Monday, April 26, 2010

Rhubarb for Dinner

'Tis the season for rhubarb...  Recently I was checking out a fabulous website all about rhubarb, and I had a revelation! I've really only ever had it as dessert sauce or pie - the savory possibilities had never occurred to me! So I tried out a recipe for pork chops with rhubarb and sage. Yes, rhubarb will be pork's backstage pass onto the veggie blog.

This recipe contains no sugar, which means the rhubarb sauce comes out quite sour, almost like a lemon-herb sauce, but with that amazing complex flavor of rhubarb.

Marinate 3-4 pork chops in:
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped, crushed fresh sage leaves
1/4 tsp salt
Fresh ground pepper
2 cloves garlic

Set on top of 3 cups chopped rhubarb, and bake at 400F for 30-40 minutes, or until the pork is browned and the rhubarb is bubbling.

I also made another sauce, a delicious sweet barbecue sauce:

Boil together in a pan until the sauce is thick:
2 cups chopped rhubarb
1/3 cup sugar
Juice of 1 orange
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 tsp onion powder or 1/3 cup grated onion

This would be fantastic on grilled chicken or pork, or maybe even tofu...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Radishes for Breakfast

I'm so excited about the first radishes from our spring garden! They are icicle radishes, which are long and white, and a nice easy variety to grow because they never get woody or pithy. And this is my favorite way to eat them - with French bread and butter and salt. We just happened to have some of the best bread in town on hand this morning, from the fantastic French Riviera Bakery. You butter the side of the radish, then dip it in salt (don't get too much), and fold it up in the bread. So simple, and so delicious!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Veggie Sushi

Recently, I took a sushi class with my friend Viv at Ta Lin Market (they have a whole series of great classes!) then we got together last weekend to experiment further. So I'll report on the results. In order to keep this post from being incredibly huge, I'll point you to some good resources on the web instead of describing everything myself.  And I'll throw in my favorite spicy tuna recipe in case you also like raw fish.

The best thing is, once you start making sushi yourself, you can try so many different ingredients beyond the standard combinations you find at restaurants. And while I love raw fish, the veggie sushi options at most restaurants are less than thrilling. When you make veggie sushi at home, you can create big, satisfying flavors. And it's so much cheaper than going out!

Here are a few special ingredients I love:

Daikon radish, in two forms: fresh, and pickled (takuan).  Takuan is usually dyed yellow, and it sometimes comes shredded, like this, or sometimes as a whole root! This one also has bonito (dried tuna) flakes added, but you should be able to find it without.  Daikon sprouts (sorry I don't have a picture) are also wonderful, with a fresh, spicy flavor - you often see them in sushi restaurants, and they can be found in Asian markets or sometimes natural foods stores.

Shiso leaf tastes kind of like mint or basil, which is wonderful with cucumber or daikon in rolls. Burdock root (gobo) has a satisfying nutty, earthy flavor. It is quite tough, though, so you have to shred it very finely and cook it fairly well, then it has a pleasant crunchy texture. Here is a recipe for Kinpira Gobo, a wonderful salad which can also be used as a filling for sushi rolls. I would not use the sugar, and be sure to taste the gobo to see if it is tender enough - it probably needs to cook for about 20 minutes.

Enoki mushrooms are another of my favorite Japanese ingredients. Just cut off the very bottom, dirty-looking root portion, then saute them with sesame oil and a tiny dash of soy sauce, or simmer with a little bit of mirin (rice wine), soy sauce and water.

Other wonderful ingredients might include asparagus, sweet potatoes (cut into matchsticks and steamed), shiitake or maitake mushrooms, green onions sliced lengthwise, avocados, carrots and cucumbers cut into thin matchsticks, and beefsteak plant (which can be found pickled and shredded at Asian markets).

Next, of course, you need rice. Sushi rice can be made from any short or medium-grain rice. It should be very sticky, so it helps to wash the rice before cooking it. To make more sushi than four people can eat, we cooked 2 cups of rice with 2 cups of water. While it's cooking, you can make the seasoning - 1/3 cup rice vinegar, 1T sugar, 1t salt. The recipe actually varies across Japan, so start with something like this, and then see if you like it a bit more sweet, salty, or sour. You can also try cooking some kombu (kelp, available in natural foods stores) in with the rice for a nice extra seaweed flavor. When the rice is cooked but still hot, spread it out in a large wood or plastic bowl or tray (NOT metal), drizzle with the seasoned vinegar, then stir and fold the rice with a wooden spoon, fanning it to dry and cool it.  For a lovely illustration of the traditional technique, see

Nori, the roasted seaweed you use to wrap the rolls, comes in many brands of widely varying prices. Don't get the cheapest ones, because they tend to fall apart. Stick with something that costs at least $2.20 for 10 sheets. You can often get nori at natural foods co-ops, but they'll usually only have one brand.

When you're ready to roll, you'll want to keep a bowl of water nearby, so you can wet your hands before handling the rice. Otherwise, you can't get it off your fingers! Lay out the nori sheet with the long side toward you. Use a good size handful of rice per roll, and be sure to spread it to about 1/4" from the edges of the nori, very gently so that you don't squish the grains of rice. It's easiest to roll away from yourself, something I tend to forget. Here is a great illustration of the rolling technique: It's easiest to cut the rolls with a serrated knife, sawing gently back and forth.

And here is the final result:

On the right is the Kinpira Gobo. At the top are pickled daikon and seaweed salad. On the plate, the roll in the front has enoki mushrooms with green onion and red pickled ginger. Just behind that are rolls with pickled daikon, shiso leaves, and fresh daikon cut into thin matchsticks. To the left of those is the spicy tuna roll (inside-out!) with daikon sprouts. On the far left is another inside-out roll with ahi and cucumber inside, tobiko (flying fish roe) and avocado on the outside.

Oh, and for the finishing touches - pickled ginger and wasabi are available at Asian markets and natural foods stores. Powdered wasabi that you mix with water at home is better than the pre-made paste.

Here are some sites with excellent ideas for veggie sushi:

And if you're ever looking for amazing veggie sushi in San Francisco/ Berkeley, Cha-Ya has a huge, completely vegan menu!

The Best Spicy Tuna Recipe
1/2 pound sashimi-grade tuna (ask at the fish counter to make sure it's ok for sushi - Ta Lin has it fresh or frozen), cubed
2 Tbs sesame oil
1 Tbs sesame seeds
1-2 Tbs mayonnaise
2-3 chopped green onions
Sriracha sauce or red chile powder to taste

Friday, April 9, 2010

Rhubarb Trifle

Most impressive dessert I've ever made. I can hardly believe its glory!

I love rhubarb. It's probably my favorite pie - not with strawberries (at least not cooked), just on its own. So tangy and wonderful. I keep trying to grow it in my garden, but it never seems to quite take off (probably needs more water). I have high hopes for this year though. Just started seeing it in the grocery store, so I had to get some!

I had a rhubarb trifle once before, in a fancy "gastropub" in London, but the rhubarb sauce was very sour and the cream not very sweet. It was so great in concept, but I figured I could do better.

I've never made a trifle before, so of course I consulted the Joy of Cooking. They say that you can use any kind of leftover cake, and I had a box of cake mix sitting around, so I just whipped that up. The rhubarb sauce is super easy, you just slice the rhubarb about 1" thick (I used 6-8 stalks), and simmer them with a little water and sugar to taste (I used maybe 1/3 cup).

Now, for the slightly tricky part - Creme Anglaise, a smooth custard sauce, to which I added some orange zest to complement the rhubarb. The technique is quite important - if you heat the sauce above 170F, it will curdle.

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups cream
9 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
orange zest

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a medium bowl. Cook the milk over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring, until bubbles form around the edges. Very gradually, whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture. Return this mixture to the saucepan and set over low heat. Rinse and dry the bowl, and set a fine-mesh sieve over the top. Using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon (they make better contact with the bottom of the pan so you can feel what's going on better), stir the sauce gently but constantly, making sure you're getting the entire bottom and corners of the pan.

The sauce is getting close to done when the foam dissipates from the top, and you can feel tiny bubbles as you're scraping the bottom. Suddenly, the sauce will acquire body and a slight sheen - take it off the heat, and continue stirring for another 2 minutes, then pour through the sieve back into the bowl. If you suddenly realize you've overdone it, quickly pour it through the sieve to arrest the cooking, and keep stirring to cool it. If it has gotten a little grainy, you can try running it in the blender a bit to smooth it out. At this point I added the orange zest, or if you like you could add 2 tsp vanilla. For trifle, the sauce needs to be refrigerated until cold. Stirring it periodically during the first 10 minutes of cooling will keep a skin from forming.

Assembling the trifle:
Put a layer of cake in the bottom of the bowl, and drizzle it with a bit of brandy (or other sweet liquor or wine) if desired. Put a layer of custard sauce (about half of it) over this. Then gently spoon about half the rhubarb sauce on top. Repeat with another layer of cake, custard, then rhubarb. Top with whipped cream. I happened to have some fresh strawberries, so I put them on for garnish, with a little extra orange zest. Wow!! I also made a couple of extra little ones because I couldn't fit all the good stuff into one dish.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Fennel and Mushroom Cannellini

If you've never tried fennel, it's wonderful! It has a crisp texture like celery (although a little tougher) and a light, delicate licorice flavor.

This recipe is great comfort food (even if you consider fennel an unusual ingredient, you might still find it comforting!)  It's adapted from one of my friend Christine's favorite vegetarian cookbooks, Fields of Greens, by Annie Somerville.

Instead of pre-made cannellini tubes (which are not that easy to find anyway), I like to use the Barilla "homestyle" no-boil lasagne sheets, which are short, wide lasagne noodles with no ruffles. You do have to boil them for this application, of course, then you roll the filling up inside them like tiny burritos. The original tomato sauce is delicious, but next time I might try it with a bechamel or something lighter to let the delicate flavor of the fennel shine through more.

For the sauce:
1 T olive oil
1 small onion or 1/2 large one, diced
3/4 tsp fennel seed
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup dry red wine
28oz can of tomatoes (~3.5 cups)
salt and pepper
1 bay leaf

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan, cook the onion and garlic with the fennel seeds until tender, then add the rest of the ingredients and simmer 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.

For the filling:
2 Tbs olive oil
1 fennel bulb, quartered and thinly sliced
3 shallots or 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
3/4 lb mushrooms, any kind

1/2 tsp fennel seeds
4 cloves garlic, minced

salt and pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tbs pine nuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (any combo of parsley, thyme, marjoram)
1/2 cup parmesan
1 cup ricotta

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Cook the shallots, fennel, garlic and mushrooms with the fennel seeds, until slightly caramelized. Add the white wine and cook until the pan is almost dry. Mix with the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. 

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cook the lasagne noodles 5-10 minutes, just until soft enough to roll. Drain and let them cool a bit, then roll up about 1/2 cup of filling in each one, placing them in rows in a 9x13 pan. Cover with tomato sauce, sprinkle with another 1/2 cup parmesan, and bake for 20-25 minutes.