Great Food Fast: What to Eat When It’s too Hot to Cook

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More amazingly hot Indian summer weather in the Bay Area!  Having eaten out a lot recently, I woke up today feeling like I was suffering from a vegetable deficit.  Yet, in this heat, who really feels like cooking? Knowing that I needed to eat something fresh and healthy, my mind turned to a composed salad.  A “salade composée,” is something I used to make eons ago when I worked in a French restaurant. This kind of salad is a collection of little salads, each separate, rather than tossed together. The French love to eat them for lunch during the hot months.  It’s a useful concept, because it’s endlessly adaptable to whatever ingredients you have on hand or to whatever you feel like eating. Since I had very little on hand, I made up a challenge for myself: I’d go to Trader Joe’s and in only 15-20 minutes compose a menu and buy everything I needed. Actually, my ground rules were a bit more complicated than that. I knew I wanted a dark, leafy green, also a cruciferous vegetable, a vegetable protein, and a whole grain or a whole grain bread. I tell how I put together my “salade composée” after the jump… Continue reading

Great Food Fast: You’ll Be Eating This Baby Bok Choy Stir Fry in a New York Minute!

Baby Bok Choy stir fry with toasted sesame oil, garlic, mirin and soy sauce

“Eat your greens,” your mother says (or is it your conscience?). Here’s how to eat them pleasurably, in a neat little package. Baby Bok Choy is probably the mildest, tenderest, easiest-to-cook member of the cabbage family. Buy them from Asian vendors at your farmer’s market.  Look for little tender ones (3-4 inches long), with leaves bright green and intact. Trim the stem ends, cut heads in half the long way, and soak briefly in water (there’s often dirt trapped inside). Or if you get really small ones, leave them whole and wash very carefully.  Drain. Brief steaming and stir frying are my preferred cooking methods. After the jump, I take you step-by-step through a baby bok choy stir fry.

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Great Food Fast: Move Over BLT, Introducing the MBT, a New Classic Summer Sandwich

The new MBT sandwich (Miso-Tahini Paté, Basil, Tomato), recipe after the jump

While I love the idea of a BLT (the smoky, salty, sweet flavor combo is very alluring), I actually have no intention of eating one. Here’s what I eat instead: the MBT, toasted whole-grain bread spread thickly with richly flavored miso-tahini paté, over which I lay basil leaves topped with thin slices of perfectly ripe tomato sprinkled with a little salt and pepper and a tiny drizzle of olive oil. Perfection! In the photo, I’ve added grated carrots and cucumber slices, but in some ways I like the simplicity of the basic sandwich even better.  More detailed description of the sandwich and my recipe for miso-tahini paté (which you can make in about 15 minutes) are after the jump… Continue reading

Cooking Techniques: Tips for a Perfect Stir Fry Every Time

Teriyaki Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry

Stir frying would seem to be a quick and easy technique to master. And it is.  But for a really first rate stir fry, there are a few things to consider. First, select interesting, but compatible ingredients. Choose foods with a variety of textures, colors and shapes–cut vegetables into similar sizes, but use a variety of cutting styles. Second, freshness and quality of ingredients count for so much because stir frying is a technique which reveals, rather than hides. Third, the brilliance of this method is that it cooks quickly at high heat, thus searing in flavor. Cook over the highest heat you can manage.  And don’t over crowd the wok.  You want to quickly fry the ingredients, not simmer them. Two or three quick, small batches are much better than one, slow one. Fourth, sauce and seasonings should be assertive enough to bring the various elements together, but not so strong as to mask individual flavors–be cautious in adding strong seasonings. Fifth, timing is crucial. So, have all your vegetables cut and ingredients assembled before you begin stir frying.  Also, have the other parts of the meal ready to go, rice or noodles cooked, condiments assembled. And, have your friends and family nearby and ready to eat.  Other than that, it’s a breeze.  Once you feel comfortable with it, stir frying is a technique you will use successfully again and again. Here’s my outline for making a tofu and vegetable stir fry… Continue reading

Great Food Fast: Banh Mi, the Vietnamese Sandwich That’s Easy to Love

BBQ tofu banh mi, a vegetarian version of the classic Vietnamese sandwich

I know. I know. You probably don’t eat white bread very often either, but sometimes I confess to it being a guilty pleasure.  If you’ve never eaten one of these delightful sandwiches, you are in for a treat.  If you have, you know what I mean.  Most often they are made with pork or chicken, topped with lightly pickled sweet and tart vegetables–a wonderful balance of yin and yang. However, tofu as a filling is traditional as well.  If you can, mix up the vegetables a few hours ahead of time and let them marinate.  If you can’t wait, go ahead, make the sandwiches–they’ll still be good. And rest assured that this tasty filling will work on almost any kind of bread you choose.

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Produce Superstars: Long Beans Are Ready for Their Closeup

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It wasn’t very long ago when long beans showed up only on the menus of authentic Chinese restaurants or in  well-stocked Asian produce markets. Not so any more. Long beans, also known as Chinese long beans or long-podded cowpeas, are turning up more and more in Bay Area farmer’s markets, and in fact, are in season now.  These beans, usually 15-18 inches long, are a climbing annual vine widely grown and eaten in southern China and southeast Asia. Nutritionally, it’s hard to do better, containing as they do, protein, vitamins A and C, folate, magnesium and manganese. In the kitchen, you can treat them as you would green beans, although it seems to me they are a little firmer and do better with high-heat cooking methods. They stand up well to assertive seasonings such as ginger, garlic, toasted sesame oil, fermented black beans, chili, curry and soy sauce. My recipe for long beans with garlic, ginger and black bean sauce is after the jump.

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Great Food Fast: Niçoise Salad for a Leisurely Summertime Lunch

A salad Niçoise, of course, simply means a salad in the style of Nice, that French city whose culinary tradition owes more to its Greek and Roman heritage, to its Mediterranean port and climate and to its proximity to Italy than to classic French cooking. Traditionally, a Niçoise salad consists of fresh, seasonal vegetables, hard-cooked eggs, olives and anchovies or tuna with a vinaigrette dressing, accompanied by good bread. I served this full-meal salad to some friends for a leisurely Sunday afternoon lunch with thinly-sliced, seared ahi tuna on the side to top it all off. If you are organized and shop well, this can be put together with a minimum of fuss. Continue reading

Great Food Fast: Not Your Mother’s Spaghetti

Whole wheat or brown rice spaghetti with marinara sauce, tempeh and broccoli

This recipe is so easy and so obvious, I almost hesitate to post it because you likely have a similar one in your repertoire already. If you’re like me, sometimes you just have a craving for pasta with a tasty tomato sauce, so I decided to take the risk of sharing my version. You can compare it with your own and see which you like best. Once your pot of water is boiling, you’ll have this meal on the table in 15 minutes, and a complete meal it is: whole grain pasta, tempeh as a protein, a green, cruciferous vegetable. Complete and quick recipe follows… Continue reading

Great Food Fast: Shiitake Mushroom Broth with Tofu and Baby Bok Choy

Normally I’m an advocate of slow food.  I love to cook and think time in the kitchen is well spent.  But like you, there are times when I just need something good, and I need it now.  So, from time to time I’ll be featuring worthwhile and delicious dishes which can be put together quickly under the category: Great Food Fast. What do you like to cook that’s delicious and goes together quickly?  Let me know and I’ll feature it in this category.

For starters, here’s a light, yet rich tasting soup you can make in one pot in twenty minutes. It’s as welcome on cool spring and summer evenings as it is any time of year.  This does go together fast, so it’s best to gather and cut all your ingredients before beginning to cook. Serves 4 as a first course or two as a main course.  To make this a heartier soup, add 4 ounces of cooked udon, soba or rice noodles. Continue reading

101 Menu Ideas for Summertime Meals

Cool Soba Noodle Salad, One of 101 Summertime Menu Ideas

Sometimes the hardest part of putting a meal together is just coming up with an idea of what to cook. Last fall I posted 101 menu ideas for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, and now I’m doing a warm weather version.  There are ideas for soups, appetizers, salads, main dishes, side dishes and desserts. There are already recipes on this blog for a few of these suggestions (marked**). For others, I will, when I’m able, put up recipes for those most requested (leave a comment to let me know which items you’d  want a recipe for). Just to get us started, here’s a recipe for a Cool Soba Noodle Salad… Continue reading