Mexico: A Lesson in Chiles

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After we were warmed with micheladas and margaritas, we were ready to dine! Not content with just a few tacos and burritos, Chef Nalin took the opportunity to explore and educate us with chiles.

Amuse Bouche – ‘Pico de Gallo’

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Ingredients & Directions

Cherry tomatoes (10-12)

Puree onion (with lime)

Puree cilantro (with lime) and a small amount of apple

Slice tomatoes in half, core out

Toss tomatoes with salt, drain. Marinate with lime for 2-3 hours.

Add onion, and cilantro to center of tomato. Top with a thin slice of fresh serrano. 

Roasted Tomatillo Serrano Salsa (Salsa Verda Cruda)

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Ingredients

1 pound tomatillos (10-12 tomatillos)

Fresh serrano chilis, about 5 (1 oz)

2 large garlic cloves

1 small white onion

¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro

salt, sugar

 Directions

  1. Roast tomatillos below broiler (4 inches) until they blister (5 minutes). Cool.
  2. Roast chilis and garlic on an ungreased skillet. Cool, and stem chilis.
  3. Scrape tomatillos, chilis, garlic into blender. Pulse until chunky. Add water to give it a good consistency. Rinse diced onion, and stir into salsa along with cilantro. Taste and season with salt and sugar. 

Tomato Chipotle Sauce (Salsa de Chile Chipotle y Jitomate)

Ingredients

3-4 dried chiles chipotles colorados (moritas)

4 garlic cloves

1 ½ pounds (3 medium-large, or 9-12 plum) ripe tomatoes

1 tablespoon lard, or olive oil

Directions

  1. Stem chilies, remove seeds, toast on skillet for a few seconds on each side.
  2. Rehydrate in hot water for 30 minutes, discard water.
  3. Roast unpeeled garlic. Roast tomatoes under a broiler, 5 minutes a side. Remove skins.
  4. Add ingredients to blender, puree.
  5. Heat saucepan enough to make drop of puree sizzle, then add all at once. Stir for 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt.

Guajillo-Sauced Shrimp/Scallops with Nopales (Camarones al Guajillo con Nopales)
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Ingredients

16 medium (1 pound) fresh cactus paddles

2 pounds medium-large shrimp

For 2 cups Simmered Guajillo Sauce (Salsa de Chile Guajillo)

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled

16 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded

1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

pinch cumin

3 ½ cups fish or chicken broth

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

about ¾ teaspoon sugar

2 medium-large tomatoes (or 6-8 ripe plum)

Directions

Trim the nopales, cut into ½ inch squares

Peel and devein the shrimp

Sauce (make earlier in week)

  1. Roast unpeeled garlic
  2. Rehydrate chiles in hot water for 30 minutes, discard water
  3. Combine oregano, pepper, cumin in food processor or blender, along with chilis and garlic and 1 cup of the broth. Blend to smooth puree. Strain through medium mesh.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in saucepan, stir constantly until reduced to paste (5-7 minutes). Stir in remaining 2 ½ cups of broth, simmer for 45 minutes. Add broth to bring to medium consistency. Add 1 teaspoon salt as needed for taste.

Tomatoes

Roast tomatoes under broiler, about 6 minutes, collect include juices, then puree.

Nopales

  1. Cut remaining chilis into very thin strips.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil on medium-high heat, add the cactus and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the chili strips and stir fry for another 1-2 minutes. Stir in lime juice, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and cook until liquid evaporated. Spread out on plate and keep warm.

Finishing Dish

Wipe skillet clean, use remaining 2 tablespoons oil and put over medium-high heat. Lay shrimp in single layer, sprinkle with salt, cook for 2 minutes, flip, then add the chile sauce and tomatoes. Cook another 2-3 minutes until barely done. Place into plates with cactus on side.

Jicama, Radish and Cucumber

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This plate, served as a palate cleanser before the next course, conjures up the colors of the Mexican flag.  ¡Viva Mexico!

Ingredients

Large jicama

2 cucumbers

radishes

Directions

  1. Julienne ingredients, and then marinate separately in lime.
  2. Serve together.

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Thanks for visiting! Believe it or not, this is just the beginning! Please come back next week for the main courses.  For an overview of our Mexican feast, here’s the first post in this series: spiceboxsupperclub.wordpress.com/2015/05/30/spicebox-supperclub-mexico/

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Comida Porteño: Tarta Pascualina (Spinach Tart)

spinach torta

What, vegetables? Si, our traditional Argentine meal has been authentically meat-heavy.  Pero Chef Chris surprised us towards us at the end with a lovely spinach and chard torta, with a delicate filling lusciously enrobed in golden flaky pastry.  Look what a fresh and lovely contrast it is to the assertive and equally lovely steak (coming next time!), which is keeping those green vegetables at a neighborly distance on their shared plate.

This is what Chef Chris had to say:

Tarta Pascualina– Spinach Ricotta Pie

Adapted from recipe on From Argentina with Love. In her blog, Rebecca states that Pascua is the word for Easter, so Tarta Pascualina literally means ‘Eastertime Tart’. What makes this dish extra-special is that under the crust, little wells have been made in the filling, and eggs are cracked into each well. When the Pascualina is served, each slice has a cross-sectioned hard-cooked egg in it.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

We used a combination of chard and spinach, about  a 50/50 split.

2 tarta shells or pie crusts (we purchased La Saltena at Evergreen Market in the Mission District, San Francisco. Look for hojaldrades style which makes a flakier crust)

1 bunch each of fresh spinach and chard, deveined and chopped into large pieces. (you can also use 2 packets of 9 oz. frozen spinach instead)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons milk

6-8 eggs

butter, for greasing pan

Technique

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Wash spinach/chard thoroughly. Steam in pot for a few minutes until just tender. Drain water and let cool. (or, defrost frozen spinach by heating in the microwave or in a pot on the stove top over medium heat.  Heat the spinach to defrost, but do not heat it up too hot.  Let cool before handling. Place the spinach in a linen towel, and squeeze out to drain the moisture from the spinach.  Not until it’s totally dry, leave a little moisture).

3. In a medium bowl, mix together the spinach/chard, crushed garlic, ricotta, and the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.  Season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper, and mix well to combine.  Dissolve the cornstarch in the milk, and add the milk mixture to the spinach and cheese mixture and stir well until incorporated.

4.  Traditionally, Tarta Pascualina  is made using a spring-form pan.  However, a regular pie plate also works fine.  Grease the bottom of your pie pan or spring form pan with butter.  Line the bottom of your pie plate or spring-form pan with one of the tarta shells.  Put the filling into the shell.  Make 6-8 indentations in the filling (about one inch apart, and one inch from the edge of the pan) and crack an egg into each indentation.

5.  Cover the pie with the other tarta crust.  Seal the edges by pinching together the two shells with your thumb and forefinger making an indentation, as you would seal an emapanada.  Slice a few vents in the top of the pie.  Optional: brush the top of the crust with beaten egg to give it shine.

6.  Bake for 45 minutes or until the crust has turned a golden brown on top.  Make sure not to undercook otherwise the crust will not be flaky.  Slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

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This post is part of the second Spicebox Supperclub, the Comida Porteño con Sabor Latino, celebrating the food and drink of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Come back next week for another delicioso recipe from Argentina!

Comida Porteño: Postres (Desserts) Part One: Alfajores

alfajor

Dessert was comprised of two Latin American classics: alfajores, a symbol of Argentina, and tres leches cake, which is enjoyed throughout Latin America.  This week, we start with the alfajor.

This story is excerpted from an article Linda published on Salon.com in 2010.  For the full article and an additional recipe using dulce de leche ice cream, see the post on SpiceboxTravels.com.

Before I met José, I had never heard of alfajores.  José, whose parents hail from Cordoba, Argentina, may have been raised in Connecticut, but he has an Argentine soul.  He can even do the tango.

He excitedly shared some alfajores after a trip back to visit family.  He enthused, “The combination of the unctuous, sweet, toasty middle set off by the crumbly, citrusy cookie, is like Proust’s madeleine for the Argentine set.”

Argentines are known for their passionate opinions, and José is no exception, so I wasn’t sure if I would necessarily be as overwhelmed by this cookie.  After my first bite of this confection, though, I understood that this was no hyperbole.  That first bite triggered a sort of madeleine moment for me as well: I realized that I actually had seen, but not tasted, alfajores before.  They’re sold without fanfare in bodegas around San Francisco, and in certain cafés which otherwise have no trace of Latin American ties.  They’re usually kept in a glass jar or Lucite display case near the cash register and, to be honest, don’t look all that appealing to an alfajores novice.  They look like a dry cookie mounded with too much confectioners sugar.  But as I found out, the homemade version is in a different category.

For alfajores innocents, as I was before José’s initiation, let me give you some more details.  The alfajor (singular for alfajores) is a lemony, buttery sandwich cookie containing dulce de leche, the beloved caramel sauce of Latin America.  It’s often dusted in fluffy white confectioners sugar, or alternatively, dipped in chocolate or a sugar glaze.  Some versions also use flaked coconut.  Its exotic-sounding name traces its ancestry to the Moors who ruled for over 800 years in the South of Spain in Andalusia, or Al-Andalus, as this region was called in Arabic.  Andalusia retains much of its Moorish character: there’s lacy architecture and buildings adorned with intricate tiles featuring geometric and floral designs.  The name “alfajor” itself has Arabic roots, translating as “fancy” or “great” sweets.

Sevilla by Linda Shiue

When the Spanish conquistadors set up shop in Latin America, they brought over alfajores, hence the popularity of these treats in Argentina and other parts of Latin America, including Uruguay, Ecuador, Paraguay, Chile and parts of Brazil. Each country has a variation on alfajores, and each claims its own as the authentic version.

Seeing as I was enthusiastic about his alfajores, before his next trip home José asked if I would like some of his mother’s homemade dulce de leche.  Of course! I was excited.  I imagined his mother performing alchemy, stirring a pot of butter, milk and sugar over the stove for hours until it was transformed into the thick caramel sauce.  You could do that.   But I found out that the way dulce de leche is most often made in Latin America, including by José’s mother, is by warming an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk for hours in a slowly simmering hot water bath.  José’s mom also adds cocoa powder to thicken the dulce de leche, if needed, when she makes alfajores.

Sevilla tiles by Linda Shiue

Most alfajores lovers from Latin America, José included, insist that homemade alfajores are the best.  But not everyone has the time to simmer condensed milk for hours over a stove to make the dulce de leche filling, or to make the corn starch-based butter cookies, called maicenitas, that form the sandwich.  Commercial brands of dulce de leche are available.  And there are mass-market brands of alfajores, too, with Havanna being the most popular.  But José does not find these worth eating.  He’ll hold out for homemade.  Second best are those baked by an old bakery in Cordoba called La Costanera.  He and his family make a pilgrimage to La Costanera whenever they visit Argentina:

“Whenever we go to (or relatives come from) Argentina (Cordoba specifically), we bring back a box of La Costanera alfajores for each of the rest of the family.  They sell different shapes and sizes of alfajores, usually with a lightly sweet sugar glazing.  At La Costanera bakery (which my Dad remembers from when he was a kid in the 1940s, and which up until the 1990s still had an old woman working there who he remembered from childhood), they also have alfajores with jams (apricot, quince, etc.) as the filling — but these are clearly inferior, not anything to waste your time upon.”

José’s favorite variety from La Costanera is called a Colacion:  ”It has only one cookie, kind of concave, with a thick layer of dulce de leche… I quickly discovered during childhood that this has the maximum dulce de leche-to-cookie ratio, they key measure of worth of an alfajor, of course.”  See what I was saying about passionate opinions? And long ago memories, triggered by a cookie.  Now I understand that his reference to Proust’s madeleines was heartfelt.

Alfajores

Makes 1 dozen.

Ingredients

2 dozen maicenitas (lemony butter cookies, recipe below)

1 can of dulce de leche

grated coconut, toasted if desired

confectioners sugar

Technique

1.  For each sandwich, you’ll need two cookies.  Place a tablespoon or two of dulce de leche on the bottom of one cookie and smooth it out with the spoon.  Top it with the bottom of the second cookie.  Press down gently so that some of the dulce de leche squeezes out on the sides.

2.  Roll the sides (the dulce de leche) in coconut, and then dust the top and bottom in confectioners sugar.

Maicenitas (butter cookies for alfajores)

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter (12 tablespoons)

1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons rum

2 1/2 cups cornstarch

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Zest of 1 lemon

Technique

1.  Cream the butter and sugar together.

2.  Mix in the remaining ingredients.

3.  Knead on a floured work surface until the dough is smooth.

4.  Chill for 2 hours, then roll out into 1/4 inch thickness.

5.  Cut dough into 2 dozen 2″ rounds.

6.  Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 300°F oven for 15-20 minutes, until just slightly golden.

7.  Allow to cool completely on a rack before assembling into alfajores.

Dulce de Leche

dulce de leche

Yield: about 3 cups (enough for a dozen alfajores, with another extra cup to spread on bread or to save for another batch).

Ingredients

2 14 oz cans sweetened condensed milk

Technique

1.  Place unopened cans of sweetened condensed milk in a pot with enough water to cover the cans.

2.  Bring the water slowly to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and let cook, covered, for 3-4 hours.

3.  Check occasionally to make sure the cans remain covered with water.  Top off with more water as needed.

4.  Cool the cans before opening.

Note: Be careful! Make sure the cans are always covered with water, and that the hot water bath is simmering slowly to avoid the risk of the cans exploding.

This post is part of the second Spicebox Supperclub, the Comida Porteño con Sabor Latino, celebrating the food and drink of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Come back next time for the second dessert– Tres Leches Cake.

Asian Mash-Up: Indian Influenced Char Siu Pork with Baby Bok Choy

Indian Char siew

The piece de la resistance of the Spicebox Supperclub’s Asian Mash-Up was a brilliant fusion of Chinese and Indian flavors in Chef Nalin’s Indian Influenced Char Siu Pork.  Most of you have probably seen char siew hanging in the window of a Cantonese barbecue shop– bright red glistening planks of pork.  It’s a common starter at Chinese banquets and also often served, handily, in Chinese barbecue pork buns.

Wikipedia had this to say about char siu:

“Char siu” literally means “fork burn/roast” (char being fork (both noun and verb) and siu being burn/roast) after the traditional cooking method for the dish: long strips of seasoned boneless pork are skewered with long forks and placed in a covered oven or over a fire[citation needed].

In ancient times, wild boar and other available meats were used to make char siu. However, in modern times, the meat is typically a shoulder cut of domestic pork, seasoned with a mixture of honey, five-spice powder, hóngfǔrǔ (red fermented bean curd), lao chou (dark soy sauce, 老抽), hoisin sauce (海鮮醬), red food colouring (not a traditional ingredient but very common in today’s preparations and is optional) and sherry or rice wine (optional). These seasonings turn the exterior layer of the meat dark red, similar to the “smoke ring” of American barbecues. Maltose may be used to give char siu its characteristic shiny glaze.

Chef Nalin’s version added a few Indian spices: aamchoor (green mango powder), anardana (dried pomegranate seeds powder), cumin and garam masala, which added a wonderful depth to the otherwise sometimes cloying sweetness of the char siu.  He also omitted the red food coloring, which made his version perhaps less recognizable, but more appetizing (and less toxic!).  The Chef paired his expertly roasted char siu with a classic and light side, stir-fired baby bok choy, enlivened in true Spicebox Supperclub style with some heat.  It was delicious, or as one would say in Cantonese, 好食 hóusihk!

BBQ Pork Recipe (Char Siu/Char Siew/蜜汁叉烧) Indian Style

(Adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

Ingredients

1 lb pork roast (cut into pieces ½” thick), trim excess fat

3 clove garlic (finely chopped)

1 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil

Char Siu Sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine

3 dashes white pepper powder

1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon aamchoor

1 teaspoon anardana powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon garam masala

Method

Add all ingredients in the char siu sauce in a sauce pan, heat it up and stir-well until all blended and become slightly thickened and sticky. (It will yield 1/2 cup char siu sauce.) Transfer out and let cool.

Marinate the pork butt pieces with 2/3 of the char siu sauce and the chopped garlic overnight. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil into the remaining char siu sauce. Keep in the fridge.

The next day, heat the oven to 375 degree F and roast the char siu for 15 minutes (shake off the excess char siu sauce before roasting). Slice the char siu into bite-size pieces, drizzle the remaining char siu sauce over and serve immediately with steamed white rice.

Need approximately 35 minutes with more sauce glazed at 20 minutes.

Wok Seared Baby Bok Choy with Chili Oil and Garlic

Spicy red chili oil delivers its pure bold flavor to a quick stir-fry of baby bok choy. Accented by nutty sesame seeds, assertive garlic and spicy red pepper flakes, this side dish perks up a midwinter meal.

Ingredients

1 Tbs. sesame seeds

4 heads baby bok choy, about 1 lb. total

1 1/2 Tbs. canola oil

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

Sea salt, to taste

1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

2 tsp. Asian chili oil

Directions

In a dry small fry pan over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until golden brown and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

Cut off the tough base from each head of bok choy. Separate the heads into individual stalks by snapping the stalks away from their cores.

In a wok or a large fry pan over medium-high heat, warm the canola oil. When it is hot and shimmering in the pan, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, tossing and stirring constantly, until fragrant but not browned, 20 to 30 seconds. Add the bok choy and a pinch of salt and cook, tossing and stirring, until the bok choy just begins to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bok choy is just tender and the broth evaporates, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chili oil, stir well to coat the bok choy and remove from the heat.

Stir in the sesame seeds, transfer the bok choy to a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately. Serves 4.

These recipes were part of the Asian Mash-Up menu, presented by Chef Nalin.

This is the final post from our inaugural meal.  Thank you for coming by!  Check back in a few weeks, when we have our next supperclub with new hosts, a new theme, new recipes and some new adventures!

Asian Mash-Up: Lychee-Plum Soju Sorbet

lychee

This fruity sorbet was served as a palate cleanser before the main course.  The soju, or Korean distilled grain alcohol, used to spike this was difficult to detect.  Chef Nalin later revealed its potency:

For the lychee-plum ‘sorbet’, it couldn’t be easier. Fragrant, soft, fruits do well with this treatment. I peeled some plums (both yellow and red), diced them, and then cut up some lychee. I froze the fruit pieces and then when it was time, blended them along with fridge-cold Korean soju (about 2:1 ratio of fruit to soju). For a previous dinner, I cut up some peeled grapes, froze those and blended them with white wine, which was also nice. This time, I wanted to use soju because I haven’t used it before, and I fit with the theme. Also, its 20% ABV(!), which may have contributed to the general merriment around that time of the evening.

The soju, which turned this from a palate cleaner into a boozy interlude, was also a Proustian madeleine for the chef, for whom it recalled the ill-fitting powder-blue suit jacket he was forced to wear in an elegant, “jackets required” restaurant at the tender and vulnerable age of 16.

A formative or traumatizing experience– you decide.

This was part of the Spicebox Supperclub’s Asian Mash-Up menu.

Asian Mash-Up: Kimchi Sesame Noodles

soba

The Spicebox Supperclub normally reveals its recipes on Tuesdays, but this is a perfect dish for Meatless Mondays, hence our early appearance.

Last week, we enjoyed a fusion of Japanese and Indian flavors with a delicious salmon course.  The salmon course was followed by a spicy chaser– these Kimchi Sesame Noodles.  Notice the zippy chutney in the corner of the photo– we all decided it went well with everything and kept it on hand for the courses that followed.  Chef Nalin told us that his family had a grand time trying out a variety of noodles for this dish– ramen, somen, udon and others.  They all lend a different texture and flavor to this dish, so you can really use any noodle you prefer.

Kimchi Sesame Noodles

Recipe by Chef Nalin

Ingredients

1/2 pound dried somen or udon (Japanese wheat noodles)

1 1/2 cups kimchi, chopped

1 tablespoon kimchi juice from the jar, or more to taste

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

Salt, optional and to taste

2 scallions, thinly sliced

Procedures

Bring a pot of water to boil and boil the noodles according to package directions, 7 minutes in my case. Drain the cooked noodles and run under cold water until cool.

In the meantime, chop the kimchi and combine it in a bowl with the sugar, vinegar, and kimchi juice. Add the cooked noodles and the sesame oil, and toss to combine.

Season to taste with salt (kimchi is already quite salty) and top with scallions.

This is part of the Asian Mash-Up menu, presented by Chef Nalin.

For another kimchi dish you might enjoy, try SpiceboxTravels’ Kimchi Fried Rice.  What are some other ways you enjoy kimchi?  What is your favorite Asian noodle?

At this point in the dinner, the Spicebox Supperclub has already visited the flavors of Singapore, India, Japan and now, Korea.  Check back next week to see where our palates will go next!

Asian Mash-Up: Miso-Ginger Salmon with Sumeshi and Sweet Soy Glaze, served with Indian Mint-Cilantro Chutney

salmon

This is where the mash-up really began.  We started with the Singapore Sling, the iconic cocktail of multicultural Singapore, followed with traditional South Indian street food, and had miso soup made in the classical Japanese tradition last week.  This week’s post highlights the first course to combine these different cultures, with a Japanese miso-glazed salmon served along with an Indian condiment.  It may not sound like an obvious combination, but like many unexpected pairings, the sum is greater than its parts.

The traditional Japanese recipes were all from Serious Eats.  As part of the mash-up, we enjoyed it with an Indian mint and cilantro chutney; not just any chutney, but Chef Nalin’s family recipe, which he was so kind (after some prodding) to share with the Spicebox Supperclub and our readers.

Miso-Ginger Salmon

Ingredients

1/4 cup white miso

1/4 cup mirin

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons minced green onions

1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

4 salmon fillets, 6 to 8 ounces each

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Procedures

In a small bowl, whisk together the first 7 ingredients until smooth. In a small baking dish, cover the salmon fillets with the marinade and turn a few times to coat. Cover and marinate for 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

Remove the fillets from the marinade and season with salt and pepper. Preheat a grill (or broiler). If using a grill, grill the salmon skin-side down until the skin is golden and crisp, about 3-4 minutes, then turn over and grill an additional 3-4 minutes. If using a broiler, broil skin-side down without flipping, until the salmon is cooked through and well-caramelized on the top, 4-5 minutes. Serve with rice.

Note: Use 1/2” thick salmon fillets; raise from bottom of pan to prevent fish from getting soggy.

Sumeshi – vinegared sushi rice

(posted by J. Kenji López-Alt, July 13, 2010 at 9:00 AM, Serious Eats)

Make sure that the rice vinegar you are using is not labeled “seasoned” rice vinegar, which already has sugar added to it. I like my rice relatively highly seasoned, but the sugar and vinegar levels can be adjusted to taste.

Ingredients

3 cups short grain sushi rice

3 1/3 cups water

1 piece of konbu, about 4 by 3 inches (see note)

3/4 cup rice vinegar (see note)

1/2 cup sugar

3 teaspoons kosher salt

Procedures

Place rice in fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water, gently agitating with hands until liquid runs clear. Add rinsed rice and water to rice cooker and cook. Alternatively, place in a heavy-bottomed 2 quart saucepot with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, turn heat to lowest setting, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.

Meanwhile, combine konbu, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar and salt are dissolved.

Transfer rice to a 13-inch by 9-inch nonreactive casserole dish (like a pyrex) and spread gently into an even layer using a rice paddle. Aim a fan set to low directly at rice and keep it running during the rest of this step. Carefully sprinkle 3/4 of vinegar mixture over rice by drizzling it over the back of the rice paddle. Combine the rice and vinegar by gently folding it in with a cutting motion, being careful not to bruise or crush any rice grains. Taste rice and, if desired, add more of vinegar mixture. Continue fanning rice and folding until rice stops steaming and grains have achieved a slightly glossy texture that just sticks together when you squeeze them. Keep sushi rice at room temperature covered in a clean damp dish towel, or plastic wrap pressed directly against its surface.

Sweet Soy Glaze

Ingredients

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 cup sake

1 cup sugar

1-inch knob ginger, roughly sliced

2 garlic cloves, roughly sliced

2 scallions, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Procedures

Combine the soy sauce, sake, sugar, ginger, garlic, and scallions in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over high heat stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce to a bare simmer and cook until sauce is syrupy and reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 20 minutes. Strain and discard solids. Reserve sauce.

Mint-Cilantro Chutney, Chef Nalin’s family recipe

The ‘green chutney’ is a ubiquitous one in Indian food. The classic type is the ‘pudina’ or mint chutney variant. Its a blended mixture of herb (mint), onion, lemon, garlic, ginger, and green chili if spiciness is desired. The spices that give it the flavor are cumin, aamchoor, salt, and sugar. The details are as follows:
Even though mint is in the name, if one only uses mint, it seems overpowering. So, most people use cilantro along with mint to balance the flavors. I used one bunch mint and two bunches of cilantro. Its a little tedious, but I only use the leaves since the stems tends to make it little too fibrous for my taste. If possible, use the smaller mint leaves since the large ones have veins that are tough. One can make it only with cilantro which is quite nice. I use the juice of one whole lemon, along with half an onion. More lemon is fine, just makes it more ‘citrusy’. Thumb-sized piece of ginger, but best to grate and discard the fibrous parts. Some sweetness should balance the tart flavors. One can use a little brown sugar, but I noticed that Sukhi’s at the Farmer’s Market use apple in their commercial type they sell and I’ve started using about 1/2 an apple. Adds a mild degree of sweetness, and contributes to the consistency.
For spices, you need some salt, usually to taste. The cumin is important. I use smoked cumin (1/2 tsp) which is more intense. (Take cumin seeds and brown them on a cast iron skillet or nonstick pan. Shake frequently. The cumin should be browned but not too dark. Then grind to fine powder.) The aamchoor adds a undertone of tangy flavor. ‘Aam’ is mango, and the spice is actually ground mango stones. Obviously add to taste; I use about a teaspoon. One can also add other spices such as garam masala, or chaat masala (pre-mixed spice combinations that add complexity) to taste. I think I used a dash of each. For ‘heat’, add green chilies, or red chili flakes. Most people would add some but it isn’t essential. I didn’t use any for our dinner.
So, toss everything in a blender and off you go. You’ll need to add some water as well to get things going. Don’t add too much water, or overblend it, it’ll shouldn’t get too watery; it should have some body. If you let it sit overnight, it’ll taste better. It keeps pretty well because the lemon makes it a little acidic.

This is part of the Asian Mash-Up menu, presented by Chef Nalin.

What other unexpected cuisines have you combined? What worked well? What didn’t work well?