Main Courses: 14 posts

Tested recipes for main course dishes

Miso Grilled Salmon with Honey and Orange

As much as I love experimenting with new foods, there are times when all I want is comfort. If I’ve had a tough day and need a hug, I make a bowl of mashed potatoes with a side of cucumber salad. Or I whip up lacy crepes and eat them with plenty of sour cream and cherry jam.  These dishes are old childhood favorites, and they always make me feel better. But over the years, I’ve added a new set of comfort foods to my repertoire. They range from my mother-in-law’s Indian sour lentil soups and vegetable stews to Vietnamese grilled pork on rice. And anything made with miso immediately qualifies as comfort food.

salmon-miso1

What is it about miso that makes it so comforting? It might be its intensely savory flavor or the velvety, suave aftertaste; I’m not quite sure. All I know is that I love it. Miso paste is made by fermenting soybeans and/or other grains with salt and koji, a special starter. The result is the unique vitamin and protein rich condiment that has been used in Japan for centuries. The proportions of soybeans to other grains in the miso recipe will determine its flavor and color. There are numerous miso types, but the white (shiro) and red (aka) varieties are the most common. White miso, which is really golden yellow in hue, contains more rice than soybeans and has a mild, sweet flavor. By contrast, the soybean rich red miso is meaty, bold and salty.

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Orange Trout with Garlic, Ginger, and Sesame

When I think of orange, I usually think of desserts–a long curl of zest steeped in milk for rice pudding, a dash on top of bitter chocolate mousse or whipped into poundcake batter. By sweetening the orange, you highlight its floral, honeyed nuance, but what happens if you add a dash of salt instead? The effect is explosive. Salt volatilizes aromatic components, and the orange aroma becomes even more saturated. Moreover, its zesty flavor marries so well with savory notes that it’s fun to explore different combinations.

trout

One of my favorite piquant combinations with orange is a Korean inspired dry rub for fish. Garlic, scallions, ginger, sesame and chili pepper are used with dazzling effect in Korean cooking, giving it a distinctive flavor–earthy and aromatic, nutty and spicy. I haven’t encountered orange in Korean dishes, but its sweet perfume is a harmonious touch. It brings out the citrusy nuances of ginger and softens the toasty richness of sesame. Because of their acidity, oranges are also excellent with fish, and voilà, here is my creation.

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Indian Flattened Rice Pilaf (Poha) : Layering Flavors

My first taste of India was completely different from what I anticipated. I arrived at my friend’s apartment in Delhi, my head still aching from jet lag and the kaleidoscopic array of new sensory impressions. “You must be hungry,” said Swati, as she went into the kitchen. It was close to midnight, but the air was still hot and humid, and my shirt stuck to my back. I wasn’t hungry at all, but I still politely ate a bit of the vegetable pilaf she put in front of me. I expected it to be spicy and hot, but instead it was tart and refreshing, reminiscent more of Mediterranean tastes than anything I’ve previously experienced with Indian food. Poha was the start of my love affair with Indian layered flavors.

poha

Poha is the name for flattened rice (sometimes also referred to as beaten rice) that has been parboiled, rolled, flattened, and dried to produce easy-to-cook, nutritious flakes. It’s a Western Indian version of muesli, and it’s a common breakfast dish. Since poha is already cooked, it only requires a brief soaking to turn the thin flakes into plump grains. It absorbs liquids and flavors easily, and poha works well in soups, pilafs, salads, and even desserts. You can use it in any dish in which you would have used couscous, adjusting the cooking times accordingly.

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Autumn in Brussels : Pork Loin with Peaches and Thyme

Autumn here in Belgium begins overnight. After the short interlude of an Indian summer, you wake up to an overcast, gray day and feel that the clouds are only a few inches above your head. The roses might still be in full bloom, the daytime temperature is still comfortable, but you already know that the rainy season is here. It’s telling that in the old Bruxellois dialect, there are numerous words for rain. It can be a delicate mist that looks innocuous but soaks you to the bone within minutes. It can be a lashing, cold rain that makes umbrellas obsolete, or it might just be a nagging drizzle that makes me feel sad for no particular reason and ponder the wisdom of bears that go into hibernation for the winter.

Since the winter here is nine months long, hibernation isn’t really an option. I’ve learned to do all of my chores on foot and shop at the open air markets which are run year round in each neighborhood, rain or shine. Brussels is made up of 19 communes, and if you love markets, you can explore different areas of the city based on your specific shopping needs. On Saturday, you can pour over the antique books at the market held at the Place du Sablon. On Sunday, you can buy spices and vegetables at the sprawling le Marché du Midi or walk along Rue de Brabant and feel as if you’re in Morocco. While les grandes surfaces (supermarkets) offer stiff competition, the vibrancy of the open air markets even on the dreariest of days is appealing.

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Autumn Perfumes : Pasta with Roasted Hazelnuts and Pancetta

Even before I saw the leaves turning golden in the park, I smelled autumn in the air. The sun may have been generous and warm, and the summer visitors still packed the squares in Brussels, but the autumnal perfume was unmistakable–a nutty-musty melange of decaying leaves and wilting flowers. The anticipation of long dark evenings and bitter cold is enough to make anyone dread fall in the northern countries, but as the Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin wrote, “Autumn attracts me like a neglected girl among her sisters.” Of course, then in the course of his poem he goes on to compare the beauty of fall to that of a girl dying from consumption, but that’s the complex Slavic soul for you. For my part, I love fall for its golden light and serenity as well as for its seasonal tastes.pasta-hazelnuts2

A big pile of feathery green leaves and tawny shells at the Friday market last week caught my attention. “Noisettes Fraîches,” said the chalk drawn sign, and it took me a moment to realize that I was looking at green hazelnuts. Pushkin taps into my nostalgia for my childhood days and green hazelnuts are another reminder. I pillaged many a hazelnut shrub in my grandmother’s garden in search of tasty, not quite ripe nuts and have fallen many a time trying to get to the higher branches.

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