French Tarragon Vinaigrette

French Tarragon Vinaigrette

At last, with the arrival of spring crops coming to market, it is time to let green produce be the star attraction. By that I mean salads composed using the freshest greens along with some early baby green beans, freshly picked herbs, and crisp sliced radishes tossed with an herb vinaigrette to really savor the fresh flavors of spring. I always gravitate towards the subtle anise like flavor of fresh French tarragon accented with a hint of lemon in a vinaigrette that pairs beautifully with freshly picked garden greens.

For this salad I have used a combination of leafy greens as well as a deep green curly leaf kale, but use any fresh greens that are available.

 

For the vinaigrette, use fresh French Tarragon leaves if available. Tarragon has been loved by French cooks for centuries for its fresh clean subtle flavor and aroma. The small yellow flowers are edible by the way so do include them in the salad . Otherwise a good quality dried French tarragon will be just fine.

 

I like to make the vinaigrette a day in advance so that the flavors have a chance to coalesce.

Fresh Tarragon Vinaigrette:  makes 6 oz/ ¾ cup

  • 1 ½ teaspoon grated (microplaned) shallot
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder 
  • 1½ teaspoons minced fresh French tarragon leaves; or ¾ teaspoon dried
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup light olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ teaspoon minced lemon zest
  • pinch of sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Alternately, You can combine the shallots, mustard powder, tarragon, salt, pepper, and vinegar in a non reactive bowl and whisk to combine. Then begin adding the olive oils in a slow steady stream while whisking vigorously until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Then add the lemon zest and sugar and whisk until combined.

Ideally, cover and refrigerate the vinaigrette for 24 hours before using.

For the salad:

  • assorted leafy greens
  • curly leaf kale
  • baby green beans (haricot vert)
  • radishes, thinly sliced
  • fresh herbs; marjoram, oregano, or lemon thyme
  • freshly grated Parmesan
  • flaked sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper

If you are using kale, remove the center rib from the leaves and discard. Tear the leaves and place them in a steamer basket.

Trim the green beans and place them in the steamer basket along with the kale. Set the steamer basket over simmering water and steam until the kale is tender, but al dente. The beans may take a few minutes longer, but should also be al dente. Set both the kale and the beans out on a kitchen towel and cool. Once cool refrigerate both until you are ready to assemble the salad.

Assembling the salad:

Place the greens, including the chilled kale leaves, in a large bowl and toss to combine. Then add the green beans on top. Spoon a few teaspoons of the vinaigrette over all and toss to combine.

Transfer the mixed greens and beans to individual salad plates. Tuck the radish slices randomly into the greens. Spoon more vinaigrette over all sparingly. Lightly grate the Parmesan over the salads and serve.

Place a small bowl of additional dressing on the table along with the crystallized sea salt and a pepper mill.

Key Lime Tart

Key Lime Tart

 

This is a Key lime tart I’ve been making for 30 some years that never fails to please and it couldn’t be easier to make. There is no baking involved so the tart can be completed in less than an hour. The filling is a simple fresh lime curd that is then poured into a crumb crust and refrigerated…and Voila!

 

Key Lime Tart

Key Lime Tart

 

The Florida Keys, and Key West in particular, have enjoyed a legendary notoriety associated with the novelist Ernest Hemingway and a bunch of his famous, as well as infamous, cronies that used to hang out until the wee hours of the morning at Sloppy Joe’s and Captain Tony’s in Key West in the 30’s and 40’s. So, by association, the Key lime pie is fondly embraced as an American classic with a smooth creamy custard like filling made with Florida Key lime juice and sweetened condensed milk. The sweetened condensed milk adds a certain element of decadence to the pie, but I myself much prefer the unadulterated flavor of lime curd filling just as it is.

While the Key lime certainly holds a certain cache, this type of lime is easily found throughout the West Indies, Mexico, and as far afield as Thailand. Obviously certified Key limes are going to be hard to find, so when you go shopping what you want to look out for are smaller thin skinned limes which will have a more acidic intense lime flavor and aroma than the larger Persian limes you are probably more familiar with. Bottled Key lime juice is available, but don’t be tempted. There is no substitute for freshly squeezed lime juice for this recipe.

Key Lime Tart

The following recipe works equally well using lemon juice or try using fresh passion fruit juice. (click here for recipe)

Needed: one 9 or 10 inch tart pan

Tart crust:

  • 1 ½ to 2 cups crumbs made from either Graham Crackers or Digestive biscuits
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3  teaspoon sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons/ 3 oz/ 85 g unsalted butter, melted

Break up the crackers or digestive biscuits into the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until you have a fine crumb. Add the sugar and salt and pulse until combined. Then pour the melted butter over the crumbs and pulse until the crumbs just begin to clump together.

Press the crumb mixture into the tart pan, being sure to distribute the crumbs evenly, so the crust has an overall uniform thickness.

Transfer the crumb lined pan to the refrigerator and chill until the crust has firmed up, about 40 minutes.

Lime Curd Filling:

Zest a couple of the limes before you juice them and set the zest aside.

  • 4 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, strained
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces/ 85 g) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Choose a non reactive stainless mixing bowl the will fit snugly over a wide pan placed below it.

Partially fill the wide pan with water and place it over medium heat on the stove top. Heat the water without coming to a boil.

meanwhile place the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar into the mixing bowl and whisk together until the sugar is thoroughly combined. Then add the lime juice and whisk until completely incorporated into the egg mixture.

Place the bowl over the hot water (being sure the water is not boiling below)  creating a Ban Marie. Whisk the mixture in a continuous circular motion without creating a froth. After a few minutes the mixture will begin thicken rather quickly, so once the mixture has the consistency of a soft custard like curd, promptly remove the bowl from the heat. Scatter the small cubes of butter over the surface and once melted gently fold the butter into the curd until completely incorporated.

Remove the chilled crumb crust from the refrigerator and pour the lime curd filling into the crust shell. Giggle the pan gently to even out the filling and, if necessary, gently smooth the surface with a spatula.

Distribute the lime zest over the surface and return the pie to the refrigerator until the filling has firmed up. You can then cover the pie with cling film and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

As pictured serve the tart with a strained strawberry or raspberry puree along with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche.

Papadzules

Papadzules

 

Papadzules are the Yucatan’s extraordinarily delicious and irresistible breakfast enchiladas. Freshly made corn tortillas are dipped into a toasted pumpkin seed sauce and filled with hard cooked eggs and finished with additional sauce and a Yucatecan spicy salsa de jitomate! The nuanced flavors of the Yucatan’s pre-Colombian Mayan cuisine will all be revealed within the very first bite.

There are several components and perhaps some unfamiliar ingredients used for this recipe, but the preparations will allow you time to immerse yourself in the flavors and techniques that make the food of the Yucatan so unique. I find working away in the kitchen is a perfect time to let your thoughts wander and savor the journey as well as ending up with a meal that has a story of its own to tell.

There are a couple of ingredients that are Yucatan specific that may be hard to find, but I have included alternatives that reflect the intended flavor.

Epazote

Epazote

Epazote is especially popular with cooks in the Yucatan. It is a wild herb with a slightly astringent resinous flavor that is best used fresh, although dried is perfectly acceptable. It is an acquired taste, but pairs well when cooked with beans as well as soups and stews. Available fresh in some Latin markets or dried online. It is also easy to grow if you become a fan. An alternative flavor combination is provided in the recipe.

Habanero chile

Habanero chile

The Yucatan is the largest exporter of Habanero chiles in the world. The Habanero is a relatively small chile but packs a wallop of heat, so

beware! That said, the slightly sweet fruity flavor of this chile counterbalances the heat just a bit. Available fresh as well as dried, although they can be hard to find. A reasonable substitute would be several small fresh red Thai chiles.

For authenticity I have referenced Diana Kennedy’s recipe for Papazules from her wonderful book The Cuisines of Mexico first published in 1972.

 

Papadzules   serves 4

Have on hand:

  • Freshly made corn tortillas (or packaged)
  • 4 hard cooked eggs

Prepare ahead:

Yucatecan Salsa de Jitomate

  • 4 plump vine ripe tomatoes
  • 1 onion
  • ½ head garlic
  • 1 red Habanero chile, or 4 medium size fresh Thai red chiles
  • 1 teaspoon of salt or more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil

This salsa can be made well in advance and stored in the refrigerator for several days.

Preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c

Brush the whole tomatoes, onion, garlic. and the small red chiles (if substituting for the Habanero chile) with oil and place on the grill, or stove top grill, and roast until the skin is evenly charred on all sides. Then transfer the tomatoes, onion, and garlic to a baking tray and place in the preheated oven for about 1 hour. Remove the garlic after about 30 minutes and set aside to cool.

Place the charred chiles in a small bowl and seal with clingfilm and set aside to sweat.

When the tomatoes and onion are fully roasted and quite soft remove from the oven and set aside to cool. When they are cool remove the charred skin from the tomatoes, cut in half and remove the seeds and cores. Transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl and crush them using your hands. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins and add them to the tomatoes.
Remove the outer skin of the onion, chop the onion finely and add it to the tomatoes.

Finally remove the charred skin from the small chiles, slit open lengthwise, and remove all the seeds. Then dice the chiles and add them to the tomatoes.

If you are using a fresh Habanero chile I would suggest using gloves to avoid a lingering burning sensation on your fingers from the capsaicin residue. Open the Habanero chile and remove the seeds, finely mince the chile, and add it to the bowl of the tomatoes.

Smash the tomatoes, garlic onions and chiles together to release all the juices. Then place a large skillet over medium high heat and add the peanut oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add the tomato salsa mixture and fry for about 5 to 10 minutes or until the salsa juices have reduced and the salsa has thickened. Season with salt to taste and set aside to cool. You can then store the salsa in a lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Broth for the pumpkin seed sauce

  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 2 large sprigs fresh epazote
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt

If epazote sprigs are not available substitute:

  • 3 sprigs flat leaf parsley
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds 
  • coriander root

Place the water in a saucepan along with the epazote, including the stems, and the salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. If epazote is not available add the parsley, oregano, fennel seeds, coriander root, and salt to the water and simmer for 15 minutes.

Allow the broth to cool. Then strain the broth and set aside to use later.

Toasted Pumpkin Sauce

  • 6 oz/ 170g unsalted green pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted and finely ground
  • broth

Place the pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet set over medium heat. Keep the seeds in motion so they toast evenly without loosing their green color. Once the seeds begin to pop keep turning the seeds until they are evenly toasted. Promptly transfer the seeds to a tray to cool.

When the seeds are completely cool transfer them to a spice grinder and grind into a flour like powder. You will have to do this in batches and be sure to shake the grinder so the seeds are evenly ground. Place all the ground seeds in a wide shallow dish.

Then sprinkle about ¼ cup of the both over the ground seeds. Using a silicone spatula mound the damp seed mixture together until it binds together in a mound on one side of the dish. Prop the dish up on one side so it is slightly inclined with with mound of damp seeds on the elevated side of the dish.

Begin compressing the seed mixture with the spatula and you will see pumpkin seed oil appearing and flowing to the lower side of the dish. Diana Kennedy explains in her recipe that the oil is then used to decorate the Papadzules just before serving. This step is entirely up to you. The collected oil will be about 2 tablespoons. If you don’t want to bother with this step just mound the seed paste together and transfer it to a small saucepan.

Add some of the broth to the saucepan and stir it into the seed mixture until the mixture is quite fluid. Place the saucepan over medium low heat and stir continuously while the sauce heats up, without actually boiling, and begins to thicken. At this point it is important to stir continuously as the sauce will otherwise stick to the bottom of the pan and scorch.

Once the sauce is slightly thick you can blend the sauce with a hand held blender until the sauce is very smooth, adjusting the consistency by adding additional broth as needed. Ideally the sauce should resemble thick cream.

The best way to hold the sauce until you are ready to assemble the Papazules is to transfer the sauce to a stainless mixing bowl set over a pot of nearly simmering water; a ban marie kind of arrangement. This will keep the sauce from curdling as it tends to do if it is held over direct heat. Keep the remaining broth on hand to stir into the sauce if it begins to dry out or curdle.

Assembling the Papadzules for serving. Traditionally Papadzules are served warm rather than hot.

Gather all the components together for easy assembly. Be sure the sauce is warm and slide a tortilla through the sauce to coat. Do this quickly as you do not want the tortilla to get soggy. Promptly place the tortilla on a plate, scatter the chopped egg over the inner surface, and roll the tortilla to encase the chopped egg filling.

Place 2 filled tortillas on a plate for each serving. Spoon additional pumpkin seed sauce over the filled tortillas, and then spoon the salsa diagonally over the sauced Papadzules. Garnish with fresh epazote leaves if available, or with fresh oregano leaves as pictured.

Buen proveche !

Other recipes from the Yucatan you may want to try:

Pollo Pibil (click here)

Cochinita Pibil (click here)

Chinese Long Noodle Soup

Chinese Long Noodle Soup

 

 

2019 is The Year of the Pig in the Chinese Zodiac and calendar. The pig symbolizes wealth and good fortune which bodes well for the year ahead!

In China the New Year is a week long holiday where families either return home to celebrate or seize the opportunity to travel together during holiday. Tens of thousands of visitors from mainland China will be arriving here in Thailand as I write to join in the local celebrations. Here in Chiang Mai both locals and tourists alike will be flocking to Kad Luang Market, also known as Talat Worarot, to stock up on local products of every description for the coming celebrations. The market is also adjacent to one of several Chinese temples here in Chiang Mai where throngs of local celebrants will gather on the eve of the New Year to usher in a year of prosperity, happiness, and auspiciousness.

 

 

Of course food plays a big part in the Chinese New Year festivities including many traditional dishes with symbolic significance. A typical New Year’s meal “nian ye” may include as many as twelve or more dishes including spring rolls, dumplings, steamed fish, steamed chicken, assorted rice cakes, hot pots, and noodle dishes. A feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds awaits.

Having picked up freshly made long noodles, dried Chinese mushrooms, fresh mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, Hong Kong kale, fresh ginger root, an assortment of spices, herbs, shaoxing rice wine, Chinkiang black vinegar, and dried chiles in the old market this morning, a simple long noodle soup is now in the making. I’m by no means claiming authenticity here, but a long noodle soup, the long noodles being a symbol of longevity are, in spirit at least, what you might find included in a Chinese New Year’s meal. Otherwise this is a simple healthy Chinese noodle soup that you can make with a dash of longevity thrown in to enjoy anytime of the year!

Ingredients can be found in most Asian markets, in some super markets, or online. If you enjoy Asian food these staple ingredients are a must to have tucked away in your pantry.

 

 

Chinese Long Noodle Soup  serves 4 to 6

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breasts, poached
  • 4 ½ oz/128 g long noodles, fresh or dried
  • 1 ½ quarts/ 1 ½ liters ginger flavored chicken stock
  • 2 oz/57 g Chinese dried mushrooms
  • 4 oz/ 113 g fresh mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • 1 bunch young kale (Hong Kong kale), center ribs removed and leaves sliced
  • 1 bunch Chinese cabbage or mustard greens, leaves and tender part of the stems sliced
  • 1 bunch Chinese celery, leaves separated and stems sliced
  • 1 or 2 whole dried red chile pods (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine (or medium dry sherry)
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce + more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon Chinkiang Chinese black vinegar
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground Sichuan pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon 5 spice powder (optional)
  • 1 bunch spring onions, thinly sliced
  • lemon balm leaves (optional)
  • Sichuan chili bean sauce (optional condiment)
  • chili oil (optional condiment)

Place a saucepan half full of water on the stove top set over medium heat. Add a bay leaf, some salt, and a few peppercorns, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer a few minutes and then add the chicken breasts. Once the water comes back to a boil lower the heat to a simmer and cook the breasts for 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid, and set aside to cool undisturbed. Once completely cool, pull the chicken apart into bite size pieces and set aside.

Bring a large saucepan full of water to a rolling boil and add salt. Drop the noodles into the boiling water and using tongs toss the noodles so they do not stick together while cooking. Cook until the noodles are al dente; about 4 minutes for fresh noodles or 10 to 12 minutes for dried noodles. Drain the noodles and set aside in a bowl to use later.

Place the stock in a wide pot ( a Dutch oven is ideal) on the stove top over low heat. If using a regular stock add several slices of fresh ginger root and simmer for 30 minutes. Then remove and discard the ginger. Reduce the heat to keep the stock warm while you prepare other ingredients.

Place the dried Chinese mushrooms in a small sauce pan and add water to just cover. Bring to a low simmer and cook until the mushrooms are nicely softened. Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, thinly slice the mushrooms and set aside to use later. Pour the cooking water into the pot with the stock.

Slice the fresh mushrooms thinly. Heat a medium skillet on the stove top and add the peanut oil.Toss in the the garlic and stir until the oil is flavored with the garlic. Then remove the garlic and discard. Add the sliced fresh mushrooms and stir continuously until the mushrooms have wilted and softened. Season with a little salt and continue to saute. When just lightly colored add the reserved dried mushrooms and stir until well combined. Then add the combined mushrooms to the pot with the stock. Bring the stock to a simmer and add the sliced kale and Chinese cabbage leaves and stems, the celery leaves and stems, and the whole dried chiles if using. Add the Shaoxing rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, Chinkcang black vinegar, sea salt and ground Sichuan pepper, sugar, 5 spice powder if using, and stir until well combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning to you liking and then stir in the sliced spring onions and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the pulled poached chicken and stir into the soup and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Remove the whole dried chiles if used and discard. The soup is now ready for serving.

Serving:

Place portions of the noodles in individual soup bowls and ladle the soup over the noodles. Garnish with the lemon balm leaves (if using), and serve.

Place the Sichuan chili bean sauce and the chili oil on the table (if using)

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