Saturday, February 25, 2012

Middle Eastern Inspired Red Lentil soup

It has been a crazy couple of weeks. I had a busy travel schedule with my new position. On top of that, I fell from the stairs while I was taking my bag downstairs to get ready for the airport. Thank goodness I didn't break anything, but I had a bad sprain and I was in a brace since. Finally I felt good enough to go to Momi's yoga class. I was amazed with the range of motion that she was able to get me to do.

Since I felt better and can finally be on my own 2 feet, I need to do some cooking. It's a cold day here in Minneapolis, soup would just be perfect. When I was at Whole Foods, I saw a recipe of Red Lentil soup, I thought I would come up with my version. In this recipe, I added a Middle Eastern spice mix za'atar, it's a mixture of toasted sesame, sumac and thyme. You can make your own, here is a link: Za'atar recipe. It is also readily available in Middle Eastern or Greek grocery stores. There is so salt in there if you decide to buy a mix, please make sure your taste the soup before adding more salt. This is a nice quick soup, takes less than 1/2 hour!

Red Lentil soup with yogurt and mint
1 1/2 cup red lentil (Masoor dal), washed and remove any debris.
1 medium size onion, diced.
2 carrots. Cleaned, peeled and diced
1 full tbsp crushed garlic
1 full tbsp za'atar spice
11/2 tbsp tomato paste
6 cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
1/4 cup think Greek yogurt
Chopped fresh mint to taste and garnish
Sprinkle of additional Za'atar spice
In a small pot or dutch oven, heat a couple tbsp olive oil. Saute garlic and onion till translucent.
Add carrot, cooked for 3-4 mins.
Mix in lentil.
Add za'atar spice
and tomato paste, mix well.
Add stock. Bring to a boil, lower to simmer.
Cover and let the soup cook for about 20-25 mins till the lentil is soft and the soup thickened.
Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
To serve, ladle the soup in individual serving bowl. Add a dob of yogurt, sprinkle with chopped mint and a dash of za'atar spice.

If you like a little more spice, you can add crush pepper in the soup with the za'atar spice.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chin-Mex Braised beef with cilantro, kumquat and Chinese bean sauce

If you looking for a real Mexican guisada, I am sorry that I may disappoint you. This is my Asian version of braised beef served Mexican style on a tortilla. I was putting together a bento box dinner to bring to my father in the nursing home. He asked for something "beef" couple weeks ago. I wanted to make something that will go well with rice. I came up with a version of braised beef using kumquats and Chinese bean sauce. With the amount of cilantro that I was using, I was inspired to make it a Chin-Mex style stew. Dad enjoyed it with rice, while I had it with tortilla and salsa. A simple dinner 2 ways!

Chin-Mex Braised beef with cilantro, kumquat and Chinese bean sauce
1.25-1.5 lb beef stew meat.
5-6 kumquats. Cut in half across, squeeze out as much of the seeds as possible.
1 small bunch of Chinese celery or 3-4 stack of regular celery. Leave removed, trimmed and chopped
2 whole fresh garlic or 2-3 cloves, finally chopped
1 medium onion. Trimmed and chopped.
1 bunch of cilantro, trimmed and lightly chopped
1.5 tbsp Chinese bean paste
1 tbsp mirin
2 cups water
salt and pepper
In a small processor, add cilantro and process for 1-2 min till finally chopped. Since I am using a grinder, my process time is a little longer.
Add kumquats
Process till combined and paste like.
 Mix Chinese bean sauce and mirin. Add to 2 cups of water and set aside
 In a medium pot, heat a few tablespoon of olive oil till hot. Add garlic, celery and onion. Saute till caramelized.
 Add beef and let it brown.
 Add cilantro kumquat paste.
Add the bean paste liquid.
 Mix well, bring to a boil. Low heat to medium. Cover and let it cook for about an hour till the meat is tender.
The stew should be a bit on a "dry side" with a thick sauce. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
 Fold in chopped green onion.
To serve:
Asian Style : Serve over rice
Chin-Mex style: Warm a tortilla, top with some shredded lettuce. Spoon some stew on top.
Top with chopped tomatoes, cilantro and some salsa.

Serve 3-4.


Reinvented Old Fashion Chinese "vegetable rice" 菜飯

"Vegetable Rice" 菜飯 is an old fashion Chinese one dish meal. You can call it a Chinese style "plate lunch". It is actually a fried rice dish with grounded meat and vegetable topping. The name of the dish refers to the chopped greens in the dish. When my family had the restaurants in Singapore, this was one of the most popular lunch dish. Mother catered quite a few of these to Merrill Lynch Asia for their Luncheons meetings. This also was one of the favorite of my old gang at Marshall Field's. Mother used to spend a month here and she would cook lunches for my group. 
As with the "vegetable" here, you can use almost any kind of greens with a firmer "crunch" texture, I am using Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli, 芥蘭) since it is in season. You can use Choy Sum (Chinese mustard greens, 菜心). Not to diverse, Yu Choy (油菜) is a dish, not the vegetable itself. Yu Choy can be any greens with oil/sauce. Just a pet peeve, especially when someone who is not Chinese started to argue about this. Back to the recipe, you can also use Asparagus, green beans or cabbage. The vegetable varied in our restaurants, the truth here, this was a peasant dish, we used any left over trimming of the greens. I also found this interesting how the "big guys"  at Merrill Lynch loved this dish so much..
So, finally here is the recipe. I modified it to make this vegan by using the 5-spice beancurd (pressed tofu) here for protein. You can easily add ground meat, such as pork, chicken or even turkey. I would not use beef in this dish. If you are using meat, I would also add 1 tbsp of Chinese Oyster sauce to the stock too. I took the eggs out of the fried rice, feel free to add 2 eggs back in your rice.

Chinese Old Fashion Vegetable Rice
4 cups cooked rice
4 glove garlic (finally chopped)
4 green onion. Cleaned, trimmed and chopped.
2 Chinese 5 spice beancurd (tofu)
1 bunch of Gai Lan, Choy Sum or asparagus, about 1 lb. If you want, you can mix a few vegetable together. If you don't have time to go to as Asian store, try green beans with asparagus.
8-10 Dried Shitaki Mushrooms. Soak for 2-3 hours till rehydrated. Used a scissors to remove the stems.
Vegetable oil for cooking (do not use olive oil, the taste is too strong for Chinese food)
1 cup vegetable stock
3 tbsp shoyu
1 tbsp corn starch mixed with 1/4 cup of water.
1 tbsp sesame oil
Fried Shallot toppings
Prepare all the vegetable
Separate the leaves from the green and set aside. Trim the stems and chopping into small pieces
Chop the leaves separately.
Dice the mushrooms and tofu
Make fried rice with 1/2 of the chopped garlic and green onion. Transfer to a serving platter or bowl. I use a glass casserole dish here. Set a side and keep warm
In a separate pan or wok, heat 2-3 tbsp vegetable oil. Add remaining 1/2 of the chopped garlic
Brown tofu and mushroom, let it cook at 5 mins or so over med heat.
 Add the stem piece of the Gai Lan, let it cook for a few mins.
 Drizzle with shoyu sauce and 1/4 cup of water. Let it cook for 2-3 mins till the mushroom is tender.
 Add the green leaves and cook till softened.
 Add stock and bring it to a boil and cook 3-4 mins. Taste and season with shoyu and pepper as needed.
Slowing drizzle in the cornstarch mixture to thicken the sauce. (It should still be saucy)
 Drizzle with sesame oil
Pour the topping over the fried rice. Top with fried shallots.
Serve immediately.