June 26, 2011

International Bento (India): Cauliflower & Green Bean Korma

It's bento time again! This is a big bento box for a big appetite. It's sleek, matte black, and has a built in storage compartment for your chopsticks as part of the lid in the airtight top section. We call it the Ninja Bento Box, for obvious reasons. This bento was packed after the curry had cooled, so the sauce looks thicker than it really is when it is freshly made or re-heated.

I was surprised to realize that I hadn't actually done an Indian bento yet. While this is one of the simplest types of bentos imaginable - an inelegant arrangement of leftovers, really: some rice on one side (basmati, of course - not only appropriate to the cuisine, but also our default rice), and vegetable korma on the other.

The korma recipe is one that I have posted previously here, back in 2006. I haven't changed it much, except that I now often remove the cardamom seeds from the pods before throwing them into the pan, so that I don't need to fish them out later, and I puree the sauce before adding the featured ingredient. This korma was simply trimmed and sliced green beans, and cauliflower florets, thrown in at the point where one would usually add chicken or tender lamb. You can use any vegetable you like, of course, such as this version here from 2007, which included chickpeas, broccoli, bell pepper, carrots, and homemade paneer. The sauce is just that versatile - it can be meaty, vegetably, or some combination depending on your whim (or the state of your fridge).

Cauliflower takes to curry like the proverbial duck to water. It doesn't seem to matter what kind of curry, perhaps because cauliflower is such a mellow flavour to begin with, but it soaks up any sauce you put it in like it was especially designed to do so, and it doesn't suffer from significant texture loss when you re-heat it, which is a real bonus for packing up the leftovers as lunch.

I was a little startled to discover that I've been making this recipe regularly for five years now. It's my go-to when I want a homemade curry but don't have the energy or adventurousness to try something new or tricky, or if I'm just in the mood for something dependably comforting.

June 22, 2011

Mango Chili Chicken

This was one of the best dishes so far out of Cook This, Not That!, which I reviewed on my other blog at the end of last year. It has earned its way onto rotation, in fact. I've tweaked a few things: added garlic, changed the cooking order - no one wants overcooked peas, and even moments count.

This comes together pretty fast, so set the rice to cook before you get started. Alternatively, you could also serve this over flat, wide rice noodles, in which case simply get a pot of water on the boil so that you can quickly cook the noodles once the dish is ready.

Mango Chile Chicken

Serves 4
Total Prep and Cooking Time: 20 minutes

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 Ataulfo mango, peeled and diced
1 inch fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 medium red onion (sliced or diced, as you prefer)
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
2 to 3 cups sugar snap peas
2 garlic cloves

Combine soy sauce, sesame oil and cornstarch in a medium mixing bowl, and stir until smooth. Trim any fat from the chicken, and cut into large chunks - usually two to three pieces per thigh. Add the chicken to the soy mixture, stir well, and allow it to rest while you prepare the vegetables.

Peel and dice the mango, and set aside. Chop the onion and the ginger, and clean the snap peas. Dry the snap peas thoroughly, and remove their strings and tails. Leave the pods whole, or cut in half on a steep angle.

In a large, non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add half of the chicken to the pan in a single layer. Let cook without moving the pieces for 30 seconds, then add the remaining chicken in the spaces around the first pieces. Allow to cook for a further 30 seconds undisturbed, then stir through. Let cook undisturbed again another 30 seconds to a minute, depending on the size of the pieces. If there is any marinade left in the bowl, throw it into the pan now.

Add the dry pea pods and stir fry for a minute or two. Push the chicken and peas to the sides of the pan, and add the onion, ginger and garlic to the middle Stir fry the onions briefly, then stir throughout the chicken pieces, and continue to stir fry until the onion starts to become translucent (a couple of minutes). Add a splash of water if it starts sticking (at any time). Add the diced mango and the sambal oelek, and stir just until the mango is warmed through. Serve over rice.

If you happen to have a few of those feisty little Thai chiles, you can add a minced chile to the initial sesame-soy marinade, too. Or, you could slice one into a pretty star shape and let it curl up attractively in a bowl of cold water and use it as a garnish. Hey, I'm just sayin'.

June 09, 2011

Quick Pickled Red Onions

I fell in love with these in Mexico. They came with tacos, on tortas, with meltingly tender cochinita pibil, and elegantly draped over poc chuc. It seems, in fact, to be an essential condiment in the Yucatan, nearly as ever-present as the fiery fresh green salsas (oh, if only we had a source for fresh green habaneros, here).

We discovered just how easy it is to make this dish last summer, just in time for our friend Rodney's barbeque. We got rained on a little that evening, since it is Vancouver, after all, and the weather delights in being contrary, but we had some wonderful food. Our grillable of the evening was a red recado-rubbed pork tenderloin and some buns to make ad hoc tortas. And the onions, of course: a great massive jar of them.

The recipe comes from Daniel Hoyer's lovely book "Mayan Cuisine". The first time we made it, we followed the recipe as slavishly as possible, to wonderful results. The most recent batch was adjusted based on both past experience (there is rather too much red onion mass for the amount of liquid, although that may be partly due to the vagueness of calling for three "large" onions). I also had some orange habaneros in dire need of using, so I sliced one up. All in all, I was really pleased with the pantry-ready version that I put together based on Mr. Hoyer's more traditionally authentic recipe.

Pickled Red Onions & Habaneros
adapted from Mayan Cuisine, by Daniel Hoyer

1 cup apple cider vinegar
Juice of one lime
Juice of one orange, plus water to make 1/2 cup (if needed)
1 clove garlic, quartered part-way through
1 teaspoon allspice berries
2 teaspoons black pepppercorns
4 cloves
1 2" stick cinnamon
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons palm sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 cups finely sliced red onion
1 to 2 sliced, deseeded habaneros

Pack the onions, garlic and habaneros in a clean glass canning jar (sterilized would be best, otherwise, microwave half-full of water for a couple of minutes, and then carefully empty).

Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan, and allow to simmer (covered, to prevent volume reduction) for seven minutes. Pour the hot liquid, spices and all, over the onions, making sure that all of the onions are covered with liquid. Cover loosely, and allow to cool until room temperature, then cap tightly and refrigerate. As they cool, the onions and the liquid slowly turn a bright, festive pink. They will be ready to eat in a few hours. Use up within a few weeks.

Please note that this is a "fresh pickle", and not a preserved pickle. While the acidity and salt should help slow down any unfriendly biological growth in your refrigerated pickles, it is not designed for long storage. Please look up canning safety information if you wish to put up these pickles in a pantry shelf-stable manner.

These also made a super topping for a veggie burger recipe that I'm working on (hopefully more on that soon), and a pretty good hotdog garnish, too.

June 06, 2011

One Pan Chicken Dinner meets Cholula Chili Garlic Sauce

This dinner really needs another name. Maybe a fancier name. One Pan Chicken Dinner is tediously descriptive - you only need one pan, and it has chicken in it, along with the other components that make up the dinner. It really is good, solid, everyday cooking, though, so perhaps it should keep its workman-like name.

Clean up, it should be said, is fairly easy. In fact, the whole darn thing is easy! Choose the flavour profile you want to base your dinner on, and then season up your chicken parts accordingly (and your vegetable parts, too). Mexican flavours are always a good choice, but so are Indian, Italian, and Moroccan. Place your (bone in) chicken parts in the corners of your dish (you can line the dish with foil for even easier clean up, but any large baking dish or edged cookie tray will do. The more you're making, the bigger the tray you will need, obviously.

As I am continuing to work my way through the Cholula Hot Sauces that were sent to me, it was time to give the Chili Garlic variation a try, and push the dish slightly Mexican. Love chiles, love garlic, love both on chicken, so it was a good bet that I'd like the sauce. I was also pleased to see that the ingredient list didn't have any unexpectedly peculiar additions.

Tasting the sauce straight up, I found it to be flavourful, and very simple. It's fairly mild, as hot sauces go, certainly milder tasting than the classic Cholula. This makes it rather multi-purpose - I can see it being used to zest up all manner of dips and sauces - where I add chile, I'm also liable to add garlic, so there are likely many uses for this one, both in the cooking stages and the finishing stages.

In this instance, I painted the chicken thighs (skin on, bone in) with the Cholula Chili Garlic sauce before putting the pan in the oven. At that point, there was really only the chicken, the chunks of sweet potato, and the mushrooms in the dish. The chicken is baked at 400℉ for 45 minutes, so more delicate vegetables, such as the cauliflower and zucchini, were added later. The cauliflower was tossed with a little vegetable oil, salt, and ground cumin, which played nicely with the hot sauce. It was added half way through the cooking process, at which point I also re-lacquered the chicken with Cholula.

At the end, when the chicken came out of the oven, it got a final coat (each additional coat was from a fresh brush, of course; I have no desire to court cross-contamination in my kitchen). The zucchini could have used a turn part way through, but that didn't happen; what you can't see, though, is that bottom sides of those pale zucchini chunks were all golden brown and delicious. The excess chicken fat runs off of the thighs and spreads through the bottom of the dish, touching each vegetable with a rich kiss of chicken-y goodness. You can use whatever vegetables you like, of course, providing they are good roasters. I frequently use yellow potatoes, brussels sprouts, whole garlic cloves, carrot chunks, fennel bulb quarters, and even turnips or parsnips. Whatever roasting-friendly veggies you have in your crisper will do. Add them based on the required cooking time, of course.

The chicken was very tasty, in its crisp, crackling armour of hot sauce. It retained enough of the garlic flavour to be noticed, and went beautifully with the cumin-y cauliflower and the chunks of sweet potato. I would definitely do this one again.

June 01, 2011

Polenta Fries

A revelation in the side dish arsenal! Not a potato fan? To lazy to clean up the mess from deep-frying? Sure, they take a little advance planning (you need to make the polenta ahead, and let it chill) but they are deliciously different from the usual burger and barbeque accompaniments. The outside turns delicate brown (or striped, if you're patient enough to use a grill or grill pan), and the insides are creamy and delicate. Plus, unlike french fries, you can make extra and re-heat them without feeling sorry for yourself. If you're not keen on the inherent finger-food qualities of the fry/soldier shape, feel free to leave your polenta servings in large squares and grill them up that way.

Parmesan Polenta Fries

1 cup yellow cornmeal (coarse)
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
90 grams freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of sour cream (light is fine)
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives
dash of ground white pepper
canola or olive oil spray

Bring water and stock to a boil. Add cornmeal in a steady stream, stirring constantly for ten minutes. (Start with a whisk, then switch to a silicone spatula as it thickens). When you set your whisk aside, it helps to be able to soak it in water right away, for easy clean up later.

After 10 minutes, remove from the heat. Add sour cream and stir until smooth. Add chives and pepper, and stir again. Add the grated parmesan in small handfuls until it is all mixed in, stirring all the while (I use the coarse side of a four-sided grater to grate all that cheese - it's faster and works nicely). Pour immediately into a 9 x 13 pan sprayed lightly with cooking spray, and spread to make an even layer (quickly, before it sets up). Refrigerate until cool and firm (or overnight). Make sure you don't cover it with plastic until it is completely cold, or condensation will wreak havoc on the texture.

Once ready to make the fries, lift the polenta block out of the pan and onto a sheet of waxed paper. Cut the block into thirds, cross-wise, then cut lengthwise into 10 equal slices (so you have a total of 30 fries). Spritz the pieces lightly with cooking spray. In a pre-heated grill pan (or a non-stick skillet), lay the fries down with a little room between each. Grill until they have nice grill marks, then flip to the other side, and repeat until all sides are done.