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Indian Spiced Tea – Masala Chai

 

 

“Chai,” as many Americans call it, is correctly “Masala Chai,” meaning “spiced tea.” “Chai” alone simply means “tea” in the Indian subcontinent. It’s composed of black tea brewed with milk, sugar, and fresh and dried spices. A classic street vendor drink, it was once sold in throwaway thin-sided clay cups. It is now often served in small glasses or brass cups.

Masala Chai with its spices

 

This is not my recipe. Rather it is basically the recipe of my sister in law, Karin Downs, who spent a college semester in India and later spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal, where Masala Chai is also common. This is the way my wife Christina makes the drink at home, where the grandkids enjoy it. It’s also the way we make it at the family-run restaurant, Donderos’ Kitchen, in Athens, Georgia.

 

In India the drink can be quite sweet. We make it less sweet, but the sugar can be increased if preferred.

 

The  recipe makes over 6 cups, or about 8-10 servings. Leftover Masala Chai is nice cold too.

 

4 cups water


5 (1/8-inch) slices fresh ginger, not peeled

2 (3-inch) sticks whole cinnamon

8 whole green cardamoms

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds

3 tea bags (or 2 tablespoons loose) black Indian-type tea

3 cups whole milk

2-3 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste

 

In a cooking pot, simmer together the water, fresh ginger, and all the dry whole spices for 20 minutes. Add the tea bags or loose tea, and simmer 5 minutes. Add milk and sugar and bring it to just heated but not boiling (it could foam over if it boils).

 

Pour through a strainer into a tea pot, from which to serve the tea. Serve in cups or small glasses.

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Spicy Pinto Beans

 

 

Here’s an easily made pinto bean dish of the sort that goes well as an ingredient in tacos, fajitas, nachos, enchiladas, quesadillas, and burritos. Alternatively, the beans go well with rice as a lunch or snack.

 

The recipe serves six people as a light meal, or serves more people if used as an ingredient in one of the Tex-Mex dishes mentioned above.

 

1 small green bell pepper or 1/2 a medium one

1 medium jalapeño pepper

1 small onion or 1/2 a medium one

1 clove garlic

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 (14-ounce) cans pinto beans

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder, if available, or 1 extra teaspoon regular chili powder

1 teaspoon regular chili powder, or 2 teaspoons if chipotle chili powder not used

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/3 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup water

Coarsely chopped cilantro for garnish, if desired

 

Core the bell pepper and cut it in chunks. Cut the stem off the jalapeño, and cut the jalapeño in half, keeping the seeds. Peel the onion and the garlic clove. Chop all four vegetables very finely in a food processor, or on a cutting board with a chef’s knife. Place vegetable mixture in a heavy pot with the olive oil. Set aside.

 

Open the cans of beans, and holding their lids on, drain off as uch liquid as you can, but do not rinse. Add 1 cup of water to one of the cans of beans. Measure the salt and dry seasonings and put them in a small bowl or cup.

 

Place the pot with the chopped vegetables and olive oil on the stove, and fry, stirring very frequently, until the vegetables are softened, but not browned. Add the beans and their water plus the spices to the pot. Heat, simmering for about ten minutes, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot, so that the beans don’t stick.

 

Remove from the heat. Taste, and add salt if needed.

 

Use a a lunch dish with rice, sprinkled with chopped parsley, or use as an ingredient on nachos, quesadillas, enchiladas, tacos, fajitas or burritos.

 

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Red Lentil Dal with Spinach, a good Iron Source

 

One of my teenage grandchildren has been vegetarian for some years. And as she is active in sports, getting enough iron to avoid anemia is a challenge. She loves Indian food, and does some cooking. So this one is for her. 


Lentils, and especially red lentils (called “masoor dal” in India), and spinach (called “palak” or “saag” in India) are both good sources of dietary iron. They also have many other nutritional benefits, including protein, soluble and insoluble fiber, and multiple vitamins.

 

Here is a delicious Indian vegetarian dish, Dal Saag (or Dal Palak), that brings together these two fine iron sources. It also makes a great meal, accompanied by rice or chapati flat bread, plus yogurt and a fresh chutney (I have a good recipe for fresh tomato chutney elsewhere in this blog).

 

Masoor dal, split and hulled red (or “Egyptian”) lentils, are available inexpensively at supermarkets, Indian stores, and natural food stores. The spices are relatively readily available at the same places. Frozen spinach is the easiest for this cooking, but fresh could be used if preferred. Indian cooks would typically fry part of the cumin seeds and part of the onion in a little oil or clarified butter (ghee) and stir it in at the end for heightened flavor. For simplicity (and for a teen-aged cook) I leave that step out and just cook those seasonings in with the lentils.

 

The recipe makes about a quart and a half, enough for six people. It keeps well in the fridge and reheats easily in the microwave.

 

1 1/2 cup split red lentils

5 cups water

4 tablespoons butter (or vegetable oil for a vegan dish)

1 small onion finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric

1 1/4 teaspoons whole cumin seeds (or ground as a second choice)

1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds (or ground as a second choice)

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 (12-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach (not thawed)

Coarsely chopped cilantro for garnish, if desired

 

Rinse and drain the lentils. Place in a pot with the water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of thee pot. Skim off and discard the foam that arises as the lentils boil.

 

Add the butter, onion and spices (not the salt), and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pot, until lentils are tender and start to disintegrate, 25-30 minutes. If the mixture is getting somewhat dry, add a little water.

Add the salt and simmer a few more minutes.

 

Finally, add the frozen spinach, and stirring frequently, cook only until the spinach is heated. Do not cook after the mixture boils.

 

Remove from the heat, taste for salt and add a little if needed. Let cool. The flavors are enhanced as the mixture rests.

 

Reheat to serve. Top lightly with coarsely chopped cilantro leaves, if desired, when using as part of an Indian meal with rice or chapati.

 

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Spring Greens and Strawberry Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette – All Year Long

 

Bright, young leafy greens and gorgeous red strawberries combine for a delightful salad that screams “springtime.” But -- happily -- the story is  more complicated. 


“Spring Mix,” a collection of young salad greens is now available throughout the year. And most of it is hydroponically grown in greenhouses. Increasingly it’s produced locally in all seasons. Strawberries, which in my childhood were very seasonal and locally grown, are available year round, and are either shipped in, or now also greenhouse grown. Strawberries are safest if organic or at least raised in greenhouses.

 

Here’s my “springtime” salad offering, which was previously a column in Boom Magazine, an Athens publication for which I regularly write about food and cooking.

Using some of the strawberries, particularly the less beautiful ones in the package, to infuse the salad dressing makes the salad an even more intense celebration of spring. And, thanks to modern agriculture, it can be enjoyed any time of year.

 

The recipe serves six. The salad dressing can be made in advance.

 

1 pint (16 ounces) strawberries, organic or greenhouse grown

1 sprig fresh mint or other herb, optional

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon sea salt, plus to taste

3 tablespoons wine vinegar or cider vinegar

2 tablespoons water

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 1/2 tablespoons sunflower oil or part olive oil

4 cups (loosely measured) spring mix salad greens (from supermarket)

 

Divide the strawberries into two halves, the prettiest berries in one half. Save those for topping the salad.

 

Using the less pretty berries, cut off the hulls and stems and chop or mash the berries finely. Mix them in a bowl with the fresh herb, if used, sugar, salt, vinegar and water. Mix well and allow to sit for an hour or more. Put mixture through a strainer into another bowl and press down firmly to extract the juices. Discard the squeezed-out strawberry pulp. Add the black pepper and oil to the liquid in the bowl. Mix and taste for salt, adding a little, if needed, to taste. It should be faintly salty.

 

Place the spring mix (no need to rinse the leaves if the package indicates they were already washed) in a salad bowl. Hull the reserved (prettier} strawberries. Slice them from top to bottom 1/4-inch thick and distribute them on top of the salad greens. Transfer the dressing to an attractive jar. Just before serving, and preferably at the table for the diners to see, toss the dressing with the greens and berries.

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Red White and Blue Potato Salad for the 4th of July

 

I love potato salad, preferably tangy sweet-sour potato salad without a lot of glubby mayonnaise.

 

Fourth of July, Independence Day, backyard “barbecues” in my childhood always included potato salad. I thought it must be the most American, and patriotic, of dishes. Hot dogs, after all, are actually Germanic sausages. Frankfurters were named for the West German city of Frankfurt, wieners for the Austrian city of Vienna. And hamburgers were named for the North German city of Hamburg.

 


Of course, later I learned that potato salad is a specialty throughout central and northern Europe, from Germany to Sweden to Russia and all points in between. Ah well!

 

For fun, I now make Fourth of July potato salad in the colors of red, white and blue. That’s not to be confused with the French national colors “bleu, blanc et rouge” (blue, white and red), or the Russian colors, white, blue and red.

 

When I began this culinary prank, I used small red-skinned potatoes and purple-blue potatoes. But the red skins cook to a weak pinkish tan and the blue potatoes fade to pale violet. That’s pretty wimpy for the Fourth of July.

 

Now I go bold, as our national honor dictates: red from diced or sliced beets and blue from blueberries to perk up the white of the potatoes. The beets are stirred into the salad briefly before serving so they don’t stain it pink. Pink potato and beet salad is a specialty in Sweden and Russia, especially around the winter holidays.

 

The trick for making good potato salad is proper simmering, not hard boiling, of the potatoes to achieve firmness yet without an under-cooked crunch.

 

The recipe serves 6 to 10 as a side dish or appetizer.

 

3 pounds small-medium yellow-skinned or russet potatoes

1 large fresh beet or equivalent in canned whole beets

1/4 cup minced onion

4 tablespoons mayonnaise (“real” mayonnaise works best)

4 tablespoons white vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1 3/4 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 cup fresh blueberries

 

In large, uncovered pan with plenty of water, bring potatoes just to a simmer over medium heat. Do not boil them or cover the pan. If water begins boiling, pour in a little cold water to slow it. Swirl the pan occasionally to gently move the potatoes around. After 10-12 minutes, start testing a potato for doneness by piercing with a toothpick. Continue simmering until potatoes are just tender. Remove from the heat. Drain and cool.

 

In a separate pan of water, boil the raw beet, if used, unpeeled. When tender when pierced with toothpick, let it cool. Peel it. Alternatively, use canned whole beets of roughly similar total volume to a large beet. Cut in small dice, or if small canned beets, slice them 1/8 inch thick. Season with a little salt and 1 teaspoon of vinegar. Set aside.

 

Peel potatoes. Slice them 1/4 inch thick, first cutting in half lengthwise if large. Place in a large bowl for easy mixing.

 

Mince onion. Mix it in a small bowl with mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper until mayonnaise breaks up.

 

Stir mixture into potatoes, mixing gently with a large spoon or hands (use plastic gloves). Let sit for 10 minutes. Mix again and taste. If necessary, add salt, vinegar and/or sugar. The taste should be slightly salty (the potato will absorb more) and tangy sweet-sour.

 

Potato salad is best if made in advance and refrigerated a few hours or up to several days.

 

Shortly before serving, stir again. Taste and add salt, if needed. Stir in diced beets (drained) and part of blueberries. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with remaining blueberries.

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 Buffalo-Style Chicken Tenders, Roasted


 

I’ve rarely cooked with chicken tenders, but recently tried them for a lunch dish for several grandkids. Drawing on what I knew of Buffalo Chicken Wings, I made the tenders in more or less the same style, except that I seasoned the chicken pieces before cooking and didn’t deep fry them.

 

I initially tried pan frying the tenders, but it had to be done in two batches, and they stuck a little to the pan, making the surfaces a rough. Roasting them on a flat baking sheet in the oven is easier and makes more even-looking pieces, and they’re all cooked at the same time. However it means heating up the oven. Either way, the taste works well, and the kids loved them.

 

Frank’s RedHot cayenne pepper sauce is, reputedly, the particular sauce used on the original Buffalo Chicken Wings, and I like it. But Crystal or Louisiana brand hot sauce or Texas Pete hot sauce (made in North Carolina!) will work. There is always some butter in the sauce as it goes on the chicken.

 

Buffalo chicken is usually served with celery sticks, and a salad dressing to use as a dip. The dressing originally was chunky bleu cheese dressing, which was a typical salad dressing in the 1960s, when Buffalo Wings were created. But now it’s more likely to be Ranch, which is now the most popular.

 

The recipe serves six as a substantial snack. (Leftovers, cut up, make a nice addition to a mixed salad.)

 

1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

T/2 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon celery salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons sunflower or canola oil

1/4 teaspoon vinegar

2 tablespoons Frank’s “RedHot” or other American hot sauce

1 teaspoon butter

 

With a sharp knife, remove the tough tendon off each tender, by grasping it and sliding a sharp knife under it, so as to remove as little of the meat as possible. If one or more tenders are much larger than the others, cut them in half lengthwise on an angle so the pieces look more like the others.

 

In a bowl, mix the chicken well with the dry seasonings and cornstarch. Then mix in the oil and vinegar. Allow chicken an hour or more to season, mixing it occasionally, before cooking.

 

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Smear some oil on a flat baking sheet, and lay out the chicken pieces so they are not touching. 

 

Bake on the top shelf of the oven for 8 minutes. Turn the pieces over with a spatula, and bake for 5 minutes more. Test for doneness by cutting part off one piece. The raw pink interior color should be gone. If not yet cooked, bake for another two minutes, Remove from the oven and transfer the chicken to a clean, wide mixing bowl.

 

Put the hot sauce and butter in a microwaveable cup and microwave for 30 seconds or until the butter is melted, Stir this sauce into the roasted chicken tenders to coat them well. Transfer chicken to a platter to serve.

 

If desired, accompany with celery sticks, and bleu cheese or Ranch dressing as a dip.

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Chickpea Sauce and Parmesan Cheese for Pasta

 

I’m always looking for vegetarian counterparts to meat dishes when I’m preparing food for entertaining or feeding the grandkids at our weekly dinners. That way I can offer a vegetarian option when the crowd includes people with different food preferences. This one, which is easy, started as the counterpart to a chicken and pasta dish. The chicken version was relatively good, but not special. The vegetarian version did much better. 


The two dishes were designed to serve with orzo pasta, or with rice if avoiding pasta. Orzo looks like rice, but its name in Italian actually means barley, which cooked it also resembles. This is not an Italian dish, but some of my experience with Italian food influenced it. We had a side of crisp-tender broccoli and a salad with the dinner.

 

Here’s my chickpea dish. The recipe serves 4 to 6 persons, accompanying 1/2-3/4 pound of orzo pasta, which is cooked separately and lightly oiled after draining so it doesn’t stick together.

 

1/2 of a medium-small onion, minced

1 medium-large clove garlic, minced

4 tablespoons olive oil

3/4 cup water, plus more as needed

2 (14-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 sprigs fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dry oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

6 tablespoons sour cream

1/2 to 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese for topping

1/2 to 3/4 pound orzo pasta, freshly cooked for serving

 

In a medium-sized pot, gently fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil until onion is softened but not turning golden. Add the water and bring to a boil.

 

Stir in the drained, rinsed chickpeas, oregano, salt, paprika, black pepper and cayenne. Simmer 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the sour cream and bring back just to a boil. Add a little water if sauce is too thick. Taste and add a little salt if needed.

 

Serve now (or hold and reheat later in a microwave or on the stove top) over orzo pasta. Sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese.

 

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Chicken Salad made from Roasted Chicken Breast

 

 

A dish I’ve made for years somehow didn’t get onto this recipe blog. Perhaps that’s because it is nearly like the roasted chicken salad we make at the restaurant, which sells very well there. But I don’t expect that we will lose sales, or that some competitor will take advantage of our trade secrets, if I post the recipe.

 


The key to what we make is rubbing boneless, skinless chicken breast with seasonings and a little oil and roasting it. Then we chop it finely (in a food processor usually) and mix it with diced celery and green onion, mayonnaise, horseradish and lemon juice.

 

The finished product will keep for 6-7 days refrigerated. It makes outstanding sandwiches, for example on croissants and adding some thin-sliced cucumber or fresh spinach, or as an appetizer spread, or for topping a lunch salad.

 

The recipe makes enough for six good-sized sandwiches.

 

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 3 medium breast halves)

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

3/4 teaspoon dry Herbes de Provence (or 1/4 teaspoon thyme plus 1/4 teaspoon oregano)

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil or sunflower or canola oil

10-inch length of celery stalk

2 green onions, white and green parts

1/2 cup mayonnaise

5 teaspoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

 

Trim off tough or fatty parts from the chicken. Place chicken pieces on flat baking sheet and sprinkle on both sides with the salt, herbs and black pepper. Drizzle oil onto the chicken.

 

Roast in a 350 degree (Fahrenheit) oven for ten minutes. Turn the pieces over and roast another ten minutes then turn pieces over again. Continue to roast, 5-10 minutes depending on thickness, until cooked: internal temperature of 165 degrees with a meat thermometer or no pink color when a piece of chicken is cut in half. Let cool.

 

On a clean cutting board, split the celery lengthwise into 1/8-inch wide strips. Cut them in half lengthwise. Line them up together and slice them across thinly with a chef’s knife to dice the celery. Place it in a mixing bowl. Remove the roots and bottom 1/4 inch of the green onions and cut off the tips of the green parts. Cut the onions in half in the middle. Line up the pieces and slice them very thinly. Add them to the celery. Add the mayonnaise, lemon juice and horseradish. Mix well.

 

Add any pan juices from the chicken pan to the mixture in the bowl. Chop the chicken finely: cut into chunks then pulse it in a food processor, about half at a time, until well chopped, but not puréed or mushy. Alternatively, slice then chop the chicken, part at a time, on the cutting board, using the chef’s knife.

 

Add chopped chicken to the bowl and mix well until evenly moistened. Taste a bit, and add a little salt, if needed, to taste.

 

The flavors intensify as the chicken salad is allowed to sit for a while. Mix well one final time, and taste again for salt, adding a little if needed. Use now, or refrigerate in a covered container.

 

 

 

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Rice Pilaf with Peaches and Rosemary

 

With peaches coming in strong here in Georgia, I enjoy cooking savory dishes with them, as well as enjoy them as fruit. Rosemary, which is year-round here, makes a nice foil to the peach flavor,
at least if used sparingly.

 

“Pilaf” historically applies to rice cooked with a seasoned broth and added meat, seafood, vegetables or fruits and nuts. Here’s a version using seasonal peaches. Rosemary and a few whole spices add delicate flavor highlights.  The dish will go well with grilled food, or pork, duck, smoked sausage or with a savory braised dish.

 

The recipe serves six.

 

1 1/2 cups Basmati or other long grained rice

2 large or three medium peaches

2 tablespoons white wine

Water (see instructions below)

1 medium shallot or 1/2 small onion, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)

18 individual leaves taken off a sprig of rosemary

6 whole peppercorns

2 whole cloves

Minced fresh parsley for garnish

 

Rinse rice several times and drain well. Set aside to “dry” somewhat.

 

Peel peaches. Chop flesh coarsely. Place in large (4-cup) measuring cup with the wine. Add enough water to bring the volume up to 2-3/4 cups.

 

Mince shallot or onion. Heat a heavy pot and fry onion in olive oil, stirring frequently, until onion is limp and beginning to become golden. Add drained (and somewhat dried) rice and stir and fry one minute.

 

Add peaches and liquid mixture plus salt, sugar if used, rosemary, peppercorns and cloves. Stir.

 

Bring to a boil, without stirring until after rice is fully cooked. Reduce heat to low, cover pot. Simmer, covered without opening, 20 minutes. Do not lift lid, but turn off heat and let sit 10 minutes.

 

Remove visible rosemary leaves and whole spices from the surface. Fluff rice with a fork.

 

Serve, sprinkled with minced parsley.

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Caprese Salad, Another Way

 

I love Caprese Salad, that beautiful combination of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, fresh tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and salt. I’ve typically made it the classical way with sliced tomato, sliced fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves arranged on a platter then sprinkled lightly with salt and olive oil.

 


But for catering at the restaurant we often do as an appetizer small Caprese skewers, like mini-kebabs, of tomato and fresh mozzarella that was marinated briefly in a mixture of finely minced basil, olive oil and salt. Having some “pearl”-sized mozzarella balls leftover recently, I marinated them and then served them plattered and surrounded with my favorite tomatoes (other than tomatoes fresh from the garden at peak season), Campari. The result was a cheery appetizer as a starter for dinner. I think I like it even better than the classical presentation.

 

So as fresh basil from my garden is just getting underway, here’s my recent variant on Caprese Salad. The recipe makes enough for the starter course for a dinner for six.

 

12 medium-large fresh basil leaves, plus a small sprig for garnish

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

8 ounces fresh mozzarella balls, ideally the small “pearl” size

6 Campari tomatoes, or other small sweet tomatoes (roughly 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups total)

 

Finely mince the basil leaves on a cutting board with a chef’s knife. Transfer to a small mixing bowl and add the olive oil and salt. Mix well. Add the mozzarella, individual pieces separated (or halved if larger variety) and mix carefully to evenly coat them.

 

Place the marinated mozzarella in the center of a serving dish. Cut the tomatoes into wedges, with the stem bit cut off, and arrange them around the mozzarella. Place the small basil sprig in the top of the pile of mozzarella, and serve.

 

 

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Chicken Stir-fried with Cashews or Peanuts

 

This is one of the first recipes I taught in the 1970s when my family and I returned to the US from years in Malaysia. It’s an ancestrally Chinese dish that was common in Malaysia, but was also frequent in urban Thai and other Southeast Asian cuisines. 


This is a richer dish than an ordinary stir fry of chicken with vegetables and cashews. At fancy restaurants in Asia it is sometimes served in a crispy “bird’s
nest” of fried shredded taro.

 

The recipe serves six, with rice.

 

2 pounds boneless skinless breasts

Juice from 1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger (no need to peel)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup snow peas or broccoli pieces

1 sweet red chili pepper or 1/4 of a large red bell pepper

3/4 cup cashews, dry-roasted (peanuts can be substituted)

3/4 cup sunflower or canola oil, plus more if needed

 

Sauce:

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 1/2 teaspoons sweet bean paste or hoi sin sauce (both available at Asian groceries),

1 tablespoon rice wine, sake, or dry sherry

1 teaspoon rice or white vinegar

4 1/2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil (available at Asian groceries)

 

Trim off any tough or fatty parts of the chicken and cut flesh into 1/2 by 1-inch pieces. Grate ginger and press out the juice with a garlic press or twist it in a moistened corner of dish towel and squeeze it to express the juice. Add ginger juice to chicken, along with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of cornstarch, plus the salt. Mix well and let marinate at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

 

If using snow peas, remove their stems and tips and pull off any tough strings from the peas. Cut peas in half on a sharp diagonal. If using broccoli, cut the pieces lengthwise into tiny flowerets about 1/2 inch on the top. Slice pepper in 1/4-inch strips, 1-1/2 inches long. Mix the sauce ingredients in a bowl.

 

In wok or large frying pan, heat oil to moderately hot. Quickly pre-fry chicken, half at a time, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn slightly brown. Lift chicken out of the oil and place in a bowl.

 

When chicken has been pre-fried, pour off all except 2 tablespoons of the oil (save it for other meat cooking.). Heat pan and add the pre-fried chicken. Stir and fry until just hot. Stir sauce mixture to “dissolve” the cornstarch, and add it to the pan. Stir and fry until sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Add snow peas or broccoli and pepper and bring back just to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring. Taste sauce and add salt if necessary. Stir in most of the cashews (or peanuts). Serve on a platter. Sprinkle with remaining nuts. 

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Easy Fresh Basil Sauce for Appetizers or Pasta Salad

 

While Pesto, the classic basil sauce from the Genoa region of Italy, is basically a sauce for pasta, it is also a convenient topping to add flavor and color to canapés, marinated cheese, sandwiches and pasta salad, and even pizza. Commercially made pesto is available in small jars the US, as it is in Italy. It tends to be expensive.

Easy Fresh Basil Sauce for Appetizers or Pasta Salad

 

Pesto is somewhat complicated to make, requiring in addition to fresh basil leaves, pine nuts and pecorino or Parmigiano cheese. Because I’ve been making appetizer dishes for our restaurant’s catering, I’ve often needed a basil-based condiment for highlights or marinade. So I make a much simplified basil sauce that serves our needs.

 

Here’s a recipe for this simple sauce. It makes a small quantity, since not much is needed for most things. But the recipe can easily be multiplied if needed. Use it for lightly topping sliced fresh mozzarella for a side dish, or put a little on thinly sliced Toscano or Asiago cheese on a cracker (and add a couple drops of honey!). Or marinate fresh mozzarella balls or chunks with it for Caprese skewer appetizers. It can be mixed, in limited quantities, into pasta salad or drizzled onto sandwiches or other dishes where fresh basil highlights would be exciting. Mix some of it into a little more olive oil for a wonderful dip for crusty bread.

 

12 medium-large fresh basil leaves

Easy Fresh Basil Sauce for Appetizers or Pasta Salad
Basil Sauce served with Fresh Mozzarella
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 to 3 drops vinegar

A pinch of sea salt

A pinch of freshly ground black pepper

 

Rinse and drain the basil leaves. On a cutting board mince them very finely, almost to a paste, with a chef’s knife. Place basil in a small dish from which the sauce can be served. Gently stir in the remaining ingredients. Allow to season at least 10 minutes, then stir again.

 

The sauce tastes best when used within an hour or two of making it, but it will store for a day or two refrigerated.

 

 

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Prussian Meatballs Echo from a Vanished World



The historic and cultured East Prussian capital, Königsberg, is gone.


KFounded in the 13th century by Teutonic Knights as a Germanic outpost on the Baltic Sea, Königsberg ("king’s mountain") grew rich in the Middle Ages as a Hanseatic League port, and was the ancestral home and continued coronation place of the Prusssian kings. The city boasted a major university, cathedral, and opera house.

 

Severely bombed by the Allies in World War II, Königsberg was overrun by the Soviet Army. The German population was forceably expelled, the historic buildings were  destroyed, and the city was annexed and repopulated as Kaliningrad, part of Russia.

 

But one specialty of the imperial Prussian city lingers. “Königsberger Klopse” [KERH-nigs-ber-ger KLOP-zeh], the city’s celebrated namesake meatballs, still survive in North German cuisine.

 

I first had this luscious treat, as a teenager, at the home of a European couple my mother knew. Edy, the wife, who grew up in pre-war Germany, added exotic touches of curry to her otherwise very German caper sauce. This recipe, which took me considerable trial and error to develop, reproduces what I experienced at their home.

 

The recipe serves six plentifully -- in the German manner. Accompany the meatballs and their sauce with buttered boiled potatoes or noodles .


Meatballs:
6 tablespoons finely minced onion
2 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil
6 tablespoons quick-cooking oatmeal
1 (2-ounce) can anchovy fillets, including their oil
6 tablespoons unseasoned breadcrumbs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3/8 teaspoon allspice
2 eggs

2 tablespoons water
2 pounds ground beef chuck or 1 pound each ground chuck and ground pork

Sauce:
4 cups low-salt chicken broth or water
3 (1/4 inch) slices of onion
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoons flour mixed with 1 teaspoon sunflower or canola oil
2 tablespoons capers, drained
Minced parsley for garnish

Gently fry onion in oil until softened. Transfer to mixing bowl.

With chef's knife on a cutting board, coarsely chop oatmeal. Add to the bowl. Pour oil from anchovies into the bowl. Mince anchovies finely, and add to the bowl. Add crumbs, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, the nutmeg, pepper, allspice, eggs and water. Beat everything together lightly. Add meat and mix thoroughly, kneading with your hands.

Shape into 6 large evenly sized meatballs, packing them firmly. Wet your hands with water for the final shaping. Set meatballs on waxed paper.

In a wide pot, simmer chicken broth or water, onion slices, bay leaves, and salt. Gently place meatballs in the water. Cover pan and steam meatballs 10 minutes over medium-low heat. Carefully turn them with a large spoon. Steam them 10 more minutes. Turn once more, and steam a final 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let them rest, covered, another 5 minutes.

With slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to shallow serving bowl. Cover loosely with waxed paper or a lid, and keep them warm.

Remove bay leaf and onion from broth. Add curry powder. Boil broth down to about 2 cups. Reduce heat. Whisk in flour-oil mixture. Simmer 2 minutes, whisking often. Remove from heat. Stir in capers. Taste sauce, and add salt if needed.

Spoon sauce (do not pour from pan) over meat balls. Dust with minced parsley. Serve with boiled, buttered potatoes or buttered and dilled egg noodles.

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Deviled Egg Salad – for Appetizer or Sandwiches

 

 

At the risk of blasphemy, I’m starting to write about Deviled egg salad on Easter Sunday. Worse yet, I made it today, on Easter, as part of dinner.

 


For many centuries, for Christians the egg has symbolized Christ emerging victorious from death and the tomb after his crucifixion, as a baby bird emerges living from inside its seemingly dead shell. But while Christians have long venerated the egg at Easter, it actually goes back much further to pre-Christian pagan traditions as a symbol of new life, rebirth, and springtime, when nature reemerges from the dead of winter. All of that was captured by early Christians.

 

Given the positive religious veneration of the egg, it’s ironic that Deviled Eggs are quite popular. This even includes at church receptions and pot luck socials. Of course some church traditions, especially in the South, delicately refer to these questionably named treats as “Stuffed Eggs.”

 

The Devil has, to my knowledge, little to do with dishes named after him. It’s a fun theme used by cooks in recent centuries to indicate that mustard is a prominent ingredient in the dish. Mustard, being hot and sulfurous, suggests the fumes emanating from a smoldering volcano with its fire and brimstone, which is supposed to be the Devil’s lair. Early people almost certainly assigned the active volcano pit metaphor to their sense of what Hell must be like.

 

After all that, I’m not actually making Deviled Eggs (which I like) at Easter, but rather an egg salad influenced by seasonings in Deviled Eggs. This egg salad can be an appetizer or dip, or can in the traditional way be a sandwich filling.

 

The recipe makes sufficient egg salad for appetizers for six people or can make two to three hearty sandwiches.

 

4 eggs, hard-boiled 13-15 minutes and cooled

1 tablespoon Dijon or spicy brown mustard

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon cider or wine vinegar

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Large squirt of hot sauce or large pinch cayenne

Paprika for garnish

 

Shell and rinse the hard-boiled eggs and put them in a mixing bowl. With a fork break uo the white and yolks thoroughly, so the white is in tiny pieces. Add all the remaining ingredients except the paprika  Mix thoroughly. Let rest ten minutes, mix again and then taste it. Add a little salt, if needed.

 

The egg salad can be stored, cold, until serving time, up to a day. If serving as an appetizer, spoon into an attractive serving bowl and sprinkle with paprika. Accompany with crackers or crudités for dipping or spreading. Otherwise, use as a sandwich filling.

 

 

 

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Caprese Skewers, a Summertime Appetizer

 

Recently at the restaurant we’ve been catering a number of events serving “finger-foods,” small appetizers and baked goods. Such events are typically receptions with light, but colorful, nibbling foods to accompany drinks. A very frequent dish right now, in addition to the inevitable mini-sandwiches, is skewered fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil kebabs based on Caprese “salad.”  That’s the Italian classic appetizer or starter course that’s usually served on a platter rather than bamboo skewers.

Caprese Skewers, a Summertime Appetizer
 

As I am generally the one who prepares this particular appetizer, I’ve developed a fairly simple method and refined it with practice. The fresh mozzarella is easiest to work with if it’s the small balls called “ciliegine,” meaning “cherries.” But blocks can be cut into half-inch cubes, as well. And small “grape” tomatoes are easiest too. But sometimes they are large enough to need cutting in half. Short (4-5-inch) bamboo skewers work well, and do not need soaking before using.

 

For the basil I generally mince up fresh leaves very finely on a cutting board and mix them with a little salt, pepper and olive oil for marinating the mozzarella. Depending on the amount of basil, the specks on the mozzarella will be lighter or greener, but the basil flavor penetrates the mozzarella, even if the surface doesn’t look really green. I used to use small pieces of basil leaf skewered between the tomato and cheese, but I think the basil-marinated cheese works best.

 

Several of our recent catering customers, when returning the platters, have told me how much the guests liked our Caprese skewers.

 

Here’s a recipe based on 8-ounces of fresh mozzarella, that will make enough appetizer skewers for 6-8 people. For bigger groups, multiply the recipe. Allow 2 skewers, or more, for each diner. The skewers can be assembled up to several hours before they’re served. Store them refrigerated and covered with plastic wrap until needed.

 

10-12 fresh basil leaves, medium-large

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

8 ounces  “cherry” sized (“ciliegne”) fresh mozzarella balls, or 8 ounces of a block

8 ounces small grape tomatoes

4-5 inch bamboo skewers

 

On a cutting board and using a large knife, very finely mince the basil leaves. Transfer to a bowl and add the salt, pepper and olive oil. Drain the mozzarella balls or cut the block or log into 1/2-inch pieces. Mix these carefully into the basil mix to coat well.

 

Rinse the tomatoes. If small (grape-sized), use whole. If they’re longer, cut them in half, Thread about three pieces of mozzarella alternating with two pieces of tomato.. Arrange the skewers on a serving platter. Cover with plastic wrap and store refrigerated until served. 

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Irish Colcannon for St. Patrick’s Day

 

Thinking about Irish food for St. Paddy’s Day required sipping some Jameson, neat. It’s silky and elegant, more like cognac than whiskey. It shimmers across your palate. Now where was I? Oh yes, a dish for St. Patrick’s Day.

 

I propose colcannon, the savory combination of lightly caramelized cabbage, or braised kale, with mashed potatoes.


 

While not specifically a St. Patrick’s Day treat, it’s solid winter fare and will pair nicely with salmon and watercress-cream sauce or with lamb chops and mint. It’s also ideal with boiled ham or corned beef for a classic Irish dinner.

 

The name derives from the Gaelic words for white-headed cabbage. “Cál” is the Irish version of “cole,” an Old-English and Germanic word, though of Latin origin, for cabbage (think coleslaw, kohlrabi, cauliflower). Either cabbage or kale combines heartily with potatoes – and plenty of butter, of course -- to make an amazing dish.


Irish fare is infrequently considered a gourmet offering. But in fact, some dishes are extremely tasty. Well-seasoned mashed potatoes, which my New England-Irish mother served nearly every day of my childhood, is one of those, as chefs at classy restaurants now recognize. The greens in colcannon makes mashed potatoes even richer.


Since this is a side dish, I’m not recommending specific accompanying drinks. Those would depend on the meat or fish in the dinner. But if having beer, please not Guinness stout, as good as it is, especially if serving salmon. A low-hop lager beer would be preferable.


Actually, as my Irish informants inform me, wine or beer is uncommon with dinner there. Men are more likely to drink stout or porter after dinner, while the ladies take sherry.


My recommendation is sipping neat Jameson while you’re cooking. 


Irish Colcannon

1 small cabbage or large bunch kale, cut in 1-inch pieces

1 very small onion, diced

6 tablespoons butter, split

3 tablespoons canola oil

Salt

2 pounds potatoes, baking type or Yukon Gold type

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Large pinch cayenne or 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish (optional)

1/2 cup half-and-half or whole milk

About 1/2 cup water reserved from boiling the potatoes

Gently fry onion and cabbage or kale in 3 tablespoons butter, the oil plus 1/2 teaspoon salt in covered pan, stirring frequently. Add a tablespoon of water from time to time to keep vegetables from sticking. Fry until tender and color is becoming pale golden in places. Taste and add salt, if necessary.


Meanwhile, peel potatoes (or keep skins if not too thick or spotted: if not peeling, scrub potatoes and remove any bad spots). Cut into 2-inch chunks. Place in cold water to prevent browning.


In a pot boil potatoes in just enough water to cover them, adding garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Boil until quite tender and beginning to flake on the edges (10 -12 minutes). Test for doneness with a tooth pick.


Drain potatoes, saving part of the water in a bowl. Return potatoes to pot. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, the pepper, cayenne or hot sauce, horseradish, if used, and 3 tablespoons butter. Mash well to break up lumps. Add half-and-half or milk and continue to mash and mix. With the masher, beat in enough reserved boiling water to obtain a soft fluffy consistency. Taste and add salt if necessary.


Add cooked cabbage or kale. Mix thoroughly with spoon. Taste again and adjust any seasonings necessary. Cover and keep warm until served.

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