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Thai Shrimp Cakes

25 Jul

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Sometimes, when the sun is shining and the temperature is just right, I’ll notice that the hammock in our backyard is looking particularly lonely. If there happens to be a slight breeze, the hammock might even be swaying just a bit from side to side, like the arms of a new parent gently rocking a baby to sleep. Soon, as though being pulled by a magnetic force that guides people into relaxation, I am in the hammock, my eyes slowly beginning to close. But, wait—what’s that? Are there weeds in the vegetable patch? And what’s going on over there, by the gladiolas? Did a tree branch fall over and squash the flowers? I’d better pick up that branch and assess the damage. While I’m at it, I may as well pull those weeds. And those other weeds. And that clover that is growing into the strawberry bed. Goodbye, hammock. It was nice spending 90 seconds in your maternal embrace.

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If there is one thing I have, sadly, learned this summer, it’s that, the older I get, the more difficult it is for me to relax. Oh, believe me, I want to relax, but every time I set aside a cozy little meeting with a good book or that lonely little hammock, my mind automatically turns to thoughts of all the other things I could be doing that might be deemed a bit more productive. The one silver lining in all of my inadvertent refusal to sit down and take it easy is the fact that, while I am doing whatever it is that I should be doing, my mind usually begins to wander to thoughts of food. Sometimes, as in this most recent case, those food thoughts can produce something truly spectacular.

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While in the thick of yard work, I decided that I needed to use up some of our garden’s mint. Immediately, my thoughts turned to lemongrass, mint, ginger, and the spicy kick of chiles, all enveloping the mellow taste of prawns. Taking a cue from my favorite Indian kebabs, I decided to feature my creation in the form of small patties, browned until just crisp on the outside, but still tender in the middle. They were exactly what I hoped they’d be: spicy, fresh, and filled with complimentary flavors. I don’t know what it says about me that I do my best thinking while working, not relaxing, but if all my ideas end up being this good, I might just have to spend even yet more time weeding, and even less time in the hammock. Sigh. The sacrifices I make.

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Last Year: Best Food to Pack on a Roadtrip (this is particularly timely, since we’re living in San Francisco until the end of August, and our drive from Portland to San Francisco was a typical 12-hour affair) and Smoked Spatchcocked Chicken

Thai Shrimp Cakes 

¼ cup chopped lemongrass, outer stem peeled away

2 tablespoons grated ginger

½ cup chopped fresh mint

½ cup shopped cilantro leaves

½ chopped green onion

2 cloves garlic

½ to 1 small hot chile—birdseye or Serrano

2 large eggs

1 cup panko or dry, unseasoned bread crumbs

1 pound raw shrimp, deveined, tails and shells removed

½ teaspoon sea salt

vegetable oil

In the bowl of a food processor, combine lemongrass, ginger, mint, cilantro, green onion, garlic, chile, and eggs. Pulse until herbs are uniformly chopped, about 6 or 7 long pulses. Add panko, shrimp, and salt, and pulse until shrimp has become chopped somewhat fine, but not ground into a paste. You should still be able to see small to medium chunks of shrimp.

In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, heat enough vegetable oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Using about ¼ cup of shrimp mixture at a time, form mixture into rough patties, then gently place them in the hot oil, cooking each patty for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until the shrimp has cooked through, but the patties remain tender. Cook 3 to 4 patties at a time, being careful not to overload the skillet. Add just a teaspoon so more vegetable oil in between cooking each batch of patties, allowing the oil to heat up heat time.

Depending on how generously you size your patties, you should end up with about 12 shrimp cakes total.

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Spicy Green Apple and Cabbage Salad with Cashews

17 Jan

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Salads have a bad reputation, and I understand why. Let’s be honest: salad is, to many people, the food of punishment. You ate too many slices of pie over the holidays, so now it’s time to face a few weeks of salad while you get the house back in order. Faced with limp pieces of lettuce, sad slices of random vegetables, and some terrible bottled salad dressing, I wouldn’t be excited about eating salad either, if that was the way I had to face it. Luckily, I don’t consider salad a last resort, and that is why I can look at it as an opportunity to really build something that is more enticing than disciplinary.

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My first order of business with a salad is always texture. I like lots of satisfying crunch, so I try to use a variety of sturdier greens whenever possible. Then I turn to a variation in flavors, aiming to end up with a nice mix of tart, sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter elements all thrown together. In this salad, super crisp napa cabbage gets combined with crunchy, tart Granny Smith apples and zesty fresh mint, then topped with savory toasted cashews. The third building block of a salad, the dressing—in this case, a super spicy chile and garlic dressing with lots of fresh lime juice—ties everything together, making each bite a fantastic mix of different flavors and sensations.

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Sometimes I think there is an art to building a salad. While it is certainly not the type of art that would warrant a solo gallery show or a major grant, you are at least awarded the opportunity to eat your work of art when you are done with it, and that, to me, is pretty much the best prize there is.

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Last Year: Chicken Biryani–one of my favorite dishes of all time–and Shallot and Herb Biscuits

Napa Cabbage and Green Apple Salad with Cashews

There are a lot of great textures going on in this salad, but I think you could get away with adding even more. Adding a cup or two of finely shredded or chopped purple cabbage would provide a lovely burst of color and flavor, and, if it’s in season, a handful of finely chopped fennel ribs would be borderline magical in here. Also, a note on the dressing: it is hot. I like a lot of spiciness, so I used an entire super hot chile pepper (ribs, seeds, and all), but, if you are not as tolerant of spiciness, you could certainly use just half of a chile, ribs and seeds removed.

Dressing:

1 serrano chile

1 large garlic clove

1 teaspoon Vietnamese fish sauce

¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

pinch of sea salt

pinch of sugar

Salad:

4 cups finely shredded napa cabbage

1 small Granny Smith apple, cored, then cut into thin matchsticks

¼ cup roughly torn mint leaves

1 cup toasted cashews

Using a microplane zester or a fine grater, very finely grate the chile pepper and garlic into a small bowl. Alternately, you could use a mortar and pestle to pound the chile and garlic together. Using the back of a spoon, mash the chile and garlic together until they form a bit of a paste. Add the fish sauce, vinegar, lime juice, salt, and sugar, then whisk to combine.

In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, apple slices, and mint. Pour over the dressing and toss to combine. Add the toasted cashews. Taste for seasoning. You may decide you want more salt (some fish sauces are much saltier than others, so personal judgment is in order here). If you do add more salt, sprinkle it on sparingly, then toss thoroughly to combine.

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main dish.

Crispy Roasted Masala Chickpeas

26 Nov

We’re entering into that glorious time of the year when the celebrations are plentiful, the lights forever twinkly, and the snacks are everywhere, all of the time, no matter where you look. For a dedicated snacker (as I happen to be), this truly is the most wonderful time of the year. In her cookbook Super Natural Everyday Heidi Swanson notes that her day’s consumption of food goes something like “meal-snack-meal-snack-snack-meal,” a series of events that I can only describe as being somewhat blissful in its rhythm. Swanson, of course, makes the most of those meals and snacks, indulging in supremely healthful foods that provide the most punch as possible, both in terms of flavor and nutrition.

I wish I could say that I am always that dedicated to eating healthfully. Certainly a lot of people would look at my meals and snacks throughout the day and declare me to nothing short of a Pollyanna when it comes to food (I don’t drink sweet beverages at all, I eat very little meat, I don’t buy junk food), but one can certainly find a lot of room for improvement when it comes to my snack choices during the holidays. Whereas I ordinarily find much satisfaction in eating a few nuts or an apple for a standard snack, the holidays inevitably turn me in an entirely different direction, snack-wise. Things just seem to appear in our house, and then those things inevitably end up in my mouth. The chocolate covered nuts, the containers of homemade cookies—bless them all, but, my lord, I lose my mind when those things are sitting around and looking at me with their luscious, chocolaty, buttery eyes.

Perhaps this year I will be able to keep a stash of more sensible snacks around, so that I can maintain my normally reasonable and pleasurable way of eating. These crispy, spicy chickpeas will be a good start. They take absolutely no time to throw together, and they make a wonderful snack, garnish, or added protein, whether I am looking for something snacky or something to plump up a meal. My current favorite way to eat them (aside from just eating them as they are, which is simply wonderful) is to throw them on a pile of quinoa, chopped raw spinach, and avocado, then drizzle everything with a touch of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The spices are just perfect and the tiny kick of heat makes for a nice surprise. All in all, these little chickpeas are a welcome addition to the day, no matter the season.

Last Year: Slow-Cooked Beans and Huevos Rancheros

Crispy Roasted Masala Chickpeas Recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ cups cooked, drained chickpeas

2 teaspoons garam masala (a commonly found Indian spice blend)

¼ teaspoon chili powder (or cayenne pepper, if you want things a little spicier)

salt and pepper to taste, if needed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat a large oven-proof skillet over high heat. Add olive oil, then add drained chickpeas. Sprinkle over garam masala and cayenne pepper, and stir to combine. Sauté the chickpeas and spices, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes, then place the skillet in the heated oven. Roast the chickpeas in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until they are crisp and golden. Taste for seasoning, and add a bit of salt and pepper if you think it is necessary (garam masala spice blends contain different levels of salt, so it is important to hold off on adding more salt until after the chickpeas have been roasted).

Eat the chickpeas as is, or add to salads or soups.

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