Friday, January 23, 2009

Hot and Sour Soup with Asparagus and Wild Mushrooms

This recipe comes from Hugh Carpenter, a professional chef who specializes in Asian fusion cuisine; I took a class from him in Santa Monica a long time ago. He used to own a chain of dim sum restaurants in Los Angeles; I used to go to one in West Hollywood, back when Melrose Avenue was really hot.

This recipe is virtually foolproof; the only potential problem is overcooking the asparagus, which is why I tell you to add the asparagus at the very end of the cooking time. The other vegetables aren't as delicate, but of course you can add them gradually according to the required cooking time (carrots first, etc.).

1 small bunch asparagus, diagonally cut
4 oz. shitake mushrooms, stemmed and slivered
1/2 box bean curd (use very firm)
1 cup slivered carrots
1/2 cup slivered green onions
1 boneless chicken breast, skinned
6 cups chicken broth (of course, homemade chicken stock gives the best results)
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Seasoning Mix

6 Tbsp. vinegar (white, red wine, or cider vinegar)
2 Tbsp. dry sherry
1 Tbsp. heavy soy sauce
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. finely ground white pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Chinese chili sauce

Advance Preparation

Prepare asparagus, mushrooms, bean curd, carrots, green onion. Cut chicken breast into very thin spoon-sized pieces; marinate it with some sesame oil for a couple minutes so it doesn’t stick together. Set aside broth, eggs and cornstarch. In small bowl, combine Seasoning Mix.

Last-Minute Cooking

Bring broth to low boil. Add chicken and give soup a vigorous stir to separate the meat. Add vegetables [except asparagus] and seasoning mix. Combine cornstarch with equal amount cold water. Bring soup to low boil and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Beat eggs well. Bring soup back to very low boil. Add 2 Tbsp. soup to eggs, then slowly pour eggs into soup while beating soup with a fork where the eggs hit the hot broth. [Add asparagus for the last few minutes of cooking.] Remove from heat and adjust for salt, spiciness and tartness. The soup can be made several hours in advance and just reheated. Turn into soup tureen or individual bowls. Serve at once.

Serves 4 as the main entrée, or 6 to 8 as the soup course.

Other possible additions: bean sprouts, red cabbage, bamboo shoots, peas

Pear Tart - Outstanding!!!!

John Evelev served us this pear tart for dessert recently, and I swear to you, it was the best dessert I've eaten in a long, long time! The recipe comes from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells. For the pastry dough, John used ready-made (uncooked) dough from the grocery store and it was as good as a homemade pastry crust. Patricia writes:

Like an authentic tart Tatin, the pear version consists of nothing but well-caramelized pears and a layer of thin pastry. The pears should remain in huge chunks, making for an honest, rustic tart. The clear glass baking dish allows you to see if any pears are sticking as you turn out the tart. This may seem like a lot of pears for a single tart, but they cook down quickly.

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
7 to 8 firm pears (about 2 3/4 pounds; 1.75 kg), preferably Bosc or Anjou, peeled, quartered and cored
1/2 c. (100 g.) sugar
1 recipe of pastry dough
1 cup of crème fraîche or sour cream, for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 Celsius).

2. Melt the butter in a deep 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the pears and sugar. Cook, stirring carefully from time to time so the pears and sugar do not stick, 20 minutes. Increase the heat to high and cook until the pears and sugar are a deep, golden brown, about 15 more minutes. (If you are like me, the urge will be to stop the cooking a bit soon, so it doesn’t burn. But the tart will be much prettier and taste better if you take the time to allow the pears to run a true golden brown.) Shake the pan from time to time, and watch carefully to be sure that the pears and sugar do not burn. (If you do not have a pan large enough to cook all of the pears, cook them in 2 smaller pans, dividing the ingredients in half.)

3. Literally pile the pears into an unbuttered round 10 1/2-inch (27 cm.) clear glass baking dish or a special tin-lined copper tart Tatin pan.

4. Roll out the pastry dough slightly larger than the dish. Place the pastry on top of the pears, tucking a bit of the dough around the edges and down into the dish. You do not need to prick the dough.

5. Place the tart into the center of the oven and bake until the pears bubble and the pastry is a deep, golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.

6. Remove the tart from the oven and immediately place a large, flat heatproof serving platter top-side down on top of the baking dish or pan. Invert the pan and give the bottom a firm tap, to release any pears that may be sticking to the bottom. Slowly release the baking dish, so the tart falls evenly onto the serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature, passing a bowl of rich crème fraîche to spoon over the tart.

7. Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cauliflower Pakoras

This recipe comes from Neelam Bhatra, from whom I took a class on Indian cooking some 20 years ago (!) in Santa Monica. (Her husband owned the company I worked for at the time.) I recently made this for a dinner party, using cauliflower, slices of sweet potato, and green beans. It turned out great! This is a no-fail recipe, as long as you are comfortable with deep-frying. But you should at least double the recipe for more than a half-dozen people.

1-2 lbs. cauliflower, cut into florets (can also use green beans, thinly sliced potato)
1 c. garbanzo flour
2/3 c. water, approximately
2 t. coriander powder
1 t. cumin powder
1/4 t. paprika
pinch of baking soda
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
salt to taste
oil for deep frying

Sift garbanzo flour. Mix all dry ingredients into flour. Next add chopped cilantro and water and make a medium thick batter.

Heat oil in a wok or any other pan. Dip each floret into batter and put into hot oil carefully – to prevent splattering. Fry until nicely brown and crisp.

Remove to paper towels. Serve hot as appetizers or as a snack with tea or coffee.

Fritters can be lightly fried and cooled completely before refrigerating or freezing. Thaw and refry before serving.

Good with chat masala sprinkled on top.

Variations: This batter can be used with thin slices of potatoes, onions, eggplant, squash and paneer. Mushrooms and green beans are good too.

(Better if fried twice – come out very crisp. For party, prepare in advance, fry for second time right before serving.)

NOTE: Garbanzo flour is available at Indian grocery stores; at regular grocery stores you can often find it, too, from Bob's Red Mill (one of their vast line of products!).

Homemade Bailey's

This recipe for an imitation BAILEY'S IRISH CREME comes from my friend Anne Jacobson from book group. I have not tried it yet as I am afraid of the calories!

Mix in blender:

2 eggs
1 cup Eagle Brand Condensed Milk
1/2 pt. of half and half
1 1/2 Tbsp. chocolate syrup
1 Tbsp. instant coffee
1 cup scotch or whiskey
1 drop coconut flavoring


Friday, January 9, 2009

Middle Eastern Chard and Lentil Soup

I know there are lots of lentil soup recipes out there, but this one is outstanding. The broth comes out incredibly rich, it must be from sauteeing the greens and garlic separately. This recipe comes from Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Greens and Grains, and was sent to us by my cousin L. as part of our wedding gift, which included a large clay cazuela and other cooking implements and ingredients. It has become one of the mainstays of our family menu for the past 5 years. Wolfert claims the recipe is from Syria.

Makes 10 cups, serving 8.

Wolfert writes:

"Here’s a light soup for all seasons: in summer serve it cool or at room temperature to refresh; in winter serve it hot to nourish. It’s delicious with grilled bread topped with crushed oily black olives and sprinkled with oregano."

"This soup is even better when you add another green to the chard. In early spring I combine chard and dandelions; in summer, chard and arugula; in winter, chard and spinach."

"Use any lentil you like. For me the most savory is the small Spanish pardina lentil available through Phipps Ranch (by mail order) or the small brown lentils available at Middle Eastern and Indian groceries. "

[Note: I almost always use chard and kale in combination, and I never serve it cool or room temperature. I always use the miniature green lentils from France, which are available at Clover's. EH]

"A potato, cut paper thin so it will dissolve, is cooked along with the lentils to thicken the soup and give it a rich creamy texture."

1 c. dark mini-lentils such as Spanish pardina or Egyptian, Ethiopian, or Indian whole masoor dal
1 tsp. salt
2 quarts light chicken stock (optional) [or vegetable broth, of course; my favorite is the "No-Chicken" broth. EH]
1 medium potato, peeled and sliced paper thin
1 c. chopped onion
3 Tbsp. olive oil
8 large Swiss chard leaves
1 lb. leafy greens such as spinach, dandelions, arugula, watercress, beet greens, kale or a mixture
1/4 c. roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/3 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Wash and pick over lentils. Place lentils in a saucepan and cover with the stock or 2 quarts water salted with 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that surfaces. Add the potato, partially cover, and cook for 20 minutes.

2. In a large skillet, slowly brown the onion in the olive oil. Meanwhile, wash, stem, and roughly shred the greens. You should have about 1 packed quart. Add the cilantro and garlic to the skillet and sauté for a minute or two, then stir in the greens and allow them to wilt, covered. Scrape the contents of the skillet, including the oil, into the saucepan and continue cooking another 20 minutes, or until thick and soupy. Stir in the lemon juice and serve hot, lukewarm, or cool.

[Note: I have made this without the potato, and even without the cilantro when necessary; but the lemon juice is crucial! EH]