Thursday, August 27, 2009

California Roll Salad

It all started with one avocado that I found at the store today.

I'd heard rumors of avocado sightings in Dushanbe, but this was the first time I'd spotted them. They were looking a bit past their prime but I took a chance on one, and I'm glad I did!

A while back I found this at the same grocery store. Sushi rice!

If you want the taste of sushi but don't want to go through the whole rolling ordeal, then this recipe from Gourmet magazine from about 15 years ago is perfect! Or, in my case, because I don't have any nori, this is a great way to get the same taste of a california roll but without the roll.

I rely on the backbone of this recipe - the rice and the dressing - and deviate a bit with the rest depending on what I have within arms reach.

First, cook 1 cup of sushi rice in 2 cups of water for about 15 - 20 minutes. Many recipes say sushi rice can't be done on the stovetop. That the rice must cook in a rice cooker. I beg to differ. It might not be perfect sushi rice, but it works for me.

While the rice is cooking, work on the vinegar/sugar combo for the cooked rice. I mixed 1/4 cup of cider vinegar with 1/4 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt and heat on the stove until the sugar dissolves.

As an aside: I had to substitute cider vinegar for the rice wine vinegar. However, I have a source for rice wine vinegar based in Bishkek, Kyrgystan! And as far as I know, my stash is here in Dushanbe waiting for the pick up! And so is the dealer, an old friend from Baku!

Once the rice and the vinegar mixture have had a chance to cool down a bit, mix the two, gently folding the rice so as to not break each grain.

Now shake some sesame seeds over the top, about 1 tablespoon.

Take your chopped and grated veggies - carrots, cucumber and scallions - and gently fold those into the rice as well.

Now, the whole reason you make this dish at all is for this - the wasabi dressing. It's ALL about wasabi, isn't it?

And then we are back to the inspiration for the dish. The beautiful, buttery avocado.

Dice the avocado. Add the dressing to the rice mixture, tossing gently. Add about 3/4 of the diced avocado, reserving the rest for garnish.

Gently toss one last time and serve with a few diced avocado and a final sprinkling of sesame seeds.

And when you are finished, write an ode to an avocado.

Monday, August 24, 2009

New Windows and the Afganka

It's getting crazy around here. In addition to it being two days before the First Day of School, we are installing five new windows today. And it's raining. Ok, it's really only a spittle, but it's rained only ONCE in two months until today.

And the Afganka have arrived. These are dusty winds that blow, I'm assuming, northwards from Afghanistan. The air is hazy with a sandy dust and there's certainly more wind than normal. Maybe it's a good thing it's raining on the day of the Afganka to help settle the dust before it invades our home. I chose to believe this. Because the other option is cleaning dust off of everything we own because we have five gaping holes in our house where the windows used to be.

The window company sent two "masters" to take the old windows out, take the bars off the windows, install the new windows and replace the bars. I've been assured countless times by my husband and another "master" that they can do this within one day.

We love the house we rent. Don't get me wrong. It has beautiful outdoor space with lots of green grass which is a rarity in Dushanbe. We have over twenty fruit trees. Over twenty rose bushes. But we also have eleven horrible windows. And when I write horrible, I mean, all kinds of horrible.

Yes, those are nails holding the panes of glass in place. Nails. There are smatterings of caulk, but nothing remotely close to efficient!

And considering that it will be unlikely that we'll have street gas to fuel the furnace as well as electricity this winter, we are doing our best to seal the house.

Yes, that's a crack in the girls' bedroom window. Probably from nailing the nails into the frame!

Here are the windows to be installed.

And the rooms that are cleared.

I'm begging for a boat load of patience right about now.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Scallion Pancakes

I'm finding my footing with doughs lately; bread, pizza and in this case chinese scallion pancakes. Having had a fear of making dough for the greater portion of my adult life, I'm now actively seeking recipes that start with flour and water. For those of you that are in the same boat as me, let me assure you, don't be intimidated. It's very easy, rewarding and fun.

Here's a recipe from Ming Tsai for scallion pancakes with a ginger dipping sauce that's not only delicious, but makes you feel like you added a notch on your cooking belt.

Here's what you need. Flour, water, scallions, sesame oil.

Sift the flour and then put it into your beloved food processor.

Then turn the machine on and slowly add the water through the feed tube until a ball forms. You might find that you do not need all of the water, or you might have to add a bit more.

Form a ball with the dough and cover it with a towel and let it hang for 30 minutes. Once it's thoroughly relaxed, roll the dough out into a large, thin rectangle.

Slowly stream 2 T of sesame oil onto the dough and spread it to cover the entire surface.

Sprinkle the scallions evenly over the dough.

And begin rolling the dough as if you were making cinnamon rolls, starting on the longer edge of your rectangle. Like so:

NOTE: I didn't flour the surface well enough so I helped to use my pastry scraper. Next time, I won't skimp on the flour.

Once you have your long skinny log, cut it into four equally sized pieces.

And here's the coolest part. Twist each length three times.

Then turn the end to meet, forming a circle. I'm sure there's a yoga name for this, like bending lotus position.

Repeat with the other three twisted dough logs.

When you are ready to cook these, heat your pan with a bit of oil in it. Take a disc and flatten it it with the palm of your hand and roll out with a rolling pin to a 5 - 6 inch circle. Brown on each side in the skillet until nicely crisped and golden.

Don't forget the make the dipping sauce! This is an excellent appetizer or side dish to any asian meal. In this case, it accompanied my thai lime basil pesto peanut noodles with chicken. Try saying that three times quickly!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

First Harvest

The windows are open. The air conditioners are off. The girls are actually playing outside during the day. The evenings are perfect. School starts next week. I can almost smell autumn in the air.

The last week has been about harvesting. Over the weekend I made a couple different pestos, one of which is here. With my first harvest of basil in July I made a traditional pesto with pine nuts. With the second harvest I used walnuts instead of pine nuts.

I harvested the first round of peppers from the garden - bananas.

And made me some pickled peppers!

I harvested all of the edamame this morning. And after doing so, I read that evening harvests are the best for flavor. However, considering that the six plants yielded a whopping 5.8 ounces, I don't think it's much of an issue!

Interestingly, all the pods are ready to harvest at the same time. Next year I know to do some successive planting -- and much more it!

I blanched the pods for one minute, followed by an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Once completely dry, I put them in a zippy bag and tossed them into the freezer.

Last week I also froze some chopped sweet red peppers for the winter.

Next up? More peppers to pickle, tomatoes to be put up and chutneys to be canned!

Monday, August 17, 2009

English Muffin from Scratch

Here's a recipe from that rivals Thomas' English Muffins. In fact, I'd say they far exceed the store bought variety. When you live half way around the world from an english muffin, you get very excited to find a recipe that results in a real english muffin.

I will say that I've had to play with the flour since I'm not sure what I'm buying. The recipe calls for high and low grade flour. I just always use whatever I have on hand.

You'll need: flour, milk, yeast, sugar, salt and cornmeal. Simple, no?

Mix the yeast and the sugar.

Then add half of the warmed water. After a few minutes, add the rest of the warm water and all of the warm milk.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour and the salt.

Then add the yeast mixture and mix until combined. In this case a hand mixer with the dough hook attachments.

The dough is VERY sticky.

Once it's mixed, cover it with a damp cloth.

Here's what I've discovered after making this recipe about a dozen times -- all with local flour. I like to let it rise for as long as possible in order to maximize the chances of getting real nooks and crannies. I made this batch mid-day and made the muffins the next morning.

Here's the dough after a 20 hour rise.

Pull the dough out onto your work surface. A dough scraper is indispensable here. It helps you manipulate the sticky dough and leaves your fingers fairly dough-free. I lie. My fingers looked like ten Pillsbury dough boys.

Cut the dough into eight equal pieces.

Put the cornmeal into a bowl and cover one side of the dough ball with cornmeal.

Flip and repeat with remaining dough balls.

You'll find that the cornmeal helps you shape the dough ball into a sort of flat disc. It's much more manageable at this point. If anyone makes these with high quality flour, I'd like to know if your dough is this wet and sticky.

Place the eight cornmeal-covered discs onto a baking sheet.

Now place a second cookie sheet over the muffins and let them rise for 20 minutes.

Preheat either a seasoned cast iron or non-stick pan to medium-low heat. Depending on the size of the pan, carefully transfer a few muffins. I find that if I scoot a spatula around each muffin to loosen it, the muffins will best retain their shape.

No pictures of the muffins cooking on the stove top. That's the dark side of my kitchen and the photos stank.

Cook the muffins about 10 minutes on each side until lightly browned and you should have these!
Split open with the tines of a fork, toast, if desired, and slather with your favorite topping. Or make your own egg muffin. Or make mini pizzas for dinner. Very, very, very good.