Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Deconstructing the Curry Dish

Coconut curry is one of the work horses of the Southeast Asian food world. It's like what a buerre blanc is to French people. This stuff tastes good on EVERYTHING.

Even root vegetables. I used to love getting curried root vegetables at this funky little restaurant called Oznot's Dish in Brooklyn. There were crazy lamps reconstructed from junk, and lots of unshaven hipsters ordering $10 bottles of wine to go with their meze. The curried vegetables were so spicy my eyes watered, but sweet and earthy from the parsnips, sweet potatoes and beets, and delicious. Another great thing to curry is shrimp or, hell, even tofu, over black Thai rice.

It's all good. For this dish, I chose chicken for its easy appeal to my kids, and short grain brown rice as the starch, because... I had some. Since I am always trying to sneak the flavors onto my kids' plates, I gently poached the chicken in coconut milk. Then I stir-fried all the vegetables I had in my house, and made a spicy coconut curry, which the adults used almost like a gravy.

It was a hit. It did not perturb any of the adults present (including guests) that they had to pour the curry onto the dish. We got sweaty flushed faces from the delicious heat, just as if it'd all been mixed up at the stove, or arrived in a takeout container. The only difference: children happily sitting next to us, eating coconut-flavored chicken, plain rice, and stir-fried broccoli.


1 can coconut milk
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste
1-2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Handful of basil leaves, stems removed
About 3 cups of vegetables, peeled, trimmed, and roughly cut: zucchini, scallions, broccoli, red peppers
1 tablespoon oil
Lime wedges

1. Start the rice, then the sauce: Pour about 3/4 of the coconut milk, including the cream, into a small pot. Set aside the other quarter. Add the oil to the pot, and heat until bubbling. Add the curry paste, stirring to combine, and continue cooking until the mixture turns brown and the oil separates. Lower heat and add the fish sauce and the sugar. Stir and taste. Add more fish sauce if necessary. Set aside.

2. Pour the remaining coconut milk and the salt into a saucepan. Add the chicken, and 1/4 cup of water, and gently poach until cooked through. Don't overcook. You can add a stalk of lemon grass, sprig of basil, and a few dashes of fish sauce if desired. Set aside and keep warm.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or large frying pan. Saute the vegetables, in order of cooking needs: ie, eggplant, broccoli and peppers first, then zucchini, then scallions. With each new addition, push the cooked vegetables to the side, so you can keep them reasonably separate.

4. Quickly reheat the curry, and serve: Rice, Chicken, Vegetables, and Curry Sauce. Garnish with lime wedges and basil leaves, as desired.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Beans, Greens, and Sausage

Some kids are picky about meat. Not mine. I have to protect bacon in the frying pan to keep little fingers from getting burnt as they try to swipe it. And when I bought sausage the other day at the fancy butcher counter, my 8-year old son was salivating at sight of the raw steaks. "And 20 steaks," he said in a high-pitched voice to the butcher, trying to pass it off as my order. We're not squeamish about meat at my place.

Naturally, sausage is an easy sell. I just say the magic words: "It's like bacon."

This sausage-and-beans-and-greens dish is a natural for the mothership method. I made it as a pasta dish, but it could easily do without. And I used white beans, although I've used chickpeas in the past.

The sausage had a little bit of spice in it, but my resourceful daughter made herself a little satellite dish of ketchup for dipping, and the heat factor was solved.

1 lb sweet Italian sausage
1 can or small carton white beans, cooked
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small can plum tomatoes (or half of a large can), chopped, juice reserved
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch kale or other hearty green, stems removed, chopped
1/2 lb pasta, such as gemelli or penne
Hard grating cheese, such as Asiago or Parmesan
Salt and pepper

Put the pasta water on to boil and begin preparing pasta.

In a medium-sized skillet, brown the sausage on all sides.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, begin cooking the onions. When they have begun to soften, add the garlic. A few minutes later, before the garlic has begun to brown, add the tomatoes, with their juice, and the beans.

Transfer the sausage into the skillet. Add the kale, too, but keep it to one side of the skillet for easy removal later. Cover and cook until the kale is thoroughly steamed, and the sausage is cooked through.

Slice the sausage into bite-sized pieces. Serve in separate bowls: the kale, the sausage, the pasta, and the tomato-bean mixture. Make accessible the grated cheese, salt and pepper. Allow each diner to assemble plates as desired.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Linguine and Clams, for Families

One time in France I got my daughter, who was three and adventurous, to take a sip from an ice cold oyster I was about to eat. She wasn't too crazy about it, but I felt like it was a triumph. At least she tried it! That taste memory is in there. It's a reference point she'll have for the rest of her life.

In general, though, my kids are not big on seafood, which is a problem, because I love seafood. One of my favorite things to eat is linguine with clams. What, am I supposed to just not eat it for the next 15 years?

This isn't feasible, so I started making the dish in the mothership style: deconstructed. One bowl of linguine, surrounded by smaller bowls of the other things I like to serve it with: diced tomatoes, sauteed spinach, parsley and lemon zest, and clams.

The sly beauty of this method is that the linguine is tossed with the clam juice sauce. Unbeknownst to my children, they are locking in sense memories even as they think they are eating plain pasta. Fools! I'll have them eating oysters by the time they are teenagers.

Linguine With Clams and Greens
serves 4

1/2 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
1/2 cup white wine
1 lb clams (more, if you have more than 2 clam-eaters), thoroughly scrubbed and rinsed
1 tomato, diced
1 bunch spinach, washed and loosely chopped
1 lb linguine
1 bunch parsely chopped finely
Zest from one lemon
Sea salt and pepper
Hard grating cheese, such as Asiago or Parmesan

Put water on to boil, and begin cooking the linguine. If the linguine is ready before everything else, drain and toss with a splash of extra-virgin olive oil, and toss thoroughly to coat the strands of pasta.

In a large saucepan, heat the onion and the olive oil over medium-low heat until soft.
Add the garlic and continue gently cooking.

Meanwhile, heat the wine in a small pot with a tightly fitting lid. Add a sprig of parsley, a twist of lemon peel and a pat of butter if you like. When the wine is boiling add the clams and cover.

By now the garlic and onions are translucent. Turn up the heat, place the spinach directly on top of the onions and garlic, with a pat of butter if desired, and cover. Steam until the spinach is thoroughly wilted. Gently remove it with tongs (leaving the onions and garlic behind) and place in a warmed bowl. Cover and set aside.

When the clams are opened, use tongs to pluck them from the pot and place in a warmed bowl. Set aside.

Mix the chopped parsley and lemon zest togther and serve in a small dish.

Pour the clam-wine liquid in with the onions. Turn the heat to high and reduce slightly. Toss with linguine.

Serve the linguine, surrounded by the sauteed spinach, diced tomatoes, clams, parsley-zest and Asiago cheese. Allow each diner to assemble his or own plate.

Season with salt and pepper as desired. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Back in the Saddle

After a month in New Hampshire, it was hard to come back to the city. Let's face it, it's noisy and dirty here, and there are no mountains. But... there is the small issue of food.

For instance, there is this middle eastern deli around the corner from my house, with creamy incredible feta. The store is sort of grungy, and sells things like cans of instant milk, and Brillo pads, and hookahs. It's a great store. Then there are farmers' markets that sell red carrots and purple kale and green-striped tomatoes. At my local supermarket, Fairway, there is an OLIVE OIL BAR. I can get extra virgin olive oil from Lebanon, Sicily, Spain, or France (and taste it before I buy it.) It's pretty hard to beat. My second day back in the city, I bought marinated sardines, daikon radish, a bulk pack of nori seaweed, fresh mozzarella, and organic, humanely raised deli turkey, thinly sliced. It was like... a miracle.

But the best thing about coming home was getting back into my own kitchen. After four weeks in my mother's kitchen, I thought I'd lost my mojo. Did I even still like to cook? I could barely remember why it was worth it. All that work, all that mess, just to what -- eat? But then Chris brought home a brilliantly green, fragrant bunch of arugula, and I figured I'd rouse myself to just make a little dressing. Turns out I'd just been missing my STUFF, which I use to make AMAZING FOOD. My knives, my mortar and pestle, my space.

I have made this salad dressing almost every night since I got back. It is worth the effort to do the pounding, but you have got to have a mortar and pestle. (Note: kids LOVE pounding.)

Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette

1 garlic clove
1 pinch coarse sea salt
1 tsp mustard
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

Mash the garlic clove and the salt in the mortar until they are a smooth paste. Add the mustard and the lemon juice. Let sit for 5 minutes or so while you attend to something else. Come back to it, add the olive oil, and swirl rapidly with the pestle until a smooth mixture forms. Pour onto salad greens or grilled vegetables.