21 April 2013

Vietnamese-Inspired Noodle Soup

On Saturday we woke to a fresh layer of snow and good news of the second Boston marathon bombing suspect being captured...alive. What a relief that this saga has ended. My heart goes out to everyone affected and the pain, shock, and grief they are experiencing. But more uplifting is to witness the resilience and strength of the human spirit and how people have united to support and defend.

Our Saturday also ended on a high note, literally. We attended a live performance by a German pop singer named Annett Louisan. She has a unique musical style incorporating jazz, blues, soul, and swing. Here, here, and here are a few of her songs. Music, rhythm, and dance can transcend cultures and languages, so even though we could not understand much of the lyrics, we understood the emotion of the songs through the singer's universally-meaningful expressions and the rhythm of music. 

Another highlight of this past week was making this Vietnamese-inspired noodle soup. On two separate occasions I recently had Pho (Vietnamese noodles in a spicy broth) and a Vietnamese rice bowl, both having cooked and raw, sweet and sour components playing off of each other. These dishes, with an explosion of flavor in every bite, reminded me how enjoyable and intriguing Vietnamese street food is with their multiple layers of flavors and textures.

But I wasn't completely satisfied to only enjoy these dishes out. I wanted to know I could bring some of those flavor combinations and preparation techniques to my own kitchen but in an uncomplicated and accessible way. A way that would not require I stock an entire Asian pantry of hard-to-find ingredients and that I wouldn't feel daunted by complicated preparation. So this is what evolved; a chili and citrus-flavored broth topped with noodles, crunchy lime-spiked carrot salad, sweet and smoky barbecued tempeh (fermented soy) and a scattering of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, and a squeeze of lime.

It is a meal in a bowl, and it is absolutely a fork AND spoon kind of dish. I have to say it hits all the right notes. Yes there are several components:  noodles, broth, protein, raw salad. But that is what makes the dish so flavorful and dynamic. Plus several components can be made ahead, if desired. The important thing to note here is that substitutions are very easy and in fact I encourage them because there's bound to be variation in personal preferences and accessibility. Suggestions are mentioned in the recipe. 

Vietnamese-Inspired Noodle Soup
Serves 4-6

Notes: This makes great leftovers too. Store all components separately and assemble when ready to eat.

Red curry broth (recipe below)
Package brown rice noodles (or regular rice noodles, spaghetti, etc), cooked according to package directions
Raw carrot salad (recipe below)
Sweet & smoky tempeh (recipe below)
Toppings: bean sprouts, fresh cilantro & mint (chopped), toasted cashews, lime

Ladle broth in a wide, shallow bowl. Top with a portion of noodles, carrot salad, tempeh, and sprinkle around bean sprouts, herbs, cashews, and a squeeze of lime.

Red Curry Broth
Makes 9 cups
Notes: This can be made up to a day ahead. For easy cleanup, cool and store directly in the soup pot, then reheat the pot on the stove when you're ready to make the meal.

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup red curry paste (recipe below) or 1/4+ cup store bought
2 1/4 quarts/9 cups/2.1 liters liquid (combination of water and vegetable stock)
1 tsp. salt
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets and tender stem thinly sliced

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat and add red curry paste. If using store-bought curry paste, taste first to gauge level of spiciness and concentration of flavor, and start with 1/4 cup.  Cook paste in oil for a minute.

Add liquid, cover, and bring to a boil. Taste and add salt and/or more curry paste (if using store-bought), if needed. The broth should be a red hue and flavorful. Simmer, covered for 10 minutes. Add broccoli and simmer for 5 more minutes, covered.

Red Curry Paste
Makes ~1/2 cup

Notes: Store-bought paste such as Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste may be substituted, but you may need to adjust the amount needed for the broth depending on level of spiciness and concentration of flavor. Start with 1/4 cup and adjust from there.

8 dried mild Thai red chilies, de-stemmed and soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes
2 lemongrass stalks (or zest and juice of one lemon)
1 small red onion, quartered
Small bunch fresh cilantro (with tender stems)
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar/distilled vinegar)
1 tsp. natural cane sugar (or brown sugar)
2-3 Tbsp. water from soaking chilies

Prepare lemongrass, if using. Remove the hard root end and the green stem. You only want the white portion of the stalk. Make a shallow cut down the white stalk lengthwise and discard the outermost layer to expose the softer core. Coarsely chop the core to make easier work for the blender.

Remove chilies from soaking water, and add them along with the remaining ingredients to a small food processor, blender, or hand immersion blender. Blend until smooth, adding a touch more of the soaking water if it is too thick to blend.

Raw Carrot Salad
Makes 2 cups

Notes: Buy pre-shredded vegetables to save time.
This can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator. However, if using cucumber store separately and drain away any excess water that may have accumulated in the bowl before combining with the salad.

Juice from 1 juicy lime
1 tsp. maple syrup (or natural cane sugar/brown sugar)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Pinch of salt
1 cup carrots, shredded
1 cup celeriac, shredded (or English cucumber cut in short matchsticks/shredded daikon radish/shredded jicama)

In the bottom of a medium bowl mix together lime juice, syrup, olive oil, and salt. Add remaining ingredients and toss to combine.

Sweet & Smokey Tempeh
(adapted from My New Roots)

Notes: You can substitute other sources of protein such as tofu or chicken, but note that baking times will vary.

1 package tempeh 7oz. / 200g
1 Tbsp. tamari (or soy sauce)
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar (or white wine/distilled vinegar)
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. grapeseed oil (or olive oil)

Preheat oven to 375F/190C

Slice tempeh into slabs or rounds, depending on its shape.

Add the remaining ingredients to a shallow oven-proof dish and whisk to combine. Add tempeh to the liquid, gently turning to coat all sides.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, turning tempeh over half way through, until it begins to caramelize and most marinade is absorbed.

14 April 2013

Roasted Broccoli and Spelt Salad with Smoky Cilantro Chutney

Today is the first day I can really say it feels like spring. We have been waiting a long time for it, but I don't feel bitter that it's taken so long. I would not appreciate the sun, clear skies,  fresh air, longer days, and the buzz of activity on the streets as much if I had not had the chance to miss it. 

That is why I love living with four distinct seasons. They each bring their own charm and a welcome change in lifestyle routines. My body and mind tell me what they need, and skin care, exercise, and cooking routines are adjusted. The weather is still fickle at this point, but soon, once warmer spring days really set in, I know I will be craving lighter, cooler dishes to mirror the fresh air and balance the warmth outside.

I am anticipating getting my hands on some local asparagus soon, but in the meantime, I haven't quite been able to let go of roasting vegetables and making warmly-spiced dishes. This substantial and flavorful roasted broccoli salad with smoky chutney is one of those dishes. The chutney is smoky from paprika and cumin, a little spicy (though you can control the heat by limiting the amount of chili), and sharp and verdant from the lemon and fresh herbs. The broccoli is mixed with the chutney and roasted before being added to the salad. Spelt is tossed with a sweet and tangy vinaigrette which balances out the smoky chutney-roasted broccoli. 

This salad is best served immediately. Leftovers are good, but you'll want to stir in more chutney or vinaigrette after reheating because the grains soak up the liquid.


Spelt, also known as dinkel in Europe, cooks up to be chewy and nutty in flavor. It is a cousin to wheat and isn't suitable for those with a gluten-intolerance, but many people with a wheat sensitivity are able to tolerate spelt.

If you don't love spelt or cannot find it, you can substitute any grain here: quinoa, barley, brown or black rice, etc. 

Roasted Broccoli & Spelt Salad with Smoky Cilantro Chutney
Serves 6-8 as a side

Notes: If spelt isn't your thing you can substitute any  grain such as quinoa, barley, brown or black rice, etc.

1 1/4 cup spelt (soaked overnight/8-12 hours)
1 large head broccoli (~ 1 pound or 1/2 kilo)
Smoky cilantro chutney (recipe below)
Green olive and apricot vinaigrette  (recipe below)
1/2 cup slivered or flaked almonds, toasted
Feta, to taste

Preheat oven to 425° F/218° C

Drain and rinse spelt. In a medium saucepan bring water to a boil, add spelt, and boil uncovered for 25-30 minutes, or until tender. While the spelt cooks prepare the green olive and apricot vinaigrette in the bottom of a large bowl (recipe below). Drain the spelt and immediately stir it into the vinaigrette.

Prepare the broccoli. Cut into small florets and thinly slice the tender part of the stem. In a medium bowl, toss the broccoli with half of the smoky cilantro chutney (recipe below).

Roast chutney-coated broccoli on a large baking sheet (lined with aluminum foil for easier clean-up) for 10-12 minutes, just until tender.

Add broccoli, crumbled feta, and almonds to spelt and gently stir to combine. Taste and add more chutney, if desired.

Serve immediately.

Smoky Cilantro Chutney
Handful fresh mint
Handful fresh cilantro 
1 red chili (1/2 if you'd prefer less spice or few pinches of red pepper flakes)
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1 wedge preserved lemon (1 tsp. chopped), or juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp. honey
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1-2 Tbsp. water
Pinch of salt

Blend all ingredients in a small food processor until smooth.

Green Olive and Apricot Vinaigrette

2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup green olives, quartered lengthwise
12 dried apricots, thinly sliced
Juice from 1 1/2 lemons
1 tsp. apricot jam (or honey)
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
Pepper, to taste

Add all ingredients to the bottom of a large bowl, and mix well to combine. 

07 April 2013

Green Lemonade

During my trip to the US I visited the juice bar at Whole Foods several times. The bar offers a set menu of mixed fruit and vegetable juices, but they also allow you to build your own, all juiced-to-order. I built my own a few times. It felt like a science project; I asked for a combination of probably too many fruits and vegetables at once and eagerly awaited the result. It was fun, and the juice was acceptable if not a little muddled in flavor!

But then I tried a juice called Green Lemonade from the set menu, and decided that was the way to go. Those juice mixologists know what they're doing, and the lesson I was reminded of was the simpler the better. It was made of apple, lemon, kale, and spinach. I loved it so much that I wanted to make a version at home and share the results with you. The addition of cucumber gives a crisp, refreshing boost to the juice and the parsley adds a subtle playfulness to the background. Sadly, kale isn't available here most of the year, so I only use spinach.

Hopefully this lightened-up breakfast drink will encourage spring to make a showing here very soon!

If you do not have a juicer you could use a blender to make a smoothie instead. But you will need to adjust the proportions and add 1/4- 1/2 cup of water when blending. I would suggest cutting back on the amount of apple and spinach. Start off with only 1 apple, cut in chunks, and 1 - 1 1/2 handfuls of spinach. Blend the apple with some of the water first, then add the remaining ingredients and adjust from there.

Green Lemonade
Makes 1 large glass or 2 small glasses (1 1/2 cups/12 oz)

2 medium, firm apples (8 oz. of juice)
3 big handfuls spinach + small handful/half bunch parsley (4 oz of juice)
2 inch piece English cucumber (3.5 oz of juice)
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Juice apples, spinach, parsley, and cucumber. Add lemon juice to the other juices, stir to combine, and serve immediately.

01 April 2013

Sweet Potato, Chickpea and Apricot Tagine

We recently took a trip to Morocco to celebrate my husband's 30th birthday. Morocco is a very special place, and we just touched the surface by exploring Marrakesh and the Berber villages in the surrounding Atlas mountains. The experience was a positive sensory overload; there was an explosion of vibrancy everywhere we turned. The souks (street markets in the old, walled city) were buzzing with vendors selling spices, pottery, jewelry, rugs, and produce for what they all promised was a very special price just for us. We stepped off the busy streets into calm, welcoming riads (Moroccan-style B&Bs) and restaurants impeccably decorated with original tiled walls, large area rugs, art, and pottery all in the most beautifully rich bronze, orange, yellow, and blue hues. And when it came to the food, well it wasn't hard to feel inspired by one of my favorite cuisines. We were generously offered a smorgasbord of Moroccan delights;  lentil soup, couscous platters, slow-cooked tagines, smoky eggplant dips, olives, and refreshingly cold vegetable dishes spiced with cardamom or mint and lemon.

I hope to share with you several inspired recipes from these meals, but I first must share one of my favorites and probably one of the most well-known Moroccan dishes, the tagine. Tagines are nothing more than a slow-cooked meet or vegetable stew. The name actually refers to the dish in which the stew is cooked: a clay pot with a dome-shaped lid that effectively traps heat and circulates it, allowing the stew to steam to perfection. It is served right in the clay pot with bread and sometimes caramelized onions with raisins on the side. I don't use a tagine pot at home. They are fun but not necessary to achieve a flavorful Moroccan-style stew.

I've been making versions of tagines over the years because I really enjoy the ease and rusticity of a one-pot meal, and I am in love with the balance of sweet and savory achieved in the dish; the warmth and smokiness from cumin, cinnamon, and harissa play off the citrus, sweet dried apricots, and briny olives added at the end. If I had one complaint about an authentic vegetable tagine though is that the vegetables are overcooked and limp. Here I try to cook the tagine long enough for the flavors to really develop but not too long so that it becomes mush. For this reason I add the zucchini in during the second half of the cooking time.

The caramelized onions and raisins were served alongside to top our tagines and couscous dishes in Morocco. It was an unexpected but fun addition and yet another layer of flavor. I've included the recipe as well in case it piques your interest. With or without it though, the tagine is delicious. Serve the tagine over quinoa or couscous in shallow bowls, top with nuts and fresh herbs, and you will have some very happy diners. 

Vegetable Tagine
Serves 6-8

Notes: If you do not have ras el hanout see Moroccan tomato sauce recipe  for suggestions on spice substitutions.

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
Spice blend (below)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced
2 tsp. harissa (if very spicy, start with 1 tsp.)
4 carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced in large bite size pieces
1 tsp. each salt & pepper
1 15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 large preserved lemon, finely chopped  (or zest and juice from 1 large lemon)
1 small cinnamon stick
4 cups/1 qt./32 oz. vegetable stock
10 dried apricots, quartered
1 zucchini, quartered and cut in bite size pieces

Spice Blend
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. cumin
3 tsp. ras el hanout
1/2 tsp. paprika

To finish
Few handfuls good quality large green olives, halved (~12 olives)
Half a bunch each fresh cilantro and mint, chopped
1/2 cup toasted pistachios and/or almond slivers
Squeeze of lemon (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and spice blend. Let sweat out for several minutes, until spices are fragrant and onions begin to soften. Add garlic and ginger and cook for a minute. Then add harissa and next 7 ingredients (through vegetable stock). Stir to combine, cover with lid and lower heat to simmer for 20 minutes. Taste broth for seasoning and adjust if necessary, then add apricots and zucchini and simmer, covered, for 20 more minutes.

Add olives just before serving and sprinkle with fresh herbs, nuts, and a squeeze of lemon juice if desired.

Serve over cooked quinoa or couscous and top with caramelized onions.

Caramelized Onions with Raisins 
Adapted from The Wimpy Vegetarian

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium to large onions
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. salt & pepper
1 tsp. honey
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add all ingredients except for honey and balsamic vinegar and cook for 25 minutes or until onions are soft and caramelized, stirring frequently. Add honey and balsamic vinegar, and cook for 5 more minutes. Serve alongside tagine.