Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Spicy Ramp Kati Roll

It's that time of the year. Spring has arrived and with it the rich bounty of ramps at the farmers markets!

Ever since ramp-mania began to show up on chef's menus everywhere a few years ago, this seasonal vegetable has been featured prominently on foodie blogs including mine. Beloved as much for its short life span (ranging from 4-6 weeks) as its intense garlicky flavor, I found this season's crop of ramps to particularly spicy.

My favorite way of eating ramps is a simple sauté. But since I found myself stockpiling on bunches of ramps galore, I decided that I didn't need to be stingy with my experimentations.  One of the best ways to feature ramps is definitely in a pesto. Since I had created a ramp pesto in the past, I wanted to give it a bit of an update and use it in an entrèe from one of my favorite cuisines that I rarely have unfortunately: an Indian kati roll. 

Generally, kati rolls are street food that are characterized as an Indian flat bread stuffed with a filling of your choice. They were introduced to NYC with much acclaim in Greenwich Village late night joint, Kati Roll in 2002 with many trying to replicate their success. A favorite with NYU students because of its proximity and a destination for after-hour eats after a night of drinking and dancing, you can usually expect to wait a bit to place your order. But it is always well worth the wait. The soft bread and crunchy crust on the outside with the delicious filling of your choice rolled up inside is so much better than the usual pizza or Grey's Papaya hot dog.

For the filling, I decided to go completely vegetarian with tofu, kale and ramps. Veggies, hope you're reading! This is a rarity for me because as much as I enjoy eating vegetarian food, I just like a bit of protein to my meals. However, I think Indian food always creates some of the best vegetarian dishes around so I felt it apropos to use tofu as my protein for the kati roll.

For my spicy ramp kati rolls, tofu is really great to use since it takes on the flavor of the marinade and ramps. You can also replace it with eggplant or portabello mushrooms. The kale leaf adds a tiny fresh crunch and the topping of tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and cilantro cools the heat of the pesto. The lemon juice brings all the flavors out and adds a nice zing to the roll. If you want to remove some of the heat, I would just leave out the Thai red chile I used in the pesto.

This is a great make ahead dish as it takes only a few minutes to cook the ramps, tofu and paratha. Have all the ingredients together and a yummy meal will be ready for you in minutes even if you are on the go!
The frenzy for ramps at Union Square Farmer's Market in NYC.
Serves 4

Spicy Asian ramp pesto (makes 2 cups):
1 bunch ramp, leaves only (reserve stem & bulbs for another use)
1 cup mint
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 Thai red chile, seeded
1/2 cup unsalted peanuts
Zest of 2 limes
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Kati Rolls:
16 slices extra firm tofu, cut into medium size rectangles 1/2" thick
1 1/4 cups spicy ramp pesto
1/2 Persian cucumbers, peeled and diced finely
1/4 cup grape tomatoes, diced finely
2 tbsp Vidalia onions, diced finely
Juice of 1/2 lemon
12 ramp stalks, cleaned and quartered
4 tbsp grape seed oil
4 frozen paratha or Indian flat bread
4 pieces raw kale, rib removed
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
2 tbsp raw ramp leaves, sliced into thin strips (optional)

For pesto:
1. In a food processor, add all ingredients except olive oil. On high, blend it together and slowly add oil into the mixture. Process for several minutes until it reaches the right consistency. Add more oil as needed.

2. Refrigerate in a sealed jar until ready to use. Keeps well for 2-3 weeks.

For Kati Roll:
1. In a large ziplock bag, marinade tofu with 1 cup pesto for at least 4 hours or overnight. Make sure each piece is well covered.

2. In a small mixing bowl, add onion, tomatoes, cucumber and lemon juice. Season lightly with freshly ground black peppercorn. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Pre-heat an oiled cast iron skillet. Add ramps once hot and char on both sides. Remove from heat and put aside until ready to use.

4. Put tofu on the skillet at an angle so it creates nice char marks. Grill for 2-3 minutes on each side until it is creates golden brown marks. Make sure your fan or window is open as it will get smoky! Turn off heat and keep to the side until ready to plate.

5. In a skillet, warm up 1 tbsp oil over medium high heat. Cook the paratha on each side for approximately 3-4 minutes until golden brown and crusty on both sides. Repeat with each paratha.

6. To plate, lay paratha flat and smear the remaining pesto evenly along center of bread. Next, lay 1 pc of raw kale on top followed by 3 ramps. Lay 4 pieces of cooked tofu at a diagonal. Sprinkle with onion, cucumber and tomato mixture and cilantro-ramp. Repeat with the last 3 rolls. Serve immediately.

Happy eating!


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thai Yellow Curry Fried Rice

I was away from home for the most part of February into March traveling for work.  And when I'm away, all I do while I'm indulging in all my work-expensed meals is daydreaming about the first thing I'm going to cook when I'm back home.  While I was in my hotel in West Hollywood, I was visiting the Mistress of Spice's blog when I stumbled upon her Thai red curry fried rice.

Drooling while I re-read the post, I made a promise to go home and use the red curry I had brought back from one of my food shopping trips in Paris at the food mecca, Lafayette Gourmet at Galeries Lafayette.  Fried rice is a real comfort food me growing up in my Taiwanese household.  It is a great way to use leftover white rice as it gives it new life. The only time my mom ever made fried rice with us was if she needed to use up rice that was a few days old.  She never used freshly made rice as it contains too much moisture and doesn't allow the rice to crisp up that much. Once I was old enough to start helping my mom in the kitchen as a teenager, I was given the responsibility of making the rice in the cooker. I would deliberately cook more rice than needed so that my mom would be forced to make us fried rice that week! It was (and still is!) my favorite dish to make at home, though my variation is slightly different from my mom's now.

So two days after I found myself back home in my lovely, tiny studio (there really is no place like home!) I stopped by my local Chinese spot to pick up a pint of white rice since I had run out of my jasmine rice right before I left for my work travels.  I opened my fridge and pulled out the curry paste to find I didn't have red curry, but YELLOW curry. No problem! A quick look through my fridge and freezer and I pulled out some coconut flakes, an egg, leftover grape tomatoes, chicken breasts and a kaffir lime leaf...the holy grail that holds that umami flavor in Thai cooking next to fish sauce.

Since yellow curry has a slightly sweeter taste to its heat, the coconut was the perfect complement for it. Once I toasted them a beautiful golden brown, it also added a nice textural contrast in the dish. You can adjust the level of heat by reducing/increasing the curry paste. I thought mine was just the right amount of heat without making it painful to eat! Feel free to substitute the chicken with eggplant or tofu if you do not eat meat.  If you are trying to be more health conscious, brown rice is also perfectly acceptable; it will probably add a nice nutty flavor. I have just never learned to like brown rice having eaten white rice my entire life.

This weekend is the MOST appropriate time to cook this dish for yourself or your family as today signifies the beginning of the Songkran Festival (otherwise known as Thailand Water Festival).  It is the most important festival for Thai people. Celebrated as the traditional Thai New Year, the Thai people sprinkle water on the elders in show of respect and pay respect to Buddha images. This year Songkran will run from Thursday, April 12th-Sunday, April 15th.  So get out there with your water guns in tow and then satisfy your hunger afterwards with this comforting dish!
Celebration of Songkran in the streets of Chiang Mai. - Photo by Ramya Vivekanandan

Serves 4

3 tbsp coconut flakes, lightly toasted
2 tbsp grapeseed oil
1 large egg, beaten
2 medium size boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp ginger, finely minced
1/4 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 kaffir lime leaves
2 tbsp yellow curry paste
3 tbsp water
2 cups leftover white rice
1 lime, quartered

1.  In a large wok, toast the coconut flakes over medium heat until they are golden brown and have started to caramelize a bit around the edges. Remove from heat and reserve until ready to use.

2.  In the same wok, warm oil over high heat and add eggs. Roll around pan and cook for a few minutes.  It should still be somewhat uncooked.  Do not let brown on bottom. Remove from heat and reserve until ready to use.

3. Still using the same wok over medium-high heat, add the chicken.  Cook until both sides are no longer pink. Add onion and cook until slightly translucent. Then, add garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and kaffir lime leaves. Saute together for a minute. Add curry paste and water; mix together.

4. Raise heat to high, add rice and eggs. Make sure everything is mixed together.  I always like to make sure every grain of rice has a bit of the sauce and ingredients are evenly distributed so you get a bite of everything together.  Cook for an additional 4-5 minutes over high and stir occasionally to avoid rice from sticking to the bottom.  It's perfect if it starts to create a bit of crust on the rice, but we don't want it to stick! Add 2 tbsp coconut flakes to the rice and mix together one last time.

5. Remove kaffir lime leaves from the wok. Serve immediately in individual bowls and top with toasted coconut flakes and a wedge of lime.

Kŏr hâi jà-rern aa-hăan or bon appetit!!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Lime-Lavender Madeleines: An Easter Treat from the South of France

For those of you who are wondering, what exactly is a madeleine?  You'll probably recognize them as those somewhat stale, overly sweet, kind of cake-like, shell-shaped treats that you find at your local Starbucks and Costco. Originating from the Lorraine region in northeastern France, madeleines are usually more sponge-like cakes. Much lighter and fluffier (and buttery!) in their native country, madeleines are delicious to eat alongside your morning/afternoon cup of tea or dipped into your cafe créme.

I adapted a madeleine recipe I found in one of my old Gourmet issues and changed it to suit my purposes. To me, nothing shouts spring and the memories of southern France than lavender.  I have no idea why. But the delicate purple blossoms and light floral scent that is not too sweet or cloying just embodies the warmth of the healing spring sun.  Known for its medicinal and herbal properties, lavender has been used for various things such as burns, insect bites and more commonly to relax the mind and induce sleep. Paired with the sharp, cleansing citrus zing of limes, it perfectly offsets the herbaceousness of the lavender.

The sugar and butter gives the madeleines a natural caramelization alongside the edges and has a slight crisp when you first bite into it.

This recipe is the perfect way to start off your Easter morning while the kids are all outside hunting the eggs all of the adults hid earlier in the day. Brew up a cup of your morning joe, dunk your lime-lavender madeleine, bite, and slowly savor the morning sun on your face and the taste of spring and Provence on your tongue.
View of sunflower fields from the train going through Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region.
I hope that everyone has a safe and wonderful Easter with their families and loved ones! I know that I am looking forward to some glazed ham and deviled eggs alongside with a light snack of these madeleines with tea to unwind while everything cooks in my kitchen.

Makes 16

2 large eggs
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
1/3 cup organic agave syrup
Zest from 2 limes
1/2 tsp lavender, crushed
Pinch of salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
1 cup flour
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

2 tbsp powdered sugar
1 lime, juiced
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a large non-reactive bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and agave syrup. Add in lime zest, lavender, baking powder and salt. Mix again.

3. Slowly add in flour. Whisk until incorporated before adding more. Slowly add in butter, whisking it all in.

4. Butter each mold to avoid any issues of sticking. Fill each madeleine mold with the batter to the top. Bake for 14 minutes until lightly golden on top with a nice caramelized brown crust along the edges. Always remember to butter the mold before doing the next batch.

5. While madeleine is baking, whisk together powdered sugar and lime juice in a small bowl. Put aside until ready to use.

6. Take madeleines out and let cool for a few minutes before popping them out. While warm, immediately brush the tops with the lime glaze. Let cool completely.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Hello readers! I feel like I am constantly apologizing for disappearing for weeks at a time. But I promise that at least for the next few months you have my undivided attention. :)

Unfortunately, the last bit of winter continues to linger here in New York. The plus side is that I can continue comfortably having my soup without sweat dripping down my face. Yes, a pretty sight I know.

I try to cook for my dog Tyler at least once a week. I know it sounds crazy, but it is cheaper and I control exactly what goes into it. I started doing it last year and came up with a really easy mini meatball recipe made with a heart conscious ground chicken that he loves. It makes so many mini meatballs that I decided to just use the rest for myself after I made his batch (after I add salt for myself of course!). You can use your fingers to roll the meatballs or melon baller if you have one on hand.

I love making meatballs. I don't know why I never thought of making it sooner since they're so easy and I can definitely make them more health conscious. With my beach bachelorettes and weddings this summer, it is definitely weighing heavily on me.

There's no better way for me to enjoy mini meatballs except in an Italian wedding soup. Tasty little meatballs floating in an herby clear broth among the tiny tubes of pasta and sweet vegetables and finished with just a squeeze of fresh lemon and shredded parmesan. It makes my mouth drool thinking of it and the perfect soup to deals spring! The lemon is not necessary but I think it brings a citrusy zing to the soup and gives it a clean taste.

You will definitely have leftover mini meatballs. Just store them in a sealed Ziploc freezer bag and take them out anytime you need them: spaghetti and meatballs, Swedish meatballs, meatball skewers for your next cocktail party, etc etc. They are so handy to have around in your freezer!

This Italian wedding soup is great to make the night before as all the flavors come together overnight. It is also a perfect way to use up leftover pasta. Happy Friday everyone!
Serves 4

For mini meatballs (makes 5 dozen):
1/2 lb ground chicken
1 large egg
1/2 cup panko or breadcrumbs
1 tsp herbes de Provence
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

For soup:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 fennel stem, sliced 1/2-inch thick (fronds reserved)
1/2 onion finely diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp red chile flakes
4 cups low sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
1/2 bunch fresh spinach or 1 1/2 cup frozen spinach
20 mini-chicken meatballs
1 cup cooked whole wheat piccolini or small whole wheat pasta
Salt and freshly ground mixed peppercorns
1 lemon, quartered
Shredded Parmesan to top (optional)

For meatballs:
1. In a large non-reactive bowl, add ground chicken and all dry ingredients. Using your hands, mix together. Add egg and mix until well-blended.

2. Using your fingers or melon baller, form gumball size mini meatballs. Place evenly on cooking sheet lined with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Refrigerate for an hour to allow them to firm up.
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Place cookie sheet with meatballs in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned on top. Let cool. Reserve meatballs to be used and soup and freeze balance once it comes to room temperature.

For soup:
1. In a stockpot, warm oil over medium heat. Add carrot, onion, fennel and garlic. Sauté for approximately 3-5 minutes until vegetables start browning a bit.

2. Add herbs to vegetable mixture. Stir together and then add spinach. Bring heat to medium high, add broth and bring to a boil. Once it has come to a boil, bring it to low heat, cover the pot and let simmer for 30-45 minutes. This allows all the flavors to really come together.

3. Add pasta and meatballs. Cook for an additional 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Ladle equal proportions in a bowl and top with Parmesan and a wedge of lemon. Serve immediately while hot.