Category Archives: Ingredients

What the heck do I do with this ingredient?

Rau Muong

Rau muống – the Spinach of Vietnam

Argyle Street is the bustling capital of Vietnamese food in Chicago, and I certainly go there whenever a good bowl of pho is in order, but I would venture to say that the best Vietnamese food in Chicago can be found at Hoanh Long, where the closest it comes to having an Asian neighbor is the Panda Express in the shopping mall across the street.

Despite the obscure location, Hoanh Long has plenty of admirers, many for its pho among other popular Vietnamese dishes, but I wouldn’t know anything about those, since I cannot get past ordering the two outrageously delicious dishes that are the reason I come here in the first place.

The first object of my admiration is the deceptively simply named “Chicken Salad” or  Goi Ga in Vietnamese, which is not at all like the one coming from the deli counter of a grocery store, although the name does conjure up those images. Thick with shredded chicken, this salad is a tumbleweed of carrots, cabbage and mild onions, dripping with the typical southeast Asian flavor profile of sweet, sour and spicy flavors. A shower of finely chopped peanuts, fried shallots and shrimp crackers crown the dish, adding depth, crunch and flavor.

Vietnamese Chicken Salad
Vietnamese Chicken Salad

This was my only go-to dish for the longest time, until one day I was joined by a friend who lived in Hawaii seventeen years. She requested the Rau Muong, translated as stir fried water spinach with minced garlic, a favorite of hers from the island days. It seemed pricy at $8.95 for just a vegetable but once I tasted it, I’ve never not ordered it again. And it’s a good deal anyway – the giant platter of leafy greens, including both the crunchy stems and wilted leaves, is satisfying in a way that’s unexpected. Since then, I’ve returned the favor and shared this dish with many a friend, and I’ve yet to meet someone who wasn’t both surprised and delighted.

A tropical plant reputed to grow several inches in a day, rau moung is is staple vegetable of Vietnam cuisine. You can buy a bunch on Argyle Street at Tai Nam  for a few dollars, but ask for Ong Choy, its Chinese name, or look at this photo so you know what to buy.

greens in package no good
Rau Muong

 

Smoked Salmon Tartine

Smoked Salmon Tartine

This is one of my “fast food” lunch favorites – a smoked salmon tartine,  essentially a fancy word for an open-faced sandwich, which came into play in recent years with the renown of the Bar Tartine bakery in San Francisco and its bestselling cookbook, Tartine.

It requires no advance preparation, as long as you have smoked salmon on hand, which I often do, owing to the fact that salmon freezes easily. Pick up a few 4 oz. packets, throw them in the freezer, then pop them into the fridge the night before to defrost.

To prepare this dish, simply fine dice some red onions, toast some bread and spread them with cream cheese. I love capers and onion so that definitely goes on next, but you could also sprinkle some dill, chives or however you prefer to dress your smoked salmon.  Last, drape the smoked salmon across the toast, squeeze lots of lemon over it and serve with lightly dressed spring  greens.

This dish takes less than 10 minutes to make, no more than it would take to fry some eggs, and it’s rich in the omega-3 fatty acids people like Dr. Oz are always telling you to eat. It’s also low in calories, even with the bread and cream cheese, since there’s only 100 calories in the salmon, so it clocks in under 500 calories per serving.

Smoked Salmon Tartine
serves 2

Ingredients
4 oz. Smoked salmon
4 3 oz. slices bread
2 oz. cream cheese
1/2 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
Red onion, small dice, 2 oz
Capers, 2 tsp.
Mixed greens, 2 cups
EVOO, sprinkled to taste, around 1/2 tsp.
White wine vinegar, sprinkled to taste, around 1/4 tsp.
Salt and pepper

Method
Toast the bread
Spread with cream cheese
Press the red onions and capers into the bread
Drape the salmon across the toast
Meanwhile, toss greens oil, vinegar, s/p to taste
Serve with lemon wedges and salad

 

 

 

Best Lobster Roll we Ate

Anatomy of a Lobster Roll

I first heard of lobster rolls years ago, when a restaurant in Chicago put them on the menu as the next best thing. I didn’t get it at the time. To me, lobster was a special treat– I couldn’t see using it as a hot dog bun filling. The only thing I could figure was that lobsters were so abundant back East, people had to find a way to make use of them. We visited Cape Cod shortly after, tried a few rolls, but still didn’t grasp the idea of forking over nearly twenty bucks for mayonnaise and lobster on a hot dog bun.

Undeterred, we headed to Maine recently for a lobster roll tour, self-planned, with likely contenders culled from online reviews and discussions. We planned our lobster route in Portland and nearby Mid-coast, as locals call the region stretching north of Portland.

Our first discovery was the two different schools of thought on dressing lobster rolls –mayonnaise or butter being the predominant contention. Before long, some other foundational principles emerged as the keys to a great lobster roll, as follows:

Do not shred the lobster meat – You are not making tuna salad–you want big chunks, even the whole claw or half a tail
Dressing on the side or with a light hand – When lobster is this fresh, you want nothing to mask the flavor
Grilled buttered bun – Whether you choose butter or mayo or nothing, butter the bun and grill it.
Top-sliced hot dog bun– you may have to special order the bun, but it’s not really a lobster roll with out it
Fresh lobster –It goes without saying, but the best lobster rolls, naturally, come from the freshest lobsters
A lot of lobster –The most popular rolls on the circuit boast an entire lobster between the bun

Aside from that, we enjoyed a great diversity of lobster rolls – our favorite being “The Picnic,” from the Bite into Maine food truck camped in South Portland, the key to which seemed to be a barely detectable pinch of celery salt mixed with the requisite butter. We very quickly came to subscribe to the butter camp – I’d rather taste the sweetness of the lobster than lobster muted by mayonnaise and only butter seemed to enhance, rather than mask the ultimate luxury of fresh lobster.

Best Lobster Roll we Ate
Best Lobster Roll we Ate

Flageolet, Feta and Arugula Salad

Flageolet, Feta and Arugula Salad

It was time for beans – yes beans once again. Part duty, part pleasure, my healthy eating regimen prods me at least once a week to peer into my pantry, choose a bean, and make something healthy out of it.

“What in the heck are flageolets?”

This time, I peaked in and found a bag of flageolets, stamped with the reassuring label from the bulk bin section at Whole Foods. “What in the heck are flageolets?” I wondered, having no memory of why I bought them. A quick Internet search revealed that they are a type of white bean, prized by the French in a manner similar to the reverence held for Le Puy lentils. Sounds goods, I thought, and then immediately recalled the baby arugula in my fridge and how those two could pair together in my attempt to duplicate the wonderful arugula and white bean salad they sell at the Sopraffina Marketcafe in Chicago as part of their lunchtime antipasto trio selection.

Sopraffina Marketcafe’s Killer Dish

Flavor memories of the dish flooded my mind –the zing of the lemon, crunch and herbaceous notes from the celery, and the salty tang from the occasional fleck of feta. With these thoughts in mind I cooked the beans, set them aside and later quickly tossed a bean salad that come out even better than my memory of that famed Soprafinna version.

Here’s my take on a Flageolet, Feta and Arugula Salad

You can substitute Cannellini or Great Northern or any other white beans for the Flageolets.

Ingredients

  • Flageolet Beans, 1.5 cup cooked (1/2 cup dried)
  • Lemon zest, minced, 1 tsp.
  • Lemon juice, 2 T
  • Red pepper flakes, pinch, to taste
  • EVOO, 2 T
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • Red onion, finely diced, ¼ cup
  • Celery, finely diced, ¼ cup
  • Celery leaves, chopped, 2 T
  • Arugula, small handful, about ½ cup, loosely packed
  • Feta, 1 T, small dice

Method

  • Cook the beans, use some from a can
  • When beans are cool, add to a bowl and toss with lemon zest, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, extra-virgin olive oil, red onion, celery and celery leaves
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper
  • Right before serving, add arugula and toss until it wilts slightly
  • Toss with feta and serve