Lip Singe Challenge

I am not usually a fan of spicy foods, but I do make exceptions. One of them is green papaya salad, which I will order whenever I see it on a menu at a Thai restaurant. Green papaya salad is one of the reasons I keep coming back to the Lowell Folk Festival, although the last time we were there it was too spicy for me. Our friend Dan ended up eating it. He’s spent years in Southeast Asia and didn’t think it was spicy. He was less prepared for two straight hours of whining from Beatrix about a balloon, which somehow didn’t phase us! Amazing what you get used to.

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I haven’t posted a green papaya salad in large part because green papaya can be hard to come by, and I try to post things with accessible ingredients. But as luck would have it, there is a pounded green papaya salad recipe in Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook Cravings, which I borrowed from the library during my prep-athon last week, and she includes an adaptation that substitutes green beans for papaya. And I had just panic-bought two pounds of green beans on the same trip!

I’ve actually modified this recipe down to the lowest level of spicy. That also makes it a pantry recipe for me, because I have dried hot peppers from the Winter CSA; just use a pinch of red chili flakes if you don’t. You need an entire lime for this one, and you must eat it with rice to calm your face down. If fish sauce isn’t your thing, this recipe is not for you. But, boy, are you missing out. 

It works best if you have a mortar and pestle for the pounding, but if you don’t, Teigen suggests using a muddler. I ended up splitting the difference, using a pestle in a metal bowl once all the green beans were added in. 

I flippin’ love this recipe so much. Thank you, Chrissy Teigen. If you don’t have green beans or a green papaya, it’ll also work with shredded cucumber. 

Pounded Thai Green Bean Salad from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings

Ingredients 

1 lime, halved

1 dried red chile pepper

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons palm, raw or light brown sugar

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 pound green beans

3 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts (optional)

Rice, for serving 

Special Equipment

Large mortar and pestle (or you can fake it; see recipe) 

Directions 

Cut one-half of the lime into small wedges and place in a large mortar along with the dried chile, garlic and sugar. Crush with the pestle until the chile is mashed and bruised but not totally pulverized and the sugar is dissolved. Add the tomatoes and pound a few times to bruise the tomates. (You can also accomplish this with a plain old bowl and a round-ended cocktail muddler. Or you can chop the garlic first and just mix and mash everything in a mixing bowl. Squeeze the juice from the remaining  lime half (about 1 tablespoon) into the mortar and stir in the fish sauce. 

Trim and cut the green beans into 2-inch lengths. You should have about 4 cups of beans. 

Add the green beans to the mortar and mash and toss lightly. Divide the salad among bowls. If desired, top with peanuts. Serve with rice. 

 

Twenty Years in the Making

Lilli has taken to carrying her stepstool around the house to help her reach things she isn’t supposed to reach. Of course, she rarely uses it for its intended purpose, which is to reach the sink to wash her hands after she uses the potty. She does, however, use it to reach the stickers that are supposed to be rewards  for when she does use the potty.

bea at 4.5 months

Last night Rich made the unfortunate decision to walk away from the bath he was drawing, and set down the bottle of bubble bath on a shelf. He came back to find her holding the bottle upside down and dumping it into the bath. All of it. She used up the whole bottle, and yes, it was like in cartoons with bubbles floating around the bathroom. She was in heaven, but the joke’s on her because this means no more bubble baths for a while.

The silver lining to the bubble bath debacle was that it reminded me that I’d wanted to share this recipe for green beans I finally nailed down. Of course, right now you’re probably asking yourself what an out-of-control bubble bath has to do with green beans, and I’m getting there.

When I was in high school my mom used to make these wonderful stir fried green beans. They were full of fresh garlic and ginger and tossed with a mixture of soy sauce and honey. The soy’s saltiness was balanced out by the sweet honey glaze. They were great. My best friend, who was originally from Latvia, would come to our house and eat them directly from the serving dish. That was fine by me because I would go to her house and eat insane amounts of beet vinaigrette, Salad Olivier and napoleon cake.

green beans

I called my mom this summer to get the recipe. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. It was 20 years ago.” Undeterred, I set out to recreate the dish. I remember the beans being very limp, crinkly and blistered by the time they were served, so I started by steaming the beans for a few minutes. I used chunks of shallots and fresh ginger and garlic – I actually even took a photo to so you could see for yourself. But I could not figure out the glaze at the end. I consulted Aleza who suggested corn starch. It didn’t sound right, so I called my mother again. “Still with the green beans?”

But then I had a flash to when I would make these in college. It was a vision of me holding the bottle of honey directly above the pan, just like Lilli held the bottle of bubbles over her bath. And it worked! Glaze achieved. When I posted the finish photo to Facebook my best friend chimed in immediately saying she loved those beans when we were teenagers. Success!

Lilli on hayride

A few things: I worked in half pound batches to nail down this recipe. I know it will double and triple just fine. The garlic, ginger and shallot pieces should be much bigger than a mince (see photo); you want to really taste the flavors with each bite. If you’re up for it, make it a tablespoon and a half of each. A little heat would be a nice contrast to the sweet honey. I steamed my green beans in the microwave, but if you feel prefer the stove top, go right ahead. My mom always used a wok, and even though I have one, I rarely, if ever, use it. A large saute pan will do just fine. I am convinced red pepper strips often made their way into this dish, and sometimes walnuts topped it. My mother, again, swears she has no idea what I’m talking about, but feel free to experiment.

Green Beans with Soy-Honey Glaze

½ lb. green beans, cleaned

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped shallots

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped ginger

1 heaping Tablespoon chopped garlic

3 Tablespoons honey, plus about a Tablespoon-and-half more for the pan

3 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 Tablespoons canola oil

Directions

Steam the green beans for four minutes.

In a large sauté pan or wok, heat the oils until they shimmer. Once they are shimmering, add the shallots, garlic, and ginger. Stir them for about a minute. Add in the green beans and toss them with the contents of the pan.

In a small bowl, stir together the three tablespoons of soy sauce and three tablespoons of honey. Pour the mixture into the pan and over the green beans. The whole pan should be sizzling. Cook everything down for about 7 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or so. But please use your best judgement – if it looks like something is going to burn, cut off the heat.

The beans will begin to wrinkle. At this point, grab your bottle of honey and pour about a tablespoon and a half directly into the pan. The heat of the pan will have the honey sizzling. The glaze should form in about a minute.

Serve over rice.

Since You Asked

When people ask me for a restaurant recommendation, my answer is always the same: Esperia Grill. First date? Esperia Grill. Friends in from out of town? Esperia Grill. Family-friendly? Esperia Grill. A place that is suitable for carnivores and vegetarians alike? Esperia Grill.

On the face of things, it’s just a family-run Greek kouzina in the Brighton part of Allston-Brighton, where we live. It used to be a fairly standard Greek House of Pizza (it seems every town in Massachusetts has one), until one day the owners, Tim and Georgia, decided to add their own Greek recipes and start table service. As a former takeout spot, the counter is prominent; the restaurant shares its miniscule parking lot and bathroom with the Dunkin’ Donuts next door.

Lilli at 126

It looks like nothing special, but the food, oh boy, the food. I first discovered it because I’m always on the lookout for Greek restaurants that serve the garlicky potato dip skordalia. It’s my Greek restaurant litmus test. There are just a handful of places in town that do make it, but Esperia tops them all. (Our cat agrees; he jumps up on the table when we have it in the house and licks the lid clean.)

When our friends Russ and Marisa come in from Brooklyn, they now insist on going there. Rich once brought his boss and a pretty famous urban planner from New York City after an interview at WGBH, which is just down the hill. When Sylvie comes in for a visit from DC, the two of us always go there. We don’t even have a visit. We just sit in silence and enjoy each bite. It takes a lot to render the Shaffer sisters speechless, but Esperia does it, every time.

And don’t forget to get a salad. Their dressing is so good that they now bottle the stuff. Rich loves their baked lamb shank special; you can smell the cinnamon and spice as it wafts around the table. I usually stick to the cold appetizer platter which serves at least two people. I always get the skordalia, and I’ll rotate the other three with maybe the tarmasalata, tzatziki, grapes leaves. Even the hummus and falafel is great, which I found surprising in a Greek place.

wide, flat beans

As a family place, they are closed on Sundays, and every July they take off two weeks to visit family in Greece. So last week, when I had a hankering for Esperia but knew they were on vacation, I made do in my own kitchen. It was too hot to make their lemony potatoes (I’ve started to use this recipe as a blueprint), but I had green beans in the house from the CSA so I decided to braise them in tomato sauce like they do for my second-favorite Esperia side.

My beans were a bit tougher and wider than green beans — I think they call them Romano beans — so a little braise to soften them was necessary. I found this recipe in a Marcella Hazan cookbook. I know, I know. She is Italian, as is this recipe, and I wanted Greek, but it’s close enough and definitely worth sharing. In fact, when I was on the phone with Sylvie and said I had to go and braise some green beans in tomato, she said, “Ooh, like at Esperia”. Yes, exactly.

Beans and book

You can serve these beans on their own, but Marcella says they can also be served as a pasta dish; she suggests penne or rigatoni, although I honestly can’t imagine it that way. Her recipe calls for either fresh, ripe tomatoes or canned Italian peeled plum tomatoes, cut up with their juices. The first time I made this, I actually had a very small container of premade Pomi sauce – made with just plain tomatoes – leftover from a summer squash pizza Rich grilled for us. The second night I used all of a 28 oz. can of plum tomatoes and cut them up over the pan with kitchen shears. Be sure to wear an apron because things can get very messy.

Post Script: Boston Magazine just published their Best Of Boston Issue. Esperia Grill was voted Best Greek in Boston

Fagiolini con Pomodoro, Aglio e Basilico – Green Beans with Tomato, Garlic and Basil from Marcella’s Italian Kitchen

Ingredients

1 pound very ripe fresh tomatoes, or 1 cup canned Italian peeled plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice (1 ½ pounds fresh or 1 ½ cups canned if using as a pasta sauce)

1 ½ pounds green beans

½ cup extra virgin olive oil (plus 2 Tablespoons if using as a pasta sauce)

2 teaspoons garlic, chopped not too fine (1 Tablespoon if using as a pasta sauce)

Salt

Black pepper in a grinder

1 cup fresh basil leaves

Directions

If using fresh tomatoes, rinse them in cold running water and drop them into a pot of boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, cook for about a minutes, then drain and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel them and cut them up in large pieces.

Snap off the ends of the green beans and rinse the beans in cold water.

Choose a sauté pan with a lid that can later accommodate all the green beans. Put in the olive oil and garlic. Turn on the heat to medium and sauté the garlic until it becomes colored a pale gold.

Add the tomatoes, turn up the heat, and cook for about 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the green beans, turn down the heat to medium, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the green beans are tender but firm. (It should take less than 30 minutes from start to finish for this dish.) If, when the beans are done, the juices in the pan are watery, remove the beans with a slotted spoon or spatula, turn up the heat, and boil away excess liquid. Then return the beans to the pan, mix in in the basil leaves, and serve.

Note: If using this as a pasta sauce, do not add the basil to the pan. When the pasta is cooked and drained, toss with the beans and all the contents of the pan, add the basil leaves, toss again, sprinkle with the extra 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and serve immediately.

Perfect Strangers

For nearly 10 years now, my friend Dan has traveled the world. First there were several years of Peace Corps in Ukraine and Uzbekistan, then a stint backpacking through Southeast Asia. After a pit stop at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, he’s now working with Burmese refugees in Thailand… I think; it’s hard to keep track.

Along the way, Dan has sampled some Fear Factor-worthy delicacies: crickets, cockroaches. He tells a story of a sheep that had the misfortune of ramming his host mother. In response, she killed it, made it into soup, and served it to Dan for lunch.

So I was a bit surprised at Dan last summer when we attended a neighborhood BBQ. He went a little gaga for the three-bean salad. It started out innocently enough: a small serving on his paper plate next to a hot dog. And then he went back for seconds, and then thirds. He spent a good chunk of the afternoon lingering by the bowl, as though he was guarding it.

At some point, I pulled him aside and said, “Dan, it’s three bean salad. What’s going on with you?” It turns out that Dan, the world-traveler, had never seen it before. After assuring him that this exotic delicacy could be found behind the deli counter in every supermarket in America, I convinced him to walk away from the bowl.

(In Dan’s defense, substitute “Molly” for “Dan”, “Rich” for “Molly” and “cheese plate” for “three-bean salad,” and you have pretty much every dinner party we go to. But I digress.)

As it turns out, I didn’t get a chance to make him his bowl of three-bean salad before he flew to Thailand. But last week, when I received a pound of wax beans and a pound of green beans in my CSA box, I knew the time had come to revisit this often-overlooked but delicious cookout favorite.

Dan’s coming back to the States for his brother’s wedding in August. And although the batch I’ve made here won’t last until then, I’ve assured him that there will be three bean salad waiting for him upon his arrival stateside.

Three Bean Salad

I’ve made this bowl of salad with beans bought directly from the farmer, but it can be made with canned beans in the winter time; heaven knows that’s how they do it at the local grocery store. But right now I am loving the fresh version of this dish.

Think of this recipe as a good point of departure. You can always add a can of chickpeas and make it a four bean salad. A green pepper, diced, would be great as well. Some chopped celery would also be excellent. And sliced black olives… you get the picture.

Ingredients

1 pound fresh green beans

1 pound wax beans

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Half a red onion, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 cup white distilled vinegar

½ cup oil

¾ cup white sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, sugar and salt.
  3. Chop the onion and add that to the brine. Adding the onions to the brine at this early stage helps lessen their bite, so definitely do this step now.
  4. Trim the beans. I prefer the Cook’s Illustrated method of lining up the ends of a handful of beans on a cutting board and chopping off the heads with one cut, then doing the same to the other ends.
  5. By the time you’ve cleaned your two pounds of beans, your water should be boiling. Place the beans in the pot and set a timer for five minutes. While the beans are cooking, empty a tray of ice cubes into a bowl and fill it with cold water.
  6. When the five minutes have passed, quickly transfer the beans into the icy bath to blanch them.
  7. Once the beans have cooled off, grab them by the handful and roughly chop them into 1 to 2 inch pieces.
  8. Add the chopped beans and the drained and rinsed kidney beans to the onions and brine.
  9. Toss.

Marinate the bean salad for at least an hour. Longer is better; it will taste better in a day or two.

The Georgian Feast

Rich lost his kitchen privileges. The ban was imposed after I came home to a flooded kitchen last Thursday. At first, I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but soon enough it became clear that the leak was coming from a broken garbage disposal. I can only assume the culprit was the once-lost pestle (as in mortar and), discovered by Rich when it was chewed up by the garbage disposal the previous week. Good news: I now have a new garbage disposal; thanks, Chief Parr! Bad news: I still have a mortar minus a pestle.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, when I attended a Georgian Feast. No, it was not an evening of peaches and pecans, but a dinner and lecture about the Republic of Georgia, which I learned is really a crossroads between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It was one of several seminars in food, wine and the arts my school is offering this semester, and for which I used my student discount to its full advantage. The lecturer was Darra Goldstein, professor of Russian at Williams College and author of The Vegetarian Hearth, from which the terrific lentils and leeks recipe comes. But most importantly, Dr. Goldstein is the founder and editor-in-chief of the phenomenal scholarly food magazine Gastronomica, which was recently awarded Best Food Magazine of 2010 at the Gourmand Awards.

According to one Georgian legend, God took a supper break while creating the world. He became so involved with his meal that he inadvertently tripped over the high peaks of the Caucasus, spilling his food onto the land below. The land blessed by Heaven’s table scraps was Georgia.

This feast was the second of a two-night event. The previous night was a lecture about sustainable caviar, which, according to one of the women at my table, also involved six separate shots of vodka. Our outstanding dinner, which was prepared by the students in the culinary arts program, also involved alcohol. Keith Johnsen of Daqopa Brands flew in from Washington State to serve us six wines, three white and three red. Actually, I may have enjoyed more than my six. When the slender, young African American man wearing a dark suit and gold bow tie sat down at my table, I leaned over and asked “is it safe to assume you won’t be drinking your wine this evening?” He smiled and confirmed my guess. “I know all about food restrictions, I grew up kosher. I completely understand. I also wrote a 20 page paper last semester analyzing the show Man vs. Food and the perpetuation of food waste in American culture. Religiously speaking, it would be an affront to God to have that wine poured down the drain.” He laughed and passed me his wine.

And the feast itself? We started with khachapuri, a buttery bread full of salty cheese, which we enjoyed while Goldstein demonstrated the preparation of in the front of the room. Tabaka, flattened chicken traditionally eaten with one’s hands to get every bit of meat, was served with niortskali, a garlic sauce, drizzled on top. On the side were mtsvane lobios borani, spiced green beans with a garlicky yogurt dressing, and charkhlis, a beet puree full of coriander and walnuts. For dessert, we had purple pelamushi, grape juice and cornmeal squares, and fresh fruit. All the recipes can be found in Goldstein’s The Georgian Feast, winner of the 1994 Julia Child Book of the Year Award, which all attendees received.

We drank a 2001 Brut Vintage Reserve Bagrationi, a 2007 Mildiani Katstieli, a 2008 Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli, a 2007 Saperavi Kondoli Vineyards, a 2006 Mukazani Teliani Valley and a 2009 Khvanchkara Racha. Were I more sophisticated (and had I been more sober) I would be able to tell you which we had with each course. My favorite was the Pheasant’s Tears, which was very sweet and honey-colored.

The green beans were so splendid that I actually opened the book to page 153 so I could read the recipe at the table. I happened to have both yogurt and green beans in the house this week, so I got very excited. And then I came to the line where I was supposed to use my mortar and pestle to pound my clove of garlic with salt to a paste. “Argh!,” I shrieked, possibly a little too loud for the room. (I blame it on the Pheasant’s Tears. I’m a sympathetic crier.)

I did make these green beans tonight, and tried to create the same effect by mincing my garlic with salt into a paste on a cutting board. It took quite a few minutes to do, and would have been a breeze with a mortar and pestle. This dish was so delicious, I think Rich will be replacing mine sometime this weekend.

Green Beans with Yogurt (Mtsvane Lobios Borani)

From The Georgian Feast by Darra Goldstein

Goldstein writes, “Borani refers to a dish of boiled vegetables to which yogurt is added; an elaborate version calls for the addition of fried chicken as well. Georgian borani is similar to the Persian borani-e or Indian boorani, all legacies of Mongol influence.”

Serves 4 to 6.

Ingredients

1 pound green beans, trimmed

1 onion, peeled and minced

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of ground cloves

Freshly ground black pepper

1 small garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup ice water

1/2 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (basil, tarragon, cilantro, parsley, dill, summer savory) — I actually only used tarragon tonight, and it was fantastic. Georgian food is full of cilantro, so if you want to be the most authentic, that’s the way to go.

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint (optional)

In a large pot of boiling water, parboil the beans for 4 to 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, saute the onion in 4 tablespoons of butter until soft.

Drain the beans and chop coarsely (each bean should be in 2 to 3 pieces). Add the beans to the onion along with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in the cinnamon, cloves and pepper. Cook, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes, until the beans are very soft.

In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with salt to a paste. Whip the yogurt with the ice water and add it to the pounded garlic.

Stir the fresh herbs into the beans and cook for 1 minute more, then turn out onto a plate. Pour the yogurt over the beans and garnish with fresh mint, if desired.

I ended up drizzling the yogurt sauce on everything on my dinner plate tonight, the cabbage and cous cous. I think you’ll be wanting to do the same.

Almond Joy

This past December, my friend Rachel and her roommate hosted a small Chanukah dinner party at their apartment. They roasted a chicken, fried latkes, tossed together a salad of mesclun and goat cheese. And then there were the green beans.

I must admit that until this point in my life, most of the green beans almondine I’d had were by way of Bird’s Eye: out of the freezer, into microwave. The foil-wrapped almonds don’t usually make it into the toaster oven and are treated as an optional addition at the table.

But the green beans almondine at this Chanukah party, wow! I may have had two servings of them, then I may have loitered in the kitchen until it was decided that there weren’t quite enough left over to dig around for a small Tupperware. And then maybe, just maybe, I greedily ate the rest of the beans and golden almonds directly from the serving dish. I can’t quite remember if I used a fork for that final mini-serving, or just gobbled them up with my fingers.

There are a few things working together for this dish. One, I think, is to toast the almonds in the saute pan at the beginning and all the way through the making of the dish, rather than separately in a toaster oven or small pan. The second is the mix of butter and olive oil. I’ve actually tried this dish with a bit more butter, making it two tablespoons or so, and it was too buttery. (No, really, there can be such a thing.) Definitely stick with just a tablespoon of each fat.  And there’s the fresh sage, a small but impactful last-minute addition that really ties the beans, nuts and garlic altogether. Finally, and please don’t cringe when I say this, remember to salt liberally every step of the way. The nuts get a little salty because of it, but the beans are just right, and let’s face it: salty nuts are delicious.

I happened to have both green beans and sage in the house this week. The slivered almonds I always have on hand; I store them in the freezer to keep them from spoiling.

Green Beans Almondine

Ingredients

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lb. of green beans, cleaned, ends trimmed

About five cloves of garlic (yes, really) chopped

1/4 to 1/3 cup slivered almonds

Two leaves sage, julienned very thin

Salt

Water

Directions

Melt butter in a saute pan that has a lid on a medium heat. When melted, add the olive oil; it should take no more than 20 seconds for them to make friends. Add the garlic, almonds and a pinch of salt to the melted butter and oil. Stir everything together for about a minute and a half, but make sure your garlic doesn’t brown. You might want to turn the flame down a little bit to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Add the green beans and a pinch of salt. Stir everything together for another minute. Add about 3/4 cup of water, lower heat to medium low and cover pan with lid.

It should take about 20 minutes for the green beans to soften. They will no longer be the bright green they turned when you added the water, but shouldn’t look too dulled, either. About 10 minutes in, do a quality-control bite. Most likely you’ll add another pinch of salt to continue to draw out the beans’ flavor. The nuts will have turned a bit more golden. There should be enough water to steam them the rest of the way, but if you’re scared they’re going to burn, add a few more tablespoons of water. Recover pan. About 10 minutes later, do another check. Chances are the beans will be cooked all the way through. Taste them again. Do they need more salt? If the beans are now soft, stir in the fresh sage and let everything cook together for about two minutes more. If the beans aren’t yet soft enough, cover the lid and cook them for about five minutes or until soft, taste, then add the sage.

Try not to eat too many with your fingers as you cook them.

Ummmmami

Not the prettiest of dishes, but I get giddy when I think about how it tastes.

In kindergarten I learned that I had four different taste buds on my tongue, and to prove it, Mrs. S. put salt, sugar and lemon juice on their designated spots on the front and sides. I must have blocked out what we used to taste bitter, and maybe that’s why, on some level, I’ve never gotten used to bitter things like hops and mustard.

That lesson in tastes stuck with me for the next 20 years, and I would dance salty, sweet and sour foods into their “sweet spots” in my mouth. Well, usually. I always did have a little trouble deciding where to roll a Sour Patch Kid. And then, everything changed.  Even though it had been discovered nearly 100 years ago, Umami, roughly translated from the Japanese to mean “meaty” or “savory,” started making headlines about three years ago. Umami occurs naturally in foods like meat, parmesan cheese, soy, red wine, MSG, anchovies and mushrooms. And it is this taste sensation that has me loving this dish.

I make up excuses to cook this stew. We would eat it every week if I didn’t think Rich would mind. The potatoes always get cooked to a perfect velvety texture, and the mushrooms, cooked in the soy and sherry, feel as rich as meat on my tongue. I’ve actually recently read about a new taste, Kokumi,  but I’ll hold onto my umami and savor this dish.

This Chinese vegetable stew is hearty, and I’ll admit, not the prettiest of dishes. The vegetables don’t retain any of their crispness or their color. They turn soft from the slow cooking and get quite dark from the soy sauce. But did I mention how delicious this stew is? Try and keep potatoes on hand at all times, stored in dark cool place, and far away from onions, which will spoil the potatoes more quickly. Although I’ve stuck to button mushrooms for this recipe, dried shiitake mushrooms (which can be found at OSJL for $2 a package) will work great.

Potato Stew from Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking(serves 4-6)

Two notes about this recipe:

  1. Although it calls for carrots, I leave them out because they hurt my tummy. I am sure they taste delicious in this recipe.
  2. I don’t actually have sherry on hand, but have used sherry vinegar and am delighted with the results.

Ingredients

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

2 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger, lightly crushed (I use my frozen ginger root, and just take it out of the freezer for about 10 minutes before I cut off the slices)

3/4 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths

Cook's Illustrated Tip: Line up your green beans and you'll only need one cut

2 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1 1/2 inch-long segments

6 ounces mushrooms (if possible, with approximately 1 1/2-inch caps)

1/4 cup Chinese dark soy sauce

2 cups water

4 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons shaohsing wine or dry sherry (or sherry vinegar)

Heat the oil in an 8-inch-wide, heavy-bottomed pot over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the garlic and ginger. Stir and fry for 15 seconds. Add the potatoes, beans and carrots. Stir and fry for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms. Stir and fry for another minute. Now put in 2 cups water, the soy sauce, sugar and wine. Bring to boil.

Cover, lower heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are just tender. Remove cover and turn heat to high. Boil away most of the liquid.

You should have about 1/8 inch of sauce left at the bottom of the pot. Stir the vegetables gently as you boil the liquid down. Remove the ginger and garlic, if you like.