My Other Red Sauce

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We’ve all made a red sauce or marinara, sometimes even referred to as spaghetti sauce. But to me there is another, equally important red sauce in my life, and today I’m sharing it with you.

It’s not for pasta, but instead, it is a sauce for meats – grilled meat, barbecued meat, smoked meat, and so forth.

It’s tomato based, but it’s spiced up with mustard powder and dried chile peppers. Intrigued? You should be. But be aware, it’s not for the faint of heart, or tastebuds.

This recipe is based on the one I originally followed in the Foods of the World Series, more specifically, American Cooking: The Great West.

I originally made a major change by omitting sugar. This sauce has no business being sweet! Hope you like it as much as we do!

Red Sauce
Adapted from The Great West

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 – 28 ounce cans high quality diced tomatoes
1 – 10 ounce can tomato purée
2 tablespoons ground yellow mustard seeds
Handful of dried red chile peppers, slightly crushed –
Chile de Arbol, Cayenne, or Chinese chile peppers

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Heat the oil in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté them for about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic, and stir them around until you smell garlic oil; you don’t want to burn the garlic.

Pour in the diced tomatoes and purée, then add the ground mustard and crushed chile peppers.

If you want, start with just a few whole peppers, perhaps, and cook the sauce until no liquid remains; it should be nice and thick.

It will only take about 30 minutes for the sauce to finish.

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Remove as many of the pods as you can.

Taste it for seasoning; I added 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

If you prefer heat, let the sauce sit overnight with the chile pods; remove them before heating and serving.

The sauce is spectacular with smoked turkey, pork ribs, grilled flank steak, even shrimp.

You’re welcome!

Chinese Cucumber Salad

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When my mother went through her Chinese cooking phase, which began when we moved Seattle, Washington, she was a whirling dervish in the kitchen.

It was steamed buns, sea cucumbers, fried dumplings, whole baked fish, fermented bean sauce, dried shark’s fins, wintermelon soup, hotpots, and a lot of unidentifiable ingredients.

Our kitchen smelled like dried fish, just like the Chinese grocery store we would frequent at Pike Place market. If you want to read more about my mother’s crazy eccentric phase cooking for an uninspired husband and tweens with limited palates and even less patience, read Growing up Foodie.

I wasn’t much for vinegar or cucumbers when I was young. But I always remembered a Chinese cucumber salad my mother made. And I’m talking real cucumbers, not sea cucumbers.

When I married, I was gifted the set of Time Life Foods of the World cookbooks by my mother. At that point I had an improved palate. I made the cucumber out of this book, and have been making it ever since.

I love the salad because it’s a little salty, a little sweet, and it is rounded out with hot sauce and sesame oil. So many wonderful layers of flavor!

Because of my mother’s time working closely to her Chinese friend, Mrs. Chin, from whom she took Chinese cooking lessons, she learned lots of tricks, like this one.

Mrs. Chin always de-seeded cucumbers before using them by halving cucumbers lengthwise, and either cutting out or scooping out the seeds with a spoon or melon baller. To this day I do it without thinking. I have nothing against cucumber seeds, but they’re watery.

It looks like I’m destroying the poor cucumber in the photo where I’m scraping the seeds out with a spoon. Definitely use a melon baller.

Then I salt the cucumber slices on the inside, turn them over on paper towels, and let them drip dry for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t have the time, just wipe the insides with a paper towel after you’ve removed the seeds.

Here’s the recipe from the Chinese cookbook.

Cucumber Salad with Spicy Dressing
Liang-pan-huang-kua
printable recipe below

2 medium cucumbers
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar (or a little less)
2 teaspoons sesame seed oil
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco (or a little more)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Peel the cucumbers and cut them lengthwise in two. With a melon baller, scrape the seeds out of each half, leaving hollow boats.

Cut the cucumbers crosswise into 1/4” thick slices.

In a small glass bowl, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sesame seed oil, Tabasco, and salt, and mix well.


Add the cucumber. With a large spoon, toss to coat each slice thoroughly with the dressing.

Chill slightly before serving.

And yes, I love hot sauce!

As a cold side dish at a Chinese meal, it will serve 4 to 6.

I sprinkled some black sesame seeds over the cucumber salad just for fun, even though they look like seed ticks. They are not.

My friend had recently gifted me with fresh tuna steaks, so I served them with the cucumber salad. It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal.


 

 

Tomato Beef Curry

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It’s not out of disrespect for Indian cuisine that I don’t often use recipes from my Indian cookbooks. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Indian cuisine is our favorite cuisine, if we had to pick only one. As a result, I quite often turn a soup into a curried soup, lentils into curried lentils, or seafood crepes into a curried version. And I don’t mean simply adding curry powder.

Cooking Indian food is about being familiar with Indian ingredients. When I began cooking, I followed recipes in order to learn about Indian cuisine as well as other international cuisines, but now that I’ve been cooking for almost 40 years, I enjoy creating Indian-inspired dishes without relying on recipes.

I want to point out that I’m very aware of the various regional cuisines, meat-based and vegetarian, that exist in India, from the south to the north, from west coast to east. So of course I’m generalizing when I refer to its cuisine when there isn’t only one.

My first experiences were from this ancient cookbook, from the Time-Life Foods of the World series.

Eventually I purchased other cookbooks over the years, and that’s when I figured out that many recipes – again, generalizing – are similar. Most begin with onion, ginger, and garlic, for example, cooked in clarified butter, or ghee.

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A meat, poultry or seafood curry can be prepared in a yogurt-based sauce, or one that is tomato based. Some are enriched with creamed nuts, like almonds or cashews, which are some of my favorites.

Regarding spices, there are many. Cumin, cardamom, coriander (seeds and leaf), turmeric, cayenne, cinnamon, pepper, garam masala (as varied as curry powder), cloves, fennel, saffron, and more. Some recipes contain many spices, some only 3-4.

Sometimes chile peppers are included for heat – both fresh and dried. But, of course, the temperature can be controlled.

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So following is an example of an easy beef dish in a curried tomato sauce. It was done in 15 minutes.

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Tomato Beef Curry

6 ounces ghee, divided
1 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, cut into cubes
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 – 1″ piece of fresh ginger, diced
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon black pepper
Cayenne, to taste
4 ounces drained diced tomatoes
4 ounces tomato purée
2 teaspoons garam masala
Fresh cilantro, optional

Heat 3 ounces of ghee in a heavy pot over high heat. In batches, brown the cubed beef, then place in a bowl until all the beef has browned; set aside.

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In the same pot, add the remaining ghee and lower the heat to medium-low. Sauté the onion, ginger, and garlic for a few minutes, being careful not to let them brown.

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Then add the salt, spices and, if using, cayenne pepper. Stir well and cook for about 1 minute.

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Add the diced tomatoes and purée. Stir, then let the mixture cook at a gentle simmer for about 5 minutes.

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You want the mixture fairly thick. Because I am using beef tenderloin in this recipe, the cooking time is minimal.

Add the browned beef from the bowl, including all juices, to the sauce.

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Stir to coat the beef and cook for about ten minutes, uncovered; the beef should be tender. Remove from the heat.

Just before serving, add the garam masala and stir.

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Normally I would sprinkle fresh cilantro leaves over the curry, but I decided instead to make a cilantro rice as a side dish, seasoned only with cumin and coriander.

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If this dish is too meaty for you, chickpeas can be added.

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If you want the dish creamier, you can add some heavy cream, a bit of yogurt, or even creme fraiche to the sauce.

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Many years ago I turned friends on to Indian cuisine, and my friend Claire bugged me to show her how to “cook” Indian. I told her that there is no difference in cooking techniques with Indian cooking, but she didn’t seem to believe me. So she came over once, and we cooked maybe 4-5 dishes. And we had a wonderful dinner. Her verdict? She wasn’t impressed! I don’t know what she thought I’d be doing in the kitchen, but it’s the same pots and pans, knives and spoons. She now cooks Indian food! Everyone should!

Pastitsio

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My introduction to Greek cuisine began with the set of cookbooks that introduced me to many International cuisines – the Time-Life series of cookbooks called “Foods of the World.” Included in the set are beautifully photographed hardback books describing the cuisines and cultures, as well as smaller, spiral-bound recipe books.

The set was gifted to me by mother, because she owned and loved hers. They were also my first cookbooks, so as I learned how to cook, I also learned about various cuisines. Had I known better, I might have been intimidated, but I just jumped in and started cooking.

One week I’d make meals from the Ethiopian cookbook, the next week Japan, the next Italy, and so forth. One of the cookbooks was “Middle Eastern Cooking,” which included foods from Greece as well as Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and other countries from that part of the world.

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Over the years I made moussaka, chicken baked in red sauce with cinnamon, grilled pork kabobs smothered in oregano, and many more lovely recipes. But one that I really loved was Pastitsio. To me it was way more fun than moussaka.

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When I first made it, my husband loved it. But over the 30-plus years that I’ve been cooking, he’s somehow decided that he hates lamb. It’s just not the same with beef, so I’m using a 50-50 mixture. Who knows, in a future post, I might be writing from my own apartment…

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Pastitsio

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
1 pound ziti
7 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 1/2 pound lean ground lamb
2 cups chopped, drained, canned tomatoes
1 cup canned tomato purée
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon oregano crumbled
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Black pepper
1/2 cup soft, fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Kefalotiri or Parmesan

In a large pot bring 6-8 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil over high heat and drop in the ziti. Stirring occasionally, cook the pasta for 10-15 minutes, or until soft but still somewhat resistant to the bite. Immediately drain the pasta and set aside.
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Meanwhile, prepare the lamb and the cream sauce. In a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook for 5 minutes, or until they are soft and transparent but not brown.

Add the lamb and, mashing it frequently with the back of spoon or fork to break up any lumps, cook until all traces of pink disappear.


Stir in the tomatoes, purée, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, the beaten egg, and set aside.


Sauce:
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
6 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour

To make the cream sauce, combine 3 cups of milk and the butter in a small pan until bubbles appear around the rim of the pan. Remove from the heat. In a heavy 2- to 3- quart saucepan, beat the eggs with a whisk until they are frothy.

Add the remaining 1 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of salt and, beating constantly, add the flour, a tablespoon at a time.


Stirring constantly, slowly pour in the heated milk and butter mixture in a thin stream and, still stirring, bring to a boil over moderate heat. Continue to boil until the sauce is thick and smooth; set aside.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. With a pastry brush coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 15 x 2 1/2″ baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the bottom with the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and spread half of the reserved pasta on top.


Cover with the meat, smoothing it into the corners with a spatula.
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Then pour 2 cups of the cream sauce evenly on top. Sprinkle with half the grated cheese.
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Make another layer with the remaining ziti, pour over it the rest of the cream sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.


Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is a delicate golden brown.

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If you love moussaka, you’ll definitely love pastitsio. It’s the love red meat sauce, slightly sweetened with cinnamon, layered on noodles, and topped with a rich, cheesy cream sauce that makes it the ultimate in comfort food, Greek style!
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Szechuan Peppered Steak

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I first learned about Szechuan peppercorns and Szechuan pepper salt from the Chinese Cooking cookbook of the Time Life Foods of the World Series. The pepper salt was made as a “dip” for Szechuan duck. Now, I like pepper and salt, which are the ingredients in Szechuan Pepper Salt, but dipping meat into this mixture might even be a bit too much for me.

But the pepper salt is unique and very versatile in cooking, so I decided it was time I made it again.

Szechuan peppercorns aren’t really peppercorns, but they’re called that because of their resemblance to peppercorns. That’s just an assumption on my part. They’re sort of crinkly brownish-black peppercorn-looking balls the size of peppercorns, which have a very aromatic smell to them that I can’t quite categorize. There’s a sweetness, a smokiness, an earthiness…..

So here is the recipe for the pepper salt.

Szechuan Pepper Salt

5 tablespoons coarse salt
2 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns*
1 teaspoon black peppercorns**

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Place the three ingredients in a large skillet and toast everything over moderate heat until the peppercorns just begin to smoke. You will love the smell of these peppercorns – they smell like aromatic smoke from a campfire that you’re smelling while sitting outside in the Alps with hot toddies. Seriously.

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Remove the skillet from the heat, but continue stirring until the mixture is cooled down.

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Place the mixture in some kind of spice blender and grind until finely ground and smooth.

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Using a sieve, strain the mixture. This will catch the skins of the peppercorns and other miscellaneous bits and pieces.

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Place the pepper salt in a jar and seal. Mine always kept indefinitely.

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To test out the peppersalt, try using it for steaks. I coated both sides of two filets with the peppersalt and brought the steaks to room temperature.

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Brown the steaks in hot oil of choice until they are brown on both sides, and continue cooking until rare or medium rare. My steaks were only about 1″ thick, so I didn’t need to use my oven for this result.

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Let the steaks rest, as usual, and then serve. I also sprinkled a little more pepper salt on the cooked steaks. You could also sprinkle pepper salt on grilled veggies instead of the steaks! But I wouldn’t recommend it on everything on your plate because it’s a bit strong.

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verdict: Oh, I have missed you peppersalt!!!

* The original recipe calls for only 1 tablespoon of Szechuan peppercorns, but I prefer this ratio. Otherwise everything ends up too salty.

** The original recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of black peppercorns, but I upped mine to a whole teaspoon. Only do that if you like pepper. But the flavors of the real peppercorns and the faux ones are dynamite!!!