Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Swiss Chard, a sweeter way

Swiss chard is one of my favorites, but we don't eat it much because I live with supertasters. And for them, chard is a "bitter" vegetable. Okay, so it really is a bitter vegetable--but it bothers them more. In any case, this recipe takes some of the bite away, but retains all the great health benefits of this overlooked (and cheap) vegetable.

1 bunch Swiss chard, stems and leaves washed carefully
3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1-2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup currants
sprinkle of salt to finish

Cut the chard into 1 inch pieces, using both stems and leaves. I like to give it a second rinse at this point so any remaining grit is really gone.
Heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic and cook for less than 1 minute. Add the chard, and stir. The leaves will begin to wilt in a minute or two. Then add the raisins and currants. Sprinkle with the sugar, and cook over medium heat for another few minutes. I overcooked it a bit so water from the chard and the oil combine with the sugar, and so the currants and raisins soften a bit and take on some garlic flavor. This should be completely done within about 6 minutes. Sprinkle with a dash of salt to taste before serving.

Scallion cakes

We love these little cakes--crisp and doughy at the same time, and definitely not to be eaten often--they are delicious as a treat to go with an Asian meal. They are also great for an hors d'oeuvre--we simply make a larger batch, and smaller cakes.

Ingredients for cakes:
2 bunches scallions, chopped into small bits (about 1.5-2 cups total)
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sesame seeds
3/4 cup very hot water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil, for cooking (you may need more, depending on the thickness of your cakes)

For dipping sauce:
2 tablespoons soy
2 tablespoons sesame oil
3-4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons very finely chopped scallion
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger

large bowl for mixing
frying pan
plate lined with paper towels for after frying

Make the dipping sauce first, and set it aside so the flavors blend.

Toast the sesame seeds on a dry pan, over medium high heat. They will turn light brown very quickly, so keep your eye on the pan, and keep stirring them. They should be fragrant and toasted in less than 2 minutes. Set them aside in a bowl.

In a large bowl, mix together the scallions, flour, 1/2 of the sesame seeds, and salt. Add the hot water, and stir mixture with a fork. It will become very sticky. Add the soy sauce, and then the sesame oil. Using your hands, pull the bits together and knead it slightly to make a dough. It will become smoother as you work it with your hands. You may need to add flour to it, or even a bit of sesame oil. I sometimes put a bit of the oil on my hands as well. This helps with the next step, which is shaping the cakes. You should get 6-7 cakes from this batch, each measuring about 2" round before cooking. Make them and set them aside on a plate. Ours had a bit of flour still on them, as you can see here. The bits of scallion on the surface of the cake will be especially nice when sauteed.

Heat the oil in the pan, and once it is hot and shimmery-looking, add 2 or 3 cakes. Don't overcrowd the pan or they won't cook right.

Push each cake down with the spatula so they flatten a bit in the pan. This will get them as crispy as possible. For the single batch, each cake will become about 3 inches around finished size.

The first batch may take a bit longer, but plan on cooking each side between 2-5 minutes. For the first batch here, it took 5 minutes per side. By the second batch, the pan was hotter, and it took only 2 minutes per side to get them nicely browned.

Set them on the paper-towel-lined plate to drain quickly, then press them onto a plate lined with the remaining sesame seeds. Serve the cakes while they're hot, or, let them rest and serve them within a day's time. You can crisp them up in the oven if you want to make them ahead of time. Make sure you brush them with a tiny bit of sesame oil if you are serving them later.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Crystalized Ginger

This is a family favorite--nice for a bite, or to mix into a cup of hot tea. We find our homemade batch is spicier than the ones we find packaged at the store; we like the extra zing.

Here's what you need:

1-2 pounds of ginger root--the freshest you can get (older pieces don't slice as cleanly)
2 cups sugar
1.5 cups water
an additional 1 cup sugar for dredging

Have ready the following:

A large, heavy saucepan
A strainer, lined with cheesecloth, and set over a large bowl
A foil-lined cookie sheet
A bowl for dredging

Peel the ginger completely. Slice into quarter inch rounds, either using a knife, or a mandolin.

In a large, heavy saucepan, dissolve the 2 cups of sugar into the water, and add the ginger. Cook over medium to medium-low heat for an hour, or until the ginger pieces are soft, pliable, and starting to be translucent.

Remove the ginger from the stove, put it into the strainer, and let drain and cool for 30 minutes.

Save the gingered water that drains off, and put it in a lidded glass jar. You can save this in the fridge for 2 weeks, and use it to flavor tea, drinks, soda, etc.

Preheat the oven to 200F

Take the cooled and drained ginger slices and dredge them in the additional sugar until each piece is coated completely. Put the sugar-coated slices on a foil-lined cookie sheet, and bake them at 200 F for 2-3 hours. The finished pieces should be fairly hard, but not crispy. Let them cool completely, and then pack them in an airtight container.