Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Curried Acorn Squash Soup

First off let me state that I am not a "soup person". Soup as a meal never seemed like a good idea to me because, in my formative years, it was just a can of liquid with a little bit solid stuff floating around in it with neither amounting to enough to be a meal. It was always something you had while you waited for the entree. A time killer. As I got older, and started cooking for myself, soup was a base to which I added mountains of meat and/or vegetables to end up with a stew. In the back of my mind, however, I kept thinking that there must be something to this soup-as-a-meal thing, that there must be a bowl of liquid out there that would be hearty enough to stand on its own. Serendipity stepped in to change my thinking as I had bought a large acorn squash a week ago thinking I would do with it as I usually do: slice it into rings and bake it with a buttery maple glaze. Then I remembered having tiny cups of butternut squash soup served as an appetizer at some of the events I worked as a server/waiter/butler for and figured, hey, I can do that. Now, I love curried vegetables like what you get at Indian restaurant and I like stir frying zucchini and yellow squash with curry powder so i thought I'd try to combine the ideas of a winter squash soup with a veggie curry. The recipe below is a combination of three that I found. I just picked out the ingredients I liked and added a twist of my own.

Curried Acorn Squash Soup

3lbs acorn (or any winter squash)
3 cups of vegetable broth
1 pint of half and half
1 onion, chopped fine
1 tbl ground pepper (I use a combo of black and Sichuan peppercorns)
1 tsp salt, more if needed
1/4 cup of brown sugar
2 tbl madras curry powder
2 tbl Thai red curry paste
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1-1/2 to 2 tbl paprika
1/2 red bell pepper, diced

Halve the squash, remove the seeds and membrane, place on a lightly oiled sheet pan and bake at 350°F, uncovered, until it's soft (about an hour). Let it cool then scoop the flesh into a food processor and puree until smooth. Sautee the onion in a little oil until soft then add it to a little of the squash puree and process until smooth then add it to the rest of the squash. Put the squash in a large pot, add the broth, sugar, salt, pepper, curry powder, and paprika. Bring to a boil on medium-low heat. Take a cup or two of the hot soup and put in a bowl with the red curry paste and peanut butter and wisk until mixed well then add it back to the pot. Return to a low boil and add the half and half and heat through (about 5 minutes). Ladle into bowls and garnish with the bell pepper, a drizzle of cream or coconut milk.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Yuchoy with Katta Sambol

  A while back I was working in a kitchen in Shady Grove, MD and, every day on my commute, I would pass a little strip mall in Redlands. One day I stopped in to go to the post office there and came across the Spice Lanka grocery store. Always on the lookout for spicy condiments, one of the things the very friendly owner urged me to try Katta Sambol because it is very popular in Sri Lankan cooking. While it's not much spicier than, say, Hungarian paprika, it has a nice citrus tang and has a little chewiness because, according to the label, it's made with "red onions, Maldive fish, chili pieces, salt, lime juice & permitted preservatives (E211 & E224)". Outside of this recipe I like katta with any buttered starch, especially rice or baked potatoes.

What you'll need:
about a lb of yuchoy, washed well (it can be sandy) and chopped
Mmmm! I love YuChoy!
a medium-sized onion sliced
1 or 2 tbls minced garlic
1 to 2tbls. katta sambol*
sliced chili peppers to taste (optional)
1 tsp nam pla (or to taste)
freshly ground pepper to taste (I keep a peppermill filled with 60/40 mix of black and Sichuan red peppercorns)
sesame oil

Heat a pan (I use my trusty 10-inch cast iron skillet) with about 2tbls vegetable oil until very hot. Add the katta and garlic, stirring just long to break up the clumps without browning the garlic. Add the onion, chilies, nam pla, and yuchoy and stir fry until the greens just start to wilt. Remove from heat and add a splash of sesame oil.
Serve with hot rice or just eat it out of the pan like I do.
Hey! I live alone. I can do that...

*If you can't find a store that stocks katta sambol, you can try making your own from this recipe.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Thai-Style Spicy Eggplant with Basil

I love the Thai Market in Silver Spring, MD and it has been my go-to place for Asian food staples like coconut milk, pork foo, and Vietnamese beef meatballs more so than, even, my other favorite place, H-Mart. The only drawback to Thai Market is that they don't have fresh fruit and veggies but it is a phenomenal place to stock your pantry with packaged ingredients for (mostly) Asian cooking. For such a small store they often have better prices, on some items, than H-Mart!

However, one of the best things about Thai Market is their carry-out where I had Thai Eggplant with Basil that is as good as what I'd eaten when I worked for the Thai House Restaurant in Atlanta. When I worked there this was a seasonal/special dish because Chinese eggplant was pretty scarce in 1980s Georgia and substituting the big purple ones just doesn't taste the same. H-Mart has a good variety of Asian eggplants to choose from: long purple Japanese ones to the small round Thai versions in green, purple, and white. For this recipe you may use any of these in any combination. Normally, I would use Thai Holy Basil but, if you can't find it (if you do, it's pretty expensive) H-Mart always has a Vietnamese variety that is, virtually, indistinguishable.

Vegetable oil (regular ol' vegetable oil, peanut oil, or canola work best and don't add any other flavors like, say, olive oil would)
1 onion cut into half-moon slices or chopped, your call
3 or 4 cloves of minced garlic (I use a lot! I love garlic!)
Hot chilies to taste, sliced however you like. I like spicy so I use the tiny Thai ones (pretty spicy) or Korean Long peppers (less spicy)
2 or 3 long Japanese eggplants cut into irregular chunks (I do this by cutting it once on the diagonal then cut the next piece straight across. That way you get these, sort of, triangular cone shapes which seem to cook better than regular slices).
1 lg. bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips (yellow and/or red ones will look pretty)
1-2 tbls. nam pla
1 tbl, sugar
1/4 c. water
A handful of fresh Thai or Vietanmese basil leaves, removed from stems
a splash of sesame oil

Heat the 2 tbls. of the oil in a skillet until very hot but not smoking. Add the onion, garlic and about half of the hot peppers (I use some for garnish and an added  spicy crunch). Cooking on high heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until lightly soft and fragrant. Add a little more oil and, then, the bell pepper and eggplant after the oil is hot otherwise the eggplant will soak it all up and be greasy tasting. Add the nam pla, sugar and water and bring to a boil and simmer until eggplant is soft, adding more water, a little at a time, if needed to get it to the texture you like. Throw in most of the basil leaves and a little sesame oil and stir into the eggplant until barely wilted. Serve with hot rice. Garnish with basil leaves, sesame seeds and sliced or whole chilies.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Burmese-style "Dry Curry" with Chicken

The reason this is called a "dry curry" is because it is cooked until the liquid in it is nearly all evaporated. With this, it's the coconut milk, that is reduced until it's very thick and the oil in it has started to separate. The traditional way to cook this requires a lot of ingredients that I rarely, if ever, have on hand like garam masala. I know it's probably easy to make my own and even easier to just buy it already made but, hey, I'm lazy and cheap so I have to be more creative with the ingredients. One ingredient that I do manage to always have on hand is Maesri Red Curry paste. It come in little 40z. cans and I tend to use about a teaspoon at a time and it keeps for a long time in the fridge. That having been said, my version of this doesn't have any garam masala but it does have some of the ingredients in it only because I just happen to have them around fairly often.

about 2-3 tbls. minced garlic, fresh or from a jar
1-2 tbls. minced fresh ginger
2-3 tbls. vegetable oil 
1 lg, onion, sliced or cut into chunks
1 tbls. hot paprika
red pepper flakes to taste
about a tsp. Sichuan peppercorns
1 lb. boneless chicken thighs cut into 1 inch chunks
1 can of coconut milk (not Coco Lopez!)
1/4 cup of raisins
1 tbl. sugar
2 tbls. nam pla (fish sauce)
1-2 tbls. soy sauce
2 or 3 pieces of dried galanga

I use my non-stick skillet for this because, if  I use my cast iron one, I have to season it all over again and ain't nobody got time for dat!
So, heat the oil over medium heat until it's pretty hot. Add the onion, curry paste, peppercorn, garlic and ginger and cook slowly, stirring to keep it from burning, until the onions are translucent. Add the chicken and cook, stirring often to coat it and brown it a little. Add the coconut milk, fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, raisins and galanga. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring often to keep it from burning, until the coconut milk is reduced until it's very thick and the oil starts to separate from it. Done! 

Serve with lime wedges, Thai basil leaves, cucumber slices, hot pepper slices, carrot curls, or any crunchy fresh veggie over hot rice.

Note: This may be very spicy to some people (wussies!) so add the paprika, chilies, peppercorns, etc., to your particular taste. Beef, pork or, I guess, shrimp can also be used but be aware that thinly sliced meat or shrimp will cook pretty fast so add that stuff when the sauce has reduced to about half.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Beef with Yuchoy and Peppers

Who needs a wok when you have a trusty cast iron skillet?

 I usually get the cheapest cuts of meat for stir frying. Though most serious recipes specify leaner cuts I like to use beef with some light to moderate marbling of fat just because it seems to me to have more flavor and, when it’s sliced very thinly, it’s not going to be tough to chew. For this recipe I used some chuck steak.

Chuck steak sliced across the grain as thin as you can get it without injury
1 med./lg. onion (I like Vidalias) cut in half lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 bell pepper sliced into whatever shapes you like
As much chopped garlic as you like (I like lots of garlic)
About 2 bunches of yu choy, stems and leaves, chopped
1 Korean long hot pepper or other hot pepper sliced on the diagonal (optional)
Soy sauce
Sesame oil
Nampla (Asian fish sauce, optional)
Freshly ground pepper (I use a combo of black peppercorns, Sichuan peppercorns and red pepper flakes) to taste

Heat a skillet to the smoking point with about 1 or 2 tbls. of oil then add the beef, garlic and onion and cook, stirring a lot, until the beef is browned. Add a splash of soy sauce and nam pla. Add the bell peppers, hot peppers (if you like) and yuchoy and cook until yuchoy is slightly wilted but still bright green. Add a little sesame oil and ground pepper and mix it up a little. Done. Serve with hot rice

This recipe also works well with pork, chicken and reconstituted Xiang-gu (dried shiitake mushrooms).

What's Burnin'?

At the request of my friends and acquaintances over at Facebook I have started this blog to post the recipes for the food that post photos of in the "What's For Dinner" group. Actually, there are only one or two actual recipes for what I eat on a regular basis with lots of variations stemming from what ingredients I have on hand at the time. The title of this blog refers to the fact that, due to my work schedule and near chronic insomnia, I'm often cooking my dinner around midnight. The "Evil" part will, most likely, refer to my failed attempts at cooking something beyond my skill set or the times when bad luck rears it's ugly head by causing the top to come off my salt shaker or exploding sweet potatoes.