coconut milk

I like the taste of the French/Italian/Spanish dish brandade. Usually made with salt cod, potatoes, dairy and spices, everything gets whipped together then baked in the oven till golden and delicious. Here’s a traditional brandade recipe from the New York Times.

Steven’s been after me about making this for a while. I won’t say how long. I keep promising I am going to but every time I gather the ingredients together I get distracted with other ideas. It isn’t quite “an issue” but… well, let’s just say that it’s high time that I pull this dish together.

“Brazilian” salt cod brandade

“Brazilian” salt cod brandade

My inspiration comes from the aforementioned traditional recipe and from my Dungeness crab casquinha de siri.

This is a crowd-pleaser that is perfect either as an elegant appetizer with crackers or slices of French baguette, or, like we had it, as a main course with a side of Israeli couscous and a mango and black bean salad to make a substantial meal.

Salt cod needs to be soaked in cold water for 24 to 48 hours with a few water changes to remove excess salt. I have some instructions on how to de-salt and pre-cook it here.

“Brazilian” salt cod brandade

2/3 lb prepared cod fish pieces (skinless and boneless)
2 Yukon gold potatoes, about 1lb, boiled and pureed (no lumps)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 tbsp onion, minced
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
½ tsp sweet paprika
4 peeled tomatoes (from a can this time of year) chopped
1-2 tbsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 red Jalapeño pepper, minced, seeds and ribs discarded
4 tbsp light coconut milk
2 to 3 tbsp fine bread crumbs
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
Ramekins (I used four medium sized ones)

Place cod pieces in the food processor and whiz for few seconds to break it down to small uniform bits but not into a paste.

Heat olive oil in a non stick pan, add onion and Jalapeño. Sauté until soft, add garlic and continue cooking for few more seconds until aromatic. Add tomatoes and let them break apart in the heat. Add cod, paprika, parsley, salt, pepper, coconut milk and mix everything together to warm through. Add potato and about one tablespoon bread crumbs. Mix to incorporate everything. Texture should look like that of a potato puree.

Fill your ramekins with the salt cod mix, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, top with a sprinkle of bread crumbs, and then grated parmesan cheese. Broil to give the crust a golden color (remember you’ve already cooked everything on the stove). Remove from oven a serve.

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When I was in Brazil recently my niece took me to a fun restaurant in São Paulo that offered dishes from South East Asia, Peru, Japan and northern Brazil. The flavors were very exciting. We ordered a lot so we could taste everything. For my main course I had a white fleshed Brazilian fish served in a thick green curry with coconut broth that was divine! The fish was ultra fresh and the curry well balanced. It came with a bowl of perfectly cooked fragrant jasmine rice.

fresh Pacific cod in Thai green curry

fresh Pacific cod in Thai green curry

This eating out experience reminded me of the green curry we made while in Chiang Mai several years ago in a traditional Thai cooking class. I realized that I had never actually made it home, despite my vows to the contrary throughout our glorious trip to that lovely country, until now.

I prepared the green curry from scratch. You can refrigerate the leftovers for later use.

fresh Pacific cod in Thai green curry

for the curry paste:

dried spices:

1 tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ pepper corns

fresh ingredients:

1 inch piece of galangal root, peeled and roughly chopped
1 bunch cilantro, stems, leaves and roots
3 tbsp minced lemon grass (white and tender part)
4 kaffir lemon leaves, cut thinly, center stem removed
5 small shallots
10 to 15 Thai green chilies
1 cup Thai basil
10 cloves garlic
1 tbsp salt

preserved ingredients:

1 tbsp shrimp paste

Place dry ingredients in shallow pan and toast until aromatic. Let cool. Grind in a coffee mill.

Add all fresh spices plus shrimp paste to food processor and whiz until mix turns into a paste. Use a spatula to push down spices so it blends uniformly. Add dry spices and blend again. Transfer to a bowl. Set aside.

Steven and I at Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai--in 2005

Steven and I at Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai–in 2005

for the dish proper:

2 cups coconut milk
1 lb fresh cod, cut into chunks
A few leaves of Thai basil
1 tsp brown sugar
1 chili pepper cut into small rounds
1 kaffir lime leaf
3-4 spoons green curry paste (prepared above)
1 tbsp canola oil
2-3 tbsp fish sauce

Heat up canola oil in a pan, add green curry paste and cook for a couple of minutes without burning. Add coconut milk, sugar, kaffir leaf and bring to a quick boil. Reduce temperature to low, add fish sauce. Taste it, adding more fish sauce if needed. Lay cod fish over sauce and let it simmer for a couple of minutes. Add basil leaves and chili pepper. Remove from heat and serve with Thai rice.

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Sweet or savory, most countries have their own style of making pancakes. I really like the Vietnamese version, bánh xèo. This recipe is especially interesting because it utilizes two ingredients very common on our table in a totally different way: rice and beans, a favorite combination on this blog. See what I mean here.

Bánh Xèo AKA Vietnamese mung bean pancakes with leaft lettuces, mint etc. in the afternoon sunlight

Bánh Xèo AKA Vietnamese mung bean pancakes with leafy lettuces, mint etc. in the afternoon sunlight

I’ve often seen this with shrimp or pork. (I used fish sauce in the spicy dipping sauce, otherwise this would be vegan.) Omitting these two still delivers a pancake packed with delicious flavor. I’ve adapted this bánh xèo from two sources: flavor explosions and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty cookbook. It didn’t come out as crisply as I expected, probably due to me limited experience in this art. Nevertheless these were divine.

Bánh Xèo AKA Vietnamese mung bean pancakes

For the batter:

½ cup hulled mung beans, soaked for 2h, drained and then steamed till soft and cooled down
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups rice flour
½ cup corn starch
2 cups water
1 tsp kosher salt
¾ tsp turmeric powder
4 whole scallions, chopped

For the stuffing:

I lb mung bean sprouts
1 shallot, chopped
Canola oil
1 pack enoki mushrooms, stems discarded

For the salad condiments:

Any sweet lettuce, mint leaves, cilantro, chives, mung bean sprouts all undressed

For the spicy dipping sauce:

1 serrano pepper, seeds and ribs partially removed, chopped and slightly crushed
1 tsp chili garlic sauce (Túong Ót Tói Viet-Nam)
2 tbsp fish sauce
6 tbsp water
5 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 limes
1 large fresh clove garlic peeled and smashed

Place sugar, water, vinegar, fish sauce, Serrano pepper, chili sauce and juice of one lime in a small pot. Warm on stovetop until sugar just melts. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Add juice of second lime, and garlic.

Next prepare the filling. Sauté shallot in one table spoon of canola oil until translucent, add mung bean sprout and cook briefly just to wilt them a bit. Sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

To make the batter, place cooked and cooled mung beans, salt, turmeric powder, and coconut milk in food processor and whiz until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl. Add water, rice flour, corn starch and whisk to combine. Mix in scallions. Adjust consistency if too thick with a bit more water.

Add one tablespoon canola oil to a non-stick skillet on high heat. Let it warm up. Depending on the diameter of the pan, ladle in one or two scoops of batter. Spread batter evenly on surface of pan, add some mushrooms so tips are showing on the edge of one side of the pancake. Cook for a couple of minutes, until border is crispy. Flip with a spatula and cook for another minute, flip back again, add a bit of sautéed mung bean sprouts and fold it to shape into half moon. Repeat process with rest of the batter.

Serve the pancakes and salad with spicy dipping sauce.

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Who says pies have to be round?

squaring the circle  with vegan pumpkin pie

squaring the circle with vegan pumpkin pie

I was trying to make a pumpkin pie for a dinner party at Stevie’ and Hegui’s and discovered that I don’t actually own a round pie dish. So I used of a square pan instead! I knew it might look kind of odd but a pie is made in a pan so I reasoned it would be okay. And since this one is vegan, it seems perfectly natural to present it in a distinctive way. Suddenly necessity becomes meaningful and “just right,” which is so often the case with cooking, don’t you think?

Now you’re probably thinking, why in the world are you making pumpkin pie in May? Well, I bought some extra cans of pumpkin during the holiday season so I could enjoy pie out of “pie season.” Stores stop selling canned pumpkin this time of year, which can totally crimp your style.

The pie is unbelievably festive too with the addition of this vegan Cool Whip type stuff from Trader Joes. So, cheers to a non conventional themed square shaped pie not in pumpkin pie season!

My vegan crust is based on this recipe.

square pumpkin pie all around

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cold water
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 tbsp vegan butter
¼ tbsp salt
3 tbsp agave nectar or honey
1 can pure pumpkin
½ cup coconut or soy milk
1 tsp Trader Joes pumpkin pie seasoning or similar
More agave nectar for pumpkin mix

Pre heat oven to 450F.

Mix flour, cold water, vegan butter, salt and honey together until smooth and it forms a ball. Oil a square pan with veggie butter (oh, okay, round is fine too). Press out the dough to cover the bottom and sides of your pan. Bake crust for ten minutes until crispy on edges. Take it out and let it sit for a few minutes.

Mix pumpkin, coconut milk and the pumpkin pie seasoning together. Add agave nectar to sweeten to taste. Pour pumpkin mix onto pie crust and put back in oven for 35 minutes. Let cool for about a half hour or so.

When ready to serve whip out the Trader Joes vegan dessert whip and voila pumpkin pie right before summer!

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Moqueca is a delicious fish stew traditional to the beautiful and sunny state of Bahia in Brazil. Seafood there is of excellent quality. In Bahia this dish is named moqueca but outside we call it moqueca baiana. I think I’ve actually been biased toward moqueca capixaba, a lighter version popular in the neighboring state of Espírito Santo, just to the south. Perhaps the reason is simply because I have a couple of dear friends who live in ES. In Bahia, one only eats moqueca Baiana; and in Espírito Santo, moqueca capixaba. Truly, both are delicious.

moqueca baiana AKA Bahian fish stew

moqueca baiana AKA Bahian fish stew

Traditional moqueca baiana is made without paprika or shrimp paste. I decided to use these two alien ingredients for enhanced flavors and more color vibrancy. But this doesn’t make this a lesser a moqueca in any way. At times, Bahian foods remind me of South East Asian dishes or even things made in Louisiana. See here and here.

I purchased the dendê oil (palm oil) from the outrageously expensive Rainbow Foods Supermarket in San Francisco. It was Colombian, not Brazilian, but has an identical flavor. Actually, I had to go to several shops before I could locate it, so thank heavens for Rainbow. It was their last jar of the stuff.

I’ve had moqueca baiana many times but never actually made it at home, so this was a very exiting experience for me. I hope that you enjoy it as well.

some key ingredients for moqueca baiana AKA Bahian fish stew

some key ingredients for moqueca baiana AKA Bahian fish stew

my organic palm oil

my organic palm oil

moqueca baiana AKA Bahian fish stew

2½ lbs skinless thick pieces of wild caught ling cod, cut in ~6 inch steaks
½ lb medium sized wild caught shrimp; shelled, deveined and chopped
1 lb ripe heirloom tomatoes, skin removed, cut into chunks
½ bunch cilantro
4 scallions, green and white parts chopped
¼ cup coconut milk
2 tbsp dendê oil (palm oil)
¾ tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp shrimp paste (belakan)
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin rings
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into thin rings
1 white onion, diced small
2 limes
5 cloves garlic, crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 red chili pepper, seeds and ribs removed, sliced thinly

Rinse fish in cold water; pat dry with paper towel. Place in a dish. Squeeze juice of 1 lime over it. Add equivalent of 3 cloves of garlic, followed by salt and a sprinkle of black pepper. Let it marinate for about ½ hour, in the fridge if too hot. In blustery San Francisco, I just let it chill on my kitchen counter.

Rinse shrimp in cold water; pat dry with paper towel. Place in a small bowl. Squeeze juice of second lime, add salt, black pepper, equivalent of one garlic clove, cover and let it marinate next to the cod fish.

Using a large and wide cooking pan, add dendê oil and onion. Bring temperature to high and cook for a few minutes just to sweat the onion, add remaining garlic, peppers, belakan, paprika, sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir everything together. Cover the pan and cook for about 3 minutes on high heat. Stir to avoid burning. Add tomatoes and cook until they collapse. Remove 1/3 of partially stewed vegetables to a bowl. Add fish steaks with juices to pan. Top with reserved stewed veggies. Cover and continue cooking vigorously on high heat for another 10 minutes. Carefully flip the fish half way through.

Uncover and scatter spring onion and ½ of the cilantro over fish followed by the shrimp with juices. Cook for another minute. Carefully mix in coconut milk and remaining cilantro. Adjust flavors with more salt and pepper if needed. Serve with white jasmine rice and extra wedges of lime.

{ 8 comments }

Thai tomato, coconut and Dungeness crab soup

Thai tomato, coconut and Dungeness crab soup

I had this tomato soup at a dinner party recently. My boss, Elliot, hosted at his place. It was a fun evening filled with good chat, many delectable savory dishes and lovely wine! Thank you Elliot for being such a good cook and host! I wanted to ask for the recipe but didn’t get the chance as I had to leave a bit early to take care of our bully Clarence.

A few days later while browsing one of the latest issues of Bon Appétit magazine I found the recipe. Yoo-hoo! But then I misplaced it. Turns out they posted it online.

This past weekend we had our friends Jasmine and Prof. T over for dinner. I wanted to awe not only them but Steven too with this flavorful Thai inspired soup. Jasmine said “this is gourmet eating,” which is exactly what I said when I dined at Elliot’s, and it is. This soup really entices your palate with fragrant sweet and sour flavors and silky, creamy textures without being heavy or dense. This is definitely something that I will make again. And since tomatoes are in season now, I am already thinking of experimenting with different heirlooms to change the color: yellow, chocolate, green zebra varieties? If you can’t find crab, I am sure shrimp, or even lobster would do.

Thai tomato, coconut and Dungeness crab soup

3 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch scallions–approx 6– chopped fine, white and dark green parts included
2 stalks of fresh lemon grass, tough outer layer removed, sliced thinly
1 Serrano pepper, seeds partially removed, minced
2½ lb ripe tomatoes
½ cup light unsweetened coconut milk
1½ tbsp fish sauce
Juice of one lime or more, depending on how sour you like it, plus some lime wedges for garnish
Juice of one orange
½ lb fresh Dungeness crab meat
Kosher salt
½ cup pea shoots
1 clove garlic smashed

Bring a saucepan full of water to a boil. Meanwhile using a paring knife make a cross incision at bottom of each tomato, and cut the woody top off. Place them in boiling water until skin begins to curl. Drain, let cool a bit, remove skins and cube them. Set aside.

Place 2tbsp olive oil, scallions and lemon grass in a sauce pan. Sauté until scallions wilt. Add tomatoes and cook for about 8 minutes, long enough to bring it to a boil. Add coconut, orange juice, fish sauce and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool down for few minutes.

Add remaining olive oil to a skillet, followed by garlic. Sauté until aromatic. Add fresh crab. Turn heat off and cook for a minute. Sprinkle with salt, discard garlic clove. Set aside

Using a stick blender, wiz soup until puréed and smooth. Stir in lime juice. Add salt and more lime juice, if needed. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with Dungeness crab meat and pea shots. Have lime wedges on the side for the table.

Michele from the blog That’s so Michelle made the same recipe. Check it out here.

{ 6 comments }

And here’s another dish from the-Y-O, that’s Yotam Ottolenghi to you and me. This adaptation from “Plenty” was a huge success. The dish is South East Asian inspired, since it uses sambal sauce.

sambal okra over coconut rice

sambal okra over coconut rice

Sambal is a fiery sauce made with chili peppers, shallots, tamarind and other spices. The-Y-O claims that a dish like this is served in Malaysia for breakfast. “Wow” is all I can say, people and their cuisines sure can be different. This is spicy! I can’t imagine having it for breakfast. It reminds me of our trip to Thailand and Cambodia a few years ago. When we first arrived, the brutal jet lag had me hungry for spicy foods loaded with fish sauce in the morning. That’s standard fare there, so it worked out really well, at least at the beginning. Fried rice and fish soup at 7AM, no problem! I ate with gusto and it was all simply delicious! After a week or two, as I adjusted to the Thai clock, I began to have trouble with that kind of breakie.

I’ve made sambal before with calamari and shrimp, but didn’t think breakfast-time. We had this sambal okra for dinner, which is just fine by me. Really, it was so tasty that I’d be willing to have it anytime, including for breakfast… I bet this would be a super remedy for a hangover…

sambal okra over coconut rice

for the coconut rice:

1 cup basmati rice rinsed
½ cup coconut milk
1½ cups water
2 rinds of lemon
4 thin slices of fresh ginger
Kosher salt to taste

for the okra:

1 lb frozen baby okra
Lemon or lime wedges
Cilantro leaves for decoration

for the sambal sauce:

3 fresh Jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs partially removed (leave some for heat)
5 dried red chili peppers, seeds discarded
8 baby shallots
2 garlic cloves
1tsp paprika
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tbsp sugar
Kosher salt to taste

Add chilies fresh and dried, shallots, garlic, paprika, tamarind, sugar, 2 tablespoons of oil and another 2 of water to the food processor and spin until it turns into paste.

Place remaining oil in a large skillet on high. Pour paste in and sauté for a minute or so. Turn temperature down and cook it for about 10 minutes. The sambal sauce will be ready when it becomes dark brownish red in color and oil starts to separate from the paste. Set aside.

Place all rice ingredients in a saucepan on high heat. Give it a good stir. Bring to a boil. Stir again, reduce temperature to low, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, keeping covered, and let rest for 8-10 minutes.

Have a pan ready with boiling water within the last 8-10 minutes rice is finishing cooking. Drop frozen okra into the water and cook 3-4 minutes to scald the little pods. Transfer okra to a colander and run some cold water over to stop cooking process.

Heat up sambal, fold in okra and let it warm through.

Transfer rice to a serving platter, top with sambal okra & decorate with cilantro leaves and wedges of lemon.

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Casquinha de siri is super popular in Brazil, mainly in coastal towns where you get fresh crab aplenty. Brazilian crabs are tiny compared to the gigantic Dungeness from the North American Pacific Rim. Really, they look more like blue crabs from the Northeastern U.S. Big or small, these sometimes scary but always amazing and tasty prehistoric creatures are the ticket for living the highlife. Check out this post to learn more about preparing live Dungeness crab. What an experience!

Dungeness crab casquinha de siri

Dungeness crab casquinha de siri

To make traditional Brazilian casquinha de siri, the crab is boiled, then the meat is extracted, seasoned and cooked, then stuffed back into the creatures’ shells and baked. We had some really good ones at Part.Alto restaurant in Vitória, Espírito Santo, Brazil on our last visit. It was hot, damn hot. The casquina de siri appetizer went perfectly with cold beer in this tropical summertime weather. (Wow! It has been a year already since we were there. How nice it would be to hang out by the beach, soaking up the Sun right about now, instead of enduring yet more cold rain!)

I have to thank Joumana from taste of Beirut for this trip down memory lane that this dish is evoking. Sometime ago, she commented on our blog that she had seen the dish somewhere and was excited about tasting it. Her description made my mouth water. So here it is!

I served it at our last dinner party before kitchen remodeling really starts. The crowd was extremely pleased. Since I used fresh frozen pre-cooked and cleaned Dungeness crabmeat, I didn’t have the shells to fill. That makes it look more stunning. Instead I used a glass baking dish. Perhaps not as cute, but the taste remains the same: incomparable. It was super fun having Jocelyn, Devin, JT and Chris for dinner. Thanks for the new, equally great memories.

Dungeness crab casquinha de siri

2lb fresh crabmeat (ours came from Sun Fat)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp colorau (anato powder)
½ green bell pepper
4 tbsp coconut milk
3 tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt
Crushed red pepper
Black pepper
~4 tbsp bread crumbs
4 ripe Roma tomatoes, chopped small
2 whole scallions, chopped
½ white onion, cut into small cubes
2 tbsp parmesan cheese

Pre-heat oven to 400F.

Add olive oil to a pan on high. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic, colorau and bell pepper. Continue cooking for a minute or so. Add tomatoes and cook for about 3 minutes until they start to dissolve. Add crabmeat, salt, red and black peppers and coconut milk. Bring everything to a vigorous boil. Turn off heat. Adjust flavors if necessary. Stir in scallions and bread crumbs just enough to soak up the juices in the pan. Transfer mix to glass dish. Sprinkle top with parmesan cheese and a bit more bread crumbs. Bake about 10 minutes or until top is golden. Serve!

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dreaming of doce de batata roxa

March 5, 2010

I love roadside snacks almost anywhere. In the American Southwest I chomp on Cornuts. In Virginia or at the movies, nothing is better than cherry Twizzlers. When I took a three week tour of China about fifteen years ago, the other members of our little tour group started calling me “snack man” because I would […]

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manjar de côco com ameixas AKA coconut & prune pudding

December 11, 2009

A friend’s mother, Linda Dunn, an accomplished painter living and working on the Central Coast of California, emailed me the other day asking for a dessert recipe for a potluck Brazilian-themed party she was going to attend. I immediately thought of manjar, a simple and easy to make dessert I used to eat when a […]

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