Monday, September 17, 2012

Martin's Special Salad

This is a salad I’ve been eating all summer long whenever Martin and I have landed somewhere on our frequent travels where we have had a kitchen. I had my doubts about a salad dressing without very much oil, but I find this to be incredibly refreshing salad and of course it is very low calorie too. This salad contains slivers of red onion and lots of fresh dill with a dressing that is made of only lemon juice and salt, which soften the onions and somehow makes them sweeter. It is now one of my favorite go-to salads and I have served it as a side to many meat dishes. Even now as the weather is getting cooler, we have been serving it with soup.

I’ve always loved iceberg lettuce because of its’ crunch and it actually has a lot more nutritional value than most people think – it contains iron, Vitamins A, B6, C and K and folate.  It’s also a good source of dietary fiber and of course has no fat. So, I encourage you to try this salad – I think it will surprise you just as it surprised me with its' wonderful flavor and texture.

Martin’s Special Salad

1 small head iceberg lettuce
1 handful of dill leaves, chopped
1 small red onion, ends removed, peeled and sliced into thin slivers
1 teaspoon salt
1 large lemon
A drizzle of olive oil

Wash lettuce leaves and dry in a salad spinner.  Tear the leaves into small pieces and place in a salad bowl.  Sprinkle the red onions and dill over the salad.  About 10 minutes before serving, sprinkle the salad with the salt and squeezed the lemon juice over the top and drizzle on olive oil if using it.  Let the salad sit for the full 10 minutes and then toss lightly to serve.

Five Element Analysis

Lettuce belongs to the Fire Element so that element is covered.  Dill leaves contribute the Metal Element and so do the red onions.  The lemon juice brings in the Wood Element and the salt adds just a bit of the Water Element and this element needs some support.  So,I recommend that you serve this salad with a meal that contains another Water food and an Earth food too in order create  a five element balance.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Oven Baked Spring Rolls

I have a good friend who was complaining about the lack of Asian Dim Sum that was gluten free and she asked me if I knew how to make any.  As I am gluten sensitive, I have been working with recipes for a while that that satisfy that craving for those amazing snacks that I used to devour on Sundays from the many carts at my favorite Dim Sum restaurants.  Luckily, one of the bases of Asian cooking is the use of rice in many forms, including rice paper wrappers.  Most people know that rice paper wrappers can be softened to make those wonderful Vietnamese Summer Rolls, but they are also used to make deep fried Spring Rolls.  These brittle wrappers just need to be run individually under tap water until they soften slightly and then rolled and cooked.  I used square wrappers as I find them easier to roll and tuck, but the round one are fine too.  The only problem is that they are very tricky to work with as the wrapper is very sticky and they often explode in the oil when you try to deep-fry them as they can easily stick together or stick to the spatula and the wrapping tears.  So, I decided to bake them instead. They are less oily and much less difficult to make this way and my friend was very happy with the results! 

The trick to making spring rolls is to cook the filling first.  The filling is composed of stir fried Napa Cabbage, slivers of green onion, slivers of carrot, slivers of Shitake Mushrooms or Cloud Ear Fungus, a little meat – I used pork - and bean thread noodles.  The filling mixture is seasoned with Tamari if making them Chinese style or Fish Sauce if making them Vietnamese Style.  I served them with a dipping sauce made of Soy and Rice Wine Vinegar and Chili Garlic Sauce, although they are also very good with Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese Dip) or Thai Sweet Chili Sauce or Banana Catsup from the Philippines.  For those of you who are used to the texture of egg rolls made with a wheat flour wrapping, these won’t be quite as crispy, in fact the little bit of crisp on top has a chewiness underneath.  But, they are delicious in their own way and such a joy for those of us who are trying to avoid gluten and still want to enjoy Asian snacks. I am going to add this dish to my Chinese New Year celebration for all my Gluten Free friends.


Oven Baked Spring Rolls

4 cups chopped Napa Cabbage leaves
5 green onions, cut into slivers about 1 ½ ” long
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into slivers about 1 ½ ” long
6 Shitake Mushrooms, rehydrated and sliced into thin strips
2 2 oz packages Mung Bean Noodles, soaked in hot tap water for 20 - 30 minutes
3 Tablespoons Tamari or Fish Sauce
½ teaspoon Black Pepper
3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil

1 package of  Rice Wrappers – you will use about 15
1 large baking pan (I used a jelly roll size) lightly oiled with about 2 – 3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil (I used High Heat Safflower)

Drain the Mung Bean Noodles and cut them into about 1 ½ - 2 “ lengths.  Put aside. Heat a wok and put in the 3 Tablespoons of Vegetable.  Add in the green onions, carrots and Napa Cabbage.  Stir-fry until cabbage starts to wilt. Add in the Mushrooms and Mung Bean Noodles and Tamari and stir until well mixed.  Take off heat and put into a large bowl and put into the refrigerator to cool. 

When ready to cook, Heat oven to 500 degrees. Take one wrapper at a time and run under cold tap water. Place it on a plate or cutting board like a diamond shape with the points facing up and down and out to the right and left.  Put in about 3 heaping Tablespoons of the filling slightly below center and roll the bottom point up and over the filling.  Pull in each side, tucking it tightly and roll all the way up. The rolls should be about 3 inches long.  Put the rolls directly onto the pre-oiled pan.  Turn to get both sides covered with a small amount of oil.  It is important to make sure that you space them far enough apart so that they do not touch!  Bake for 10 minutes, turn carefully with a spatula and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Put on a plate and dab with a paper towel to soak up any extra oil and serve with dipping sauces. 

Five Element Analysis

Rice is from the Metal Element and the Green Onions add in a bit more.  The cabbage contributes the Earth Element, whereas the Shitake Mushrooms, Mung Bean Noodles and the Tamari or Fish Sauce contributes the Water Element.  Only a little bit of Black Pepper represents the Fire Element so make sure that one of the dipping sauces has some Chili in it to make this a very balanced snack!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ants on a Tree

I've always loved the name of this dish although I have to say that it looks nothing like ants or trees for that matter. I'm going to have to assume that the person who named it was wither drunk or a poet with a good imagination.  It is basically hand minced or ground meat (usually pork), which is supposed to be the ants cooked with bean thread noodles, the tree branches perhaps?  And, it is all cooked together in a slightly spicy sauce. It's a wonderful dish for people who are gluten free who want a noodle that's not made of rice. The bean thread noodles are also a big hit with kids as they are translucent and somewhat slippery, making them good to slurp!  But, when my kids were little, I did tone down the heat a lot. Now they like things hotter than I do. I bought more ground chicken than I needed for the last dish I made this for our very next meal.

It's simple as many Asian dishes are and only requires a few sauce ingredients - Tamari, Rice Wine and Chili Bean Paste or Chili Garlic Sauce or both and Toasted Sesame Oil and a little Black Pepper. Chili Bean Paste has a slightly deeper flavor and I personally prefer the Chili Garlic Sauce but they are also really good together. The other aromatics are the Chinese trilogy - garlic, green onions and ginger.  It's got a bright spicy flavor that excites the palate.  You've got to try this one.....

Ants on a Tree

8 ounces of Bean Thread Noodles (they usually come in 2 oz packages)
3/4 pound minced or ground chicken (or pork)
1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 1/2 chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
6 green onions, ends trimmed and cut into small pieces - white and green parts separated
3 Tablespoons Tamari
1 Tablespoon Rice Wine
1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
2 - 3 Tablespoons Chili Bean Paste and/or Chili Garlic Sauce (I used Lee Kum Kee brand)
3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
3 cups boiling water
Fresh ground Black Pepper

Soak the noodles in hot tap water for about 20 - 30 minutes.  Put the ground chicken in a bowl and mix in 1 Tablespoon of the Tamari and the Rice Wine - mix until incorporated into the meat.  In another bowl mix together the remaining 2 Tablespoons of Tamari, the Sesame Oil and the Chili Bean Paste and/or the Chili Garlic Sauce.

Heat Oil in a large frying pan. Add in the white part of the green onion with the ginger and garlic. Cook until it just starts to brown.  Add in the ground chicken and cook until no longer pink, breaking the meat up into small pieces.  Add in the sauce and stir, then add the water and bean thread noodles. Cook until the water is mostly absorbed, add the green tops of the green onions and Black Pepper. Toss to mix in and serve on a large plate.

Five Element Analysis

Mung beans belong to the Water Element and the Tamari and Sesame Oil add even more so that element is covered. The chicken contributes the Wood Element and the Chili Sauce, Rice Wine and Black Pepper add the Fire Element.  The garlic, ginger and green onions contribute the Metal Element so only the Earth Element is missing.  So, be sure to serve this with another Earth vegetable, like cabbage to make a balanced meal. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gai Pad Gapow - Thai Ground Chicken with Holy Basil

My youngest son has returned from his internship in Singapore and one of the things he brought back is a taste for the kind of amazingly good Asian food he was able to buy at the Hawker stalls near his apartment in the Geylang district. His favorite was a little Thai kitchen that made excellent Gai Pai Gapow or Ground Chicken and Holy Basil. It is a common street food in Thailand and usually pretty hot from the Bird Chilis that they use.  I visited him last year and watched them make it and had a pretty good idea of what to do.  So, we experimented and got the flavors right the very first time!

It's a really simple dish and cooks in just a few minutes making it a delicious and nutritious fast food.  I bought chicken already ground and made sure it had dark meat in it as ground chicken breast is a bit dry. If you can't find ground chicken, you can buy chicken thighs and chop them up. Or, you can substitute ground pork or ground turkey instead.  Remember to buy a lot of holy basil. It may seem like too much, but you need it for the flavor and like all greens, shrinks down to very small pieces.  You can also use regular basil, but I don't think it is as good.  I used a Serrano Chili as it is my favorite as I can handle the heat level.  But feel free to buy the traditional Bird Chilis that are a little too hot for me. It is traditionally served with steamed white jasmine rice. It was so good that it is certainly going to become one of our staple dishes from now on!

Gai Pad Gapow – Thai Ground Chicken with Basil

¾ lb ground chicken or chicken things, minced fine (can also use ground pork or turkey)
2 Tablespoons Fish Sauce
1 Tablespoon Kecap Manis (or you can substitute Tamari and a bit of sugar to make it gluten free)
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, chopped
1 Serrano Chili, stem removed, deseeded and minced (or use 6 Thai Bird Chilis, cut up into tiny pieces)
A big handful of Thai Basil, leaves stripped from the stem
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil

Mix together the Fish Sauce, the Kecap Manis and White Pepper.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add in the shallot, garlic and Serrano Chili.  Cook until it just begins to brown.  Add in ground chicken and cook, separating the meat into little chunks.  Cook until the chicken is no longer pink.  Add in the sauce mixture and the Thai Basil and toss until basil is wilted.  Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

Five Element Analysis

Chicken belongs to the Wood Element so that element is covered.  The fish sauce and soy sauce contribute the Water Element. The basil, garlic and shallot bring in the Metal Element and the pepper and Serrano Chili represent the Fire Element.  Only the Earth Element is missing so be sure to serve it with another earthy dish, perhaps something with coconut to make a balanced five element meal.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Chana Masala - Spicy Indian Chickpeas in Tomato Sauce

You will probably see that I’ve been on an Indian kick and will soon be moving into cooking from another ethnic culinary tradition. But I had to share with you this recipe first. I first made Chana Masala for my vegetarian stepson and at the time, he was not eating any onions and garlic so I used Asafetida instead.  That is a resin from India that has a mild oniony flavor, but when I made this same dish with onions and garlic, I didn’t look back. To me, they add so much depth to the flavor. I love the spiciness of this dish and I don’t usually go for spicy foods, but it is a very balanced heat and if you serve it with rice and a yogurt cucumber salad, the heat really enhances the flavor. I like it with a little more sauce than is traditional. It is often quite a dry dish when authentic.  But this version is a brightly tangy dish with chewy chickpeas and a smooth spicy sauce. I took the picture before I added the cilantro, but do add it if you like it as it adds lovely contrasting color and some good flavor too. Chana Masala is one of my favorite Indian dishes and it may become one of yours too!

Chana Masala – Spicy Indian Chickpeas in Tomato Sauce

 3 Tablespoons Ghee or Butter
1 large onion, chopped

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 inch chunk of fresh Ginger, peeled and grated or minced very fine
1 Serrano Chili, deseeded and minced

1 Tablespoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 teaspoon Turmeric

2 teaspoons ground Cumin
1 15-ounce can of whole Tomato Sauce 

2 (15 oz) cans Chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste

Juice of ½ of a large lemon or whole small lemon

Heat Ghee or Butter in a large skillet until melted. Add Coriander, Cumin, Cayenne and Turmeric - cook just for a minute or until you can smell the spice.  Add in the onion, ginger and garlic.  Cook until onion softens.  Add in the Serrano Chili, the Tomato Sauce and the Chickpeas. Bring to a boil and then turn down heat low and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Taste and season with salt and squeeze in lemon juice – stir and serve garnished with Cilantro leaves. 

Five Element Analysis 

Chickpeas are part of the bean family so they belong to the Water Element. The Metal Element is strongly represented by all of the spices and the garlic and onion. The Fire Element also has strong representation from the Tomato Sauce, Cayenne Pepper and the Serrano Chili. The Wood Element is represented by the lemon juice and the cilantro leaves.  Only the Earth Element is lacking so serve this dish with another Earthy food like an Indian Cucumber Salad to balance out the meal.