Monday, November 30, 2009

Sea U II -- A Tale of the Deep Sea, Big Fish, Sisters and a Deconstructed Seared Tuna Cassoulet

In the video, my brother-in-law John looks determined and weary but gleeful. A 260-pound big-eye tuna was on the other end of his fishing rod line. For two hours or so he and the fish had battled until they were both were exhausted. When John and his buddies were finally able to haul the creature through the fish door of his boat, the tuna was so spent that it lay on the deck almost still awaiting its fate without the usual flipping and struggling about. In the video you can see the respect the men of the Sea U II had for their prey as well as their delight in catching the big one that did not get away.

If your idea of a tuna comes in a can or as a clean slab of pale flesh from a fish counter it can be a shock to come face to fins with your dinner. Most Americans have become pretty squeamish about the fact our proteins of choice come from living creatures. I know the first time lobsters under my control went from live to formerly live I pretended a blitheness I didn’t really feel. But now I’ve come to accept that if I eat meat or fish or chicken my meal once had a face and it died for my dinner. In my opinion it is an acceptance anyone who decides to be an omnivore should have and we should have the same respect for those animals as the sport fishermen did for that tuna.

The tuna itself was no trophy. It ended up feeding untold many. It did earn Captain John a trophy, though, the prize for the largest tuna caught during a local marina’s fishing contest – a large fiberglass fish.

While this tuna was large, it is not the largest John and his friends have caught, that one was over 500 pounds. While the catch is shared by all those who crew the boat, that still means my sister, Beth, ends up with a lot of fish to cook. She has created almost a whole cookbook of recipes for the fish John has caught off the coast of Long Island, New York. She also always carefully freezes some of the choicest specimens for me to take home after my yearly visits. With the correct packaging and no unexpected flight delays, a few pounds of tuna steaks stay frozen from New York to San Francisco.

The tuna I receive from Beth and John always inspires me to create the best dish I can to honor both the fish and the gift. The recipe below came to me simultaneously as a title – Seared Tuna and Deconstructed Cassoulet – and a taste – peppery seared tuna with saffron broth and vegetables. The rest came together out of what I had in my pantry and refrigerator. To see another recipe I created for tuna caught by John, please see the limoncello-marinated tuna over couscous salad recipe here.

Seared Tuna and Deconstructed Cassoulet
Serves 4

I’m always wary of calling something a cassoulet when it is not classically so, but this is what my unconscious instincts called the dish as it leapt practically fully formed in my mind so I’m going with it. It is a light dish with lots of satisfying flavors brightened by the lemon zest and peppery finish of the fish and the crunch of the seasoned croutons. The bean and vegetable mixture with the croutons works well as a side dish or vegetarian main course (when made with the vegetable broth) without the fish.

About 1 ½ pounds of fresh tuna sliced into 4 steaks
Fresh cracked pepper
2 Tbs. grape seed or other oil for high temperature heating
2 Tbs. + ¼ cup olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 minced garlic cloves
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
½ cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped baby or regular bok choy stems
¼ tsp. + pinch of salt
¼ tsp. + pinch of ground pepper
¼ tsp. + pinch of red pepper flakes
¾ tsp. + pinch of French Herbs de Provence seasoning
8 oz. chicken or vegetable stock
¼ tsp. saffron threads
2 cups cooked navy or white kidney beans
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 cup (packed) chopped baby or regular bok choy greens
Zest of 1 lemon, divided
Juice of ½ lemon
2 cups of cubed (1”) stale or toasted bread

Spread the cracked pepper on a plate and press both sides of the tuna steaks into it. Heat the grape seed oil in a 12” sauté pan or deep skillet over high heat until the oil is smoking. Sear the tuna steaks on both sides until the outside is crusty and brown being careful not to cook the insides. Set the tuna steaks aside and wipe out the oil and any debris with some paper towels.

Add the 2 Tbs. olive oil to the pan and heat over medium heat. Sauté onion until beginning to soften and golden, add garlic and sauté a moment. Add carrots and sauté a few minutes and then add red bell pepper. Sauté for a minute and add celery and bok choy stems. Sauté, stirring often, until the vegetables have begun to soften. Add the ¼ tsp. of salt, ¼ tsp. of ground pepper, ¼ tsp. of red pepper flakes and the ¾ tsp. of the Herbs de Provence seasoning. Stir well and sauté for a moment to release aroma of the seasonings. Add the chicken stock, bring to a simmer and add the saffron threads. Simmer gently until the vegetables are somewhat softened. Add the cooked beans, tomatoes and the bok choy greens. Allow to simmer until the vegetables are tender but still a bit crisp to the bite. Add the lemon juice and scatter ¾ of the lemon zest over the top of the vegetables and combine. Taste and correct the seasoning. Place the tuna steaks on top of the mixture and let them gently reheat in the simmering stew. Check tuna for desired doneness and remove. (For true seared tuna, the fish should still be mostly raw in the center.) Put vegetable mixture in serving dish. Place tuna steaks on top. Scatter prepared croutons over all. Garnish with remaining lemon zest. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To make the croutons (can be made ahead): Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss bread cubes in a bowl with ¼ cup of olive oil, remaining salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and Herbs de Provence.
Spread coated bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake in oven until toasted and brown, turning as needed.

Here's info on tuna choices and sustainability in the U.S. from the Monterey Bay Aquariam.
About the photo: Commercial fishing boats at the Hampton Bays, Long Island, marina by sister and brother-in-law keep their sport fishing, 52-foot Sea U II.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tamale-Stuffed Pumpkin for the Holidays

I can't say the idea to use tamales as a stuffing is unique to me. I first saw the concept as a stuffing for Cornish hens and after I created the recipe I saw it as a stuffing for a boneless turkey roll in the local newspaper. Neither was exactly like mine, but I just wanted to be sure everyone understood I wasn't taking credit for being the first one to think of it!

My tamale stuffing goes inside a pumpkin. It makes a lovely vegetarian holiday main course or a great vegetable side dish this time of year. We enjoyed it with some vegetarian bulgur chili (watch for that post.) I used some of Primavera's wonderful gourmet tamales, but you could use any kind of cheese or, better yet, cheese and chile, tamale. Just add in some chopped vegetables of your choice to the initial saute. Truly a great way to celebrate a harvest festival!

Here's a quick recap of how to make the recipe

Tamale-Stuffed Pumpkin
Serves 4-5

One good size kabocha (Japanese green) pumpkin, top removed, strings and seeds removed
1/2 cup of milk
4 cheese tamales (I used Primavera's white corn and zucchini tamales in roasted tomato chipotle salsa with jack cheese)
2 Tbs. olive or other oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
If needed (depending on tamales) -- salsa, chopped chiles, 1/4 cup corn kernels, 1/4 chopped zucchini or other ingredients to taste.
Salt and Pepper to taste
Regular or Smoked Paprika

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place pumpkin in roasting pan. Put milk inside pumpkin. Cook for about 20 minutes until pumpkin flesh is just starting to get soft. Steam tamales, unwrap from husks, set aside. Saute onion and garlic in oil until onion is browned. If using additional ingredients, add them to the onions and garlic and saute until softened. Crumble tamales into saute, breaking up and combining with other ingredients. Add salt and pepper as desired. Pack into pumpkin, stirring any milk remaining on the bottom into the mixture. Sprinkle paprika on top. Return to oven and bake another 45-60 minutes until the pumpkin flesh is soft and the stuffing heated through. When serving be sure to scoop out some of the pumpkin with the filling.

Eastern European Stuffed Cabbage in Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce for National Vegan Month

This is the second vegan cabbage roll recipe I developed for National Vegan Month. (For the Asian-inspired recipe and more on November being National Vegan Month, click here.) Since I was writing this for a Jewish audience (the Temple Beth Abraham Omer), I thought I would tweak a traditional Ashkenazi style stuffed cabbage taste profile. It is still filling, still hearty, and still a great main course or perhaps an accompaniment to some Chanukah potato latkes.

The kasha (buckwheat groats) in the filling gives these cabbage rolls their hearty taste; a bit of ginger and a sweet and sour tomato sauce give them a lively, bright taste. I always found prepping the cabbage leaves for stuffing a bit intimidating. Some recipes have you whacking out the cabbage core and/or submerging and boiling a whole cabbage. I’ve developed a fairly fuss free way to prep the cabbage leaves that makes it relatively easy to prepare them for the stuffing (see recipe directions below). Give it a try.

East European Style Cabbage Rolls in Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce
Serves 4

Large Savoy or green cabbage
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
½ cup finely chopped onions
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger root
½ tsp. ground black pepper, divided
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 carrot, chopped
½ cup of sliced mushrooms
½ tsp. salt, divided
1 cup uncooked kasha (buckwheat groats)
3 cups vegetable stock
¼ cup chopped parsley, plus additional for garnish
1 cup chopped tomatoes, divided
16 ounces plain tomato sauce
¼ tsp. ground dried ginger
1 Tbs. sugar
¼ cup apple cider vinegar

First prep the cabbage leaves. Score the bottom of the cabbage all the way around stem with a knife to detach the leaves from the stem. Pull off 10 of the outer leaves, making additional cuts at the stem if needed. Place the leaves in boiling water in a large pot. (You may want to prepare a few additional leaves in case of rips and tears or if you have some leftover stuffing.) Make sure the leaves are submerged. Cover and simmer for four to five minutes or until tender and pliable. Drain and let cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large frying or sauté pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add onion and sauté 1 minute, add garlic, ginger, ¼ tsp. of black pepper and red pepper flakes. Sauté for a minute. Add carrots, sauté for 3 minutes, then add the mushrooms. Sauté for 1 minute and add the kasha, stirring well. Add the stock, bring to a low simmer. Cover and lower heat, simmering until the stock is absorbed and the kasha is cooked through (about 8 to 10 minutes), stirring occasionally. Taste and add more black pepper if needed and ¼ tsp. of salt or as needed. Mix in ½ cup of chopped tomato and ¼ cup parsley.

In a small sauce pan over medium low heat, mix the tomato sauce, ground ginger, ¼ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. of ground pepper, sugar and remaining tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes have begun to soften. Take off the heat. Add the vinegar. Stir well and taste. Adjust by adding more sugar or vinegar as needed and more salt and pepper as desired. Ladle a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom of a 9x12-inch baking pan.

Spread a cabbage leaf on a cutting board. Cut off hard end of stem. Place ¼ cup of filling in the middle of the leaf. Fold over the two shorter sides of the leaf. Fold over one of the longer sides, then the other. Place folded side down in the baking pan. Repeat with other leaves. Spread sauce evenly over top of cabbage rolls. Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the rolls are cooked through, approximately 45-50 minutes. Garnish with parsley before serving.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Laotian Food in Oakland

I've been remiss about writing about my experiences with the Laotian food resources and restaurants here in Oakland, but Andrew Simmons of Bay Area Bites hasn't. He's written a wonderful article about the food and the people who create it here.

He mentions the classes at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center taught by Sokham Senthavilay. (That a photo of her to the left teaching a cooking class at the OACC.) I've taken two classes with her and was very impressed with the flavors, textures and tastes of Laotian food. You can read what I've written about the OACC classes and Sokham here. (True confession, I have several other posts with photos planned from the classes and haven't written them yet.)

See what the OACC has posted about the workshops here (including links to recipes).

The OACC may be planning more Asian culinary workshops in the near future. I'll be sure to post about them when more info becomes available.

A special thank you goes out to the Alliance for California Traditional Arts which has funded the OACC workshops.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

National Vegan Month and an Asian-Inspired Stuffed Cabbage

The back story to this recipe is that I met an editor of VegNews at the BlogHer Food conference. We got to talking and she told me November was National Vegan Month. I was inspired to develop several vegan recipes to celebrate the month and to help me reduce the animal fats in my own diet. This Asian-inspired stuffed cabbage is stuffed with a veggie-packed stir-fried rice and features a zippy sesame soy sauce. (Use a wheat free soy or tamari sauce to make it gluten free.) The recipe was developed for my twice-a-month food column at the j. You can see the complete article here.

What is this Asian-ish dish doing in a Jewish newsweekly? Well, my wonderful editors really give me free reign on what I choose to write, but stuffed cabbages of all sorts are traditional Eastern European dishes. (Plus other Jewish communities stuff cabbage and grape leaves as well as vegetables with all kinds of rice pilafs and mixtures.) And there are Jewish communities throughout Central Asia and the East, where traditional dishes have been adapted to local ingredients, so just think of it as a Far East Eastern European speciality!

Asian-Style Cabbage Rolls with Sesame-Soy Sauce
Serves 3 to 4

Large Savoy or green cabbage
4 Tbs. vegetable oil, divided, plus oil for baking pan
¼ cup chopped onions
3 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
½ cup chopped, peeled jicama
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
¼ cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped fresh shitake mushrooms
½ cup chopped cabbage
2 green onions (white and green parts), sliced into thin rounds
½ tsp. salt
2 Tbs. of Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 cups of cold, cooked long grain rice
¼ cup chopped cilantro, plus additional for garnish
3 Tbs. soy or tamari sauce
2 tsp. of chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
2 Tbs. Japanese or Chinese-style sesame oil

First prep the cabbage leaves. Score the bottom of the cabbage all the way around stem with a knife to detach the leaves from the stem. Pull off 10 of the outer leaves, making additional cuts at the stem if needed. Place the leaves in boiling water in a large pot. (You may want to prepare a few additional leaves in case of rips and tears or if you have some leftover stuffing.) Cover and simmer for four to five minutes or until tender and pliable. Drain and let cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9x12-inch baking pan with oil.
In a wok or large frying pan, heat 2 Tbs. oil over high heat. Add onions, stir fry 1 minute. Add in garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes, stir fry for a minute. Add jicama, red bell pepper and carrots. Stir fry 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, stir fry 2 minutes. Add the cabbage. Stir fry 1 minute. Add the green onions, salt and wine and mix well. Add cold rice, mix well and stir fry for 2 minutes, breaking up any clumps. Take off the heat. Stir in ¼ cup cilantro.

Spread a cabbage leaf on a cutting board. Cut off hard end of stem. Place ¼ cup of filling in the middle of the leaf. Fold over the two shorter sides of the leaf over the filling. Fold over one of the longer sides, then the other. Place folded side down in the prepared baking pan. Repeat with other leaves until you have 10 stuffed rolls. Bake, covered with foil, for about 30 minutes or until the rolls are heated through.

While the rolls heat, mix 2 Tbs. vegetable oil with the soy sauce, chili paste, vinegar, sugar and sesame oil in a bowl. Mix well. Stir again and drizzle half over the cabbage rolls and garnish with cilantro before serving. Pass remaining sauce on the side.

Update: I've posted a second vegan cabbage roll recipe -- Eastern European style with a sweet and sour tomato sauce. You can check it out here.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Taste 10, Looks 2 -- Balkan Lemon-Egg Sauce Moussaka with Lamb

Over at the j weekly, I've had an article on the wonderful photo exhibit at the BJE Community Library in San Francisco on Balkan Sephardic Jews. Called "Images of a Lost World" it documents the lives of a population killed during WWII or dispersed afterwards. The photos and accompanying interviews document these communities in Bulgaria, Greece, Bosnia, Turkey and more. You can read my article here. The exhibit continues on display through the end of January.

Many of the folks who were interviewed mentioned the food their mothers and grandmothers had cooked, but without naming any specific dishes. I started to think about the Greek and Turkish influences on the cuisine in that part of the world and developed this recipe in response to the exhibit. Lemon-Egg Sauce Moussaka with Lamb is lovely to eat, with rich, bright flavors, but only so-so to look at. So make this in your prettiest casserole dish and garnish with some chopped parsley and maybe a handful of fresh diced tomatoes on top to doll it up. Once you taste it, I think you'll agree, looks aren't everything. (Plus the leftovers were great, even cold.) There is no milk or cream in this moussaka, so it might work well for lactose-intolerant guests.

Lemon-Egg Sauce Moussaka with Lamb
Serves 4

The finished casserole may look a bit homey, but the taste is decadent and complex. The dish’s citrusy zing works well with the richness of the sauce and lamb, both of which help mellow the assertiveness of the eggplant. Use the full cup of juice for a stronger lemon flavor. Try serving with rice or potatoes to soak up the creamy (but definitely not dairy) sauce.

Olive oil
1 large globe eggplant, peeled and sliced into ¼” rounds
½ small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground lamb
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbs. tomato paste
¼ tsp. salt or to taste
¼ tsp. ground black pepper or to taste
½ tsp. dried ground oregano
1 tsp. lemon zest
3 Tbs. flour
2 cups chicken stock, divided
¾ to 1 cup lemon juice
2 eggs, beaten
½ tsp. paprika
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Prepare the Eggplant

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a large baking tray and place eggplant slices in single layer (use two trays if necessary). Brush tops of slices with a light coating of olive oil. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, turning and brushing tops with additional oil occasionally until the eggplant slices are soft throughout and golden brown. Set aside.

Cook the Lamb Filling

Over medium high heat, heat 2 Tbs. of oil and sauté onion until beginning to turn golden. Add garlic, sauté until the onions are beginning to brown. Add lamb, stirring to break up meat. Sauté until the outside of the lamb is just browned. (Drain if desired, discarding fat). Add tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper and oregano. Sauté until lamb is cooked through and tomatoes have begun to soften. Taste and correct seasoning. Add lemon zest, mix well. Set aside.

Make the Lemon-Egg Sauce

Have all ingredients for the sauce ready. In a large saucepan over medium high heat, heat 2 Tbs. oil. Quickly stir in the flour until it is just incorporated. Be careful not to scorch the flour-oil paste. Add in half of the chicken broth. Stir or whisk constantly until the flour mixture and the stock are smooth. Add remainder of the chicken stock and the lemon juice. Reduce heat to medium. Bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally. Remove a half cup of the hot chicken stock mixture and stir into the beaten eggs until well combined. Now slowly drizzle the egg and stock mixture back into the pot stirring the sauce in the pot the whole time until the egg mixture is fully incorporated. Stirring occasionally, bring the sauce back to a low boil. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced to about half. Taste and add salt if necessary. (Makes about 1 ½ cups of sauce.)

Assemble and Bake the Moussaka

Preheat (or turn oven down to) 350 degrees. Grease an 8 to 9” round casserole. Cover the bottom with half of the baked eggplant slices. Layer with half of the lamb filling. Pour half of the egg-lemon sauce over the lamb. Repeat. Sprinkle top with paprika.
Bake uncovered for 50 to 55 minutes or until top is browned and the sauce is set (it will still be a bit loose when served). Let sit for 10 to 20 minutes before garnishing with chopped parsley and serving.