Tag Archives: rice

Clam miso soup over rice

So far, 2017 is a soup kind of year. It’s been a wet and chilly winter, the kind of Northern California winter I remember from my childhood, before the super-drought set in. We’ve had a couple nasty colds pass through our home, and they’ve seemed even more vicious than usual for this time of year.

And of course, every time I read the news or check social media, there’s something new to break my heart. I’ve been struggling to keep my head above the water of despair and depression, and it feels like every new headline is pushing me back under. I’m doing what I can to fight back, with my body and my wallet, but it never feels like enough.

So I’ve been gravitating to soup. Easy, comforting, nourishing soup. I may not know much in life right now, but I know how to make a pot of something warm and delicious. And this particular soup is a good one: miso soup with fresh clams and greens, ladled over rice. It’s light and savory, briny from the clams, and substantial enough to make you feel like you’re doing something good for yourself.

Looking at the recipe, I think I’ve made this sound more complicated than it actually is. Basically, you steam open some clams in plenty of water–maybe with a bit of kombu for added flavor–and then use the cooking liquid to wilt greens and dissolve miso. Make your rice fresh, or use leftovers if you’ve got them. Combine everything in a bowl, and there’s your meal. This is a nice, relatively inexpensive way to treat yourself to seafood, with the comfort and quiet of a big bowl of broth.

clam-miso-soup

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Stuffed grape leaves

I have a Greek first name. Because of this, occasionally someone I’ve just met will ask me if I’m Greek. It always catches me off-guard, and I never have a witty response or a graceful way out of the conversation. So I always answer truthfully, “No. My parents just liked the name.” This usually leads to a brief awkward silence, as the questioner rethinks their line of conversation. I get really nervous during awkward silences, and when I get nervous I talk. So I usually start babbling about dolmas, until the other person gets bored and walks away.

If we’re measuring solely in terms of dolma consumption, I’m probably at least 19 percent Greek. I love them truly, deeply, almost as much as I love any food. When I was a kid, and my parents would host brunches for our extended family, they would go buy big spreads of things from the deli case at the market; I always insisted that they come home with plenty of dolmas. I’ll happily eat any kind, with meat or without, but my favorites are the classic rice-filled ones, just small enough to eat in a single bite. I will uncomplainingly eat as many of these as you can put in front of me, until I’m so full I waddle.

So when my coworker–who, incidentally, is half-Greek–mentioned that she’d made dolmas at home, and they’d turned out spectacularly well, you can bet I got the recipe out of her as fast as I could. And it turns out that homemade dolmas are a whole new level of delightful. They’re intensely flavored, slicked with olive oil and lemon juice, packed plump with rice and fresh herbs and tomato. This is definitely an all-day, labor-of-love, enlist-your-friends kind of project: make a stuffing of raw rice and various flavorful things, roll it in tiny tight grape-leaf bundles, line a baking dish with more grape leaves, submerge the rolls in water with oil and lemon, bake them until they’re chubby and soft, and let them cool completely in their own cooking liquid. The leaves turn bruise-black in places, and swell satisfyingly as the rice soaks up the herby juices. The rolls are just the perfect size, easy to pop into your mouth, each one a satisfying little morsel.

These absolutely must be eaten at room temperature. We got impatient and started eating them warm, and they just didn’t taste right–the rice was too crumbly, and the herbs were too aggressive. As they cooled, the flavors swung into balance, and I found them more and more appealing. They’re also, surprisingly, one of those foods that improves with a night or two in the fridge, as the herbs and rice have even more mingling time. My friend Lucia brought some of these leftover to a music festival the next day, and said they made great picnic food: the rolls stayed firmly together, the filling shone with flavor, and they were the perfect temperature by the time she wanted to eat them. As she put it, “They really didn’t last very long.”

dolmas 4th of july

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Arros negre (black paella)

Normally I’m not one for esoteric ingredients. Most of the time, I’ll go for fresh and familiar over strange and exotic. But there are exceptions to everything, and here’s one of them: I love squid ink. Madly. I’d never cooked with it until recently, but after making my first-ever squid ink paella, I’m completely and utterly smitten.

To my mind, there are few more intriguing foods than black paella. In Catalan it’s called “arros negre,” or black rice, and it’s really unlike any other rice dish you’re likely to encounter. Fleshy pieces of squid or cuttlefish are cooked deep into the rice, and then the whole thing is tinted black with a healthy dose of ink. Where an ordinary paella is bright, flashy, a riot of meats and vegetables, this is something else altogether: subtler, calmer, with a darker and richer flavor. The ink stains the outsides of the rice a deep grayish-black; the squid pieces relax into tender nuggets scattered through the rice. There’s a hint of tomato and pepper, and a little prick of smoked paprika, but the dish itself seems to murmur rather than shout.

So what does the squid ink add, exactly? I tend to think of it in the same way I do turmeric: its biggest draw is its dramatic color, but it also has a muted flavor of its own. Most descriptions will tell you that squid ink tastes, “briny,” or “like the sea,” which is entirely unhelpful. Clams and mussels taste “like the sea.” Good-quality fish tastes “like the sea.” Squid ink is more than that. It’s briny, yes, but it also has a slight iodine-like tang to it, a kind of dark rustiness. To me, the flavor is a little reminiscent of saffron, but heavier and just a wee bit saltier. It takes a fair amount of ink for that flavor to come through, and it suits rice and other starches particularly well, since they can robe themselves in it without competing for attention. I used a full tablespoon of ink in my paella, and it was not at all too much–in fact, I could have stood a bit more inkiness.

This is definitely something to make when you have people to impress, or an extravagant event to celebrate. Squid ink is expensive, but squid and rice are relatively cheap, so it’s easy to make a big pan of rice look more indulgent than it is. It’s also just as delicious at room temperature as it is warm, making it surprisingly low-impact for a multi-course affair. I made this as the main course for a tapas party, and was able to set it by with a towel over it while Sam and I prepped the rest of the food. And, of course, since Spanish rice dishes like this one must be eaten directly from the pan, you get to bring a heaping pan of gleaming black rice to the table and bask in all the oohs and ahhs.

black paella

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Gluten-free dumpling wrappers, and pork and tofu potstickers

Gluten-free potstickers. Oh, man, were these good.

Continuing our newly created tradition, Sam and I invited friends over for homemade Chinese food on Christmas. With an army of willing hands (and plenty of wine) at my disposal, it seemed like an ideal time to make potstickers. One of the friends who came over is newly gluten-free, and I wanted to make something special she could eat. Homemade potstickers are a treat to begin with, and made with fresh wrappers, they’re downright indulgent.

Right from the get-go, I knew I wanted a wrapper recipe that didn’t require flour blends or stabilizers. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, but given that I’m not gluten-free, I didn’t want to buy a specialized flour mix or a big bag of xanthan gum and have the rest of it go to waste. Fortunately, I found a recipe that relies on only rice flour and tapioca flour, both of which I’ve been meaning to buy anyway. Rice flour–the regular stuff, not glutinous rice flour (which doesn’t have gluten either, incidentally)–is great for dredging and battering fried foods, while tapioca flour or starch is considered the “gold standard” thickener for fruit pie fillings. I knew any leftovers would not go to waste.

gf potstickers round

I’m not going to kid you: this is a lot of work. The dough itself comes together lickety-split, but the process of forming the wrappers and folding the dumplings takes a while. This is where throwing a party and enlisting friends comes in handy. I had four people rolling balls of dough, flattening them with the bottom of a bowl, filling them, pleating them, and laying them out nicely on a baking sheet–and the whole process still took at least a couple of hours.

You’ll notice in the original blog post that Andrea Nguyen’s wrappers are perfectly smooth and thin; ours were shaggy and uneven, and many of our dumplings ended up looking more like stegosauruses than potstickers. It was very much a process of trial and error, as we learned that larger wrappers are easier to fill and pleat, but much harder to eat. I highly recommend keeping the wrappers on the small side, and covering any dough you’re not using with a towel to keep it moist and workable.

gf potstickers formed

For the filling, I adapted my trusty turkey potstickers recipe, using a mix of ground pork and crumbled tofu left over from making hot and sour soup. I started off doubling the wrapper recipe, which wasn’t quite enough to use up all the filling; I tried to make another full batch, but had only 1/2 cup of tapioca flour left, which worked out to 2/3 of a recipe. As it turned out, multiplying the original recipe by 2 2/3 gave us the perfect number of wrappers for our filling–I was astonished how well it worked out. I’ve included the larger numbers in the recipe below.

So how did the wrappers actually turn out? Not quite like ordinary potsticker wrappers, but phenomenally delicious in their own right. As they fried, they scented the kitchen with a wonderful sweet-toasty rice aroma, which I wasn’t expecting but thoroughly enjoyed. I actually thought it was easier to gauge doneness with these, since the dumplings started out opaque white, then turned translucent and slick when done. I got impatient with the first batch that came out of the pan–here’s me trying to pick up a hot potsticker with my fingers, and failing:

gf potstickers dropping

When I finally managed to let one cool enough–barely–to bite in, I was so happy I started dancing. The crust on the bottom of the potstickers was harder and crisper than with a wheat wrapper, and the tops were sticky and chewy and dense. The filling turned out pitch-perfect: it had that familiar fatty pork flavor, but the tofu made it light and almost fluffy. I mixed up a dipping sauce of tamari, rice vinegar, and scallions, then sat back and watched the dumplings disappear. Gluten-free and gluten-eaters alike, our friends gobbled them up–even the stegosaurus-looking ones.

I set aside some of the dumplings to freeze, as per usual: I popped the baking sheet they were on into the freezer, waited a couple of hours for them to harden, then slipped them into a plastic bag. The next day, I cooked a few straight from the freezer for lunch. They were just as delicious as they’d been the day before, when the wrappers were fresh–only now, they took minutes to make. In my book, that makes them an unqualified success.

gf potstickers dipped

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Pumpkin stuffed with coconut rice

Creativity in the kitchen is an oddly stodgy thing. There are twists and meanderings and the occasional hairpin turn, but for the most part, my creative process follows a predictable path.

Case in point: my dear friend Isabel hosted an Iron Chef party last weekend. The secret ingredient was pumpkin pie spice–cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and/or cloves. I was told to bring a vegetarian entree. Something in a pumpkin. Maybe with rice.

When a challenge like this comes along, I attack it in stages. They are, approximately:

  1. Panic. I don’t know what to do. I have no ideas. Anything can be stuffed in a pumpkin. Mushrooms. Nuts. Bread. Pasta. Quinoa. Soup. Potatoes. Tofu. No, not tofu. TOO MANY OPTIONS.
  2. Fixation. Wait, she said ginger. What if it was candied ginger? CANDIED GINGER. I love candied ginger. Candied ginger is sweet. Candied ginger is spicy. Nobody expects candied ginger in an entree. People will think I am a great kitchen god if I use candied ginger. This is brilliant. Candied ginger will be my ticket to Iron Chef glory. I can think of nothing but candied ginger for two days.
  3. Free Association. Hmm. Candied ginger. Ginger fried rice. Rice. Coconut rice. Coconut. Coconut and cardamom. Cardamom. Cardamom pistachio cake. Pistachio. I bet pistachios would be good in coconut rice. What if I stuffed the pumpkin with coconut rice? I’m going to stuff the pumpkin with coconut rice.
  4. Research. Google “coconut rice.” Google “coconut milk.” Google “white rice.” Google “brown rice.” Google “stuffed pumpkin.” Google “stuffed pumpkin recipe.” Google “toasting nuts.” Google “toasting spices.” Google “is candied ginger vegan.”
  5. Testing. Write out a recipe, in excruciating detail. Test the recipe. Be mildly disappointed that the real thing doesn’t measure up to the orgy of flavor perfection I’d concocted in my head (see steps 1-5).

I will say, though, this time I came awfully close to my perfectionist vision. The rice turned out fragrant and light, with bursts of toasty crunch from the nuts and pockets of sweetness from the ginger. The pumpkin slumped and browned obligingly in the oven, creating a gorgeous caramel-edged spectacle when it came out. The filling held together in pert wedges when the pumpkin was sliced, and then collapsed into a pile of fluffy grains at the touch of a fork.

It’s the kind of thing I just might make again–and that’s high praise.

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Arroz con cosas

Oh, paella.  I love you so.

From the moment we clicked “Confirm” on our plane tickets till we first set foot in Barcelona, I thought of nothing. but. paella.  Paella when I woke up every day.  Paella while I conditioned my hair in the shower.  Paella at work.  Paella at home.  Paella in the morning, paella in the evening, paella at suppertime…

And then we arrived.  And ate paella.  And it was GLORIOUS.  And I immediately began plotting how to make it for my very own self.

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From leftovers to lunch

Okay, I’ve tried to find some unifying theme for this post.  I’ve been typing and then deleting cute, smart-alecky intros for the past twenty minutes.  But you know what?  Here’s the upshot:

I made kimchi fried rice.  And it’s freaking delicious.

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