Saturday, December 20, 2014

Pumpkin Salad with Avocado, Pecans, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

New Year's resolution-making already for 2015: more blogging! It's been over a month since I've posted, but since then: my job in Sydney finished, my Australian visa ran out, we've packed up and shipped all of our possessions, and I've moved back to Texas temporarily while I wait on the state department to approve the hubs to join me in the USofA. Needless to say, it's been busy.

But we're still cooking, and this is my first post from the Southern homeland I still call home. Have done a swift transfer from summer-weather salads to winter-themed dishes here in Texas, even though the weather is not quite frosty yet. The beautiful, delicious salad recipe shared below is just perfect for the holiday season, weather you're in the northern or the southern hemisphere. I made it in Sydney on Thanksgiving last month with my wonderful in-laws and will be making it again in Texas on Christmas for my family here.
Pardon the photo quality, snapped right before we dug into Thanksgiving1
The sweet pumpkin, savory rocket (arugula) and crunchy pomegranate seeds and pecans make a mouthwatering combination, and the flavors are holiday season appropriate without adding another heavy, starchy side to your dinner table. I've used both kent pumpkin and acorn squash in this recipe with success, and butternut or any other slightly sweet squash would also work well. If you can't source avocados where you are (they're plentiful in Australia this time of year, and thankfully in Texas we have access to avos from Mexico and Cali), just leave them out-- the salad will still look and taste divine. This festive dish is also gluten-free, dairy-free, and paleo-friendly. Win.

Hope to be back before the month and year are over, but all best to you for December. And especially warm wishes to my family and friends back in Sydney, where the past week has been a tense and difficult one. May peace abound as we move forward into the New Year.

Pumpkin Salad with Avocado, Pecans, and Pomegranate Vinaigrette
Serves 6-8
Adapted from How Sweet it Is

1 acorn squash, or half of a kent pumpkin (no need to remove the skin!)
4-5 cups rocket (arugula)
1 avocado, sliced into long, 1/4 inch-wide slices
1/2 of a medium sized pomegranate (for about 1/2 cup pomegranate arils)
1/2 cup pecans, chopped into large chunks

Pomegranate Vinaigrette
makes 1/2 cup

3 tablespoons pomegranate juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
pinch each of freshly ground salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 395F/ 200C. Slice the squash or pumpkin into 1/4-inch slices (if using acorn squash, cut in half from bottom to top, then slice horizontally from bottom to top so you end up with scalloped slices of squash).

Place squash slices on a greased or baking paper-lined baking tray, and place into a pre-heated oven. Roast at 395F/ 200C for 20-25 minutes, turning the slices over halfway through cooking, until the slices are cooked through and beginning to brown slightly. In the last 5-6 minutes of baking, place the pecans on another baking tray and place them in the oven to toast. Remove squash and pecans from oven and set aside to cool.

While the squash is roasting, remove the arils (seeds) from your pomegranate and set a 1/2 cup aside (refrigerate the remaining arils for another use). Then make the pomegranate vinaigrette by whisking all ingredients together thoroughly.

On your serving platter or bowl, arrange the rocket leaves, and pour half of the vinaigrette evenly over the leaves. Arrange the squash slices over the rocket, then arrange the avocado slices in between the squash slices. Pour the remaining vinaigrette evenly over the salad, and sprinkle the pomegranate arils and pecans on top. Serve immediately.

Salad will keep, covered in the fridge, for 24 hours.

* Prep tip: The squash can be roasted up to a day ahead and placed in the fridge, ready to be used when you are ready to assemble the salad. The vinaigrette can be mixed up and stored in the fridge up to two days before serving.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Bok choy salad with sticky grilled eggplant, baby corn & miso garlic chicken

We spent last weekend in the Blue Mountains with friends (see pic at the end of this post), and had a great time going on long bushwalks through the gum trees then coming back to our Airbnb house to cook up a big meal over beers and old fashioneds. My friend Kate made the most amazing seared kangaroo salad on our first night-- check out her blog The Katechen for more delicious food outta Melbourne. We'll definitely be trying *roo salad* at home soon, but tonight we stuck to our favorite version of summer salad (marinated, grilled chicken thighs over an Asian-inspired base), topping it with sticky grilled eggplant slices inspired by Laura over at The First Mess.
baby bok choy salad topped with grilled sticky eggplant and baby corn
The basil and mint keep things tasting light, while the grilled eggplant and chicken make this dish go a long way to satisfy big appetites. If you can't easily source baby bok choy, any lettuce (romaine, oak leaf, etc) will do, or try a combo of thinly sliced Napa (Chinese) cabbage and purple cabbage. If you're cooking for vegetarians, just serve the grilled chicken separately, alongside the salad.
salad topped with miso garlic grilled chicken
These eggplant slices would also be delicious as a side on their own, or added to a burger/wrap situation. File this one away for the summer months, northern hemisphere mates. And a shout out to my little brother, whose birthday is today! Can't wait to toast the last year of your twenties with an old fashioned when we're back in the same country, bro. 
full of flavor: salad with grilled veg & chicken
Bok choy salad with sticky grilled eggplant, baby corn & miso garlic chicken
Serves 3-4

Bok choy salad
3 bunches baby bok choy, separated, washed, and thinly sliced
1/2 of a red bell pepper (capsicum), thinly sliced
4-5 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
small handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped
large handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon reserved eggplant marinade (recipe below)

Toss the baby bok choy, bell pepper, mushrooms, mint, and basil together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the reserved eggplant marinade with olive oil and mirin. Pour the marinade dressing over the salad, and toss to coat. Set aside to serve straight from the bowl, or transfer the salad to a flat serving plate to serve. 

Sticky grilled eggplant and baby corn (inspired by this recipe at The First Mess)
1 large eggplant, sliced into 1cm-wide slices
fat pinch of ground sea salt
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 of a brown or purple onion, thinly sliced 
big pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon miso
1 tablespoon mirin
handful of baby corn, sliced in half lengthwise

Lay the eggplant slices in a single layer on a sheet of aluminum foil or a baking tray, and sprinkle with with sea salt on both sides. Leave the eggplant to sit while you make the marinade.

In a small saucepan, combine the balsamic vinegar, honey, ginger, onion, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium and simmer for 6-8 minutes, until the mixture has reduced by about half and is thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in the miso and mirin. Set aside one tablespoon of the marinade mixture to use in the bok choy salad dressing (see above). 

Generously brush the eggplant slices on one side with the marinade (you won't use all of it, save the remainder to use while you're grilling). Leave the eggplant to marinate while you prepare the chicken (eggplant needs only about 10 minutes to soak up the flavors of the marinade).

When you're ready to grill, heat an outdoor barbeque or an indoor stovetop grill to high heat. Brush the grill with oil. Place the eggplant slices, marinated side down, onto the grill, and immediately brush the tops with the remaining marinade mixture. Place the sliced baby corn on the grill, too. 

Grill the eggplant slices for about 3-5 minutes on each side, until char marks appear and eggplant softens. Toss the baby corn around on the grill every couple of minutes, removing after the corn begins to develop a little char, about 6-8 minutes total. Remove the eggplant and corn and set aside to cool for a few minutes before arranging them on top of the bok choy salad.  

Miso garlic chicken
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil (or toasted sesame oil if you have it)
1 tablespoon mirin
1 teaspoon miso
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

In a large glass or ceramic dish, mix the fish, sauce, oil, mirin, miso, and garlic. Place the chicken thighs into the mixture and turn them over a few times to coat evenly. Place the dish in the fridge for 15 minutes as you grill the eggplant (or, alternatively, marinate chicken, covered in the fridge, for up to 8 hours or overnight). 

Heat the grill (outdoor barbeque or indoor stovetop grill) to high heat. Add the chicken thighs, and grill for about 5-8 minutes on each side, until chicken is no longer pink in the middle and juices run clear. 

Remove chicken from heat and allow to rest for a couple of minutes before slicing against the grain into thin slices. Arrange the chicken on top of the salad and grilled eggplant and baby corn, or serve the chicken on a separate platter alongside the salad. Enjoy!

view from one of the lookout points near Leura on our Blue Mountains bushwalk last weekend

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino over lentils with swiss chard & mustard

A couple of weeks ago I finally tried a few of the dinner recipes I've been eyeing in Rachel Khoo's wonderful My Little French Kitchen cookbook. In this sequel to My Little Paris Kitchen, Rachel has traveled all around France to gather the quintessential flavors and current food trends of many areas. The result is a beautiful snapshot of the varied French palate, from seaside-inspired dishes to heartier fare from the eastern side of the country. I loved the look of her green bean bundles over lentils, and though we've pretty much cut out legumes over the last few months (along with grains), I gave this one a try.
Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino over lentils with swiss chard & mustard
green beans & pecorino wrapped in prosciutto, served over lentils and swiss chard
The first time around I was very impressed with the green bean bundles, but the lentils were a little lackluster. A week later I revisited the recipe, this time sautéing swiss chard with the onions and thyme, and deglazing the pan with some apple cider vinegar and strong dijon mustard before gently tossing in the lentils. Tangy and delicious, plus another full serving of green vegetables : )  I used canned lentils for ease. If you have dried lentils, measure out 200g (7oz), rinse them, and bring to a slow simmer in 400g (14oz) water, simmering uncovered for 20-30 minutes, until lentils are soft.
Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino over mustardy lentils with swiss chard @ Southern Spoon Blog
tangy apple cider vinegar & dijon mustard lend lots of flavor to swiss chard & lentils
Tonight we're making the green bean bundles for dinner to serve alongside portuguese baked chicken. They are a very tasty side, and I bet these little prosciutto wrapped, cheese stuffed beauties will persuade even the pickiest non-green bean eater (they would also make a beautiful addition to a Thanksgiving table). The lentils could also work on their own as a side, or make them a main dish by stirring through some cooked sausage or crumbled crispy prosciutto. Enjoy, and happy fall to folks in the northern hemisphere!

* Update: if you're making this for a vegetarian or for someone who doesn't eat pork, I've successfully replicated the prosciutto wrapper with thinly shaved slices of carrot. Just take your vegetable peeler, place your carrot on a flat surface, and carefully shave a long slice, moving from the top to the bottom of the carrot (peeling away from yourself... that sounds like a 90s emo song). You might have to shave off a couple layers before you get a nice wide slice-- just wrap this around the green bean & pecorino bundle, and cook in the oven as per the recipe. 

Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino
serves 4-6 (larger appetites may want 2 bundles)

oil to coat baking tray
400g (or 14oz) green beans, rinsed
100g (or 3.5oz) pecorino (or other hard cheese, such as parmesan)
6 slices prosciutto (or thinly shaved carrot slices for a veg version)

Preheat oven to 190C/ 375F. Line a baking tray with baking paper and spray or brush lightly with oil (foil works, too, but must be oiled very well to avoid sticking). Set aside.

Slice the cheese into 12 sticks, about as long as the beans. Gather about 8-10 green beans, and two pieces of pecorino, and carefully wrap a slice of prosciutto around the bundle (for veg version, wrap a thin carrot slice around the bundle). Place the bundle on the prepared baking pan. Repeat with remaining ingredients. 

Bake the wrapped bundles for 18-25 minutes, until cheese is melted, just beginning to brown at the tips, and the prosciutto is beginning to crisp up. Remove from oven and carefully lift bundles from the baking tray. Serve immediately. 

Lentils with swiss chard & mustard
serves 4

1 tablespoon cooking oil (I use rice bran oil)
1 yellow or white onion, coursely chopped
about 10 sprigs thyme, leaves picked from any woodier stems, other thin stems rough chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 heaping cups rough chopped swiss chard, cleaned and de-stemmed
2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (to taste)
1-2 tablespoons strong dijon mustard (to taste), plus additional mustard to serve
freshly ground salt and pepper (to taste)
2 x 400g cans lentils (or 14oz each), drained and rinsed (I used brown, any type will do)

Heat a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onions, and sauté on medium to low heat for about 7-8 minutes, until onions are soft and beginning to brown. 

Add the thyme and garlic to the onions and stir, cooking for 1 minute. Add the swiss chard, stirring to distribute it amongst the onions. Cover and cook at medium-low heat for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. Add the apple cider vinegar and mustard to the pan to deglaze, scraping off any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. 

Add the lentils and salt and pepper to the pan. Stir gently to distribute, then cover and cook on medium-low for 5 minutes, until lentils are heated through. 

Serve immediately, with a little mustard on the side to which people can help themselves. To serve with green bean bundles, arrange the lentils on a serving dish and place the bundles over the top of the lentils, or serve up individually with a mound of lentils on each plate topped with a green bean bundle.