Greatest Wrapper of All Time
Cha gio, the Vietnamese answer to the Chinese spring roll, are a heck of a lot more than a crispy wrapper around a bit of filling. The complex mix of tender pork, delicate shrimp and crab, and savory vegetables and spices form an addictive amalgamation that trumps the few shreds of cabbage and roast pork in a traditional spring roll. Combine this roll with the delicious crunch of herbs and lettuce, and finish the whole thing off with a dunk into some sweet and salty nuoc mam, and you are in for a treat.
I always order cha gio with all the fixings at Vietnamese restaurants, and feel that the presentation lends an air of luxury to the dish. And yet, when I was young, our Vietnamese friends would make the rolls in large quantities and share with anyone deserving of a little treat – cha gio were unpretentious and meant to be shared. I feel the same way about feijoada completa (the Brazilian national dish of black beans, rice, and assorted condiments) – in a restaurant, the many dishes of food that make up the meal add an element of grandeur to the meal, when in actuality, feijoada is the people’s food at its best. Just good, honest cooking meant to be shared with friends and family. Continue reading Cha Gio (Vietnamese Crispy Spring Rolls)
Pleat Me and Treat Me
Ah, kanom jeeb – you have officially earned platinum status in the dumpling ranks. You are a mere morsel of goodness, a two-bite treasure, and I thank you for gracing me with your presence. Jam from the wonderful food blog “Thai Cooking with Jam” explains that your name is derived from the thai words for “pleated snack”, but I posit that you legally change your name to the thai words for “pleated awesomeness”. Awesomeness indeed.
I know that you are a textural delight with your essential combination of crunchy carrots and water chestnuts carefully blended with tender shrimp and pork. You are also a luxurious treat with your delicate topper of lump crab. And yet, you don’t mind dressing yourself down on certain days with a crispy shallot or two. You are similiar to your Chinese brother, shu mai, and yet your combo of sweet and savory taste worlds away at times. Continue reading Kanom Jeeb (Steamed Thai Dumplings)
Steep Me in Majesty
I first had a taste of Rosemary Hibiscus Tea at the Fairmont Princess in Acapulco – I had a regrettable manicure at the spa, and an unforgettable cup of their “secret brew” before leaving the space. A combo of rosemary leaves and hibiscus petals, this sweet red treat was tart and garnet-colored like cranberry juice, only a little milder and much more floral. You can learn all about the flowers and their medicinal properties on Wikipedia.
Apparently, in Jamaica (where the flowers are called sorrel, and oddly, are called “Jamaica” in Latin America) the drink is spiked with a bit of rum as well. This recipe is the non-party version, but impress your bourgeois crew and serve this cooled beverage in a martini glass with a shot of Bacardi and a splash of Grand Marnier. It’ll make you spit your cosmo out the window and drink these from now on instead. Continue reading Rosemary Hibiscus Iced Tea
This recipe has such an air of sophistication, I’d think to rename it “Watercresto”. Except then it’d sound smarmy. Talk about versatile, this can be used as a sauce for hot pasta, as a spread for bruschetta, as a marinade or in a cold pasta salad. Treat it like a condiment and make a little magic. *singing* You can do MAGIC! You can have ANYTHING that you desire. And, yes, I’m a dork and am singing America while I post my recipes.
This goes out to all the basil lovers (and growers) longing for a taste of summertime. Watercress is hardy and available during the colder months, and still manages to be flavorful even though a lot of the produce around it is lacking at best (I’m talking to you, hothouse tomato). The mixture is a little milder than traditional basil pesto, but still has all the peppery bite. Continue reading Watercress Pesto
Let’s Get Smashed
Apparently, NYC feels a need to charge a premium for fresh guacamole goodness. They buy a mocajete (stone mortar) and a pestle, have some dude wheel a cart of fresh ingredients to your table, and for the tableside prep, charge you a hefty $12 – 15 depending on how fancy the restaurant. You can make this guacamole for around $5 at home. All that’s left is to buy some top shelf añejo and make some fresh lime margaritas to seal the deal.
I add a couple of extra ingredients for both taste and presentation – the shallots and tomato add lovely color. And I use a shallot because it’s small and I can use it all with no leftovers, but you can certainly use a red onion if you have one on hand. For this recipe, you are the controller of spice – the version below is mild/medium in heat, but you can amp up the spice quotient by using the jalapeno seeds and dicing it as finely as possible. The cayenne doesn’t add much heat so much as offer a fuller pepper flavor. This recipe works doubled and tripled, so if you are having a large group over, make plenty. Continue reading Fresh Guacamole (and Bean Tostadas)
It’s SO Easy Being Green
My family hails from Brazil, a country that prizes meat consumption in all its glory. And yet, my sister has been a vegetarian (and a vegan when her multiple sclerosis doesn’t give her grief about it) since she was in fourth grade. Always loving to cook for friends and family (regardless of dietary restrictions), I quickly altered my repertoire to include non-meat alternatives for all of my tried and true recipes. As time went by, I came across more and more good friends looking for some sweet, non-meat dining (Drew and Briana, especially). I never felt put out making “two dinners” – it just meant more time in the kitchen.
Two little tips to keep in mind – the green food coloring, aside from aesthetic purposes, is an awesome way to quickly separate between the veggie and meat dumplings on a platter. No meat eaten by mistake. I use green food coloring for the dye action, but if you are using frozen spinach at any time, you can save the water from it to dye your dumpling skins. The other tip is that although I list a slew of veggies for these guys, do experiment and use whatever you’d like. Try spinach instead of the cress, water chestnuts instead of the bamboo shoots – be creative and use what’s fresh and available.Vegetarian, vegan or no, give these dumplings a whirl. If you make them at the same time as the chicken or pork versions, not only will you have a veritable dim sum spread in front of you, you’ll be winning the favor of your non-meat eating friends. And friends are a good thing, I hear 😉 Continue reading Vegan Potstickers
Time is On Your Side. Yes, it is.
My grandmother (Vo, if you’ve not pieced that bit of info together yet) makes a lasagna that takes a good two days to cook. San Marzano tomatoes are gently simmered with tender cuts of pork, italian sausage and homemade meatballs. My family has been know to ration portions of the dish for fear that it’ll be months (nay, full years) before they’ll be in the right place at the right time and lucky enough to snag a bite. Men have been known to stab each other with forks for a helping. Continue reading Weekday Lasagna
For When You Want No Pork On Your Fork. I Mean Chopsticks
You know I love you guys. And I have no problem with your dietary restrictions – I still want to fill your belly. Which is why, if you are not fine with swine, I am posting this lovely recipe for chicken dumplings.
I call for no less than 4 types of pepper in these, so skip the chili oil and Sriracha (thai chili sauce) if you want it less piquant. If you aren’t down with meat of any kind, check out this recipe for Vegan Dumplings. Continue reading Spicy Chicken Potstickers
All Tarted Up
Back when I was living in DC, there was a local radio station that would play what they called, “The Wrong Song” – a seemingly inappropriate tune based on the goings on. My favorite was when they’d crank up the Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime” when there’d be inches of snow on the ground. This recipe, my dears (and yeah, I’m talking to you Virginians buried in 30+ inches of unplowed powder) is the culinary equivalent of the wrong song. It’s cold and slushy here in Gotham, and all I can do is pray for summer and sip on a refreshing glass of ginger limeade. I feel a few degrees warmer already… Continue reading Ginger Limeade
Easy Peasy Pinching and Pleating
Had a lovely chat with my friend Shaoyu today about the ins and outs of her jiao zi, and she gave me some VERY useful tips for making yours even better at home:
- When adding the water to the meat mixture, stream it in slowly and in batches. Stir for two to three minutes after each addition to make the filling just right.
- For the easiest mixing of dough, use a bread machine on the dough cycle. It does all the heavy work in mixing and kneading the dough, and you can just sit back and relax.
Shaoyu (Dr. Shaoyu Chi) is a fellow tech-wiz and uber-savvy instructional designer – I mentioned to her that I get a kick out of the fact that even in the kitchen we’re applying modern innovation to age-old processes. We can revamp a dim sum recipe as easily as we can convert a synchronous, face-to-face course into an engaging online or hybrid option.
Hey, you’ve got to be a three-for in this tough economy – why not web designer, instructional designer and culinary tinkerer?
Thanks again, Shaoyu!