Breakaway Cook

Turmeric Chips

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I’d never really thought about slicing up fresh turmeric root, which seems to be increasingly available in lots of markets these days, and frying it up til crispy, until I tasted one of Jehanghir Mehta’s brilliant creations on Iron Chef. They are beyond delightful just sprinkled on top of just about anything. The taste is milder than you’d expect, with distinct earthy and savory tones.  I’ve been floating them on soups, tossing them in salads, on top of fish, and even just snacking on them. I like to fry them in a combo of walnut oil and butter, topped off with plenty of good sea salt and black pepper. My next assignment: turmeric tofu!

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Spicy Green Papaya Salad, Breakaway Style

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Green papaya remains mysterious to many of us. Why would anyone eat unripe fruit? Won’t it be astringent, bitter, and cause stomach aches or worse?

With some fruits all of that might be true, but for papaya, no. Is there a difference between green papaya and regular papaya? No — green is just unripe; it turns yellow, and sweet, after a while. But seriously, why eat unripe papaya? Because it has a fantastic, slithery, snappy texture, and tends to absorb whatever flavors you toss at it. It seems especially at home with citrus and chiles, which is what I’ll describe below.

But before describing how it was made, a word about prepping the papaya. Choose a firm, young-looking one; it shouldn’t look tired and old (which, alas, seems to be a common way of presenting them, at least at many of the Chinese markets around that routinely stock them). First, peel it with a vegetable peeler. Then slice it lengthwise and, using a spoon, scrape away the seeds. Slice each half again lengthwise, and proceed to shred the fruit via your favorite method. I find that a cheese grater works well, but I’m just as likely to begin slicing like mad with a sharp knife. You want thin strips, as in the photo above.

If it’s a young, lithe papaya, the seeds will be white-ish. If it’s middle aged or older, the seeds will be black, and the flesh will be slightly more yellow than its younger brethren. We can still happily eat an older one, it just won’t have the snappy texture of its youth. The always-informative Andrea Nguyen has an excellent little primer on green papaya here. She says that the slimy slippery dewy enzymes (papain) that the fruit gives off when prepping it make for a great exfoliant/facial, so you can give that a shot as you practice your knife skills in prepping the rest of the salad.

There is one extra somewhat fussy step you must do before proceeding to build the salad though.  Place the shredded papaya in a colander, and liberally sprinkle with kosher salt (Andrea and Vietnamese culinary tradition call for sugar here as well,  but I omit it). Let it sit for a few minutes, as you would salted eggplant, to draw out as much moisture as possible. Though it sounds counterintuitive, rinse the papaya with running water to rinse the salt away, transfer it to a clean tea towel, bunch up the corners, and squeeze the hell out of it. You want to wring as much moisture out as you can, so that the fruit will absorb, sponge-like, whatever flavors we’d like to inject into it.

Transfer the papaya to a bowl, and fluff it up a bit with your fingers to liberate it from the dense squeezy shape of the towel. Then add the following and gently mix with your hands:

  • several limes, zest plus juice
  • drizzle of oil (I like using walnut oil)
  • drizzle of agave nectar, or your preferred sweetener
  • handful of sliced radishes (I’ve used watermelon radish here, but any radish will do)
  • jalapeno, de-seeded and de-veined, then sliced thinly
  • habanero, manzano, or other fruity insanely spicy chile, de-seeded and de-veined and sliced thinly
  • small piece of sweet bell pepper, any color, julienned
  • at least a cup of mixed herbs — try Thai basil, mint, and parsley
  • pickled ginger, chopped
  • chopped nuts on top for extra crunch — I like pecans here
  • edible flowers, just to make it pretty (pansies are used above)

This salad should be SPICY. In that sense it’s probably more like a som tom (Thai spicy green papaya salad) than a Vietnamese one. Supergreat in hot weather.

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Insane Spicy Beer Nuts

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I’m a nut man. I don’t think I’ve ever met a nut I didn’t like (yes, Delia will concur that I have a rather large number of eccentric friends).

But sometimes you just gotta go beyond reaching into the bag and munching.

My fast-growing kaffir lime tree prompted me to trim it back it a bit, so I had a pile of leaves sitting on the counter, with a bag or roasted almonds next to them. Hmm. I wondered what it would taste like if we combined them, along with some olive oil from garlic confit, a little dried habanero for some kick, and a handful of almonds tossed into the processor for texture, and then roasted for 15 minutes?

The answer: they turn into CRACK!

Top with kaffir lime salt.

Beer of choice: icy cold IPA. Oh my, this is a good combination.

This will probably work with other nuts too. Just follow the formula: kaffir + garlic oil + dried chile + nut of choice. And report back, please!

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Late Summer Udon — Cool, Easy, Perfect

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We’re having a mini heatwave again. You’ve got to love a climate (northern CA) that gets its best weather in mid to late September! When it gets this hot,  I immediately think of cool, slippery, chewy udon, the thick wheat noodle from Japan that can be enjoyed both hot (usually in a dashi-based broth) or cold (read on).

I’ve found that dried udon, cooked like pasta, is far superior to the frozen udon sold in bags at Japanese markets.  Cooking udon until al dente, draining, and then rinsing under cold running water produces a clean, slightly chewy noodle that takes beautifully to light, vibrant sauces. Imagine fresh figs mixed with fruity green olive oil in the blender; that pesto-like sauce is then gently tossed with the cool udon and topped with good salt and pepper. You could do the same with plums, apricots, pluots, nectarines, or any other summer fruit. It’s the coolness of the fruit and olive oil against the cool noodles that makes it so refreshing.

Another favorite is a sauce made from plenty of herbs,  lemon (Meyer lemons work especially well here) and young ginger to really wake it up. Combine about a cup of mint, a cup of fresh coriander, a teaspoon of diced fresh young ginger, the juice and zest of a lemon, some olive oil, and perhaps a little yogurt to ensure that the blender can do its job. The dish is so light and vibrant, it almost floats away! The entire dish, start to finish, should take no longer than 15 minutes.

Can you imagine any other combinations for udon? Try some, and report back here!

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Hot Summer Salad — Cauliflower "Rice"

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Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that flummox people. Everyone I know seems to have some negative associations with childhood memories of brutally overcooked (i.e. overboiled) florets, yet, when presented with an actual tasty cauliflower dish, everyone likes it! The simplest way to cook cauliflower well is, I think, to spray it liberally with olive oil/sea salt/black pepper and roast in a hot (425) oven till it turns golden brown.

But that can get old, too. So here’s another way I really enjoy eating cauliflower.  The idea is to chop it up finely, so finely that it resembles rice, and then to imagine it as rice! This simple little summer dish hits all the right buttons for me: healthy, spicy, fruity, creamy, crunchy, all in one! Here’s what went in it:

  • one large head cauliflower, trimmed, stemmed, and diced
  • 1 small torpedo (or other) onion, chopped
  • 1 manzano (or other) chile, deseeded and chopped
  • handful of  “shishito” (or other) peppers
  • 2 fresh plums, chopped
  • handful of semi-dried tomatoes
  • slices of avocado

Anyone else have any favorite ways to prepare cauliflower?

And PS — I think I’ve got gremlins in my email subscription server, to quote Karena. Sigh. I apologize to all who’ve received repeat posts, and will do my best to fix this annoying problem.

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Breakaway Huevos Rancheros

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Another classic foraging lunch. I had some leftover spicy carrots, cooked spinach, salsa verde, and GREAT flame-toasted thick tortillas from my local Mexican grocer. A habanero got sliced up and tossed in. A poached egg in the middle, topped with lots of black pepper and kaffir lime salt, was the coup de grace.

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Vegetable Stock, Breakaway Style

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Thanks to all for the delicious comments on  the Iron Chef / Battle Coconut episode.  It’s been great fun — I think the episode repeats throughout this week and into next, check it out if you can! If you google Morimoto Mehta you should get links near the top for your local listing.

I’ve been making quite a few stocks recently, despite the heat. Sometimes you just have to, because you run out!

My freezer is currently bulging with stocks of all kinds. My preferred method of freezing them: pour into quart freezer bags/ziplocks (write on them first — it’s impossible when they’re already filled). I then just pull one out randomly, let it thaw, pour into a glass bottle, and keep in the fridge for whenever I need a liquid flavor blast. It’s very nice to have stock on hand — I seem to always need flavorful liquid, whether it’s for a quick soup, deglazing a pan, making rice, or a million other uses.

My current favorite is the following vegetable stock:

  • persian lime
  • galangal
  • small pasilla (chile), seeds removed first
  • onion
  • carrot
  • oregano
  • coriander seeds
  • red lentils
  • s&p

The photo above  doesn’t really represent ideal quantities used; I would use more carrot and onion, for sure.

Saute all in a little butter, and a good drizzle (say a quarter-cup) of water. Cover, and let cook down a bit for about 10 minutes — this seems to concentrate the flavors. Add at least three quarts of cold water, turn the heat up to max, and bring to a boil.  Turn it down to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, for about 90 minutes, longer if you have time and want deeper flavors/more concentrated stock.You can also save time by doing this in a pressure cooker for about 30 or 40 minutes on medium pressure.

Strain and discard the solids. If the resulting stock tastes bitter to you — the pasilla adds distinctly bitter notes; they’re deliciously bitter to me, but not to everyone — simply add a small amount of sweetener (agave works well) and/or thin it out with some water.

You can obviously omit anything, and add anything! But this particular one delivers a spicy, pungent, and earthy punch. The lentils give it a bare hint of creaminess,  the lime/galangal/coriander toss off their pungencies, and the pasilla gives it an earthy depth. Rice made with it is sublime, and I like to use it for light vegetable braises. It’s a nice, all around, go-to alternative to water or other cooking liquid. I’m betting it would be good for cooking pasta using the method of “disappearing liquid”: Pasta is cooked in  a liquid, usually wine but sometimes wine/stock combinations, that gets used up entirely during the cooking process, and the pasta often takes on the color of the liquid. It’s pretty much exactly like cooking risotto, except it’s pasta, not rice!

Do we have any regular veg stock users out there? What do you use it for?

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