Archive for July, 2008

Dreaming of Rasa

July 29, 2008

One of the joys of cooking and eating vegetarian is exploring world cuisines. Many of the world’s cultures eat either don’t eat meat, or eat it sparingly – as more of a condiment than a focus. If you are a little adventurous, you can find incredible and satisfying vegetarian food in cultures other than our own.

I’m not sure where I first had it, but I have always loved Indian food. Unfortunately, living in Seattle, I had never had really good restaurant Indian food. In my opinion, what you find here tends to be very oily, rich, and – for lack of a better term – gloppy. Early in my cooking life, I instead turned to recipes that involved curry and devoured them. Periodically, I would try an Indian restaurant and would eat a ton of naan and then get a stomachache from the rest – just too much oil for me.

And then Randy and I went to Spain for our honeymoon. In typical Randy fashion, he was able to finagle a side trip to Paris and London so he could do some meetings and I could make it back to Paris for the first time in 12 years, and see London for the first time. (Randy is the master of making the most out of a travel schedule.) It is now hard for me to believe that in the first 32 years of my life, I had never been to London. Randy had been there many times without me for business and somewhere along the line, someone took him to Rasa and he knew at first bite that he had to take me there.

I have stated this in more round-about ways in previous posts, but Randy is not a foodie. Until he met me, he was of the food-is-fuel mentality. He didn’t really care what he was eating, just as long as it was nutritious and tasted decent and kept him from bonking. (Full disclosure: his “bachelor meal” is rice, tuna, salsa, and cheese. He still eats this if I am out.) So the fact that he loved this restaurant and knew I would love it, well, that’s the kind of thing that made me marry him.

Although Seattle is no culinary capital, I have always been a good and curious eater. My parents are both from New York and I grew up going there at least once a year and in typical fashion for my family, food was the focus. Early on, I learned to love the many different types of Asian food that are represented so well here in the Northwest. But I had never had South Indian cooking and what I tasted at Rasa blew my mind. This is a gross generalization, but the cooking in the South tends to be lighter, spicier, cleaner, and has far less meat. Much of it is vegetarian or uses fish as a protein. The Rasa that we ate in (there are several) was, at that time, vegetarian. So imagine me, so used to getting the short end of the stick in restaurants, sitting in front of a menu with the most incredibly interesting and incredible sounding food – all of which I could eat. I almost cried.

We ended up getting a tasting menu and I can honestly say, I have never been so full in my life. I literally could not stop eating everything they put in front of me. Everything was spiced perfectly, seasoned perfectly, balanced perfectly, and looked beautiful. Randy bought me the cookbook and I couldn’t wait to get home and start cooking.

Not quite a year later, we had the opportunity to move to London for Randy’s job. We went on a househunting trip and guess where we ate. Guess where we ate for my birthday dinner. Guess where we ate on a pretty regular basis. I couldn’t get enough of it. We brought our friends Michelle and Dale there thinking that if we stuck to the less spicy dishes they would like it. They didn’t – too spicy. But it remained my favorite place in London.

Whenever I want to make Indian food now, I pull out my two Rasa cookbooks. Many of the recipes use fresh curry leaves which are difficult to find. The one place I did find them in Seattle was at Uwajimaya – an incredible Asian superstore in the International district of Seattle. It is far from our house, but totally worth the trek because the flavor of the curry leaves is unparalleled (they have nothing to do with curry powder). They look like small fresh bay leaves and have a pungent taste – almost rubbery. This may sound unpleasant, but truly they impart the most round flavor to every dish they inhabit. The last time I went to Uwajimaya, I was told that they could no longer carry them because there was a U.S. ban importing them. I’m not sure if this is true because peeking around the internet just now, I saw plenty of them, but suffice it to say, that while I made Indian food last night for my clients, I didn’t use my beloved Rasa cookbooks.

Instead I used three trusted recipes from food magazines that I cut out long ago. One of them is Creamy Eggplant with Green Peas. In the Vegetarian Rule Book, one of the top requirements is that you like eggplant. I have never been a big fan, but it falls under the “Don’t Like it Much, But Will Eat It” category instead of the “Don’t Like It and Won’t Eat It”. (I think the only thing on that list is okra.) This eggplant dish I not only eat but I enjoy it. The eggplants are first roasted at high heat and then mixed together with lots of spices, tomatoes, onions, peas, and yogurt so it becomes creamy and takes on the complex flavors that are in the dish. It is relatively easy, nutritious and very tasty.

A friend mentioned that she has seen curry leaves at R & M Grocery in the University District, so next time, it’s back to my Rasa Cookbooks!

Creamy Eggplant with Green Peas
Serves 6

Adapted from
Food and Wine Magazine

3 lbs eggplant
Vegetable oil

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 small yellow onion

1 jalapeno pepper, minced with some seeds

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 1/2 tbsp. peeled, minced fresh ginger

1 dried red chile, broken

3 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. tumeric

1 1/4 cup frozen peas, thawed

1 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 plain yogurt


1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Put the eggplant on a rimmed baking sheet and pierce them all over with a knife. Bake for about an hour, or until the skin is blackened and the flesh is very soft. Let cool slightly. Peel off the skin and scrape the flesh into a large bowl. Mash the eggplant coarsely.

2. Meanwhile, heat the a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the cumin seeds and cook over high heat until they sizzle, about 10 seconds. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the jalapenos, garlic, ginger and red chiles and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and boil until all the liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Add the paprika and tumeric and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in the eggplant and cook over low heat for 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Add the peas and cook 5 minutes longer. Stir in the chopped cilantro and the yogurt and season with salt.

Birthday Weekend

July 28, 2008

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am a total dork about my birthday. I have been this way since I can remember. Counting down the days to my birthday (starting one month prior) while still in grade school is one thing. Doing the same into my thirties is another.

Now that I am officially in my late thirties (!) and have two kids with their own birthdays to get excited about, I can report that I have become slightly less of a dork. I can no longer answer automatically how many days are left in the countdown – I actually have to count. On the big day, I no longer feel like I want to go up to the top of the Space Needle and shout so the whole world can hear, “Today is my birthday!” However, I do still kind of expect everyone who I interact with (including complete strangers) to wish me a happy birthday. Is it because I am a summer baby? I never had the cupcakes brought to school and no classroom full of children ever sang to me – am I still searching for that attention? And if so, why?

Fortunately, my husband indulges me and works hard to make me feel special on my birthday. This year we went to Portland for the weekend without our kids. This was the first time we have been away from both of them and, as much as I adore them, it was much needed. The idea of having one full day of just doing whatever we (all right I) wanted without having to take their eating and sleeping schedules into account was, well, glorious. We didn’t even really mind that it took us 4 1/2 hours to get there and back because traffic was awful – there were no children in the car and we actually had time to talk.

What do you do in Portland? Well, eat and shop. It is a much smaller city than Seattle, but has an incredibly vibrant restaurant scene and fantastic boutique shopping. I spent quite a bit of time researching restaurants and obsessing over which two would be perfect. I whittled it down to about 5 options because all the cross-referencing I did brought up the same five. Based on menus I saw online, I made the choice to go to Park Kitchen and Bluehour.

Friday night we went to Park Kitchen and I really can’t say enough good things about the place. We had an 8:30 reservation (pushed back from 7:30 because of the traffic) and they weren’t ready to seat us. We grabbed a seat in the bar and Randy proceeded to almost pass out. He is hypoglycemic and for some reason, it takes him a while to realize that he desperately needs food. Sometimes I can recognize that he is being weird because he needs to eat and sometimes I just think he is being weird. Fortunately, he was able to ask the hostess for some bread and the most incredible giant slices of bread were in front of us before we knew it. As an apology for the table taking so long (we didn’t sit until after 9), she also brought us some salted cod cakes which looked like giant fried golf balls and Randy said tasted like fish sticks – in a good way.

After that, the dinner was just lovely. We had an amazing server named Holly who, in addition to having just the right amount of cheer, was incredibly knowledgeable and opinionated about the menu. I love it when a server tell you with zeal what their favorite dish is and what to stay away from. As she brought us our salads (farro with giant chunks of feta and fava beans for me; green bean, apricot, and hazelnut with a caramel crouton for Randy), I mentioned that we had reservations at Bluehour the next night. She made a face. Was it too swanky, I wondered. She said that indeed it is kind of a see-and-be-seen place, and if we just wanted to eat good food, we should go to Lovely Hula Hands, another restaurant in the five I chosen from.

Our entrees continued in the same vein as the appetizers, interesting and delicious. I had stone-ground grits that were somehow the consistency of risotto (but with that amazing rich and buttery corn flavor), topped with a trio of beans – fava, wax, and kidney. They had been tossed with some kind of vinaigrette so the balance of rich, salty and acidic was perfect. Randy told me over and over again that I had to write about the lamb sausage he was loving to death, although I assured him that it really didn’t have a place on a vegetarian blog.

As the meal wore on, and we loved the vibe more and more at this simple and yet sophisticated restaurant, I made up my mind. For my birthday, swanky was out and simple was in. We cancelled the reservation at Bluehour and decided to drive to a totally different part of town to check out Lovely Hula Hands.

We never did get the story behind the name of this place. Our experience there was good – it is on a very cool street and the place is small and sweet. They don’t take reservations so we had to wait a good long while which kind of spoiled the mood of the evening for us. The food however, was terrific. Randy had a zucchini carpaccio for a starter and I had a perfectly dressed arugula salad with hazelnuts and pecorino cheese. My imaginative entree made me curse all the risottos and pastas I have had at Seattle restaurants. Two huge cornmeal crepes filled with greens and ricotta, topped with a salsa of tomatoes and beans. Take that Restaurant Zoe!

Ahhh, Paris

July 24, 2008

I wrestled a bit with what to write today. All week I have known that I wanted to share this recipe with you because it is seasonal and it is just so good and, I mean really, how cute are those zucchinis?

But last night I went to a memorial service for my lovely friend Sandy and I started to feel like maybe it was a little, I don’t know, frivolous to be talking about stuffing squashes when a beautiful soul like hers is being mourned by many. Then I realized that if anyone would want me to write about something delicious, it would be her. Sandy loved good food and she, as my boss in the promotion department of a radio station many years ago, made me a better writer. Furthermore, the recipe comes from The Paris Cookbook and I know that Sandy loved Paris probably more than any other city. So it is with her in mind that I share this deliciousness.

I bought this wonderful cookbook in the Waterloo train station in London, waiting to get on the train to Paris. When I went to find this recipe the other day, I was momentarily confused because there was no “zucchini” recipes in the index. I then remembered that this particular edition is British so the recipe was listed under “courgettes” which is the French word for zucchini and the term that the Brits use as well. The Paris Cookbook‘s author is Patricia Wells and I truly love her recipes. At first glance, many of them don’t look like much because they have few ingredients and simple instructions. Everything I have made from the three of hers that I own has made me re-think my attraction to complicated recipes with crazy ingredients and time-consuming steps. In her hands, simpler really is better.

This recipe is a little more involved than some of her others, but it is by no means complicated. It looks beautiful and the flavor is so complex with mint, curry, and goat cheese. I was able to find these amazing round zucchinis at the farmer’s market but she says you can use regular oblong ones as well. I served these with a Corn Chowder and an Arugula Salad with Watermelon and Walnuts.

Zucchini Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Mint
Adapted from
The Paris Cookbook
Serves 8

8 small round zucchini or 8 small oblong ones
2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1-2 tsp. curry powder

9oz. fresh goat cheese

Several tablespoons cream or milk

4 tbsp. fresh mint, cut into thin ribbons

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Cut the top off the zucchinis. With a small spoon, carve out the the pulp of the zucchinis. Chop the pulp. Reserve both the pulp and the zucchinis and set aside.

3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the zucchinis and the tops and blanch until softened but still firm, about 5 minutes. Transfer the to a bowl of iced water to refresh, firm and help the vegetables keep their color.

4. In a small, heavy-duty frying pan, combine the onions, oil, and a pinch of salt. Sweat, covered, over low heat until soft and cooked through, about 5 minutes. The onions should not brown. Add the zucchini pulp and curry powder to taste and cook until softened, about 5 minutes more. Set aside. You may need to drain if there is a lot of liquid.

5. Mix the goat cheese with the cream in a bowl and stir until smooth. Add cream as needed to achieve a thick liquid consistency.

6. Place the zucchinis side by side in a large gratin dish. Spoon the curry mixture into the zucchinis, filling about 2/3 full. Sprinkle with half the mint. Spoon the cheese mixture over the curry mixture, filling all the way to the top. Sprinkle with the rest of the mint. Place the top on the zucchini.

7. Place in the center of the oven and bake until the zucchini are soft, about 15 minutes. (If you use oblong zucchini, I would cover with foil so they don’t dry out.) Serve warm or at room temperature.

I Made Them

July 23, 2008

I am new to the food blogging world. I’m not sure why it took me so long to catch on – I certainly love to eat food, love to cook food, and love to read about eating and cooking food. I really have no explanation but am continually amazed when I find people who have been blogging for three or four years. Where have I been?? Oh yeah, having children.

Anyway, as I read from various sites that I like (and there are always new ones to me), I notice certain trends that the food blogging world gets all excited about. One was the no-knead bread that seemingly every food blogger worth their salt made and wrote about. The original article was written about two years ago, so I am a little late to bring out my yeast and share my no-kneading experience with you. I will make it some day because I really can’t understand what all the fuss is about – I have a KitchenAid mixer that kneads dough for me.

The newest thing that people seem to be incredibly excited about is this recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I usually ignore recipes for chocolate chip cookies because they all claim that what is in this recipe will totally change how you feel about chocolate chip cookies. I wonder – what could possibly be improved upon from the Tollhouse recipe? Is the 2 tablespoons more /less brown sugar going to alter my life and curse the many years that I have been leaving out/adding in that 2 tablespoons? I just don’t think so.

This recipe, though, is pretty different. It calls for two different kinds of flour – neither of them all-purpose, and it also tells you to refrigerate the dough for at least 24 hours. It also doesn’t include nuts which really made me sit up and notice. I don’t like nuts in my cookies, but when I leave them out of the Tollhouse recipe – something just doesn’t taste right. And when I saw how much salt it calls for and the fact that you sprinkle sea salt on them before you bake them, well, I had to make them. I love salt.

The verdict? I don’t know. I’m such a tease. I am desperately trying to lose the last of my baby weight (can you call it baby weight when your baby is 18 months old?), so I didn’t try one. But Randy loved them and he says he doesn’t like chocolate (which is a lie.) My neighbors loved them and I’ll check with my clients. I was really impressed with how brown and lovely they looked when I took them out of the oven. Carmel-y. Yum. Yes, they were hard to resist. Why don’t you make a batch and let me know what you think?

Green Goddess, Indeed

July 17, 2008

Would you think I was weird if I told you I often crave salad? I do and no, I’m not weird. Not really anyway. We have some kind of salad 4-5 nights a week. Cooking for my clients has really improved my salad repetoire. Left to my own devices, we would probably eat the same one over and over with little variations. Greens, tomatoes, mushrooms, avacado are the must-haves; pea sprouts, chick peas, hearts of palm, and olives are the variables. But since I need to be more creative on food delivery days, I have really delved into my salad recipes and have probably made over 100 different ones in the last two years.

I find I most often crave salad after coming back from vacation. I know everyone eats less healthily when they are away from home, but I think it’s even more true for vegetarians. Unless you are traveling in large cities (and even then sometimes), your options in restaurants tend to be starch, starch, and more starch, and if there is a vegetable, it is covered in cheese or butter, or both. Even salads are so heavily dressed and rich that I find myself longing for my own little healthy and flavorful salad and a mass of steamed broccoli. If this sounds annoying, like I am healthier than thou, please know that if I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, it would be french fries. No question.

Last night I made a new salad that included a new dressing – Green Goddess. I have actually made Green Goddess before but always with prepared mayonnaise and this recipe had you make it from scratch. Sounds daunting I know, but all it really takes is a little patience and elbow grease. Want a good arm workout? Make your own mayonnaise! This was the base of the dressing. From there you blend a bunch of delicious herbs with some lemon juice, garlic, and grapeseed oil and mix it with the mayonnaise. What you get is a brilliant green, creamy, verdant dressing that is delicious with the salad, but would also be great on a sandwich or as a dip for vegetables. I didn’t try it with pre-made mayo, but I’m sure it would still be great. I also think you could easily substitute olive oil for the grapeseed.

While on the subject of salads, I thought I would also share one of my favorites – a Greek Salad. This is always delicious but especially so in the summer where the cold and crunch of it is so welcome. It is hearty enough for dinner – especially if you serve it with pita bread and an assortment of dips. Greek salad is one of the few things that I make where I don’t use a recipe and I encourage you to play around with it too. Love feta cheese? Add double amount I suggest. Don’t love feta cheese? Add less. You see where this is going. If I happen to have an extra red pepper around, I will throw that in, and sometimes I add romaine lettuce to the mix to make it more substantial. When I served this the other night, I made a vinaigrette with lots of oregano from my garden, but usually I just drizzle it with olive oil and either lemon or red wine vinegar. Don’t be tempted to use Balsamic here, it will discolor the salad.

Green Goddess Salad with Romaine, Cucumbers, and Avocado
Sunday Suppers at Lucques

Serves 6

This is the original recipe from the book. Notice that it calls for anchovies which I did not use to no ill effect. If you are a hairy fish eater, by all means -use them! I also used a large egg yolk and it was fine.

2 large heads romaine lettuce
1 extra-large egg yolk

1 cup grapeseed oil

1 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 cup packed watercress, cleaned, tough stems removed

2 tbsp. tarragon leaves

3 tbsp. minced chives, plus 2 tbsp. 1/2 inch snipped chives

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 salt-packed anchovies, rinsed, bones removed

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. champagne vinegar

2 large ripe avacados

3 Persian cucumbers or 1 hothouse cucumber

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the tough outer leaves of the romaine. Trim the root and core and separate the leaves. Tear the larger leaves in half. Clean by submerging in cold water. Spin dry, and chill in the refrigerator.

Place the egg yolk in a stainless steel bowl. Slowly pour 1/4 cup of the oil in the bowl, drop by drop, whisking all the time. Continue in this manner as the mixture thickens. Once the mayonnaise has emulsified, whisk in another 1/4 cup of oil in a slow steady stream.

Puree 1 cup parsley leaves, the watercress, tarragon, and minced chives in a blender with the garlic, anchovies, lemon juice, and remaining 1/2 cup oil.*

Whisk the herb puree, vinegar, 2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper into the mayonnaise. If the dressign seems too thick, thin it with a little water. Taste for balance and seasoning.

Cut each avacado in half lenghtwise, remove the pit, and peel. Slice into long wedges. Taste the cucumbers and peel and seed them if necessary. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise, and cut them on the diagonal into 1/4 inch thick slices. Season the avacado and cucumber generously with salt and pepper.

Place the romaine in a large salad bowl, and toss with 1 cup dressing, 1/4 tsp. salt, and some more black pepper. Gently toss in the avacado and cucumber. Arrange on a large chilled platter, and scatter the remaining 1/4 cup parsley leaves and the snipped chives over the top.

*I found it hard to get the herbs to puree in my blender with only the juice from the lemon. I added enough water to get it all going and then didn’t need to add water later.

Greek Salad
Serves 4

English cucumbers are the kind that are shrink-wrapped plastic. I like them because you don’t have to peel them or seed them and the color of the
peel is striking in this salad. If you can’t find them, use a regular cucumber and if you want to leave the peel on, just wash it well. Do seed it because otherwise the salad will be too watery.

1 English cucumber
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes

1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved

4 oz. good feta cheese, cut into small cubes, or crumbled

1 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano (optional)

Olive oil

Lemon juice or red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

Cut the cucumber in half and seed if necessary. Slice each half into three pieces and then cut cross-wise into 1 inch chunks. Place in a large bowl. Cut the tomatoes in half and add to the cucumbers along with the cheese and the oregano, if using. Mix gently, then add a generous drizzle of both the olive oil and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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