Meatless Mondays: Kale salad with carrot ginger dressing

A healthy bowl.

I usually make something a bit more substantial even when going meatless, but this weekend was so full of meat, all I was craving today was salad. I hadn’t thought about this dressing for years until food52 issued a “Best Carrot Recipe” contest and it was the first thing to pop into my head. It’s a dressing that caught on in New York’s East Village, at Japanese-ish diners geared towards students. I was happy at any restaurant where it was a dressing choice, and am surprised it hasn’t caught on as one of the standard dressings, though I don’t think it would bottle well.
I had a bit of a recipe from from my New York years, but after my recent googling, it was lacking a couple of the key ingredients like shallots and, surprisingly, water (and perhaps had some extra garlic and sesame). Luckily, after trying the version Smitten Kitchen posted, even though I had my reservations as her reference was the heinously named newsletter GOOP by Gwyneth Paltrow which suggested accelerating bowel movements by drinking castor oil in the same post.  But it just sounded right. Though the restaurant version was most frequently some sort of lettuce, avocado, onion combination suggested in the other posts, I find that this dressing pairs perfectly with kale. It brings out the slight sweetness that’s usually in kale, particularly the Lacinato (dinosaur) kale I usually have growing in my backyard.

Dressing
2 carrots
1 American-sized shallot (largeish), or three halves small Asian shallots
2 inches ginger
2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seed oil
1/4 cup neutral oil
2 tablespoons water

Peel and roughly chop carrots, shallots, and ginger. I usually peel ginger with a spoon–it is the fastest, least wasteful method I’ve learned. Then process carrots, shallots, and ginger in a food processor until very finely chopped. Add miso, scrape down, and run food processor again. Pour neutral oil in while blade is running, then add water until smoot, and desired consistency. It shouldn’t be liquid, pourable, but it shouldn’t be completely chunky either. You may need a little more than 2 T water. Add sesame oil and process briefly.

I like to serve with a simple salad of kale/cabbage salad. This particular salad is ~2/3 Dinosaur (Lacinato) kale, ~1/3 cabbage, garnished with sweet corn. Other delicious garnishes include fresh peas, sesame seeds, avocado, or pressed tofu.

She Simmers’s Mu Ping (Grilled Pork Skewers)

I can’t remember how it was I happened upon She Simmers‘s website, likely a robotic recommendation from twitter based on my other interests, but I can barely remember how I cooked Thai food before finding it, and I’ve only known about it for a few months.

Thai has always been one of my favorite cuisines to explore–I rarely tire of the bold, yet balanced flavors. It’s now been about twelve years since I began my quest to learn about the cuisine, plowing through Kasma’s recipes and lessons for taste balancing and purchasing ingredients, seeking out the best Thai restaurants and groceries New York had to offer, and working through many of David Thompson’s Thai Food recipes and descriptions. I’ve learned how to balance flavors, roast shrimp paste, and pound some pretty decent curries, but it always felt like an excerise to me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the food and recipes, it just seemed like I was doing all the work–seeking out the dish I want to make, gathering the ingredients and equipment, and executing with nothing more than a picture, or some other non-Thai friends and family opinions on the result.  But somehow each post on She Simmers makes me want to make that dish immediately (like Kaeng Som, the Thai Sour Curry posted today) and provides a thorough guide as to how, with interesting asides about the Thai language and restaurant/vendor scene.

The recipe for the mu ping is here. I followed it pretty much exactly. I had long been puzzled what cut “pork neck” so common on Thai restaurant menus was, but Leela did the research to determine it is pork butt/shoulder. It is the best cut to use for these skewers. Country-style ribs also work if they are well marbled. They aren’t a well defined cut, as they are kind of between the baby backs and the shoulder.  The other secret, besides the marinade ingredients, was to baste with coconut milk while grilling. This kept the meat moist, and added a great flavor to the grilled meat. The first skewer was so delicious I ate it without any of the accompaniments, and allowed it to distract me from the second skewer, which I picture here, slightly overdone, but still delicious.

Mu ping on the grill, brushed with a bit of coconut milk.

Beef with Broccoli


When I want to eat quickly I usually fall back on my go-to’s for quick cooking:  pasta or stir-fry. In the time it takes to boil pasta or make rice, you can usually finish the chopping and cooking you need to make a tasty meal.

Beef with broccoli is a favorite at American Chinese restaurants, and though I love exploring regional Chinese recipes, sometimes I really want a great version of takeout Chinese, with great ingredients. In fact, cooking it is easier for me than ordering it, as no decent places deliver in Berkeley and takeout would take about as long as the 20 minutes it takes to make rice. Though I do have those pesky dishes to deal with when I make it myself. The choice this time was obvious, as I happened to pick up some great grass-fed beef the other day:

Bavette: somewhere between flank and skirt, at least according to Marin Sun Farms.

Beef with Broccoli

1/2 lb beef
1 head broccoli
4 cloves garlic
4 scallions
Marinade
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch (or arrow root, or potato starch)
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp Shaoxing (rice) wine
Sauce
1 T Shaoxing wine
1 T Oyster sauce
1/2 t Sambal Olek (or chili garlic sauce)
1 t soy sauce

  • Start rice cooking in a rice cooker–if it is white rice, your rice and stir fry should be done at about the same time.
  • Chop beef into thin strips. If using a cut like flank steak, or other strongly grained cut (which have great flavor, and I highly recommend for this) make sure your strips are cut against the grain.
  • Add marinade ingredients to beef and mix. This marinade is fairly universal–the sesame oil is specific to this dish, but the cornstarch, (I’m 90% sure my unlabeled tub is actually tapioca starch, I’ve found most starches to be pretty interchangeable for this purpose.) dark soy, (you could use regular soy and the slightest pinch of sugar, preferably brown) and Shaoxing wine are universal. I occasionally add a bit of crushed garlic and ginger to the marinade.
  • Wash broccoli, then chop into bite sized pieces. Place in large bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Seriously, this is the secret to stir-frying broccoli. If you’re one of those people who insist that microwaves ruin food go ahead and blanch them briefly, but know that you’re wasting your time, the energy of whatever heat source you’re using, and one of California’s most precious resources, water. And unless you can produce a blind taste test proving your point, I insist that the microwave is the way to go on this one, convenience and tastewise.
  • Chop garlic and scallions and anything else you want to add. The acceptable additions include a bit of ginger, carrots or red peppers. Maybe mushrooms. Gather all ingredients and head over to the wok.

Mis en place

  • Heat wok over high heat, add about a tablespoon of high smokepoint oil (I use grapeseed, but peanut is the most common) and when oil starts to shimmer add the beef. Though it is called stir-fry, I try to spread the meat out in a single layer and leave it alone for about a minute. Then stir to your heart’s content, or occasionally until beef loses all pinkness, but not longer–remove to a bowl.

Don't stir, one minute.

  • Add broccoli to wok, making sure to drain away from any water remaining from washing/microwaving. Stir-fry for at least a minute dry, then push to the side and add 1 tsp of oil and the garlic and optional chili-garlic paste. When garlic begins to turn golden, stir the broccoli in and continue stirring until broccoli is almost at the desired tenderness. I like it with a fair bit of crunch remaining.

Watch out for the chili fumes.

  • Add beef and any juices back to the wok, stir to combine. Add Shaoxing wine, oyster sauce, and soy sauce and stir. If sauce is still too liquid, push solid ingredients up the side of the wok and reduce the liquid to a proper sauce consistency. Unlike many recipes of this sort, I don’t add a lot of liquid ingredients plus constarch as I don’t like the final texture to be too gloopy. If your Shaoxing wine is the salted type, the final dish will be quite salty–you could add water or stock and cornstarch to add some gloop and reduce the saltiness, or just halve the Shaoxing and soy sauce. Of course, I don’t normally measure any of this stuff, just dump from bottles at the stove, but I did this time just to make sure my estimates weren’t way off.

Reducing steams up my camera.

And while this was one of my best beef with broccoli executions yet, largely due to the extremely flavorful beef, I was slightly disappointed that it didn’t taste quite as beefy as it did last night, when I made that beefy classic, a cheesesteak.

The beefiest cheesesteak I've had in years.

Green Ricotta Gnocchi

At least once a week I find myself in the situation of having way too much of something that won’t last another couple of days, or, more often, several things. This week’s culprits all came from my garden. It was one of those weeks when the artichokes and radishes were both about to bloom, and needed to be eaten or wasted. And in the case of the radishes the situation was even more dire as they seed prolifically and I’d already decided their mediocre taste wasn’t worth all the work to remove all the dirt from the roots (so their mediocre taste isn’t dominated by dirt taste). So I had about a quart of blanched radish greens and three artichoke hearts on my hands. (I ate the leaves this weekend with some garlic lemon butter. I’m one of those who finds it tastier and more fun to eat the leaves than to deal with a whole heart or two.) Even though they were older plants, the radish leaves were as mild as spinach, but a bit more fibrous. Luckily I also had a tub of ricotta and decided to make ricotta-radish green gnocchi. And, since I had the artichoke hearts to deal with I decided on an Provençal-ish sauce.

Green Ricotta Gnocchi

1 ~15 oz. tub ricotta, drained (or not if fairly firm)
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, pressed (optional)
the zest of 1/4 lemon (optional)
2 cups blanched, strained greens
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup flour plus flour for shaping

  • Squeeze as much water as possible out of the greens and chop as finely as possible. Then chop one more time–large chunks really interfere with the shaping and cooking
  • In a bowl, combine everything but the flour and mix to combine. Add the flour and mix until just combined. If the mixture seems too loose add a bit more flour.
  • Lightly flour a surface and your hands. I usually roll out a rope about a the diameter of a nickel and cut into pieces, but the fibrous nature of these greens made it difficult to cut through the roll without completely deforming it. So I just shaped them by hand, pinching off a bit and rolling into an egg or flying saucer shape.
  • Drop into plenty of salted, boiling water and cook until all gnocchi rise to the top, 5 or so minutes
  • Drain, or remove with a spider, and place in single layer. Can be kept overnight at this stage.

Ricotta gnocchi, boiled and a bit bland

Provençal style gnocchi

The leftovers

1 T butter
1/4 cup or more olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. herbes de provence
Leftovers–for me, artichoke hearts, roasted red pepper, even more radish greens, and roasted chicken
I can imagine lots of other ingredients on this theme working with/instead of mine–olives, capers, walnuts, basil, zucchini, mushrooms, sausage, tomato
If I’d had a tomato and olives, I would have added them.
1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1/4 lemon
Cheese for topping–I used Parmiggiano-Reggiano and a relatively young pecorino

  • Heat 2 T olive oil in skillet, add garlic and cook over medium heat until it begins to brown. Add artichoke hearts or anything requiring a longer cooking time along with the herbes de provence. Add remaining ingredients  and warm through. Deglaze with white wine and when bubbling subsides remove to a large serving bowl.
  • Heat butter and enough olive oil to cover bottom of the same skillet over medium heat. Add gnocchi in a single layer and cook until browned on each side, about 3 minutes per side. Cook in multiple batches if needed.

    Most gnocchi taste much better browned

  • Add reserved topping back to skillet and toss to combine over heat. When everything is warmed and mixed return to serving bowl and squeeze lemon over the top. Add at least 1/4 cup cheeze and mix thoroughly.
  • Serve with additional cheese, parseley, and black pepper.

    The finished product

The Porky Grail

It's like I've figured out how to have my very own taco truck in my kitchen.

Carnitas are generally my favorite taco filling–I usually order one at any new taqueria to see if I like their style (while ordering a 2nd, backup taco in case I’m disappointed in my favorite). To be clear, what I’m looking for are meat chunks that are crispy yet still moist and tender and very, very porky. This can be screwed up in many ways, most commonly a long stewed version, which ends up being liquidy yet still dry, with the occasional cardboard flavor thrown in.

In my quest to create my own carnitas I went through many, many recipes. Some call for a spice rub, others flavor the cooking liquid with things like citrus. Early in the quest I decided that the best technique was to just cover the chunks of meat in enough water to cover, simmer off, and let the remains fry in their own oil. I spent more recipes than I care to remember trying to perfect the seasoning mix, or mix ingredients from different recipes to get that perfect mix, but I often found that the spices were distracting, the citrus made it a bit less porky, and both had a tendency to start to burn during the frying stage, often foiling plans for perfect crispness. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that if it is pork flavor I am after I should eliminate all ingredients that don’t enhance the pork. What it came down to:  pork, salt, bay leaf, and water. That is all. After making it this way once I realized I didn’t have to experiment further.

As an added bonus, the remaining fat, infused with bay leaves, can be made into a version of the bay leaf butter from the Momofuku cook book. Just strain, cool, and whip with an equal volume of butter. Add salt if needed. It is great on noodles, toast, or, as recommended in the cookbook, English muffins. Or just shove it in someone’s face if they try to tell you that bay leaves have no flavor or purpose.

Carnitas

As much pork shoulder as you care to eat (it freezes well, I recommend as much as your pan has room for)
~1 bay leaf per pound of pork
Salt
Water

  • Chop the pork shoulder into about 3/4 inch cubes. Don’t even think of cutting off the fat or collagen, these are what make it great later on.
  • Salt the meat chunks as if they were a steak you are about to cook and place in large, sturdy, flat bottomed pan with the bay leaves. Add water to cover and bring to a simmer.
  • Let simmer until water has completely evaporated, about and hour and a half. Test meat for tenderness with a knife and if not yet tender add additional water and simmer until tender.

    The water has fully evaporated and the meat has just started to fry.

  • Once water has evaporated and meat is tender, allow meat to fry in its own rendered fat until desired crispness, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to check for even browning.

Tacos

  • When carnitas start frying prepare the taco toppings. I like my onions slightly pickled to add a little sweetness. Chop a medium red onion finely and place in a small serving bowl. Add the juice of 1 small lime, or 1/2 large lime and mix.
  • Chop cilantro finely and mix in to onions. Cut at least 1 lime wedge per taco for serving.
  • Toast tortillas individually in a skillet, or on a comal, and keep warm for serving in oven or tortilla warmer.
  • Drain fried meat on paper bags or towels and serve as tacos with onion/cilantro topping and possibly some hot sauce. You can add roasted tomatillo salsa or guacamole if you want, but I like to keep it pure and simple, like street tacos. With a cerveza, of course.

Don’t forget your vegetables, kids!