Monday, January 31, 2011

Curried Kale and Shiitake Mushrooms

It may seem like I'm on a curry kick and...well, I am. I love using curry powder in the winter when I need a little something warm in my tummy. And please don't think curry has to be a big production (as in creating an entire Indian buffet because you somehow thought it was necessary when you promised your husband curry). I sneak a zesty addition of curry powder into my tahini tuna fish, onto roasted butternut squash and grilled zucchini, as well as into my dark leafy greens.

Now I haven't spoken of my favorite vegetable for a while so I think it's time for an ode to kale. First know however, that the first 21 years of my life were dedicated to broccoli. Yes, I ate lettuce, greens beans, asparagus and boy choy but none of these held my attention like broccoli. Its textured crown and crunchy stalk were forever welcome on my plate, whether steamed, roasted or, in my favorite childhood fashion, drowned in my mother's curried mayo and lemon sauce. So when I started cooking for myself, not surprisingly broccoli was the first item on my shopping list. I strolled down the vegetables aisle looking at the chard, spinach and a leafy unknown named kale, and always ran back to the safety of my broccoli. So what changed? Well I did't get bored if that's what you're thinking. As a creature (and
eater) of habit I would have happily stayed a sole broccoli eater had I not ventured into macrobiotics. In adjusting my food to a more plant-based diet, I was forced to branch out a bit. Truly, when half your plate is required vegetables, there is honestly only so much broccoli you can eat.

My next trip to the market I begrudgingly bought a head of kale. The large leaves flattened in the middle and attached to a hearty stalk while the outer edges curled up, making each leaf look like a large green fan. "What the hell am I going to do with this? " I thought. Broccoli was simple. Rinse, chop, saute, done. This looked way more complicated. My macrobiotic cookbook recommended I steam the kale then drizzle sesame oil and tamari over the top. The preparation was easy enough: rinse, chop then steam, and the result was okay, even good actually. Though not as sweet as broccoli, I enjoyed its chloroform-filled taste and if I didn't steam the kale to death, I could get a nice al dente (almost broccoli-like) texture. And with that one recipe, I was kale-inspired! I soon branched out and tried red kale, lacinato kale and red Russian kale. I sauteed kale with garlic and onions, tossed it into soups, threw it into smoothies, and mixed it in with my beans and rice. (Now that I eat meat, I love it with braised beef, or chicken, or fish or well, any animal protein actually.)

Though I've never lost my broccoli love, "culinarily" speaking kale goes where broccoli just can't. Sure I can put broccoli into a soup or a stir-fry but it has to be at the last minute to make sure the broccoli doesn't turn to mush. Kale, alternatively, somehow always holds its physical integrity, making it a much more versatile vegetable. Rarely does a day go by when I do not eat kale in some form or another. I simply adore it, though will admit I should probably branch out a know, give chard a chance, perhaps. I actually partook in my ole' buddy broccoli last night and it was a nice change of pace. I guess when it comes down to it, I'm just a greens freak!

The key to falling in love with greens is preparing them the right way. Rarely do plain vegetables entice the taste buds, but if prepared well with spices and good fats, there is no end to the delicious possibilities. Here is my current favorite way to make kale. I made this recipe at a cooking demo just last week where a 10-year old told me it was "the best thing she has ever eaten!" She might have been exaggerating for my ego's sake, but hey I'll take it. It also went over well with a 5 and 7-year old pair of siblings whose father told me neither of them will eat kale. After one bite the 7-year old proclaimed, " Dad, we'd eat kale if you made it like this!" And with those kinds of endorsements, there is not much else to say. Enjoy!

Curried Kale and Shiitake Mushrooms

Serves 4 as a side

2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil
1/2 a red onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) shiitake or trumpet mushrooms, chopped
1/2-1 teaspoon curry powder
1 bunch kale, washed, ends trimmed, and chopped
sea salt and pepper
pinch of nutmeg to taste
2 tablespoons water

Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onions. Cook until translucent and a bit golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms, curry powder and a pinch of salt, stir well, and cook until the mushrooms have softened.

Add the kale and combine with the mushroom mixture. Reduce the heat to low, add another pinch of salt, pepper, nutmeg and the water and cover and cook for about 7 minutes. The kale should be nicely wilted and bright green and the liquid mostly evaporated.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hong Kong Style Curry

Who knew Chinese cuisine included curry? Well, I assume the Chinese but I had absolutely no idea. I naively thought this delectable dish came to life solely in the hands of Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese chefs. This assumption shows you how much I know...I've also recently discovered Burmese and Japanese curry and guess at this point I should just assume all of Asia has got some sort of curry going on. However, this does not mean all curries are created equal. While Indian curries tend to focus on thick, turmeric-infused sauces and the Thai and Vietnamese rely heavily on lemongrass and coconut milk to produce thinner, more soup like curries, Chinese curry is right in-between: thick and well-spiced with a rich coconut base. Now the first time I happened upon curry at my favorite Chinese restaurant, I was entirely confused. In fact, I eyed said curry for several months before ever ordering it, gauging the excited responses as it arrived at other patrons tables. It certainly intrigued me but I was so addicted to their anise-spiced beef stew, I just couldn't take the leap (yes, creature of habit, here I am). Still, whenever we had a new server I'd ask him or her for their take on the curry. "It's the best dish on the menu," each one would gush. "Great, I'll take the beef stew," was my standard reply. Obviously I wasn't ready. One day, however, the stars finally aligned.

It was a bitter cold night, I had just filmed my first cooking class and I was in desperate need of something warming, creamy and comforting. I knew I was ready because I did not ask the newly-arrived waiter his thoughts on the curry. I simply said, "Hong Kong curry, please." A daring move, I know. Twenty fidgety-with-excitement minutes later, a steaming plate of orange-tinged stew arrived, and after swooning over the first bite, I immediately began to berate myself for not ordering it sooner. Consequently, and rather inevitably, a new dish addiction emerged. In fact, since ordering my first Chinese curry a year ago, I have yet to return to the beef. Okay to be completely honest, I sometimes make Gray get the beef so I can have a little know, get the best of both worlds.

The star of the curry and provider of its brilliant orange color is none other than my personal favroite, kabocha squash, which after about an hour of cooking melts into the coconut milk to create a sweet, starchy sauce that needs nothing else. In fact, that is the entire curry: coconut milk, kabocha squash and good quality curry powder. After this incredible revelation that all but changed my life, I decided to make my own version of Hong Kong curry to see if I could come close to the original. And I must say, mine is pretty awesome! The primary difference is that I added a few other vegetables to the mix, just to lighten it up a bit (in a good way). Even better, the curry is doubly delicious the next day as the spices have had time to coalesce and the coconut milk has thickened. Enjoy!

Hong Kong Curry
Serves 3

1 1/2 cans organic, full-fat coconut milk
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 a red onion, diced
One 1/2 a kabocha squash, seeded, peeled and cubed
1 8-inch daikon radish, peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch rounds
Sea salt
1/2 -3/4 cup of water
1 cup shitake mushrooms, chopped
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup cauliflower florets

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small Dutch oven mix together the coconut milk and curry powder. Add the ginger, onion, kabocha squash, daikon radish, a bit of salt and the water. Mix together and place in the oven for 45 minutes. The daikon and kabocha should be very tender and the sauce thickened. If it needs to cook a little more, keep it in the oven for an additional 10 minute or so.

Remove the curry from the oven and place on the stove. Remove the lid and add the mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower and another pinch of salt. If the curry has reduced too much you many also add a bit more water. Mix thoroughly and place on low-medium heat until the vegetables have softened. Taste for flavor and add a bit more curry powder or salt if necessary.

The first evening I served this dish with poached eggs (scrambled would work well too) and for lunch the following day I topped it off with a bit of sauerkraut. So good!

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Years ago, while living in my second tacky Berkeley apartment, my mother gave me a beautiful stainless steel All-Clad pot. What prompted this wonderful gifting was that my parents were coming up for a visit and I was having visions of grandeur about making them brunch in my closet-sized kitchen. A few days earlier, I had stumbled upon a Mario Batali recipe of baked eggs in spinach which had all of my "I'm-in-college-and-I-don't-cook", criteria: It was easy, healthy, and looked freaking yummy! The only problem was that among my ridiculous mix of IKEA pans and hand-me-down knives, I didn't have the right cooking vessel. "What can I bring you?" my mom asked a few days before their visit. " about a stainless steel pot?" I asked, worried that she was thinking more along the lines of cookies and laundry detergent. "A pot it is! We can't wait to see you," she gushed.

They soon arrived, pot in tow, like wide-eyed collegiates themselves, eager to explore the campus, near-by restaurants, and of course, drag me to Target. And with all the running around, I completely forgot to make them brunch! That's never happened, and that poor Batali recipe has gone unmade to this day (though over the years I've thought about it a lot, if that counts for anything). Fast forward nearly a decade to last month when I went to an amazing Israeli restaurant on the recommendation of my dear, foodie loving friend Asi. (We quickly connected freshman year of high school over our mutual love of swing dancing, mutual dislike of our Spanish teacher Senor Tucker, and our severe addiction to sushi.)

As I was going on and on in my debriefing to him about my glorious meal (a requisite after any Asi recommendation) he interrupted me and said, "Have you ever had Shakshuka?" Now, Asi talks really fast, so to be honest I had no idea what he said. "One more time, please", I teased. "Shakshuka. It's an Israeli breakfast dish of eggs baked in spicy tomato sauce. It's awesome!" Though the only thing this dish had in common with the never-attempted egg recipe of my young adulthood was well, eggs, I was definitely intrigued. So I decided this dish, this little Israeli breakfast favorite, would be my baked egg redemption. It was on!

Shakshuka truly is, in Asi's words, awesome! It is terrifically easy and provides such amazing flavor you almost feel like it's cheating. Honestly, it is a bone fide too-good-to-be-true dish. Traditionally eaten for breakfast, I served it for dinner alongside basmati rice and a cabbage and arugula salad. Though perfect for a no-time-to-cook evening, I would venture to say Shakshuka is a dish to be eaten at any time. I used cayenne to create the spice, but a jalapeño pepper would do the job just as well. And for those of you familiar with Shakshuka you are probably thinking, "But she forgot the bell pepper!" Please know, I did not forget the bell pepper. They just aren't in season at the moment so I took a leap and went without it. I promise to throw one in come July. Enjoy!

Shakshuka (Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomato Sauce)
Serves 2

1/4 cup of olive oil
1/2 a medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 28-ounce whole peeled tomatoes (you can also used a can of crushed fire roasted tomatoes)
1/4 cup water
Sea salt and pepper to taste
4 organic eggs

In a medium sized pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, paprika and cayenne. Mix thoroughly and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Put the tomatoes and their liquid in a bowl and break them up with your hands. Add the tomatoes and liquid plus a 1/4 of water to the onion mixture. Place the heat on medium and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thick, about 10-12 minutes. Season with salt.

Crack each egg into the pot so they are evenly distributed and remain close to the surface. Cover and cook until the yolks are set, roughly 6 minutes. Sprinkle salt and pepper over each egg and ladle onto individual plates with rice and salad.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mushroom and Kabocha Squash Soup

I never thought it would come to this but I am COOKED OUT! This unusual feeling stems from the fact that I'm still recuperating from 4 beautiful, snow-packed days in Mammoth with 11 friends and family members. We laughed, we drank, we danced and we certainly ate. Normally on such a trip I divide the meals among the guests (you know, to divvy up the work), but this year my controlling brain took over and I decided to be in charge of all 4 dinners. That's right, every single one with enough to feed 11 people. I clearly wasn't in my right mind. Oh, and of course with my persnickety penchant for only organic ingredients, I had to bring everything with me. So when Gray and I stuffed the car with two coolers full of chicken, beef, an 8-pound pork shoulder and 10 heads of kale, I knew two things: One, my husband was a saint for dealing with my food insanity, and two, I had bitten off way more than I wanted to chew. And yet, despite all my Jewish-mother worrying, many guests volunteered as sous chefs and everything turned out fantastic (and yes we had enough). They eagerly took my orders, accepted my crazy cook antics, and didn't balk too much when I showed them how to wash the lettuce my way or chop the kale just so.

And now I am home in my own little kitchen, desperately missing all their help. Who wants to come over and be my sous chef? Since getting home on Saturday, I've done little more than make salad and reheat Mammoth leftovers. Gotta love leftovers. But when yesterday rolled around I knew I had to cooking something fresh. You can only eat beef chili and chicken tagine for so many days in a row, no matter how delicious it is. So off I went to the farmers market to grab ingredients for a soup. I didn't know what kind of soup...all I knew was that I wanted to throw stuff into a pot and call it a day.

Before I get into my recipe, first let me preface: I adore mushrooms! Their meaty texture and deep flavor have always entranced my taste-buds, especially as a child when I often downed copious amounts of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup. (I actually once requested it at a friend's house to which her mother replied,"Really? We only use mushroom soup when mixing it with green beans." To which I responded, "Gross!" I don't remember being invited over for dinner again.) Another reason I love mushrooms is that they add a heartiness and sense of satiety to dishes which is ideal when going meat-free. And so, I grabbed a mixed bag of trumpet, oyster and shittake mushrooms from my favorite mushroom lady, remembering they would pair well with the unused kabocha squash I had sitting at home.

What emerged after 30 minutes of them co-mingling in the pot was sweet, unctuous and shockingly decadent. Wow! To avoid a sad soup that tasted like salty, boiled vegetables I first roasted the kabocha squash with ginger and lemon and sauteed the mushrooms with onions and garlic to get the good umami flavor going. Freaking good. To add a bit of protein, and what I like to think of as my 'pièce de résistance', I topped each bowl with a fried egg. A poached or soft boiled egg works just as well depending on your preference, or if you have leftover brown rice, white beans or shredded chicken, you could throw those in as well.

The options are endless when starting with this base so feel free to play around with whatever is in the fridge. I love a quick, warming soup during the winter and have a sneaking suspicion this particular one will be making an appearance again very soon. Enjoy!

Mushroom and Kabocha Squash Soup
Serves 3

1 small kabocha squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 small red onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 pound mixed mushrooms (oyster, trumpet, shittake, chantrelles, etc.), chopped
5 cups water
2 teaspoons tamari (San-J and Eden are my favorite brands.)
2 teaspoons fish sauce (I use Golden Boy. Whichever one you choose, make sure there are no added preservatives or MSG.)
1 teaspoon toasted unrefined sesame oil
1 handful cilantro

Preheat the oven to 415 degrees. Place the cubed squash into a baking dish and mix with 1 tablespoon olive oil, ginger powder, lemon juice , and sea salt. Roast for 4o minutes until the squash is nicely browned. Set aside.

In a large stock pot, warm the remaining olive oil. Add the onions and cook until nicely browned. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so. Mix in the chopped mushrooms with a pinch of salt and cover for 3-5 minutes. Remove the cover and toss the mushrooms to make sure they are evenly cooking and wilted a bit. Add the water and squash, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 10 minutes.

Taste the broth and add a bit of salt if needed. Add the tamari and fish sauce and let cook for another 3 minutes. Mix in the sesame oil and taste for flavor. Add a bit more tamari and fish sauce if needed. Toss in the cilantro leaves and serve. Enjoy!