chili pepper: 7 posts

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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Green Plum, Erik : Tart Taste of Spring and Tkemali Sauce Recipe

As a kid I loved munching on unripe plums and apricots that I had picked from the low hanging branches in our garden. This activity was not at all allowed, but as anyone knows, forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest, and I continued to pillage our trees. Imagine my surprise and delight upon discovering many years later that in the Middle East, unripe plums are a special seasonal treat. Since they’re starting to become more available at the grocery stores and farmers’ markets, I can get my fill without threatening my grandmother’s plum harvest.

green plum erik

Called erik in Turkish (and sometimes marked as such at the stores), unripe green plums are in season April through June. They taste intensely tart. Crunchy and hard, they are for lovers of all things sour and mouth-puckering.  They are usually eaten with a pinch of salt, which brings out the delicate sweetness, and they have a faint floral taste. The plums are small, ranging from the size of hazelnuts to large cherries, and if left to ripen on the tree, they turn golden and syrupy sweet.

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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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Hot and Spicy Cranberry Sauce

Thanksgiving is when I miss the US the most. While life in Belgium goes on as usual, my friends and family back home are buying sweet potatoes, roasting turkeys and preparing for a long weekend of indulgence. Our oven here is so small that it wouldn’t even fit a turkey. Come to think of it, I haven’t even seen a whole turkey in stores. Cranberries, on the other hand, start showing up around the beginning of October. They are usually imported from North America, and the selection ranges from organic and handpicked (and priced accordingly) to the conventional Ocean Spray brand.

I love cranberries so much that I buy several bags at once and freeze whatever I can’t immediately use. Their exuberant tartness and hint of bitterness make them an interesting component in tarts, jams and sauces. My grandmother’s pickled cabbage is liberally studded with these shiny red berries– after pickling they become even more mouthpuckeringly tart but also quite addictive. She even uses them in desserts to make a whipped semolina and cranberry porridge that feels like a light mousse and is a relative of the Finnish dish called vispipuuro.

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