Fruit Caponata

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A while back I wrote a post on a young man who is a spice expert. His name is Lior Lev Sercarz, and he opened a spice store called La Boîte in New York City in 2007. I titled the blog post The Spice Companion, because that is the name of his first book, published in 2016. It’s a fascinating and hefty encyclopedia of spices.

La Boîte, the store, sells spices, but also has classes, dinners, and wonderful gift offerings.

If you can’t get to New York City, La Boîte has a beautiful website where one can purchase unique spices and spice blends. It’s like Penzey’s on crack.

Read my blog post if you want to be impressed by a young man on a world-wide mission to study spices. His journey from a kibbutz in Israel to New York City via France, working with notable chefs, is a great read.

I receive the monthly La Boîte newsletter, and it was in a recent issue where I discovered this fruit caponata recipe, created by Christian Leue.

In the newsletter, Mr. Leue describes his fondness of Sicily, and how in the town of Rosolini he was once served a caponata made of fruit, alongside a grilled veal ribeye. Traditional caponata is not made with fruit, but is instead a savory Sicilian eggplant dish.

Based on his dining experience, he created his own version of fruit caponata. From the newsletter: “It’s a supremely versatile condiment, bright and freshly acidic, with a deep but forgiving sweetness.”

He served his caponata with “a simply seared salmon and fluffy basmati rice topped with toasted almonds.” A sprinkle of Izak N37, a La Boîte spice blend, ties all the flavors together.” This is a photo of that meal from the newsletter.

Here is the spice blend Izak N37. It contains sweet chilies, garlic, cumin, salt, and spices.

Previously on the blog I’ve made a fruit compote As well as roasted fruit in parchment, and chutney, but this recipe is like none of those. See what you think.

Fruit Caponata
printable recipe below

1 cup whole red cherries, stems removed if you like (you can also leave them on as a reminder not to eat the pits)
2 firm nectarines, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 Vidalia onion, peeled, 1-inch dice
2 cups mixed whole grapes
2-3 Tbsp wine vinegar (either white or red is fine, amount will depend on acidity, some wine vinegars are above the standard 5%)
1 Tbsp olive oil
sweetener, to taste (I prefer chestnut honey)
salt, to taste

For the caponata, combine all ingredients except salt and sweetener in a sauce pot with a lid and cook, covered, over medium heat until everything has softened, about 25 minutes.

Adjust to taste with salt and sweetener of your choice, and additional vinegar, if desired. Instead of honey, I used maple syrup.

Leaving the fruit whole or in large chunks keeps it from getting mushy, and you’ll get a lovely red color from the cherry skins.

Depending on the season you can also try adding/substituting: strawberries, small plums, quince, figs, apple, or pear.

The only way I veered from the original recipe was to somewhat reduce the liquid remaining in the pot after cooking the caponata.

According to Mr. Leue, “The caponata goes really well with most anything you want to throw at it. Try it with brined pork chops, pan fried and served with spätzle. Or alongside farro pilaf and braised chicken thighs. I followed his suggestion and gently seared a salmon filet, but didn’t make rice.

And I used Izak N37 on the salmon.

This fruit caponata is definitely unique. If I have to compare it to a condiment, I guess it would mostly closely mimic a chutney, because of the sweet and savory components.


The caponata is pretty because the fruit isn’t chopped, but I found it more challenging to eat. But all in all it was an interesting and delicious condiment to prepare, and so many different fruit options are possible, much like a chutney.

And the Izak N37? Fabulous!

The 2nd book already published by Serarz is The Art of Blending: Stories and Recipes from La Boîte’s Spice Journey. His third book is available for pre-order on Amazon now.

 

 

 

 

Colombian Coconut Rice

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When my husband and I were visiting our daughter a while back, she told us she was going to be vacationing in Colombia. My first reaction was, “Oh, Columbia in South Carolina?”

I should have known better. This is the kid who’s already been to Argentina, Hungary, Croatia, Guatemala, New Zealand, and Australia – 6 countries we hadn’t been to yet.

Our immediate thoughts were of course of drug cartels and kidnappers, but she assured us that the old part of Cartagena, where she’d be staying, was safe.

Well, she went, and she came back alive. But not without first texting me a recipe while in Cartagena for coconut rice that she fell in love with there. And she sent me a coconut rice recipe that she found online.

The recipe is from Serious Eats, and it’s actually called Colombian Coconut Rice, although the author, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, claims that this rice is popular throughout a significant area in South America.

As Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats and James Beard award winner, he definitely knows his stuff. Full bio below.

He writes, “At its core, arroz con coco is a pilaf—rice grains toasted in oil before being steamed, but in this case the oil comes directly from coconut milk. You start by dumping a can of coconut milk in a pot, and slowly boiling it off until all of the water content is removed, the coconut oil breaks out, and the solids begin to brown. From there, it’s a slow process of stirring and toasting until they are a deep, crunchy golden brown before finally adding sugar, salt, and rice.”

The only issue is if the coconut milk used in the recipe has stabilizers like crystalline cellulose or xanthan gum, you’ll have a hard time getting your solids to separate properly from your fat, making the rice to brown.

So I set out to find coconut milk without stabilizers and preservatives. Not an easy task. Finally, I found coconut milk at Trader Joe’s, with only coconut milk and water as ingredients. After many stores and Amazon. Hallelujah!

Colombian Coconut Rice
printable recipe at bottom

1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk (see note above)
2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup sugar (or brown sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 cups water

Heat coconut milk in a 2 quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat until simmering. Reduce to medium low and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until reduced to a couple of tablespoons.

Continue to cook, stirring and scraping constantly until coconut oil breaks out and coconut solids cook down to a deep, dark brown, about 20 minutes total.

Add rice, sugar (more or less to taste), and salt. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly until rice grains begin to turn translucent and golden, about 2 minutes.

Add water and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over high heat, reduce to lowest possible setting, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and let rest 15 minutes longer. Fluff with a fork, and serve.

Coconut rice is delicious, not too sweet, and actually works well as a side dish to meats and vegetables. In Colombia, my daughter ate it for breakfast with eggs.

And, at this point, this daughter has only been to 4 countries we’ve not been to yet, since we finally visited New Zealand and Australia in fall of 2017.


We’re catching up!

Note: When the solids separate from the oil and begin to brown, they look like crumbs. But have no fear. Once the water is added and the rice cooks, they will dissolve.

J. Kenji López-Alt is the managing culinary director of Serious Eats and author of the James Beard Award–nominated column The Food Lab, in which he unravels the science of home cooking. A restaurant-trained chef and former editor at Cook’s Illustrated magazine, Kenji released his first book, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, in 2015, which went on to become a New York Times best-seller and the recipient of a James Beard Award, and The Food Lab was named Cookbook of the Year in 2015 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

 

 

Pork Amarillo

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“IF THERE WERE A CHILE TO TASTE LIKE SUNSHINE, THIS WOULD BE IT.”

How can you pass up a description like that?!!

Back when I discovered the chile pepper paste Gochujang, I spied another international paste called Aji Amarillo. It’s a bright yellow paste, from Peru, made from aji amarillo chile peppers.

From Serious Eats, “Aji amarillo is a bright-orange, thick-fleshed chile with a medium to hot heat level. It’s ubiquitous in Peruvian cuisine, working its way into soups and sauces, which are used in pretty much everything.”

Below are fresh aji amarillo chile peppers on the left, and the dried peppers on the right.

I wanted to use and taste this paste in its purest form, so I did what I often do with pastes and pestos, and that was to slather it on meat – in this case, pork tenderloin.

This is what it looks like – sunshine!

The options for using this paste, similar to paprika creme or an ancho chile paste, are endless. Rice or risottos, soups and stews, salad dressings, and so forth.

Pork with Aji Amarillo

2 pork tenderloins, trimmed, at room temperature
Salt
Pepper (I used Mignonette)
1 jar Aji Amarillo, about 7.5 ounces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Typically I roast pork tenderloin, but I didn’t want the chile pepper paste too browned.

Place the tenderloins in an oiled baking dish and coat all sides with the oil. Tuck under the thin ends. Sprinkle lightly with salt and generously with pepper.

I discovered Mignonette pepper a while back, sold at Penzey’s. It’s a French-Canadian mixture of white and black pepper.


After the pork tenderloins are seasoned, slather them with the Aji Amarillo.

Place in the oven and bake, using an oven thermometer preferably. I take pork out when the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees.

Let the pork rest in the pan for about 15 minutes, then remove them to a cutting board.

Slice the pork in 3/8″ slices; it gets a bit messy with the paste.

Serve immediately. I had some roasted zucchini that I served with the pork.

Isn’t that color spectacular?!!

And don’t let the description of its fruitiness fool you. This is a chile pepper paste after all!

Green Rice with Corn

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For Cinco de Mayo 2017, I made a Mexican-inspired meal, not surprisingly. Mexican and Southwestern foods are some of our favorites, and any excuse to cook a bunch of delicious food and include friends work for us!

For the main course, I served buffalo fajitas along with sautéed vegetables, plus I made refried black beans and what I called “green rice”.

The rice is green from green chiles and an abundance of cilantro. (Don’t read on if you dislike cilantro!)

Okay, so what’s the big deal? Rice with cilantro? I don’t know, but it was everybody’s favorite dish. I mean, over the queso, the guacamole, and the chipotle shrimp, the green rice was the bomb.

The next morning I heated some up and plopped a fried egg on top. It was just that delicious.

This rice is more of a pilaf, with all of the goodies I included. The green chiles, cilantro, and seasoning turn it into one that’s Mexican-inspired and delicious.

Green Rice with Corn

2 cobs of corn
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
1 onion, finely chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
Rice of choice, about 1 1/3 cups
Chicken broth, about 3 cups
2 – 4.5 ounce cans chopped green chiles
Lots of chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper, optional

Cook the corn cobs in boiling water until they’re done, about 15 minutes. Drain and let cool.

Add the olive oil to a large pot and heat over medium. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and rice, and stir for about 30 seconds, then add the broth.

Bring the rice to a boil, cover, then turn down the heat. Cooking time depends on the kind of rice you use.

Once the rice is about cooked, remove the lid and stir in the remaining ingredients.

Cut the corn from the cobs. Break the corn up into neat pieces and stir into the rice gently.

I like to put the lid on and without heat, let the pot sit at the end of the cooking time. This step encourages more liquid absorption.

You can sprinkle on some cilantro leaves if you wish.

Fancy? Not at all. And just the same amount of time to make any pilaf.

And don’t forget to have the green rice with an egg the next morning!

Note: When I cook at home I always use brown rice, because it’s not processed. It takes a little more cooking time and a little more liquid, typically. White rice can certainly be substituted, and would actually look prettier. It’s just a personal call.

Golden Cauliflower and Carrot Rice

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I’m pretty sure you all know that I’m not fond of food trends. I’ve probably mentioned this numerous times. So if something becomes popular and trendy, I completely ignore it.

Sure, I’m old(er) and old-fashioned, but it’s just my personality. I never wore white metallic lipstick in the 60’s, either.

The dumb thing is, sometimes when you’re too stubborn, you can really miss out. Like the bowl trend. Is there one on my blog? No! But they do look lovely.

And in the 80’s, when I really started cooking, I looked down my nose at both sun-dried tomatoes and basil pesto because they were everywhere. I have no idea how many years I lost not indulging in those two fabulous foods. I’ll never forgive myself for that.

Which leads me to… cauliflower rice. Nope.

Then, thanks to the lovely Serena from her blog, Domesticate Me, I saw a recipe that I couldn’t ignore. It was a cauliflower and carrot rice with almonds and golden raisins.

If you don’t know Serena, you must check her blog out and her just-published cookbook, The Dude Diet.

She’s a doll, she’s funny, and she swears. Oh, and she’s a professionally-trained chef. What’s not to love?!! But also, and this is important to me, if I comment, she responds to my comment.

Now this may seem a bit silly, but I will stop following blogs if the authors have no time for me. It’s not that I’m so great, it’s because the best thing about blogging in my four-plus years of doing so, is the interaction. It’s like this virtual, giant group of foodie friends that you get to know around the world.

Plus, on some of those fancy blogs, you can tell that the author responds to nobody’s comment. They’re just too important and busy. I just don’t get that.

Serena has been on her book tour around the U.S., but she is still responding to comments. And I know how much time it takes, because I follow many blogs. It’s just part of the dedication one should have to one’s blog. And Serena’s blog is also one of those fancy ones!

I promised Serena that I would make her “rice” dish because it really sounded lovely. She assured me it would not disappoint.

Golden Cauliflower and Carrot Rice
Adapted slightly from Domesticate Me!

1 medium head cauliflower, florets only, about 1 lb. 6 ounces
Baby carrots, 8 ounces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt
Juice of 1 lemon
¾ cup chopped parsley leaves
½ cup golden raisins (I used figs)
½ cup chopped raw almonds (I used hazelnuts)
Lemon wedges for serving (optional)

Add about half of the cauliflower florets to a food processor and pulse until a “rice” forms. Place in a large bowl, then process the remaining cauliflower.

Process the carrots the same way, and add the riced carrots to the cauliflower.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the cauliflower and carrot rice, turmeric, cayenne, cumin, and a good pinch of salt.

Cook for 2-3 minutes until the rice is just tender.

Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice.


Fold in the parsley, dried fruits, and toasted nuts. Taste, and add salt if necessary.


I served this “rice” with some grilled chicken that was marinated in a garlic-parsley marinade.

What’s really fun is changing up the dried fruits and nuts according to your taste and the season. Imagine this dish with dried cranberries and pistachios in December!

Dried figs and hazelnuts are really more autumnal, but I had them on hand and I love them.

Okay, so am I glad I finally tried cauliflower rice? Of course! But I really liked what Serena did with the dish, adding carrots, seasoning, and the fruits and nuts. I can also see this as a salad with a vinaigrette, maybe with some orzo, or barley, or just like it is.

Serena’s actual name for this dish is Cauliflower and Carrot Golden “Rice,” and she serves it in a bowl, but it’s okay, cause I like her. I put mine on a plate. Maybe I can start a plate trend?!!

Salad and Giving Thanks

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This year I didn’t get the opportunity to cook Thanksgiving dinner, which is fine. The typical American Thanksgiving meal is quite involved, especially if you’re trying to make everybody happy and satisfy their requests. You can spend days in the kitchen.

But what one misses out on is Thanksgiving leftovers. And I really missed them this year. Fabulous, hearty and delicious food that reheats well, and is perfect for winter weather.

So I was inspired to create a salad inspired by Thanksgiving dishes, even though I had no leftovers. No problem. Grilled turkey, sausage, rice, wild rice, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, and more.

So the following recipe is more of a guide for a Thanksgiving-inspired salad using your favorite Thanksgiving ingredients. Not all of them – that could get quite messy!

Use rice, barley, wild rice, or even quinoa. And then just have fun with the ingredients. Serve at room temperature with your choice of vinaigrette or citrus-based dressing. Here goes.

Salad for Giving Thanks

Combination of brown and wild rice, cooked
Mini Italian sausage balls, cooked
Cooked Brussels sprouts
Turkey tenderloin
Sliced celery
Toasted pecans
Dried cranberries
Vinaigrette of choice

Have a serving platter large enough for the number of eaters. Plan on large servings, because this salad is delicious and addicting!

Have your rice cooked, and make a layer with it on the platter.
sal
Add the sausage balls, followed by the Brussels sprouts.


I cooked a piece of turkey tenderloin in a skillet, seasoned only with garlic pepper. Many Americans use poultry seasoning. I browned the turkey on both sides, then put on a lid and cooked it until it was 155 in the thickest part.

Place the turkey on a cutting board and let it rest. I sliced the tenderloin, but you could cut it up as well.
chick
Add the turkey to the salad. Then add the celery, pecans, and dried cranberries.

Serve the salad warm or at room temperature, topped with the vinaigrette.
an equal amount of sherry vinegar. I poured the mixture in a blender jar, added one clove of garlic, some salt, and about 2/3 cup of olive oil. Blend and go!

vin

salad1
note: I wouldn’t recommend using 100% wild rice, which is actually a grass and not legally rice. And because of that fact, too much of it creates a texture similar to alfalfa, which I can only imagine eating.

Paprika Risotto

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Risotto is one of my favorite dishes to make because, like polenta, it can be made so many different ways depending what you put into it. Basically, it’s a rice dish, but made with a special starchy rice that creates a creaminess when cooked the proper way.

Today I wanted to make a risotto using a favorite ingredient of mine called paprika cream. I learned about it from a Hungarian friend and I’m addicted to it. And yes, it is a short cut, but it’s a fabulous one. This is a high-quality product that is extremely versatile. It’s available in a jar made by Univer, but I’ve also used a brand that comes in a tube.


Sure, you can roast your own red Hungarian peppers, peel them, and purée them, but why not use this pre-made product? Especially because you can use a teaspoon, a tablespoon, or much more, depending on what you’re making.

Today I’m making risotto with the paprika creme which will provide the flavor. The flavor is bigger and better by using this product than simply using a sweet or spicy Hungarian ground paprika.

You can serve grilled shrimp or scallops with it or just about any favorite protein. My husband prefers a meat-heavy meal, so for him the risotto will be more like a side dish, along with pork tenderloin.


If you need a tutorial on making risotto, I have posted on Dried Mushroom Risotto, a Zucchini Risotto, and a Thai-Inspired Risotto, all of which have more details about the risotto-making process.

Don’t let anyone convince you that it’s difficult. I’ve even taught children how to make risotto! There is a little elbow grease involved, but it’s well worth it.

The only “rule” about preparing risotto is to have all of your ingredients ready by the stove because you cannot leave the kitchen while making risotto, and you don’t want to get distracted. The whole process takes up to 40 minutes.
risss
Here’s what I did:

Paprika Risotto

2 tablespoons olive oil, or fat of choice
2 shallots, diced
1 cup of arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine
Approximately 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 heaping tablespoons of paprika creme, or to taste
Grated Parmesan, optional

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. I actually used a little fat from the pan in which I roasted the pork tenderloins. Don’t ever throw that fat away!!!
ris

When the oil is hot, add the shallots and sauté for a few minutes. A little caramelization is good. Then stir in the rice, and sauté the rice, stirring occasionally, for about a minute. All of the rice grains should be shiny.


Then pour in the wine. If the pan is at the right temperature, the wine should sizzle a little. If it just sits there, you need to turn up the heat. Stir the rice with the wine until the wine is almost all evaporated.

Then begin adding chicken broth, about 1/4 – 1/3 cups at a time, stir, and continue doing this. When the liquid is almost completely incorporated, the rice should almost be sticking to the pan, but it won’t, cause you’re there at the stove adding a little more liquid. 

Before you’ve used all of the broth, stir in the paprika cream until it’s well incorporated.


You’ll know when your risotto is about done because it will begin to stop absorbing the liquid, and should have a nice creamy consistency.  If the rice is still absorbing the broth, it’s okay to add a little more broth or even water as necessary, even if you’ve already used the 2 1/2 cups of broth.  The rice has to cook (see note).
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You can stir in the Parmesan, but I prefer to sprinkle it on top of the risotto.

Serve immediately.

risotto
If you want a creamier risotto, you can substitute some of the broth with heavy cream.


note: According to the Italians, the rice grains in risotto are cooked until they are al dente – which means there is just a little bit of bite to them. Personally, I don’t mind my risotto slightly beyond that point. Hopefully my Italian ancestors aren’t rolling over in their graves because of my preference!

Now, think about all of the lovely variations of risotto you can make throughout the year…

Spring: lemon risotto with spicy grilled shrimp, or risotto with asparagus

Summer: risotto with corn and chipotle, or tomato risotto with spicy scallops and fresh basil

Fall: pumpkin risotto with feta cheese, or Brussels sprouts risotto topped with grilled sausages

Winter: cheddar risotto topped with braised short ribs, or wild mushroom risotto served with pork loin

Dried Mushroom Risotto

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I think my husband could live on risotto alone. Well, steak and risotto. So I make risotto often, creating different varieties to keep life interesting. It’s the kind of cooking I like to do, in any case, like when I made a Thai-inspired risotto a while back. My Italian ancestors are probably rolling in their graves, but one doesn’t always have to make only “authentic” dishes authentically!

Most people have sautéed mushrooms for pasta, or to top steaks. But have you ever used dried mushrooms? They used to be harder to find, but nowadays you can get just about any variety of mushroom in a dried form at most grocery stores. Italian, French, and so forth.

If you haven’t used them, I urge you strongly to try them once. It’s simply a matter of soaking them in hot water to hydrate them, then toss them into soups, pastas, gratins, you name it. They have a unique flavor, one that’s much different from the fresh counterpart.

Quite often I mix Italian and Chinese mushrooms together; the provenance of the mushroom doesn’t matter. Chinese mushrooms aren’t just for Chinese food, unless you get into the fungus, like cloud ears. Those would be more specific to Chinese dishes. My opinion.

Sometimes I mix different mushrooms together in a dish and have no idea what kind they are, because I was too dumb to save the packaging, like these. Chanterelles, maybe?
ris88
Other times, with Chinese packaging, there’s no English translation. But in this case, I know these are Shitakes.
ris99

So today I’m making a risotto with a mixture of the two above dried mushrooms. It’s still cold outside where I live, so I was inspired to make this risotto. It’s not something I would make during the spring and summer months. I’m seasonally responsible when I cook!

To prepare the dried mushrooms, place them in a larger bowl and add hot water to cover. To keep the mushrooms submerged, I place a smaller bowl on top and weigh it down with a can or an apple. Let them soak for at least 15 minutes; they can’t overhydrate.

Here’s the risotto I made today with the dried mushrooms. It’s just a general recipe. If you want more of a tutorial, check out some of my other risottos, like zucchini risotto.
ris1
Dried Mushroom Risotto

1 ounce of your choice of dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water
2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil if you prefer)
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio or other risotto rice
1/4 cup white wine
Juice from mushrooms (see below)
Broth
3 ounces Parmesan, optional
Salt
Black or white pepper, to taste

To begin, heat the butter in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté them for a few minutes. Then stir in the rice. Stir it for about a minute, so that all of the rice grains are coated with the butter.

Begin adding liquid to the rice, about 1/4 – 1/3 cup at a time, and stir until it disappears. I like to start with the wine for some reason.

Meanwhile, remove the mushrooms from the liquid and place them on a cutting board. Chop the mushrooms, feeling for any hard pieces and discarding them.

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Using a fine sieve, strain the mushroom “liquor” to remove any grit. You will be using this liquid in the risotto.

Continue adding liquid to the risotto, using the mushroom liquor, followed by broth.
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Keep stirring, and you will see the rice continue to absorb liquid. When you can tell that you’re close to the end of cooking time, add the chopped mushrooms and grated Parmesan, if you’re using it. Stir gently to combine. Taste and season, if necessary, with salt and pepper.

Some people like to add more butter and sometimes heavy cream to risotto, but the rice itself gets so creamy that to me it’s not necessary.
ris4
As far as toppings, you can use fresh parsley or chives. I chose a bit of fresh thyme.

This risotto is fabulous as is, but would also be lovely with poultry or beef.
ris2

How to Stir Fry!

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Stir frying is something I do quite often in my kitchen. For one thing, Asian stir fries, with traditional ingredients, are simple and delicious. Secondly, they’re quite healthy, because of the lovely balance of meat or seafood and vegetables. They’re also a good use for leftover meat and vegetables, and mostly, I love them because no recipe is required.

It does help to be familiar with Asian ingredients. My stir fries are more on the Chinese side, but add some fish sauce and you’ve got yourself a Thai stir fry! As I have said before, you can certainly follow recipes, but I often cook the inspired way. That is, being familiar with the traditional ingredients of a cuisine, and using those in your dish. It may not be a perfect stir fry according to Chinese chefs and grandmothers, but no Chinese food police are coming to my kitchen to arrest me any time soon!

First, it’s important to have the basics – onion, garlic, and ginger. These can be part of the stir fry, or used in a marinade. If I do marinate meat before a stir fry, I only use a little peanut oil or olive oil – enough to blend the aromatics. Liquid additions are wonderful, but then the meat has to be patted dry before cooking. An oily marinade is just easier.

The seasonings for stir fries are easy to find, fortunately. Soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, sherry, sesame seed oil, chile paste, hot sauce, and hoisin sauce. Other optional ingredients include fermented bean paste, shrimp paste, plum sauce (which I don’t care for) and oyster sauce.

One Chinese seasoning is called Chinese 5-Spice, which, obviously, is a mixture of spices – cinnamon, ginger, cloves, star anise, and pepper. I’ve noticed that some also contain fennel. As with most spice and herb mixtures, I hesitate to use them. Just like using a purchased curry powder, every dish you make will end up tasting the same. For this dish today, I just want the meat, vegetables, and seasonings to shine. But use the spice mixture if you like it!
5spice
The protein used in a stir fry has to be good quality and quick cooking. For example, I wouldn’t use beef or pork that requires 4-6 hours of cooking. I’m talking beef and pork tenderloin, chicken thighs and breast, scallops and shrimp.

When it comes to vegetables, anything goes, unless you are expecting the Chinese food police to show up. Of course there’s traditional bok choy, Chinese cabbage, Chinese eggplants, snow peas, and so forth, plus ingredients that play a minor role like bean sprouts, dried mushrooms, chile peppers, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and cilantro. But if you want to use carrots and broccoli, you can make a delicious stir fry as well. Or spinach and tomatoes!

The only requirement of a stir fry is that all the different components are cooked properly at the very end when all of they are all tossed together. So if you’re using carrots and broccoli, steam-cook them first until almost completely tender, then add them to the cooked meat at the end. Perfection! Spinach and tomatoes wouldn’t require any pre-cooking. It’s all about common sense.

Here is the stir fry that I made using what was in my refrigerator one night. Enjoy, and make sure to customize it to your tastes and ingredients!

Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry

1 1/2 pounds cubed beef tenderloin
1/2 cup olive or peanut oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 – 1 1/2″ piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound sugar snap peas or snow peas
1/3 cup soy sauce
3/8 cup mirin
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
2 medium onions
2 medium red bell peppers
Fresh cilantro, chives, or chile pepper slices

Drain the beef well on paper towels, then place the cubed beef in a large bowl or re-sealable bag. I used the ends of a whole beef tenderloin, from which I had cut filet mignon slices, which is why the “cubes” are different shapes. The volumetric uniformity of the cubes is what’s important in a stir fry. Mine are on the large size, but uniformity is what’s critical.

Add the oil, garlic, ginger, and salt to a jar of a small food processor.
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Process until smooth, then pour over the meat.
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Toss the meat, or bounce it around in the bag to make sure the beef is uniformly coated with the flavorful oil. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Bring the meat to almost rooom temperature at least an hour before beginning the stir fry.

When you’re ready, begin by trimming the peas, if necessary, and steam them just until crisp-tender. For me, this was 5 minutes of steaming. Snow peas are thinner and would require less cooking time. However, cooking time also depends on how crisp you like your vegetables.


Let the peas cool. If you think you have overcooked the peas, or any vegetable for that matter, toss a cup full of ice over the vegetables in a colander. This will cool them off faster, and the melted ice will drain away. Set the peas aside.
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In a measuring cup, measure out the soy sauce, mirin, hoisin sauce, and sesame see oil. Whisk the mixture, and set aside.
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If you’re not familiar with hoisin sauce, I’d suggest buying some. You don’t need much for fabulous flavor. It’s just a soy bean paste. There are different qualities and brands. This is the one I can find locally, but when I have the opportunity to visit an Asian market, I buy more “authentic” brands.
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Slice the onions and peppers to your liking. I like more of a wedge look. Have these in a bowl nearby.
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Have everything you’re going to use in your stir fry near the stove. A lot about Chinese cooking, much like all cooking, is to have everything on hand during the cooking process. It’s mise en place on crack, because things can move quickly

To begin, heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add about 1 tablespoon of oil* and just when it begins to smoke (have your ventilation system on) add a handful of cubed beef. Let them sit for a minute, before tossing around, then leave them alone for another minute or two. Get the cubes to the point where all sides show browning, but don’t allow any further cooking. Remember, there will be a little cooking boost at the end.


Remove the beef with a slotted spoon, then continue with the remaining beef.
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When you are done with the browned beef, lower the heat on the stove by about half. Add the onions and peppers, and saute them, tossing them around occasionally to create some caramelization.

If you want them cooked softer, you can put a lid on the skillet/wok for about a minute.


when you’re happy with the “cook” of the onions and peppers, add the peas and toss gently.
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Then add the beef cubes and any juices that might have accumulated in the bowl.
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Immediately pour in the seasoning mixture, and combine it gently. Stir occasionally, to make sure the beef cooks through to your liking. Mine, of course, will end up medium-rare.
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If the stir fry seems like it has too much liquid, remove the beef and vegetables, using a spider sieve, and place in a large serving bowl. Then reduce the liquid in the skillet/wok.
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Pour the reduced liquid over the stir fry, toss gently, and serve.
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Most people enjoy rice with their stir fries, but I prefer it as is.

Serve the stir fry with chile paste or sriracha or even cayenne pepper flakes for those who want a boost in heat. I’ve also included dried chile pepper slices, and you can always serve black or white sesame seeds for a pretty topping.
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* You may not need any extra oil if you have enough extra oily marinade. Make sure to use all of the marinade in the stir fry for extra flavor.
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note: Some recipes call for cornstarch to thicken the final sauce for a stir fry, but I don’t bother. If you’re not careful, the sauce will become gloppy, which reminds me of bad Chinese American restaurant food.

Zucchini Risotto

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If you have an overabundance of zucchini from your garden right now, this recipe is for you. It’s easy, healthy, and delicious. Plus, it helps use up your zucchini in a creative way.

Risotto, and polenta as well, are two dishes that I love to play with. Purists of Italian cuisine wouldn’t appreciate my culinary playtime, changing up recipes just for fun. But if you think of it, risotto is simply rice. Think of it as a vehicle, into which you can load lots of different flavors and ingredients.

Take vegetables, for example. You can add grated carrots to risotto, or even use carrot juice. You can add fresh tomatoes, or a little tomato paste. Sweet potato and pumpkin certainly work, as do roasted red bell peppers. Maybe I wouldn’t try a risotto with cucumbers….

If you would like a tutorial on making risotto, check out my Thai-inspired risotto. But even if you’ve never made a risotto before – trust me. It’s easy. I’ve even taught little kids to make them.

So the following recipe is more of a guide for you to make a fabulous zucchini risotto, using the ingredients you choose. Enjoy!

Zucchini Risotto

Butter or oil (I chose about 3 tablespoons butter)
Some kind of aromatic (I chose 1/4 finely chopped yellow onion)
Risotto rice (I chose arborio, about 1 1/4 cups)
White wine, about 1/3 cup*
1 medium zucchini, grated
Chicken broth, approximately 2 1/2 cups
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated cheese (I chose romano)

Have all of your ingredients handy, and be prepared to devote most all of your attention to the pot on the stove. That’s the only pre-requisite for making risotto.
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Begin by melting the butter in a saucepan or risotto pan. I let my butter brown a little because I love that extra flavor. Add the onion and cook them for a few minutes, turning down the heat a little if necessary.

Add the rice to the butter-onion mixture and stir it well for about 1 minute. All of the grains of rice should be coated with the butter and look shiny. If they don’t, you haven’t started with a sufficient amount of butter or oil. This step is the most critical in making a successful risotto.

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At this point, add the wine in one or two batches, stirring until it’s absorbed by the rice. If you prefer, you can use solely chicken broth instead.

I just noticed that this pinot blanc, from the Trimbach winery, is made in Ribeauvillé . I’ve actually been there, and it’s a gorgeous little town. Today I just saw on Facebook that it’s Hubert Keller’s home town.

Once you’ve used the wine, add the zucchini and stir well. Then gradually add chicken broth, a little at a time. Just stir until the rice absorbs the liquid, then add a little more liquid. Repeat. Also at some point add the salt.

The rice will get thicker as time goes on. The total risotto-making process takes about 30 minutes.

Towards the end, which you will be able to predict is close because the rice is much slower to absorb liquid, you can add cheese. Alternatively, wait and serve the cheese at the table.

Taste. Then serve.

Some people add cream instead of some of the broth, and sometimes also add a little more butter, and both are good options.


Today I served the zucchini risotto as a side dish, along side paprika-crusted pork tenderloin, but the risotto would satisfy vegetarians as well.

For seasoning, there are so many choices. I could have used fresh basil, but I opted for a little sprinkling of fresh thyme. I find that white pepper goes really well in vegetable risottos. Use what you like.
* You don’t have to include wine with the liquid in a risotto recipe. Just use more of your choice of liquid, like chicken broth. When I taught kids to make risotto, we didn’t include wine, just so you know!

note: Typically when you use zucchini in a recipe, there is a necessary procedure to attend to in order to rid the zucchini or extra water. However, this isn’t a necessary step in a risotto, since the zucchini’s liquid plays a role along with the wine and chicken broth. Another reason why this is such an easy recipe!!!