Saturday, October 29, 2011

Caldo Verde

I was visiting my friend Holly in Santa Cruz who harvested some beautiful Kale from her garden. Since she also had some newly harvested Potatoes, all we needed was to pick up some Portuguese Sausage to make this soup. Caldo Verde is the national soup of Portugal and one of my son’s favorites. It was one of the only ways I could get my kids to eat their greens. And, I usually used Collard Greens as they are apparently most like what they use in Portugal. He thought the Collard Greens looked like seaweed floating in a milky sea so he called it seaweed soup. It is a very simple yet hearty soup with a lot of flavor and cooks very quickly. I hope you enjoy this great soup!
Caldo Verde – Portuguese Potato Kale Soup

2 ½ lbs potatoes, peeled and diced (about 4 large)
1 shallot minced
2 garlic cloves minced
1 large bunch Kale or Collard Greens
8 cups chicken broth
Optional: 10 - 12 oz. Portuguese Sausage (Linguica) cubed

Bring chicken broth to a boil, add potatoes and garlic and cook for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, remove center rib of each leaf of the collard greens with a sharp knife. Roll up the leaves into a cigar-like shape and then thinly slice into shreds. Mash potatoes and garlic in the broth until creamy. Add collard greens and cook for 10 minutes more. If desired, add sausage at the same time. Serve with crusty peasant bread.

Five Element Analysis

Soup is a Water food and the cured Portuguese pork sausages adds even more of the Water Element. But the paprika and that bit of heat in the Linguica bring in just a bit of the Fire Element. The chicken broth base and the kale belong to the Wood Element. The Potatoes add the Earth Element and the shallot and garlic contribute the Metal Element. Only the Fire Element needs enhancing so add another side dish or dessert that contains a Fire Food. A tomato salad would be a good choice - we had some lovely strawberries to make it a balanced Five Element meal.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Szechuan Eggplant

This is a very famous Szechuan dish that is usually called "Fish Flavored Eggplant." Now there is not fish in this dish and what the name actually means is that this is the seasoning blend that they use in the Szechuan province to cook fish. It is one of our family favorites, although I have to admit that I can't take it when it is too hot. I like to add a little more meat than most people 1/2 lb instead of 1/4 lb and I like the eggplant chunks to be slightly smaller in size - about 1" chunks instead of longer pieces. I just think they are easier to eat that way. The usual seasoning involves Chili Bean Paste, but I have always preferred Chili Garlic Paste (I use Lee Kum Kee) as I think it tastes cleaner, but the bean paste is more traditional. If you don't have those, you can also substitute a teaspoon or more of chili flakes. It is also quite common to use Szechuan Peppercorns, which up until now were quite hard to get. But, these are something you will either love or hate. They numb your lips and tongue so you have to like that feeling - otherwise it is much better if you don't use them. Be sure to serve this dish with lots of white rice - especially if you make it hot.

Szechuan Eggplant

1 lb Chinese or Japanese Eggplant – cut in quarters, then cut into 1” pieces
4 oz ground pork
1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Shaoshing Rice Wine
3 green onions, cut into small pieces
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced fine
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil

For Sauce:

2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 teaspoons Chili Garlic Sauce or Chili Bean Paste (add more if you like it hot)
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Black Chianking Chinese Vinegar (can substitute Balsamic)
½ teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
¾ cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Cilantro leaves for garnish
½ teaspoon ground Szechuan Peppercorns put in when the green onions, garlic and ginger are put in. (this is quite numbing and some people really dislike the feeling so be careful about adding it unless you know you like it).

In a small bowl, mix together the Soy Sauce, Rice Wine and ground pork. In another small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, chili sauce, sugar, pepper, vinegar and 1/2 cup of the chicken broth. In a separate bowl, mix together ¼ cup of chicken broth with cornstarch and Sesame Oil.

Heat a large wok or frying pan and add in 2 Tablespoons of oil. Put in eggplant and stir-fry until it just begins to brown and is softened – about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate. Add 1 Tablespoon of oil and put in garlic, onions and ginger and stir until you start to smell the fragrance. Add in pork and stir to separate meat and cook until it is no longer pink. Add in the sauce and the eggplant and cook for another 3 minutes. Add in cornstarch mixture and cook until the sauce thickens – about 2 minutes. Pour onto a serving plate and garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve with lots of steamed white rice.

Five Element Analysis

Eggplant and pork both belong to the Water Element as does the Soy Sauce and Sesame Oil so that element is covered. The vinegar and chicken broth adds the Wood Element and the Chili Sauce, black pepper and Szechuan Pepper (if used) contribute the Fire Element. The Metal Element is brought in by the white rice, the green onions, ginger and the garlic. The only element that is missing is Earth so another dish that uses an Earth vegetable like cabbage or a dish with sweet sauce or a fruit dessert would balance out the meal.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chinese Creamed Cabbage

The Chinese are known for being economical about food. They rarely like to waste things and find interesting ways to use up what's left from cooking another dish. As a child, I made a lot of Jaozi or pan fried dumplings - in fact I can wrap them with eyes closed and I'm fast! One of these days I'll post my grandfather's recipe. His Jaozi were made with pork and Napa cabbage, but he favored using the upper part of the leaf as it made the dumpling filling softer. So, there was always a lot of the Napa Cabbage stalks left over and that's when he made Chinese Creamed Cabbage.

The Chinese use very little milk or cream in their cooking and it is not something they enjoy very much, primarily because many of them are lactose intolerant - including me. However, my grandfather became a big fan of coffee in the morning and discovered that whole cream had very little lactose. So when he made Chinese Creamed Cabbage, which is a Shanghai specialty, he only used real cream. If you make this dish with milk, just be sure to use whole milk but it won't be as creamy and I don't think it is as delicious. The Napa Cabbage stalks hold up well to the cream sauce and have a delightful crunch and the dish is seasoned with salty ham and green onions. Of course, you can use the the upper leaves as well as the crunchy stalks, but this is the way I grew up eating it and I like it much better. And, like my grandfather, I use the tops for dumplings. The traditional ham we used in the US was Virginia Ham, but Southern Country Ham also works and in a pinch bacon is also good. This is a simple dish and quite loved by my kids. It's also been a big hit when I have brought it to parties.

Chinese Creamed Cabbage

4 cups Napa Cabbage stalks, sliced into strips about 1/3 inch wide (you can also use the whole leaves cut into about 1" pieces)
1/2 cup minced salty ham or bacon
4 - 5 green onions (scallions) washed, roots cut off and cut into small pieces - separate the white part and green pieces
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup cream
2 heaping teaspoons cornstarch
Salt and Black Pepper to taste

Heat wok or frying pan and add oil. Put in the white part of the green onions and the ham and stir a few times. Then Napa Cabbage and stir fry until the cabbage wilts slightly - about 2 minutes. Add in the chicken broth and cook until the cabbage is soft - about another 3 minutes. Meanwhile, stir cornstarch into the cream and add to cabbage mixture and stir until it thickens. Taste and add pepper and salt if necessary. Sprinkle dish with the remaining green onions, stir in and then serve.

Five Element Analysis

Napa Cabbage belongs to the Earth Element, whereas the salty ham adds the Water Element. The chicken broth contributes the Wood Element and the cream and green onions add the Metal Element. Only the Fire Element is missing and the Black Pepper brings in just a bit, but to balance this dish, it would be good to serve a Fire meat like lamb or to have another spicy hot dish to go with it. Then the creaminess of this dish will offset the heat of the other and that is very balanced eating!