Recipe: Pickled Ramps Bulbs

Pickled Ramps Bulbs

Pickled Ramps Bulbs

At their prime, ramps bulbs have a taste between garlic and onion. Add one or two of these pickled ramps bulbs on the side of a serving of roasted meat for a flavor bomb. Proportions are for about a half pint but can be modified as required.

Ingredients:
Ramps bulbs, about 1 c after trimming
3/8 c rice vinegar (unsweetened)
3/8 c water
2 T sugar
1/2 t salt
1 T pickling spice mixture
1 bay leaf
a few flakes dried red pepper

Method: trim any roots from the bulbs and cut them just below the green part of the leaves. (Reserve the leaves for bonus ramps pesto.) Wash thoroughly and transfer to a heat-resistant canning jar. Bring all other ingredients to the boil and pour over ramps in the jar. If needed, top off with equal amounts of vinegar and water till ramps are submerged. Refrigerate at least a week (or put up in vacuum method) and enjoy. Keeps at least a month in refrigerator.

Ramps Plants

These late season ramps are a little long in the tooth, but with judicious trimming the leaves can still be used for pesto.

Bonus Ramps Pesto recipe: trim ramps leaves, discarding any wilted or yellow ones. Cut the rest into 1-inch pieces and process in a food processor with 2 T parmesan cheese, 2 T olive oil, 1 T pine nuts and 1/2 t salt. Makes a couple of servings used like regular pesto over pasta.

Wild springtime ramps are one of the benefits of living in the northeast. They make their appearance around May 1, and prefer wooded, moist areas near bodies of water. I always feel guilty pulling them up, plus I have not had great luck finding in the wild, so I buy mine at the farmer’s market. If you do harvest them wild, use a pair of scissors and cut above the roots to give the plants a better chance of coming back. (My friend Kate H tells me that is how they do it in Austria.)

Note: turns out I did another pickled ramps recipe awhile back, using the entire plant. But this one is definitely better for late season when the tops aren’t in top condition.

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Hindbeh (Lebanese-style sautéed bitter greens)

Hindbeh

Hindbeh Lebanese (sauteed bitter greens)

Here’s a way to cook and eat dandelion leaves. They’re still bitter, so this dish would make a nice complement to more unctuous foods in. Serves 8.

Ingredients:
Dandelion greens or other bitter green, 1 gallon or so, carefully picked over and washed
1/2 t baking soda
2 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 T pine nuts (optional)
3 T lemon juice
1 t salt OR 1 T zataar (if you have it)
1 onion, sliced and fried OR 3 oz crispy onions from a can

Method: bring 2 quarts water to boil in a stew pot; add baking soda. Add bitter greens and push down with a wooden spoon to immerse. Cook 2 minutes or so to blanch the greens and transfer to a colander. Drain then dry thoroughly by squeezing and with a paper towel. The gallon of uncooked greens should have reduced to a quart.

Fried Onions

Fried onions from the store will save you a lot of time in this prep.

Fry onions according to this method or else just use canned fried onions, which saves a lot of time and tastes just as good.

In a large skillet, heat oil and saute chopped garlic and pine nuts until brown but not burned. Remove and reserve. Add greens and toss to heat all surfaces; return garlic and pine nuts to the mix, add lemon juice and salt (or zataar, the middle eastern wild thyme and sesame seed mix) and adjust seasoning to taste. Mix in about half the fried onions then serve with the other half on top for diners to combine to their preference.

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How to eat dandelions

Large Dandelion Leaves

Larger dandelion leaves are less bitter

I was looking for spring ramps in the Adirondacks last weekend and instead found a bounty of dandelions. Dandelions in all stages of growth: from barely recognizable to robust and flower-less to flowering to puffball. I picked specimens at all stages except the last (assuming it would be extremely bitter) and set to experimenting to figure out how to eat dandelions.

Foraging tip: you’re going to have to deal with the harvest on a leaf-by-leaf basis at some point, so might as well take time and care while you are picking. Don’t just grab whole plants by their roots like I did. You’ll end up cutting off the roots, removing the random bits of stuff that creep in, then also removing flowers and buds. Better to do it right from the get-go, cutting each leaf with scissors.

Small Dandelion Leaves

Smaller dandelion leaves are more bitter

The best way to eat dandelions is definitely in a salad, judiciously used in small amounts. To do this, pick the leaves with more surface area. They were consistently less bitter (though by no means tame) in my taste test. I think they may be wider both at the beginning and end of their lives; the intermediate stage where they’re pushing out reproductive components makes the leaves shrivel up and become extremely bitter. (Botanists, I welcome your corrections.)

As to cooking dandelions, the standard advice to treat them like any other green (collards, mustard etc): boil the hell out of them then serve with a flavorful sauce. Because of the bitterness I mistrusted that advice and went searching deeper on the web. I ended up making a middle eastern prep (where they are called hindbeh) where the greens are boiled, drained and re-purposed. I’ll be publishing that recipe later today.

Some fun facts about Dandelions:
* They are not a native plant to North American but were introduced by helpful immigrants because of their health benefits.
* The familiar yellow flower actually lasts a single day. Then it closes up for several days and re-emergences as a puffball.
* Dandelion leaves can supposedly be used as a pregnancy test. Pee on them and if the leaves form red blisters, you’re pregnant.
* On the original version of the Rolling Stones’ “Dandelion” if you listen carefully you can hear Lennon & McCarthy singing backup at the end.

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A rating system for great barbecue (in Texas and elsewhere)

Davis mutton barbecue

Mutton barbecue from Davis’ Grocery in Taylor, TX

It’s been a while since I published my list of factors I consider in rating barbecue, and we’ve got a bunch of new readers, so let’s take a fresh look. Especially because I will be in Austin over Memorial Day and hope to visit at least one establishment while there. List is from most to least important.

  1. Tenderness. Good brisket should have the consistency of pudding. Good ribs are falling off the bone. A knife should always be optional. Like they say, you should “need no teef to eat this beef”.

  2. Smoke ring. This is the caramelization which occurs when the meat is exposed to slow heat in the smoker. The outside is crisped (see below) and the meat just below that turns a delicious pink. Smoke ring is not considered in professional BBQ judging (I think because it can be faked) but for me it’s the surest sign of proper preparation by a skilled and loving cook.

  3. Bark (also known as char or crust). Given the choice, I’ll always request burnt ends which provide maximum flavor by concentrating the rub, caramelized meat and juices that leach out. Some meats don’t have bark because of their method of preparation but it’s a huge plus if available.

  4. Surface taste, appearance and texture. A place that serves meat pre-sauced gets an immediate zero for me. A marinated cut that is not thoroughly dried so it develops a crust also will be marked down. The simplest rub is also the one used by my favorite place, Snow’s in Lexington TX: lots of salt and a little pepper.

  5. Side dishes. I’m probably the only one who cares about this, but so what. Cole slaw is such a perfect accompaniment to barbecue that it should be served automatically. An eggy potato salad is close behind. I often eschew the beans because I’m so often disappointed, but when they’re good they’re great. One more thing about sides: by eating more sides you eat less meat, so there’s more left over for a future meal. You also may live longer.

There are a few more things I consider which you can read about on my original post. One thing I don’t consider: popularity.

Folks not from Texas may not be aware that getting barbecue at Franklin’s or another brisket Valhalla can be a feat on the order of getting tickets to Hamilton. I think a lot of these people are in line just for the experience and don’t even like barbecue (and they don’t have to buy it because, by the time they get to the head of the line, it’s sold out).

Some of the best barbecue I’ve had is from places like Davis Grocery & BBQ in Taylor, TX, which have a smoker out in back and serve brisket (or in this case, mutton) as a sideline to another business. I am looking forward to celebrating at this or an equivalent temple in the next few days.

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Secrets of Bengali Cooking

Bengali food is unique among regional Indian cuisines in that it’s served in courses instead of all at once, a custom that likely derived from the French. It also incorporates an unusual range of unique flavors and aromatic compounds, a factor that may account for the popularity of Bengali cooking.

Bengal is situated the delta of the Ganges river, in the upper right corner of India on a map. It’s been host to a succession of foreign rulers which have left their influence on the cuisine.

The area known as Bengal includes West Bengal inside India and East Bengal in Bangladesh. It extends from the Indian Ocean to the edge of the Himalayas and is bordered by Myanmar to the east.

The river city of Calcutta, which is now called Kolkata, is probably Bengal’s best-known feature aside from Bengal tigers. The region has its own language and alphabet, so it’s not surprising that Bengali food is so distinctive.

Local dishes incorporate a range of fruits, vegetables and legumes, including potatoes, gourds and lentils. Unlike most parts of India, non-vegetarian cuisine prevails in Bengal. Fish is a staple of the local diet. Chicken, goat and mutton are featured regularly. Rice is served with first course vegetables and the main course. It’s also featured in desserts like chaler payesh. That’s Bengal’s version of rice pudding and what most of India calls kheer.

Indian food goes way beyond samosas, butter chicken and restaurant favorites. Fiery dishes from southern India and flavorful comfort foods from New Delhi often steal attention away from other worthy regions. If you’re ready to explore India’s richly varied cooking styles, Bengal is a great place to start.

Common Seasonings in Bengali Cooking

Mustard oil is the first choice for frying vegetables, fritters and meat in Bengali recipes. It has a high-smoke point. The distilled oil of mustard seeds lends a distinctive sharp, pungent, spicy and sinus-clearing flavor to regional dishes. Peanut oil or a neutral vegetable oil can be used in place of mustard oil in most recipes although you won’t get the same flavor.

Panch phoron, a five-spice blend, is used widely in Bengali cooking. This eastern Indian seasoning includes the seeds of fenugreek, mustard, cumin, fennel and nigella, which is also called kalonji or black cumin. To make your own, combine 1 tablespoon of each spice. In a hot pan without oil, toast the ingredients briefly. Remove the pan from the heat when their fragrance is released. Traditionally, the seeds remain whole, though you could use ground spices if you have them. Ready-made panch phoron can be found online or in well-stocked stores.

Panch Phoron

Panch Phoron, a complex aromatic spice mixture that makes a frequent appearance in Bengali cooking

Indian food presents infinite possibilities to the home cook. You can add some of this and a handful of that to create an impressive meal that’s different every time. Stir in plain yogurt after taking the pan off the heat. If you have carrots or leftover vegetables in the fridge, add to a curry. In the summer, fry zucchini and eggplants with the onions in a stew such as Maachere Jhol. You can also incorporate winter squash, potatoes and other vegetables that are available in every season. Indian food will surprise all of your guests. They will think you spent 10 hours when you spent less than one.

This is a guest post, with some editing and modification, from _Liz of TextBroker. I tried them as an experiment and learned something new about Indian food. Keep your eyes peeled for a tasty fish stew recipe, coming soon.

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Oh Ricey Pho Bo (instant pho)

Oh Ricey Uncooked

Oh Ricey Pho Bo ingredients including a little pack of palm oil

I am a pho fanatic (who refuses to say “pho-natic”) so was interested in the run down of instant pho packets in the latest Lucky Peach. Fortunately their top rated choice, Oh Ricey, was available at my Asian Supermarket so I brought some home.

This is a definitely notch above instant ramen. Rice noodles are cushioned in a little tray and you get a packet of solid palm oil (which I’m sure is deadly) along with the veggies and seasonings. Prep couldn’t be easier: boil water, pour over all ingredients, cover and wait three minutes.

The verdict? It doesn’t really taste like pho (lacking the star anise and roasted bone flavors) but is pretty good for what it is. I’d buy again. It comes in a modest 250 calories but packs most of your day’s allotment of salt in, much of that in the form of MSG which gave me a nice tingle.

If you can’t find it locally, Oh Rice Pho Bo is available on Amazon. (That link is for a case of 24 which offers the best unit price; smaller quantities are available as well if you search.)

The finished product, ready to enjoy with a few slices of jalapeño and a squirt of lime juice

The finished product, ready to enjoy with a few slices of jalapeño and a squirt of lime juice

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Recipe: The Ultimate Ramen Hack

Ultimate Ramen

Ultimate Shin Ramyun/Ramen

By ramen I mean Shin Ramyun, of course, though this would probably work with another brand. This ultimate ramen was inspired by a similar recipe in the highly recommended Koreatown cookbook. The egg and cheese combine to create a savory custard that floats among the noodles like a mermaid in a forest of seaweed. Serves one, luxuriously.

Ingredients:
1 package Shin Ramyun or other instant ramen
2 c water
1 large egg
1/4 c shaved or grated cheddar cheese
1 green onion, including some of the green part, sliced into rings (optional)

Pre Microwave Ultimate Ramen

Ultimate Ramen, ready for the microwave

Method: Add flavoring packages to water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the noodles, cover, and cook just to the point where the noodles are soft enough to manipulate–1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a ceramic bowl, which you will use for serving. (It should be high rather than wide, like my example.) Mix in the optional onion rings. Make a well in the middle of the ramen and crack the egg into it, taking care not to break the yolk. Surround with a ring of shaved or grated cheese. COVER (in case the egg explodes in the microwave) and microwave 2 minutes on high, until cheese is melted and noodles are cooked through but not flabby. Serve at once with fork, spoon and chopsticks so the lucky diner can mix and eat the ingredients to her/his preference.

  • As a side project, I did a taste test of regular vs black Shin. A four-pack of regular is $4.99 at my market vs $7.99 for the black, so this is not a trivial matter. Interestingly, all my tasters had already done this test for themselves and distinguished the two preps correctly. The Black, which has an extra packet (of mushrooms) and claims beef in its soup base, definitely has an edge in flavor complexity. The regular is one-dimensional and a bit spicier. But for this recipe, in which the ramen and broth are merely a backdrop for the egg/cheese custard, either one will do.
Regular Shin vs Black Shin

Regular Shin vs Black Shin Lamyan (note that Black has one extra seasoning packet)

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Food for Thought: Koreatown a Cookbook

Koreatown: A Cookbook immediately repays your investment with the quick kimchi recipes in the opening pages: through some alchemy involving Asian pears, fish sauce and of course gochugaru you can get a pretty decent rendition in 24 hours instead of burying your crock in the ground for months. Add the Jangajji (quick soy sauce pickles) on page 49 and the Kongamul Muchim (crunchy sesame bean sprouts) on page 51 and you’ve got yourself a pretty serviceable spread of panchan.

There’s also lots of Korean street and bar food, Korean recipes contributed by an impressive array of famous chefs, and tasty, browsable food writing in the style of David Chang though not quite as potty-mounthed. And the ultimate tweak to Shin Lamyan which I will tweak further and share with you shortly. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as your first Korean cookbook since the recipe selection is eclectic rather than encyclopedic, but it could easily be your second. And it’s a bargain at just a few cents over $20 on Amazon. Check it out.

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Recipe: Sautéed Spinach

Spinach

Sautéed Spinach

There are two keys to successful sautéed spinach: wash the hell out of the raw leaves, and then cook the leaves with no additional water after washing. This will eliminate the fails that affect most spinach preps. Serves 4 as a side dish.

Ingredients:
1 lb raw spinach (about 2 farmers-market bunches)
1 T olive oil, butter or a combination
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 T lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Method: wash the leaves in multiple changes of water, even if you purchase “pre-washed”. A salad spinner is really good for this. Heat the oil/butter in a deep saucepan and add the garlic; cook just a minute or two till it becomes fragrant. Add the spinach leaves, toss quickly to distribute the heat and oil, then cover and turn off the heat! In about 5 minutes the leaves will have wilted to serving consistency. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste and serve as a side with a hearty meat like Pork Chops with Vinegar Peppers.

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Easy-peasy favorite recipes

You don’t have to bust your butt to come up with a great result in the kitchen or on the grill. In fact, it can be a fun project to serve a dish that looks complex but requires little or no effort. Here are three of my favorite easy recipe examples.

Ultimate Gazpacho

Ultimate Gazpacho

I call this “ultimate” gazpacho because it’s the best I’ve had but also very easy to make in the blender. It’s also thrifty, using only one tomato (so be sure it’s a good one.) Recipe here.

Tyson KFC

Korean Fried Chicken made with Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips

I came up with this Korean chicken for a Tyson chicken competition and was amazed at how close it was to KFC from Koreatown. Yet it uses only ingredients you probably have in your kitchen right now. Recipe here.

BakedBeans

Baked Beans (they should look like this when done, with all liquid absorbed/evaporated)

What goes better with BBQ than a side of slow-cooked syrupy beans? But they take hours to prepare, right? Not if you use my shortcut, which involves canned beans from the supermarket. Recipe here.

Time for another #TBT or “Throwback Thursday” post. I like to showcase themes that go together and especially great recipes which, for one reason or another, have not gotten the attention they deserve. 

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