Monthly Archives: September 2012

Bali Bali Bhaji

Bali, bali!  It was probably the first expression I learned in Korean.  Meaning “hurry,” the exclamation is indicative of the Korean mentality: hurry up and wait. Not really grasping the concept of cohesive planning, this country seems to make many decisions at the last possible second. This almost always culminates in a mad rush, followed by an inevitable lull during which the consecutive decision waits to be made.  Followed, of course, by another hasty dash.

18 months ago, with my life carefully stacked into storage pods in Denver, I still had no idea where I’d be moving.   After a scramble to meet the application deadline, I waited for an interview.  Weeks passed before one was requested.  When the time was selected, without advance warning, I was to be available within 8 hours.  Following the chat, I waited.  

When word finally reached my email, it was that I should prepare to sign and return documents on their way to my house immediately.  Documents detailing where I’d live and the level I’d be teaching?  Oh no, no, that decision hadn’t been made.  I’d find that out 8 days after my arrival in Korea, on the day before I moved in.  I had to learn to go with the flow (and breathe deeply).

This ability came in handy during my time in India this past winter. On more than one bus ride, without warning, small windows of time were allowed to “take care of business.”  During one such window, hunger plagued me.  Unsure of just how long our bus would remain in the station, I frantically located the nearest castle of fried treats. 

The crowds didn’t ease the rush

Noting some fresh round patties in contrast to the fly ridden stocks, I said I’d take two.  Not really sure what I’d purchased, I bowed my head and streamlined it to the bus.  I was happily surprised by the sweet onion flavor when I dug in on board.  Turned out I’d grabbed a bhaji, and the craving was logged in my psyche.

This week, I decided to try my hand at homemade.  The recipe seemed straightforward enough, and I’ve never known fried onions to turn out bad.  Turns out I was right; simple and delicious.  One recommendation, however, is to be sure you slice the onion thinly.  Mine were a bit too chunky.

To compliment the little fritters, I simmered up some mango chutney.  Canned mango is available rather readily, and I had some spices on reserve from my trip.

All in all, the snack was ready in under an hour.  Next time you’re surprised with company, they’ll be just the thing.  

Onion Bhaji – From BBC Food

Serves 4-6

2 free-range eggs

onions, sliced

120g/4oz plain flour (1/2 cup for the imperialists out there)

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp cumin seeds

3 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra if required

1. Beat the eggs in a bowl.

2. Add the onion rings and mix well.

3. Add the flour, ground coriander and cumin seeds and stir well to combine.

4. Heat the oil in a deep-sided frying pan over a medium heat. When hot add a large spoonful of the bhaji mixture and fry for 30-45 seconds, until golden-brown.

5. Turn the bhaji over and fry for a further 30 seconds, until crisp and golden-brown all over. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

6. Repeat with the remaining bhaji mixture, replenishing the oil in the pan if it runs low and allowing it to heat up again after a new addition.

Mango Chutney – From Rasa Malaysia

Yields about 1 cup

1 ripe but firm green mango (450 -500 g)
1 sticks cinnamon (about 2 inch)
2 whole cloves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 cardamom pods, cracked
1 tsp ginger, grated
2-3 whole dry red chilies
1 clove garlic, crushed
3/4 cup brown sugar (if you have access to Indian jaggery use 3/4 cup- 1 cup powdered jaggery depending on the sweetness)
1/2 cup vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 tsp salt

Cut the mango into 1 inch cubes and for chunky chutney, keep some pieces about 2 inch.  If you are looking for smooth, cut them all in same size.

Using a piece of thin muslin cloth, tie up the spices into a bundle. Cook the mango, spices (in the muslin cloth), water, ginger and garlic until the mango is tender. Some pieces will disintegrate into the water. Takes about 10 minutes.

Add the vinegar, sugar, salt and dry chilies. I like to break 1 red chilly into flakes and keep 1 whole. If you want and are feeling adventurous you can go up on the chilies. The sugar requirement may also vary depending on the sweetness of your mango and personal preference. Feel free to reduce or add as per your liking.

Cook for about 30 -35 minutes until the chutney is thickened. Squeeze every bit you can from the cloth and discard it. Transfer to sterilized jars while still hot. Don’t put the lid, until the chutney cools. It keeps well for 4 weeks in the refrigerator.

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Open Wide to Avoid A Dry-Cleaning Disaster

Don’t pick me, don’t pick me… My lack of coordination stands in stark contrast to that of the chefs on display.  Chosen as the recipient of the flying shrimp, I’m doomed.  Just get to the onion volcano, already.

Note the wonder. Feel the joy.

Benihana, the original hibachi grill, is one of my dear true loves.  I’ve been to this establishment for every occasion, from finding a stray sock to the big 1-6.  Not to mention in both hemispheres (Yes, I located the one and only in Santiago, Chile).  Imposters, lump yourself in this category expect to be measured by stiff standards.  I’m happy to slander your establishment in the name of ginger goodness.  If the sauce doesn’t measure up, you’re out.  Grades are assigned in direct correlation to ladles consumed.

For a short while, I considered Benihana chef as a career choice.  After the news broke about the buffet, however, I let that one slide.  Working at the one and only as a summer busboy, my brother dashed my hopes.  The endless employee buffet of steak accented with shrimp-sauce fountains was a farce.  I knew it was too good to be true.  I’d never be able to wield a knife like a nunchuck, anyway.

Now, to be fair, and to assure no readers are misled, I will present all sides of this story. Not to be confused with reasons to dine anywhere else.

Unless you have 7 friends on reserve, be prepared to make friends.  Or to avoid eye contact for about an hour and a half.  The tables are set up for eight, and they do not like to waste those precious seats.  You’re likely to sit where they tell you, when they tell you, and with whomever they fancy.  I told you they’re kind of a big deal.

Additionally, you’re likely to emerge from the experience putting off a bit of a waft.  Table side preparation is a delicacy, I tell you!  Stash a change of clothes in the car, or, eat enough to seal your coma for the rest of the evening and you’re square.

In attempts to bring one spark of the joy Benihana imparts to its patrons to my life here in Korea, I came up with the following.  It proves itself as a stand-in, and even meets the dietician’s criteria.

When slicing and dicing, remember to track your chops per second.  One never knows at what point they’ll consider a career change.  Since when is playing with food against the rules?  Being bad never tasted so good.  (Disclaimer: Not responsible for kitchen splatters and ruined silk charmeuse.)

Crispy Tofu Steaks with Zucchini, Onion and Sesame Ginger Sauce

Serves 4

1 Tbsp sesame seeds

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1/4 medium onion, remainder reserved

1″ piece of ginger, skin rubbed off

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8 firm tofu steaks, cut 1″ thick (Due to the unscientific portioning at my corner shop, I have no idea of the exact measurement.  Sorry!)

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 large zucchini

3/4 medium onion, sliced

Paper towels

First, make the sauce.  Heat sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat.  Stir often, cooking until seeds turn golden and begin to pop, about 5 minutes.  Remove and allow to cool.

Combine soy sauce, vinegar, 1/4 onion and ginger in the blender.  Pulse until smooth.  Add in reserved sesame seeds and set aside.

Next, spread the tofu steaks out in a single layer on a flat surface.  Cover with paper towels and press to absorb the excess moisture.  Repeat until tofu seems fairly dry to the touch.

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add tofu steaks to the pan, being careful not to crowd the pan.  Allow to come to an even golden brown, about 3-5 minutes, then flip and repeat.  Remove and allow to drain on paper towels.

When all tofu has been browned, add the onions to the pan.  Saute about 2-3 minutes until beginning to brown and become fragrant.  Remove and set aside.

Add the zucchini to the pan.  Arrange in a single layer, and allow to brown.  Flip and repeat, being careful not to over cook.

When finished, arrange tofu steaks, zucchini and onions together for serving.   Top with 1-2 Tbsp sauce and enjoy.

I’d Be Peachy Keen

In these fleeting days of summer, I find myself drawn to the light.  The last rays before the sun drifts behind a hillside.  Don’t go, day, don’t go.

As a chill presents itself in the evening air and the day end creeps dangerously close to dinner time, before we know it, it’s winter.  Under the cover of nightfall, we find ourselves holed up, hunkered down, and ordering in.  In these final days of summer, I refuse to submit.  I’ll keep the picnic dream alive with one last summertime favorite.  Chicken salad — with peaches. Double down or walk away.

I still remember the day of the epiphany.  Apparently pulling one over for years of my youth, I found my mom in the kitchen, passing off canned “chicken” with mayo as the real deal homemade.  Living under the pretense that an aptitude for recipes such as chicken salad came only by way of a generation gap and an arsenal of secret ingredients, I was appalled.  The thought of a dressing untempered by even so much as mustard nearly brought tears to my eyes.  What do you mean that’s all it is? Just, just…mayonnaise?

Appalled at the simplicity, I developed a leniency towards recipes bulked out with cranberries, almonds and the like.  A balanced tang countered with a delicate sweetness.  Not to mention a limited quantity of mayonnaise.

This time looking for something a bit different, I took to the internet.  I landed on a recipe that incorporated Dijon and capers in addition to fresh fruit.  I substituted peaches for fresh grapes, timidly mixed in the capers…and was delighted!  Perfect for those endless summer nights.

Chicken Salad with Peach, Nuts and Capers

Adapted from epicurious.com

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds chicken breast

5 cups water

2 chicken bouillon cubes

1/3 cup plain yogurt

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 cup diced peach

1 cup (3 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts, pecans, macadamia, whatever you have on hand

3 tablespoons drained capers, chopped

Bring water and bouillon cubes to a boil in a large saucepan, then add chicken and cook at a bare simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until just cooked through, about 5-8 minutes. Drain and cool, then dice into 1-inch chunks.

Meanwhile, stir together yogurt, mayonnaise, and mustard.

Stir chicken and remaining ingredients into dressing with salt and pepper to taste.

(This is, of course, best when eaten alongside a blended margarita.  Keep the summer dreams alive!)

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Not Sure About Nicoise

If it’s pink in the middle, it’s cooked too little.  A catchy little tune drilled into me by a dancing burger.  Undoubtedly commissioned to prevent BBQs from going down the tubes (literally), it was introduced to me in grade school.   To this day, every time a dining companion ponders the inquiry of how they’d like their burger cooked, heart palpitations ensue.  Just. Say. Well.

In the case of tuna, for me, it’s always been to the contrary.  Anything more than a light sear and it’s equivalent to pencil shavings.   The silken texture I love is gone with the wind.   Fluttering away with the pungent scent of a freshly opened can.

Finding myself these days on new horizons, it seemed fitting to give canned tuna a second chance.  In Korea, it’s economical and also readily available.  Whereas fresh tuna stands out for its unassuming flavor, canned tends to be a bit musky.  Deciding to harness this, I incorporated capers as a briny compliment.  Finished with a healthy dose of lemon juice, misconceptions flew out the window. Paired with an assemblage of veggies, eggs, and potatoes, I had a tasty spin on an old French classic. Bon appetit!

Tuna Salad Nicoise

Serves 4

For the dressing:

1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 pinch salt

1 pinch black pepper

Whisk first three ingredients together in the bottom of a small bowl.  Add oil, one tablespoon at a time, while whisking rapidly to emulsify.  Finish with salt and pepper.

For the salad:

2 250 g cans light tuna

1/2 Tbsp lemon juice

1 Tbsp capers, lightly diced

4 cups lettuce, washed and torn

16 cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cucumber, sliced

8 new potatoes, boiled and quartered

4 eggs, hard-boiled and sliced

4 large bowls, to serve

Combine tuna, lemon juice and capers.  Set aside.  In bowls, arrange one-quarter each of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, potatoes, and eggs.  Top with tuna mixture.  Toss with dressing and enjoy!

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