Saturday, March 13, 2010

Homage to Barbara Tropp

I took myself into San Francisco for some urban walking and a solo lunch.  Do you ever lunch alone?  It's quite wonderful - peaceful and self indulgent at the same time. I highly recommend it.

As I was walking past the Embarcardero Center and looked down at the wonderful sidewalk tiles

I remembered another day, walking on those same tiles, headed out to another solo lunch at China Moon Cafe, owned by the late, wonderful Barbara Tropp.  I remember what I wore, what I ate, and some chat time with Barbara, who happened to be there that day.  I miss her and her food.

Barbara did for Chinese cooking what Julia did for French cuisine: made it accessible, and almost easy. Her magnum opus should be in everyone's cookbook collection - it's a great read, even if you don't cook. She was a wonderfully opinionated, nuanced, writer and cook.

So, here is the simplest and one of my favorite of her recipes.  I'll just quote the book directly - why mess with perfection?

Dijon Mustard. Sauce
I loathe most Chinese mustard sauces, with their raw, strong bite. The culprit is dry mustard, which is almost always harsh and bitter. Here instead is a smooth and tingly East-meets-West mustard sauce, flavored by sesame oil and Dijon mustard. It is a superb garnish for an endless variety of foods, from hot Chinese meatballs to Jewish corned-beef-on-Rye. 
Technique Notes:  Sea salt works perfectly in this East-West blend.  Its flavor accentuates the charactar of the mustand in a way that Kosher salt does not.  it is a fine point, but if you have it on hand then try it.

Yields 1 cup

1/2 cup mild, unflavored Dijon mustard - Maille, Dessaux, Amora brands recommended in that order
1/2 cup Chinese or Japanese sesame oil
2 Tbsp. unseasoned Chinese or Japanese rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. Chinese rice wine or quality dry sherry
fine sea salt to taste

Blend the ingredients until thoroughly emulsified, in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, in a blender, or by hand.  Taste and adjust with salt.  Let mellow several hours at room temperature or refrigerate overnight in a clean, airtight container jar. Use at room temperature for best taste and bouquet. Store airtight in the refrigerator.  The sauce will keep indefinitely. For best consistency, whisk or return briefly to the processor or blender before each use.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Enchantment of Cilantro

I lived in Anchorage, Alaska for a year and a half many years ago. The time was an adventure and truly something one should do in their 20's.  But as a foodie even then, I was a tad bereft.  At the time, there was not much good food to be had. Restaurant fare was generic, and raw ingredients, especially produce, were more than a challenge.  I do remember paying over $10 for a honeydew melon that I simply HAD to have.  The check-out clerk stopped with her hand on the melon after weighing it and seeing the price. "You sure?" she said. I was.

For some reason, I developed a craving for cilantro and there was none to be found.  I scoured the Mexican  and Asian grocery stores and occasionally found a sad, shriveled, muddy little bunch.  But not often.  Then miracle of miracles, I finally I found a Mexican dive - a hole in the wall, with the best mole I've ever had (even today) and a generous hand with the cilantro.

I grabbed my then boyfriend now husband and dragged him to this little place, gushing about the fantastic food, and wonderful mole.  We went on a very rainy, dreary night, good sport that he was.  This night, THIS night, the owner had taken the night off and had put the restaurant and the kitchen in the hands of 2 kids that I'm sure he just grabbed off the street.  The kids looked slightly hysterical with fear as the place got busy.  They had absoluteley no idea what they were doing.  No table got bussed, I can't remember how long it took to get served. And the food was a dim echo of what it should have been.  We finished, left, and quietly went out for a margarita somewhere else.  I was embarrassed and angry, and my sweet man never said a thing.

My friend Patricia Jinich a master Mexican cook and teacher does a lot of wonderful things with cilantro in her blog as does Monica Bhide in her blog on Indian food and spices  You will find many wonderful recipes using cilantro. I bow to these pros.  I just want to give you one of my favorites here.

Salsa Verde/Chimichurri
This is one of my very favorite condiments and once I've made a batch, slather it on anything that makes sense.  It's superb on a thinly sliced flank or skirt steak, wonderful on top of a vegetable frittata, and a spoonfull stirred into a bean soup is bliss.  As usual with my recipes, they aren't really recipes at all but suggestions - quantities will vary according to your taste.

Wash carefully parsley and cilantro in equal parts.  Chop to equal about 1/2 cup of each.  Add a clove of peeled garlic, and Tbsp or so of drained capers and 1/2 tsp of Kosher or course salt.  Continue chopping or transfer to a mortar if you have one, and smash to a rough paste with the pestle.  I have added anchovies in the past, but as much as I love them, I think it confuses the green flavor of the salsa.  Add enough good olive oil to make a thick sauce and taste for saltiness.  You may want to add a splash of vinegar to brighten it up. But the main flavor is an intense GREEN.  Lovely.