Category: International

Winter Vegetable Thai Curry

February 12, 2009

The year we lived in London, we ate in some really fantastic restaurants. We also explored cuisines that are not all that available to us here in Seattle. I always knew that I liked Indian food but fell head over heels in love with it while living there. Middle Eastern food too. I can’t tell you how much I miss the multitude of places where I could eat dips, felafel, fantastic breads, and vegetable dishes to my heart’s content. The one thing we missed while living there was Thai food. I tried it a few different places in London, some of them very fancy, and it never was very good.

We are fortunate to have a plethra of great Thai places in Seattle. In an approximate one mile radius of our house, there are no fewer than 8 Thai restaurants, some pretty good and some really good. It is our go-to meal for Friday night take-out and I crave it on an even more regular basis. Because my Asian food-hating clients (who are the same as my mushroom-hating clients) are out of town again tonight, I thought I would make it for the others.

For this dinner, I turned to the sweetest little cookbook. Real Vegetarian Thai was written by a woman who spent two years in Thailand in the Peace Corps. She includes copious notes with each recipe telling you how the Thais would serve it and substitutions that can be made. She also tells you what can be done in advance which always wins extra points with me. All of this is done in a un-pretentious friendly voice that is a joy to read. The recipes I have made (and there have been many of them) have turned out great. Tonight’s menu included Tome Yum Soup with Mushrooms and Tofu, Red Curry with Winter Vegetables and Cashews, Coconut Rice, and Cucumber Salad.

For the curry recipe, you actually make your own curry paste. In a pinch you can, of course, substitute store-bought, but if you are a vegetarian, read the label carefully. Many of them contain dried shrimp. Making the paste really doesn’t take all that much time and it makes a healthy amount. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month. Perfect for the next time you want red curry! I followed the paste recipe quite closely but with the finished dish, I made a lot of changes.

Red Curry with Winter Vegetables and Cashews
Adapted from
Real Vegetarian Thai
Serves 4 generously

1 can unsweetened coconut milk (DN: I used reduced fat)
2 or 3 tbsp. red curry paste (recipe follows)

Vegetable oil

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

Kosher salt

8 oz. extra firm tofu, drained, patted dry, and cut into 1 inch cubes

1 cup vegetable stock

1/2 pounds assorted winter vegetables such as squash, sweet potatoes, carrots and/or
parsnips, everything cut into 1-2 inch pieces

1 tbsp. light brown sugar

1 tsp. soy sauce

cup salted, dry-roasted cashews
cup chopped cilantro

Shake the coconut milk can well. Spoon out 1/3 cup into a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to release its fragrance. Add the curry paste and cook for about 3 more minutes, mashing the paste into the coconut milk.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add enough vegetable oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan, then add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened, about 8 minutes.

Add the chopped winter vegetables and saute for another 5 minutes. Add the curry mixture, the rest of the coconut milk, the stock, soy sauce, and sugar and bring to a boil. Give it a good stir, then reduce the heat to simmer and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.

Just before serving, add the cashews and cilantro. Serve over rice.

Red Curry Paste
Adapted from
Real Vegetarian Thai
Makes about 1 cup

McDermott suggests using chilies de arbol here which are finger-length and quite spicy. I didn’t have any on hand so I used Guajillo chiles which are much less spicy.

20 dried chilies de arbol
1 tbsp. whole coriander seeds

1 tsp. whole cumin seeds

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

3 stalks lemongrass

cup chopped fresh cilantro
cup coarsely chopped shallots
2 tbsp. coarsely chopped garlic

1 tbsp. coarsely chopped peeled fresh ginger

>Zest of 1 small lime
1 tsp. salt

Stem the chilies and shake out and discard the seeds. Break into large pieces. Place the chilies in a small bowl, add warm water to cover, and set aside to soften for about 20 minutes.

In a small skillet over medium heat, dry-fry the coriander and cumin seeds until they are fragrant, about 3 minutes. Allow to cool, then grind in a coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle.

To prepare the lemongrass, trim away and discard any root section below the bulb base, and cut away the top portion, leaving a stalk about 6 inches long, including the base. Remove the outer layer of “skin”, then finely chop the stalks.

Drain the chilies and combine them with the lemongrass, ground spices, and the remaining ingredients in a mini food processor or a blender. Pour in 2 tbsp. of water and combine to a fairly smooth puree. You may need to add more water to keep the blades moving. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to one month.

Mushroom Enchiladas

February 2, 2009

My husband recently took on a new job within his company. It’s a great job, one where he will really be challenged (which he likes), and one where he will be able to show how much value he adds to anything he does. For me, it has one big pro and one big con. Pro: He has moved over to an office in Seattle (rather than across a traffic clogged bridge), so he is home at 6:30 instead of 7:30. Con: He will be traveling about once a month or more.

Now, it actually isn’t all that bad because it will all be domestic travel and they will be quick trips. But it is still hard to have him gone. And even though he is not a foodie, I know he hates it when he misses a good meal. Last week, I planned to make a Mexican dinner for my clients and didn’t realize he would miss it because of a trip to Chicago. I can’t in good conscience know that I made these enchiladas and that he didn’t get to eat any of them, given his love of Mexican food. So, I made them again.

There are so many things I like about this recipe. Mushrooms, pinto beans, cottage cheese, and parsley may sound like unlikely ingredients for the filling, but they are hearty without being too heavy and the flavors really pop. In fact, if you go light on the cheese topping, this can be a very healthy and low fat meal. The enchiladas come together quickly enough for a mid-week dinner, especially if you buy pre-sliced mushrooms. You can even make the filling a day ahead, and the whole dish up to 8 hours ahead. And any leftover filling tastes great in a baked potato topped with salsa as I found out last week!

One more thing. Two years ago today I gave birth to this extraordinary person. Before that day, I was worried that I didn’t have enough love in my heart for two children. Boy, was I wrong! Happy Birthday baby.

Mushroom Enchiladas
Adapted from Main Course Vegetarian Pleasures

Serves 6

Use your favorite kind of salsa (I’ve even made it with tomatillo salsa), or you can substitute enchilada sauce if you prefer.

Olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1 16 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup low-fat small curd cottage cheese

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

2 cups mild or medium salsa

8 8-inch tortillas

1 cup grated Cheddar cheese

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Do not burn it. Stir in the mushrooms and cook until the juices are released and then evaporate, about 10 minutes. The mushrooms should begin to stick to the pan.

2. Add the oregano and pinto beans and cook 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool.

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

4. Stir the cottage cheese and parsley into the bean mixture. Place the pan in front of you to begin rolling the enchiladas. Place the salsa in a bowl in front of you, along with the tortillas and a pastry brush (or you can just use a spoon.)

5. Spread a thin layer of salsa in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Lay a tortilla on a plate, then brush both sides of the tortilla with a little bit of salsa. This will moisten the tortillas and prevent them from breaking. Using a spoon, place about 3-4 tablespoons along the bottom of one tortilla and roll tightly. Place the enchilada seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas and filling (you may get more or less than 8 depending on how much filling you use in each).

6. Spoon the remaining salsa over the enchiladas. Neatly place the Cheddar cheese along each enchilada. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil. Bake 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake 5 minutes more. The enchiladas should be piping hot, but be careful not to dry them out with overcooking.

Simply Delicious

January 28, 2009

If you ask my husband what he wants for dinner, without hesitation he says,”Mexican.” If you ask him where he wants to go out for dinner, he also says, “Mexican.” I honestly don’t even ask him anymore or if I do I have to ask like this, “Honey (deep breath), what-should-I-make-for-dinner-don’t-say-Mexican?” Phew.

I too love Mexican food but seeing as live far far away from Mexico, there aren’t a lot of places around here to satisfy the craving. Randy thinks bad Mexican is still good. I think bad Mexican is greasy and fattening. So I would rather make it myself.

Two things make a Mexican meal complete for me. Beans of some kind and lots of guacamole. For my clients last night I made Mushroom and Pinto Bean Enchiladas, Mexican Rice with Peppers and Tomatoes, and Salad with a Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette. I included a container of my guacamole which has gotten raves from them before and from others too. It is one of the only things I make completely without a recipe and totally to taste (hummus is another one.) I thought I would write a post about it so I paid attention to the proportions of what I added. Sometimes simple is best.

Serves 6 generously

I like my guacamole very limey and salty. You can always add less lime juice and salt and see how it tastes to you. If there is not too much going on in the meal, or if I am not serving salsa, I will dice up two seeded roma tomatoes and add it to the mix.

2 large ripe avocados, diced
1 1/2 large limes, cut in half

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

2 tbsp. cilantro, or more to taste

Place the avocados in a large bowl. Juice the limes into the same bowl and add the salt and pepper. Using a potato masher, mash up the avocados and incorporate the juice. You will want to leave some texture. Add the cilantro and mix carefully with a spoon.

How My Business Works

November 4, 2008

I’ve written here about how I became a personal chef and I’ve written here and there a bit about my clients, but I realized I haven’t described the nuts and bolts of my little business.

I currently have three permanent clients and one temporary one. They are all couples and I cook for them on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Before I had my second son, I cooked for them on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, but my older son took two longs naps a day until he was 2 years old and went to bed every night at 6pm and woke up around 8. Those days are no longer and while both my boys nap at the same time (which is the ONLY reason I can even keep this business going), I have a lot less free time to cook. Two days a week it will have to be until we have more preschool in place.

For each meal, I bring them an entree and usually two sides. Occasionally there are other components to the meal (like chutney and raita if I were making Indian food). Tuesday is the day I bring the “treat”. Everything is made 100% from scratch and is all vegetarian. I would say about 25% of the time the food is vegan, but the “treat” never is.

I cook everything in my kitchen and divvy it all up into plastic containers. I get everything as ready as it can be and deliver it to their homes with a handwritten note explaining the night’s menu and any last minute prep the food needs. Some nights it is as easy as popping stuff in the microwave and tossing a salad, other nights something will need to go into the oven or a little more prep will be involved. On my next visit, I pick up all my empty containers – I have quite a collection!

Because the meals I make are fairly involved, I use Mondays and Wednesdays as prep days. I almost always bake on Mondays and I will do any prep work possible in advance, even if it is just chopping vegetables. I find (and this is good advice for dinner parties too) that any little thing you can do in advance, from making the salad dressing to taking the leaves off parsley, will make your food prep the day of that much easier.

Since I tend to be busy prepping on Mondays and Wednesdays, our dinners those nights are a little simpler. Last week I was glancing through one of my favorite cookbooks, Real Vegetarian Thai, looking for a curry paste recipe to send to Beatrice at Ginger Beat. I love this cookbook – it is written by a woman who spent two years in Thailand while in the Peace Corps, and all recipes come with some kind of back story and lots of thoughtful tips. I decided to make a quick rice noodle soup with some lemongrass stock I had in the freezer and a salad with this incredible dressing.

The dressing comes from the New York Times and it tastes exactly like that perfect one you get at sushi restaurants. It is incredibly simple to make, it makes a lot, it lasts for a week in the refrigerator, and it is so nice and thick that it can also be used as a dip. I can also imagine it spooned over tofu, or even over soba noodles. It is so good, I was tempted to eat it straight from the jar – a desire I have never experienced for salad dressing!

Before the recipe, let’s talk about miso. There are several different types of miso – white being the most mellow in flavor. It is often kept in the produce section of your grocery store, or where you would normally find tofu. You will end up buying more than you need for this recipe but, if you keep plastic pressed directly on top of the miso once it is opened, it will keep for a year in your refrigerator. And you will want to make this dressing again!

Miso Carrot Sauce
From The New York Times

Makes 1 1/4 cup

The salad I made for this dressing had butter lettuce, thinly sliced mushrooms, halved cherry tomatoes, and chunks of avocado.

1/4 cup peanut or grapeseed oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar

3 tbsp. white miso

1 tbsp. dark sesame oil

2 medium carrots

1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and cut into coins

Put all ingredients into food processor and pulse to mince carrots. Let machine run for 1 minute, until mixture is chunky-smooth.

Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Fattoush (Pita Bread Salad)

November 3, 2008

Continuing on the Moroccan theme, how about Fattoush? Fa-waht? you may ask. Fattoush is an amazing salad whose star ingredient is pita bread. The version I make has some of the same ingredients as a Greek salad (tomatoes, olives, cucumber, feta cheese), but the flavor is more complex due to an incredible condiment called za’atar.

Za’atar is used throughout North African and Middle Eastern cooking and the ingredients and their quantities vary slightly. The one I make uses fresh thyme, sesame seeds, and sumac. Sumac is a powder make from a ground dried berry and it has an incredible blood red color and slightly sour yet fruity flavor. The three things together taste incredible – piney thyme, sour sumac, and nutty sesame seeds – and it is not unusual to see it stirred into olive oil for dunking bread and vegetables into. In this recipe, you sprinkle it over pita bread halves that have been brushed with olive oil, and put the bread in the oven. The smell is of baking bread, nuts and a bit of sour. Yum.

Once out of the oven and cool, the pita halves get broken into irregular pieces and, eventually, tossed into the salad. The longer they sit in it, the more tender they get so if you don’t want a lot of crunch, allow the salad to sit for half an hour. Want more crunch? Serve it right away. You can always make extra baked pita to dip in your baba ghanouj.

This recipe originally comes from Gourmet Magazine, but I have streamlined it significantly. They tell you to marinate olives for several days and then use the marinade for a dressing. Instead, I just use Kalamata olives and make a very simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. If you live in the Seattle area, you can find sumac at Market Spice in the Pike Place Market. If not, you might be able to find it at Whole Foods (either in spices or in the bulk section) and you can certainly order it online at Penzey’s.

Fattoush (Pita Bread Salad)
Serves 8-10

For Za’atar:
2 tbsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted
2 tsp. ground sumac
1/2 tsp. salt

For Pita Toasts:
4 6-inch pita loaves with pockets, split horizontally
Olive oil for brushing
2 tbsp. za’atar

For Salad:
4 hearts of romaine, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 seedless (or English) cucumber, halved lengthwise, cored, and thinly sliced
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
lb. feta cheese, crumbled
3 tbsp. za’atar
Juice of one lemon
Olive oil

Make za’atar: Stir together all ingredients in a small bowl. (Za’atar keeps, chilled in a sealed plastic bag, 1 week.)

Make pita toasts: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush rough sides of pita halves with olive oil and sprinkle with 2 tbsp. of the za’atar. Arrange halves, oiled side up, on 2 baking sheets and bake in oven until crisp and pale golden, about 10 minutes. Cool on rack. Once cool, bread into irregular large pieces. (Can be made one day ahead. Store in ziploc bag.)

Make salad: Place lettuce, tomatoes, olives, cucumber, pita toasts, feta cheese, and the remaining za’atar in a large salad bowl. Drizzle generously with olive oil and pour the lemon juice over. Toss the salad and taste. Add more lemon juice as needed.

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