Friday, February 26, 2010

Keepers of the Flame

A couple of weeks ago, Katherine and I spent an afternoon pasting hexagonal post-it notes on a large conference room wall at her office in San Francisco. On each hexagon (see examples in the photo) we wrote the name of a recipe or a story that has appeared on my blog since the middle of May. It was quite an impressive collection. We sorted the recipes by appetizer, soup, main dish, etc. and the stories by a more complicated system. Our purpose was threefold: to see what I had done in these last nine months, to look for any holes which I might want to fill in the next stretch of time, and to ponder the question of how to turn this blog into cookbook. We didn't get very far on this last issue except to determine that I still want to create a cookbook.

Here are the stats on what’s appeared: 7 appetizers, 4 soups, 23 main dishes, 18 salads, 7 salad dressings, 6 grains/starches, 10 vegetables sides, 5 relishes, 6 desserts, and 8 baked goods. The main dishes broke down as follows: 4 chicken, 1 beef, 3 ground meats, 3 pork, 2 shrimp, 7 vegetarian, and 3 pasta. No fish. So starting today with three nice warming winter soups, I’ll be filling in some of the missing pieces.

But something more important bubbled to the surface that afternoon.
“Keepers” for me has always referred to the fishing term. Keepers are the fish you keep to eat. Everything else gets returned to the pond. The recipes I give you are the ones I love the most. Recipes worth keeping.
But there is another meaning as well.

Those of us who cook regularly, who buy produce and raw meat, who chop and sauté, who dish out steaming bowls of home-made soup are “keepers” of a cooking tradition. Not unlike Ancient Rome’s Vestal Virgins who tended the sacred flame of Vesta, the goddess of hearth and home, and prepared food for rituals necessary for the health and well-being of Rome, we cooks, male and female, moms and dads, standing at our stoves, are keepers of the flame. Sitting with our loved-ones at a table over a home-cooked meal, we too tend to the health and well-being of our friends, our families and ourselves.

In my darkest moments, I worry that we keepers of the hearth may cease to exist. After one or two more generations of families with no one cooking in the kitchen (will houses cease to have kitchens?) and with the food industry doing everything it can to process our food for us and pumping it full of cheap ingredients that make us fat or fatter, what is the future for the home-cooked meal, made from real ingredients that nourish and sustain? Who will teach the next generation how to cook? Who will teach them the difference between a tomato and a potato?

This morning, I watched the TED speech of Jamie Oliver, a celebrated British chef, who won this year’s TED prize ($100,000 and the help of everyone in the TED audience to accomplish his goal) and who, at 34, wants to change how people eat in Great Britain and now here. His acceptance speech is tough, challenging and inspiring. His wish is to form a strong sustainable movement to educate every child about food, to inspire families to cook again, and to empower people everywhere to fight obesity.
We who are the current keepers of the flame need to find a way to join him, to find each other, and to make sure that all the recipes we love, our “keepers,” get passed along to the next generation. Our future depends on it. Are you with me?

Jane's Bacon and Lentil Soup

¾ cup small red lentils
1 bay leaf
4 cups stock or water
10-12 slices thick smoked bacon (10-12 ounces uncooked), cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces
1 small onion, finely diced
1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
You can add some fennel and some red and yellow pepper, chopped, if you have them on hand
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 large beefsteak tomato or comparable smaller ones, peeled, cored, seeded, saving the juice and adding it to the soup. See instructions below.
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint, plus more for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
1 green onion, both white and green parts, thinly sliced
Sour cream or crème fraiche, optional

1. In a medium saucepan, stir together the lentils, bay leaf, and stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are soft, about 20 minutes. They will change from an orange color to a muddy yellow—do not be alarmed.
2. In a soup pot, cook the bacon pieces over low to medium heat, turn as needed to brown but not crisp. Remove from the pan, leaving the bacon fat. If there is a large amount of bacon fat, you might want to pour some of it into a container to save for another use. Leave 1-2 tablespoons in the pot.
3. Add the onions to the soup pot and sauté over medium heat until tender and starting to brown, about 8-10 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes, the cooked lentil mixture, ¾ of the bacon (save some for a garnish), the oregano, cumin, and mint and stir until mixed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Adjust seasonings to suit you.
5. Ladle into bowls. Garnish each serving with the sliced green onion, bacon and sour cream, if desired.

Great served with lemon cornbread, on October 16, 2009 blog.

To peel a tomato: Drop the tomato into boiling water for 10-15 seconds depending on how ripe it is. Remove, slit the skin and peel it off. Remove the core. Slice in half around the equator. Place a small sieve over a bowl or pitcher. With your finger, remove as many of the seeds as you can into the sieve, allowing the liquid which comes out with them to drain into the bowl. It is, to my mind, precious tomato juice.

4-5 servings
Adapted from Sara Perry’s Everything Tastes Better with Bacon

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

2 tablespoons butter
2 large carrots, peeled, sliced
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons curry powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne or smoky hot paprika
1 or 2 butternut squash (2 pounds in all), peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon salt
5 cups apple juice, preferably organic and unfiltered
1 cup heavy cream or combination of heavy cream and milk
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the butter in a soup pot over medium-high heat until melted. Add the carrots, onion and garlic; mix well. Sauté for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
2. Stir in the fresh ginger, curry powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne. Cook for 1 minute.
3. Stir in the squash, salt, and apple juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or until the squash is tender.
4. Process the soup in batches in a food processor or blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot, adding additional apple juice if needed for desired consistency.
5. Stir in the heavy cream. Cook until heated through, stirring occasionally. Do not let it boil. Add more salt or seasonings if necessary. Ladle into soup bowls. Drizzle with additional cream if desired. Sprinkle with cilantro.
If you want a bit more protein, fry up some bacon or pancetta, cut in ½-inch pieces. Add some to each bowl of soup.

8 servings
Adapted from The Toledo Museum of Art Aides’ Art Fare: A Commemorative Celebration of Art and Food

Cream of Tomato Soup

This may be one of the easiest soups in the world and one of the few places where spaghetti sauce in a jar works beautifully.

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1 large onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 cup red wine
1 48-ounce jar good-quality, non-meat spaghetti sauce
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juices
½ cup finely chopped fresh basil or 2 tablespoons dried
2 cups half and half
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the butter in a soup pot. Add the garlic and onions and sauté until they are golden.
2. Pour in the red wine and simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Add the spaghetti sauce, tomatoes, and half of the fresh or dried basil; simmer very slowly uncovered for 1 hour.
4. Add the half and half and the heavy cream; continue to simmer over low heat for a few more minutes. Do not let the soup boil. Add the dried basil, salt and pepper to taste.
5. Ladle into soup bowls, sprinkle with the fresh basil, and serve immediately.

10 servings
Adapted from Joan Nathan’s The New American Cooking

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuesday Pancakes

Remember my children’s “Oh, Mom, not again,” upon hearing that cheese soufflé was on the dinner menu? (November 25, 2009 blog) Tuesday Pancakes was an entirely different story. Their response was most often “Yippee!” Maybe it was the strangeness and allure of having breakfast for dinner. Maybe it was the way the fat and batter puffed up magically in the hot oven. Maybe it was the powdered sugar and jam accompaniments. I don’t know, but the enthusiasm was genuine.

A few months ago, my former husband was clearing out some papers from his house in Chapel Hill and ran across some of my old cooking notes, recipe clippings, and a 1976 kids’ cookbook by The Youth Publications of The Saturday Evening Post called Holiday Cookbook. He bundled them up and shipped them to me in California. Flipping through the splattered and raggedy cookbook, I spotted the recipe for Tuesday Pancakes. I thanked him for sending me the box and told him of my discovery. He responded, “Could I have a copy of it?” Franz and Ben (the children, now 38 and 35) echoed his response, with smiles and a far-away look in their eyes, clearly remembering the wonder and the taste of them.

The page from the cookbook reveals that the Tuesday refers to Shrove Tuesday. I must admit that when I was making Tuesday Pancakes for my family back in the 80s, I didn’t pay the slightest attention to that fact. For me it was simply an easy way to feed my family and could have just as easily been called Monday Pancakes or Wednesday Pancakes.

Now that I am a member of First Congregational Church of Berkeley (FCCB), I have considerably more insight into Shrove Tuesday. It is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. It is also known as Marti Gras or, in translation, Fat Tuesday. FCCB hosts an annual pancake supper. Pancakes became the custom on Fat Tuesday because they use fat, sugar, and eggs, three luxuries which one might give up for Lent. A blowout dinner in which you stuff yourself with the soon-to-be-forbidden foodstuffs seems entirely appropriate the night before you begin your fast. The celebrating at the FCCB includes, besides the supper, a parade with adults and kids around the room and then outside to bury the Alleluia banner which is dug up on Easter. For Lent, no one is allowed to say “Alleluia.” There is no Lenten rule at FCCB about fat, sugar, and eggs, I’m relieved to say.

Below you’ll find the recipe for Tuesday Pancakes which the Kunst family ate without paying one bit of attention to the liturgical calendar. They can be eaten any day of the year but on Tuesday, February 16, 2010, you will have the chance to celebrate Shrove Tuesday with pancakes and with whatever kind of carrying-on you desire. And who’s to stop you from trying them on February 18 or 20?

Tuesday Pancakes

You can have this pancake on the table in 30 minutes.

3 tablespoons butter
½ cup flour
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup sifted powdered sugar
Lemon juice, optional
Orange marmalade or other preserves, optional

1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Beat together the flour, milk, salt, nutmeg, and eggs. Don’t worry about the lumps.
3. Melt butter in a 10-inch oven-proof skillet.
4. Pour the mixture into the very hot skillet.
5. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until the pancake has puffed up.
6. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar. Serve immediately before the pancake deflates.
7. At the table, encourage your table mates to squeeze lemon over the top and/or spread with marmalade or other preserves, if desired.

Makes 1 pancake. It will serve more than 1, but less than 3.
For 3 people, make 2 pancakes. Double the recipe and use two pans or skillets. Can bake at the same time.
For 4 people, make 3 pancakes. Triple the recipe and use two pans or skillets. Bake in two batches.
Adapted from Youth Publications/The Saturday Evening Post Company’s Holiday Cookbook. Text by Peg Rogers.

The photo shows Blueberry Preserves. Just excellent.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Two Special Birthday Dinners

January 24, 2010 was an evening that required an especially nice dinner. Katherine, my partner of twenty years, was born on January 25, 1955 and was turning 55 this year. We had invited her cousin and his wife, our dear friends Trip and Rivka, to join us for dinner.

I wanted to fix something special that would warm us up from head to toe. I chose the following: spare ribs in a delicious wine-ladened sauce cooked in the oven for hours in one of my favorite Bram pots. Wasabi mashed potatoes which are so good it is hard not to poke your finger into the serving bowl for one more bite. Caramelized carrot salad which I made ahead and served at room temperature. A salad course of beautiful greens enriched with slices of avocado and my Papaya Seed Dressing. Home-made Apple Crisp for dessert, although a Persimmon Pudding or a Lemon Mousse would do just as nicely. We drank a gorgeous 2007 Bourgueil Avis de Vin Fort from Catherine et Pierre Breton. You can find the recipes for three of these dishes below.

The dinner party was a big success, Katherine loved the food and felt properly celebrated. As we were walking a few days later and talking more about the party, I remembered a special birthday dinner that my mom fixed for me sometime in the 1950s, perhaps in 1955 (I would have been 12), and was struck by how similar it was to the one I had prepared for Katherine. Is there a place in our brains where we store “Special Birthday Dinners”?

Here is what my mom cooked at my request: a pot roast simmered in a large oval enamel pan in the oven with peeled potatoes and carrots. The potatoes were browned and the outside developed a skin which would ever-so-slightly resist my teeth’s efforts to get to the creamy inside. The carrots were so orange, soft and delicious, it was hard to believe that they were the same vegetable she tucked in my school lunches. When the meat had cooked until it was falling apart into succulent shreds, she would remove everything but the juices from the pan. She’d mix up a combination of water and flour in a small metal container with a lid which she would shake up and down vigorously until the mixture was well-blended. She stirred the flour mixture into the juices and simmered them until they thickened into gravy. There may have been a salad, most likely iceberg lettuce, carrots, celery perhaps, and Italian bottled dressing. I don’t remember the dessert but it could have been a boxed yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I loved this dinner, especially the meat, potatoes, and gravy. Look in a 1950s edition of Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book for a close approximation. It was a real birthday treat.

She was cooking her dinner for me in Toledo, Ohio in the 50s and was influenced by middle class habits and customs of that time and by availability of ingredients. It was expected that she would cook; it was her responsibility. Within that context, she made cooking decisions based on her resources, the time she had to spend in the kitchen, and her desire to please her family. Let me give you a couple of examples:
1. My family never cooked with wine; she would have added water, not wine or stock, to her pot roast.  Nor did they drink wine on a regular basis. Hard liquor before and coffee with dinner. That was their custom. Wine was an extravagance.
2. When it came to salad greens, she had one choice. Iceberg lettuce.
3. Bottled salad dressings seemed to us to be a great improvement over everyone having to eat the same one.  They also saved time in a period when efficiency was highly valued.
4. Box cakes were fashionable in the 50s and stayed that way well into the time I was learning to cook. Because dessert was pretty much a nightly requirement, boxed cakes, instant puddings, and the like were seen as very helpful.

That I prefer wine to coffee with dinner, love the variety of the greens, make my own salad dressings and most of our desserts is the result of my living in the Bay area in this particular moment where great ingredients are readily available and the desire to eat healthy food is shared with a large swath of the community. I choose to spend time in the kitchen because I love to cook. Unlike my mom, efficiency doesn't matter all that much to me and thankfully, desserts are not an everyday necessity.

Finally, I imagine my mom and me standing side by side in a kitchen, straddling the span of time that separates us, each fixing birthday dinners. We share so many of the same values. We are both willing to spend time and effort in the kitchen. We both want the food to look beautiful on the plate. We both want the food to be cooked with an abundance of love. And most of all, we both want the dinner to be delicious and special for our birthday girls. Thanks, Mom.

Katherine's Birthday Dinner

Braised Short Ribs

6 beef short ribs (about 3½-5 pounds) cut in half (best to have your butcher do it)
3 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
4 shallots or ½ red onion, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick
5 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons flour
¼ cup ruby port
3½ cups full-bodied red wine
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
6 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 ribbons of orange or tangerine peel, optional
Parsley, coarsely chopped

1. Season the short ribs with 2 teaspoons of salt and the 2 teaspoons pepper. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan, over high heat until it is close to smoking. Brown the short ribs well on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the ribs and set aside. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the fat.
2. Lower the heat to medium, and add the carrots, onion, shallots, and garlic to the pan. Sauté for 5 minutes, until the onion is soft and light brown. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Add the flour and stir well to combine. Add the port, red wine, celery, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf. Raise the heat to high and cook until the liquid is reduced by a third, about 20 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 325ºF while the wine is reducing.
4. Return the ribs to the pan, along with any accumulated juices. Add the stock and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt. The stock should barely cover the ribs. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for 2 to 3 hours. (My 5 pounds took about 2½ hours.) Visit the pot occasionally to stir the ribs. They’re done when the meat is fork tender and falling off the bone.
5. Remove the bones and gelatinous material (scissors work well) from the ribs and transfer the meat to a bowl or plate. Skim any fat from the surface of the sauce. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a second bowl. Press on the vegetables to release as much liquid as you can. Discard or compost the solids. Return the sauce to the pan.
6. Over medium heat, bring the sauce to a strong simmer. Add the cinnamon and orange peel, if desired. Check the consistency of the sauce. If it is like thick cream, you don’t need to do anything except warm it for a few minutes. If it is thin like skim milk, cook it over high heat until it thickens up a bit. If it is too thick, add a little more stock or wine and simmer gently to heat.
7. Return the ribs to the pan and simmer for 10 minutes to reheat. Remove the orange peel. Transfer to a warm serving platter or shallow bowl. Garnish with parsley and serve.

6 servings
Adapted from Keith McNally, Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson’s The Balthazar Cookbook

Wasabi Mashed Potatoes

3 pounds white potatoes
2 tablespoons butter, cubed
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1½ cups half-and-half
1 tablespoon wasabi paste (more if you want)
½ cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste (remember that potatoes take a lot of salt)

1. Scrub, peel and cut the potatoes into large chunks. As you cut them up, put them in a bowl of water to keep them from changing color.
2. Drain the cut-up potatoes, place them in a 4-quart pan, and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Check their doneness by sticking a knife into the fattest chunk. If it goes right through without reaching a hard place, the potatoes are done. Try not to overcook.
3. Drain well and squeeze through a potato ricer into a bowl if you wish or just put them in a bowl.
4. Warm the butter and half-and-half in the microwave. Add the garlic and begin to mash; add the warmed butter and milk, continuing to mash until the mixture is as smooth as you like it. If you need more half-and-half, warm it first. Add the wasabi, salt, and chopped parsley. Serve warm in a warmed bowl.

You can make this slightly ahead of time. Reheat gently in a pan on the top of the stove or in the microwave. Sometimes you need to add a bit more warm half-and-half if the potatoes stiffen up while waiting.

6 or more servings
Adapted from The Junior League of Honolulu, Inc.’s Aloha Days Hula Nights

Caramelized Carrot Salad

½ cup pine nuts
3 pounds carrots, peeled
1 teaspoon sugar, optional
¾ cup olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced preserved lemon peel or zest from 1 lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves

1. Heat the oven to 400ºF.
2. Spread the pine nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Watch them carefully; they burn so easily. Transfer the nuts to a plate and set aside to cool.
3. Slice the carrots into thin ovals or rounds by hand or using a food processor.
4. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add about half of the carrots to the pan and allow them to caramelize and brown, stirring only occasionally. This should take 10 to 15 minutes.
5. Transfer the carrots to a medium bowl and season with salt and half the sugar, if desired. Repeat the process with the remaining carrots.
6. Mix together the shallot and the lemon juice and set aside to macerate for 10 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and slowly pour in 6 tablespoons olive oil, whisking constantly until the dressing is well combined.
7. Add the pine nuts, preserved lemon peel or zest, parsley, and mint to the carrot bowl. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

4-6 servings
Adapted from Jim Denevan’s Outstanding in the Field

Everyday Green Salad with Papaya Seed Dressing
The salad from my September 8, 2009 blog.
Just add avocado.
The dressing on my January 30, 2010 blog.

Apple Almond Crisp
From my October 30, 2009 blog.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Thanks for two photos

I want to thank Amy Albert for the wonderful new photo of me to the left of this entry. I was ladling out Posole the evening before Thanksgiving. Posole, a southwestern soup made with pork and hominy, couldn't be more different from the feast that awaited us the next day. And it was perfect.

I also want to thank Lot Schurin whose photo of the old house in Vietnam I used below. I found it on the web and thought that it was the right image, imagining as I did the cooking that was going on in that house as she took the photo and the smells that might have been coming from the pot on the fire.

Images of Vietnam

This is the time of year when my thoughts turn to travel. Perhaps it’s the fact that the Bay area has been drenched with rain in January and tells us to expect seven to ten days of showers this week and next. Moss is growing on sidewalks, my lemons are turning brown and soft on my trees, gutters are so full of debris they threaten to detach themselves from my garage. Some people turn to their seed catalogs for respite; I turn to my travel guides and cookbooks. On my list of places I would like to visit, Vietnam is working its way toward the top. Not this year. Perhaps not even next. But soon.

Most of us who came of age in the 1960s first became acquainted with Vietnam because of the war. We recall my then Governor Ronald Reagan’s October 10,1965 statement in the Fresno Bee, “It’s silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it and still be home by Christmas.” Vietnam, the culture and the people, dismissed with a swat of the hand. The images of the war which went on way past Christmas, are seared in our minds, a horrifying reminder of the harm we are capable of inflicting on each other.

It wasn’t until 1994 when a friend at Duke University gave me Pico Iyer’s Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World, that a different image of Vietnam started to emerge. Written in 1993, there is no doubt that the scenes Iyer paints in his chapter on Vietnam, “Yesterday Once More,” are now very much out of date. But never mind. Hue, the “reticent capital of old Vietnam,” captured my fancy then and has held on to it all these years later. He writes of Hue’s “gracious reserve and faded glamour,” of “students on their bicycles [who] carried themselves like ancient porcelain,” of “watching the famous local beauties, flowerlike, in their traditional ao dais, pedaling, with queenly serenity, across the Perfume River, long hair falling to their waists and pink parasols held up against the sun…” Beautiful and calming images of people living normal lives.

Having recently re-read this chapter, I must say that my enthusiasm for traveling to Hue and also to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and the countryside is as strong as ever. I’m readying myself to see the sights, old and new; to eat French bread, a carry-over from the time of French colonialism; to visit the markets and to slurp up the fish sauce. Ah, the fish sauce.

Iyer says “The only preparation you need to make if you plan to visit Vietnam is to sweep your mind clear of all preconceptions.” True for all travel but particularly true for a place where the strong images we have stored in our minds can prevail over the reality in front of us. I would add that you also need to get the taste of Vietnam in your mouth, in your body, in your spirit. Armed with my two Vietnamese cookbooks, I am ready.

A Taste of Vietnam with a Touch of Thai

If you are new to Vietnamese/Thai food, I suggest that you start with the soup. It makes a gorgeous simple dinner with the addition of a salad. And it takes no time at all to fix. The Shrimp and Black Rice Salad is also a great dinner to which you can add a simple salad. But there is a little more fuss to it. The Cauliflower with Garlic and Pepper can be a vegetable side dish with any dinner, Vietnamese or not. We had it with cracked crab and it was delicious.

Thai Chicken Coconut Soup

I made this for my daughter-in-law when she was healing from surgery. I think that it hastened her recovery.

1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 14-ounce can chicken broth
6 quarter-sized slices fresh ginger
1 stalk lemongrass, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, sliced thinly
7 ounces tofu, sliced, optional
1-3 cups sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons Thai chili paste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopper fresh cilantro

1. In a medium saucepan, mix together the coconut milk, broth, ginger and lemongrass. Bring to a boil over high heat.
2. Add the chicken, optional tofu, mushrooms, lime juice, and fish sauce, salt, sugar and chili paste. Reduce heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked. Check for salt, adding if necessary. Remove the lemongrass pieces as best you can.
3. Pour into bowls and garnish with basil and cilantro.

You can make a vegetarian version by substituting 7-14 ounces of tofu for the chicken, vegetable broth for the chicken broth, and soy sauce for the fish sauce.

4 servings
Adapted from Jiranooch Shapiro’s version in December 2008 Sunset Magazine

Shrimp and Black Rice Salad with Vietnamese Vinaigrette
I was eating some leftovers of this dish on a plane ride from SFO to NYC. A friend, who was seated across the aisle from me, leaned over and said “Watch out. There are lots of people on this plane who would do anything for a bite of your lunch.” I think that included my friend.

For the Vietnamese dipping sauce/vinaigrette:
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 red or green jalapeno or serano fresh pepper, seeded and minced
1½-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoon lime juice (about 1 lime)
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the salad:
1 cup black rice
Note: The brand I get at the supermarket is Lotus Foods A World of Rice Forbidden Rice: The Emperor’s Exclusive Grain Imported from China
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled
Juice of ½ lemon

1. To make the sauce, mix all the ingredients together.
2. Cook the rice by bringing 1 2/3 cup water to a boil, add the rice, and cook for 40-45 minutes. You can also follow the instructions on the package.
3. Poach the peeled shrimp in simmering water to which you have added the juice of ½ lemon.
4. Let both the rice and the shrimp cool somewhat. Place the rice is a shallow serving bowl. Stir some of the sauce into the rice. Arrange the shrimp on top and spoon more sauce onto them. Serve at the table with additional sauce in a bowl on the side.

2-3 dinner servings
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer

Cauliflower with Garlic and Pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 head of cauliflower, broken into small florets
2 tablespoons fish sauce
6-8 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 green onions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
2 tablespoons coarsely shopped fresh cilantro, dill or mint

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cauliflower to the pan and cook for 1 minute, toss well, exposing all sides to the hot pan. Once the cauliflower is nicely browned, add the garlic and stir well to combine.
2. Add the fish sauce, water, sugar, pepper, and green onions to the pan. Cook, tossing often until the cauliflower is tender, but not mushy, about 5 or more minutes.
3. Just before serving, stir in the fresh herbs, transfer to a shallow serving bowl and serve hot or warm.

4 servings
Adapted from Nancie McDermott’s Quick and Easy Vietnamese