Okinawa-nt! I love Bitter Melon and Goya Chanpuru

As I head off for a long weekend of uber-indulgence in Colorado (think Freshcraft to Strange Brewing to Great Divide to Falling Rock to Oskar Blues to Lefthand to New Belgium to Odell’s to Funkwerks to…liver failure and a broken home?) I wanted to leave you with the recipe for my last supper before the storm.

In an attempt to set my body so straight that it can only get so out of whack, I “traveled” to Okinawa, Japan’s island prefecture famous for its inhabitants’ long lives and excellent health. I figured taking some cues from their kitchens might just lend me some of their resilience.

And this means I get to use one of my favorite funny looking produce items: bitter melon!  This bumpy fruit is prized among Okinawans and is often credited with, well, just about everything. Seriously this thing had been used by populations all over the world for centuries to treat ailments ranging from stomach pains to nema toads to measles to diabetes to dysentery to scabies to cancer to malaria to — get this — HIV. And there’s actually science behind it. Like whoa.

The one catch is, well, it’s bitter. Certainly an acquired taste. There are things you can do to reduce the astringency, but its got a bite no matter what. Me? I love it. My boyfriend? Not so much. But considering that its basically a miracle in a melon, don’t you think you should like it no matter what?

To really get at the heart of this amazing community of folks, I sprung for a foundational Okinawan dish: Goya Chanpuru. It’s basically the Okinawan version of bi bim bap or donburi — a meal in a bowl — but features traditional Okinawan ingredients. To go the extra mile, I served mine with boiled satsuma-imo, the purple-skinned Japanese sweet potato cultivar. It is often said that Okinawans love this yammy bugger so much that it is often eaten boiled and cubed in the place of rice — perhaps contributing to their overall health and well being. Doesn’t much matter though, because they’re delicious anyway!

To sum up how I feel about this dish, I was absolutely unable to follow the traditional Okinawan rule hara hachi bu. Putting down the chop sticks at 80% full? There was no way. I stuffed my face. Addictive.

Goya Chanpuru with Boiled Satsuma-Imo

Serves 2-3 (can be vegetarian, vegan, and/or gluten free)

  • 1 small bitter melon (select firm, yellow-green melons, about 5-6″ long)
  • 1/2 small yellow or white onion
  • 1/2 block of extra firm tofu
  • 1/2 can of tuna (for vegans use 1/2 cup cubed ham substitute or seitan)
  • 1 egg (for vegans use your favorite vegan egg scrambler substitute)
  • 1 large or 2 small Japanese sweet potatoes
Condiment Sauce
  • 2 tbs white miso (rice, buckwheat, or millet based if gluten free)
  • 2 tbs sake
  • 1/2 tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp tamari

Boil scrubbed potatoes in water until easily pierce-able with a fork (and then once cooled slightly have someone else cut them into cubes while you cook the chanpuru 🙂).

Meanwhile, whisk condiment ingredients together and set aside.

Also, crack the egg into a bowl, beat well and set aside.

Then, slice the bitter melon down the middle. Scoop out the seeds and most of the white innards. Slice into half moons about 1/8-1/4″ thick. Place the slices in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 10 minutes (this will remove some of the bitterness).

Meanwhile, wrap tofu in a paper towel and press the water out. Wrap in a new sheet and place in microwave for 20-30 seconds. Press more water out. Wrap in new sheet and press one more time. Then cube!  About 1/2″ square.

Cut the onion into half moons.

Once 10 minutes has passed, pat the bitter melon dry with a paper towel.

Then start cookin’!

Coat the bottom of your saute pan or wok with non-stick spray, heat over medium and add egg. Let spread and cook until just firm, but still runny, and then set remove from pan and set aside – like a loose-y goose-y omelet.

Add 1-2 tsp of sesame oil to the same pan, let heat up and then add the bitter melon. Saute for a minute or two, then add onion. Saute for another minute or two, until just lightly softened and starting to brown. Add tofu cubes, continuing to move the whole mixture around your pan. Let saute for a few minutes, then add tuna (or vegan meat), incorporating well. Mix the egg back in, not being afraid to jostle tofu cubes. You don’t have to be gentle with this!

Lastly, slowly pour the condiment sauce around the rim of the pan and mix in.

Serve with the steamed satsuma-imo cubes your friend so nicely cut up for you.

Then, LIVE LONG AND PROSPER.

In Colorado.

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Say Yes to New Mexican Posole

Part of the reason I’ve been out of commission, at least lately, was a visit from some long-lost world travelin’ New Mexican family. During this visit, though, despite the running around from Philadelphia institution to institution, I didn’t stop trying new things in the kitchen.  Just writing about it.

In fact, I got a little inspired. The combination of 1) my sad attempts to neaten the house, 2) a reminder of how amazing New Mexican cuisine is and 3) a guest’s encouragement to temporarily drop all concern for my vegan/carb-related instincts inspired me to tackle an ancient bag of hominy sitting in my cupboard — and with no nutrition-related hangups, which, you can probably tell, win me over a bit too often.

To give you some background, hominy is one of those staple foods that has basically kept entire peoples alive in Middle America up through the American west — much like cassava and other tubers have done in Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s basically just dried maize kernels with their germ and hull removed either mechanically or through a good soak in lye (yes, lye). This prevents the grain from sprouting during storage and makes them an excellent source of nutrition during cold winters when other foods are scarce.

And one of the most hearty, simple, down home ways to serve this heartwarming foodstuff is in posole – a rustic stew originating in Mexico, but most delicious (if I do say so myself) in New Mexico. And thanks to some encouragement from some real New Mexicans (boyfriend included) I didn’t try to alter this one. This is NOT vegan. This is NOT low fat. This is full of pork. And full of pork fat. As it should be.

So if you’re harboring any healthy-hangups in need of a good whack, and you have a day with some well-loved family around, run on down to any of the numerous Mexican grocers in the Italian Market for a bag of hominy. And be sure to grab a big ole’ pork butt while you’re down there. To make Posole.

New Mexican Posole

Serves 4

  • 1/2 pound dried hominy
  • 1 onion (half quartered, half diced)
  • 1 pound pork butt (aka shoulder etc)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3-4 dried ancho chiles
  • salt, cayenne to taste

SOAK POSOLE: Soak the posole in a generous amount of water overnight. Drain and rinse.

PREPARE POSOLE: In a large pot add the posole and twice as much water as you have posole. Add quartered onion and about 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and let cook uncovered for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until the posole “blooms” or opens up like a pretty little flower. Add water if it begins to dry out.

MEANWHILE, PREPARE PORK: Place pork in another large pot and cover with water. Add diced onion, minced garlic, cumin, oregano, bay leaf, and salt/cayenne to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until the pork is cooked through and fork tender, 1-2 hours. Remove the pork, let cool completely and then pull apart with a fork.

THEN, PREPARE CHILES: Remove chile stems (and seeds if you want your posole less spicy — booooring), and soak in 2 cups of the hot broth that the pork cooked in for 20 minutes. Blend broth and chiles to make a firey red paste.

COMBINE: Add the pork, remaining pork broth and chile paste to the posole. Continue to cook for another 1-3 hours, stirring occasionally and adding water if it looks to be drying out. It’s finished when the posole is fully bloomed and tastes slightly chewy but pleasantly tender.  Be careful not to let it cook too long or your broth will lose flavor!

Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve with any number of delicious toppings: cheddar cheese, lime wedges, chopped cilantro, minced onion, shredded lettuce or cabbage, diced avocado…whatever your heart desires!

SO GOD DAMN GOOD.

Cauliflower Steakhouse Dinner

I’ve been remiss of late. Letting my culinary pursuits hang silent, unsung. I’m all cloudy in the mind! Too foggy to get things down straight.

So as I slowly pick my way through the junky shit in my life, I’m going to ease back into the game with this very non-Emily lazy man’s post:

I found a recipe in Bon Appetit.

I made it.

It was easy.

It was delicious.

Cauliflower Steaks with Olive Relish & Tomato Sauce in A Cauliflower Steakhouse Dinner:

Served with fresh bread and lettuce. Your choice, ranch or italian.

The Scandinavian Cobb

This fun, made-up salad pretty quickly established itself as one of my favorite weeknight go-tos.  Super easy.  Super quick.  Super adaptable.  Delicious.  Refreshing.  Perfect for spring.

While I usually like to use slivered raw chard or beet greens and endive as the base for this lighthearted salad, this time around it features the first crop of mesclun from my rooftop garden.

Yay May!

Scandinavian Cobb Salad with Horseradish Vinaigrette

Serves 2

  • Greens of choice (slivered chard or beet greens, or a baby lettuce mix with a backbone)
  • Smoked salmon (I use TJs smoked salmon pieces, which are super cheap and do the job)
  • 1/2 a red onion
  • 1/4 of a grapefruit (could also be orange or any other citrus fruit)
  • An avocado
  • One egg per salad
  • Dill springs
  • Horseradish vinaigrette (see below)

Prepare your toppings: chop the salmon into bite size pieces, very thinly slice the red onion, segment the grapefruit (please watch this amazing video on how if you don’t know), and cube or slice the avocado.

Poach the eggs (I’m still not very good at this, but the general idea is that you break your room temperature eggs into separate small bowls, gently boil 1-2 inches of water in a nonstick skillet, add 1 tbs vinegar, drop each egg into the water very gently, use a spoon to fold the white in on itself if necessary, turn off the heat, cover, let sit for 4-5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon) and while you wait for the eggs to be finished dress the lettuce with your vinaigrette.

Plate your dressed lettuce, add prepared toppings and finish with a poached egg, dill sprig and nice crusty bread.

Horseradish Vinaigrette

  • 1-2 tbs minced shallot
  • 1 tsp honey
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 1-2 tbs white wine or champagne vinegar
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1-2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1-3 tbs horseradish
  • 1-3 tbs plain yogurt or mayo
  • 1 tsp truffle oil (and optionally another 2-3 tsp of walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil)
  • salt & pepper

Combine the ingredients, blend or whisk well together, taste, adjust, use 🙂