BaltimOregon to Maine

Locavore Cooking with Southern Efficiency and Northern Charm

Posts Tagged ‘scallions

Final Salad Days of Summer

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Tri-colored beets (golden, candy-striped Chioggia and plain red) salad I topped with goat cheese and maple syrup-candied chopped almonds.

I’ve been falling in love with salads again as I frantically try to cook up the summer’s bounty before the chill sets in here in Maine. In  Oregon and here, September is prime salad-making time. You’ve got just about every fresh, locally-grown vegetable at your disposal.

I’ve brought salads to several events of late, so I’m in a groove. And rather than bring the same old dressed lettuce, I’ve sought out variety, recipes that really test our sense of the word “salad.” I love how deliciously broad a category it is.

Take, for example, otsu: the tangy, gingery cold soba noodles tossed with toasted tofu, cucumber, scallions, toasted sesame seeds and shredded carrot kraut (last ingredient my addition). I gladly stumbled upon the recipe in popular food blogger Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking book, a thank-you gift I received for judging a hazelnut cooking competition. Swanson’s technique of roasting the drained tofu cubes in a dry non-stick pan (or well-seasoned cast iron skillet) was a revelation to me. Finally crispy cubes of tofu that didn’t require additional oil. I might use this technique to prepare tofu for a stir-fry or simmer sauce, to give in a more satisfying texture. Be careful not to overcook the soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles) here…those thin suckers cook up quickly.

Other salads I made this week included a visually-grabbing tri-colored beet salad with cut blanched green beans and yellow tomato. Tonight, I was inspired by the Samin Nosrat‘s grilled pepper and corn salad. It came out more like a liquid-y salsa, but a nice acidic complement to greasy ribs we picnicked on from a surprisingly authentic BBQ place in nearby Bath (great domain name, Beale Street!). The liquid leftover from the salad would make nice Bloody Mary’s. Nosrat’s recipe calls for pre-pickling the onions in red wine vinegar and pressing garlic with salt into paste for dressing–techniques I recognize from my beloved Tamar Adler. Which isn’t surprising, I suppose, since both women worked at Chez Panisse. Must have learned the techniques from Alice Waters.

Written by baltimoregon

September 8, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Ningbo Crab with Sticky Rice Cakes (Nian Gao)

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The most memorable dish Chen Leilei made for us, with fresh live crab and their roe.

My poor attempt to recreate the dish, with too-small, roeless Maryland blue crab.

For more Hangzhou recipes, check out my NPR Kitchen Window column.

Cleaning and cutting up live crab is not for the faint of heart.

I had no problem watching Hangzhou TV chef Chen Leilei do it when she gave me a cooking lesson back in China in August. But I had more trouble when I tried to recreate the recipe, using too-small Maryland Blue crabs, with my dad in Virginia.

Chen’s Ningbo Crab with Sticky Rice Cakes (nian gao) was about the best thing she prepared for us at her apartment in Hangzhou. We met her at a local, open-air wet market, where she picked out the still-swimming fresh crabs. At the market, she also bought those pillowy glutinous rice sticks (nian gao) so much fresher than the refrigerated or frozen “rice ovalettes” (known as dduk in Korean) you find at Asian markets here.

The finished recipe, from the seaport of Ningbo just east of Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province, had the perfect balance of salty, sweet and umami flavors smoothed out by the presence of the dry sherry-like Shaoxing wine. This ubiquitous cooking wine is central to Hangzhou dishes and shows up in much of Chinese cuisine. Pick some up at your local Asian market and use it to enhance any stir-fry or dipping sauce.

What follows is my attempt at translating Chen Leilei’s recipe. And if you’re squeamish about live crab, try boiling them in salted water for two minutes first before you dismantle them. Just stun them unconscious first (by hitting the head against the cutting board), so they aren’t boiled alive.

Ningbo Crab with Sticky Rice Cakes

Makes about 4 servings

2 live crabs, weighing about a pound total (mature females with roe if possible)

1/3 of a 2-pound package of sticky rice ovalettes, separated and softened in hot water

Small bowl of cornstarch for dipping crab

2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil

2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and cut into slivers

3 teaspoons sugar

1 cup water

1 bunch scallions, quartered lengthwise and sliced into 2- inch strips (or use a mix of scallions and garlic chives or Chinese leek flowers)

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1/2 cup Shaoxing wine

1.Stun the crab, remove aprons and carapace (reserve whole back shells for stir-fry) and clean out guts and lungs. Quarter crab and bash the shell a bit with cleaver so flavor will seep out when it cooks. Dip exposed meat in cornstarch to keep it in the shell and add texture. Separate the rice cakes and soak them briefly in hot water to soften them. Drain them.

2. Heat canola oil in wok. Add slivered ginger and stir-fry a minute, until fragrant. Add crab pieces (including the whole carapaces) and stir-fry about 4 minutes, until the shells turn red.

3. Add the Shaoxing wine, half the scallions, soy sauces, sugar, rice cakes and water. Cover with lid and simmer about 2 minutes, until done.

4.Remove lid and stir in remaining scallions. Plate and serve, with crab crackers if necessary.

Chen Leilei picks out the crab.

Cleaning the live crab. That orange roe is crucial for flavor.

Cutting up the whole crab.

Dip the exposed meat in cornstarch before stir-frying.

Dip the exposed meat in cornstarch before stir-frying.

The much smaller live Blue crabs I used from the Asian market. Next time, I’ll try it with larger Dungeness or Red Rock out here in Oregon.

These immature crabs had no roe to flavor the dish. Crab roe is really big in Shanghai and Hangzhou cuisine.

Written by baltimoregon

September 20, 2010 at 10:15 am

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