Carrot-Jicama Lettuce Wraps with Hoisin-Plum Dipping Sauce

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Beautiful plates of food. Gorgeous posts on instagram. Delicious restaurant meals. Inspirational healthy recipes. You’re motivated; you want to cook, and you’re ready to embark on a journey into the culinary world, and then you open the fridge, and you’re missing the key ingredient.

The eggs. The cilantro. The canned tomatoes. The jalapeno. Suddenly your epicurean aspirations fall apart, and you’re back on the couch with a takeout menu in hand. I get it.

Yes, it is difficult getting started cooking. You have to have the recipe laid out; every ingredient has to be present; you have to make sure all your equipment is up to par. It might seem like missing one thing is the end of the world when you’ve got one thing in mind, but one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from cooking (and the TV show Chopped) is improvisation!

For example, today I was so ready to make spring rolls. I had my carrots and jicama sautéed, my vietnamese ham all fried up, sauce ready, herbs washed, and then I realized: I was out of rice paper. Duh! Luckily iceberg lettuce came to my rescue and I made lettuce wraps instead. In the future I think I’ll use this as a lazy spring roll version (as opposed to salad-ifying spring rolls) if I’m in the mood to dip.

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If you’ve never heard of vietnamese ham (or vietnamese baloney), called Cha Lua in Vietnamese, do not be put off by the name! It’s such a sad english translation. It’s basically like a huge cylindrical steamed meatball, like the kind you’d find in asian soups, but wrapped in banana leaf. It’s often available at Vietnamese sandwich shops and grocery stores. Try it in a Vietnamese sandwich first (Banh Mi Cha Lua) and once you’re hooked, you can buy the full ham to slice at home!

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Carrot-Jicama Lettuce Wraps with Hoisin-Plum Dipping Sauce

  • 1 jicama, julienned
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled & julienned OR 1 bag shredded carrots
  • 1 tablespoon fried shallots
  • fish sauce & pepper to taste
  • 1 roll vietnamese ham, julienned
  • 1 cup fresh mint, washed
  • 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, washed
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup plum sauce
  • 1 tsp sriracha

Heat a bit of oil in a large skillet and add the fried shallots over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the julienned jicama, stir. Let cook down a bit, for about 2 minutes, before adding the carrots. Stir fry all together until the carrots and jicama are softened and the jicama is slightly translucent. Season the jicama-carrot mixture with pepper and fish sauce to taste. Set vegetables aside.

In the same skillet, toss julienned vietnamese ham and let brown, stirring every minute or so until the small bits are crispy. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix hoisin, plum sauce, and sriracha. Thin out a bit with some water if your plum sauce is too thick.

On a cutting board, slice the iceberg lettuce in half down the stem. Carefully remove the leaves so they do not lose shape.

Layer a leaf with jicama carrot mixture, then vietnamese ham, then the mint leaves. Continue making lettuce “rolls” until all ingredients are finished. Enjoy by dipping the rolls in the hoisin-plum sauce.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Paprika-Yogurt crust

wholecauliflower

Cauliflower has quickly become one of my favorite vegetables.

I mean, it’s such a great “blank canvas”. Similar to cabbage (and also a cruciferous vegetable!), it’s a great vegetable that picks up an accent; think bacon, curry paste, lime juice, or cheddar cheese. And so many people have taken to cauliflower as a healthy substitute lately! It’s used to healthify mashed potatoes; to form a pizza crust; to replace buffalo wings; and to even soak up a sauce like good ‘ol white rice would! (hint hint click through for some awesome recipes)

Now think about taking this humble vegetable upscale. Dramatic. An appetizer, or even, a vegetarian entree. Lately I’ve been eyeing a TON of recipes of a whole roasted cauliflower. Not in little florets, nope, this is full-fledged cauliflower amazing.

Based on all the recipes I read, I amalgamated them all into something that would be easy to make but still delicious! Serve this at your next dinner party as an appetizer, or just whenever you feel like some charred, delicious vegetables. I served it alongside some homemade shwarma and flatbreads (I’ll post a recipe at some point, except the bread… that one I just eyeballed).

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Paprika-Yogurt Crust

  • 1 medium head of cauliflower, washed
  • 1 cup of greek yogurt (I used nonfat)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika OR regular paprika

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit.

Bring a large pot to a rolling boil. Add about a tablespoon of salt. Carefully load the whole head of cauliflower into the pot, and reduce the pot to a simmer for about 10 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender enough to poke with a fork. Carefully take the cauliflower out of the pot with a strainer spoon or tongs. Set onto a tray lined with foil.

In a small bowl, mix the yogurt, salt, pepper, and paprika. With a spoon or rubber spatula, spread the yogurt mixture over the cauliflower (not the leaves) on top of the foil.

Roast the cauliflower for about 40 minutes, until evenly charred throughout. Take the cauliflower out and cut into large wedges with a knife. Serve as a vegetable side or appetizer. Enjoy!

Clear the fridge & freezer with a veggie sauté

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Sometimes it’s best to go back to what’s basic.

I know there are so many things you can add to make things taste better. Fish sauce. Bacon. Cheese. Miso Paste. Balsamic Vinegar. The list goes on.

But sometimes, when your mouth’s on fire from the crazy thai food you had earlier, or your tongue is crying for mercy after a big bag of salty popcorn, it’s nice to give yourself a break from all those flavor enhancers. I’m not saying they’re bad, no, I love adding little things to take a dish all the way. However, sometimes it’s best to remember what the vegetable taste like in itself.

So for today, I have a lightly sauteed vegetable medley. Wilted just until tender, seasoned with only salt and freshly ground black pepper, this sauté is great to enjoy the vegetable’s sweetness, earthiness, grassiness. Andbest of all, it’s endlessly customizable! I pretty much emptied out my old vegetables, the leftover can of olives from last night’s Tagine, and the little bags of frozen peas/corn sitting at the bottom of my freezer, so feel free to add whatever you’d like. Have some broccoli florets? Throw ’em in! Roasted red bell peppers? Go for it! Leftover garbanzo beans? Yes!

This sauté is also entirely vegetarian AND vegan! It turns out that peas actually contain a decent amount (8g/cup) amount of protein in them, so you’ll get a bit of a protein kick, but to make this a more substantial meal feel free to add in any beans. Image

Vegetable Sauté

  • olive oil
  • 1/4 cup black olives, pitted and chopped into quarters
  • 1 sliced bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup fresh baby spinach
  • pinch salt & pepper, to taste

Add olive oil or any vegetable oil to a skillet on medium heat. Add the thinly sliced bell pepper for about 1 minute (until slightly sweated), then add the frozen corn and peas for another minute. Next, add the sliced olives, spinach, and a pinch each salt and pepper. Stir for about 1 minute until spinach is wilted, taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve as a side dish, like a salad, or add beans, meat, or a grain to make it a meal. Enjoy!

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The forgotten vegetable

Cabbage.

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Children cringe; memories of warm coleslaw, briny sauerkraut, and diet soup quickly turn this vegetable boring.

However, cabbage is one of my favorite vegetables. While lately, other cruciferous vegetables, (brussels sprouts and cauliflower, anyone?) have been revived, lonesome cabbage still sits there, just waiting to be a star.

There are a few tricks with cabbage to make it more, palatable, though. First, you never want to overcook it. As with all crucifers, the sulfurous, yucky smell will release as the vegetable breaks down, noses will be turned… it’s just not appetizing. Secondly, cabbage is a great blank slate. As in kimchi and sauerkraut, cabbage nearly always benefits from a meaty highlight. Whether it be with bulgogi or corned beef, both elements help round out the overall flavor profile. If you’re vegetarian? Peanuts  make a great pairing, as do whole spices (mustard seeds, peppercorns).

One of my new favorite ways to cook cabbage is with Lap Xuong (Chinese: Lap Cheong), a Vietnamese/Chinese cured sweet pork sausage. Beautifully dotted with pork fat, a gorgeously warm red flavor – it’s the candy bacon of Asia.

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Now, Lap Xuong is by no means healthy for you, the trick is to use it to season the cabbage. Just a little bit will do – I only used 1/2 a whole sausage for a whole cabbage! I also found a pork and chicken mixed Lap Xuong sausage, so it has less saturated fat. Please enjoy the recipe that follows for lunar new year, as a side dish, or a healthy meal alongside a bowl of brown rice.

Stir Fried Cabbage with Lap Xuong

1 Medium head cabbage, sliced thinly

1/2 medium carrot, cut in rings or strips

1/2 Lap Xuong sausage (find it at your local Asian store), cubed very small

1 Tbs fish sauce (can sub salt or soy sauce, to taste)

Black Pepper

  1. Heat a wok or large sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the cubed lap xuong and sliced carrots. No need to oil here! The Lap Xuong will render its fat to oil for you.
  3. Let the lap xuong and carrots brown for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the sliced cabbage, and toss to combine. Allow to cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until cabbage is tender. Do not overcook!
  5. Season with fish sauce and pepper.
  6. Turn off the heat, toss again, and taste to adjust seasoning. Serve hot with a bowl of rice, by itself, or as a side dish. Enjoy!

carrotlapxuongRendering the fat. 

IMG_0033_FotorĂn Ngon! (That means Bon Appetit in Vietnamese)

Warm Tex-Mex Salad!

Hope you’re all enjoying the chilly weather this winter, wherever you may be. Even when there’s frost covering the rooftops and there’s an icy glaze over the sidewalk, I still sometimes just feel like a salad.

Yes, a nice summer salad, full of crisp lettuce, refreshing and light. I don’t know –  it pulls you out of the season for a bit, and reminds you of sprinklers, and late sunsets, and cubes of fresh watermelon, and crickets.

So today, I have a quick and easy recipe to share with you that extremely versatile: is vegetarian (!) , easily vegan (!) , as well as gluten free (!). The dish comes together quickly, and could serve as a quick and healthy lunch or dinner for one. Enjoy!

Warm Tex-Mex Salad

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Warm Tex-Mex Salad

Feel free to omit/add any ingredients you’d like! This salad is made for one, but you can easily up the amount of ingredients to serve more.

First, cook the tofu. You can also omit the tofu or substitute another protein (chicken, shrimp,  steak, etc.)

  • 1/5th block extra-firm or pressed tofu (about 4 oz.), cubed 1/2 x 1/2 in
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • olive oil
  • pinch of salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a non-stick skillet on medium. Once the skillet is hot, add the tofu cubes; do NOT oil the pan. The tofu should sizzle and jiggle about once they hit the heat – do not turn or stir them. Let the tofu cook for 5 minutes, or until the pieces have a golden brown layer on each side and do not stick to the pan. Add oil to coat the tofu, then the salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, and coriander to the pan. Toss the pan to coat the tofu evenly. Set the tofu aside, and keep the skillet on.

Now, assemble the warm vegetables to top the salad.

  • 1/2 medium red onion, cubed
  • 1 small handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cored & sliced into strips
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into rings the same thickness as the bell pepper
  • 1/3 cup frozen corn
  • 1/3 cup black beans, drained
  • finely shredded romaine/iceberg lettuce
  • 1 whole wheat tortilla (or tortilla of choice)
  • 1/4 cup shredded mexican cheese

Keep a skillet on medium heat; drizzle some olive oil on once it is hot. Add the onions, green onions, and cilantro to the pan. Immediately, add the spices and stir to coat the onions. Let the onions brown for about 2 minutes, stirring infrequently, then add the peppers and zucchini. Allow the zucchini and peppers to caramelize on each side by not stirring excessively – leave them alone! Once the zucchini and bell peppers and zucchini are softened, add the frozen corn. Allow the corn to thaw on the pan for about 2 minutes, stirring often. Add the drained beans and tofu, toss gently for about a minute, careful not to break the beans or tofu, then take off the heat.

With the stove still on medium, carefully warm the tortilla over the flame or heat, for about 20 seconds each side. Place the warmed tortilla on a plate, and make a bed of the shredded lettuce. Add the warm ingredients on top of the lettuce. Top with cheese and extra cilantro or green onions if desired. Enjoy!

Note that there is a lot of room for variation in this recipe: the tortilla can be omitted or replaced with a gluten free one; the tofu can be replaced with a meat or another alternative; the cilantro can be removed if you are one of those “cilantro haters” (I respect you, though); you can add hot sauce, jalepenos, avocado, brown rice, etc. Have fun with it, and use whatever you have lying in the fridge!

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Sweet potaters

Sweet potatoes? Yams? So much confusion! I feel like no grocery store will ever have a straight answer to the “is it sweet potato vs is it yam” debate. It turns out sweet potatoes are indeed what you are buying as a yam. That is, unless you think sweet potatoes are starchy tuberous things. Yeah, didn’t think so.

So what do I mean? According to About.com, sweet potatoes are yellow, orange, red, or even purple skinned and fleshed. They are sort of potato shaped, and taste sweet. Yellow ones are creamier, orange ones are softer, purple ones are very sweet – you get the idea, they all very. The important thing, though, is that they look like this: 

(via farm fresh produce)

On the other hand, yams are starchy and tuberous. They’re not really popular in the USA, but rather in the carribean, africa, and central america. Here’s a yam, for drastic comparison:

Yeah, never seen that before.

So,  now that we’ve got that clear, onto a quick and easy method to cook SWEET POTATOES without worrying! This is an extremely simple method that leaves the sweet potatoes by themselves, so you can enjoy their creaminess in nature form! No sugar, no salt, no pepper, nope. Just delicious sweet potatoes. All you need is your oven or grill on above 300 degrees, some foil, and sweet potatoes, of course.

Here’s the process in pictures, first.

washed & clean wrapped up! looks a bit like a flying saucer, haha on the grill under some zucchini fully roasted! look at the wrinkly, caramelized skin and creamy, sweet interior. Yum! The perfect workout snack/breakfast/side dish/dessert/whatever!

Simple Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Ingredients:

Sweet Potatoes (any kind you want, keep in mind this will determine the cooking time)

 

Directions:

1. Wash the sweet potatoes really good, because you’re going to leave the skin on. YES, you can eat the skin, it’s very nutritious, full of fiber and vitamin A! I love the skin, actually, it’s fun to peel off and eat 🙂 You don’t need to cut them either, unless you want them to cook faster.

2. Wrap the sweet potatoes tightly in Aluminum foil. No tears or gaps!

3. Place the sweet potatoes in the oven/on your grill. You can throw these in any time you have the oven on, regardless of what else is in there!

4. Check the potatoes every 20 minutes for done-ness. If they are soft enough to be pierced easily with a fork, they’re typically done! I like to leave mine in a bit extra so they get caramelized on one side on the skin 🙂

5. Take the packet out of the grill/oven, careful to avoid steam burns.

6. Cut it open and fill it with chili, coconut flakes, peanuts, peanut butter, I don’t know, people have weird sweet potato pairings. Or, just enjoy it plain! Bon Appetit!

 

 

¡Ceviche!

Yes, I know, this post is going to be about the perfect summer food. 

When I just made one about winter food. 

Oh well, I simply couldn’t wait to post this recipe!

Ceviche is a Latin American seafood dish marinated in citrus juice, often accompanied with diced fresh vegetables. It’s a great way to highlight summer’s bounty, as well as use up those lemons/limes. Most commonly I’ve had ceviche with the bare minimum of white fish, lime, and onion, but I’ve seen some crazy variations, like Ceviche with tuna, scallops, sriracha, plum, or clams

Ceviche is the perfect appetizer to a mexican feast, or could even make a great light meal. The key in the process is to allow the fish to marinate for adequate time, while not over-marinating. I typically use cheaper fish, like tilapia, since I like to save my expensive fish for sashimi or cooking. Finely diced vegetables also add a nice textural contrast, as well as my favorite addition, avocado, to bind the whole thing together. 
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Basic Ceviche

  • 4 fillets of flaky white fish (tilapia, cod, snapper, etc.)
  • Juice of 3 limes (enough to cover the fish)
  • Pinch salt & pepper
  • 2 medium Roma tomatoes, diced (heirloom are too watery)
  • 1/2 medium Red onion, diced
  • 1 handful Cilantro, chopped
  • Jalapeno, finely diced (optional)
  • Avocado, diced

Dice the fish and place in a bowl with lime juice. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, cover with plastic. Marinate for 10 minutes or so (Check out this post for the science behind marinating). 

Meanwhile, dice tomatoes, onions, and cilantro, and toss in a bowl with a bit of salt and pepper, to taste. Add jalapeno, if desired. Stir in cubes of avocado (Can’t cut avocado? No worries, learn how here!). 

After the fish is done marinating, drain the lime juice from the bowl, and add the fish (which should be white now) to the chopped vegetables. Mix, gently, and taste. Adjust seasoning accordingly. Serve chilled alongside chips, warm tortillas (I prefer corn), with lettuce cups, or sliced cucumber. 

So, there you go, Ceviche. Buen Apetito!