Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Roll-Cutting and Dry-Frying some Chinese Eggplants

Second Daughter and I took a shopping trip down to Albany to stock up on pantry provisions and went to the Asian Supermarket at 1245 Central Avenue. This stop proved to be yet another fabulous ethnic market to add to our list of great places to find interesting, exotic and naturally gluten-free foods.

Asian Supermarket had an extensive produce department, where we found everything from banana blossoms to huge piles of durian to dragon fruit.  I didn't buy those three intriguing edibles, but I did buy a huge bag of baby bok choy, packets of chrysanthemum tea, a 20 lb. bag of basmati rice and a wonderful Chinese vegetable from the mustard family, yu choy, which was meltingly soft when braised with garlic and soy sauce.

Some other new items fell into our cart. I fell in love with Thai packages of Crispy Fried Seaweed in regular and Tomato Ketchup flavors (gotta try the Kimchi and Squid flavors next time!), while the young 'un enjoyed scoring a huge bag of Happy (rice) Crackers and some delicious to-go foods from the take-out bar.

Some sensuously-curved, light purple Chinese eggplants called to me and I brought them home to play around with. I have never cooked with any eggplant other than the glossy purple-black aubergines of the Mediterranean variety, but I had read that the slender Chinese and Japanese varieties are less bitter and more tender, which I found to be slightly true. Certainly more experimentation with these gorgeous members of the nightshade family are in order here at Crispy Cook Central.

My first step was to pore through my well-loved copy of the late Barbara Tropp's "China Moon Cookbook" (NY: Workman Press, 1992).  Tropp's blend of traditional Chinese cooking techniques and ingredients, Yiddish-spiced instructions and California pizzazz always wows me, and I love her clear instructions that break down restaurant cooking results into components that a home cook can understand. 

Tropp offered a few recipes for wonderful eggplant-centric dishes (I've made her Strange Flavor Eggplant several times to rave reviews), but her siren song description of "Dry-Fried Chinese Eggplant Nuggets" as her favorite Chinese eggplant dish, bar none, made my decision for me. 

The dish involves a roll-cutting technique which I had never tried.  It's easy to do but hard to describe.  Basically, you make one 45 degree slice at one end of your vegetable and then roll it 180 degrees and make another 45 degree slice at your desired thickness. You end up with chunky, somewhat triangular segments of eggplant, which have a lot of surface area to absorb cooking heat and sauciness, not to mention a whole bunch of visual style. Ming Tsai has a short video segment on roll-cutting carrots and zucchini here which I found helpful before I attempted hacking away at my beautiful lavender-colored eggplants.

Aren't those eggplant slices beautiful?

They lose their gorgeous purple color when they are cooked up, but the resulting mixture of spicy and sweet flavors surrounding these soft hunks of eggplant tantalize the other senses quite nicely.

Sweet and Salty Braised Chinese Eggplant

adapted from Barbara Tropp's "Dry-Fried Chinese Eggplant Nuggets" in her China Moon Cookbook.

1-1/2 lbs. Chinese eggplants (4 slender eggplants)

3 scallions, thinly sliced (reserve some for garnish)
1 Tbsp. finely minced ginger
1 Tbsp. finely minced garlic

2 Tbsp. chili paste with garlic
2 Tbsp. soy sauce (check to make sure it's gluten free)
2 Tbsp. palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1 Tbsp. black rice vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
2 Tbsp. hot water

3-4 Tbsp. peanut oil

Slice top and tail off your eggplants and then roll cut them into one inch pieces. 

Mix together chili paste, soy sauce, palm sugar, black rice vinegar and hot water and stir until sugar dissolves.

Heat 3 Tbsp. peanut oil in hot wok or large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat. Add minced ginger, garlic and most of the sliced scallions (reserving some to garnish the dish). Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Add eggplant chunks and cook, stirring frequently, until browned on all sides. Add another Tbsp. of peanut oil if the pan gets dry, but no more, because eggplant is like a big sponge when it comes to absorbing cooking oil.

Stir in chili paste sauce mixture and let mixture come to a boil. Lower heat, cover and braise until liquid has mostly been absorbed and eggplant is soft, about 3-5 minutes. Garnish with reserved sliced scallions.

Makes 4 main dish servings. We enjoyed it over hot steamed basmati rice. Delectable!

I am sending this dish using my new found favorite vegetable, the Chinese Eggplant, to Weekend Herb Blogging which is hosted this week by Honest Vanilla. Weekend Herb Blogging is housed over at Cook Almost Anything by awesome food blogger and photographer, Haalo, and you'll find four years of weekly recaps, rules for WHB, and other great recipes and blog posts at this wonderful site.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Great Cabbage at the Crispy Casa

Until I found out that Alaskan gardeners were the champs in growing gigantic brassicas, I was quite proud of this rather large cabbage that I grew last summer.

It was bigger than my cat Simon.

It was bigger than Lulu.

It was bigger than Martha's big, bony head.

It was a great cabbage. But Alaskan gardeners, though they have a short growing season, have the perfect cool, wet growing conditions to coddle their cabbages into great big mammoths, so this honking big ball of cabbage was just a champion in my own record book.  As I recall, I did get two batches of coleslaw, a stir fry and a lovely side dish of cabbage sauteed with caraway out of that one cabbage.

Cabbage was on my mind again last week when I purchased a small head to mix into a dish that I wanted to refashion into a gluten-free version. Many years ago, I sampled a great cabbagey salad at an office potluck and got the recipe from my co-worker.  It involved some sliced cabbage, its Chinese cabbage cousin, and crushed up ramen noodles in a sesame-drenched dressing.  Tasty.

I dug out my recipe and changed it up to use rice noodles (mai fun) to make it gluten-free. I also used less butter and oil than the original recipe called for and the results turned out rather spiffy. Here then is:

A.C.'s Chinese Cabbage Noodle Salad

3 cups green cabbage, sliced thin (about 1/2 small head)
5 cups Chinese or Napa cabbage, sliced thin (1 small head)
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 (8 oz.) pkg. rice stick noodles (mai fun)

4 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup sesame seeds (the black ones stand out nicely)

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. soy sauce.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in mai fun and let soak 10-15 minutes or until they are springy but soft. Drain and chop up a bit. Mix in large bowl with cabbages and scallions.

Melt butter in frying pan and add almonds and sesame seeds. Saute until light brown and fragrant, stirring all the while so they don't burn. Add to cabbage salad.

Mix oil, sugar, rice vinegar and soy sauce until sugar dissolves. Pour over salad and toss well. Let sit at room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving to let flavors meld.

Serves 8-10.

I really loved noshing on this sweet-salty-tangy salad and will be making it for company during the warmer weather.

I am sending over this cabbagey post to this week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, which is being guest hosted by Anh of A Food Lover's Journey. Weekend Herb Blogging is headquartered at Cook Almost Anything and you can find out all about this veg-centric weekly blog event and the rules for posting on that terribly tasty site.

Monday, April 11, 2011

From Bougainvillea Flowers to Broccoli: The Weekend Herb Blogging #278 Roundup

Weekend Herb Blogging #278 was hosted here at The Crispy Cook this week, and once again it was an edifying pleasure.  This popular blog event was started by Kalyn's Kitchen five years ago and it has been headquartered at Cook Almost Anything for the last two years.

The focus of WHB is not just on herbs, but on posts that feature other edible plants, and the weekly roundups are always full of interesting ingredients cooked up beautifully by great cooks around the world.  This week we had entries from bloggers from Indonesia, Canada, England, Germany, Singapore, Australia, the United States, Italy, and Mexico and they covered some intriguing new (to me, anyway) ingredients as well as some new presentations of old standbys.

First, lucky Simona of Briciole is already able to harvest some tender young chard from her California garden and she put it to good use. Check out her Frittata with Baby Chard and Homemade Ricotta.

Over at La Cucina di Cristina, a bilingual food blog in English and Italian, we get a bowl of Pasta with Fava Beans and Pecorino. Che bello!

Indonesian blogger GrowinKitchen offers up a plate of Tumis Oncum dan Leaunca, a traditional Sundanese or Western Javanese dish, which she translates into English as Fermented Soybean Waste with Black Nightshade. While this might be a literal translation, I think "Sundanese Tempeh with Nightshade Berries" might be a more appetizing way to introduce this tempting entree to Western readers.

Imagine getting your summer fix (in raggedy early spring no less) with maple roasted tomatoes, arugula, and eggplant topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt and pomegranate molasses sauce. Yum. You can find your reveries turned into reality at the German blog run by expat Italian, Caffetteria al Rosa.

British Columbian blogger Val of More Than Burnt Toast offers up a plate of Shaved Lemon Fennel Salad to accompany a delectable Chicken Saltimbocca.

It's off to Oxford, England, to Elly's Shakespearean-named blog, Nutmegs, seven, for a real harbinger of spring: Bottled Rhubarb. Doesn't this beautiful preserve remind you of jewels?

Winging over to Singapore to visit Asan Khana, we get a peek at a refreshing Cottage Cheese Salad with Purple Basil Leaves.

Imagine quaffing a beautifully purple-tinged, cooling drink infused with bougainvillea flowers. Now, add a cooking school based in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and you've got Flavors of the Sun's Bugambilia Limeade.

Hawai'ian blogger Claudia of Honey from Rock sends over a plate of lemony Zucchini Crudo, perfumed with fresh garden dill. Be sure to stop by and check out Claudia's full post for the photos of two of the cutest chicks you'll ever "lay" eyes on.

A five-star bakery could not produce a more perfect tray of Blueberry Cheesecake Macarons than Melbourne, Australia-based blogger Sue of Youcandoitathome. She offers detailed instructions with lots of photos to help us reproduce these purple beauties. (And I love that macarons are naturally gluten-free!)

Let's all stop over to Briiblog in English to wish our friend a Happy Birthday this coming week and revel in her Spelt, Buckwheat and Carrot Muffins.  Brii leads hiking tours around beautiful Lake Garda in Italy and always shares some gorgeous landscape photos with her tasty posts.

Our Weekend Herb Blogging Goddess, Haalo of Cook Almost Anything, made a fantastic looking Schiacciata di Cavolo Nero.  This stuffed Italian bread has a luscious filling made with cavolo nero, a brassica also known as Black Cabbage, Tuscan Cabbage or Curly Kale.

Janet from Tastespace sent in an exotic Moroccan Cinnamon Orange Salad in fond remembrance of her travels in North Africa.

Finally, there's my contribution to the wonderfully colorful WHB #278 bounty: Broccoli and Pasta Timbale.  I was pleasantly surprised by how easy this rather elegant vegetarian casserole was to make.  And eat. ; )

Thanks again to Haalo of Cook Almost Anything for allowing me the pleasure of hosting Weekend Herb Blogging this week. Be sure to check out Anh's Vietnamese food-infused blog, A Food Lover's Journey next week when she hosts WHB #279.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Broccoli and Pasta Timbale for Weekend Herb Blogging

Weekend Herb Blogging #278 is happening here this week. I am delighted to once again be the guest host for this weekly roundup of blog posts about plant-centric dishes. To celebrate my hosting duties I made a cake. A pasta and broccoli cake. Of sorts.

At least I felt like sticking a birthday candle into my new creation, which looked remarkably like a yellow cake with a broccoli filling. In reality my pasta and broccoli cake was a timbale, a not too tricky new cooking technique, though its presentation makes it look like a hard thing to accomplish. Basically you make a layered pasta dish in a buttered baking dish and then unmold it after a short cooling period.

My husband kept kidding me about trying to make the Timpano from the great foodie movie "Big Night", in which Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub are Italian brothers fighting over the right way to run their Italian restaurant in 1950s Maryland. Their restaurant features authentic fare, but is no match for the spaghetti and meatballs drowned in red sauce type menu at the much more popular Italianesque restaurant down the block. They try to make one fantastic meal at a party they throw in honor of jazz singer Louis Prima, whom they think is going to drop by and thus make their reputation soar.

A huge Timpano is the star of the menu, a washtub sized layered pasta dish baked inside a pastry crust, but my creation was but a baby sibling to that pasta edifice. (Joelen of What's Cooking Chicago has pictures of the real deal over at her tasty blog).

The inspiration for this deal come from Bert Greene's excellent paean to vegetables, Greene on Greens (NY: Workman Publishing, 1984). Of course, I adapted Bert's recipe to make it gluten-free and lightened the original up a bit by substituting Greek yogurt for ricotta. I twiddled with the seasonings, and By Gum, this timbale turned out terrific! Dan's Timpano mockery soon faded into snorfling sounds as he sliced himself a second helping. And let me tell you that he brought some delicious and rather beautiful leftovers of Broccoli and Pasta Cake, I mean, Timbale, into work today. Snorfle, snorfle.

Here's my adapted recipe for Broccoli and Pasta Timbale, an impressive looking and tasty gluten-free, vegetarian casserole that would be a great dish for entertaining:

Broccoli and Pasta Timbale

1-1/2 lbs. broccoli (about four crowns)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

5 Tbsp. butter (plus a couple more Tbsps. for buttering baking dish)
4 Tbsp. white or brown rice flour
1/2 cup shredded smoked gouda
1 cup hot vegetable stock
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (freshly grated nutmeg really perfumes this dish)

1 lb. gluten-free pasta (I used Pasta d'oro corn pasta in the cute lasagna corte shape, but any small elbow, fusilli or penne will do)

1 cup Greek yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste

Butter a 2 quart souffle or baking dish with high sides that can be easily upturned and unmolded. Set aside.

Cut up broccoli by trimming off florets and then dicing stems to 1/2 inch dice.

Heat olive oil in large saucepan. Add garlic when sizzling and stir 1 minute. Add in broccoli and cook, stirring often, until broccoli is crisp-tender and still a bit bright green. Remove from heat.

Cook pasta in salted water until al dente and drain.

Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add flour and whisk constantly for 2 minutes. Beat in hot vegetable stock and whisk until smooth. Add shredded smoked Gouda and stir until melted. Add in heavy cream and nutmeg and heat just to boiling point. Remove from heat and seat with salt and pepper.

Toss pasta with cheese sauce, Greek yogurt and mix thoroughly.

Put half of pasta in buttered baking dish. Press down firmly. Layer in broccoli. Press again and then add remaining pasta layer, pressing down firmly into dish.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 25 minutes or until top is lightly browned.

Remove your timbale from the oven and let cool for 8-10 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges to loosen it and then cover top with a plate. Slowly invert and let gravity draw the timbale out of the baking dish onto the plate.

Makes 6-8 servings. I liked it plain, but Dan enjoyed his timbale with a bit of marinara "ganache".

This is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging this week. If you are not familiar with this popular blog event run by Haalo of Cook Almost Anything, please check out the rules below. If you have a delicious post that you would like to share this week, send me your entry by
this Sunday, April 10, 4 pm Eastern Standard Time. I'll have the roundup posted the next day.

1. Entries to Weekend Herb Blogging must be posts written specifically for Weekend Herb Blogging. This means they cannot be cross-posted in other events. Photos used in the posts however can be submitted to photo events like DMBLGIT.

2. Weekend Herb Blogging entries should have the goal of helping people learn about cooking with herbs or plant ingredients.

Only two types of entries will be accepted:
* Recipe posts where a herb or plant ingredient is one of the primary ingredients in the recipe
* Informative posts that spotlight one herb or plant ingredient, particularly including information about how they are used in cooking.
Naturally, posts can be a combination of both these criteria.

3. Posts must contain the phrase Weekend Herb Blogging with a link to The Crispy Cook and to this site.

4. In your email please include the following information:

Your Name
Your Blog Name/URL
Your Post URL
Your Location
Attach a photo (250 pix wide or less)