Thursday, March 31, 2011

Portobello Mushroom + Spinach Croque Madame with Goat Cheese Bechamel

I have just had brunch on the brain lately for some reason or another. I dreamt up this rich dish yesterday and couldn't wait until Sunday morning to try it, so I just had to make it for dinner on a plain old Wednesday night.

This playful take on the classic French sandwich was way, way over the top in a good way. It's like this: I want a grilled cheese...dipped in egg...stuffed with spinach...then layered with roasted mushrooms...hmmm, and then topped with more cheese. Oh yeah, and if that weren't enough, I'll have a fried egg on top. that'll certainly do.

(I paired this with some blanched asparagus that I sprinkled with just a little salt and pepper. Believe me, there was enough sandwich shrapnel to coat the naked spears.)

Next time you have people over for brunch, you should really try this one. I think I just might guarantee it as an absolute showstopper. It would be great on Sunday morning with a cold glass of champagne, but we enjoyed it with a nice bottle of '09 Baron Des Chartrons Bordeaux. You know, something French to go along with the theme of the evening.

Portobello Mushroom + Spinach Croque Madame with Goat Cheese Bechamel
(Makes two knife-and-fork sandwiches)

6 eggs
4 slices French loaf
a pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup milk (or cream)
sea salt & crakced pepper
1 cup Emmentaler cheese (shredded)
oven-roasted portobello slices
1/2 cup blanched spinach
dijon mustard
1 tablespoon butter (Plugra works well.)
1/2 goat cheese bechamel
mixed herbs to garnish (thyme, dill, parsley)

Soak slices of bread in a mixture of 4 beaten eggs, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and milk for about 10 minutes. Divide spinach, cheese, and mushrooms between two slices of bread. Slather the other two slices with mustard. Assemble the sandwiches using a spatula.

Preheat a skillet to medium heat. Melt butter in the skillet and transfer sandwiches to the it. Allow bread to brown on each side and the cheese to melt in the center. (You will know they are done when the center of the sandwich puffs up.) Transfer sandwiches to a cookie sheet and keep them warm in the oven. In the same skillet, fry two eggs until the white is set but the yolk is nice and runny. Remove sandwiches from the oven and place them onto a serving plate. Top each with bechamel sauce, a fried egg, and the chopped herbs.

Goat Cheese Bechamel:

1 1/2 tablespoons butter (Plugra -- again!)
1 shallot (minced)
zest from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
2 ounces goat cheese

Melt butter over medium heat until it stops bubbling. Add the shallot and zest and cook until shallot is translucent. Using a whisk, stir in the flour until no lumps are present. Cook until flour becomes nutty and fragrant -- after about 3 minutes. Add the milk and whisk until mixture thickens. Add the cheese and stir to incorporate. Remove from heat and set aside. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Oven-Roasted Portobello Slices

2 large portobello mushrooms (the thicker the better)
olive oil
sea salt
cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice mushrooms as thinly as possible using a sharp knife. Lay slices in a shingle pattern on an oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside for the sandwich.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Slow Food Memphis Dinner at Bari

Wow...sit-down dinners with multiple courses expertly paired with delicious wines. I mean, who wouldn't love it? However, my diet (and my wallet) keep me from attending too many of these events. Most of them tend to be pretty meaty anyhow. With so much going on in the kitchen, I hate to be a bother and ask the chef for something special.

However, last night we were invited to Bari for a wine dinner to benefit Slow Food Memphis. Knowing that several vegetarians would be attending, Chef Jason Severs planned a vegetarian option for the two seafood dishes on the five-course menu.

While most enjoyed rock shrimp over new potatoes with an olive-laced tomato sauce, I was treated to warm tempeh with the same set-up. What a treat! It's nice to see a chef unafraid of such an unusual ingredient. When the time came for the fish course, I received a well-seasoned tofu steak that had been seared on the grill and served over wilted swiss chard and topped with microgreens from Urban Farms and a sweet white balsamic vinegar reduction. Earthy, smoky, sweet, and spicy...this dish was really awesome.

I'm grateful when a chef like Jason takes the time to think about the meatless among us. It was a great night and an incredible meal. (And we're so planning an orange-honey-and-almond dessert inspired by Jason's creation because that was really something to remember as well.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Olive Oil Shortbread with Salted Chocolate

I love olive oil more than just about anything else in this world. It's just one of those things that makes all the annoying parts of life recede. I pour it in ribbons across the top of fruit crumbles (like pear-ginger and strawberry-rhubarb), and I love to eat it plain with crusty bread, sea salt, and cracked black pepper. Even the most basic olive oil is always pretty good; we go through lots of 33-ounce bottles of $6 extra-virgin olive oil around here.

So I've made herb-infused olive oil, and I like an
olive oil pie crust, but I wanted to try in a more upfront way in a dessert. Surprisingly, I had a really hard time finding a recipe for olive oil cookies. It was even tougher to dig up anything about olive oil shortbread. When I have an idea like this but wonder if I'm crazy to try to see it through, I just do a lot of research on the basics and take a stab at figuring out my own recipe. Here are a few things I learned.

Apparently, shortbread is all about getting the proper ratio of butter to flour to sugar. 4:2:1 was a ratio that I saw often, but for this recipe, I went for 1:3:1. I have also heard that using either rice flour or corn starch offers a good crumb. Keeping the dough cold before baking it was a good tip; I am impatient and utilized the freezer for a shorter chill.

The dough tasted like pure marzipan, so that alone seemed promising. The cookies had a slight savory quality from the olive oil, and that rocked. But what put them over the top was dipping the edges in dark chocolate ganache and sprinkling them with a little Maldon salt.

Olive Oil Shortbread

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup olive oil (plus a tbsp. or two if needed)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla paste
2 tbsp. unsalted butter (cold and cubed small)
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine olive oil and sugar well in the stand mixture. Stop and add vanilla paste and salt. Add butter, too, and then mix. Switch over to a low speed and add in the AP flour and whole wheat flour. You may need to add a tbsp. or two of olive oil if mixture is too crumbly. Add a bit of oil at a time while mixer remains on low until the dough comes together. Wrap dough in wax paper and set it in the freezer for 30 minutes to chill.

Roll out the dough into 3/4-inch thickness and cut into rectangles. Poke holes into the top of each piece with a fork. Freeze for another 30 min. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until golden. They are best when cool -- or even a day or two or three later.


1/3 cup dark chocolate
1 tbsp. milk
Maldon salt

For an easy ganache, combine dark chocolate and milk and microwave for 30 seconds. Whisk it together. Dip the the edges of the shortbread in the ganache after they cool and sprinkle with salt...if you like that kind of thing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pumpkin Spice and Chocolate Pancakes

My buddy Andy may just be the nicest guy in the world. I've heard stories about him serving the neighbors 5 o'clock drinks on the porch while all the kids play in the front yard, witnessed him flipping quesadillas for his girls on Saturdays, and got firsthand accounts about how he was the best neighbor to Mo and Lindsey in Texas. Every year, Andy kindly hosts me in Austin and allows me to stay in his guest room when I am working SXSW. Last week, I got to hang out with everyone during Andy's Sunday pancake breakfast. This pumpkin-and-chocolate version is one of his specialties, and the girls adorably clamored for more. My take on his recipe is a great, kid-friendly breakfast, too; it's no more trouble than regular pancakes but is twice as delicious!

Pumpkin Spice and Chocolate Pancakes

1/2 whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup AP flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. cane sugar
1/4 tsp. each of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice
1 can of organic pumpkin (plain)
1 cup of milk
1 egg
dark chocolate chips
maple syrup

Whisk the first 5 dry ingredients together (from flours to spices). Mix the pumpkin, milk, and egg together and add them to the dry ingredients; combine until there are no big lumps, but don't overmix. Spoon onto a griddle or pan on medium heat; the trick to good pancakes is not going too hot since they can easily scorch. Drop 7-8 chocolate chips into each pancake. Flip and serve with maple syrup and a pat of butter.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Roast Beet Sandwich

This is a funny little riff on a deli classic, the roast beef sandwich. In this version, I traded in the roast beef for beets to make it vegetarian-friendly, and I used smoked swiss cheese in place of plain swiss cheese to add a smoky note that plays nicely with the sweetness of the beets. Other than that, I didn't monkey around with any other elements. There is still plenty of horseradish sour cream, crisp lettuce, sliced tomato, and pickles on a kaiser roll.

This is the perfect weekend lunch, quick dinner, or perhaps even something to take on a picnic. Once you've made the beets, it's just a matter of assembling the sandwich -- and what's easier than that? I served this cold like you'd find in a deli, but I'd be willing to bet that it would be a great hot sandwich as well. Just stack the hot beets on a buttered, toasted bun and melt the cheese under the broiler. Slather the top with horseradish sauce and dig in.

The 3 Parts of a Roast Beet Sandwich:
(makes 4)

White wine-poached beets:

2 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 medium beets (peeled, sliced into 1/8 inch slices)
1 cup white wine
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
zest from 1 lemon
1 small shallot (minced)
1 splash of champagne vinegar
4 springs thyme
pinch of sea salt
cracked black pepper

Heat oil over medium heat in a medium pan with a lid. Add beets to the oil. Add remaining ingredients and bring mixture up to a simmer. Lower the heat and place the lid on the pan. Cook for 30 minutes or until tender. Allow beets to cool. (This is a great way to prepare beets for a beet salad as well.)

Horseradish sauce:

1/2 cup sour cream
1-2 teaspoons of freshly grated horseradish
small pinch of sea salt
cracked black pepper

Mix ingredients together.

Assembling the roast beet sandwiches:

4 seeded kaiser rolls
4-8 slices of smoked swiss cheese
white wine-poached beets
horseradish sauce
sea salt & cracked pepper

Place cheese on the bottom part of the bun; this will keep the bread from turning pink from beet juice. Stack 5-6 beet slices on top of the cheese followed by lettuce, tomato, and dill pickle slices. Smear the top bun with horseradish sauce and give the sandwich one more sprinkle of salt and pepper. You are now ready to enjoy some roast beet.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mobile Food Trucks Are Coming to Memphis

The laws, they are a changin'. Recently, there was a Memphis City Council proposal to relax the restrictions on food trucks and food carts. This action could allow chefs a legal way to hop on the food-truck bandwagon and could result in a plethora of new and exciting outdoor dining options for a hungry public here in the Mid-South.

To mark this momentous occasion, Beyond BBQ, a group dedicated to celebrating Memphis's rich food culture, is putting on a food truck festival on Tuesday, April 19th, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Court Square in Downtown Memphis. Come on out and show your support! We have several restaurants lined up to serve you a hot lunch from a super-cool truck. If you are a vendor who would like to participate, leave me a comment, and I'll put you in touch with the right people.

So why am I so excited? I have seen what a rich, mobile food-truck culture can bring to a city. I experienced it firsthand while in Austin, TX for the annual SXSW festival. Cupcakes, tacos, falafel, BBQ, pizza, veggie dogs, coffee, and even fine dining options all from the trucks are available everywhere you turn in Austin. They even have 'trailer parks' where food trucks can park and sling their goods to throngs of hungry, hungry hipsters. These parks have picnic tables, covered seating, and a generous b.y.o.b policy that adds to the whole fun of the experience.

So, why trucks? Opening a food truck operation costs very little (20-50K minimum, according to Deni Reilly) when you compare it to opening a conventional, non-mobile restaurant. This allows visionary and niché chefs who may not have the capital to open a conventional restaurant space the opportunity to take their cuisine public. It will also allow established chefs a fun way to do something new and exciting. And it gives the consumer more options, which is never a bad thing.

On my final day in Austin, I decided that I was only going to eat it if it came from a truck, and I'm so glad I did. For breakfast, I ate at Torchy's Damn Good Tacos (read my post HERE). There, I tried my first deep-fried avocado taco...simply amazing. The warm, buttery avocado was enveloped in a light and crispy batter -- kind of like tempura. The whole thing was wrapped in a flour tortilla and dressed with lettuce, pico, and hot sauce. I could have eaten two more of those, but there was more food out there. And I was on a mission.

My friend Olivia, a transplanted Memphian, made several great-sounding suggestions for where to eat in her adopted hometown of Austin. She was particularly enthusiastic about a place called East Side King. She said the chef was the sous at one of the finest restaurants in Austin and quit to open a food cart. She told me that it is located in the back of Liberty Bar right outside the main part of downtown. Intrigued, I decided to seek it out.
Memphis Flyer music editor Chris Herrington and I arrived at 1618 6th street and found ourselves smack dab in the center of about four SXSW-connected day parties. We were trying to take a break from the madness, but the madness followed us everywhere. Undeterred by the $7 parking and drunk-in-the-day crowd, we pressed on past the doorman, past the bar, past the bad music, right to the back of a crowded, dusty lot where a small, spray-painted trailer, the East Side King, sat.

I ordered for us from the one menu that was tethered to the counter: veggie meshi and curry buns. We were told that it'd be at least 30 minutes. Whatever. We'd come this far; what's a few extra minutes? The wait was made to seem longer by a terrible band, an uninspired Pixies-inspired trio, but when the food came, honestly, it was all worth it. It was one of the best meals I have ever had -- and certainly the best meal I've eaten out of a paper boat. The veggie meshi was a Thai brussles sprout salad over ginger rice with mint, pickled onion, and jalapeno. It was so good it made Chris tweet, "If you think brussles sprouts can't be delicious, Austin's East Side King food truck will be happy to correct you. Holy crap!" The crispy buns stuffed with peanut butter curry and vegetables garnered a similarly enthusiastic reaction from us both. This was restaurant-style fine dining out of a 10x20 box. This place is sure to see my face again.

An interview, photoshoot, and a few showcases later, I was ready for more, so we stopped by the famed Hey Cupcake! Airstream trailer that was parked in front of Emo's. I opted for a carrot cake cupcake with cream cheese icing. While Chris and I agreed that Hey Cupcake! is no match for Muddy Bake Shop here in Memphis, my dessert was the perfect thing to tide me over until I spotted the Mmmpanada truck on the way back to the car.

I choose the soy chorizo with brie empanada from several great-looking veggie options; it set me back a mere $4. Roughly the size of a fried pie, the baked crust was generously filled with tasty brie and savory tofu. It made me think that this may be the perfect food-truck food: no need for utensils, self-contained, portable, filling, cheap, and delicious. I'm a sucker for empanadas anyway, and these were some of the best.

After all of this, it was then time to edit photos and get some sleep 'cause we were headed back to Memphis in the morning.

So I'm excited about what's to come here in Memphis. Although there are a few trucks ready to go (Fuel, Yolo, Central BBQ), I realize that it won't be an instant change, but I do hope that some (I'm talking to you, Ken) will take the chance and jump on the food-truck bandwagon. I can close my eyes and imagine the parking lot of Tom Lee Park full of trucks and trailers ready to serve up unique dishes to adventurous Memphians or a dessert truck serving fresh baked cookies and some paletas in Overton Park, or a taco truck waiting at the end of the Greenline to feed road-weary runners and cyclists. I want that for us. If you want this, too, come out to Court Square on the 19th of April for a lunch that is sure to launch a food movement.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Austin's Best Breakfast Tacos

Every morning I was in Austin, I would wake up and try to shake off the audio overstimulation from the previous night's SXSW shows (think Mardi Gras for musically-inclined misfits) by getting myself properly caffeinated and going on a short run through the city's rolling hills. Next on the list was to try to find the best breakfast tacos within arm's reach. The entire city seems to be fueled by breakfast tacos -- and why not? They are inexpensive, filling, and available from every restaurant, food truck and roadside stand in sight.

In their simplest form, a breakfast taco is eggs (usually scrambled) in a corn or flour tortilla, and it just gets better from there. Fold in some tomatoes, onions, and tortilla chips, and you have got yourself a migas breakfast taco. The concept is so simple, but incredibly delicious. Every place has an a-la-carte breakfast taco menu where you get to decide whether have them with potato and onion, or sausage, or nopalitos...or anything you can think of, really.

Torchy's Tacos, whose slogan is "damn good tacos," was the clear winner in the fight for the best breakfast taco in my opinion. My favorite of the breakfast tacos I tried was The Dirty Sanchez (I didn't name it, I just ordered it) which starts with scrambled eggs just like all of the rest, but then Torchy's adds avocado, shredded cheese, deep fried poblano chilies, and pickled carrots. The whole thing is then topped with a sour cream based poblano sauce. It's the kind of rich, salty, smoky, comfort food that actually makes you happy it is morning.

So what would you put into your breakfast taco?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nigella Kitchen: Recipes From the Heart of the Home

This is a different kind of cookbook. Every recipe has a story, and the voice of it is really engaging and true.

(On a whim, I made Nigella's blueberry-cornmeal muffins from pg. 243-4 this weekend, and I got text messages from the fam telling me how spectacular they were. Now that's a good recipe!)

I also like how she never wastes a thing and how she's quite into the experience of cooking at home for the people she loves. Having picked this up at the library this week -- trying to read a book a week is a new goal, so I need a lot of options -- I am so glad I gave it a chance. It seems like a collection of essays, not just recipes. What a wonderful read!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tomato-Lemon Soup

Micmak Farms is at the Tsunami farmers' market on Saturday mornings and will be at MFM in mid-April. Their hydroponic tomatoes are amazing right now! They are also working on some new stuff for spring that will be the talk of the tomato scene. (Tomatoes really are a main topic of conversation in the South -- no joke!) Anyway, we used a bunch of Micmak tomatoes for this soup.

A couple of general tips for a good tomato soup:

- Peel those tomatoes before cooking them down; it gets rid of any lingering metallic taste. A serrated peeler makes quick work of this step.

- Lemon zest really lightens things up; just use the zest from one lemon at the end of the cooking time.

- Have it with broiler grilled cheese!

Tomato-Lemon Soup

1 onion (chopped)
1 cup of white wine
3 carrots
2 ribs of celery
8 tomatoes (peeled)
1 tbsp. miso
sea salt and cracked pepper
3 sun-dried smoked tomatoes
3 tbsp. tomato paste
bay leaves
zest from one lemon
sour cream and chives (garnish)

Sauté the onions in olive oil until they are translucent. Add white wine. Chop the carrots and celery, too, and add them into the mix to be sautéed.

Next, add in all ingredients from peeled tomatoes to the tomato paste and cook for 30 minutes on medium heat. Blend it all up with an immersion blender. Add lemon zest and cook for a few more minutes. Add bay leaves, too -- but be sure to take them out before serving. Garnish with sour cream and chives.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fig and White Wine Bruschetta

We planted a couple of fig trees years ago, but it's too early for fruit right yet. Give it a couple of months, I think when I walk past them and see their buds just now emerging at the start of spring. By July, fat green and brown figs will be loading down the branches as usual.

So while we all wait for summer figs, give this spread a try. It's made with a small package of dried calimyrnas, wine, and a little thyme. Along with some sourdough bread, it's the perfect thing to have out on the counter when people come over. Very simple, sure, but also surprisingly good.

Fig and White Wine Bruschetta

olive oil
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 1/4 cups white wine
2 tbsp. cane sugar
sea salt and cracked pepper
3 sprigs of thyme
1 small bag of dried calimyrna figs (thinly sliced)
zest from one lemon
loaf of sourdough bread (or any other crusty bread)

Drizzle olive oil into the saucepan on medium heat. Add onion and stir until translucent. Add white wine and stir. Add sugar, salt, pepper, and thyme. Reduce by half. Remove from heat and then add sliced figs and lemon zest. Let it sit; stir to combine so that figs soften. Spread on bread for an appetizer.

*Fig trees were a dream of mine for a while, so I am glad they are doing well in the garden. On this year's planting list: blueberry bushes -- 3 types! I am also getting the herb garden all set this week and have started by putting in sage and pineapple sage.

So what are you thinking about planting this spring or summer?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Buon Cibo in Hernando, Mississippi

Chef Josh Belenchia's new restaurant Buon Cibo (Italian for 'good food') officially opens Tuesday, 3/15 in Hernando! Since it's only about 30 minutes away from Memphis, you should plan a little road trip this week so you can check it out soon.

Here's the scoop...we went to friends and family night at Buon Cibo last Friday night, and it's clear that Josh's pizzas, all inspired by and named for places in Mississippi, are amazing. The crust is medium-thin with a nice sourdough flavor. (I attempted to talk him out of the recipe, but he wouldn't budge. Shoot!)

The real treat is what's on top of the crust. We tried a few great pies, but the one that stood out to me was The Jackson, which sports caramelized onions and roasted sweet potatoes. The Jackson usually has bacon as well, but Josh kindly left it off of my pizza. There are soups, salads, and sandwiches, too, and Josh's wife Katie had spent Friday making the other kind of pies (chess, coconut cream; there's also a brownie and gelato sandwich).

Here's a little bit more about Buon Cibo, which will be open from Tuesday to Saturday.
(2631 McIngvale Road, Hernando, MS; phone: 662.469.9481)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Brown Rice & Brown Butter Crispies

This recipe is due to a mistake that first annoyed me but then made me wonder if I was on to something. I had some vegan marshmallows in a pan on the stove and accidentally scorched them because I didn't add the butter in with them at the time. It was a mess! But it smelled kind of great in a weird, s'mores way, so I went ahead and made crispies with them anyway. They were good! I couldn't stop marveling at the results of my dumb mistake. So I started to think about getting a similar, smoky effect -- but on purpose this time.

Brown butter is everywhere lately, so I had to see what all the fuss is about. For these crispies, start with brown butter and add in a bag of (gelatin-free!) marshmallows, and use those arm muscles to incorporate some healthy brown rice cereal. These taste even better than the ones from childhood.

Brown Rice & Brown Butter Crispies

4 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 1/2 cups of puffed brown rice cereal
1 pkg. vegan marshmallows (I used 10 oz. Chicago Soydairy Dandies.)

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly. You want a toasty color, and you cannot turn your back on it for a second; once it's too dark, it's gone. Once you see some browning, take it off the heat and add in the marshmallows. Stir constantly and put on low heat to melt. (This takes at least 3-4 minutes.) Take off the heat again and add about 4 1/2 cups of puffed brown rice. Stir it up until cereal is coated and then press the mixture tightly into a pan. Wait about 30 minutes to cut them.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Accidental Veggie Burger

This became a veggie burger, but originally, it was not my intention; I actually made this mixture as a filling for a ravioli dinner the night before. Once I had filled all of my pasta, I had a bit left over, so I decided to make an Italian-themed burger out of it the next day for lunch.

And I have to tell you, it was even better than the ravioli.

I served the patty on rustic Italian wheat bread that I smeared with ricotta. I also garnished it with oven-dried tomatoes, basil, arugula, capers, and parsley. The patty was meaty and moist without completely falling apart, which is the usual veggie-burger hazard. All of the flavors played nicely together, and as an added bonus, it was also one of the most simple veggie burger patties I've ever made. Lo and behold...The Accidental Veggie Burger!

20 onces mushrooms (crimini, button, portobello)
1 1/2 cups onion (finely diced)
salt & pepper
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
splash champagne vinegar
7-10 kalamata olives
1/4 cup ricotta
1 large egg (or two small)
1/4 - 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Roughly chop the mushrooms and place them onto a roasting pan along with the onion. Toss onion and mushrooms with the olive oil, a pinch of salt, and plenty of black pepper. Roast mixture for 20-30 minutes or until most of the moisture has evaporated. Set mixture aside to cool.

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well incorporated. The mixture should be the consistency of a bread dough. (If it's too loose, add a bit more panko.) Place mixture in the fridge for 20 minutes. Form patties and pan fry them in a little olive oil over medium heat until they're brown on both sides and also cooked through.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dosa: Crispy Indian Rice Crepe

As it was ushered to my table, a hush seemed to fall over the room because it was an absolute showstopper.

Honestly, I had no idea what to expect since on this particular night, I was feeling adventurous and had only ordered items from the Mayuri menu that I’d never tried before. So what was this majestic thing floating toward me? I quickly referenced the menu. It was a masala dosa, a thin and crispy rice crepe made from fermented batter and stuffed with curried vegetables. The crepe itself, with its sharp flavor and brittle texture, was reminiscent of toasted parmesan cheese. The filling was comforting and spicy, and the dish was served with a variety of house-made chutneys. From the first bite, I was hooked -- and I knew this was only the beginning.

A dozen years later, my dosa obsession continues. Every chance I get, I try to get little tips, tricks, and recipes from those in the know so that I can make some beloved dosas at home. Sharon Fernandes, owner and creator of Stonehouse 27 products, was kind enough to share her dosa recipe with me. “It’s more technique than recipe,” she admitted. I figured out that may be code for: you probably will fail several times at this, but if you keep at it, you’ll get a feel for it, and eventually, you’ll make something edible.

Sharon Fernandes’s Dosa Batter

1 1/2 cups dosa rice
1/2 cup urad dal - whole (small white lentils)
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds

Each ingredient gets its own bowl. Soak the rice in three cups of water, the dal in a cup of water, and the fenugreek in enough water to cover. Cover bowls with plastic wrap and leave out on the counter overnight. The next day, grind all ingredients (including the water) in a food processor for at least five minutes. This can be done in batches. Run the mixture through a mesh strainer to get rid of any unblended bits. Place mixture in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow mixture to sit overnight in a warm place so that it starts to ferment. The mixture will rise like a bread dough; that’s how you know it has correctly fermented. At this point, add salt to taste.

It was time to give dosas their due. I stopped an Asian Grocery to collect all of the ingredients from Sharon’s list: dosa rice, urad dal, and fenugreek seeds. I had heard of these things before but had never put them in my shopping cart. I have to admit that while I waited in line, I was really excited to be on my way to making my own dosas. At home, I soaked and blended everything according to Sharon’s instruction. Against my instincts, I left the mixture out on the counter, not in the refrigerator, to ferment, and I waited. When I checked it in the morning, it smelled sour like buttermilk plus warm beer, and it looked bubbly. Perfect! That, my friends, is the smell of success.

Although I had some luck with the batter, cooking my first and second batches was still pure frustration. Most of the crepes stuck to the pan like glue. My wife stole away with the only halfway-good ones while I scraped the alternately charred and undercooked, gloopy bits of batter off of the bottom of the pan. I knew I needed some professional help, so I went to the source.
Feeling full and happy after a few trips to the Mayuri lunch buffet, I struck up a casual conversation about dosas with Mayuri’s owner Krishna Rao Chattu.
“Did you buy a mix?” he asked with a concerned look on his face.
“No, no! I made the batter from scratch,” I told him.

A smile crept across his face. “It’s simple, then,” he explained. “You want a batter that is not too thick and not too thin.” Must add water, I thought, as I nodded taking it all in. “You want the pan to be not too hot and not too cool,” my new dosa guru patiently advised.

He picked up a flat-bottomed ladle from the buffet and said, “Use something like this or a measuring cup to spread the batter thin.” He twirled the ladle around in the air like he was drawing a series of ever widening circles. I get it, I thought. I was ready. With confidence glowing like the sun, I headed back to my kitchen.

This time it not only felt different, it was different. I had made some mistakes, but I had learned from them. So I dove back in: time to soak, grind, ferment, just like before. This time, I strained the batter in order to get out any stubborn bits of rice that refused to blend.

To properly cook dosas, heat a 10-inch stainless steel or cast-iron pan to medium to medium-high heat depending on your particular stovetop. Brush the pan sparingly with ghee or butter. Using a stainless steel measuring cup or flat-bottomed ladle, pour 1/3 cup of dosa batter into the hot pan and spread it thin with your utensil of choice. Wait 4-5 minutes. The dosa will let you know when it is ready. Keep an eye on the top; once it appears dry and the edge has begun to brown, it’s time to make your move. Peel the edge up with a rubber spatula, and then get up under it with a metal spatula. Hold the spatula tight against the surface in order to free the crepe. Fill it with a few spoonfuls of vegetable curry and serve with my apple-mint chutney.

Dosa Filling

3-6 new potatoes, peeled, boiled, and mashed (yielding 3-4 cups)
2 tbsp. ghee (can substitute olive oil or butter if needed)
2 tbsp. hot curry powder
1 jalapeno, finely diced
1 onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
1 carrot, finely diced
1 green pepper, finely diced
1/2 cup water (you may not need all of it, though)
3 tbsp. vinegar
3/4 cup green peas
sea salt
cracked pepper

Peel and boil potatoes until they're soft. Set aside. Melt ghee in a large, heavy pot, and add 2 tbsp. curry and the jalapeno. Cook for 3-4 minutes in order to toast the spices, and then add onion. Add carrot. Cook it for 3-4 minutes or until carrots are tender. Add potatoes, water, green pepper, and vinegar. Stir to incorporate ingredients. Add peas. (At this point, the mixture should be thick and able to stand on its own without being soupy.) Add salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Apple + Mint Chutney

2 apples (peeled & cut away from the core)
1 bunch of mint (about a cup)
2 green onions, roots removed
1/2 lemon (juiced)
1/2 lime (juiced)
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar

Pulse all ingredients in food processor until finely chopped but not too mushy.

After a lot of practice, I finally got my dosas to come out perfectly...well, at least I was proud of them. And I thought they tasted great. With a little experience, some sage advice from Krishna, and Sharon’s perfect recipe, I was not only a dosa admirer, I was now a dosa maker.

This story originally appeared in Edible Memphis.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sliced Avocado on Toast

This is not a recipe; this is an idea. It's the idea that the ingredient is the recipe and that some things are perfect in their simplest form. The idea that it is best to take a great ingredient and do as little to it as possible. So, just toast a piece of whole wheat bread. Add perfectly ripe sliced avocado and top with olive oil, sea salt, and cracked pepper. This is a great for a snack or even breakfast.

So, what are some really simple recipes that you love?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Shiitake + Soba Noodle Bowl

I probably make a version of this noodle bowl for lunch at least once a week. It's as fast as making a sandwich...though it does create a few more dishes in the sink! It's worth it to get a healthy dose of vegetables in the middle of the day, right?

This vegan noodle bowl is warm and satisfying as well as versatile. You could throw just about any vegetable up on top of a tangle of buckwheat noodles, and it'd be delicious. The secret is that almost everything gets cooked in the broth separately, so each ingredient retains its own flavor and texture while still matching the flavors in the rest of the dish. This is also good with a little pan-fried tofu or a fried egg on top.

Shiitake + Soba Noodle Bowl (for one):

*Pan-Asian Broth
1 carrot (shredded using a juilenne peeler)
1/2 cup broccoli florets
**prepared shiitake mushrooms
hot sauce (like La-Yu)
soy sauce (or Braggs)

Bring your broth up to a roiling boil. Cook the carrots in the broth until just tender. This will take about 30 seconds to a minute. Using a spyder, fish the carrots out of the broth; repeat the same process with the broccoli, and then cook the noodles in the broth until tender. Remove the noodles from the broth and reserve the broth.

Place the noodles in a bowl. Top on one side with carrots, the other side with broccoli, and in the center, add the mushrooms. Pour about a cup and a half of the hot broth over the noodle bowl. Garnish the dish with chives, hot sauce, and a little soy sauce.

*For the Pan-Asian Broth:
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
splash of rice vinegar
splash of soy sauce
splash of mirin

Combine all ingredients in a pot.

For the mushrooms:
5-6 shiitake mushroom caps (sliced into thirds)
1 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
pinch of smoked salt
splash of soy sauce (or Braggs)
splash of mirin

Turn on your vent hood -- this recipe creates a bit of smoke! Heat a medium-sized pan over high heat and add the sesame oil. Once the oil starts to smoke, throw the mushrooms in and toss them around. Allow them to cook for about a minute before removing the pan from the heat. Add the smoked salt, soy and mirin. Set mushrooms aside.