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Archive for the ‘Vegetable’ Category

You might think some computer virus had ridiculously scrambled the words of my title above. But no: That’s the name of a new-to-me Thai dish that I made this week. I found the recipe in The Original Thai Cookbook, by Jennifer Brennan. A 1981 paperback, with much interesting historical, cultural, and culinary information about Thailand, it bills itself as “the first, complete, authentic, Thai cookbook published in America.”

The recipe’s English title is Fried Pork and Long Beans. I’d have given it a name with a different emphasis, because (a) it’s not what we in the West mean by frying but stir-frying, (b) it uses as much shrimp as pork, and (c) the beans are definitely the largest component. So, Stir-fried Green Beans with Pork and Shrimp. By any name, it’s a good dish and very easy to make.
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Acknowledging the limited availability of Chinese “long beans” in American markets, the recipe promptly allows using conventional green beans, which I did. And, as is truly essential for the speed of stir-frying, I measured, prepped, and set out all my ingredients before beginning to cook. In addition to the shrimp, beans, and pork, here’s garlic, nam pla (Thailand’s ubiquitous fish sauce), granulated sugar, freshly ground black pepper, and cooking oil.
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Into the hot, oiled wok went first the garlic, just long enough to color; next the pork, for a few minutes to sear and seal.
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At that point I had to make a change in the recipe’s stir-frying sequence. The shrimp were to have gone in next, for one minute, and finally the long beans, for only two minutes. I knew that wouldn’t be enough time for my green beans to soften, so I tossed them in with the browning pork and gave them three more minutes together before adding the shrimp.
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Even my shrimp took more than one minute to lose their translucency. No size was specified for them, so possibly mine were larger than anticipated by the recipe. However, they still didn’t take long, and I was soon able to stir in the fish sauce, sugar, and pepper to finish the dish. I must admit, the green beans were still almost raw – very firm and squeaky – but that really wasn’t too bad.  In fact, it may have been ethnically authentic. They made a nice textural contrast with the other ingredients.
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What really completed the dish was the nam pla. On its own, this liquid from salted and fermented anchovies, much like the garum of ancient Rome, is extremely pungent – not to say stinky. But mixing with other ingredients here moderated its intensity and delivered a pleasing dose of umami, giving the dish a deliciously different set of flavors from my more customary Western cooking style. I must try it in other Thai recipes.

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This week I tried twice to reproduce a dish called Potatoes Fused with Cheese and Mushrooms that I’d enjoyed at the Bebedouro tapas bar in Lisbon last month. Both times I achieved what I’ll call successful failures. That is, though neither attempt came anywhere near its target, both results were extremely tasty and quite versatile. I can see either of them gaining a regular place in my repertory.

Here is the dish at the restaurant.
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From its flavors and texture, I thought the potatoes and mushrooms might have been roasted separately before being “fused” together in an oven to melt the cheese, so that’s what I’d do. I found a recipe online that seemed to have useful pointers for my initial foray.

The main challenge was the mushrooms. Black trumpets are the only kind I know that are so thoroughly dark, but the ones occasionally available here are always very small. And, this week, the ones at Eataly (best place locally for wild mushrooms) didn’t look very fresh. I’d have to forgo a color match and try another variety. I chose hedgehogs.
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The potatoes were no problem. A stand at my greenmarket carries German butterballs – a small, dense, waxy heirloom variety that holds its shape well in cooking.

In the afternoon I cut both vegetables in large pieces; tossed them separately with salt, pepper, and the luscious olive oil I’d brought back from my Portugal trip; and put the two pans in a 400° oven.

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The mushrooms took about 15 minutes to get tender; the potatoes about 45. When they were done and cooled, I combined them in two individual gratin dishes, along with more olive oil, and left them covered on the kitchen counter. In the evening I topped the dishes with grated Gruyere before reheating them under the broiler.
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Unfortunately, the cheese didn’t melt very well. And clearly, my dish bore no resemblance whatsoever to the Bebedouro one. But it made a delicious combination of flavors: richly meaty, even though totally vegetable. An excellent first course for our dinner.
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Nothing daunted (or at least not too badly daunted), I determined to try again. Roasting had left the vegetables fairly dry and crisp: nothing wrong with that, but not what I’d been aiming for. Next time, for the initial cooking I would boil the potatoes in their jackets and sauté the mushrooms. Also, I would try a different mushroom – oysters, this time. (Black trumpets still weren’t good.)
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So I did. For the final heating I dressed the veg with enough of that good Portuguese olive oil to make a noticeable puddle in the gratin dish. Instead of grating the cheese for the topping, I took thin shavings with a vegetable peeler. And instead of finishing the dish under the broiler, I baked it at 350° for almost 30 minutes.
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This second version didn’t come out looking anything like Bebedouro’s either. But, like my first, it was very, very good. A softer, moister version than the other, it made a fine dinner companion to a small broiled steak.

I don’t think I’ll venture a third try. Some travel-encountered dishes are best left to fond recollection – she said reluctantly.

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It isn’t officially winter yet, but some days are beginning to feel like it. Raw, damp weather naturally gets me thinking about hearty rib-sticking things to eat. In the vegetable category, winter squashes fill the bill, so on my latest trip to the Greenmarket, I picked up one from the heaps on display at all the stands.
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I almost always choose butternuts, pale and plain-looking as they are, because their thick, straight necks and small seed cavities provide a greater proportion of usable flesh and are easier to peel than the round, ridged varieties. Besides, they’re very tasty.

This day I wanted to try a new recipe I’d found in Elizabeth Schneider’s encyclopedic tome Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini. The author says her Baked Winter Squash and Apple Puree with Nuts is “more flavorful and subtle than you might expect from the few and familiar ingredients.” Hard to resist a come-on like that!

(I was going to be cutting back the recipe significantly. It gives quantities for 12 servings, and I was making it for just 2. Fortunately, its calling for 6 pounds of squash and 6 apples made it easy to scale down.)

It started out easily enough. In mid-afternoon I put the whole, unpeeled squash and a large Rome apple into a 350° oven to bake until they were tender.
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The recipe said to give the apple 45 minutes, but it cooked faster than that: I got it out of the oven just in time to keep it from turning to applesauce. Romes are like that: They’re the quintessential cooking apple.
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The squash took about two hours to soften, as expected. I cut it in half and left it to cool.
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The next step was to puree one cup of the squash flesh in a food mill, along with the peeled and cored flesh of the apple. My two-pound squash had made much more than a cup’s worth, but I was happy to put the rest of it into the freezer for a future “pumpkin” pie.
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Seasoned with salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of melted butter, the puree went into a buttered gratin dish to await its topping.
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While the squash was baking, I’d made the topping by grinding a sixth of a cup each of roughly chopped hazelnuts and dried breadcrumbs in my mini food processor.
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As dinner time approached, I sprinkled the nut mixture over the puree, grated on a little frozen butter, and baked the dish in a 425° oven for half an hour. The topping should have come out evenly browned, but mine didn’t. My frozen butter had stubbornly clung to the grater, had to be detached in little clots, and refused to spread evenly, so the only brown parts were where the butter had landed on the crumbs. But the dish looked pretty good anyway.
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And it tasted very good. From the faint fruit sweetness, you could tell there was something in addition to squash in the dish, but you might not guess it was apple. The effect was indeed subtle, as the headnote said. And the tiny crunch of the nutty crumbs was a nice contrast to the smooth puree. Altogether, this made an excellent companion to the simply roasted duck legs we served for dinner that evening: compatible flavors and very interesting textures.
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Before Tom and I went on the Douro river cruise that I wrote about here last week, we spent two days in Lisbon; the first time there for me. It provided only the briefest taste of the city, but we made the most of it – especially gastronomically.

We had two delightful lunches there that were the very essence of serendipity. At the end of the first morning’s strolling, we happened upon a little street entirely filled with tables set for lunch.

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Checking out the establishments along the route, we stopped at one called Bebedouro, which had a chalkboard menu posted on the wall.
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The list of tapas was irresistible. We didn’t even look inside the door; just grabbed one of the little tables on the street. Not sure how big the modestly priced dishes would be, we started by ordering just two. A good thing that was, because they were large: what the Spanish would call not tapas but racions. Both were fabulous.
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Octopus in confit of peppers

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Potatoes fused with cheese and mushrooms

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The wine list featured flights of three wines for €16. We chose one of the red flights and received generous-sized pours, all from the Douro region and all new to us.
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They graduated quite interestingly from light and fruity to bigger and more complex and made interesting matches with the food. (Tom has written more about the wines we drank in Portugal on his blog.)

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That perfect little meal made us so happy that we returned to Bebeduro for lunch the next day. We chose from the fish tapas this time, both of which were just as delicious as the previous ones.
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Roasted tuna in tomato sauce with hummus

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Sardines in olive oil

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This time we tried one of the flights of white wines – again, all from the Douro. They varied from each other and matched with the tapas just as interestingly as the reds had done.
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The four dishes we had at those lunches were so good that I’m determined to try recreating some of them in my own kitchen. The only one that I could do immediately was the sardines. That’s because we were so impressed by the quality of the Portuguese sardines available in their home territory that we brought back five cans of a recommended brand.

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So here is the tapas plate I made with them just the other day. Not as pretty as Bebedouro’s, but definitely in the ballpark for tastiness.
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Even the olive oil from the sardine can was so good we slathered it all over our bread. (I brought home three bottles of olive oil, too.) Next I’ll be trying the potato, cheese, and mushroom dish because I’ve found a recipe online that looks as if it would work. After that, on to tackle the octopus!

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P.S. Though we had no idea of this at the time, I’ve learned from my back-home Web research that Bebedouro is very well known for both food and wine. It seems to be listed in at least one major guidebook and has an enormously enthusiastic online following. Perhaps I should have titled this post “Lucking Out in Lisbon.”

 

 

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After you’ve been eating high on the hog for some time – and we’re now moving into that season – you need a day or two with a homely dinner of comfort food: something easy, familiar, and unchallenging, to get your overstimulated palate back onto an even keel. Lately what fills that bill for me is a dish of baked Italian sweet sausages, green Bell peppers, Spanish onions, and plain white potatoes.
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Oven baking is key here. Of course, these foods take very well to being sautéed or pan-fried, alone or in combination, but sizzling in hot oil over a direct flame is a harsh sort of treatment. The slower penetration of surrounding heat in an oven softens foods more gently, allows their flavors to blend more, and gives them quite a different effect in the mouth.
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Baking also needs only a fairly minimal effort and very little tending. The four named items do have to be cut up, in more or less equal-sized pieces..
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And the potatoes do have to be parboiled in salted water until they begin to soften enough that they’ll be fully cooked when the other components are. After that, you just put everything in a broad baking dish, slosh on as much olive oil as you like, stir, and add salt and pepper.
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The dish goes into a 400° or 425° oven for 30 to 45 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft. You can give it a stir occasionally if you like, when you’re testing things for doneness. Then just take it to the table and serve it out, sighing comfortably as you consume it..

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Tom wants me to mention that a bottle of young Chianti Classico is the final touch that exalts this homely, delicious fare.

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Baked Cucumbers

Baked cucumbers? That sounded to me like a joke – as who should say, “Have some of this delicious broiled coleslaw.” Yet that cucumber dish does exist: I came across it in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, while looking for a different recipe. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about French cuisine, but I’d never heard of this.

Curious about it, I did a little research in my other classic French cookbooks. I found no fewer than five cooked cucumber recipes in Larousse Gastronomique and similar numbers in both Raymond Oliver’s La Cuisine and La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. de Saint-Ange. By golly, you’re never too old to learn something!

Of course, I had to try Julia Child’s recipe. It was a simple enough procedure. I gathered my ingredients for half a recipe and set to work.
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I’d bought Kirby cukes, the kind we prefer for eating raw and making pickles. The first thing to do here was peel, halve, seed, and cut them up.
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I then tossed the pieces in a bowl with salt, sugar, and red wine vinegar and left them there for about an hour to draw out their excess water. This is an alternative to blanching, which (as I learned) all the other recipes call for. Julia says her way lets them retain more flavor.
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Once drained and dried, my cukes went into a baking dish, to be tossed with melted butter, freshly ground black pepper, a chopped scallion, and chopped fresh dill, all of which sounded appropriate and tasty.
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The baking dish went, uncovered, into a 375° oven for a little over an hour, until the cucumbers were tender but still holding their shape. They didn’t look as attractive coming out as they had going in.
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And I’m sorry to say they didn’t do much for us. You could hardly even tell the vegetables were cucumbers. Mostly they tasted of dill and a light vinegar tang. Not unpleasant, but not at all interesting.
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Possibly Kirbies were the wrong cukes to use? Julia doesn’t specify a kind. In any event, I think I’ll just go on enjoying my cucumbers either pickled or raw.

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One of the great culinary joys of autumn is the appearance of fresh Hatch green chiles. New Mexico chile pepper varieties can carry that name only when grown in that state’s Hatch Valley. It apparently has a terroir that gives the peppers their distinctive, highly prized flavor.

Fresh Hatch chiles aren’t easy to find in Manhattan, but our Indian specialty store Kalustyan carries them for a few weeks in fall, most years. Tom, a devoted fan of all kinds of chile, took a walk there this week just for the Hatches and came home with the two pounds pictured above.

Purchasing them was just the beginning of a serious labor of love on his part. Hatch Chiles have to be roasted, peeled, and seeded before they can be used, and their long slender shape makes them much harder to roast on stove burners than Bell or even poblano peppers.

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I understand some people succeed in roasting peppers in the oven, but these had very thin flesh, and we feared it would turn to mush before the skins blackened, even at 500°.  We probably don’t get the very best New Mexico chiles here, nor are they very fresh-picked by the time they get here, but if you’re a chilehead, you work with what you’ve got. So, painstakingly, a batch at a time, Tom roasted all the chiles on the stovetop and spread them out to cool.
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Then, of course, they had to be peeled and seeded. That inordinately tedious, messy job took almost as much time as the roasting did. I didn’t have the heart to photograph him at it.

At last, he was ready to make a bowl of chile. He knew exactly what kind he wanted. Quite a few years ago, when we were traveling in southeast Arizona, his lunch at a little roadside café somewhere between Sonoita and Cave Creek Canyon was a bowl of smooth green chile, served just with crackers. No beans, no meat, no discernible other vegetables. Hot as blazes, but he loved it. Even I, whose feelings about chile are far milder than his, liked the basic flavor. When we returned home, he recreated it as nearly as he could. I recorded his recipe, which we’ve made a few times since with Hatch chiles whenever they were available. And would again this day, for dinner.

I pureed ½ pound of the chiles in the food processor while Tom softened ¼ cup of chopped onions in olive oil. We added the chiles to the onion pot along with salt, pepper, ½ teaspoon of oregano and ½ teaspoon of ground roasted cumin seeds. After a few minutes, we stirred in a cup of chicken broth and simmered, partially covered, for about 45 minutes, until the puree had reduced to a good density.
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The first taste out of the pot nearly burned a hole in my tongue. These were extremely hot chiles! Even Tom, who likes foods much hotter than I do, was taken aback by the amount of heat that flared in the mouth after the initial good vegetable flavor. Clearly, this was not going to be a dinner dish that we could consume neat, crackers or no crackers. However, we’d been planning to serve rice and beans that evening anyway, so we just added a small sauteed pork cutlet to the menu and took our chances with smallish bowls of the chile.
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That was serendipitous. Even though initially you couldn’t dip up a spoonful and swallow it without pain, that chile made common cause with every bite of the meat, beans, or rice that we took. A few drops of the chile mixed in with any forkful led us to put a bigger dollop on the next forkful. It got better and better, and we ate more and more of it. The chile seemed to be training our palates to appreciate it. And we definitely did.

By the end of the meal, we agreed that those peppers had been worth all the effort they took. Easy for me to say, who did so little of the work! But he was entirely pleased to have done it all. We look forward to experiments with the rest of the roasted Hatch peppers, now frozen for future use, as well as a few improvisations with the small amount of made-up chile that we didn’t finish. For instance, a few days later, some of it quite nicely jazzed up a tasty appetizer dish of nachos.

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