Saturday, September 22, 2007

"California" Fruited Tuna Salad: Amazingly low fat

At our Athens international deli and catering business we have a felicitous relationship with the Athens-Clarke County Health Department. Most food establishments cringe at the thought of the unannounced visit by the health department to inspect the cleanliness of the kitchen, temperature of the fridges and freezers, and proper food storage. (In the Army, in which I spent three somewhat amused years, kitchen and sanitary inspectors were called "ham sniffers".) Certainly our kitchen gets inspected, but it is by the Department of Agriculture (who do double duty) because much of our market is geared to commercial products from the outside. Where we interact with the health department is frequently catering their healthy-eating workshops and seminars.

They want low-salt, low-fat food that nonetheless has taste and pizazz. To make the point, I guess, that "bariatric" (I love that word) and hypertensive therapy doesn't have to be a culinary calvary. A dish we served them last Friday was a fruited tuna "salad" that is a variant of one I tasted with a good friend in Los Angeles last year. Albacore tuna broken into small chunks and seasoned with red onion, horseradish, celery, dried cranberries, wine vinegar, black and hot pepper, and freshly diced apple are dressed with yogurt (in the low fat version) or with a little mayonnaise and sour cream in the more standard version. For the health department we serve the tuna salad with Ry-Vita crisp bread or in hollowed out tomatoes or on romaine leaves. The standard version makes great sandwiches, which sell well at our deli.

Here is the tuna salad in both versions, low fat first. I use the regular quantity of salt in the recipe, but if you are making low-salt tuna, simply reduce the salt.

"California" Fruited Tuna Salad Tim

(serves four for appetizer or sandwiches)

Low fat version

2 (6-ounce) cans white (albacore) tuna in water, drained
2 tablespoons red or white onion, minced
2 tablespoons celery, minced
3 tablespoons dried cranberries or golden raisins, chopped
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish (not the creamed version)
1/2 of a medium-sized apple such as Granny, Fuji, or Gala, unpeeled, washed and wiped, cored, diced 1/4 inch
1 tablespoon wine or cider vinegar
3 squirts hot pepper sauce or a small pinch of cayenne
1/8 teaspoon (rounded) ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
1/4 cup plain whole-milk* or low-fat yogurt

Regular version

Identical to the low-fat version above, except:
In place of yogurt, use 2 tablespoons mayonnaise plus 2 tablespoons sour cream (I prefer the regular ingredients, but there are also low-fat or "lite" versions of them)

Optional accompaniments:

Grape tomatoes, if serving salad on a platter
Hollowed out tomatoes (lightly sprinkled inside with salt) for stuffing
Small leaves or half leaves of crisp romaine or bibb lettuce
Ry-Vita or other rye crisp bread or unsalted crackers
Bread or croissants for sandwiches (place several very thin slices of cucumber on each sandwich)

*Whole-milk yogurt in the quantity used adds very little fat compared to non-fat yogurt (the equivalent of 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil for this recipe, or about 10 calories per serving) but the taste of the yogurt is so good.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pad Thai Noodles: OK, Nabeel, this one's for you

A good friend, one of the guys whose example got me blogging, was back in Atlanta to visit last weekend. Since he is a frequent reader of my blog, and tries many of the recipes, I wanted to cook lunch for him and his friend Saturday. Thai rice noodles, kwei tiaow, in several different forms make a quick, lively and satisfying lunch -- as evidenced by the booming business done by the ubiquitous street vendors in Thai cities. With what I had on hand or could quickly buy I made Pad Thai noodles. (By the way, a different, and easier, Thai noodle dish is in my blog posting of 2/6/07.)

Kwei tiaow noodles, flat strips made from rice flour, are sold fresh in Thailand, and dried here -- and also fresh here if you are lucky, as we are in Atlanta. They are of southern Chinese ancestry, as are many urban Thai people including, no doubt, the earlier generations of sidewalk cooks. Noodle vendors with their portable, fiery single burner stoves and huge woks quickly whip up various concoctions fresh to order for the happy diner. Several of the well-known versions, like Kwei Tiaow Rad Nah and Kwei Tiaow Pad See Yu, are very Chinese, though with Thai touches. By contrast, Kwei Tiaow Pad Thai, literally rice noodles stir-fried in the Thai manner, while having similar origins, is much more Thai in its contents and flavoring systems, with that exuberant Thai clash of sweet-sour-garlic-hot pepper-fish sauce-cilantro, along with peanuts. It incorporates basically non-Chinese ingredients like palm sugar, tamarind or lime juice, and fish sauce. With the bits of meat (traditionally pork, but I generally use chicken), shrimp, tofu, and sometimes pickled vegetables, it seems amazingly complex. But in fact, with a little preparation it is not difficult to cook.

Several myths have crept in among Americans regarding Pad Thai. I've heard it described as Thailand's "national dish", which is quite erroneous. It is in fact a creation of the last 30 or 40 years. (My wife grew up in Bangkok and it was not part of her childhood.) Moreover, as great as it can be, it is street food. Classical Thai food is much more elegant. Pad Thai is often ordered in Thai-American restaurants as one of the dishes in a Thai dinner. In Thailand it is stand-alone snack or lunch food. With a few very special exceptions, noodle dishes are not part of the rice-based Thai dinner. Be that as it may, Pad Thai is still a delightful treat.

So back to Nabeel. I'm afraid I didn't do my best on his lunch. It was underseasoned to my taste, and left out the tofu and shrimp. I had not checked out the quantities and proportions I had previously recorded after much trial and error. But at least the flavors were fresh, and he and his friend enjoyed it. More to the point he tried to reproduce it today, boldly for six diners, and telephoned for a recipe. I gave him the general approach I use, and hope it turned out OK. But here for him and others who like Pad Thai is how I learned to make it. This is also how I have taught it in my Evening at Emory international cooking classes. It should "work" and reproduce a dish like you could enjoy in Thailand. I don't advise doing it for company the first time.

Pad Thai Noodles Tim

Serves 4 (maybe fewer, if they are male college students!)

1/2 pound (225 gm) dry flat rice noodles, 1/8 inch wide
2 eggs, beaten
12-16 fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails intact
1/3 pound (150 gm) raw chicken or pork, thinly sliced
1/2 of a (1-pound) cake of tofu, firm style, in 1-inch cubes
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 scallions, including most of the green part, diagonally sliced 1/2 inch long
5 tablespoons peanuts (dry roasted), crushed or chopped slightly
2 cups fresh bean sprouts, rinsed
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves
4 tablespoons lime juice
4 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (available in Asian groceries)
4 tablespoons brown sugar (or palm sugar if available)
1/2 teaspoon ground or crushed dry red pepper or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne plus 1/4 teaspoon paprika
3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil (not olive oil)
1 red chili pepper, seeds removed and shredded
Lime wedges plus several sprigs of cilantro (coriander) leaves for garnish

Break the noodles into 4-inch lengths. Soak in warm water 20 minutes or more, until softened, and drain. Beat the eggs in a small bowl. Prepare the other ingredients from shrimp through cilantro leaves and set out in separate piles on a platter before cooking. Mix the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and crushed red pepper or cayenne plus paprika in a small bowl. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan and gently stir-fry the garlic until golden. Add the chicken or pork. Increase the heat and fry until the color is almost changed. Add the shrimp and continue to stir-fry just until the shrimp turn bright pink. Add the tofu. Stir and fry 15 seconds. Add lime juice-sugar mixture, stirring briefly to dissolve.

Add the drained noodles and stir through the mixture 20-30 seconds (the noodles should start to become tender). Push noodles to one side in the pan. Add a little oil to the emptied part of the pan, and pour in the beaten eggs. As they set, gently scramble them, keeping them separate from the noodles. Place most of the bean sprouts and scallions plus half the peanuts and chopped cilantro on the noodles. Stir these and the scrambled eggs throughout the noodles. Taste a noodle, and add fish sauce or salt if needed.

Serve immediately on a large plate or platter, sprinkling on the remaining bean sprouts, peanuts, scallions, chopped cilantro leaf, and red pepper. Garnish with lime wedges plus several sprigs of cilantro. Diners should squeeze a little lime or lemon juice on their noodles.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chicken Pot Pie for a Student Apartment

Most of my recipes have some complexity. Well, maybe not counting the roasted beets (8/18/07) or the guacamole (5/16/07). But some situations require simpler recipes. I was inspired recently to develop one.

My friend Alex and his roommates now have an Emory apartment with a kitchen, and they plan to cook periodically. However, they have neither extensive kitchen equipment nor time. Nor fat budgets for that matter. Mindful of them and other facility-restricted friends, I tried for a tasty yet simply made chicken pot pie. This recipe will serve four generously.

No wine recommendations on this one, since it's a recipe for students. But pickles, especially bread-and-butter pickles, go well with it. By the way, I just made one recipe's worth of the dish, and the ingredients at Krogers cost under nine dollars. Plus I had cheese left over for something else.

Student Chicken Pot Pie Tim (for Alex and his friends)

1 pound ground chicken
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 (10.5-ounce) can Campbells golden mushroom soup, undiluted
1/2 cup water or milk
1/2 teaspoon oregano or Italian herbs
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 (10-ounce) box frozen peas or over half of a 1-pound bag
Juice from 1 small lemon or 1/2 large lemon
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, extra sharp preferred
1 (10-pack) package refrigerated uncooked Pillsbury biscuits, old fashioned buttermilk preferred

Set the oven at 350 degrees.

Over a medium high heat, heat a frying pan and add the oil. Fry the ground chicken, stirring frequently, and breaking it up, until the color has fully changed.

Stir in the soup (scraping out the can) plus 1/2 cup water (used to rinse out the can) and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the oregano, black pepper, and frozen peas. Stir, breaking up any clumps of peas, and heat just until they are thawed. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and cheese.

Transfer the mixture to a casserole dish or large pie pan. Open the biscuit container and arrange biscuits over the surface of the mixture.

Bake, uncovered, until the tops of the biscuits are dark golden and the filling is bubbling, 22 to 25 minutes.

Friday, September 07, 2007

I think I can do better: Roasted Salmon with Fruited Glaze

That evening, before I started this post, Christina and I went to our neighborhood "comfort" restaurant, the Flying Biscuit in nearby Candler Park. I had a dish I recalled enjoying a year or two ago, CocaCola-glazed salmon. It was good. But it was not great. The salmon was roasted excellently. The limitation was the marinade and glaze. It wasn't the Coke, which is a Georgian conceit and used fairly harmlessly in barbecues here (see my web log posting for Coke-Bourbon marinade on 10/15/2006 -- click on the October 2006 archives). The sauce also contained (by my taste) some Worcestershire sauce and ketchup and maybe a little chili powder -- or worse yet a pre-mixed barbecue sauce -- and was a little too sweet even for my taste.

Disappointment being the mother of invention, I vowed to do better. I liked the Flying Biscuit's idea of juicy roasted glazed salmon fillet over a bed of "wilted" (read, briefly stir-fried) spinach and coarsely mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, accompanied by a glass of rich white wine. After guinea-pigging it on some student friends, here's my effort at improving on the Flying Biscuit's salmon, with all due respects to that fine and creative restaurant. And while we're at it, I'm adding recipes for the wilted spinach and mashed potatoes.

In terms of wines with the original meal, we had both an Australian Vignonier (vee nyohn' yay) and a Napa Valley Chardonnay. The latter is a better fit for the richness of salmon, especially if the fish has some sweet accents, as the glazed one did. Chardonnays are not my favorite whites, generally, but they seem ideal for salmon. Vignonier is a semi-rich regional white wine from southwestern France that was "rediscovered" and faddish over the past decade or so. This was the first one I tried from Australia (I do not recall the maker), and it was underwhelming. Go for a rich-flavored California or Australian Chardonnay for this salmon.

Roasted Fruited Glazed Salmon Tim
(serves 4) (prepare the potatoes, and spinach, if used, before roasting the fish)

1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pounds salmon fillet (without skin), the freshest you can get

6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons apricot jam, put through a sieve
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Cut crosswise into four pieces. Mix the marinade ingredients well. Combine with the fish and allow to marinate at least half an hour, mixing occasionally. Or put everything into a zip-lock plastic bag and marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Heat oven to 500 degrees (and open the windows and switch off the smoke alarm). Place marinated fish on a cookie sheet (aluminum preferred), reserving any remaining marinade.

Roast the salmon in the upper part of the oven for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and paint with the remaining marinade. Return to the oven and roast 3 minutes, or until a sharp knife tip inserted into the thickest part of the fish and twisted shows that the fish has turned lightly opaque. Remove from the oven. Serve salmon over a bed of mashed potatoes and wilted spinach. Accompany with a simple lettuce or field greens salad.

Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes

1-1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1 medium-large clove garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup buttermilk (for more exciting potatoes) or milk

Wash but do not peel potatoes. Cut in 1-inch chunks. Boil with the garlic in salted water (1/2 teaspoon salt) to cover the potatoes, until quite tender when pierced with a tooth pick. Drain. Add the butter, horseradish, salt, and pepper. Mash well. Add the milk and mash further. Taste and add salt as needed. Keep warm until served.

Wilted Spinach

10 ounces washed spinach leaves (alternately use frozen, thawed before cooking)
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
Generous sprinkle of salt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Rinse fresh spinach leaves well then lift them out of the water to get off any sand, and discard tough stems and spoiled leaves. Let drain. Heat a large frying pan, add butter or oil, then spinach and a sprinkle of salt. Stir and fry spinach until it fully wilts. Remove from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice. Taste and add salt if needed.

Serving the Fish

On each of four plates, lay down a bed of 1/4 of the mashed potatoes. Cover with 1/4 of the spinach. Place a piece of roasted salmon on top. Garnish with several thin wedges of tomato and a sprig of parsley. Accompany by a simple salad, crusty bread if desired, and a cold white wine.