they occupy a lot of the empty space, and on top of that, the scallions eventually wilt. So you get about 1.5 cups, which isn’t too bad. Correspondingly, I add about half of what’s recommended of the sauce to noodles, and that works out about right.
Use The sauce can be deployed as a general, magical condiment. As presented above, it works great with noodles. What kind of noodles? In Chang’s world, ramen is king. But he acknowledges that fresh ramen is not always so easy to come by. When I don’t feel like hoofing it all the way to J-town, I have been known to use fresh chow mein noodles (known in NY as lo mein), which can be found at virtually any Chinese supermarket, and even some American ones. I’ve also had good luck with what Chinese markets call “vegetarian” noodles, which are eggless and contain alkaline salts (sodium and potassium carbonate). Thus, they are basically the same as ramen noodles. And as my mom brilliantly notes, this sauce would be fantastic on brown rice noodles. I don’t recommend using soba noodles. Why? Because craft, hand-cut soba noodles are quite delicate and I think would be overpowered by this sauce. I find the dried soba noodles you can get at the supermarket to be more or less inedible.
Putting the dish together If using fresh noodles, cook about 4 oz of noodles per person in boiling water that has been adequately salted. I cannot stress this enough. It’s striking how much flavor these noodles have if properly seasoned. If not, they taste like nothing. I like my noodles hot, so rather than shocking them, I cook until almost done. With fresh noodles, you need to start checking at about 2 minutes. When they are softened, but still quite toothy, remove from heat and drain. Add about 3 T of the sauce, and mix. If desired, garnish with sliced scallions, togarashi, and any number of other condiments: meat, pickles, a fried egg, pan-roasted cauliflower, etc. Serve immediately.
What’s up with the picture? If you check out the accompanying picture in the book, you’ll see Chang stuffing his face with some ramen noodles that have brown stuff on them. That’s not the ginger scallion sauce (which is presumably what’s in the tiny bowl in the center). My guess is that it’s hoisin sauce, or some liquid from the sliced pork belly nearby, which likely contains hoisin. [/one_half]
[one_half][S]mall details often tell you a lot. For instance, you can usually tell someone’s really into clothes by checking out their accessories. Shoes, socks, belt, watch. Someone who doesn’t care will figure, No one’s looking at my socks. On the other hand, are they kinda funky? Like in a cool way, not an odiferous way? Yeah. Didn’t happen by accident. You kind of have to go out of your way to buy funky socks. That’s someone who’s not capable of letting it slide. Same goes for food. When I’m at a restaurant, I know the kitchen is totally geeked out when they send out an absolute killer soup or salad. Doesn’t happen all that often, actually. Sure, if you’re going high end and paying at least eighty bucks for your meal—it better be good. But what about a more casual spot, like a neighborhood restaurant, or a bistro? How many lentil soups have you had where you honestly thought, This is the bomb… ? Whenever that happens (and for me, that was perhaps once), I’m really excited about the rest of the meal, because I know that kitchen’s too proud to send out another fucking chunky, flavorless lentil soup with carrots.
Given my opinion of soup-as-window-to-a-kitchen’s-soul, perhaps it was a bit ambitious for me to decide, on the day of my (already overly ambitious) dinner party, to add english pea soup to the menu. I had originally bought the peas for a salad, but was concerned that most of the peas would simply accumulate at the bottom of the bowl and then be eaten separately from the greens, or not eaten at all. Then I remembered this cool post on Eatfoo about making a consommé out of pea shells. I wanted to try that, so I decided to wing it with a soup recipe and see how things went. Had I ever made soup before? Of course not. OK, my first post was about soup. But I think Korean soups are a different animal. I mean, to my knowledge, no one makes creamy, pureed soups in Korea. If so, those people have not immigrated here and served said soup to me.
At some point that day, I had what I thought was a pretty good soup. Then I thought, You can never add too much sour cream. Apparently you can. Just barely. I had to make a judgement call as to whether it was OK to send the course out. It didn’t taste awful—it was just out of balance. I hadn’t bought enough peas, so the flavor kind of disappeared in all that sour cream. I went back and forth about this, but ended up serving it. Here it is—this pale, pathetic-looking thing:
Reactions were decidedly mixed. Marc says he liked it. Bernadette ate the whole thing, but didn’t comment. I knew I would get an honest opinion from Naya, their nine-year-old son. Eh. It’s so-so. Thanks, kid. That’s actually the answer I needed, but understandably did not get from the grown-ups. But I knew there was a great soup in there. I tasted a glimpse of it during prep, and I felt certain I would have to go back and try it again.
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The week after my dinner party, I was on a mission to find more peas. I knew they wouldn’t have any at my local grocery, so I turned to The Mission Bay Farmers’ Market, which has been a welcome addition to our culinary wasteland of a campus. It’s small and doesn’t have the most exotic ingredients, but does have reliably good produce. I make it a point to stop by every Wednesday to take a break from endless meetings and benchwork. What I found weren’t the prettiest shells I’d ever seen, but the peas themselves were fresh, and still a bit sweet. This time I bought 4 lbs, to make certain that I wouldn’t run out.
Last spring at around this time, Erin made the Zuni Cafe’s Pasta alla Carbonara, and was excited to have found fresh english peas for the occasion. A couple things stood out to me about that experience: (1) In this context, the fresh peas tasted pretty much the same as frozen peas. (2) For a one-and-a-half-year-old, Esme was pretty good at shelling peas, and seemed to really enjoy doing it. She’s always been a busy kid. I try to allow my daughter to “help” me cook whenever I can. She insists on pouring the dry oatmeal into her bowl before I microwave it, wants to have her hand on the measuring cup as I add water, etc. I thought she would get a kick out of helping shell peas again, despite likely not remembering the work she did last year. So I let her have at it.
At first, she was shelling like a champ. She’d sometimes miss the peas in the corner of the pod, but went about her work at an impressive clip. She particularly liked throwing the empty shells into the large mixing bowl, where I had been collecting them. So much so, that she eventually just started throwing intact pods in there. I had to gently distract her, so that I could go back, fish out the good ones (which was not trivial), and finish the job.
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A worthwhile decision to make, though I didn’t see any mention of this in any of the recipes I read online, is whether to use your peas raw or cooked. To some extent, it depends on the freshness and age of the peas. If they are mostly on the small side and are tender, juicy, and sweet, I am very much in favor of using them raw. I like being able to highlight the more delicate flavors that elude us for 3/4 of the year. If the peas are more mature, large enough to fill most of the volume of the pod, or are at all starchy, you probably want to cook them. Either method will yield a fine soup, and a good portion of the flavor will come from your shell stock, which you can’t get from the frozen section. Cooking them accomplishes two things. First, it improves the yield of the recipe. Unless you have an extremely powerful blender, a purée of raw peas will leave behind a significant amount of pulp. This will accumulate in your strainer and less will make it into the soup. Secondly, cooking, even a little bit, tends to mellow out the flavors. Raw peas can be a bit grassy-tasting, but a quick blanch can take that edge off. A superficial benefit to cooking the peas is that (as long as you don’t overcook them) you can get more vibrant color. Something to keep in mind is that any amount of cooking begins to summon the richer, split-pea flavor that is for the most part absent from fresh snap peas, english peas, etc. The longer you cook, the bigger role that family of flavors will play, so it depends on what you want.
Let’s start with the consommé.
English pea shell consommé
about 4 lbs fresh english peas in the shell
kosher or sea salt
Make sure to pop a couple of the pods open at the market and taste the peas. They lose flavor rapidly after picking (and even more rapidly after being shelled). Ideally, you want peas that you would have been happy to eat raw. I’ve made this with young, immaculate shells as well as the slightly wizened shells pictured here. I couldn’t tell a big difference, so don’t be put off by discolored shells. Remove peas and reserve. (You may want to enlist a small child to help you with this.) Rinse shells thoroughly. Go through the spent casings and discard any obviously rotting or excessively dirty ones. If there are a lot of woody stems attached to the end of the pod, as there were here, I would go through with a pair of scissors and cut those off. For really young pods, this isn’t really necessary.
In a large stock pot, barely cover the cleaned and trimmed shells with water and bring to a boil, optionally adding about 1/2 tsp of salt. Immediately lower heat and simmer for 20 mins. Remove from heat and strain solids. At this point, the stock will be dilute and very lightly colored. Reduce at medium-low heat until the stock becomes golden and intensely flavored. For me, this happened at about 1/4 to 1/3 of the original volume. (You can mark the original level with a rubber band on the handle of a wooden spoon to track how much you’ve reduced the stock.) Periodically taste the stock and add salt, if desired. Be careful not to add too much at the beginning, since the stock will continue to become more concentrated. You can cook it down quite a bit more, if you want. In the Eatfoo post where I saw this recipe, David reduced the stock by 20-fold. Yowza!
Starting from 4 lbs of peas, this made 6 – 8 cups.
about 1 lb of shelled english peas (I didn’t weigh them, but I think 4 lbs of pods yielded about 4 C of peas)
2 T butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
4 C english pea shell consommé
1 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
2 T heavy cream
2 T sour cream
freshly cracked black pepper
In a medium saucepan, heat butter until bubbles subside and sauté shallots at medium heat until tender, but not brown (about 3 mins). Add consommé and bring to a boil. Add peas and salt and boil until peas are bright and just tender (no more than 3 – 4 mins). Remove from heat and add to blender along with tarragon, both creams, and several turns of black pepper. Purée until smooth (do this in small batches if you have a small blender—safety first!) Correct seasoning and strain through a fine sieve or chinois. I prefer not to force the contents through the mesh, because then you end up forcing fibers through that you were trying to strain out on the first place. If it’s going too slowly, you can tap the sieve and/or use a spoon to stir and redistribute the unstrained fraction. I can’t resist eating the pulp, but you can also just throw it away. Allow soup to cool and serve chilled or at room temperature. If desired, garnish with fresh tarragon and some sour cream. If you use heavy cream, as I did for the top photo, it creates a “slick” on top of the soup, which you may or may not find disturbing.
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The Esme rating
Try as I might, I could not convince Esme to taste the soup. She may have had flashbacks to her first experiences with solid baby food. Puréed peas were the first thing that she absolutely hated. My mom got such a kick out of watching Esme grimace with disgust (and perhaps a sense of betrayal?) that she kept feeding it to her to elicit that reaction. Esme does like frozen peas, however. Not just peas that were once frozen. She likes them straight out of the freezer.
Esme, do you like these peas better, or frozen peas?
Frozen peas. But these are pretty good, too. They’re too crunchy.
Did she like the fresh peas enough to eat more than a few? Hard to say, really (see left).
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The Ben rating
So Erin and I recently went to this cool restaurant in the Mission called Schmidt’s (as in Christiane Schmidt, of Walzwerk). They sell these light-as-air pea pancakes that beautifully juxtapose deep-fried crunchies with peas so fresh I find myself wondering whether fryolator is their natural habitat. Anyway, after all this, I saw a pea soup with lemon and mint on their menu. I had to order it and check out the competition.
All’s I’m saying is that the head-to-head score is Ben/Esme: 1, Christiane: 0. Not even close, actually. Though I’m sure she’ll come back to haunt us in the braised red cabbage category …
[one_half][F]ellow lo-temp cooking freaks can rest assured that my suburban sous vide rig is up and fully operational. I have so far been using it to make perfectly cooked eggs, unconventionally moist chicken breast, and most recently, a smokeless pastrami. Descriptions of all will come in due time. But I have been meaning to post about green garlic, and given the rapidly changing season, I felt I should do so while it is still actually available.
I like garlic so much that I have to physically restrain myself from automatically tripling it in every recipe. I’ve had dishes in my life that, even for me, had too much garlic—but I can probably count them on one hand (for you Columbians: garlic chicken at the sadly departed La Rosita was one of them). When people make faux knee-slapping jokes about “making sure that we all have garlic” so as not to suffer from one’s bad breath, I profoundly don’t get it. Garlic smells good. It smells like food.
So I was myself surprised when it hit me one day that I had never actually worked with green garlic. I’ve heard people rhapsodize about the ingredient and it always sounded great to me, but I guess I never got around to it. Availability is generally limited to the first month or two of spring, so I was determined not to miss out this year. For those of you who are unfamiliar, most of the garlic we buy comes in the form of mature bulbs, which have been cured and stored dry. Green garlic refers to young garlic plants whose bulbs have not yet differentiated into cloves. When very young, they look more or less like green onions. As they mature, the stalks broaden, and they begin to resemble leeks. They are quite a bit more delicate in flavor than mature garlic, and can, in fact, be eaten raw with little discomfort. When cooked, they take on a nutty flavor, as well as a sweetness and texture one might expect from onions or leeks.
A couple weeks ago, I triumphantly returned from my local farmers market with bunches in hand. Problem was, most of the articles about green garlic I could find online mostly discussed the very young variety, of which the entire stalk can be used. Mine were of the leeky variety, and I wasn’t certain they could be used the same way. Much like leeks, the outer leaves and ends were very tough, and didn’t seem like they would cook down easily. I was reminded of a mishap I suffered years ago when making a caramelized leek soup. I hadn’t read the recipe carefully, and thus failed to realize that you don’t use the tough, dark green part. (That went a ways toward explaining why I couldn’t get it to caramelize.) At any rate, I consulted my sister (of course), and a couple of foodie friends. They also had never used the big, leeky green garlic. So I decided to wing it and treat them like leeks. I’ll give away the answer: Yes. They are awesome. Instructions below.
If you were to die tomorrow, what single dish, what one mouthful of food from anywhere in the world or anytime in your life would you choose as your last? What would be your choice for your last meal on earth?
Being a food geek, I was much more interested in the answers than the accompanying portraits (though the pictures, admittedly, are stunning). They ranged from the ostentatious (e.g. Gary Danko) to the elegant (e.g. Nobu—I respect him enough to overlook his desire to listen to a Kenny G CD while eating it). My all-time favorite answer is the one from Eric Ripert, who wants toast with truffles. The reason is made clear in the recipe section at the end of the book (did I mention there are recipes?). He outlines in completely anal-retentive detail how to do everything, even down to the thickness of the bread (1.27 cm), percent acidity of the olive oil (0.3), and why you should use cold butter (so that it doesn’t soak into the bread—thank you!). If anything could cement my not-so-subtle man crush on Eric, it’s this recipe. I love how you can see exactly how much of a control freak this guy is.
Obviously, I’m not a chef. But in the make-believe world in which I’m shooting the shit with Eric Fucking Ripert, my last supper is definitely spaghettini with garlic and oil. I may post about it someday, but honestly I don’t get it right every time. When I figure out how to consistently make it work the way that it does when I have those last supper moments, I’ll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, I felt that the most fitting treatment for my first green garlic experience should be a simple dish with pasta. What I made will not qualify for my last meal on earth. It will, however qualify for many meals between now and the end of May.
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Spaghettini with green garlic and oil
1/2 lb thin spaghetti (no. 11)
kosher or sea salt
2 – 3 C chopped green garlic (or about 2 of the big, leeky kind, trimmed and cleaned as described below)
3 T extra virgin olive oil
plenty of freshly cracked black pepper
about 1/2 C beef stock (probably any stock would work here, as long as it doesn’t come from a can—I used beef because I had recently made it.)
Particularly in the Bay area, you can readily find green garlic at farmers markets or Whole Foods right now. I have regularly seen both the baby (green onion-looking) garlic, as well as the large, leekish ones. When scheduling your shopping and cooking, keep in mind that their flavors fade rapidly in the refrigerator. If possible, cook them on the same day. Otherwise, leave them, bulbs down, in a cup or vase of water in the refrigerator and deploy as soon as possible.
Trimming and preparing the green garlic Like I said, I got the bigger kind of green garlic. The first quandary that presented itself to me was: how much of it should I use? As you can see above (and incidentally, you can click to zoom on any of the pictures in this blog), each plant consists of a bulb, a light green stalk, and darker green leaves alternating from the stalk. Many people, when encountering leeks of similar description, simply look for the border between pale green and dark green on the outside leaf, and make a single cut there through the entire plant. The problem with this strategy is that you then lose a lot of pale green material in the inner leaves. If you need a lot of trimmed leeks, you may, for example, have to monopolize all of the leeks from 2 or 3 different markets in Brooklyn Heights (hypothetically speaking). A better way to deal with this is to systematically cut away only the dark green parts of each leaf, starting from the outside and working your way in. This strategy can also be used with larger green garlic, so that what you are left with is a tapered stalk.
Next, trim the roots from the bottom of the bulb. You’ll then want to clean the garlic, particularly of any dirt that may be stuck between the layers. The way to do this is to make a cut, lengthwise, down the midpoint of the stalk, leaving the bulb intact. Turn the garlic 90 degrees along the axis of the stalk, and make another slit down the middle. You are now left with a bulb attached to streamers that can be splayed out and rinsed in the sink.
At this point you can either chop the garlic, or slice it into larger (say, 1″ long) slivers. It works either way; I think it just depends on what kind of texture you want.
In a large fry pan, sauté the chopped garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat until wilted and beginning to turn golden (about 10 minutes). Use enough oil to comfortably prevent the garlic from drying out, but no more. Add beef stock and deglaze the pan, if necessary. Add lots of black pepper, to taste. Cover the pan and lower heat, cooking until the garlic becomes tender (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat.
Selecting and cooking the pasta I do think the kind of pasta matters. For sauces like this, I am partial to thin noodles, either spaghettini or angel hair. The commonly found store brands I like best are Barilla and De Cecco. In almost all cases, I will go with pasta made from refined semolina flour. In the interest of keeping my daughter healthier than me, I did briefly investigate whole wheat flour pastas. I uniformly hate them. The flavors are not always offensive, but the texture is brittle, and that really kills it for me. (For the record, Esme doesn’t like them, either. She knows what’s up.) A compromise that I have found acceptable is Barilla Plus, which is not a whole grain pasta, but rather one made from refined semolina durum flour enriched with other grains. I find this palatable, but prefer traditional pastas.
Boil the pasta in a medium stockpot with at least a teaspoon salt, and taste often, correcting when appropriate. In this case, I advise seasoning slightly beyond what you feel is necessary, because salt doesn’t dissolve well in oil. Therefore, the garlic is likely to be underseasoned. Your goal here is to cook the pasta just shy of al dente. At that point, drain the noodles and add them to your warmed skillet. Toss until evenly coated with garlic and oil. Add more stock or black pepper, if needed. Continue cooking over medium-low heat until pasta is done.
In the presentation below, I took some optional steps of tossing the pasta in fresh miner’s lettuce and serving with a farm egg that had been slow-poached and quickly seared.
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The Esme rating
Note to self: When describing to a 2-year-old child what she is about to eat, do not use the word, “garlic.”
I don’t like garlic, Daddy.
Try it. I think you will.
OK, then do you want to try some crazy Daddy noodles?
Yeah. Can I have some of your noodles, Mommy? (Esme often confuses Erin and me, and then immediately corrects.) Daddy? (She eats about 10 noodles.) Esme, do you like your crazy Daddy noodles?
Do you want to eat them again for lunch tomorrow?
I want to eat them … right … noooooooow.
OK, baby. I’ll get you your own plate.
[one_half][I]’m no dummy. When I see David Chang getting flak for not including more desserts in his book Momofuku, I know better than to make the same mistake. Consider this entry Dessert #1. (Now I just need to open a white-hot NYC restaurant, and I’ll be in business …)
Yakbap literally translates to “medicine rice,” though this dish is a far cry from the foul concoctions my mother had me drink as an ill child (which, on at least one occasion, included red potato juice. Don’t try it.). Rather, yakbap is among the many varieties of dduk, each of which I was likely to sample one, two, perhaps seven times after church every week when I was growing up. The post-sermon release of food was always a major highlight of my week. Sometimes we had donuts, other times kimbap, and on certain occasions, bowls of yuk gae jang. But the gauntlet of dduk remained a welcoming constant. Those unfamiliar with dduk may recognize some of its other forms: “New Year’s cake” in Chinese cuisine; or Mochi ice cream, a staple of Trader Joe’s frozen confections. What they all have in common is glutinous rice (also called sweet rice) as the dominant component. This results in a decadently starchy texture that would cause any God-fearing Atkins dieter to recoil in horror.
I’ve always been a big fan of this dish. A couple years ago, I was tempted to buy some at the dduk counter at our local Korean grocery. My mother waved me off.
Don’t get that. I’ll make it when we get home.
Oh, for real? How do you make it?
You just put the rice in. Cook it.
I see …
I had to bug my Mom to make this several times, and she kept not getting around to it. So I consulted my trusty guide, Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen, and found a recipe that looked to be a royal pain in the ass. It involved cooking the sweet rice first, tossing it in the seasoning, and then resteaming it in a makeshift double-boiler consisting of a breadpan and a dutch oven. This could not possibly be what Mom does. Indeed, when confronted with this information, she admitted that she basically does everything in a covered pot, carefully listening at the stove for when the rice is done. That also didn’t sound appealing to me. Sensing this, my Mom looked over at my rice cooker and suggested the brilliant.
Why don’t you just put everything in there and turn it on?
I did, and the yakbap came out perfectly. I’ve read other recipes online that involve the double-boiler method, pressure cookers, microwaves, etc. But in my mind, nothing beats being able to take an ordinary piece of equipment, set it, and forget it.
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Yakbap (steamed sweet rice cake with nuts and golden raisins) adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook
2 C sweet rice
1 T soy sauce
2 T corn syrup, honey or molasses**
2 T rice wine or vermouth
1 T sesame oil (label bedragoned)
1 C walnuts, skinned; or chestnuts, cooked, shelled and skinned
1 C pitted jujubes (dates) or 1/2 C raisins
2 T pine nuts
1/2 C brown sugar
1 T ground cinnamon
A few notes on the ingredients:
Make sure you use sweet rice (glutinous rice, pictured above). You need the high amylopectin content of this type of rice. Other types of rice (which include a normal percentage of amylose) won’t be sticky, and will therefore not make dduk.
Many Asian markets now carry roasted, shelled chestnuts packaged in foil or mylar (pictured above). They are perfectly fine for this recipe, and for $1.19, the value of not having to roast/steam and shell chestnuts yourself can’t be beat. I thought my Mom’s head was going to explode the first time she saw these. She took about 10 packs back with her to LA.
For the dried fruit component, jujubes are more traditional, but I don’t prefer to use them because the peels have a tough texture. Raisins are a common alternative, and I used about half the amount recommended in the book. My wife doesn’t like raisins, so I have tried using currants before. They are wonderfully tart, but do not hold their shape when steamed. So they do get a bit messy.
Though they are significantly more expensive, I use pine nuts of European origin, lest I once again make my thesis co-advisor’s wife suffer from the dreaded “pine mouth” (sorry, Heidi).
**Update 24 October, 2010. I spoke with my mom about this post, and one tip she added was to use molasses instead of corn syrup or honey. This secret she carefully guarded for years, feeling that molasses was an ingredient that gave her dish a familiar flavor that other versions could not capture. I suspect that she used molasses as a proxy for maltose or rice syrup, which was not commonly available when she immigrated here. Any particular kind of molasses? The one with the rabbit on it. I tried this and found that it’s definitely not as sweet if you use only molasses. I’ll probably try molasses + honey next time.
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Soak rice in lukewarm water for at least 1 hour. Rinse rice thoroughly about 3 – 5 times in cold water. With all types of rice, my Mom often says to rinse until the water is clear, but even she will acknowledge that this will not happen for a very long time. You can safely stop at 5. If you have a rice cooker, combine all ingredients, and add just enough water to cover. Press the button. 30 minutes, and one delicious-smelling house later, you’re done!
Serving I think it tastes best warm, and because it’s so dense, ramekins are a good serving vessel. Commonly, people will pack the cooked rice into a baking dish (grease it with a bit of sesame oil first), let it cool, and then cut into brownie-sized squares. It will keep nicely in the fridge for about a week, but I always nuke it for 10 – 20 secs to get it nice and warm before eating.
Additional tips This recipe makes a lot of yakbap. If you’re not going to a potluck, you can halve the recipe, as I did when making it for this post. However, keep in mind that with a medium or large rice cooker, a relatively thin layer of rice at the bottom of the insert is more likely to scorch or cook unevenly. Your alternatives are to use a small cooker, or cook on the stovetop in a smaller pan with low heat. The latter is the way my Mom does it, but this method requires a bit more attention to make sure you don’t burn the bottom. If you don’t feel that you added enough water during cooking (or if it dried out in the refrigerator), simply add a small amount of water and zap it for about a minute on medium.
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The Esme rating I told her that I made special rice. She eyed it, suspicously.
I don’t want it.
Try it. It’s sweet.
I don’t want to try it. I don’t like it. [takes bite] I like it. I like sugar. What’s this, daddy? It’s a chestnut.
Chess-nut. It looks like a little bit like chocolate. It tastes like chocolate, too. It’s a little bit like chocolate, Daddy.
Do you like chestnuts?
Yeah. I don’t want this anymore.
“If you have time, confidence, and energy for no other cooking endeavor on a regular basis, focus on the salad.”
[F]ollowers of my Facebook status may be aware that I braised a pork shoulder this weekend. In Coca-Cola. So why, then, an entire post about salad? Why waste everyone’s time? The short answer is that in This Household, you have to have your vegetables before meat or dessert. All kidding aside, isn’t that how many of us were brought up? OK, we Asians may have gotten a slightly different message (“If you’re not hungry, then just eat the meat”). But we seem to be told, over and over again, that salads aren’t eaten for pleasure. They’re eaten for nutrition, losing weight, “being good,” or whatever other guilt-inducing reason. As a result, the ability to make a good salad continues to be shockingly underrated. Think about the typical family restaurant in your neighborhood. What does the “side salad” look like? It’s often leathery, wilted iceberg or romaine lettuce; pink, mealy tomatoes; sliced cucumbers; and your “choice” of thousand island, french, blue or ranch dressing from a jar. Not that any of these ingredients itself needs to be terrible (OK, the dressings are terrible). But they are so often thrown together in an uninspired, thoughtless and unappetizing way. So what do you do? If you’re like most normal people, you throw it away. If you want to be good to your body, you choke it down. Have you ever thought about how ridiculous this is? Is this why you came to the restaurant to begin with? To suck-it-up/choke-it-down/take-one-for-the-team? For chrissake, you’re paying someone to make you a salad. That thing better be goddamned delicious! Similarly, if you’re going to go through the effort to make yourself a salad, why not make something that you’re not just willing, but excited to eat? The answer, for me, for most of life, was that I didn’t know any better.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again: Next to my sister, the person from whom I’ve learned the most about cooking is Judy Rodgers, via her informative and superbly written Zuni Café Cookbook. In it, Rodgers describes, in eloquent, anal-retentive detail, how to make great salad. The book has turned my wife, the unlikeliest of herbivores, into a salad-lover. For Erin, the revelation was proportion. She previously thought that she hated salads because the dressing was, by definition or necessity, too sour. Truck out your ancient bottle of Paul Newman vinaigrette (or virtually any other brand, for that matter), and you’ll see what I mean. Mouth-puckeringly sour. And it makes perfect sense that this would be the case. People hate salad. That dressing’s going to be in the fridge for years. So how do you make sure the dressing doesn’t spoil? Bring its pH down to point where nothing could possibly survive in it. They’ll definitely be happier with that. Unfortunately (for your tongue), there is such a thing as too much acid, particularly when that acid is white vinegar. Enter Rodgers. We learn that by using a lighter touch, and a trusty 4:1 ratio of oil to acid, salads suddenly become infinitely more palatable. Interested? Almost? Stay with me. I’ll do my best to convince you further.
I work in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco. There still isn’t much here (except for nonstop construction), but there are oases of foodie-dom, particularly in the nearby, possibly-still-up-and-coming Dogpatch. I’ve walked past an inviting restaurant called Piccinomany times, and have been consistently struck by how gorgeous the salads are. People who know me are generally aware that I’m a big meat guy. But I appreciate a beautiful plate when I see it, even if it “just” has plants. So I finally ate there, managed to not try their signature, thin-crust pizza, and was absolutely blown away by a spinach salad. I actually didn’t remember a ton about it, except that I couldn’t place some of the flavors. So I looked it up:
Spinach Salad Mariquita Farms spinach, shaved sunchokes, parmesan, and truffled gremolata in a walnut vinaigrette
I thought, OK, I know most of this stuff. But do they carry truffles at my neighborhood grocery? Well actually, yes … But I thought that it would be a tad obnoxious to suggest to you a recipe that includes any ingredients costing more than $1000 per pound. So I set out to make my own version of the salad.
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Spinach with Marcona almonds, Beemster, gremolata & walnut vinaigrette Inspired by the Spinach Salad @ Piccino Café, San Francisco
1 1/2 T champagne vinaigrette
2 shallots, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
6 T roasted walnut oil
Freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 C chopped parsley
Zest of 1/2 lemon, finely chopped
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
3 ounces of hard, salty cheese, finely grated (Parmesan would work great—I used Beemster because I accidentally bought it twice)
1 oz roasted, salted Marcona almonds, finely chopped
Several bunches of fresh spinach (however much you want to eat)
Choosing and washing the greens I prefer to buy bunch spinach, because it’s much easier for me to judge its freshness. If I see significant discoloration of the leaves, I can induce that the whole bundle/head is no good. My mom says that it’s a good sign when there’s a reddish tinge on the stems near the root end, so I look for that, too. For this salad, I like spinach with slightly larger leaves and a firmer texture than baby spinach, but not so firm that the stems are tough. Cut off the stems and discard any wilted, damaged, or discolored leaves. Add the “good” leaves to a large bowl of cold water and gently swish around, changing the water until it remains clean. Gently spin dry, taking care not to bruise the leaves.
Making the dressing This vinaigrette is a classic dressing, but I got my proportions from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I wanted to explore a couple different oils and three different vinegars for this dressing. So I geeked out and screened a 2 x 3 matrix of small dressing batches. I tried almond oil, because several friends and family are allergic to tree nuts. But as I feared, it lacked the richness of the walnut oil, which I thought was crucial to this recipe. I also tried mixing almond oil with olive oil. This held up better than almond oil alone, but didn’t taste very almond-ey to me. Sorry, guys—anaphylactic shock, it is. I was also curious to see how Verjuice might work. It was wonderfully fragrant, but disappeared in this dressing. This left me with the two different champagne vinegars that they carry at Andronico’s. Both worked quite well. The Vilux was a bit oakier, while the one in the pretty bottle (by O Olive Oil) had a clean, bright acidity.
To assemble the dressing, add the vinegar, shallots and salt to a bowl and allow it to sit for 15 minutes. Then add the mustard and slowly add the oil, whisking to emulsify. Correct oil/vinegar levels to your preference. Add a sprinkling of grated cheese, and black pepper to taste.
Making the gremolata Shortly before serving, freshly chop and mix the parsley, lemon zest and garlic.
Dressing the salad If you take nothing else from this post, remember to dry the leaves thoroughly before dressing. Failing to do so will effectively dilute your dressing 1- to 2-fold in tap water, resulting in salad that my pal Judy repeatedly describes as “insipid.” If you zoom in on the spinach picture above, you can see tiny droplets of water. These can be removed by tossing the leaves with small pieces of dry paper towel.
In a large salad bowl, toss the (now dry) spinach in slightly more dressing than is necessary to wet the leaves. Dust the leaves with chopped almonds, gremolata and cheese. Toss again. Adjust ingredients to your taste.
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The salad was definitely a winner in our house. My wife tells me that, combined with the entrée, this may be the best meal I’ve ever made. (The caveat, of course, being that I’m more or less completely new to cooking.)
[one_half][I]f you’ve read my About page or been over to our house for the dinner hour, you know that my 2-year-old daughter Esme is what our pediatrician calls a “small eater.” We’ve been reassured several times that she’s getting plenty of nutrition, is just showing age-typical behavior, yada yada. Whatever. As a parent, all I can do is wonder where my daughter summons the energy to do anything when she barely eats. I try to keep things in perspective, but it definitely stresses me out. I can’t help it—it’s the Asian mom in me. So imagine my delight when Esme, after eating the solids from a soybean sprout soup that my mother made, picked up the bowl and drank the broth. I had to get her more of this stuff.
Energized by my new I’m-going-to-be-a-great-Dad-and-start-cooking-for-my-family-so-watch-out attitude, I picked up the phone and asked my Mom for the recipe. “Just boil it!” was her reply. True to her Korean roots, my Mom’s not so much into recipes. She pokes fun at me for measuring things, and shoots me suspicious glances if she senses that her actions at the stove are being mentally recorded.
“You just want to measure it!”
“I’m just trying to determine, when you say ‘add x,’ whether you mean 1 tablespoon or 100. I know it doesn’t have to be exact.”
“Just taste it! You’ll know!”
So I did a little digging, and found that making this soup is a bit more complicated that just boiling the sprouts. Fortunately for me, it’s not much more complicated. So I offer my take on it below. Just so I don’t get dirty looks at daycare from my friend Amy over at Kimchi Mom, I’ll tell you up front that I don’t cook a ton of Korean food.Yet.
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The first important thing to know about making soybean sprout soup is that it’s made with soybean sprouts, and not the visually similar and more readily available mung bean sprouts. They are typically available at Korean grocery stores (though, oddly, not at Park’s Farmer’s Market in the Inner Sunset, where I live). Occasionally, I will see them at Chinese markets, so if you live near one, it’s worth a look.
At the market, inspect the sprouts for freshness. They should be clean-looking and crisp. The heads should be evenly yellow and the shoots silvery-white. If they look at all dodgy, then forget it. Try again next time. You can’t recover from bad produce, and the next step will take far too long. If they look good, then you’re in business. You’ll need about a pound for this recipe. Keep in mind that they have a very short shelf life, so be sure to cook them on the same day.
The first step is to clean the sprouts. This is by far the most time consuming step. Rinse them several times in cold water. Go through and pick out any obviously bad/rotten ones (there are bound to be a few). Trust your instincts here. If you see browning or liquifying of the shoot, dump it. Here are some groddy-looking ones that I picked out, as well as what they should look like when clean:
You’ll notice that the clean, unbroken sprouts still have a thin root attached to the end of each shoot. I’m told that some people snip those off. Hey, if you’ve got that kind of time, more power to you. I leave them on, and my Mom claims “that’s where all the vitamins are.” There will also be a lot of yellow heads that have broken off and accumulated at the bottom of your bowl. I usually toss these, as well. I don’t like getting a spoonful of just heads, and they don’t look as good in the soup. At first I was self-conscious about wasting them, but remember that you’ve paid about $1 for all of those sprouts. You can let the loose heads go.
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The one major decision you’ll want to make is whether to used canned or homemade stock for your soup. This soup works very well with chicken, beef or anchovy stock. (I’ve never tried using vegetable stock, but presumably that would also be OK. **Update 24 October, 2010: Made this with pea shell consommé, and can confirm that it still rocks.) You may be familiar with Michael Ruhlman’s rant against canned stock, in which he famously encouraged people to use water instead. While I admire Michael’s culinary purism, I’ll warn you that this dish does fall into the 10% of cases where canned stock is probably better than water. It used to be that you could make this soup with water, but with mass agriculture the way it is, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have soybean sprouts with enough flavor to carry the soup by themselves. So to summarize, with this soup:
homemade stock > canned stock >> water
Fortunately for you, stock is ridiculously easy to make. Many of you are aware of this, but still resist. So to prove my point:
Chicken Stock 5-6 lbs meaty chicken parts (not just the necks and backs—dark meat works best, or a whole chicken)
3-4 quarts of water (to cover)
1 carrot, peeled, cut into 4 pieces
1 rib of celery, cut into 4 pieces
1 large yellow onion, peeled, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 bay leaf
2 sprigs parsley
1 tsp kosher salt
Rinse the chicken. Put the ingredients in a stock pot that holds at least 8 quarts. Start warming the pot on the stove while preheating the oven to 180-200 degrees. When the pot has barely reached a simmer, put the pot into the oven. Take it out in 3 hours. Strain it very well. Cool it down. Remove the fat (you can skim it, but it’s easiest to wait until it’s refrigerated, and remove the solid fat from the top).
That’s it. I used to make it on the stove, monitoring the heat with a thermometer, but Ruhlman’s tip on using the oven makes it super easy. Don’t have all the ingredients? Doesn’t matter! The most important parts are the chicken, water and salt. You can more or less improvise the rest of it without doing much harm. Want to get crazy? Don’t put the vegetables in until the last hour. That’s honestly as complicated as it gets, and using your own stock will drastically improve your soup. Oh yeah, and don’t throw away the chicken meat. I usually remove the skin (which has become rubbery and gross) and eat the wings right away with a little bit of salt. The rest of the meat is great on salads, or dipped in yangnyum soy sauce, which I’ll tell you how to make below.
Still not convinced? OK, use low-sodium chicken stock from a box. But you’ll always wonder… (**Update 21 February, 2011: Though it can’t compete with homemade stock, I do find Imagine Chicken Cooking Stock—NOT the Chicken Broth, which is disgusting—to be usable, in a pinch.)
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Now that you’ve sourced your sprouts and made your amazing stock, the rest is relatively easy. In a large stock pot, saute 2 cloves of freshly minced garlic in 1 T of sesame oil for about a minute. Which sesame oil? The one with the dragons on it, says my Mom. That’s the good sesame oil.
Add the sprouts (1 – 1.5 lb), toss them a bit in the oil, and then add 6 – 8 cups of stock. Cover the pot and turn the stove to medium-high heat. When it has become clear that the stock is boiling (steam shooting out from beneath the lid), allow the contents to boil with the lid on for 3 – 5 minutes. It is important not to uncover the pot, because, by some unknown mechanism, prematurely uncovering the pot will impart an off-flavor to the beans. I have not done a rigorously controlled experiment to verify this, but it suffices to say that it’s very easy to just leave the lid on, so I do it.
Once this crucial time has passed, it is safe to uncover the pot and lower the heat. Taste the soup and correct the seasoning (salt). The sprouts should still be slightly crunchy, but if you’d like them cooked longer, cook them longer. The soup is basically done. At this point, I usually prepare a dressing to make a salad with half of the cooked sprouts. Whether you want to do this is completely up to you. You may like the ratio of sprouts to liquid as is, which is fine. I like cooking with a lot of sprouts because they flavor the soup, but I end up putting a lot of liquid in the bowls, so if I don’t do something else with them, I’m left with a lot of sprouts at the end.
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Again, the following step is completely optional, but you may find the recipe useful. Kong namul is a classic banchan, or side dish. If you want to make the salad without the soup, boil the sprouts in 1/2 C of water instead of stock.
Kong Namul (seasoned soybean sprouts) adapted from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen: A Cookbook
roughly half of the sprouts from the soup you made above
1/2 T soy sauce
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 T sesame oil (pref. from a bottle adorned with dragons)
1 green onion, chopped
sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds
black pepper to taste (opt.)
red pepper flakes to taste (opt.)
At some point (e.g., while you’re waiting for the soup to boil), add the above ingredients, minus the sprouts, to a medium-sized mixing bowl. When the soup is done, remove about half of the sprouts and drain thoroughly, reserving the broth to return to the soup. Add the sprouts to the bowl, toss, and refrigerate.
Note that the dressing for this recipe is essentially yangnyum ganjang, or seasoned soy sauce. This is a wonderful dipping sauce, which I use on pa jon and muk, as well as leftover chicken from stock, leftover beef shanks from stock, leftover brisket from stock, etc.
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Now you’re ready to serve the soup. I like to garnish the bowl with some chopped green onion, and season with black or red pepper. I particularly like the red pepper flakes typically found in Japanese noodle shops—S&B Ichimi or Nanami Togarashi. Here they both are, nestled among my various red spices in the fridge. If you look closely, you can see a small ziploc bag of Korean kochu karu peeking out from behind them (Yes; I am a traitor).
So there you have it. Not only is this dish a big hit with by daughter, but with barely more effort than boiling water, I can now recreate one of my favorite dishes from childhood. It’s both comforting and light, and (I’m told) a mean cure for hangovers.[/one_half]