Friday, October 30, 2009

Lion's Head Meatball Soup

This soup gets its name from the dubious observation that the meatballs look like a lion's face and the greens look like its mane. I don't see it, but it's a pretty badass name. It's also a pretty badass soup and easy to make. I based my recipe on this one at Melting Wok, which includes Spam in the meatballs. This is optional, but highly recommended, as it gives a nice texture and smoky flavor. You can use various greens in the soup. Napa cabbage is traditional, but you can also use mustard greens or baby bok choy.


Meatballs:
1 lb. lean ground pork
1 can Spam
1 egg
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 shiitake mushrooms, chopped very fine
1-2 Tbsp. ginger, minced
2 tsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. oyster sauce
3 green onions, minced
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry

Combine all ingredients, making sure to break up the Spam completely. Form into meatballs and set aside. Traditionally these are served with one giant meatball in each bowl, but I think it's easier to eat if you make them as smaller meatballs.

Soup:
2 qt. water or broth
1 large handful Chinese or regular celery, chopped
2 large handfuls of leafy greens or Napa cabbage, slivered if necessary
1/2 red onion, in thin slivers
2 green onions, sliced into rounds for garnish
1 Tbsp. light vinegar
1-2 tsp. dashi granules

Bring the water or broth to a boil and add the dashi granules to make a flavorful broth. Add the meatballs gently so that they don't break apart or stick to the bottom of the pot and simmer them for 8-10 minutes (smaller meatballs need less time).

Add the celery and simmer for 5 more minutes. Add the red onion and leafy greens and simmer for 2-3 more minutes until the greens are just cooked. Add the vinegar and adjust the seasoning with more salt, if necessary. Garnish with green onions and serve. You can also add noodles if you like.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dark Beer Bread

So the Great Dane Pub in Madison, Wisconsin, has amazing beer, but also amazing beer bread. It's dark, moist and delicious. I've been wanting to figure out how to make something like it for a while, and finally realized it's a bit like a Russian black bread. This was my first attempt to make it. I think what I needed was a different variety of beer (I used Leinie's Oktoberfest, which is all I had around, which was a bit too hoppy/bitter - their menus says they use a stout combined with a light beer, but anything dark with good carmel flavor would be good).

I've adapted the recipe from here.

Ingredients:
1/2 c. water
1 c. dark carmely beer (stouts are probably best here - best if room temp)
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
2-3 Tbsp. molasses (you can substitute 1 Tbsp. brown sugar here for crispier crust)
1.5 tsp. yeast

2.5 c. bread flour
1 c. rye flour
1 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. butter (room temp)
1 tsp. instant coffee crystals (optional - or use a coffee porter for the beer)
1 Tbsp. caraway seed (optional)
1 tsp. fennel seeds (optional)

Instructions:
1. Mix 1/2 c. warm water with yeast and 1 Tbsp molasses. Let proof.
2. Mix flour, butter, cocoa powder, salt and seeds together.
3. Add water-yeast mixture, beer, and remaining 2 Tbsp molasses to the flour, combine.
4. Knead bread on floured surface until springy.
5. Rise 1 hour, punch down, rise until doubled, punch down, remove, knead briefly (5-6 kneads), shape into a round then let rise 20 minutes. Cut SMALL slits in the top to allow steam to release. You can reduce the rising as time allows.
6. Bake at 350 for 30-45 min.

You can serve this with just butter, though at the Great Dane they serve it with butter creamed with honey. It is as good as it sounds...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mashed Cauliflower and Potatoes

Not a recipe so much as a suggestion. Replace half of your potatoes with cauliflower when you're making mash for more flavor, texture, and a less heavy meal. Here it is in recipe form:

2 lbs starchy potatoes
1 large cauliflower head, cut into pieces
lots of salt
4 Tbsp butter
1/3 c. milk or cream
freshly ground black pepper
(optional seasonings include: paprika, roasted garlic, seasoned salt, etc...)

Peel and boil the potatoes in a large pot of well-salted water as you normally would for making mashed potatoes, but add enough water so that there's space for the cauliflower. Add the califlower 5-7 minutes before the potatoes will be done and continue boiling. Drain and mash with the remaining ingredients, season to taste.

African Gumbo with Squash

I just returned from Ithaca and my thesis defense (I passed!), so hopefully I will be able to get back to cookin' and postin'. While I was there I stayed with my wonderful friend Chris. He spent time in Niger in the Peace Corps, where he learned (among other things) how to cook the various goopy glops of the local cuisine. Here is one such recipe, using okra and squash, which is very hearty and satisfying. The ingredients are flexible, but the okra is important for thickening. Chris also recommends adding a pinch of sand or goat dung for that authentic, gritty touch (optional!).

1 onion, diced
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 c. winter squash, cut into thin slices
2-4 c. okra, chopped (frozen works fine)
2-3 c. boiling water
1 Maggi or other boullion cubes
2-3 fresh hot peppers (jalapenos or hotter), chopped
salt to taste
dash of Maggi sauce or soy sauce
oil for cooking

Use an iron cauldron or dutch oven. Heat the oil and add the onions, cooking until they begin to soften and brown. Add the tomato paste and stir thoroughly so that it is well-distributed and begins to sizzle.

Add the squash pieces and spread them across the bottom of the pan. Add some hot water as they cook to keep them from sticking, and stir occasionally. When they are mostly soft, add the okra and the Maggi boullion, dissolved in 2 c. hot water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until the squash and okra begin to break down.

Using a potato masher or immersible blender, smash up the vegetables so that they are a slightly chunky puree. Add more water if it becomes too thick. Stir in the fresh peppers and simmer until they begin to soften. Season with salt and Maggi sauce or soy sauce.

One way to serve this is over rice that has been cooked into a semi-soft state and formed into balls. Simply boil all-purpose rice in a little more water than usual and stir it while boiling so that it forms a very thick porridge. Scoop with a spoon into a plate and pour the okra sauce over. We sprinkled it with crushed, roasted peanuts. Feel free to improvise with the recipe, too! I think that black eyed-peas or chicken could be added for more protein, to make it a one-dish meal.