Articles in Vegetables

Yucca flower gratin. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty

With its widely recognizable dagger-sharp leaves, the yucca plant (Yucca spp.), offers up a particularly tasty food in its flower petals. Yucca, not to be confused with yuca (Manihot esculenta), is native to arid regions of the Americas, and is popular as a water-wise ornamental plant elsewhere.

In traditional dishes, yucca flowers often appear paired with eggs. The flavor of yucca flowers is akin to artichoke, which makes them an interesting springboard for cooking. In an attempt to re-create the flavors of stuffed artichoke, I’ve found it worthwhile to serve yucca flowers as a gratin topped with a crunchy layer of seasoned bread crumbs.

When harvesting yucca flowers, select ones that are newly opened and appear unblemished. Pass over any flowers that are wilted or appear to have been taken over by insects. Foraging wild foods is not unlike selecting produce at the market in that you look for foods that are in good condition. You can pick more than one yucca flower per plant, as it won’t cause significant damage. Yucca is a sturdy plant with a large taproot. Keep in mind, however, that certain animals feed on yucca flowers, and they are a habitat for yucca moths. I like to shake each flower after I’ve plucked it to free any moths that might be inside.

Yucca flowers can cause throat irritation in some people if eaten raw, so it’s likely best to use them in cooked preparations, particularly if you are new to the plant as a food. Traditionally, yucca petals are removed from their reproductive parts. To prepare yucca flowers for cooking, simply strip the petals from the pistil and stamen.

For a girl growing up in a hot stretch of the prairie in the Western United States, yucca plants were always a part of the tableau. As a kid, I learned early on to play carefully when there were yucca and cacti around, so as not to get hurt. It wasn’t until I was an adult and began foraging in earnest that I discovered those plants that were as familiar to me as the backs of my hands were also edible.

Yucca flowers. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty

Yucca flowers. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty

I’ve been working with my own local yucca, Yucca glauca, also known as Great Plains yucca, for many years, especially enjoying the flowers. Unlike some species of yucca, Great Plains yucca develops nonfragrant flowers, the petals of which are quite waxy in texture when raw. I’ve enjoyed the flowers of yucca in more traditional preparations with eggs, as well as in soups and stir-fries. Until recently, my favorite way to prepare yucca flowers has been to steam the petals, and then preserve them as one would an oil pickle like artichoke hearts.

This year, while reading an older cookbook about Mexican herbs, I caught sight of one short sentence that instructed to add a spoonful of flour to steamed yucca flowers, and pan-cook the mixture as patties. I tried this method and was slightly off-put by the glueyness created by the flour. However, the flavor of the yucca in flour, particularly where it had browned, was undeniably good.

The next day, I took the recipe in a slightly different direction. I seasoned steamed yucca petals well with salt, pepper and onion powder. Then, instead of adding flour and attempting to make cakes, I added dried bread crumbs, and put the crumble into a hot pan coated with some oil. Once browned, the yucca and bread crumb mixture was easily the best yucca preparation I’d tasted. The flowers were still succulent and sweet, and their slight bitterness was enhanced by extra savory flavors added through the golden bread crumbs. This preparation of yucca flowers can be used in a number of ways. It’s good enough to stand alone as a side dish, and it makes an excellent pasta topping. My favorite way to use yucca flowers sautéed with bread crumbs is to make quesadillas with queso Oaxaca.

I’ve also used the crunchy bread crumb and yucca combo successfully in a dish that comes as close as I can to turning yucca into stuffed artichoke — yucca flower gratin. You can always tell I’ve been binge-watching Jacques Pepin when I have the urge to stuff all of my wild edible plants into a gratin. Nobody at my table complains, however, because gratins are both classic and a tastebud-friendly way to serve foraged produce.

Yucca Flower Gratin

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

6 cups yucca petals

1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs

1 shallot, minced

1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

3 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs such thyme, parsley and chives

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions

1. Begin by steaming the yucca petals just until they turn translucent and pale green, 1 to 2 minutes. Let them cool to room temperature.

2. In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs, cheese, herbs, garlic powder, salt and a little freshly ground black pepper using a fork. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and continue stirring the mixture until the all of the bread crumbs appear to have been coated with the oil.

3. Heat a skillet over medium. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Sauté the minced shallot for 1 minute, then add the steamed yucca petals and a sprinkling of salt.

4. Add a large handful of the seasoned bread crumbs to the yucca petals, about 3/4 cup, and continue cooking the yucca, stirring frequently and scraping up stuck bits as needed, until they take on a deep medium brown color. Because the yucca is already cooked, you are simply looking to add a layer of flavor through the browning achieved by the Maillard reaction.

5. Remove the yucca from the heat. Evenly divide the browned yucca between four lightly greased 8-ounce ramekins.  Top each ramekin full of yucca with what remains of the seasoned bread crumbs.

6. Place the ramekins under the broiler of an oven just until the bread crumbs turn an irresistible shade of brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Main photo: Yucca flower gratin. Credit: Copyright 2016 Wendy Petty

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Charred garbanzo beans, shiitake mushrooms and onions in a carbon steel pan. Credit: Copyright2016 David Latt

Going vegan tastes so good when you turn up the heat on garbanzo beans and create a beautifully charred vegetable salad.

Carbon steel pans and their close cousins, cast iron pans, love heat. Turn a burner on high, place the carbon steel pan on the fire, and you’ve pushed the pedal to the metal. Used by chefs to create crispy skin fish filets and perfectly seared steaks, carbon steel pans can also be used to give vegetables a beautiful, carbonized crust that deepens their flavor.

Hot, fast and easy

Everything is faster with a carbon steel pan. Cooking is quick. And so is cleanup.

Unlike stainless steel pans that must be scrubbed clean after each use, once cured, a carbon steel pan needs only a gentle washing to remove leftover oils. After that, it can be dried on a high flame.

If you have not used a carbon steel pan, think of it as a wok cut down to frying pan size. What carbon steel pans bring to the party is the ability to create rich caramelization quickly. In a matter of minutes, the high heat chars the garbanzo beans and vegetables with a small amount of oil.

Because the temperature of a carbon steel pan can reach as high as 700 F, a blend of oils works best. Eighty percent canola manages the heat with less smoke, and 20% olive oil adds flavor.

Flash cooking adds flavor and seals in the healthy qualities of fiber-rich garbanzo beans, a good source of protein and essential minerals such as manganese and folate or B-9. Also called chickpeas, the legumes provide a starchy contrast to the vegetables.

To make a delicious salad, toss the charred garbanzo beans and vegetables with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar together with finely chopped Italian parsley or fresh leafy greens like arugula, green leaf lettuce, romaine or frisee.

Mise en place, tongs and a good over-stove exhaust fan

One new, two tempered de Buyer Carbon Steel pans. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

One new, two tempered de Buyer Carbon Steel pans. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

What restaurant chefs call mise en place is all-important when cooking with high heat. Because the dish will cook in a matter of minutes, all the ingredients must be prepped ahead of time. Peel, chop and arrange all the ingredients on the cutting board before you fire up the carbon steel pan.

Remember, the pan can get as hot as 700 F, so have a good pair of 12-inch tongs at the ready. Turn on the exhaust fan so any smoke from the pan will be pulled out of the kitchen.

Charred Vegetable Salad With Garbanzo Beans

Charred garbanzo bean salad with Italian parsley, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, broccoli and onions. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Charred garbanzo bean salad with Italian parsley, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, broccoli and onions. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Use any fresh vegetables you enjoy. Besides broccoli, carrots and onions, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, Chinese bok choy and celery are also delicious when charred.

All the vegetables must be cut into small pieces so they will cook evenly. Leafy greens can be shredded. Calculate the order in which you add the vegetables based on how long they take to cook. For example, broccoli, carrots and turnips take more time to cook than does spinach.

Because carbon steel pans are relatively nonstick, less oil is required when cooking. The recipe calls for a minimum amount of blended oil. Use more depending on taste.

Reducing balsamic vinegar creates a thicker sauce and adds sweetness, offsetting the acid.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup blended oil, 80% canola oil, 20% extra virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, washed; skin, root and top removed; thin sliced

1 15-ounce can cooked garbanzo beans, organic if available, drained

2 cups shiitake, portabello or other brown mushrooms, dirt cleaned off, stems trimmed on the end, thin sliced

2 cups broccoli crowns, washed, each floret cut in half lengthwise

1 large carrot, washed, stem and root ends trimmed, peeled, finely diced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 large bunches Italian parsley, washed, stems removed, leaves finely chopped

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

1. In a small saucepan over a low flame, reduce the balsamic vinegar to one quarter the original volume. Set aside to cool.

2. Arrange all the prepped vegetables on a cutting board or in bowls for easy use.

3. Place a 10-, 12- or 14-inch carbon steel pan or cast iron pan on a high flame. When the pan begins to smoke, turn on the over-the-stove exhaust fan.

4. Drizzle a teaspoon of blended oil on the hot pan and immediately add the thin-sliced onions. Using tongs, toss the onions in the hot oil, turning frequently to avoid burning. When the onions are lightly browned, add drained garbanzo beans. Mix together. Add another drizzle of blended oil. Using tongs, toss frequently to avoid burning.

5. Add mushrooms. Stir and mix well until lightly browned.

6. Add broccoli crowns. Stir and mix well until lightly browned.

7. Add finely diced carrots. Mix well and drizzle with blended oil. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

8. Taste a broccoli crown and carrot dice. When they are al dente, with a little crispness, remove from the flame.

9. Transfer to a bowl or large plate to cool.

10. Place the finely chopped Italian parsley into a large salad bowl. Add the room-temperature charred garbanzo beans and vegetables. Toss well. Season the salad with extra virgin olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Main photo: Charred garbanzo beans, shiitake mushrooms and onions in a carbon steel pan. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

 

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Fritedda with spring vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

In the springtime in Sicily a simply named dish reveals an explosion of flavor that belies its satisfying complexity. It is a dish special with spring vegetables — fava, peas, scallions and artichokes — and called frittedda (or fritedda).

In western Sicily, where frittedda was born, it is served as a grape ‘u pitittu, a Sicilian expression that means “a mouth-opener,” a culinary concept much closer to a Middle Eastern meze than an Italian antipasto. Pino Correnti, a leading Sicilian gastronome, believes that the name of this preparation comes from the Latin frigere, because it is prepared in a large frying pan.

The young artichokes needed for this dish can be hard to find. They are very tender and have not yet developed chokes. Because this dish is affected by the age and size of the vegetables, you will have to judge for yourself the right cooking time and how much salt, pepper and nutmeg you want to use, so keep tasting. This is a good time to use a very good quality estate-bottled extra virgin olive oil from Sicily.

This is most definitely a labor-intensive preparation. However, it tastes so good and can last so long to be served successively as antipasti and side dishes that a Sicilian cook never shies away from the work. It is a time to grab a glass of wine and with a friend or lover shuck the pods of fava and peas.

Frittedda. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Frittedda. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Spring Vegetable Frittedda

Prep time: About 1 hour

Cook time: Between 1 hour and 1 hour, 40 minutes

Total time: About 2 hours, 45 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

1 pound fresh peas, shelled (from about 2 1/2 pounds of pods)

2 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled (from about 5 pounds of pods)

10 young artichokes, each not more than 3 inches long (if you use older artichokes, with fully developed bracts and chokes, cook them longer in Step 2)

Juice from 1 lemon

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 pound scallions, white part only, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Freshly grated nutmeg

4 large fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

4 teaspoons sugar

Directions

1. Rinse the peas and the fava beans and set aside. Trim the artichokes, quarter or halve, and leave them in cold water acidulated with the lemon juice until they are all prepared. In a large sauté pan (preferably a 14-inch sauté pan), heat the olive over medium-low heat, then cook, stirring, the scallions until soft, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the artichokes and cook for 5 minutes longer (15 minutes if they are fully developed globe artichokes), then add 2/3 cup hot water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the peas and fava beans. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

3. Moisten the vegetables with more hot water if they look like they are drying out. Cook another 20 to 40 minutes or until tender; keep checking. Stir the mint, vinegar and sugar together and then pour over the vegetables while still hot. Transfer to a serving platter or bowl and let it reach room temperature before serving.

Fritedda with spring vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

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Black kale with vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Although vegetables — especially dark leafy greens — are often treated as a side dish, they also can be served as an appetizer; as a bed for other foods; a dish on their own if made in quantity; or just cold as a kind of tapas.

The attribute I like most about dark leafy greens, perhaps excepting spinach, is that they are rugged vegetables that can handle a variety of cooking methods including long cooking times.

These three simple recipes each result in a surprisingly delicious dish, but also in three quite appropriate appetizers for a follow-up dish the next day should you have leftovers. The recipes for the kale and the dandelion are Italian-style, sweet-and-sour preparations, which I find work particularly well (as the Italians discovered long ago) with bitter greens.

Black kale and vinegar

Kale is a bitter cruciferous plant and the so-called black kale, also known as Russian or Tuscan kale, is a particular cultivar that has very dark green, oak-like and crinkly leaves. The following is an Italian method of cooking, and it also makes the preparation very nice served at room temperature.

Prep and cooking time: 45 minutes

Yield: 2 to 3 side dish servings

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

One 1/8-inch-thick slice pancetta, cut into strips

10 ounces Russian or black kale, rinsed

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil with the garlic and pancetta over medium-high heat, stirring, and once the pancetta is slightly crispy in about 4 minutes, add the kale.

2. Cover and cook on low until the kale is somewhat tender, about 30 minutes. Add the vinegar with the sugar dissolved in it to the pan, cover, and continue cooking 10 minutes.

3. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm or at room temperature.

Sweet and sour dandelion

Sweet and sour dandelion. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Sweet and sour dandelion. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

In Italian they would call this kind of dish agrodolce or sweet and sour. The sweetness added to the bitter taste of dandelion is a contrast that many gourmets swoon over.

Prep and cooking time: 20 minutes

Yield: 2 side dish servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 ounce pancetta, diced small or cut into thin strips

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

Four 1/4-inch thick slices onion

1 bunch dandelion (about 3/4 pound), bottom quarter of stems removed, washed

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Directions

1. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat with the pancetta, garlic and onion and cook until softened, stirring, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the dandelion and mint and cook until they wilt, tossing frequently. Season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, dissolve the sugar in the vinegar then pour over the dandelion and cook until evaporated, about 3 minutes.

3. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Drowned mustard greens

Drowned mustard greens. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Drowned mustard greens. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

This Sicilian-inspired recipe is derived from a recipe originally for broccoli, but it works spectacularly with mustard greens. The Sicilians call this kind of dish affucati, ”drowned,” because it’s smothered in wine. It’s terrific as a room-temperature appetizer the next day too. If serving the next day as a room temperature antipasto, let the Parmigiano-Reggiano melt and then drizzle some olive oil to serve.

Prep and cooking time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 side dish servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, coarsely chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed

1 pound mustard greens, heavier stems removed and discarded, leaves washed and shredded

3/4 cup dry red wine

8 imported black olives, pitted and chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

1. In a flameproof casserole, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the onion and garlic until soft, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the anchovies and once they have melted add the shredded mustard greens, cover, and cook until they wilt, about 5 minutes.

2. Pour the red wine into the sauce with the olives, salt and pepper. Cover again, reduce the heat to medium and cook 15 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter with a slotted spoon and sprinkle on the Parmigiano.

Main photo: Black kale with vinegar. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

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Fresh eggs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

“My girls are laying so fast I can’t keep up with them,” Martha says.  She has arrived at my door with another dozen eggs, fresh from her henhouse, no doubt laid within the past 24 hours.

In Italy an egg that fresh is a treasure. It’s called a “uova da bere,” a drinkable egg, and it’s often turned into something called zabaglione, which is not perhaps what you think it is because it is not cooked at all. For this kind of zabaglione you use the freshest egg, preferably one still a little warm from the hen’s body, and a good heaping teaspoonful of sugar. You beat the egg and the sugar together in a small bowl, using a fork or mini whisk, beating it steadily for about 10 or 15 minutes until the mixture is thick and syrupy. Sometimes a few drops of Marsala wine get beaten in as well. And then at breakfast you simply sip the lush, gooey mixture with a spoon, emitting little sighs of pleasure as you do so. (The egg-and-sugar sauce called zabaglione goes one step further and beats the mixture over — but not in — boiling water until it is thicker, almost like a runny pudding. It’s delicious served with fresh seasonal berries, so keep it in mind for strawberry season, not many weeks away.)

Martha, however, is a down-to-earth Maine girl like me, and the very idea of a breakfast of sugar and raw eggs is not on her cultural horizon. Nor on mine. Leave that to the Italians.

A Mediterranean-inspired egg dish

Spring chickens and their hen house. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Spring chickens and their henhouse. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Instead, I decided to use the spring bounty of eggs to make a seasonal favorite from another part of the Mediterranean, the island of Crete.

Quick timeout for a food iconography lesson: Do you ever wonder at the association between Easter and eggs? When you think about hens and their lifestyle, it’s pretty obvious. Hens stop laying in winter, when the daylight hours grow short, then start up again in spring. In the natural rhythm of things, eggs become plentiful precisely at this time of year, when the light is growing stronger day by day. So Easter, whether Catholic or Orthodox, is symbolized all over the Mediterranean by eggs as icons of rebirth. So why in our modern supermarkets do we have eggs all year round? Because our hens are exposed to artificial light, often 24 hours a day, and that keeps them going strong. Or not so strong, because they must usually be replaced after 18 to 24 months.

Make this recipe your own

Wild greens for sale at a market in Crete. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Wild greens for sale at a market in Crete. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Back to Crete, where sfougata, a combination of eggs, cheese and vegetables, somewhere between a soufflé and a frittata, is popular for all those times when household cooks are strapped to come up with something cheap, filling and delicious. In spring, that combination usually includes greens, but I could equally imagine doing this in the autumn with mushrooms or slivers of winter squash toasted in olive oil, and at the height of summer it would be delicious with fresh roasted peppers and little chunks of eggplant. But for spring, I did it with some delicate new spinach I picked up at the farmers market along with sliced zucchini. Quintessential to the flavor, it seems to me, is a handful of finely minced dill added at the very end, so the taste stays forward.

My advice? Make this once the way I’ve detailed below, then start to experiment, using leeks instead of spring onions, or a mixture of foraged and cultivated greens (dandelion greens, beet greens, chard, maybe even a little Chinese broccoli), or adding a couple of small diced potatoes to the skillet with the other vegetables. Another great spring vegetable combination, and very much in the Mediterranean spirit, would be asparagus and fava beans, if available, or fresh peas if not.

Let your imagination play with the recipe, and you’ll find all sorts of uses for what could become fundamental to your repertoire — and a savior for all those times when you simply have run out of time and inspiration.

Although the total time listed is 1 1/2 hours, this can be broken down into manageable chunks. Make the vegetables ahead of time (even a day ahead), taking about 45 minutes, then mix up the eggs and cheese just before the meal, stir in the prepared vegetables, and bake for 25 minutes.

Sfougato of Zucchini and Spinach

Sfougato of Zucchini and Spinach. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Sfougato of Zucchini and Spinach. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

Prep time: About 30 minutes.

Cook time: About 1 hour.

Total time: About 1 1/2 hours.

Yield: 4 servings as a main course, 6 as a starter.

Ingredients

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

5 or 6 spring onions, about 1/2 pound, including green tops, chopped to make 1 1/2 cups

1 pound zucchini (2 medium zucchini), thinly sliced, to make about 2 to 3 cups

6 ounces to 8 ounces fresh spinach, slivered (about 4 cups)

1 cup finely chopped fresh dill or finely chopped fresh mint, leaves only

6 eggs

1/2 cup whole milk

About 1 cup coarsely grated Cretan graviera cheese or Swiss gruyere (or use a mixture of gruyere and parmigiano reggiano)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of Middle Eastern red chili pepper

Directions

Heat half the olive oil in a big, heavy skillet over medium-low heat and gently sauté the onions until translucent, about 5 or 6 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook briefly. As soon as the zucchini slices start to soften, stir in the spinach, mixing thoroughly. If the pan seems a little dry, add 1/2 cup of water, cover the pan and cook gently until the spinach is softened and the zucchini slices are tender. If there are excess juices, raise the heat and cook rapidly to evaporate the extra liquid. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the dill, mixing well.

Use the remaining oil to grease the bottom of a rectangular oven dish that is approximately 11 inches by 8 inches. Heat the oven to 375 F.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the milk. Add the grated cheese and fold in the vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with a pinch of Middle Eastern red pepper flakes.

Pour the mixture into the oven dish and transfer to the hot oven. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the eggs are set and the top is nicely browned.

Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 or 15 minutes before serving. This dish can also be served at room temperature — a nice suggestion for lunch on a hot day.

Main image: Fresh eggs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nancy Harmon Jenkins

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Kimchi in wok to make kimchi fried rice at Hanjip. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Steamed rice is a perfect side dish.  Never threatening to overshadow the qualities of a main dish, rice is a good accompaniment for grilled proteins, braises, stir-fries and steamed veggies. But there are times when a meal needs not symbiosis but fiery contrast. That is when Chef Chris Oh’s kimchi fried rice can save the day.

Located near Sony Studios, Oh’s Hanjip Korean BBQ  is one of a dozen new restaurants that have created a culinary district in what was once sleepy Culver City, Calif.

An unlikely path to becoming a chef

If you met Oh before he was 30, you would have known an economics major who studied at the University of Arizona and followed his supportive parents into the world of entrepreneurial businesses.  Within a few years of graduation, he owned a home, a real estate company and a car wash in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was living the American dream.

Then one day, as has happened to many others, he woke up and asked himself, “Is this it?” His answer was, “No.” He wanted to follow his passion and pursue the life of a chef. But this is where Oh’s story takes an unusual turn. Unlike many others who want culinary careers, Oh did not enroll in a cooking academy. He did not seek out a talented chef and apprentice himself for years.

He abandoned his successful life, sold his house and all his businesses, packed his car and drove to Los Angeles. He knew he wanted to be a chef, but his only cooking experience was preparing meals for his younger brother when they were growing up.  He rented a house, bought a TV and turned on the Food Network. For days and nights too numerous to count, he sat on his couch and watched cooking shows. He studied classic recipes and learned to improvise by watching competition cooking shows.

Even though he had never worked in a professional kitchen, after his third interview, he was hired to be a line cook.  A quick study, within two years Oh was working with some of Los Angeles’ top chefs. Fast forward another two years and he was the chef-owner of two food trucks and three restaurants. Along the way he won the third season of The Great Food Truck Race and had become a judge on cooking shows.

Korean flavors for American palates

Korean barbecue offerings at Hanjip. Top row: ribeye, brisket, marinated pork belly, pork belly, lamb. Middle row: baby octopus, beef bulgogi, skirt steak, short rib. Bottom row: pork jowl, marinated short rib, marinated pork shoulder. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Korean barbecue offerings at Hanjip. Top row: ribeye, brisket, marinated pork belly, pork belly, lamb. Middle row: baby octopus, beef bulgogi, skirt steak, short rib. Bottom row: pork jowl, marinated short rib, marinated pork shoulder. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

The driving force behind his success is Oh’s love of Korean food. Many people have not experienced Korean food so his intention is to create dishes with authentic flavors but to make them more friendly to the American palate. Korean barbecue, he told me, isn’t just for Korean people.

Eating at a Korean barbecue restaurant is like going to a dinner theater except the show is not on stage but on the table. A gas-powered brazier gets the spotlight. Using tongs and chop sticks, everyone at the table plays chef and places thin slices of meat, seafood and vegetables on the hot grill. The conversation bubbles and the meat sizzles as everyone picks off the flavorful crispy bits and eats them with rice.

Based on his mother’s recipe, Oh adds a few chef’s secret touches to elevate his kimchi fried rice. Essential to the flavor profile is the addition of a barely cooked egg.  Just before eating, the egg is broken up and mixed into the rice. The kimchi fried rice with its comfort-food creaminess is a good complement to the tasty, crispy bits that come off the grill.

Hanjip Korean BBQ’s Kimchi Fried Rice

Hanjip Korean BBQ kimchi fried rice. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Hanjip Korean BBQ kimchi fried rice. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Of the special ingredients needed to make the dish, only kimchi is essential. Found in the refrigerated section in Asian markets, there are many varieties of kimchi. The version used in Oh’s recipe is made with Asian cabbage. Most often sold in jars and prepared with MSG, there are brands that prepare their kimchi without MSG and are recommended.

Kimchi continues to ferment in the jar, which explains the gas that sputters out when the lid is unscrewed. To protect against juices staining clothing and the counter, always open the jar in the sink where cleanup is easy.

Furikake and nori, the other specialty ingredients called for in the recipe, are also found in Asian markets. Nori is a dried seaweed sold in sheets or pre-cut into thin strips. Furikake comes in several varieties. Chef Oh’s furikake is a mix of sesame seeds, nori, bonito flakes and seasoned salt.

For a vegetarian or vegan version, omit the butter and egg and use kosher salt instead of beef bouillon.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes or 45 minutes if the rice must be cooked or 60 minutes if using a sous vide egg

Total time: 20 minutes or 65 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 egg, sous vide 60 minutes or coddled for 4 minutes in boiling water or fried sunny side up

1 tablespoon sweet butter

2 tablespoons sesame oil

¾ cup chopped kimchi

3 cups cooked white rice, Japanese or Chinese

Pinch of beef bouillon powder or kosher salt

2 tablespoons kimchi juice

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh garlic

2 tablespoons scallions, washed, ends trimmed, chopped

2 tablespoons nori strips for garnish

1 teaspoon furikake for garnish

Directions

1. Cook the egg sous vide, coddled or fried sunny side up. Set aside.

2.Heat wok, carbon steel or cast iron pan over high heat.

3. Add butter. Lower the flame and stir well to avoid burning.

4. Add sesame oil and kimchi. Stir well to combine.

5. Add cooked rice. Mix well with oils and kimchi. Do not over stir to encourage bottom layer to crisp.

6. Season with beef bouillon powder or kosher salt, kimchi juice and garlic. Stir well.

7. Add scallions and stir well.

8. When the rice is well coated and some of the grains are crispy, transfer to a serving dish.

9. Top with the egg and garnish with the nori strips and furikake.

10. Serve hot.

Main photo: Kimchi in wok to make kimchi fried rice at Hanjip. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

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Radicchio stuffed with goat cheese. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

If radicchio has become wildly popular in the States, it still doesn’t get the respect it deserves: Americans have adopted the showy vegetable as their own, but rarely does it transcend the salad bowl. This drives the Italians crazy, because throughout the regions where growing it is a tradition and an art, it has endless uses. Stuff it; shred it and caramelize it in olive oil for a pasta sauce or focaccia topping; melt it into a buttery risotto; coat it in batter and fry. Why not bake it into a cheesy pie encased in a crumbly crust? Venetians have no end of such recipes for their adored radicchio, and the different varieties they grow are starting to show their beautiful heads in American markets. Recently, I spoke with Emily Balducci, whose family introduced the vegetable to New York in the 1970s. Their legendary Greenwich Village grocery store evolved into Baldor Specialty Foods, which curates and distributes fresh produce to retailers and chefs. “Beginning in January, we get shipments twice a week,” she said. “The first of these winter beauties is Castelfranco, and the others follow. At the end of the season, we get rosa di Gorizia, the most gorgeous one of all.”

Know your radicchio

Radicchios for sale in Verona. Credit: Copyright 2016 Paolo Destefanis for "Veneto: Authentic Recipes From Venice and The Italian Northeast," by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books)

Radicchios for sale in Verona. Credit: Copyright 2016 Paolo Destefanis for “Veneto: Authentic Recipes From Venice and The Italian Northeast,” by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books)

To begin with, it should be noted that the radicchio tribe belongs to the group of root chicories classified as Cichorium intybus; as such, the leaves have a bite to them when eaten raw. While we are most familiar with the wine-colored, globe-shaped Verona chicory, there are numerous varieties indigenous to northeastern Italy, all characterized by their spectacular reddish or reddish-green coloring. Besides radicchio rosso di Verona (also called “the rose of Chioggia,” just to confuse the matter), these include another spherical type that can grow as large as a cabbage head: the Castelfranco radicchio, which is shaped like an open peony and cream-hued with violet streaking as well as a green tint to its outermost leaves. Both the Treviso radicchio (variegato di Treviso) and the late-winter tardivo di Treviso are elongated just like their cousin the Belgian endive, but the comparison stops there. With its leggy white stalks and furled, deep-purple leaf tips, tardivo (which means “late-blooming”) is the most esteemed by the Italians for its sweetness. Of all the radicchios, the most lovely of all might very well be the aforementioned rosa di Gorizia, a crimson variety shaped precisely like a rose. In the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, where rosa di Gorizia has been cultivated for centuries, greengrocers display the heads with their leaves open, like blooms in a flower shop.

To cook it is to love it

Only the rosa di Gorizia variety, a chicory with ancient roots in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and imported by Baldor Specialty Foods, is spared the heat in my kitchen. Credit: Sebastian Arguello, Copyright Baldor Specialty Foods

Only the rosa di Gorizia variety, a chicory with ancient roots in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and imported by Baldor Specialty Foods, is spared the heat in my kitchen. Credit: Sebastian Arguello, Copyright 2016 Baldor Specialty Foods

Personally, I prefer radicchio cooked. Sautéing, braising, grilling or roasting softens yet also develops its characteristic tanginess. One of the most delicious ways to cook it is to stuff the leaves with fresh cheese and wrap with pancetta before pan-roasting. But my favorite of all just might be spaghetti with radicchio, for which all but the rosa di Gorizia are suitable (let’s face it, even though the locals bake, boil or fry them like any other chicory, the rosettes are simply too exquisite to be tampered with; best to present them in their natural state to be appreciated for their beauty). Both recipes are easy and quick to make.

Radicchio Stuffed With Goat Cheese

Gail Whitney-Karn’s version of the recipe, ready for the skillet. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Gail Whitney-Karn’s version of the recipe, ready for the skillet. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: Approximately 5 minutes
Total time: About 30 minutes
Yield: 4 appetizer portions

Friends who moved to Italy and invited us to lunch one afternoon at their temporary digs served this easy-to-make antipasto. Gail Whitney-Karn shared the recipe willingly, explaining that it originated with a chef named Carmine Smeraldo, who ran a Seattle restaurant called Il Terrazzo Carmine. She used the Castelfranco variety, but I have adapted it for the smaller and more common Verona type. If using Verona radicchio, select the largest head you can find for the broadest outer leaves (there will be some left over, which you can use for the pasta recipe that follows). You will also need some thin cotton kitchen string.

Ingredients
1 large head radicchio
2 tablespoons Italian (not Asian) pine nuts, or skinned walnuts
5 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons ricotta
Pinch of fine salt
Freshly milled black or white pepper to taste
4 to 8 thin slices pancetta (depending on the bundle size), the leaner the better
Extra virgin olive oil

Directions
1. Using a small, sharp knife, core the base of the radicchio. Detach eight nice outer leaves carefully, without tearing. Slice off the protruding base from the bottom of each rib to make it easier to roll up.

2. In a small skillet over low heat, lightly toast the pine nuts or walnuts until they are lightly colored but not browned. Chop them coarsely.

3. In a bowl, blend together the goat cheese, ricotta, nuts, salt and pepper.

4. Working with two leaves at a time, line one inside the other so that their bases are just overlapping in the center and the leaf tips are pointing outward. Place a rounded tablespoon of the cheese mixture in the center. Wrap the leaves around the filling to envelop it completely and form a torpedo-like bundle. Wrap one or two pancetta slices on the outside of the bundle to cover the leafy surface without overlapping, if possible. Secure with the kitchen string to prevent the filling from leaking excessively as the bundles sear. Use the remaining 6 leaves and filling to form 3 more bundles.

5. Warm an ample non-stick frying pan, cast-iron pan or other heavy skillet over medium heat. Drizzle in just enough olive oil to lightly coat the pan. Arrange the bundles seam-side down and reduce the heat to medium-low. Sear without moving them until they are nicely browned, about 2 minutes. As the pancetta browns, the bundles will begin to collapse and the filling may leak out slightly, but not to worry. Use a wide spatula to turn them over carefully and brown them on the reverse side, another 2 minutes. Transfer them to a cutting board, snip off the string and carefully place one each on 4 small serving plates. Serve at once.

Spaghetti With Braised Radicchio

Spaghetti with braised radicchio. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Spaghetti with braised radicchio. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: Approximately 20 minutes
Total time: About 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

I corresponded with Paolo Lanapoppi, a Venetian writer and gondola restorer, for some time before tracking him down in Venice. When we finally met, the radicchio of nearby Treviso was in full flower, and he cooked up this delightful homespun dish for lunch. While Lanapoppi used tardivo, any radicchio variety will do nicely.

Ingredients
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced and then chopped
8 ounces radicchio, sliced thinly and cut into 2-inch lengths
1/2 to 3/4 cup hot water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
3/4 pound (12 ounces) imported Italian spaghetti
2 tablespoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese

Directions
1. In a skillet ample enough to contain all the ingredients, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté until nicely softened and lightly colored, about 7 minutes. Toss in the radicchio; use a wooden spoon to coat it evenly in oil and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes to wilt. Add 1/2 cup hot water and toss. Cover and continue to cook over medium-low heat until the radicchio is tender, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding up to 4 more tablespoons of water if needed to keep it nice and moist. Add the sea salt, cover and set aside.

2. Bring a large pot filled with water over high heat to a rolling boil. Stir in the spaghetti and kosher salt. Cook at a continuous boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent the strands from sticking together, until almost cooked, 1 minute less than package directions indicate. Add a glass of cold water to the pot to arrest the boiling and drain immediately, setting aside 1 cup of the cooking water.

3. Add the spaghetti to the skillet and return the heat to high. Use 2 long forks to distribute the ingredients evenly, about 1 minute. If necessary, add a little of the reserved pasta water to moisten. Serve immediately with plenty of pepper. Pass the grated cheese at the table.

Main photo: Radicchio stuffed with goat cheese. Credit: Copyright 2016 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

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Three lusty winter beans and greens. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

In traditional Mediterranean cooking, dried beans are typical winter foods that are often combined with winter greens and root vegetables such as Swiss chard, spinach, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes and others.

There is a delight in these kinds of dishes not only because they’re delicious, but they are satisfying and healthy too. These three are only examples of what you can do with “beans and greens.”

To devise your own combination, start with a dried legume and then consider its color and match that with an appropriate root vegetable (color also considered) and an appropriate green.

So, for example, red kidney beans, white potatoes, and kale or lentils, beet greens and yams and so on all cooked for beautiful winter main courses or side dishes. If serving as a main course, you should double these recipes.

Beans and Greens: beans, sweet potato and chard

Beans and Greens: beans, sweet potato and chard. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Beans and Greens: beans, sweet potato and chard. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Prep time: 6 to 8 hours with bean soak or 10 minutes without

Cook time: 45 minutes

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup (about 2 ounces) dried red kidney beans, soaked in water for 6 to 8 hours, drained

1 bay leaf

6 ounces sweet potato, peeled and diced

3 ounces winter squash, peeled and diced

1/4 pound Swiss chard leaves, chopped coarsely

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 ounces finely chopped onion

1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds

Salt to taste

Directions

1. Place the beans in a large pot with the bay leaf and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook 25 minutes. Check to see if the beans are tender with a little bite to them. If not, cook longer. Add the sweet potato, squash and Swiss chard, stir, and cook until they are all tender, about 20 minutes. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, in a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat then cook, stirring, the onion and cumin until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the drained beans and greens to the pan, mix well, season with salt, cook 1 minute then serve.

Beans and Greens: fava, eggplant and frisee

Beans and Greens: fava, eggplant and frisee. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Beans and Greens: fava, eggplant and frisee. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Prep time: 6 to 8 hours with bean soak or 10 minutes without

Cook time: 50 minutes

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup (about 2 ounces) dried yellow fava beans, soaked in water 6 to 8 hours, drained

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

5 ounces eggplant, peeled and diced

1 1/2 ounces finely chopped onion

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

1/4 pound frisee, chopped

1 1/2 ounces arugula, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

Salt to taste

Directions

1. Place the fava beans in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to boil over high heat and cook until tender, about 40 minutes (check for tenderness and cook longer if necessary).

2. Meanwhile, in a skillet heat the olive oil over medium-high heat then cook, turning occasionally, the eggplant until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon or skimmer and set aside. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the oil. Reduce the heat to medium.

3. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the frisee, arugula, and mint to the pan and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 8 minutes. Add the fava beans and cook, tossing with a little salt, for a minute. Serve hot.

Beans and Greens: chickpeas, spinach and potato

Beans and Greens: chickpeas, spinach and potato. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Beans and Greens: chickpeas, spinach and potato. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Prep time: 6 to 8 hours with bean soak or 10 minutes without

Cook time: 45 minutes

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup (about 2 ounces) dried chickpeas, soaked in water for 6 to 8 hours, drained

5 ounces boiling potato, such as Yukon gold, white or red potato, peeled and diced

6 ounces spinach leaves, chopped

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 small leek, white part only, split lengthwise, washed well and finely chopped

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

1/2 stalk celery, finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Directions

1. Place the chickpeas in pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 15 minutes (taste one and if it is quite hard cook another 20 minutes) then add the potato and cook until the potato has disintegrated a bit and the chickpeas are tender, about another 25 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until it is wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat then cook, stirring, the leek, garlic and celery until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tarragon and cook until it wilts in a minute. Add the drained chickpeas and spinach, and toss well with some salt and pepper then serve hot.

Main photo: Three lusty winter beans and greens. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

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