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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Grilled Nectarines with Black Pepper

The produce available in Hawaii is so different from what I can easily obtain in San Francisco. As far as fruit goes in Hawaii, you can get big fat papayas (grown locally), sweet sticky mangoes that drip with juice (sometimes these are still from Mexico or Chile—shocking, I know!), and perfect pineapple (usually grown locally). Maui is famous for its Kula strawberries and Sweet Kula Onions—the high elevation (up to about 4,000 feet!) up on the slope of the Haleakala volcano provides the harmonious combo of warm days and cool nights and the conditions are just right for this kind of produce. (There’s also plenty of other theories like the fact that the soil is low in sulfur, which apparently makes things more bitter and starchy). Some claim that Kula onions are so sweet that you can eat them like an apple!

But, papayas and strawberries aside, you still have to give up the desire for tender nectarines, amazing peaches, blackberries, blueberries, plums and apricots. For the most part those sorts of fruits do not make it to the islands in their best condition. Now, I have never lived in peach, nectarine and berry heaven also known as Oregon or Washington, but I always imagined that, if I did, I would constantly stuff my face with ripe nectarines, berry jams, and peach pies. If push came to shove, nectarines might just be my favorite fruit—especially white nectarines that are perfectly ripe and supple to the touch and so juicy that you have to stand over the sink to eat them. I would eat four or five a day if I could. Luckily, summer season brings these fruits right to my local farmers market in the city.

Most days, I don’t fuss with fruit—I eat it straight as nature intended. I don’t mix it in with flour and sugar and bake pies or blend it up with yogurt in smoothies. But since summer also coincides with “grilling season,” I thought I would keep it simple and grill some nectarines to get just the slightest touch of roasted flavor. It’s so simple that this can’t even qualify as a recipe really, but more of a gentle reminder to throw some peaches or nectarines on the grill! Slice them in half, gently remove the seed with the edge of a knife, brush them with a little neutral or flavored oil—such as grapeseed, canola, walnut, or olive oil—sprinkle a tiny amount of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and place them face down on the grill for just a minute or two or until slightly charred.
Serving suggestion: These are also delicious with a balsamic reduction or fruit vinegar glaze.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vegan Hijiki Barley Salad

I have a childhood friend named Jamie. When we were young, Jamie and I spent many of our afternoons playing in a sandbox at her grandmother's house. We would stay in that sandbox for hours (creating all sorts of elaborate stories and role-playing adventures) until her grandma called us in for lunch. Being from Japan, her grandmother would make up lots of little dishes that, all together, would create a total sum of delicious. Maybe some broiled fish, some steamed rice, some sushi, some sunomono or namasu (pickled vegetables salads), some pickled daikon, a handful of sliced tangerines in a cute little flower shaped cup, some hard-boiled egg maybe. All arranged in dainty little ceramic plates and cups.

I love this style of eating (same prinicple goes for Spanish tapas!). Luckily, California--and San Francisco especially--has also cropped up with lots of "small plates" restaurants like Andalu and Cortez and Alembic.

I am lucky to work in the San Francisco financial district, which has a plethora of lunch options to cater to all sorts of clientele. And one of the best spots is grabbing some lunch at one of the vendors at the Ferry Building. I got the idea for this cold barley salad from the Japanese "deli" called Delica rf-1. Why you would name your restaurant Delica rf-1 escapes me, but I eat some potato korroke and forget all about the name.Barley really is an ideal grain--its nutty in flavor with a toothsome chewiness that is quite endearing. This salad is also packed with nutrients--hijiki is naturally rich in calcium, iron and fiber (for food safety reasons, be sure to buy the best quality you can find from a natural food store)!


* 3 or 4 radishes, shaved thin
* 1 cup pearl barley
* 1 cup shelled edamame
* 2-3 Tbsp. dried hijiki or arame (or mixture of both)
* Other optional additions: grated carrot, daikon, lotus root, arugula or mizuna lettuces, or cubed tofu


* 1 Tbsp. walnut oil (or other neutral oil)
* 1 tsp. sesame oil
* 3 tsp. miso paste
* 2 Tsbp. rice vinegar
* 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
* 2 Tbsp. Braggs (liquid aminos)
* 1 tsp. agave (or honey if you'd prefer)
* 3 Tbsp. mirin
* 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds


* Whisk togther all marinade ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
* Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. When cooked, barley expands to 4 times its size so you want the grains to have plenty of space to roll around! Cook the barley in boiling water for 35-40 minutes or until tender and chewy. Drain, rinse and place in a large mixing bowl.
* In a small dish, soak the dried seaweed for 10-15 minutes in warm water. Then boil in a small pot for about 2-3 minutes. Drain, rinse and roughly chop.
* Grab your bowl of barley and add in the shelled edamame, shaved radishes, and chopped seaweed (and any other ingredients you may want to add).
* Pour the marinade mixture over the salad and stir until mixed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Indian Food Mania

It’s not even 10 am yet and all I can think about is Indian food. There. I said it. For the past couple of months, I have been on a no-holds-barred Indian food R-A-M-P-A-G-E. Which involves sometimes eating out two or three times a week at my favorite spots around the city. Okay, maybe even four if I'm really feeling saucy. Really, I wouldn’t be surprised if my friends were all starting to laugh about it because all I want to discuss nowadays are fresh piping hot naan breads or creamy curries and fried samosas filled with onions and potatoes delicately spiced with cumin. I don’t know what’s gotten in to me. The thing is—I never used to like Indian food at all because I am very sensitive to spicy food. But then I got brave enough to forge ahead and discover that there is a whole realm of mild creamy dishes that suit my taste buds perfectly. And now! Now I am hooked.

Of course, it’s pretty difficult to deny the power of the double-carb cuisine—rice and naan?! I mean, Italian food has its pasta and breads and I am totally helpless to deny its sexy ways. The thing about Indian food, I have learned, is that it is nearly impossible to find consistency—region-to-region, restaurant-to-restaurant, and even dish-to-dish might vary dramatically. One tikka masala dish might be the warmest, creamiest dish with a hint of tomato and cinnamon, but at another place the tikka masala might be a bold, spicy tomato and onion gravy. The second thing I have come to accept about Indian food is that it's difficult, for me at least, to cook an authentic tasting dish on my own at home. Although I do sometimes sink hours looking through the many foodie blogs dedicated to Indian cuisine. And I do make some chicken tikka masala and some garlic naan on occassion, but I will be the first to admit that it is NOT the same. Not even close. So now that I have my handful of go-to places with my favorite reliable dishes, I thought I might share with you what I order and see if any of you have any recommendations for your favorite Indian food spots—or, if your bold and daring, any recipes for making such delicacies at home!

And I know exactly where to start--the paneer korma and murgh makhani at Indian Oven (to be accompanied by expertly prepared garlic naan or lamb naan). For the record, the korma at Indian Oven is what everyone raves about—and for good reason. It’s thin, salmon-colored cream sauce flecked with herbs and it is, by far, the best Indian dish I have ever had, but I can’t even attempt to describe its complex flavor for fear of doing it a tremendous injustice. It’s that good.

And then there’s the ever humble Rotee. The menu is filled with humorous descriptions such as “Mixed Sabzi—If we can build the world’s finest operating systems, imagine what we can do with fresh garden vegetables.” After you stop laughing at the menu descriptions and get past the bright orange walls and techno music, go ahead and order the paneer tikka masala. It’s cubes of homemade cheese in a thick creamy tomato and herb sauce with a delightful note of cinnamon. It’s down right irresistible and sure to win over anyone who claims that they don’t care for Indian food. And if you work downtown in SF and, like me, find yourself day dreaming about Indian food, you can get your fix at the Rotee Express lunch counter. Or you could have a lunch buffet at Amber India.

On rare occasion, I might be in the mood for the greasy spoon. Then I go to Pakwan or Shalimar. But I have to admit that the food is a bit spicier at these restaurants and not quite as good. But still, you cannot deny the allure of cheap prices--curries for $5.50-$7.00. Oh, and I have yet to try Lahore Karahi.

But really, on a Sunday afternoon when I find myself craving a snack—something warm and unique and full of flavor—I want an Indian burrito—also known as a “kati roll” from Kasa. They make these flaky, buttery roti breads from scratch, grill them up until they are hot and blistery and then wrap them around various curries and other dishes. Totally genius, I know.My favorite is the Aloo Gobi—cumin-spiced cauliflower and potatoes with a splash of tomato-cumin sauce and a nice smear of coconut-cilantro chutney wrapped up in the roti and served alongside a cool pool of raita and more tomato-cumin sauce. And if you are feeling fancy, you can get the roti dipped in egg, Unda style. I desperately want one right now, as I type this. They also make their own Mango Lassi blended with mangoes, yogurt, cardamom and a hint of cumin. Yum. And if there can be Indian burritos, then there can also be Indian pizza.

I’ve also been told that, if I can muster the courage to forego the curries typical of Northern India, I should give Southern Indian cuisine a try—with its crepe-like dosas and uthappam with various fillings of vegetables, cheese, lentils, etc. I have, for some time now, been wanting to try the ever fancy Dosa. But for the more affordable $6 range, my friend, Mags, recommends Udupi Palace.

It takes all of my will power to supress the urge to eat Indian food 3-4 times a week--I usually try to limit it to once a week, as a treat. And, naturally, I seek it out when traveling too (don't even get me started on London!). If you're in Seattle, be sure to eat Annapurna Cafe for the best Nepali, Tibetan and Indian food around--order the veggie kofta, which are these delicate cheese/vegetable balls in a creamy tomato and herb sauce (are you seeing a theme here?). This weekend, while in San Diego for a family wedding, I am going to try Punjabi Tandoor.

Inquiring minds (mostly mine, but there might be others out there) want to know—where do you eat Indian food?

Update: Punjabi Tandoor in San Diego was AMAZING. The Chicken Makhani has a bewitching smokey flavor that will have you hooked in 2 bites. It's also the best deal ever--$7.99 for 2 curries, rice, naan, and kheer (a sort of rice pudding dessert) and its enough to feed two people or one really hungry (or greedy) person like me.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Vegan Flourless Chocolate Cake

Right around my second year of law school, I developed a deep obsession with flourless chocolate cake. I would get a slice from Whole Foods, pop it in the fridge and have a fork standing by to just take a forkful (or three) every few hours or whenever the mood strikes. I think part of the obsession had more to do with my confidence in the food-as-positive-reinforcement-rewards-program I implemented while studying 12-15+ hours a day. Flourless chocolate cake is really quite sexy when you think about it—its dense in texture, and incredibly rich, silky, and chocolatey. I was pretty surprised when I found out that it only contained four simple ingredients: chocolate, butter, sugar and eggs.

Only problem with that scenario was the “butter, sugar, and eggs” part if I wanted to keep eating it as frequently as I honestly did want to keep eating it without such a grave catastrophy to my health. Since beans have become quite trendy in desserts (think black bean brownies), I figured I would set out to make a vegan flourless chocolate cake. With black-eyed peas. Yes! It can be done! First, you must accept—in your heart of hearts—that you do, in fact, LOVE the texture and flavor of beans. Because if you do not, there is no amount of flavor or ingredient masking that could save you from the cold hard truth that there are beans mixed with your chocolate. I understand-I feel strange about it, too.
At first, I thought there was no way this cake would rise even a millimeter—it was so thick and heavy. But ah, the power of baking powder and soda. (Speaking of baking soda, I hope you aren’t reaching for that 7-month—or even 1-year-old (gasp!) stale box of baking soda you have sitting in the back of your fridge to “absorb odors” thinking you can do double duty by absorbing nasty refrigerator odors and for use in baking…because, guess what, that baking soda will be lifeless and yes, full of your refrigerator odors which cannot be a good flavor for your baked goods! I have to admit that I was guilty of doing this until the light-bulb went on making my mistake was painfully obvious). In the oven, the cake lifted itself up just like a souffle, and then, when slightly cooled, it gave way to gorgeous cracks around its edges with rugged valleys and ridges.


2 cups dried black eyed peas (soaked overnight, rinsed then boiled till soft)
1 12-oz. package silken tofu (I like Mori-Nu brand)
1 cup cane sugar (all natural)
1.5 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup cocoa powder (natural, unsweetened)
2 tsp. instant espresso powder (or 3 if you really like a little coffee flavor)
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup soymilk (chocolate soymilk, if you have it)


Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a blender or food processor, blend together the black-eyed peas with the tofu until smooth. You may have to do this in batches, but it is critical that you get it as smooth as possible. If you need to, you can use some of the soymilk to help loosen it up and blend better.
Add the sugar and blend again.
Over a double boiler (or pot with a small amount of water and a glass bowl sitting in it), melt down the chocolate chips until smooth.
Add the melted chocolate to the bean mixture and blend again.
Add in the cocoa, espresso, baking powder and soda and blend again until smooth.
Add in the soymilk to loosen up the batter. You can use a little bit less if you want to—Ideally, the batter should be smooth and slightly runny when pouring but this depends on the quality of your blender or food processor. My beans stayed a little chunky so I had to resort to a hand mixer to really smooth it out--the soymilk really helps this process.
Lightly spray a 9-inch spring form pan (or larger if you like a thinner cake) with cooking/baking spray.
Bake in oven for 70-80 minutes (or a little less if your cake is thinner) or until done. You can check it with a toothpick or knife to see if the center is still runny. Even when cooked and a toothpick comes out clean, it might still wiggle a little bit because the warm cake needs to settle into itself once cooled.

Serving Suggestion: Lightly dust with confectioners sugar.

Note: If you make this cake and, like me, find yourself oddly enamoured by the beguiling duo of beans and cake, you could also try my vegan friend Lindsay's White Bean Strawberry Blondie's.