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Archive for the ‘Savory Steals’ Category

Savory Steals: Great Crunchy Garnishes

In Home Cookin', Savory Steals on July 3, 2009 at 5:14 am
Tonight's dinner of Green Papaya Salad with Grilled Shrimp got a big boost from a handful of Fried Garlic and Peanuts. Get out your breath mints.

Tonight's dinner of Green Papaya Salad with Grilled Shrimp got a big boost from a handful of Fried Garlic and Peanuts. Get out your breath mints.

Like just about everybody else, this summer we are tightening up our already snug household budget. One savory steal that I think gets underutilized sometimes is a great crunchy topping. When I’m using up the remnants of a bag of salad, some baby spinach leaves and that last, perhaps slightly dry carrot or random leftover tomato, homemade croutons from those last end pieces of a bread loaf transform a lackluster salad into a luscious one.  Cube it up, season with salt, pepper, parmesan and saute or toss in the toaster oven. Homemade croutons, toasted almonds tossed with spices…you see where I’m going here. That extra layer of texture can really boost the power of an otherwise ho-hum dish.

Another hero in this category, that requires only a tiny bit more prep, is the great, the grand, fried garlic and peanuts. Every once in a while, I pick up a $1.99 bag of blister peanuts at Trader Joe’s. Chop them up, as fine or coarse as you like, do the same with a head of garlic. I like to fry the garlic first on medium-low with canola or grapeseed oil, to make sure the oil itself gets a nice garlicky flavor. Then toss in the peanuts and DO NOT WALK AWAY. Stir and watch until you get that golden-brown delicious color and incredible crunch. I have made the mistake of thinking I could multi-task for 30 seconds, only to have a big pan of burned garlic.  The reward for your five minutes of patience is a tupperware full of crunchy, salty garlicky magic that you can keep in the fridge and toss on just about any dish. I like it on fresh, southeast-asian salads like the green papaya salad I made for dinner tonight, or vermicelli with grilled shrimp or pork. It also works well on thick soupy dishes like congee, arroz caldo, potato-leek soup, or vegetable purees. Any stir-fried dish, from just a handful of green beans to more elaborate rice-noodle dishes and everything in betwen, also get a great boost from the fried garlic & peanuts. For $1.99, how can you not make a batch of this little hero?

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Savory Steals: Dal of my Dreams

In Home Cookin', Savory Steals on March 2, 2009 at 3:44 am

I love that big important chefs are dishing out modern interpretations of curries, adobo and vermicelli salads–immigrant soul food. Why should European foods be the only ones worth shelling out big bucks for and calling “gourmet?” Potato soup is potato soup after all.  At the same time, I expect that foods that cost almost nothing to make in home countries like mine, and very little to make here in the U.S., should also be widely, cheaply available. I say, if a dish was invented by or for people with very few resources, it should be delicious, accessible and cheap.

One dish that fits this bill, that I’ve seen recently commanding ridiculous prices, is dal. This Indian vegetarian staple fills your house with dreamy, beautiful smells as it cooks and can be based on very, very cheap ingredients from your local Asian market. Garbanzo beans, lentils, mung beans…all extremely cheap, long shelf lives…any of them can form the base for a good dal. The recipes are really simple: saute spices, maybe with butter, add lentils and liquid and cook away until the desired consistency. The ingredients list is a bit long and can vary depending on what you grew up with, but it’s img_0436inexpensive and will launch you into a thousand delicious Indian dishes.

Dal, with yogurt and chapati (easiest and quickest bread in the world) or rice if you prefer, is a very filling meal for literally millions of people in Southeast Asia. I usually also pull some homemade chutney out of the fridge and bake up some homemade samosas I keep in the freezer. If that weren’t enough, the next day you can take that Dal, thin it out with some broth and have a delicious soup. A Savory Steal indeed! Traditionally if you flavor this soup it with some tamarind and other things, it’s  sambar, another classic South Asian dish. I don’t keep tamarind around, but the soup is awesome without it, or with a handful of diced tomato or other veggie thrown in.

Like I said, options abound for dal recipes on the internet. I personally love Majula’s Kitchen on youtube, because I love the videos of Manjula herself. She’s amazing. Check out the potato samosa video while you are there.  It’s awe-inspring that she effortlessly makes dough and filling and only gets her right hand dirty.

Savory Steals: Potato Tacos

In Home Cookin', Savory Steals on March 2, 2009 at 3:12 am

img_0449Saturday was the first warm, sunny day of 2009 in my neck of the woods, which immediately turns my brain to foods that can be washed down with a Corona while lounging out on my patio. Potato Tacos, of course. Ironically, I discovered them at a gathering of Filipino-Americans at a friends’ apartment in the Philippines. Ever since, the dish has seemed festive, comforting and encourages lingering around the table. It’s also delicious and has incredibly versatile leftovers. Though there’s no meat, you don’t miss it, since the other taco fillings are so hearty and plentiful. Besides, with the meat industry being what it is, who is craving the ground beef of our 70’s/80’s childhoods anyway?

There is no real recipe for Potato Tacos, it’s more about a combination of textures. There are four basic elements: potatoes, beans, shredded cabbage and salsa. The potatoes are just cut into cubes and cooked on the stove while you prep everything else. I like to just season with salt, pepper, cumin, red pepper flakes and shake the pan every few minutes. For the beans I just open a can of organic black beans, rinse, mix in a little of the fresh salsa, salt and pepper and heat on low. Purple savoy cabbage is shredded into big chunks and dressed with a quick squirt of lime, salt and pepper.
Bust out your favorite salsa–we just throw tomatoes, cilantro, lime, onion, salt and pepper in the mini-cuisinart–and you are just about there. Tortillas-your choice. Some sort of creamy something to top it all off is always good; feta, chevre, sour cream, queso blanco, jack, whatever you’ve got. When you assemble everything, you get this great confluence of textures: crunchy cabbage, piquancy and freshness from the salsa, heartiness from the beans, soft and crispy starchiness from the potatoes. Lay out the elements and have diners go at it.
What makes this a Savory Steal is not just the fact that the initial ingredients are pretty inexpensive. The leftovers are incredible and really stretch that $2.50/lb you paid for organic potatoes. The potatoes are great the next morning as homes fries, parked next to avocado slices and eggs scrambled with a teaspoon of the salsa. Add vegetables and cilatntro and a little broth to the beans the next day for lunch and serve over rice for a hearty, healthy take on beans and rice. The shredded cabbage becomes a great, crunchy slaw on the side when you add more seasonings. You could either go with rice vinegar, chili flakes and sesame or a more American-4th of July-picnic with light mayo, vinegar or ranch dressing. The tortillas are great for migas another morning, quesadillas for picky eaters and of course, another round of delicious tacos.