Month: August 2014

Aperol Spritz in August

Strolling through cobbled streets in Rome and Naples this summer, I spotted bright red glasses on café tables. The color wasn’t a deep Chianti red, but more like the orange hue of a nine-o-clock sunset. I soon learned this refreshing aperitif, Aperol Spritz, is made with Prosecco, soda, and Aperol bitters. Recently at a restaurant near home, I was reminded of both my vacation and the popularity of aperitifs, as patrons at the table next to me ordered several rounds of Aperol Spritz.

An aperitif is drunk before a meal to stimulate the appetite (just as the digestif is had after a meal to aid digestion). Aperitifs are made either from fortified wine or from bitters (alcohol steeped with bitter orange peels, anise herb and spices). The intense flavor of bitters is tempered with Prosecco and soda. Aperitifs are usually served with mixed nuts, olives, chips, or tapas.

Alcoholic and nonalcoholic aperitifs exist in many cultures: In my travels, I have enjoyed English Pimm’s and Greek ouzo, and I also grew up with two non-alcoholic Indian versions made with cumin, jaljeera and jeera vellum. Jeera vellum is served before the spiced cardamom-scented meat biryani; like the early aperitifs, its original role is medicinal. (Some earlier aperitifs, such as vermouth, started out as a way to disguise the taste of quinine.) With clever marketing, they started popping up in local bars and high-end restaurants.

My two Aperol bottles, brought back from vacation, lasted for several parties this summer. I served the Spritz with a caramelized onion cream cheese dip and vegetables as well as an eggplant pate with toasted bread – creamy foods that absorb the alcohol! I made the watermelon spritz for those who wanted a non-alcoholic aperitif.

Cheers!

Aperol Spritz
Prosecco (4 parts): Soda (1 part): Aperol (1 part).
Mix and serve.

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Jeera Vellum
Boiling water (5 cups) : Cumin seeds (2 ½ tbsp).
Steep for 7 minutes. Serve warm.

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Watermelon Spritz
Strained juice of half a watermelon: Soda (½ cup) : Fresh lime juice (2 tbsp) : Sugar (1 tbsp) : Ice (1 cup). Mix and serve.

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One for the Barbecue – Bulgogi, Korean Barbecued Meat

Individual bowls of steaming rice, crisp lettuce leaves, red, spicy paste (ssamjang), pickled cabbage (kimchi), chopped scallions, strips of marinated meat – this was my introduction to eating bulgogi at Keum Ho Jung, a Korean restaurant in New Jersey. Bulgogi is barbecued meat – Korean style. At many Korean restaurants, you are presented with a plate of marinated beef, a fired-up table grill with the overhead exhaust turned on, and then you are left  to cook at your own pace. The meal encompasses many flavors (salty, pungent, sweet, and sour) and seemingly covers most of the food pyramid (grains, vegetables, protein, and fat/oil) as well. I was inspired to hear that N. was cooking bulgogi at home.

I thought bulgogi could only be grilled (although N. insisted her version with pan-cooked ground beef made in 15 minutes was just as good)! Grilled beef is folded into a lettuce leaf wrap along with rice, ssamjang, kimchi, and scallions. Assembling the various toppings and stuffing them neatly into the lettuce wrap turns out to be as entertaining as it is tasty. Using leaves as wrappers is a method that has been used in many cultures, and bulgogi is a novel way of eating the familiar skirt steak, and an easy barbecue dish to prepare for a group.

Ingredient shopping is simple as everything can be found in larger supermarkets —  from the base of skirt steak or sirloin and lettuce leaves to the marinade (sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, scallions, black pepper, ginger and sugar) that both flavors and tenderizes the meat. Most large supermarkets sell kimchi, and ssamjang is available at Korean or Asian markets.

Here is to summer and to having more barbecues!

Bulgogi

Skirt steak – 1lb

Sesame oil – 2 tbsp

Soy sauce – ¼ cup

Garlic – 2-3 cloves, chopped

Scallions – 1 bunch, chopped (reserve a quarter for garnish)

Ginger – 1-inch piece, grated

Sugar – 2 tbsp (preferably brown sugar)

Black pepper – ¼ tsp

Rice – 2 cups

  • Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl, and use this mixture as a marinade to coat the beef. Marinade the meat for about 2 hours.
  • Cook the rice.
  • Grill on high heat until desired (medium rare to medium).

If cooking in a pan:

  • Heat the sesame oil in a pan.
  • Add garlic and ginger, and cook until they sizzle.
  • Add the ground meat and stir-fry until it is uniformly browned.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and let the mix simmer on low for about 15 minutes.

In both cases: Serve the cooked meat with lettuce, scallions, cooked rice, kimchi, and chili paste.

 

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Warm Corn Soup on a Cool Summer’s Day

One of A. and N.’s summer favorites is corn on the cob, grilled with a little chili powder, salt, oil, and rubbed with fresh lime – a popular Mumbai street cart fare. When I came across corn soup drizzled with a trail of chili oil at Legume, a restaurant in Pittsburgh, the flavor was reminiscent of the familiar charcoal-roasted spicy corn on the cob that I was so used to eating.

Our knowledgeable waiter detailed the cooking process: blanching the corn quickly, removing the kernels and pureeing them, blending the stock made with corn cobs with heavy cream, and finally drizzling chili oil.

I enjoyed the texture and flavor of the corn soup, and so I planned on reinterpreting their soup to create my own version. As I was experimenting with the stock, I realized that I could easily make two other kinds of corn soup using the same base — a popular Indian-fusion version (Chicken Corn Soup) and a Mexican version with green chilies (Sopa de Elote con Chile).

It is the peak season for corn, and I decided to freeze some in order to extend the season and enjoy the vegetable for a little longer. Checking the National Center for Home Food Preservation site for tips on properly freezing corn, I learned that blanching corn (for four minutes), cooling immediately (preferably in ice cold water), draining, and freezing with enough space around the storage container would prevent the pasty taste associated with corn that has absorbed too much water. Quickly blanching or plunging the corn into boiling water stops the enzyme action that would otherwise degrade the color, flavor, and vitamins in the corn. Blanching corn is an important step, and it pays to watch the cooking time closely.

Corn Soup Base:

Corn – 7-8 ears of corn

Water – 6 cups

 

  • Strip the outer husks of the corn cob, starting from the top and working down to the base. Remove any silky tendrils. Check that the kernels are firm. Remove any soft kernels by scooping them out with a knife.
  • Heat the water to a rolling boil in a pan that will hold the cobs (cut them in half if you don’t have a large enough pan).
  • Plunge the corncobs into the water. Blanch them for four minutes precisely.
  • Remove and drain (save the liquid, as this will be the stock) the cobs immediately and plunge them in ice-cold water.
  • Using a sharp knife, and starting from the stalk side, cut the kernels off the cob in one smooth action. Turn the cob and repeat until all the sides are done.
  • Puree the kernels in a blender.
  • Add the cobs back to the liquid and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove and discard the cobs.
  • Use the stock as a base for the following variants:

 

For Corn Soup with Cream: Add 1 tbsp. heavy cream to the hot stock and add back the pureed kernels. Drizzle with chili oil.

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For Chicken Corn Soup: Add 1 ½ tbsp cornmeal to the stock and add back the pureed kernels. Decorate with cooked chicken pieces and spring onion slices.

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For Sopa de Elote con Chile: Add 1 cup of milk and 2 chicken cubes to the hot stock and add back the pureed kernels. Add sautéed green chili and onion mixture to the soup.

 

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