Friday, February 17, 2012

Veggie Burger, Grain Burger, Falafel—Oh My!

Hungry for a veggie burger? Don't buy those expensive ready-made ones in the frozen foods section—just make your own. It's easy and utterly delicious. One way to make a veggie burger is to make, yes, falafel. Instead of a round ball, form the batter into a small patty. Then, you don't have to deep-fry it—which uses a lot of oil. You can pan-fry in a small amount of oil—just like any other patty or croquette. No need to buy those falafel mixes, either (they're way too salty)—try making falafels once and you will be hooked! Feel free to experiment with adding other ingredients—mint, fresh oregano, peppers, onions, etc.—are all game. Yummy! And your kids will likely forget the meal is vegetarian.

Pan-fried Falafel Patties
3 cups cooked chickpeas/garbanzo beans (or two cans, drained)
2 tablespoons tahini (sesame butter)
1/3 cup minced flat leaf parsley or mint (optional)
4 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs (you can use Progresso bread crumbs) or flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 eggs
3 tablespoons soy sauce
Olive oil to deep fry or pan fry
½ cup sesame seeds to roll falafel-burgers in (optional)
Serves four
  1. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and put them, along with all the other ingredients, in a blender or food processor. (The paste needs to be thick enough to hold up as a patty, so if you have to use more bread crumbs to thicken, that’s okay.) Pulse, scraping down the side of the bowl, to form a coarse paste. Scrape the paste into a bowl.
  2. In a non-stick frying pan, heat the oil. Scoop a couple of tablespoons of the falafel mixture into your hands and smooth down to form a small patty (larger patties can be too crumbly—small is better). Roll in sesame seeds (optional).
  3. Place a few patties in the pan and fry in small batches, turning halfway through cooking, until browned and crisp and cooked through (about three minutes per side, depending on how thick they are).
  4. Drain on paper towels and serve with lemon-tahini dressing (tahini, garlic, salt, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, water). Also delicious cold in a pita sandwich with cucumbers and tomatoes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

For the Love of Pho: Beef Noodle Soup to Free Your Soul

There are a few truly great soups in the world: Japanese miso shiru, Thai tom yam or tom ka, French onion soup, American New England clam chowder, Spanish gazpacho, Chinese hot and sour soup, and lastly, Vietnamese pho soup. Pho, pronounced fuh, is a beef broth soup made from cooking bony, fatty pieces of beef--the undesirable bits--in water with roasted ginger, onions, and star anise. The broth becomes aromatic and rich, while the odd slices of beef the soup may be served with are more of an afterthought than the main event.

Part of the fun of eating pho is that you get a plate of garnishes, so that you can add to your soup bowl as your taste dictates, composing your own soup experience. I'm a sucker for the make-your-own at the table art of cuisine. Somehow food tastes better because you chose the combo.


Making the Broth
1 large yellow or white onion
3 inch piece unpeeled ginger root
2 to 3 pounds beef soup bones (leg, knuckle bones, oxtails--any bony, soup cuts of beef)
1/2 pound flank steak or sirloin (optional)
5 star anise
3 whole cloves
1-inch cinnamon stick
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 gallon water
Peel and cut the onion in half. Place it in a nonstick frying pan, along with the ginger root, unpeeled and sliced in half lengthwise. Char these for a few minutes to soften. Add these as is to the pot of water, along with the beef. Heat to boiling, and when impurities float to the top, skin them off repeatedly and discard.
Add in the star anise, cloves, cinnamon stick, salt, fish sauce, steak (if you used it), and sugar. Simmer about one and a half hours.
When cooking is complete, strain the broth through a cheesecloth in a colander to remove any impurities. Discard bones (here's where your family dog gets lucky). If you used steak, set it aside for slicing. Then, either skim off the layer of fat on top of the broth, or refrigerate and then scoop off the fat. You want a clear, delicate—not heavy—broth.
Garnishes a Go-Go
Assemble the following on a large plate, feeling free to substitute, as needed:
· Chopped cilantro
· Green onions, sliced into small rings (optional--we don't like raw onions in my family)
· 1 cup fresh bean mung bean sprouts
· 2 Limes cut into wedges
· 1 bunch mint leaves
· 1 bunch Thai basil or Italian basil
· 2 chili peppers, thinly sliced (although Thai hot peppers are preferred, we use jalapenos, as they are less intense, but still pack some heat), with seeds removed
· Watercress or other greens, if you have them (saw-tooth herb is authentic, but not easily found)
· Sriracha hot chili sauce and hoisin sauce

Prepare 12 ounces of rice noodles as directed on the package, rinse in cold water, and set aside.
Creating the Pho Bowls
If you used steak, slice it against the grain in very thin slices. Heat the broth to boiling over medium heat Prepare the rice noodles as directed. Blanch the bean sprouts until wilted but still crisp. Fill each bowl approximately 1/4 full with noodles, place slices of steak (if used) on top of the noodles. Garnish this with sliced green onions (if used). Ladle the hot broth into each bowl. Serve the garnishes plate along with the pho soup.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Chocolate: Even the Word Sounds Delicious

Looking for a chocolate fix this side of Chocolate Day? Yes, I'd love for Valentine's Day to be rededicated as Chocolate Day. Not everyone has romantic love in their life at any given time. And frankly, being expected and forced to deal with those who do can be either annoying or downright intimidating for this one holiday every year. But chocolate? Everyone can appreciate and enjoy chocolate, right?

Here's a list of some of my chocolate posts. Happy Chocolate Day to you!

The World's Best Hot Chocolate

Chocolate Truffles

The World's Best Peppermint Bark

Pistachio Bark

Chocolate Martini

Chocolate Ice Cream

Faux Chocolate (Carob Brownies)

I need to write up my mole how-to one of these days and add it to this list. Certainly mole is a food of love--savory chocolate, how great is that?

What is YOUR favorite chocolate recipe?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

French Sweet Onion Soup with or without Extras: Posh Warm Comfort for a Cold Day

I can't explain the comfort of a French onion soup on a cold day—it's one of those taste-blasts, a hearty, buttery, savory treat you must experience yourself. This delightful soup—with the twists of sweet onions and perhaps some extra veggies you have on hand—is a winner with everyone (yes, you can make it vegetarian with a vegetable soup stock as the base).
  • 4 medium sweet onions (such as walla-walla, Maui sweets, vidalia, etc.), sliced
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 5 cups good beef broth (I use "Better than Bouillon" from Superior Touch, reconstituted with water. For vegetarian, use a veggie broth)
  • 2 tablespoons cognac
  • Herbes de Provence, to taste (or thyme, lavender, sage, etc.)
  • Salt and ground pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 cup grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan
  • 4 slices bread, toasted and cut into cubes (to make croutons)

Sauté the onions in the butter in a nonstick frying pan for about 15 minutes. They should be soft and sweetly caramelized. Add the herbes de Provence, beef broth and salt and pepper to taste. Bring the mixture to a slow boil then reduce the heat to low and let simmer at least 15 minutes. After cooking remove from heat and splash in the cognac.

Meanwhile, toast the bread and chop it into cubes to make croûtons. Set aside. Grate the hard cheese and set aside. Take four ramekins or other oven-proof bowls and ladle 1/4 of the soup in each. Sprinkle 1/4 of the croûtons on each soup bowl and then, 1/4 of the cheese on top of that. Lastly, place the ramekins on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese melts and is bubbly, around five minutes.

Note: You can jazz this up by adding chopped veggies to the soup while it is boiling: carrots and celery are natural additions, but what about fresh spinach, Swiss chard, or even fennel? Asparagus in one-inch chunks, and ooh--mushrooms!
Also, to beef it up, add in cooked, chopped beef, such as leftover steak or roast. If you really want to knock some socks off, prepare one filet mignon by sauteeing it and then cubing it. So tender and tasty in this soup! Another idea--meatballs--wow!
A vegetarian treat? Try sauteed cubed tofu or tempeh (and vegetable soup stock, as noted above).