Breakaway Cook

Pumpkin Curry With Galangal and Fresh Turmeric

pumpkin curry625

I  picked up a 20-pound French pumpkin (they’re called cinderella pumpkins, photo here) at the farmers market a few weeks back, and it was time to deal with it. Man does a 20-pound pumpkin contain a lot of meat! After roasting the entire thing in sections, on four baking sheets, we had a boatload of tasty roasted pumpkin. Pureed some and froze, ate some as a side dish with chopped herbs, gave some away, and … made a beautiful pumpkin curry out of the rest.

Had metric quantities of young ginger, fresh turmeric, and galangal leftover from last week’s video sessions (more on these to come), so those got added to the pot, along with a huge onion, chopped apple, a few carrots, and the usual curry suspects: freshly ground coriander, cardamom, star anise, and curry powder, all sauteed in ghee (also from last week’s video on making ghee).  What a nice smelling house this combo produces! To that I added a can of diced tomatoes, about three cups of pureed pumpkin, and, toward the end, about 1/2 cup of coconut milk.  It is THE mid-autumn food. Served with rice and pickles (daikon and persimmon — that pickle got a video, too!).

Made at least a gallon, half of which I’ll freeze. Going into a slight “fill up the freezer” mode, in prep for the arrival of our new family member! Baby daughter arrives in about three weeks, yikes!!

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Watermelon Radish GORP

watermelon radish gorp625

Remember Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts? The classic trail food. There’s something very satisfying about the crunchy-chewy combo of nuts and raisins. Delia was keeping a bowlful of almonds, walnuts, and raisins around as snack food, and I had a few watermelon radishes out, waiting for inspiration, when it dawned on me that these would actually be great together, bound by a simple vinaigrette. A lightning-fast salad that is as fun to eat as it is beautiful to look at.  A real energy boost as well.

  • watermelon radish, cut into one-inch batons, or whatever size turns you on
  • handful of raisins, currants, and/or dried elderberries (I love these — they’re like intense little blueberries)
  • nuts toasted in a dry cast iron pan.  I used whole roasted almonds, walnut pieces, and pecan halves
  • simple vinaigrette of good olive oil, fruity vinegar (like blood orange, pickled ginger, lemongrass, pear, or something similar)

Combine and enjoy!

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Yuzu Kale Crack

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One of my favorite ways to eat kale, and lots of it. Just separate the leaves from the backbone, toss with a drizzle of olive oil, add a teaspoon or two of yuzu juice, and place on a baking sheet (I usually use a silpat over the baking sheet for really easy cleanup, but you could also use parchment paper).  Bake at 350-ish for about 5 minutes. Using tongs, flip each piece over and bake for another 5 minutes or so, or until they start to get brownish and ultracrispy. Don’t overcook — it will turn bitter. Better to undercook a tad than to overcook, so watch them carefully. They’ll continue to crisp up once out of the oven, too.

Last step: salt! I like using yuzu salt, if you can find pieces of dried yuzu peel in your Japanese/Asian market. Otherwise, tangerine salt, or any citrus salt. Likewise, if you can’t find yuzu juice, any citrus juice will do, but meyer lemons mixed with a tiny amount of grapefruit juice makes a fine substitute. You could also give this dish a Mexican-ish spin by using Mexican (key) limes, a pinch of chipotle powder, and maybe some chipotle salt. Perfect party starter, movie snack, or just fuel as you cook other things!

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Eggplant Parmesan, Redux

eggplant parm625

Couldn’t resist some gorgeous rosa bianca eggplants I saw at the farmers’ market the other day. My standard eggplant dish sautes chunks of eggplant with ginger, fish sauce, and mint, but I was thinking something more casserole-ish for our little rain spell.

I ate quite a bit of bad eggplant parmesan as a kid. Remember the red-soaked supergooey version? Is there any other? There has to be! And if not, well, let’s make one.

The basic idea behind eggplant parm is to first salt some sliced eggplant to draw out excess moisture, then fry them in batches, then layer them into a baking dish along with layers of  parm, and tomato sauce. It seemed like it would take too long to fry the slices in batches, so I just loaded up two baking sheets with silpats, rubbed the eggplant with olive oil, and dusted them with a combo of shiitake dust (pulverized dried shiitake) and flour, and baked in a hot oven until they browned a bit, about 15 minutes per side.

While they cooked, I made a quick sauce with about six cups of chopped fresh tomatoes and garlic confit and reduced it to about a third its original volume. Also had on hand plenty of fresh oregano from the garden, green onions, and two beautiful persimmons, my first of the season! So when the eggplant was done, I got out the Chamba and layered as follows:

  • layer of sauce
  • eggplant
  • parm
  • thinly sliced raw zucchini
  • green onions
  • eggplant
  • oregano
  • persimmon wheels
  • sauce
  • parm
  • eggplant
  • fresh tomato on top
  • parm

Nothing red and gloppy about it! It bursts with umami.  Topped with lavender salt and plenty of black pepper. The rosa bianca eggplants are really nice — they’re creamy, and have far fewer seeds than the standard eggplant. Ask the farmer to show you how to identify male and female eggplants — you want the males, because they have fewer seeds. I got a lesson, but she was pretty unclear about it. Does anyone know how to definitively do it? And: any other favorite eggplant dishes? We’re late in the season, I know, but I’m eating as many as I can before it shuts down altogether!

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Spicy, Floaty Zucchini Bread

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We’re at the end of summer squash season, but I couldn’t help but snap up a big bag of beautiful yellow and green zucchini at the market yesterday with the thought of making a big loaf of light, superspiced zucchini bread.

Anyone who’s ever planted zucchini knows that it likes to grow, grow, and grow some more, until you have so much zucchini that you can’t give it all away. One of my favorite zucchini stories is from my friend Victoria, who told me that you have to be careful in some parts of Canada during peak zucchini season: if you happen to leave your car unlocked, it’s not unusual to find a box of zucchini on the back seat!

Zucchini bread is the classic answer to that problem, since it typically takes anywhere from two to five cups of shredded zukes for a loaf. I like some zucchini breads, but I find most of them to be very heavy, so I’ve been trying to create a lighter version that’s not as sweet as the usual ones, and maximally jazzed up with some Indian-inspired spices.

I think I finally hit it. It’s made in a cast-iron pan with LOTS of grated zukes (six cups) and a combo of turmeric, cardamom, ginger, and ancho.  It’s so light it almost floats! And it has a nice tang, with a great range of colors. It’s especially good toasted, with a hot cup of chai.

As most of you reading this know, I don’t normally provide full recipes, in the belief that it’s much more useful to think about the procedure and thoughts that go into making good food than a simple instruction sheet with exact measurements. But baking, of course, is different: it’s pretty much impossible to say “baking soda, to taste,” for example. So here it is, in full cookbook style glory.  Hope you like it!

  • 6 cups grated zucchini ( a food processor is a nice tool to accomplish this, but a sturdy cheese grater works well too), plus some kosher salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
  • 3 tablespoons powdered ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ancho powder
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup cane sugar or light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
  • ½ cup (1 stick) melted butter

1. Place a large, well-seasoned 3-quart pan, ideally made of cast-iron, with high sides (aka a “chicken fryer”), or earthenware/claypot into the oven and preheat to 350.

2. Spread the grated zukes on a baking sheet, salt them liberally with kosher salt, and set aside for about 10 minutes while you do the next steps.

3. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, turmeric, ginger, ancho, cardamom, and salt, and mix. Set aside.

4. In a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the eggs on high speed for about a minute (you can also use a stand mixer, if you prefer), and add the sugar. Beat thoroughly for another 30 seconds or so. Add the vanilla, and beat a little more. Add the butter and beat still more, for another 20 seconds.

5. Gather the salted zukes into a ball and squeeze as much water as you can out of them. Really get lots of moisture out – the more, the better.

6. Add the zukes to the eggs and mix gently with a rubber spatula. Add the flour mixture to thoroughly incorporate, but don’t overmix. Spoon into the pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Remove and let cool for a bit on a rack.

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The Breakaway Vegetarian Burger

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Stuart over at Toque Blanche recently requested that I take a shot at a vegetarian burger. I’m not fan of attempting to make foods look like other foods, especially where meat is concerned, but, since I’ve never had a veggie burger that I’ve actually liked, I thought it might be fun to give it a try. The problem with most fake burgers isn’t really taste — I’ve had some homemade ones that tasted pretty good — it’s texture. They’re always kinda mushy and overprocessed, or something. So my biggest challenge right off the bat was getting a texture that really felt like ground beef, and all its crumbly, juicy glory.

As usual in my kitchen, I didn’t set out with a fixed idea. I had some leftover brown rice in the fridge, and some leftover cooked red beets. That seemed like a promising beginning, since it would give it a crazy color (good), be crazy healthy (good), and would cost just pennies. It would of course require large does of umami to taste good, so I had to think about that, too. That’s why I always have a jar of pulverized shiitake dust sitting around. Sauteed onions are almost always a good thing too, so they would be part of it. I think I had the taste aspect pretty down, but I was worried about texture.

It turned out that the following four ingredients, in equal proportions and diced very finely, gave me the just the crumbly meaty texture I was after:

  • cooked red beet
  • cooked brown rice
  • sauteed onion
  • TJ’s English muffin bread (though I’m betting almost any bread would work), soaked in the juice of one meyer lemon

To that I added one egg, a handful of chopped fresh oregano, a tablespoon of shiitake dust, and a tablespoon of flour. I then stuffed a half-cup measuring cup full of the mixture to shape it, and toasted both sides in a hot cast iron pan. It held together beautifully, and tasted great — such a nice change from a regular beef burger! The bun was the same TJ bread, lightly toasted, served with mustard and chutney, with a side of pickled ginger and pickled carrots.

Some of you know this, but I’m hard at work on a vegetarian cookbook, which I hope to finish by spring. Lots more on that to come! In the meantime, if anyone has specific requests that they’d like to see given a breakaway treatment, please let me know. Also: would love feedback on the title. For now it’s The Breakaway Vegetarian Cook: An Umami-Intensive Journey Into Vegetables.

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Got a Great Breakaway Idea? Guest Posts Welcome!

Microsoft Word - schemata3color.doc

When I first started writing about cooking with Japanese ingredients in unorthodox yet simple and delicious ways, way back in the 90s in Japan, I knew that I couldn’t be the ONLY person interested in cooking this way. I knew that using global ingredients to breathe fresh life into simple dishes we already know how to cook — eggs, salads, rice dishes, simply prepared fish and meat dishes, pasta, etc. — was fun, nourishing, liberating, healthy, and even life-changing — because our steady stream of really happy guests confirmed it. Busy people who grew up eating “ethnic” cooking in restaurants were especially open to simple combinations of great produce/meats/fish with “ethnic” flavors like miso, tamarind, lemongrass, umeboshi, etc., with recurring starring roles from ace ingredients like Greek yogurt, pickled ginger, flavored salts, fresh herbs in large quantities, good oils, etc. Sometimes in my cooking classes I hand out the above schemata just to give the whole idea a slightly more visual flavor.

I’ve been encouraged by all the comments, emails, and feedback I get from readers. It’s kind of a cool little tribe we have here, and I’m grateful to the entire breakaway community.

My idea du jour: I’d love to open up this space to anyone who’d like to contribute a short essay and photo on some aspect of breakaway cooking. If you’ve got a killer breakaway dish, idea, or even experience that you think the community would enjoy, just let me know. I will of course continue to do most of the writing, but the parachuting of our baby daughter into the world sometime around November 21 means, perforce, that I’ll have a lot less time on my hands! Lots more on that development later!

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Sayonara Gourmet, Baka Yarou Chris Kimball

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By now everyone is probably tired of hearing about the demise of Gourmet magazine. I don’t really have much of an opinion on it, other to say it never appealed to me in the first place; I found it tame, full of the commonest of notions on culinary wisdom, full of travel stories of places that, if I did manage to visit there, my visit would have zero in common with whatever unaffordable direction they inevitably took it. I’m actually amazed it lasted as long as it did, with their custom of sending teams of stylists, photographers, writers, and editors for extended assignments in every nook of the globe.

What prompts me to say something about it is the execrable op-ed in today’s NY Times by Christopher Kimball on the demise of Gourmet. Kimball, the publisher Cook’s Illustrated and bow-tied caricature of a Vermont marm-pedant, somehow imagines that food writers on the internet, including bloggers “without the need for credentials or paid membership,” to be responsible for Conde Nast pulling the plug on Gourmet. Internet scribes, according to Kimball, have not only mortally wounded the fine writers at Gourmet, they have dumbed down ALL food writing.

He is the Gatekeeper, the Scribe, who is not at all happy about the direction food writing has taken.  Kimball loathes the everyman, the noncredentialed, those not in the Club, where standards for membership are awfully rigorous. Quite remarkably, he even speaks laudably of those with “good breeding.” Yikes! Incredible as it sounds, he seems to imagine the food writing world as a sort of culinary Princeton or Harvard,  of several generations ago, where only the “right” students — the patricians — could even hope for membership.

I was prepared to just write off the op-ed as a jumbled muddle of incoherence and move on to something more interesting, but Kimball had to bring Julia Child, through supertortured logic, into his fold:

“Julia Child, one of my Boston neighbors, epitomized this old-school notion of apprenticeship. As her dinner companion one evening, I watched as she became frustrated by the restaurant’s  dim lighting, grabbed a huge watchman’s flashlight from her pendulous satchel and proceeded to illuminate her main course. She wanted to investigate her food before eating it, the waiter’s recommendations notwithstanding. This act of spontaneous journalism evolved from a lifetime love of education and reverence for true expertise. Her first question upon meeting a young chef was always, “And where did you train, dear?”

At which point I started to get upset. Julia, of all people, epitomized as a blue-blood! I don’t think so! She was almost single-handedly responsible for the wake-up of American home cooking, the one who encouraged EVERYONE to give good (French) food a try at home. Her “training” consisted of a short stint at Cordon Blue to escape her drudgery as a housewife to a diplomat. The “training” Kimball attempts to invoke through Julia would actually resemble a hardcore apprenticeship of sadistic chefs at starred restaurants, the French equivalent of Japan’s own form of culinary sado-masochism: sweeping floors, scrubbing pots, and sharpening knives for a twelve-year (or so) span before being allowed to actually cook food. Julia did none of that, and had no aspirations toward chefdom; she was a home cook!

Stick to seven-page explanations on why your fried chicken is the absolute, nay, the ONLY way to properly cook fried chicken, won’t you, Chris? If somebody — especially someone unqualified — showed you an actual better way, you wouldn’t hear it anyway.

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Pickled Carrots, of a Thai Persuasion

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Lots of cultures pickle carrots. Mexicans do a phenomenal job with their carrot-laden escaveche, and Japanese carrots pickled in nuka (rice bran) and sake-kasu (the dregs leftover from sake making) are to die for; the carrot kazu-zuke from Berkeley-based Cultured Pickle Shop are dreamy-good. The Thais do it too, but typical pickled carrots in Thailand are made simply with rice vinegar and white sugar. So I thought it would be fun to make a carrot pickle with a serious Thai flavor blast.

I like to salt these pickles first. Salting them (with kosher salt) draws out tons of moisture from the carrot, leaving it in a distinctly crispy, snappy, and pickly state right from the get-go. Just spread the sliced carrots out in a sieve, and toss a few liberal pinches of kosher salt on them, set aside for a while (30 minutes is usually enough), in the same manner that one would salt eggplant to draw out some of its water.  Then just rinse them in cold running water (to remove the salt), and wrap them in a clean tea towel. Wring out as much water as you can from them, and transfer to a Mason jar. You could also blanch them very briefly if you prefer a softer pickle, but I really like the snap of these guys and the salt method.

Next make a simple brine. Here’s what I use — no heating necessary, just combine in a bowl and whisk:

  • complex sweet (ginger syrup is superior, though you could use agave)
  • tangy (lime juice and rice vinegar)
  • hot (a few fiery Thai chiles, sliced in half)
  • herby (kaffir lime leaf, torn)
  • umami (Bragg’s amino acids)

to suit your own palate and pour it over the carrots.

They’re pretty intense, so you only need a few. Spiceheads will really enjoy these, but chile-sensitive people should probably use just one chile.

They’re ready to eat a few hours after making them, and only get better with time. They’re good for at least a month, refrigerated, but mine never last that long. They’re especially good alongside meat or fish, since they act as a mini palate cleanser between bites.

Give them a shot. And if you’ve got another good way of pickling carrots, I’d love to hear about it.

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Umami Corn Broth Udon with Summer Veggies

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It all started with corn on the cob.

I must have been a Depression child in another life, because I can’t bear to throw away corn cobs. They make a brilliant corn broth, simply by filling a pot with water and adding three or four cobs (to be clear, I mean already-eaten cobs, with no corn kernels on them, or cobs that have been shaved; you can use some of the shaved kernels in the soup), and simmering for an hour or so, though the result is even tastier if you make the broth in a pressure cooker. I often throw in a few dried shiitake, maybe a dried apricot or two, possibly a cut-up carrot if I’m feeling energetic.

But what made this broth really special is what happened next. I was planning on having a simple udon dinner; just for  fun, I thought I’d up the umami quotient quite a bit by adding a drizzle of fish sauce, soy sauce, and Bragg’s amino acids (this hippie crap is my new umami-in-a-bottle), and simmer it down a bit while the udon cooked in a separate pot (the reason for the separate pot: cooking udon throws off tons of starch in the cooking water, and I didn’t want my beautiful corn umami broth sullied with starch). I picked a few kaffir lime leaves off the tree and tossed those into the broth as well, to give it some brightness.

Meanwhile, I sauteed some starburst squash, red onion, a small amount of young ginger, corn from one shaved ear, and a carrot. It all went into warmed up bowls, and got topped with turmeric chips.

I think I could eat this soup every day.

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