Month: November 2015

Chinese Hot Pot: Communal Food (Part 4)

It is enjoyable to have friends and family stay over for the Thanksgiving holidays. However, arranging other meals can get tiring after the frenzy of T-day cooking. Communal foods such as fondue, shabu shabu, and injera are stress-free options to feed visiting family. When friends introduced us to the Chinese hot pot last week, I realized that this is yet another communal meal that is easy to put together. There are no hard and fast rules on what to add to the broth or the type of ingredients required. Ingredients can be bought in advance, and the meal can be stretched depending on how many there are present. Your choice of hot pot ingredients becomes more diverse and interesting as more people join!

The Chinese hot pot is built around three soup bases: hot and spicy, white (fish stock), or a vegetarian option. The accompaniments can be ingredients from a regular supermarket such as mushrooms and cabbage or the more exotic lotus root, winter melon, and pre-cooked frozen fish egg balls and fish tofu from the Chinese supermarkets. Everyone can be involved with the meal — whether slicing meats and vegetables or preparing simple dipping sauces.

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For the Hot And Spicy Broth:

  • Boil a large pan filled water.
  • Add 2-3 bouillon cubes of fish, vegetable, or meat stock.
  • Add daikon (radish), mushrooms, garlic and ginger slivers to build up the broth flavors. Season with cinnamon, anise, and dried red chilies, and bring the broth to a boil.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Add a tablespoon of sesame oil.
  • Once thickened and flavorful, the broth is ready. Keep the broth simmering to dip the uncooked accompaniments.
  • Alternatively, follow the directions of a ready-made hot pot mix available from Chinese supermarkets.

Suggested Accompaniments:

Lettuce

Bok Choy

Chrysanthemum Leaves

Yam

Taro

Sirloin or Flank Beef

Lamb

Shrimp

White Fish Fillet

Sliced Squid

Tofu cubes

Slice all the chosen ingredients into thin strips or small chunks. Keep raw meats and fish on separate plates.

Dipping Sauce:

Mix together light soy sauce (2-3 tbsp), sesame oil (1 tsp), fresh ginger slices (3-4 slivers), and scallions (2, chopped). Season to taste.

When Ready to Serve:

  • Present everyone with plates, chopsticks, and a bowl of dipping sauce.
  • Place all the sliced accompaniments within easy access.
  • Keep the broth simmering: You can use an electric heating plate or have everyone gather around the stove.
  • Use slotted spoons, small strainers, or chopsticks to dip the uncooked ingredients into the broth.
  • Cook vegetables such as lotus root and taro (3-4 minutes), until soft; meat (1-2 minutes) until cooked through; and tofu and mushrooms (30 seconds), until just warm.

 

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Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and a restful weekend filled with communal meals!

 

 

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Oranges

When oranges and clementines appear in grocery stores, they serve as reminders that winter is almost upon us – a time to boost up vitamin C. Clementines are an easy-to-peel fruit, while the more difficult Navel, Jaffa, and blood oranges are still worth the effort as they can add color and crispness to a salad. The acidity in oranges also helps counter fats in poultry. As I was roasting my favorite bird, duck, this past week, news started to trickle in about Beirut and Paris.

As both these cities share history, and both have world-renowned cuisines, honoring their food traditions seemed appropriate for the time. Food, in both these cities, is more about celebration of life, and eating out  is part of both cultures. In the classic French dish, duck à l’orange, duck is served with a rich orange sauce. In the mezze traditions of Lebanese cuisine, oranges perk up simple salads and orange blossom water suffuses desserts with delicate flavor.

Roasted Duck, Lettuce, and Orange Salad 

Frisée lettuce – 1, bunch

Oranges – 2, large

Wine vinegar – 6-8 tbsp

Olive/Sesame oil – 3 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste

Roasted duck leg/breast – 1, thinly sliced

  • Wash the orange. Julienne about 10 zests into thin slivers and keep aside. Cut the oranges crosswise in ¼-inch rounds.
  • Add the wine vinegar in a pan, and heat until it is just warm. Remove from heat.
  • Add the orange zests, and let them steep in the warm vinegar.
  • Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper to the vinegar. Keep this vinaigrette aside.
  • Assemble the washed lettuce on a platter. Remove the white pith from around the oranges and place them on the lettuce.
  • When ready to serve, pour the vinaigrette over the orange and lettuce.
  • Layer the duck slices between the oranges.

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Persimmon Syrup For A Modified Mojito: A Persimmoto, Perhaps?

Persimmon is a mellow fall fruit, which looks like a cross between an apricot and tomato. The fruit’s color also reflects autumn shades, falling somewhere in between a pale orange and drifting maple red leaves. The two varieties of persimmon, categorized as astringent and non-astringent fruits, are available through December. Their edible skin bruises easily, and once the fruit has ripened, their shelf life hastens.

The rapidly deteriorating condition of the persimmons inspired me to preserve their essence. I remembered my mother’s stewed pineapples and jackfruit, which I savored long after their season. Stewing the persimmons conserve their subtle sweetness. Stewed fruits can be flavored with cinnamon or ginger and they can be used immediately as a spread or frozen and used later. Fresh persimmons can be added to a salad or baked in an open tart. I used the stewed paste to flavor simple syrup. The persimmon syrup became my fall version of a mojito – a persimmoto!

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Persimmon Syrup

Persimmon – 5-6

Light cane syrup – 2-3 tbsp

Water – ½ cup

  • Wash the persimmons. Remove the brown calyx, and extract the seeds from the mashed fruit. Place the fruit into a pan.
  • Add the cane syrup and water. Bring to a boil.
  • Simmer for 5-7 minutes, until the fruit has softened.
  • When ready to use in the cocktail, crush the pulp with the back of a spoon to extract as much of their flavors.
  • Strain the pulp through a tea strainer, keeping both the syrup and pulp separate.
  • Add syrup (1oz) and mint leaves (5-6) and muddle them in a glass. Add light rum (1½ oz) and pulp (½ tsp). Top with ice, a lime wedge, and a sprig of mint. Cheers!

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Wild Mushroom Soup

Last week, three planets aligned closely with one another in a rare astronomical event. However, due to heavy rains, I missed the show. But on the other hand, everything lined up for the makings of a hardy soup — the cold winds, a heavy downpour, which caused one large wild mushroom to appear at a farmer’s market produce stall, and Ruth Reichl’s response to what would one find in her freezer (homemade stock) all served as an inspiration.

The wild sheepshead mushroom, also called hen-of-the-woods, looks like it could have come from the depths of the ocean. As the name suggests, the mushroom looks like the head of a sheep. Unlike a regular mushroom with one stalk and cap, sheepshead mushrooms grow in a clump with several stems and bracket-shaped layers of caps. They sprout quickly with the rains, and grow under old oak trees. Sheepshead’s moisture-rich stalks break down and thicken stock, which gives the resulting soup an unmistakable earthy taste.

I bought a pound from a four-pound monster mushroom at the farmer’s market, and thawed out the good stock. Excited to cook my first wild mushroom, I was unprepared for an ancient looking creature that crawled out from under the layers of the mushroom’s caps. I did have to remind myself that flavors are nurtured through the good, bad, and ugly facets of nature!

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Wild Mushroom Soup

Mushrooms – 1 lb, cleaned and chopped roughly

Butter or oil – 4 tbsp

Onion – 1, diced

Garlic – 6 cloves, chopped

Stock – 1½ pints

Parsley – 1 bunch

Salt and pepper – to taste

Truffle oil – 1-2 tbsp (optional)

  • Heat a pan and add the butter or oil.
  • Add the chopped onions and sauté, until they are transparent.
  • Add the garlic and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the chopped mushrooms and stir-fry for a minute.
  • Add the stock. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer.
  • Simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the mushroom stalks are tender.
  • Strain the mushroom chunks out and put them through a food processor. Combine the pureed mushroom with the liquid stock.
  • Serve the soup with a drizzle of truffle oil and a few parsley stalks.

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Note: A mix of cultivated mushrooms works just as well for this easy to make soup.