Wednesday, October 10, 2012

green papaya salad with shrimp

green papaya salad
i'm not sure when or how it started,
but larry and i never go out for thai,
without ordering a green papaya salad.

have you had one?
they're everything i love:
and spicy.
there are peanuts.
tomatoes and
green beans, too.
if you're lucky,
tiny flecks of fried shallots
on top.

it's my touch point for a new
thai restaurant.
just like some people order
guacamole in a new mexican restaurant
or always check out the omelets when
visiting a breakfast place for the first time,
i use green papaya salad to help me
decide if i'll be back
once the meal is over.

i want it to be spicy.
bright with fish sauce and lime.
studded with peanuts to help
add texture and break up the spiciness.
and the tomatoes? i don't want them
overly smashed, overly jostled.
i want it to have that indescribable something
that i just can't put my finger on.

so, i was always little afraid to make one at home.
if i am always hoping for that nameless thing,
how in the world was i going to figure out
how to recreate it?

ok, that's not entirely truthful.
i've always wanted to make one,
but finding green papaya is not so easy.
i searched my beloved asian markets many
times, until finally deciding that it wasn't meant
to be and that i would have to settle for this
salad as a restaurant-only treat.

and then one day,
a few weeks ago, my mother
called to tell me about a new asian market
that she was visiting after work. she asked if
i wanted anything. i asked for a green papaya,
but i wasn't hopeful.

and then, lo and behold.
green papaya
i'll be honest with you:
i didn't think it was big enough.
i had imagined the salad topped with shrimp,
as a main course, but after seeing the smallish
fruit, i asked larry to pick up a green apple to
supplement. and, then, i started shredding this
thing with my spiked peeler (not an official name)
and felt foolish as the shreds of green papaya
started stacking up in the bowl.
we had more than enough.
shredded green papaya
i added things:
dried shrimp
mis en place
dried shrimp
fish sauce
2 serrano peppers
(sadly, no scallions or
cilantro due to a small miscommunication
between larry and i)
green beans and

i stirred it all around
and gave it a taste.
it sort of tasted like green papaya salad.
i chopped up more dried shrimp,
added more fish sauce,
more lime,
chopped more garlic and tossed in
a chopped shallot.
a third serrano went in.
i let the whole thing sit for ten minutes
and tasted it again. i think i drizzled in
more fish sauce. it was good. it really was.
but was i jumping out of my seat excited?
would i make it again? yes.
and that? that's more than i can say for
several thai restaurants we've visited.
so, that's something.
green papaya salad with shrimp
green papaya salad with shrimp
adapted from molly wizenberg
i often find that i add more garlic, more fish sauce, more, more, more of everything with flavor than a recipe calls for. i don't know what it says about me. regardless. when tasting this salad for the first time, i wished three things: that i had let the mixture marinate for a bit before serving, that i chopped extra dried shrimp and garlic from the beginning and that my serrano had typical serrano-level spice. below, i've written the recipe with my changes and the way we made it, but keep in mind that the original had cilantro and scallions.

again, this was not exactly the original. i learned through this experience that a) larry did not know that there was a difference between cherry tomatoes and grape tomatoes and b) larry cleans the fridge out much more than i realized. hence, this recipe was prepared without cilantro or scallions. we also used cashews instead of peanuts, because i love cashews and that was what was in the house.

a couple more things: i brought leftovers for lunch and they were great, so don't be afraid to let this sit overnight. the original recipe was six appetizer servings, but for us, it was three decent size main meals.

3 limes (about 6 tablespoons fresh lime juice)
2 tablespoons packed golden brown sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
3 tablespoons dried shrimp, chopped
1 shallot, peeled, halved and finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
15 green beans, trimmed
1 green papaya (1 1/2-1 3/4 pounds), peeled, halved and seeded
10 large cherry tomatoes, halved
1-3 serrano peppers with seeds or 1 fresh red thai chile pepper, thinly sliced
15 large shrimp (about 20 count)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped salted cashews

bring medium saucepan of salted water to a boil.

in small bowl, whisk together lime juice, brown sugar, fish sauce, shrimp, garlic and shallot. taste and adjust flavor, if desired. set aside.

add green beans to boiling water; cook 2-3 minutes, or until just crisp-tender. drain; rinse under cold water to stop cooking. cut into 2-inch pieces.

using julienne peeler or box grater, shred papaya. measure 6 cups papaya. place papaya in large bowl. add green beans, tomatoes and chile pepper. top with dressing; toss to combine. let sit. 

when ready to serve, divide papaya salad among serving plates. 

season shrimp with hot and pepper. heat grill pan or saute pan over medium-high heat. grill shrimp 4 minutes, or until just firm and cooked through, turning once midway through. top salads with shrimp. sprinkle with cashews.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

on jalapeno tequila and finding the one

sparkling roasted jalapeno cooler
lately, i've noticed myself starting
sentences with the phrase,
i wish i were the kind of girl who...

the endings vary:
...loved watching football.
...would choose whisky over wine.
...was the life of the party.
...takes life as it comes.
...loves action and science fiction movies.
...drank cocktails.

yes, i know, i know. 
you should accept who you are
and embrace your individuality.
you should never wish to be 
someone else.
you should

but, my goodness, how much easier
would my life be every september
if i looked forward to football as 
much as larry, if i belonged to two
or three fantasy leagues, myself, and for just 
once, i would understand what everyone
else was yelling about when someone
didn't make it past the 10 yard line?

there are some things that you can't make happen.
i often take a sip of larry's scotch,
thinking that maybe this one -
because he calls it peaty or some other
word that sounds like nonsense to me -
will be the one who makes me realize i can hang
at a whisky bar. 
it doesn't work.

but, then there are other things that i think
i can influence. like cocktails.
over the years, i've meandered back and forth
from sticking with my one glass of pinot noir,
to trying to love those trendy drinks that
come in highballs or martini glasses:
rum and cokes.
occasionally, i've enjoyed 
a bellini
a gin gimlet that's heavy on the lime.
i'm strangely envious of people who have
"a drink." i want to be someone who
owns her cocktail. usually, though,
i'm just someone who owns her bottle
of red. and as someone who has never been
a big drinker anyway, it's hard to readjust.
jalapeno tequila gimlet
i think that's why i was so drawn
to the recipe for the jalapeno tequila gimlet,
in the july issue of bon appetit.
two years ago, when we were out with
colleen and christian, at a restaurant in
asbury park, larry ordered a jalapeno margarita.
i had a sip, which burned my whole mouth.
i was glad i didn't order it. a few minutes later, i
reached in for another sip. my mouth was on fire.
but, after a few minutes, i went back in, ignoring
the looks that larry was giving me for hijacking
his drink. when i saw this recipe,
i had spicy flashbacks.

larry was surprised when i asked him if we had
tequila. (for a home of people who generally drink 
two things - wine and bourbon - we house
a surprisingly large collection of bottles.)
we had two. and luckily, one happened to be blanco,
which was what this recipe called for.
two jalapenos
broiled jalapenos
one day, on a friday that i was home,
i blistered two jalapenos under the broiler 
until they were
tender through and through,
but brown and crispy on the top.
after careful consideration, i seeded
the hot peppers, chopped them up and
tossed them into a glass bowl filled
with tequila. and then, even though
i had seriously thought it out beforehand,
scolded myself for being a chicken.
the recipe called for the jalapenos with 
their seeds and if i opted to remove them
and then drank a spice-less drink later,
it would be on me. but, what if it was
so spicy that i was miserable?
i compromised with the seeds
of the larger pepper.
tequila and jalapenos
fresh lime juice
i juiced six limes,
shocked that i ended up
with exactly one cup.
diluting jalapeno tequila
that night, i pulled the strained tequila
and the lime juice from the fridge, 
plus a bit of agave.
i stirred them altogether,
with some ice cubes and waited.
i waited more for the ice cubes to
dissolve as instructed in the recipe.
larry came home from work,
changed, went down into the basement
and came back up with a bottle of bourbon.
what. are. you. doing?
bourbon was in one hand,
the recipe for that night's dinner
in the other - i don't think he knew how
to answer the question, or
more specifically, where he went wrong.

i've been making this cocktail for you all day,
i countered.
he looked unconvinced: i think you 
were making this for you. but, ok,
i'm ready.

i sighed.
your cocktail is not, i told him.
the ice cubes still have to melt.
he sighed, but he put the bourbon
back in the basement and started making dinner.
when it was finally time,
i poured the tequila gimlet - 
the drink i was so excited about because
it combined several things:
the drink i can sometimes stomach (a gimlet),
lime juice
and roasted jalapenos -
into a glass,
garnished it with lime and took a sip.
it was a margarita.
i had made a spicy margarita.
jalapeno tequila gimlet with lime
how had i not realized this before?
had i been too blinded by the
fancy word gimlet 
and the roasted jalapenos?

the drink was good.
it was spicy and limey and
everything, but it was still a
margarita. and frankly, me and margaritas
are at best casual acquaintances who,
with the exception of random nights
at an excellent mexican restaurant, 
tolerate each other.

we both drank it.
and it was nice and different and fine.
but the next day, i woke up thinking
about the other half of the 
jalapeno tequila sitting in the fridge.
i wasn't ready to give up on it.

it took me two days to stumble upon
a bottle of diet tonic water in the store
and think that maybe that was the answer.
it took me two more weeks to find a night
to mix it all together, 
half casually,
half mad scientist on a mission.

i started with a little agave,
added a little lime,
poured in the tequila, 
added ice cubes and topped the
whole glass with the tonic.
sadly, i don't think it struck
me until after that it was
similar to the original.

but when i took a sip,
i knew i had stumbled upon...
this was my drink.
ok, even now, i know that's
not true.
this may be my once a 
year drink because frankly,
i know myself well enough to
know that i am not going to
roast jalapenos toss them into
tequila very often.

but, this drink.
it was spicy - i'm thinking
extra spicy thanks to the two
weeks of sitting and probably
partially evaporating -
but it was also light and interesting
and not so serious.

this weekend,
with less than one quarter of the tequila remaining,
i set out to recreate.
it took some tinkering,
but i think it was pretty close to the drink 
that i had made a week before.
i sipped on it proudly,
trying not to second guess the amount
of lime, trying to not decide if 
as barely-a-drinker-turned-bartender,
i had added too much tequila to a drink
for one and decided to just, be.
sparkling roasted jalapeno cooler
roasted jalapeno tequila
adapted from bon appetit magazine
the one thing i really have to say about this is that, obviously, if your jalapenos aren't spicy, your tequila will not be spicy. it's the luck of the draw. but, i would taste the roasted jalapeno before adding it the tequila. if it's not spicy, i would hold off on making it.

2 jalapenos
2 cups tequila blanco

heat broiler, grill or the flame on your stove top. place jalapeno on grill, on broiler pan or on flame and cook 3-6 minutes, or until jalapenos are soft and blistered, turning often. when cool enough to handle, seed jalapenos, if desired. chop jalapenos. transfer jalapenos and seeds (if using) to a glass bowl or jar with tequila. stir to combine. let sit 1 hour. strain tequila into a sieve set over a pitcher, pressing on solids to release extra liquid. discard solids.

roasted jalapeno tequila cooler
at this point in my life, i'm using diet tonic water. if that makes you sad, go with regular tonic.

2 teaspoons agave
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus squeezed lime halves
1/3 cup roasted jalapeno tequila
handful of ice cubes
1/2-3/4 cup diet tonic water

in large glass, stir together agave, lime juice and tequila. add ice cubes and squeezed lime. top with 1/2 cup tonic water. stir gently, just to combine. taste and add up to 1/4 cup more tonic water, if desired.

jalapeno tequila gimlet
adapted from bon appetit magazine
the one change i made to this recipe was to reduce the agave from 1/2 cup to 2 tablespoons. i'm sure it would have been tastier with more, but i didn't miss the extra sweetness.

2 cups roasted jalapeno tequila
2 cups ice cubes
1 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons agave

in pitcher, stir together all ingredients. let stand until ice cubes have melted, stirring occasionally. divide gimlet among 4 to 8 glasses, depending on your crowd.

Friday, August 10, 2012

falafel-stuffed eggplant

falafel-stuffed eggplant
for the past eight months,
we've been pretty careful about
everything that we've been eating,
and in turn, everything that we're
cooking. but, here's the thing:
i'm a food person. i will not survive
on grilled chicken breast and steamed
broccoli. i cannot.

i would be bored.
i would be annoyed.
i would miss the fun that comes
with discovering a new ingredient
or the joy that comes with making
something that's really special to eat.

so that broccoli? it's roasted.
and that chicken? well, it's hardly ever
on my plate because frankly, i think it's obvious
if you read this blog that i'm not too into chicken.

i've been extremely strategic in preparing food that's
that tastes good,
that we might actually look forward to eating.
and for the most part, it's worked.

but, here's the other thing:
our dinners have started to seriously resemble each other.
most nights, we eat a salad -
usually with arugula at the base,
sometimes baby kale,
often topped with beans or lentils,
or seasonal fruit. they are good hearty salads -
the kind that i would be quick to order in
a restaurant, not because they're better for me,
but because they look most desirable on a menu:
grilled scallops with peas and feta,
lentils with roasted sweet potatoes and goat cheese,
sardines with chickpeas, tomatoes and peppadews,
grilled shrimp and fill-in-the-blank with whatever's in the fridge.

oh, the shrimp.
there have been a lot of shrimp.
between larry's love for steak and chicken,
and my dislike, combined with my ability to be happy eating mostly vegetables,
shrimp is a good compromise.

so, i'm always searching the grocery store aisles
for new inspiration and the magazines for new recipes.
we've had some hits,
like roasted fish with tomatoes and olives,
a (very) modified version of our favorite quesadilla
and spicy korean tofu soup,
but none felt quite as inspired as this
falafel-stuffed eggplant with tahini sauce and tomato relish
from a spring issue of
cooking light.
eggplant halves
something about the recipe made me feel
like it was a real recipe, genuinely conceptualized
and created with an end result in mind.
i didn't have to make it to know that it would work,
but with one bite, i was glad that my
suspicions were confirmed.
i won't lie - there are a lot of ingredients.
i had many in the house:
a can of chickpeas,
the tahini,
an onion,
a lemon,
the spices
but, i had to buy a few, too:
like the vegetables that i wanted to be fresh.
the eggplant,
the tomatoes,
the cucumbers and the cilantro.
scored eggplant
roasted eggplant
hollowed out
and there's a good amount of food to prepare:
you're asked to halve eggplants,
score them,
roast them,
remove their fleshy centers,
make a filling to stuff their centers,
re-stuff the cavities,
bake them again,
make a tahini sauce
and prepare a tomato salad.
onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and mint
tahini sauce in the making
somehow, all of these things can get done
in just over an hour, if you're strategic.
but, regardless of how long it takes to you,
it's foolproof pretty.
need proof? see: name of blog.
it's knife and fork good, which in my experience,
makes people feel like they're eating real food.
and, around here these days, that's important.
stuffed eggplant
falafel-stuffed eggplant
adapted from cooking light magazine
i made a couple of changes to the recipe based on both, ingredients that i had on hand and a few small mistakes that i made. i used vidalia onions instead of red in both places, because i had one sitting on my counter. i replaced the fresh breadcrumbs with whole wheat panko. i could have sworn that the recipe called for cilantro, so i bought a bunch. i used the herb to replace the parsley in the chickpea mixture. for the relish, i used mint instead of the parsley, increased the cucumber and tomato, and eliminated the olive oil. and, i replaced the honey in the tahini sauce with agave.

when i made this, i decided to deal with roasting the eggplant, then i set out in a mad dash to get everything else done. this worked for me, by the skin of my teeth, but if you're looking for more of a relaxed cooking experience, make the tahini sauce first and make sure to prep the relish ingredients before starting everything else.

lastly. while i was perfectly content eating one-fourth of the leftovers the next day for lunch, i felt like the night before at dinner, i definitely should have planned to serve it alongside something else, like a salad.

stuffed eggplants
2 eggplants, (about 12 ounces each) (mine were both slightly bigger)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 can (15 ounces) no-salt added chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 large eggs
2 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon tahini
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon fresh black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
relish recipe (below)
tahini sauce recipe (below)

heat oven to 475˚f. 

halve eggplants lengthwise; score cut sides of in crosshatch pattern. place eggplant halves, cut side down, on aluminum foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. bake 7 minutes, or until slightly tender and browned. carefully scoop out pulp, leaving a 3/4-inch shell (reserve pulp for another use). season eggplant with 1/4 teaspoon salt.

meanwhile, in bowl of food processor, combine chickpeas, eggs, garlic, onion, breadcrumbs, cilantro, tahini, olive oil, cumin, coriander, black pepper, cayenne pepper and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. process 1 minute, or until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl, if necessary.

fill each eggplant with 1/2 cup chickpea mixture, spreading smooth. bake 25 minutes, or until eggplant is tender and chickpea mixture is lightly browned and puffed.  

place eggplant on plates. top each eggplant half with a heaping 1/3 cup relish and 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini sauce.

2 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, halved, seeded and chopped
1/2 small vidalia onion, thinly sliced vertically
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, julienned
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

in bowl, combine all ingredients.

tahini sauce
3 tablespoons warm water
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon agave
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 garlic clove, finely chopped

in bowl, whisk together all ingredients.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

coincidence. and, chickpea & cauliflower picatta.

chickpea picatta
let's not lie to each other, ok?
this does not look pretty.
it's pale and brown and greyish
and every other word that you want
to use to describe...bleh. it's the kind of
picture that would have made my former
boss insist that we add a bunch of julienned
bell peppers and herbs, just to jazz things up a little.

but, those peppers?
they would have made me really unhappy.
because this dinner was incredible and
peppers would have ruined it.

it's a shame about the picture.

three months ago,
i searched around on my new blog find,
the post punk kitchen
which i told you about last time,
until i stumbled upon the recipe for
chickpea picatta. i love picatta -
the lemon,
the capers,
the sauce -
it's the chicken i could do without.

this one looked perfect:
easy for dinner,
full of shallots and capers,
lots of lemon
in place of that pesky standard protein, chickpeas.
i was dubious though: while i didn't need the egg-laced
pan-fried chicken, i wasn't sure that this version -
batter-less and pan fried-less -
was close enough to really share a recipe title.

i bought all the ingredients, plus a cauliflower that i
thought was needed for heft, and planned to make
the picatta for dinner the following night.
when i got home though, i was greeted with
a set of ingredients identical to the ones in my bag.
somehow, on larry's night to cook, he had stumbled
across the same recipe and was beating me to
the punch by 24 hours.
i thought it was weirder than he did.

larry hadn't planned on potatoes or pasta
or cauliflower for
sopping up the sauce - just wilted arugula.
it was too far into the quick
cooking process to do anything else, so we split
the entire pot between the two plates.
i could not believe how good it was.
i had no idea what to make for dinner the next night.
chickpeas and capers
as i ate the picatta,
i was sad that the arugula underneath,
by now partially wilted,
was running low.
i was imagining myself finishing
the lemony, briny, shallot-laced sauce
with a spoon,
lest leaving any of it to be washed off my plate.
i tossed in extra arugula. the sauce, now cooler,
coated the leaves like a dressing.
it was good enough for me.
i looked at larry who was doing the same thing.

we were one step short of licking our plates.
cauliflower steaks
cauliflower florets
when i made it myself recently,
i really wanted leftovers, so i opted to go
back to my original plan: cauliflower steaks.
i quickly realized that i would only be able
to get two from the head and decided that would be
good enough. i'd roast the rest as florets and
toss those with the leftovers. i also decided to skip
searing the steaks, in hopes of cutting back on
oil, time and mess. they all went into the oven
while i started slicing shallots.
1 cup sliced shallots
and then i realized how easy this recipe is.
slice a bunch of shallots, then some garlic
and saute everything with breadcrumbs;
simmer into a quick sauce using wine and
broth. finish with lemon and capers.
call it a day.
had i made a bigger deal about this picatta
than i really should have? was i wasting
a meal making this twice?

and then, i tasted it.
nope - just as simple and good
as last time.
not dinner party, fancy good.
but definitely, after work, great.
golden cauliflower steaks
with breadcrumbs
i filled two dishes with arugula,
not bothering to measure and topped
each with a golden cauliflower steak.
i divided half the chickpeas and sauce
over the whole thing and rushed it
outside to better light to take a picture.
it was chillier
than i thought it would be.
i wanted to go back inside.
i really should have kept some of the
arugula aside to garnish the top.
i tried to get a good picture.
i thought i did.
we ate it before looking at the pictures
(i was foolishly confident).
we loved it again.
and then, i looked at these sad
pictures. they make the sauce look
unappealing, the cauliflower look burnt.

they lie, i tell you.
they lie.
chickpea picatta close-up

chickpea & cauliflower picatta
adapted from post punk kitchen
so here's the thing about the cauliflower (the thing that almost made me make this recipe again before telling you about it): i liked it better the next day, when those cauliflower florets were mixed in and given the opportunity to soak up the sauce. it was fancier with those cauliflower steaks, but i put my money on the simpler pieces any day. i've written it with steak directions - in case you're really curious - but only because i can't stand when a recipe is written one way, but looks another. (just keep in mind that unless you're a miracle worker, you'll only be able to get two steaks out of one head of cauliflower.) also - i've upped the sauce. the first time, when the meal was split between the two of us, the sauce was overly generous. this time, i considered it to be a passable amount. here, i've multiplied everything by 1 1/2 (except for the chickpeas, cauliflower and arugula).

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced shallots (about 6 large shallots)
9 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 medium head cauliflower, either sliced into two steaks and then florets, or just cored and cut into florets
3 tablespoons whole wheat breadcrumbs
3 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup white wine
black pepper (about a pinch)
dried thyme (about a pinch)
1 can (16 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup capers, with a bit of the brine
4 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (from about 2 juicy lemon)
4-6 cups arugula

arrange racks in bottom and top thirds of oven. heat oven to 425˚f.

in large skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil. add shallots and garlic and cook 5 minutes, or until slightly golden and softened, stirring often. 

meanwhile, if using all florets: divide cauliflower between two aluminum foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. spray with cooking spray (or alternatively toss with additional olive oil); sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper. toss to combine. if using steaks and florets: place steaks on one aluminum foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. coat with cooking spray; sprinkle with salt and pepper. use second baking sheet for florets.

roast 20-25 minutes, alternating baking sheets from top to bottom of rack midway through cooking, tossing florets and flipping steaks (the steaks are delicate), until golden brown.

add breadcrumbs to the shallots and garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. add vegetable broth, thyme, black pepper, thyme and kosher salt to taste. increase heat; bring to a rolling boil. reduce heat to a simmer and cook 7 minutes, or until mixture is thickened and reduced by half.

add chickpeas and capers; cook 3 minutes more, or until heated through. add lemon juice; stir to combine. turn off heat. 

divide arugula among four bowls or deep plates. top with cauliflower steaks or florets. divide chickpea mixture and sauce among bowls.