Tuesday, September 29, 2009

roasted spaghetti squash with spicy yogurt and seared shrimp

spaghetti squash, spicy yogurt mint sauce, shrimp
last week i was faced with
a very common dilemma:
what to do with
leftover herbs.
in this case:

i had caved,
agreeing to add it
to the salad,
but i needed only 1/4 cup
and mint is sold
in very large bunches.
i had created my situation.
now i had to live with it.
and eat it.
fresh mint leaves
i spent a long time
thinking and looking
up recipes
until i remembered the one
thing made with mint
that i can semi-tolerate.

until very recently,
i've had a
hate-hate relationship
with indian food,
much to my mother's dismay.
she tried many times to get
all three of us - all three
of us who will eat almost
anything - to eat indian food,
but it was always a struggle.

finally, last year, i realized
that my indian food issues
stem from a single spice:

(it's funny. i've always
considered myself a very open
eater, willing to try most
things, but this blog is like
a mirror, pointing out all
my quirks, all my weaknesses,
all the things that i do not like.
it turns out, there are a lot.
that's sad.)

i finally understood that if
i could just find dishes that are
curry-less, i could enjoy
indian food. and, so, for the past
year, i've visited a few places -
ok, one restaurant several times -
and have come to appreciate
the cuisine.

especially the spicy
tamarind and mint chutneys
that are always served with
the breads and salads.
together, they're sweet,
bold and spicy and i always
look forward to drizzling
them over the naan and
potato, onion, cucumber mixtures.
usually, i regret it because
they. are. spicy. but, my burning
mouth doesn't stop me from
eating more.

so, it came to be that i
researched mint chutneys
and mercifully
a) settled for one of the first
recipes i found, which
b) was made up only of
ingredients i already had
at home.

the day before,
at the farmer's market,
i had picked up our first
spaghetti squash of the season
and i was determined to
use it - not let it waste away
on the counter.

somehow, once i connected
the chutney and the squash,
the rest of the dish came
together rather quickly.
in my head.
i would pick up greek yogurt,
and stir a couple tablespoons
into the chutney, dollop
the creamy sauce
over roasted strands of squash
and top the whole tangle
with seared shrimp.

in reality,
it's another story.
have you ever made spaghetti squash?
i love it - it's my favorite of the squash,
but it's up there with a butternut squash
or large pumpkin when it comes
time to halve the sucker.
it is hard and heavy and thick.
and to halve it means to have
an excellent knife,
strong muscles
and a willingness to forget
the fear of cutting yourself.

so, by the time both larry
and i wrestled the squash and
the oven heated up
(maybe it's rusty from a
summer spent sitting idle?),
then the squash
let's just say it was later than i
had expected.
mint, scallions, garlic, serrano and more
in the meantime,
i had made the chutney.
and maybe the recipe had
called for a teaspoon and a half
of a small chopped serrano.
and maybe i used
a large one and did not bother to measure.
this chutney was very hot.
greek yogurt
spicy mint chutney yogurt sauce
i had originally planned to mix
it with a few spoonfuls of yogurt,
but the heat called for
a change of plans.
instead, i took all of the yogurt,
and stirred in three tablespoons
of the chutney. it was very spicy,
but closer to tolerable.
i took some of the
remaining chutney and mixed it
with the shrimp to marinate.

i crossed my fingers
that our tongues would still
have feeling after we ate.
seeded roasted spaghetti squash
spaghetti squash strands
once the squash was out
of the oven, i let it sit
until cool enough
to handle, before remembering
that i could use those crazy
to hold the squash with one
hand and separate into
strands with the other.

shrimp, searing
i seared the shrimp,
then tossed them on top
of two bowls:
one, squash, simply topped with spicy yogurt
and another
squash mixed with the mixture.
i'm not sure which we liked better, but
i know that the former option
allows you to occasionally seek relief
by stumbling upon a few sauce-less pieces.

i like spicy, but the mixture - although
oddly irresistible - was a bit spicy for me.
larry thought it was perfect.
we both loved the chutney.
mint and all.
spaghetti squash mixed with yogurt sauce and topped with shrimp
roasted spaghetti squash with spicy yogurt and seared shrimp
you can cook a spaghetti squash by boiling or microwaving it, but i love the flavor that comes with roasting. surprised? you want the strands to be just a bit al dente, not mushy. if you're unsure if the squash is done, don't worry, it will tell you: if it won't separate into spaghetti, it's not ready. for the greek yogurt, i always use nonfat. it's so thick and creamy anyway that the full fat just feels way too indulgent.

you could also skip the shrimp and serve the rest of the dish as a side for chicken or fish.

1 spaghetti squash (about 3 pounds), halved
2 teaspoons olive oil
kosher salt and pepper
1 container (6 ounces) fat-free greek yogurt (i like fage)
6 tablespoons mint chutney, divided (recipe below)
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (13-16 count)

heat oven to 400˚f. brush cut side of squash halves with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. roast, cut side up, 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden brown and strands separate easily from squash. let sit 20 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.

meanwhile, stir together yogurt and 3 tablespoons mint chutney; cover and set aside.

twenty minutes before you're ready to cook (after the squash has been sitting for about 10 minutes is probably a good idea), stir together remaining mint chutney and shrimp. cover; chill. (you don't want the shrimp to marinate longer than that - the lime in the chutney could start to cook them.)

using spoon, scoop the seeds from the squash; discard (squash should look like picture, above). using fork, separate flesh into strands over a bowl. discard squash shells.

in large skillet coated with a mist of olive oil over high heat, sear shrimp 5 minutes, turning once.

you have two choices: either toss the squash with the yogurt or place squash in serving bowls and top with dollops of yogurt. top with seared shrimp. garnish with mint leaves, if desired.

spicy mint chutney
adapted from gourmet magazine
when on first taste the mixture was very spicy, i added an extra 1/4 cup of mint leaves an extra teaspoon of sugar. both changes are included, here. i also had originally added ground coriander, which i'd say is optional. the original recipe recommends using the chutney the same day that you make it or risk it turning an ugly brown. when first made, it's a beautiful bright green. i made this in my mini food processor - it was the perfect size.

1 1/4 cups packed fresh mint leaves
4 scallions, sliced
1 serrano chile, including seeds, chopped (use your judgement)
1 large clove garlic
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)

in bowl of mini food processor (large would work, too), puree all ingredients until combined. it will still be coarse. taste and adjust seasoning, if desired.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

sweet potato, lentil and goat cheese salad

sweet potato, lentils, goat cheese, mint and arugula
i was still in summer mode
when i opened the main page
of epicurious and was greeted
derailed from my original path
(i think it was for prune plums),
i clicked through to fall recipes,
showed amazing patience
when it took three pages to find
and then landed, finally at
the very fall-inspired dish.

it was one of those moments,
much like when i first saw this pie,
that i knew i would be making
the salad very soon.
it wasn't going to fall into
the print and lose
mentally filed away piles,
but instead, cooked as soon as
it made a modicum of sense
to set our oven back to its
winter mode: roast.
french green lentils
this past weekend,
i ransacked the bulk section
at the store, coming away
with what i hoped was
3/4 cup of french green lentils
and then on sunday,
headed to the farmer's market
in search of a sugar pumpkin.
none. and at the store an hour
later? none again.

i toyed with the idea of using
butternut squash - the
recipe had even said it was
an option - but when i saw
sweet potatoes, i knew
that was the obvious answer.
we are huge fans and i had
a feeling that, for us,
the salad would turn out
even better this way.
plus, pumpkins are tricky
to cut, a pain to peel
and messy to seed.
yes, this was a much
better option.

if i had any hesitation about
this salad, it was this:
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh mint.
i think it's fair to say that
i am anti-mint.
i do not like
mint chocolate chip ice cream
and over the years
i've done a very good
job at avoiding mojitos.
yet, as i walked past the
herbs, i lingered,
clinging close to the feeling
that recipe developers don't
add random ingredients just
for the fun of it. i consulted
with larry who agreed
that i should give the mint
a chance.

(fyi, i still stand
my ground on
and fennel
regardless of what future
recipe they show up in.)
sweet potatoes on baking sheet
i fell in love with the salad
before our first bites.
when we returned home
from the store,
hours before,
i had boiled the lentils
and roasted the sweet potatoes,
setting them aside in bowls until
it was time for dinner.
the sweet potatoes were slightly
smoky and spicy
thanks to the
smoked paprika
i rewarmed the cubes slightly just
before making the salad -
for me, something that's warm always
seems heartier than it would cold.
arugula and mint
as i slivered the mint
and placed everything in the bowl,
i just had that feeling -
that rare, but exciting, feeling -
that this was going to really work
and become a new favorite
in our house.
i loved how step-by-step it was,
how most of the ingredients
carried very little guilt with them
and how,
when tossed together,
everything just looked so right.

i'll admit,
that even after committing to the mint,
doubt still lingered.
but the fresh herb added
a really unexpected touch,
and i found myself craving a piece
with each bite.
i really, genuinely liked the mint
(so much so that just wait and see
what i did with the rest of it
for the next night's dinner).
smoked paprika, cumin and cayenne sweet potatoes
sweet potato, lentil and goat cheese salad
adapted from bon appetit magazine
the original recipe called for sprinkling the pumpkin (or in this case, sweet potato) with hot smoked paprika. you know we love our smoked paprika, but we only had sweet smoked and i could not bring myself to buy a hot smoked, too. instead, i added cayenne. also, the original recipe called for one cup of goat cheese, which for our two person purposes seemed like quite a bit, so i reduced that and used a very exacting, four or five extra large handfuls of arugula leaves.

3/4 cup French green lentils
2 large sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and cubed into 1" pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2-3 good shakes of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large handfuls baby arugula
3/4 log (4 ounce) goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup thinly sliced mint leaves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

heat oven to 375˚f.

place lentils in small bowl. cover with cold water and soak 10 minutes; drain. (um, i didn't realize until i just wrote this that i completely missed this step. obviously, i was still ok. i think.)

bring large saucepot of water to a boil; add salt. place lentils in boiling water and cook 30 minutes, or until tender, but firm. drain lentils. rinse with cold water until cool, shaking strainer. drain completely.

in large bowl, combine cubed sweet potato, 2 tablespoons olive oil, cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper and salt. transfer sweet potatoes to single layer on foil-lined baking sheet. roast 20 minutes; turn (drizzling with olive oil or spraying, if necessary) and cook 10-15 minutes more, or until tender. cool on baking sheet.

just before serving: reheat sweet potatoes, if desired, in 350˚f degree oven for 5-10 minutes, or just until warm (not hot). in bowl, combine arugula, mint, half of the goat cheese, sweet potatoes, lentils, red wine vinegar and remaining olive oil (the recipe also instructed to use leftover oil from the baking sheet to make the dressing - i did not have any, which is why i slightly increased the amounts of the vinegar and oil).

divide salad amongst bowls; top with remaining crumbled goat cheese. garnish with mint leaves.

Monday, September 21, 2009

moving on with it

lettuce wraps with hoisin
oh goodness,
i'm still so far behind
that i didn't even know
where to start.
with the deviled eggs
that i made for last week's
first game of the season?
with the kugel that i made
in honor of rosh hashanah
for the bring-a-dish-to-work
that-represents-your-heritage day?
or my odd attempt at


even though i've already decided
to skip my favorite corn soup
until next summer and i may come back to
the eggs, kugel and peach, um, puree,
i'm jumping right to the
lettuce wraps.
i've been making them for years
and, well, they are an excellent and
fast excuse for dinner when it's
too hot to turn on the oven,
too late to break out the pots and pans
or too easy and delicious to ignore.

i think this dish was first created on
a night when all three applied,
but since then, it's been on repeat
year round.

there are very few reasons not to make it,
and the most compelling argument
doesn't stand a chance. you see,
i know it's a simple recipe
when my biggest complaint
is the amount of drying that
goes into it.
cubed tofu
because first, you have to blot
the tofu. (yes, it's tofu again.
it is. but, it's also very, very good
and slathered in a flavor-packed
sauce and it's...well, that's it.
it's just worth it. tofu or not.)
so, anyway. you blot the tofu
using one or two or three
paper towels.
then you cut the block into
tiny cubes, lay those
on paper towels, cover with
more paper towels and when
they're soaked through, repeat.

but that's the most time consuming part.
later, you have to wash the lettuce leaves
well, and then again, dry them completely
so that they don't give the tofu extra
moisture or become drippy in your hands.
boston lettuce leaves
but really, what's a little drying
in the scheme of things? especially
considering you don't have to turn
on your oven? (can you tell it's still
a little hot over here in our kitchen?)

so basically,
all you do is take these pieces
of tofu, toss them with the contents
of your fridge - mine is decidedly asian
and mexican. we go asian here - let
them mingle and meld and then
fold the cubes into large leaves of
boston or butter lettuce.

there's one other catch -
if you want to call it that.
i don't measure for this recipe.
it's not worth it to dirty
when you can just squeeze
in a little of this
and a little of that.
scallion, soy and hoisin sauce
instead, i always start
with a few key ingredients
soy sauce
hoisin sauce
and then go from there.
some things in my mind are optional:
water chestnuts.
some things are not:
sesame oil
fish sauce.

(which reminds me:
don't. be. afraid. of. fish. sauce.
it sounds weird and smells worse.
but it adds something delicious
to so many dishes
that would be impossible to
otherwise replicate or achieve.)
tofu in sauce
anyway, once i'm happy with the way
the sauce tastes, i toss in the tofu,
gently mix it all together
and then let it sit until
i think it's ready.

i think a recipe would
only slow us down (and at
this point, that's a luxury
we cannot afford).
tofu and sesame lettuce wraps
sesame tofu lettuce wraps
i'm not giving a real recipe here, just a guideline. i've made this many times and i've never - not even the first time that i made it - not had enough sauce. once the scallions and garlic are in the bowl, add your base of soy sauce and hoisin. whisk them together and go from there. just keep tasting until you're happy - i'm pretty sure that if i gave an actual recipe, that's what would happen, anyway.

1 block firm tofu, drained
2 scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
soy sauce
hoisin sauce
siracha, or other hot sauce
fish sauce (really, really a must)
sesame oil
lime, halved
sesame seeds
1 head boston lettuce leaves, separated, washed and dried

chopped jalapeno (add with scallions and garlic)
chopped water chestnuts (add with scallions and garlic)
chopped ginger (add with scallions and garlic)
dicded avocado (add with tofu)

blot tofu several times with several paper towels. cube tofu; place cubes on paper towels. top with paper towels. let sit 1 minute, or until wet. repeat with dry paper towels; discard. place tofu on dry pieces of paper towels. let sit until ready to use (for me, this is sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes an hour and a half, depending on how much time i have).

in bowl, whisk together scallions and garlic. add good amounts of soy sauce and hoisin. squeeze in some siracha (depending on how spicy you like it), add a few healthy shakes of fish sauce, a couple drops of sesame oil and a big squeeze of lime. taste mixture; adjust. when you're happy with it, add the tofu and sesame seeds; gently toss. let sit 20 minutes to 1 hour (or more). let everyone make their own by serving tofu with lettuce leaves, hoisin sauce and siracha.