TND – Shallow Within Reason

May 14, 2012

I have a confession.  I need my cookbooks to have pictures.  This makes me feel like a little kid, but when I’m faced with a cookbook that’s just text I get lost and overwhelmed.  I need pretty pictures of the food to go with the recipes.  Partially this is for the simple reason that I believe in white space on the page like some people believe in the power of a good martini at 5pm on a Friday*.  Partially it is because, like many people, I eat with my eyes first and I need/like to be enticed by what something looks like as well as by the description of the ingredients.  And partially, it’s because I’m shallow and I just like the glossy food porn quality of the current cookbook market.

Case in point, as I perused Faith Durand’s “Not Your Mother’s Casserole’s” I was seduced – in order – by the pictures, the ingredient list, and how easy she promised it was going to be to make the recipes.  On the other side of the spectrum is Raghaven Iyer’s encyclopedic “660 Curries” which my roommate kindly lugged home from the library for me.  It is, without a doubt, everything I have ever needed to know about making a curry, in any iteration I could possibly desire.  It also has no pictures, about three recipes per page and is so overwhelming that the odds I can even identify a recipe in it that I want to make are stacked against me.  It’s too much information, too thorough, and just too much.  I feel like it would, for me at least, have been a more effective primer if he had picked one or two variations on each curry (as opposed to every iteration) and then teased my palate with pictures of the finished dish (or even of the spices in the dish).  That being said, having made my roommate bring it all the way across Boston I will attempt to take it in sections and note down the recipes that seem particularly appealing.

I also find that when I’m scouring the internet for recipes – either for inspiration for dinner, or for a recipe that will fill a specific craving I’m having (or use up a bunch of disparate ingredients lingering in my fridge) – that I will focus on the recipes that come with pictures, and skip over the ones that are just text.  Again, some of this is just an aesthetic preference, but there’s also a marginally good reason for my pickiness.  I want to know what the finished dish is supposed to look like so that when I go to make it I’ll know whether I’ve done something wrong (or, for a more positive spin, if I’ve done it right) when I get to the end of it.  Sometimes having seen a picture of the finished dish will let you make that logical leap between the written instructions and what you’re supposed to end up with – like, your sauce is supposed to be thicker than what you have in your pan, or X ingredient is supposed to break down and therefore needs to cook a little longer than the recipe specifies (or conversely, you should be careful not to cook it too long because it’s supposed to remain intact in your dish).

So in conclusion, shallow but occasionally shallow with a good reason.

* Replace the martini with a manhattan and I fervently believe in that too.

Meatballs Braised in Coconut Sauce
Rice Noodle Salad with Tamarind Sauce
Roasted Cabbage
Kale Salad with Peanut Dressing

Meatballs Braised in Coconut Sauce
(serves 4)

Having said that I like pretty pictures of my food, this is not a dish that takes a particularly attractive portrait.  It is, however, very tasty despite that failing.

This is a loose rendition of the recipe in Faith Durand’s cookbook.  I made my version a whole lot more complicated than her version, although it was still pretty easy.

I made 1 ½ times the recipe (i.e. 1 ½ lb of ground turkey), and accordingly made 1 ½ times the sauce recipe.  Next time I would scale the sauce back by ¼ to 1/3 – i.e. I would only make 1 times the sauce for 1 ½ times the meatballs.  Also, I would serve it with rice – which, to be fair, I knew I should do this week too but I was more in the mood for rice noodle salad than rice – because the rice would make it easier to scoop up and eat the yummy sauce.

Lemongrass Chicken Meatballs
(make 1x recipe – i.e. 1 lb of ground turkey)

Recipe previously given:  Kung Hei Fat Choi

Coconut Sauce
1 (14 oz) can coconut milk (light, or regular, or a mix)
2 tsp cornstarch
2” piece of ginger, grated
¼ cup thinly sliced shallots (or red onion)
½ cup chicken stock
¼ tsp chili powder
Zest & juice of 1 lime
1 tsp honey/brown sugar (optional)
¼ tsp garam masala

Whisk ¼ cup of coconut milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl.  Reserve.

Saute the ginger and shallots in a little vegetable oil until fragrant.  Add the chili powder and garam masala and cook for 30 seconds.  Add the remaining coconut milk and chicken stock.  Bring to a simmer, then whisk in the coconut milk-cornstarch slurry.  Cook over a low heat until slightly thickened.  Whisk in the lime zest and juice and season to taste (will take a fair amount of salt – up to ½ tsp).

Preheat oven to 400.

Arrange the meatballs in a lightly greased baking dish and roast for 15 minutes*.

Reduce the oven heat to 350.

Pour the coconut sauce over the meatballs and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and meatballs are tender.

* 1 ½ lb of ground turkey netted me 25 meatballs, which I could just squeeze into a 9×13 pan.  I actually own a roasting pan that is basically the size of my oven (it lives on top of my fridge because I don’t have a cupboard big enough to house it), so if I wanted to make this in bulk I could, but I suspect that most people do not own roasting pans this size.  You could, in that case, roast the meatballs on a baking tray and then transfer them to a casserole dish and pour the sauce over to finish cooking – once the meatballs have baked for 15 minutes they are firm enough that jumbling them over each other won’t break them up, and as long as they’re covered by sauce they’ll do the braising thing they’re supposed to do.

Rice Noodle Salad with Tamarind Sauce

Rice noodles (figure about 1 ½ – 2 oz dry noodles/person)
Mangos, julienned or diced small
Red Peppers, diced small
Cucumbers, halved, seeded and thinly sliced on the diagonal
Mint, roughly chopped
Lime Wedges, on side for serving

Prepare rice noodles according to instructions on package (usually some variation on 3 minutes in boiling water/drain & rinse).  Toss with just enough sesame oil and lime juice to keep them from sticking together.  Allow to cool.

Toss the cooled rice noodles with the other ingredients.  Generously drizzle tamarind sauce over the top.  Serve with lime wedges and additional tamarind sauce on the side.

Tamarind Sauce
(makes ½ cup)

2 Tbsp brown sugar
6 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp tamarind concentrate
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp finely slivered fresno (or other mild) chili, seeded
(optional – 1 tsp cilantro)

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and warm until the sugar dissolves.  Remove pan from heat and add lime juice, tamarind concentrate and soy sauce.  Whisk until smooth.  Allow to cool then stir in garlic, chili (and cilantro if using).  Adjust seasoning to taste – the sauce should be tangy and slightly sour.

Roasted Cabbage
(serves 4-6)
Resist the urge to make this with red cabbage.  It seems like the red cabbage will look spectacular (and it will), but it will also never get crispy.

1 head green cabbage
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ Tbsp grated ginger
1 ½ tsp coriander
Juice of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 400.

Mix the vegetable oil, ginger and coriander and lemon juice.

Slice the cabbage into ½ – ¾” thick wedges and arrange carefully on a sheet pan.  Brush each side of the cabbage wedge with the seasoned oil (you may not need all of it).  Season generously with salt and pepper.

Roast for 25-30 minutes, turning once (carefully), or until cabbage is crispy and tender.

Kale Salad with Peanut Dressing

Recipe previously given:  Oscars 2012


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