Friday, May 23, 2014

Stephen's Sichuan Chili Oil and Sichuan Chili Oil Wonton Sauce

Whenever I have a recipe that calls for Sichuan Chili Oil, I usually grab a bottle or premade stuff from an Asian market.  That one is made with Sesame Oil and red chiles and it's kind of a one-note heat. For authentic Sichuan food, you need to make the Chili Oil yourself. There are many recipes, but the one my son made with me yesterday was so good, that I have to share it with you.  We only made a small amount as we were experimenting and then we used the oil tonight to make a sauce for Spicy Sichuan Wontons.  However, we also ended up sprinkling it on the fried rice - it was that good!

The recipe is simple.  Heat up some neutral flavored oil and add garlic, green onions, ginger and Sichuan Peppercorns with a bunch of red chili flakes and when it the garlic is cooked, you add salt and let cool.  Then you let it sit overnight so it turns a lovely clear red color, strain it and use as desired. That's all it takes to make a delicious Sichuan Chili Oil that can be used in many ways!

Stephen's Sichuan Chili Oil

1 cup Safflower Oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 green onions, trimmed and cut into 3 inch pieces
2" piece of ginger, peeled and smashed
1 Tablespoon Red Chile flakes
1 Tablespoon Sichuan Peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a small frying pan, heat the oil with the garlic, green onion, ginger, Chile flakes and Sichuan Peppercorns.  Cook until the garlic is golden brown - about 15 minutes. Pour into a bowl. When cool, remove the  garlic, ginger and green onion and then put into a jar.  Seal and let sit overnight in the refrigerator.  Then strain and reseal to use for up to several months. 

To make Sichuan Chili Oil Wonton Sauce:

1/4 cup Sichuan Chili Oil
1 Tablespoon Tamari
1 Tablespoon Black Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons Dried Marinated Mustard Greens reconstituted in small amount of boiling water

Heat the Sichuan Chili Oil in a small frying pan.  Add the Tamari, Black Vinegar, sugar and drained Mustard Greens. Cook until heated thoroughly and pour over boiled wontons (we used Trader Joe's Chicken Wontons cooked for 2 minutes in boiling water).  

Five Element Analysis

This is clearly a Fire food as evidenced by its' lovely red color and the heat of the chiles and Sichuan Peppercorns.  However, the garlic and onion bring in the Metal Element and the Ginger contributes the Earth Element and the salt brings in a bit of the Water Element. Only the Wood Element is missing so this sauce is especially good when combined with Chinese Black Vinegar - a Wood food and Soy Sauce - a Water food and Dried Marinated Mustard Greens - a Fire food because it is dried and a Wood food because its a leafy green vegetable.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Japanese Fried Chicken - Chicken Karage

I spent my early years in Japan and like all children, I loved finger foods. One of my favorites was Chicken Karage or basically Japanese Chicken Nuggets.  When my kids were growing up, it was a snack I made for them too. Yesterday, for Mother's Day, my son and I made them again for the first time in a long time and we still think it is a great treat!  Basically, it involves marinating cut up boneless, skinless thigh pieces of chicken in a marinade of Soy Sauce, Mirin and ginger.  I use chicken thighs because they are more juicy and if you want to reheat them, they don't dry out as easily, but you can certainly substitute chicken breasts instead. Then there are two ways of making them.  The first is to drain off the excess marinade and then add egg white and cornstarch to the mixture and deep fry the pieces.  The other way is to remove each piece and dip into cornstarch or rice flour before frying. The second way makes the chicken more crispy, but the first way is more traditional.  Either way, these little fried chicken bites taste great - I don't fry food very often, but in this case it is worth it! Just make sure that the oil is very hot so they cook quickly. I served them with a drizzle of Katsu Sauce and sprinkled with Sesame Seeds and Green Onion.  You can also serve them with a dipping sauce like a thick Terriyaki Sauce.  However, if you want to keep this dish Gluten Free, make your own sauce using Tamari.  Chicken Karage is a dish you could make ahead for a party and just reheat in the oven before garnishing them. Believe me, they will go fast!

Japanese Fried Chicken - Chicken Karage

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 6 equal sized pieces

¼ cup Tamari (or Soy Sauce)

¼ cup Mirin (can also Shaoshing Rice Wine)

1 1/2 inch chunk of fresh ginger, sliced (no need to peel)
1/3 cup Cornstarch + 1 egg white
or 1 cup of cornstarch to dip and coat pieces in (can also use Rice Flour)

High Heat Safflower Oil for Frying - enough to fill pot about 2 inches deep

For Serving:

2 -3 green cut green onion tops
1/4 cup Katsu or Terriyaki Sauce (make your own with Tamari if need a gluten free sauce)
1 Tablespoon Sesame Seeds

Marinate chicken in Tamari, Mirin, Ginger mixture for at least 20 minutes up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.  When ready to fry, heat the oil in a deep pot (I used a cast iron one) until it starts smoking. Turn oven on to 250 degrees. Meanwhile, pull out Ginger Pieces and add Cornstarch and egg white and mix in thoroughly.  Test one piece and cook until golden brown and remove with a wire mesh or slotted spoon. Then cut open to see if it is no longer pink.  If not, cook some more and check to see what color the crust is to continue cooking the rest of the pieces in batches.  When each batch is done, place on paper towel lined cookie tray in the oven and keep warm until all are done. 

Or, put cornstarch (or rice flour) into a large Ziploc bag. When ready to cook the chicken, remove it from the marinade and put it into the cornstarch.  Seal bag and toss to coat.  Put into hot oil and cook until golden brown.  Drain on a paper-towel covered tray and place in a warm oven (250 degrees) until all are done.

Put on a plate and drizzle with Katsu or Terriyaki Sauce.  Sprinkle with green onion tops and Sesame Seeds.

Five Element Analysis

Chicken belongs to the Wood Element and frying is a Fire Method of Cooking so those elements are covered.  More fire is added by the Mirin. The Metal Element is represented by the Cornstarch and green onion garnish and the Water Element is brought in by the Tamari, Sesame Seeds, Katsu Sauce or Terriyaki Sauce along with the Earth Element as these sauces are sweet and the ginger brings in even more.  Guess what?  This is a balanced little snack!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Kale Salad with Verjus Vinaigrette

Since Martin loves Kale Salads, I am always searching for new ways to serve it.  My latest version is this one - Lacinato (Dinosaur) Kale, Green Apples slices, Green Grapes, Red Quinoa and Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas), which was inspired by one I had at a restaurant in La Jolla called Georges.  I loved the combination of ingredients, but they served theirs with a Yogurt Dressing and I wanted a dressing without dairy. So, I made a Verjus and Shallot Vinaigrette instead. For those of you who haven't tried Verjus - it is unfermented grape juice and it's lovely. It can be used in place of vinegar but I find it lighter and more delicate.  Because the flavor is so subtle, it is important to use a lighter olive oil or another light oil, like safflower or the Verjus will be overpowered. Of course, you can also use lemon (with a bit of honey) or vinegar instead too, but because of the fruit, be sure to use a fruity vinegar like Apple Cider, Raspberry vinegar or Champagne vinegar. This salad is a simple one, the only thing that needs to be done ahead is to cook the quinoa, which adds a lot of protein so it makes a great Vegetarian lunch.  Then it is easy to assemble the salad.  The sweetness of the grapes contrasts wonderfully with the bitterness of the Kale and the tartness of the apple and the soft and chewy Quinoa contrasts with the crunch of the Pumpkin Seeds. It's a wonderful salad and tastes like it's almost summer! 

Kale Salad with Verjus Vinaigrette

1 bunch Lacinato (Dinosaur) Kale, pulled off center stalk and cut into bite size pieces

1 Green Apple, cored, sliced thinly and peeled - placed in lightly salted water
1 cup Green Grapes, cut in half
1/2 cup cooked Red Quinoa (see below)
1/4 cup Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Put the Kale in a salad bowl and cover with salad dressing and toss. Let sit for 10 minutes and add the Green Apple, the Green Grape halves and the Quinoa. Toss again. Sprinkle with Pumpkin Seeds when ready to serve.

Verjus Vinaigrette

½ cup white Verjus (can also use Apple Cider, Raspberry or Champagne Vinegar but add a bit of honey)

1 clove Shallot, minced (about 1 Tablespoon)

4 Tablespoons Light Olive Oil or Safflower Oil
Salt and Pepper
Mix together in a small bowl and reserve until ready to use

To Cook Quinoa:

1/4 cup Red Quinoa (pre-rinsed)*

1/2 cup Water
Pinch of Salt

Put Quinoa and Water in a small pot and add salt. Bring to a boil and cover, turning heat to low. Cook for 15 minutes. Fluff and cool before adding to the salad. Can be made ahead.

*Note: Unless you are using a boxed Quinoa that is pre-rinsed, it is necessary to rinse it in a fine meshed strainer.  

Five Element Analysis

Kale belongs to the Wood Element and the Olive Oil and Apple add even more. Quinoa, being a seed contributes the Water Element and the Pumpkin Seeds bring in additional Water.  The Verjus which is really not very sweet grape juice belongs to the Earth Element as do the grapes. The Shallots bring in the Metal Element.  Only the Fire Element is missing, which can be easily remedied by serving it with a glass of ice tea.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Coconut Banana Chia Pudding

I went to a restaurant called True Foods in Santa Monica the other day with my friend Kim and was blown away by their Chia Pudding made with Coconut Milk, Bananas and of course those strange little seeds.  For those of you who don't know about Chia Seeds, yes they are the seeds that make Chia pets have that grassy fur, but in their dormant state, they are incredibly good for your intestines. They are one of the members of the Mucilaginous food group because they absorb a lot of liquid and become somewhat gelatinous. They are also full of Omega 3s.  I have used them before soaked in fruit juice, but I do have a love of creamy pudding desserts and it's hard to make them without dairy. Chia Pudding is a raw dessert as well as being vegan, gluten free and lactose free.  That makes this the perfect dessert to serve with all your friends with food intolerances.... Besides that, this dessert was wonderful and healthy too! I did find the restaurant recipe and they used brown sugar so I substituted honey as I wanted to make it a little less sweet. And, I changed the proportions of the ingredients a bit and the way it was made as I like chunky bits of banana in it.  It turned out beautifully and was so simple to make.  It was creamy, crunchy and luscious and absolutely delicious!

Coconut Banana Chia Pudding - adapted from True Foods

1 13.5oz can of Coconut Milk
3 Tablespoons Honey (or Agave or Maple Syrup) 
1 large or 2 small ripe bananas
Pinch of Salt
Optional:  1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract if desired
1/4  cup Chia Seeds

For Garnish:  1/2 cup of Unsweetened Coconut Flakes toasted in a frying pan until lightly browned and/or fresh banana slices sprinkled with lemon juice so they don't brown

In a large bowl, mash the banana with a fork.  Stir in the Coconut Milk and Honey and whisk to combine.  Add in the pinch of salt and vanilla (if using) and the Chia Seeds.  Stir to combine and chill for 4 hours.  Serve with sliced bananas and Coconut Flakes on top.

Five Element Analysis

As a sweet dessert, this pudding is considered Earthy and the honey, banana and coconut do make it mostly an Earth dish. However, the Chia Seeds add quite a bit of the Water Element and the Vanilla Extract contributes just a bit of the Metal Element.  It would be a great addition to a meal containing mostly Wood and Fire Foods to create balance.