March 17, 2008

Fennel and Orange Salad

Raw fennel is crunchy like celery but has a sweet licorice flavor. This dish is Sicilian in origin and has the sweet exotic flavors that are typical of the local cooking (or so my cookbook Italian Cooking for Dummies says:).

This is a refreshing citrussy salad. You can find instructions on how to section an orange here. It important to peel the segments (and not just use the segments with the skin on) so that the orange juice from the segments can mingle with the rest of the ingredients.

Fennel and Orange Salad
1 large fennel bulb, stems discarded, bulbs halved, cored and thinly sliced
3 oranges, peeled and sectioned
2T olive oil
2t white wine or apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1T chopped parsley (optional)
8-12 leaves lettuce to serve (optional)

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients (except the lettuce) and let the mixture marinate for an hour.
Serve salad over lettuce leaves and garnish with fennel fronds.

March 9, 2008

Seeni Sambol - a Caramelized Onion Side

Seeni sambol is a caramelized onion relish from Sri Lanka. It is used both as a condiment and as a side dish. The traditional accompaniment to this is a thin flat bread called Rotti, but it can be served with any store bought bread of your choice for a light lunch or a snack. Seeni means sugar in Tamil and sambol is the generic term for a spicy condiment. This dish is mildly sweet from the sugar, but has a good deal of heat from the chilli powder and spices.

There are two specialty ingredients in this recipe. Although both are optional, one of them is definitely worth a try. The first is Pandanus or Screwpine leaves (called Rampe in Sri Lanka). This leaf is used a lot in Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian sweet and savory dishes. It has a strong aroma - very reminiscent of fragrant Basmati and Jasmine rice. Cook once with it and it becomes obvious why it is added to the pot of cooking rice in these regions. It certainly changes my mood - I want to use it just to smell that amazing aroma in my home. It's most definitely worth a try just for that! I didn't know that the flowers of the screwpine are used to make Kewra water, a fragrant water used most frequently in desserts in India. The leaves are available frozen and sometimes fresh in Asian grocery stores.

The other specialty ingredient is a dried tuna fish - called Maldive fish. My guess is it lends a certain roundness to the dish.

Although umami is only a bit player in Japanese cuisine, reams of breathless prose have been produced here on this elusive fifth taste, which is supposedly linked to the profoundly pure, deep-sea flavors of kelp and dried tuna. (Source)
The strong fishy smell deterred me from using more than a minuscule amount, but I believe most of its fishiness cooks away when treated properly (like anchovies). Vegetarian can omit it completely. Good substitutes would be fish sauce or dried shrimp paste.

The trick to caramelized onions in any recipe, not just this one, seems to be to start them in a hot heavy bottomed skillet with a generous pinch of salt to get them going. After the onions start to turn color, turn the heat to medium low and cover partially to retain moisture if need. The onions should be plump and juicy when done, so we don't want too much moisture loss in the cooking process. When done, deglaze the bottom of the pan with a few teaspoons of water to get the good stuff off the bottom of the pan.

Seeni Sambol
3 large red onions peeled and sliced into half moons
1 tbs maldive Fish

1 inch ginger root, crushed

2-4 cloves garlic, crushed

1-2 tbs crushed red chilies

3 cardamoms

4 cloves

1 small sprig curry leaves

1-2 pieces pandan leaves (optional)

1 piece lemongrass, cracked well with the back of the knife(optional)
1 piece cinnamon
Salt to taste

1 tsp tamarind paste

1 tbs brown sugar

2 tbs vegetable oil

1. Mix the first 12 ingredients well.
2. Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet and add the mixed onions. Stir occasionally.
3. When the onions start turning color, turn down the heat. Keep stirring occasionally. Cover the skillet if need. 4. When the onions are almost caramelized, add the tamarind paste and brown sugar and cook until the tamarind is no longer raw.
5. Taste and adjust salt if required.

March 2, 2008

Chinese Winter Melon Soup

On a recent trip to the Asian grocery store, I picked up a slice of winter melon and dried wood ear mushrooms. A friend suggested that I make a soup out of it, so I adapted this recipe and found that I really liked this simple soup. The melon and wood ear mushrooms are both mild tasting, but lend so much flavor to the soup. A good quality stock really makes the soup shine. I used a store bought stock with good results. Dried shiitake mushrooms or any other dried mushrooms would work just as well in place of the wood ear mushrooms.

While writing up this post, I found out that winter melon is not uncommon in India (Hindi: petha, pethakaddu, Tamil: neer poosanikai, Bengali: Chal kumra, Malayalam: kumbalanga, Telugu: booDida Gummadikaaya, Kannada: boodagumbala). Now that I know it is used in Indian recipes, I have to give some of those a try sometime. This is my entry for Weekend herb blogging hosted this week by Anna from Morsels and Musings.

(This picture is reproduced with permission from Marc at Mental Masala)

Chinese Winter Melon Soup
2-3 cup winter melon (1/2 pound)
Water to boil winter melon
2-3 cups chicken broth
handful chinese dried black mushrooms
5-6 slices ginger
1/4 cup cooked ham, diced (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 green onion, green part only, washed and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
a handful of cilantro to garnish

1. Wash the winter melon, remove the green skin, seeds, and the pulp. Cut into 2-inch pieces. (Peel the skin thickly as the melon closer to the skin will be harder)
2. Reconstitute the Chinese dried mushrooms by soaking in hot water for 20 - 30 minutes until softened. Drain and rinse.
3. Place the winter melon in a pot of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for approximately 15 minutes.
4. Add the mushrooms, ginger and cooked ham. Add seasonings as desired. Simmer for about 20 minutes more or until the winter melon is translucent and tender. Add green onion and cilantro for garnish. Serve hot.

March 1, 2008

A Meme

Coco over at Ambrosia tagged me for a meme. So without much ado, here goes!

1. I loved oysters from the first time I tasted them. They have to be the food of the Gods.

2. Food and cooking are fairly recent passions - I have only gotten into it as a serious hobby in the past 5 years or so.

3. For a long time, I never thought I would get into making desserts. My focus used to be the main meal or appetizers - but I wouldn't touch desserts with a 10 foot pole. I figured they were just too unhealthy - and I never had a sweet tooth anyway. Then - one day (recently) I tasted a homemade dessert - and haven't been able to stop since.

4. I like photography - and hope to take interesting pictures someday. I'd like my pictures to convey a mood, or to simply have the observer intrigued.

5. Memes make me a little nervous. It's the part where I have to tag 5 other people that bothers me... So if you would like to be tagged, let me know!

Here are the rules for the Meme..
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them)
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.