Bali Garden Soup

Today's recipe is all about using what you've got lying around in your cabinets or stuffed in the back of your fridge, so I wanted to share some of my favorite ways to reduce food waste and make the most of the food I buy.

The most important principle is this: do not throw away stuff that tastes good. Citrus peels? Taste good. Onion roots? Taste good. Mushroom stems? Taste good. You can repurpose all of these scraps to get the most bang for your buck.

Put your freezer to work! I keep a couple of gallon-size zip-top bags in the freezer at all times for my vegetable scraps. The ones I find myself stashing away most frequently are: onion skins and roots, mushrooms stems, herb stems, ginger peel, carrot roots and tips, broccoli stems (I eat most of the broccoli stem like I would the florets, but remove the woody end that has an unpleasant texture and save it), corn cobs, leek tops, fennel tops, and apple cores. I also do this with whole carrots, herbs, and other vegetables that I know are going to go bad before I can use them. I just break them up into 2-inch or so pieces and throw them in the bag.

Once I have at least one gallon-size bag stuffed full in the freezer, I'm ready to make stock. Dump all of the frozen vegetables in a stock pot, cover with an inch of cold water, and add it some salt (start with a teaspoon and adjust as the stock cooks), peppercorns (2 teaspoons or so), and a bay leaf. Feel free to add other herbs and spices as you see fit; I often add dried chilies and a couple of garlic cloves to mine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the temperature and simmer for a couple hours until the stock tastes good. Strain the finished stock, and either put it in the fridge to use within a couple of days or freeze until you're ready. I also do this with leftover bones for a non-vegetarian version.

Another idea long these same lines is to save citrus peels. I save them in the freezer in a separate container to use for tea. Just today, I made a batch of iced tea that I flavored with the peel of a lemon and a grapefruit that I had stashed in the freezer last week. I boiled 2 quarts of water, poured it over 6 tea bags (3 green tea and 3 mint tea today) and the citrus peels, then let it steep for a while before throwing in a quart or so of ice. I keep the jug in the fridge, tea bags, peels, and all, and end up drinking the whole thing in a couple of days max. You can take out the tea bags after the ice melts, but I'm just lazy.

Now, for soup. This is a wonderfully versatile recipe. I've often used the basic framework of coconut, sesame, and red curry flavors to pull together the odd vegetable bits in my end-of-week fridge. The picture I've included in this post uses chard, broccoli, corn, carrots, and frozen peas, but in the past I've used leftover roasted eggplant, leeks, snap peas, and tomatillos with a couple of almost overripe tomatoes and beginning-to-wilt carrots. All weird yet satisfying combinations, especially when loaded up with a dollop of yogurt and served with some crunchy bread or crackers.

Bali Garden Soup
Adapted from The First Mess

1/4 cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1-2 serrano chilies (or something similar; I've used dried red Thai chilis to wonderful effect), minced
1 medium onion or leek, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced
4 teaspoons soy sauce
4 cups water (or use vegetable stock for more depth of flavor)
3 medium carrots, thinly sliced
2 medium (or 4 small) tomatoes, diced (or half a can-ish of diced tomatoes)
2 cobs corn, kernels removed (freeze the cobs for later use), or 1 1/3 cups frozen kernels
1 1/3 cups sliced green beans
4 cups chopped Swiss chard, stems and leaves separate
Kosher salt, pepper, and red curry powder (or paste if you've got it; you could also try yellow or green curry powder, I bet both would be great) to taste

Potential additions/substitutions: roasted eggplant, broccoli, sweet potatoes, zucchini, butternut squash, frozen or fresh peas, tomatillos

Heat coconut oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the chilies, onion, Swiss chard stems (save the leaves for the end), garlic, and ginger, and sauté for a couple of minutes until soft and fragrant. Add salt, pepper, and curry powder to taste, and cook for another minute or so. Add in the sesame oil, soy sauce, and water.

Bring to boil, then add the carrots (and any other hard vegetables that you want to add; think [sweet] potatoes, butternut squash, etc.), turn down the heat to medium, and simmer for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes (and any other larger vegetables that are soft; think tomatillos, zucchini, etc.), and simmer for a minute more before adding the corn and green beans (and any other small vegetables that you just want to heat through, like peas). Cook for a minute, then turn off the heat. Adjust the seasoning as desired, then stir in the Swiss chard leaves. 

Serve with yogurt and rice, baked [sweet] potato, toasty bread, or crackers!

Sheet Pan Salmon

I've been overwhelmed lately as I've tried to absorb the general craziness of our current political moment, figure out what the next steps are for my career, get ready to reapply to graduate school, and plan a wedding. If you're a long-time reader of this blog, you know that I'm highly risk averse, which dovetails nicely with my anxiety around uncertainty, but is constantly at odds with my ambition and chronic boredom. As some form of reprieve from my hectic internal state but stagnant professional life, I've returned to cooking, as I am wont to do in times of intellectual upheaval.

Today I poached some quince, which I have never seen before let alone cooked, and they turned out nicely. I think I'll have them over yogurt at breakfast tomorrow. I also made these seedy oat crackers, a batch of pistachio-almond granola, and this super delicious stuffed spaghetti squash with chickpeas and arugula-tahini sauce (I spiced up the chickpeas with my usual blend of smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, coriander, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper, and swapped tahini for the cashew milk as she suggests). I'll have to make it again soon to take pictures. A couple weeks back, I made this sheet pan salmon from Tasting Table, and it was so yummy and very easy. I tweaked the order of events and cooking time slightly, since I found that the snow peas got kind of sad and overcooked when they were added at the beginning according to the original recipe. I like my vegetables closer to the raw end of the spectrum, so adding them near the end of the salmon's cooking time did the trick for me. Even if you're not in to salmon, the sauce from this recipe is worth making and using with other proteins, as a dipping sauce for summer rolls, and the like.

Sheet Pan Salmon with Shiitake Mushrooms, Bok Choy, and Snow Peas
Adapted from Tasting Table 

For the sauce:
1/4 c honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon gochugaru
3 garlic cloves

For the salmon and veggies:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for greasing
2 c snow peas
2 c shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and quartered
1 red bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
1 head bok choy, cut into 2-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 pounds plank salmon, skin on
Chopped cilantro leaves, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Combine the honey, soy, sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. Use a microplane to grate the ginger and garlic cloves, or mince finely if you don't have a fine grater like a microplane. Add in the sesame seeds and chilies, then set aside.

Cover a sheet pan with tin foil. Place the salmon in the center of the pan, then season with salt and pepper. Cover the salmon with 2/3 of the sauce. Place the tray in the oven and cook for 15 minutes.

Toss the vegetables with oil, salt, pepper, and remaining sauce. After the salmon has cooked for 15 minutes, remove it from the oven and arrange the vegetables around the outside. Put the pan back in the oven for another 5-15 minutes until the salmon and vegetables are cooked to your liking.

Serve with chopped cilantro, limes, and cooked basmati rice. Enjoy!

Cherry Pepper Hummus

On a January visit to my cousin Sarah's digs in Florida, she introduced me to the most amazing condiment ever, second only to a perfectly spicy-tangy honey mustard: cherry pepper hummus. Sarah loads it up on a toasty pita with lots of fresh veggies like lettuce, cucumber, bell peppers, and radish, and it is so delicious. She makes the best pita sandwiches, no joke!

I started experimenting when I got home, and have settled on a combination that I can't stop eating. It's also really easy to make since I use canned chickpeas. My absolute favorite hummus recipe is from Ottolenghi's Jerusalem cookbook, which uses dried chickpeas, but canned chickpeas are a great shortcut for this kind of everyday recipe. Since my default is buying pre-made hummus at the grocery store, I don't feel too badly about using canned chickpeas here. Also, the cherry peppers and spices add so much flavor that you can't really tell. I can already sense many of you rolling your eyes at this whole discussion, so I'm going to move it along and tell you everything you can put this hummus on.

Other than the usual hummus suspects like veggies and pita chips, I've been using it as a sauce for my end-of-week-fridge pasta. A couple of weeks ago I tossed this on rigatoni with leftover roasted eggplant, some green beans that were going to go bad in a day or two, and hunks of mozzarella from the weekend's pizza, and it was ridiculously good. Just this evening for dinner I roasted cremini mushrooms, onions, and broccoli, combined them with cooked egg noodles, and smothered everything with this hummus. I also love it on toast with smoked salmon and lettuce for breakfast in place of the usual avocado or plain hummus. Sometimes I just eat it with a spoon, honestly.

Cherry Pepper Hummus
Inspired by the one and only Sarah!

2 cans chickpeas
1/2 to 2/3 c tahini, to your taste
2 lemons, juiced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
Healthy pinch salt
12 to 16 ounce container cherry peppers; you can find them at the deli/antipasto section of your grocery store with the olives, etc., or the aisle where they put other jarred veggies
1 to 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 to 2 teaspoons sumac
1 to 2 teaspoons chili powder
1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

Drain the chickpeas, but keep about a half can's liquid, and add to the bowl of a food processor. Add the reserved chickpea liquid, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. Blend in the food processor for 1 minute. Add in a splash of water and continue to blend, adding water as necessary, for about 5 minutes, or until the hummus is super smooth. Give it a taste, then add salt if necessary.

Add in the cherry peppers, reserving the juice. You can add a couple dashes of the juice as necessary to achieve a smooth consistency. Add in the spices, starting with a teaspoon or so each, and blend until the hummus is smooth. Adjust the spices to your taste. You can store the hummus in the fridge for about a week, or freeze some if you don't think you'll make it through it all in that time. I've done this and it defrosts really well. Enjoy!

Lemon Soufflé

I am not one for resolutions in a new year. I am not good at keeping them, and therefore do not like to make them. Yes, I have hard time embodying the growth over proficiency mindset in my own life.

This year, though, is different. We must be strong. We must invest in our communities and remain committed to them. To that end, here are some actions I am taking, and I hope these will prompt you to think about what you are doing to support others:

  1. READ. Question everything. If you hear something you don't understand, look it up. Find multiple sources. Stay informed. I am trying to read one poem or essay a day. Today's is Still I Rise by the exquisite Maya Angelou. 
  2. DONATE. Put your money where your mouth is. Many important organizations need you. Black Lives Matter, ACLU, NAACP, National Resources Defense Council, and International Refugee Assistance Project are all great places to start. Look to see if there are any local organizations in your area as well.
  3. VOLUNTEER. Put your time where your mouth is. Are there underserved schools in your area that need tutors? Are there local chapters of organizations you care about? Even if it's only an hour a week, your time is valuable and makes a difference.
  4. NOURISH. Take care of the people around you, and yourself. Feed your friends while you send letters to your representatives. Have a conversation with your relatives over a nice meal. Talk, and listen. Learn from one another.

Regarding item 4, I have had my friends over quite often in the past week to talk, eat, and strategize. Last night was black beans with mustard greens and sweet potatoes; Thursday was pasta, marinara sauce, and a kale salad with homemade caesar dressing.

My friend Worthy and I made these soufflés a few weeks ago, but I hadn't gotten around to posting until now. I didn't know what to write. I hope these words have offered you some food for thought. We didn't make any adaptations to this soufflé recipe, so you can find the instructions that we used here.

Pho Chay

Jimmy, our friend Lisa, and I went apple picking this weekend! It was a very special adventure, despite the severe cold that I am still getting over. I had enough energy to climb trees, throw apples at Jimmy, and eat an apple cider doughnut, before heading over to The Third Battle of Winchester Battlefield Park for a hike (read: long walk, it wasn't very hilly).

My body needed some TLC after a long day outside in the finally cool fall air, and I'd been craving pho as I am wont to do. I've reverted back to being pescatarian, with the notable exception of tonkotsu ramen with my friend Alice at Sakuramen last week (so much porky goodness, mmm), so I wanted to find a vegetarian recipe. I also don't know where to find beef marrow or knuckle bones around here, so making a non-vegetarian version would've required some extra work.

As I'm sure readers of this blog already know, I prefer to cook at home than eat out. Much of this preference is based on my sad and expensive food adventures in D.C. I usually leave feeling unsatisfied and like I've overpaid for something I could've made better at home. That's not the case with pho; I happily pay for my beef eye round and soft tendon (like butter omg) pho with spicy lemongrass broth at Pho Viet (also Pho 75 at the Court House stop is amaaazing). It's just not budget-friendly or healthy to eat out every time I'm craving it, which is often, even when it's hot as hades here. Hence, my desire to make it at home.

It was the perfect meal to end our Saturday, and I even made a second batch to get me through the next few days.

Some of these ingredients may be hard to find at your local grocery store, but if you live in D.C. I highly recommend Hana Japanese Market on U Street. They have all the sauces, noodles, produce, and spices you need for this recipe. They're also super friendly and sell homemade rice balls! What more could you want?

My first batch of broth wasn't salty enough and needed some soy sauce. I learned my lesson the second time around!

P.S. I hope to start using my camera more again soon. Sorry for the iPhone photos!

Pho Chay
Adapted from Danang Cuisine

For the noodles:

1/2 pound flat rice noodles

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Salt liberally and cook rice noodles according to the package directions. My noodles said 6-8 minutes, so I took them out after 6 so that they would be al dente.

Rinse noodles in cold water to stop the cooking process, and then under hot water to help keep them from sticking. Set aside, then use the same pot to make the broth.

For the broth:

1 apple
1 pear
2 carrots
2 celery stalks (optional; I had some leftover that I wanted to use up)
1 kohlrabi or 1/3 large daikon radish
1 leek (or onion if you can't find leeks)
2 tablespoons salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
3-4 dried shiitake mushrooms
2-3 tablespoons sliced dried chiles

1 large knob ginger, about 2 inches long
3 star anise pods
2 cardamom pods, or 1/4 teaspoon whole cardamom seeds, depending on what you have
2 cinnamon sticks, or 1 large Mexican cinnamon stick, again depending on what you have
1 onion
1 3-inch long piece lemongrass

Chop the apple, pear, carrots, celery if using, kohlrabi/daikon, and leek/onion into large chunks. Combine with 1 gallon (16 cups) water, salt, sugar, dried mushrooms, and dried chiles in the pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the aromatics. Slice the ginger in half lengthwise and do the same to the lemongrass. Peel the onion and cut into fourths, keeping the root intact so the layers stay together. Put the ginger, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, onion, and lemongrass in a dry pan over medium heat. Remove the aromatics as they become charred and fragrant. If you really want to get a good char and have a gas stove, put the aromatics over the open flame; you can put them directly on the grate, or hold them with tongs.

After you've charred the aromatics, wrap the cardamom and anise in cheesecloth or put in a teabag. Add to the pot with the ginger, cinnamon, onion, and lemongrass, and simmer for another 30 minutes or more. If you have time, I would suggest cooking for another hour.

In the meantime, prepare your bowl. These are the ingredients I like, but feel free to switch them up.

For the bowl:

Fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
Bok choy, sliced
Soft or silken tofu

Thai basil leaves
Bean sprouts
Lemongrass, minced
Chili garlic sauce
Hoisin sauce
Scallions, sliced
Limes, sliced

Saute the mushrooms with sunflower or another neutral oil until crisp and cooked through. I seasoned mine with soy sauce and five spice powder, but do whatever floats your boat. If you like your bok choy cooked through, you can throw it in with the mushrooms as well.

Add the mushrooms, bok choy, tofu, and cooked noodles to your bowl. If you prefer fried tofu, then go for it, but I like the texture and taste of soft or silken tofu. I also pulled some of the now-rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms from the pot, sliced them up, and put them in the bowl. Ladle over the piping hot broth.

Finish off your bowl with your favorite toppings. I like basil, sprouts, lemongrass, chili garlic sauce, hoisin, scallions, and lime juice. Enjoy!


Hello, friends. Almost a year has passed since I last posted. Time flies when you're balancing a full-time job, long-distance relationship, and PhD applications, eh?

Since October, I said goodbye to my tiny studio apartment, moved into a grown-up apartment with Jimmy, got a joint Costco membership (which is, apparently, a new relationship landmark in today's secular society), and bought an electric coffee grinder that saves 5+ minutes of labor compared to my manual grinder #blessbless. Don't worry Dad, it's got a conical burr in there.

I started boxing, got injured, started training for the Army Ten-Miler, and got injured some more. My arm muscles are looking p good though.

I traveled. Los Angeles. Rockland. New York. Philly. Chicago. Fort Worth. Stillwater. Breckenridge. Nashua. Not in that order. I ate a lot. I drank delicious drinks.

I cut my hair.

I studied for and took the GRE. I wrote my personal statement for PhD applications.

Happily done with the GRE.
I cooked. I made that tiny, tiny kitchen work. 

Lamb meatballs from, you guessed it, the Jerusalem cookbook.
Brûléed bourbon-maple pumpkin pie with chocolate crust. Yes, it was that good.
I also commandeered other people's nice kitchens.

Thanksgiving feast at Tor's house.

And grills.

Grilled seafood paella, featuring Jimmy's forearm.
Now that my oven, stove, counter-space, and fridge are all regular-people sized, I hope to cook more. Already, that's been true. Jimmy's done most of the cooking, actually, but I really want to cook the way I used to. Spontaneously, happily.

I found new food blogs and rediscovered old ones, combined my cookbooks with Jimmy's, and begun dreaming of new recipes. Ya girl is back.

Best Ginger Molasses Cookies, Los días van tan rápidos

Estemos preparados. Quedémonos desnudos
con lo que somos, pero quememos, no pudramos 
lo que somos. Ardamos. Respiremos
sin miedo. Despertemos a la gran realidad 
de estar naciendo ahora, y en la última hora.

Let us be prepared. Let us stay exposed
to what we are, but let us burn, not spoil
what we are. Let us smolder. Let us breath
without fear. Let us awaken to the great reality
of being born now, and in the final hour.

Gonzalo Rojas, Contra la muerte, 1964

As a classic early 2000s middle schooler, with a penchant for softcore metal, bad YA novels, and having a lot of ~feelings~, I was very much into writing and reading poetry. Although I've gotten over my desire to write really deep verses about how no one understands me, I haven't gotten over my love of reading other people's poetry. Tomas Tranströmer and Rainer Maria Rilke were early favorites, which I read as English translations, before reading the Aeneid and several Alexander Pushkin poems in their original languages. Reading poetry has become a part of how I learn and immerse myself in other languages; or, put perhaps more poetically, a way to find powerful, transcendent spaces in the languages I love. The excerpt above illustrates this beautifully. I don't know what it is about the words he's chosen, the pacing, his earnestness, but it just fills me up and lifts me out of myself for a moment whenever I read it.

I first encountered this stanza in a collection of poemas de Gonzalo Rojas that Jimmy gave me for Christmas when he came back from Chile. Pablo Neruda is, of course, also a favorite of ours, and we return to a book of his selected poems time and again. I hope to find more Spanish language poetry once I finally mobilize myself to get a DC library card. Until then, I've been occupying my spare time with sculling (lol @ my fourth year self for thinking I would probably never row again after college), taking casinero (Cuban style) salsa classes, a social volleyball league, studying for the GRE, and actually devoting myself to learning Python. Code Academy is a great online tool, and I've also been using Learn Python the Hard Way that is part of a broader series of books on programming languages. I will also be attending my first lesson with Hear Me Code this weekend, a community of women in the DC area ranging from complete programming novices who want to learn Python, HTML, Java, etc. to incredibly skilled programmers looking to bounce ideas off of the group or work on projects together. I'm very excited about that.

I've also been cooking a fair amount, less often than I would like and with less flair, but I've still had a lot of success in my teeny tiny kitchen. My first week in this apartment I made the salad pictured above, which was perfect for the incredible and disgusting humidity of DC summer that I hope I never get used to, and the spice cookies from my all-time fave Jerusalem cookbook that were absolutely divine. When Jimmy came to visit me in September, we adapted a recipe for a quinoa, bacon, and chard salad from La Gran Cocina Latina (which by the way I think is an excellent, excellent encyclopedia and cookbook in one). I made two loaves of babka last week that came out super well, and have made a version of this granola recipe (maple syrup instead of agave, sub extra nuts for coconut, no brown sugar, sub cardamom and allspice for cinnamon) several times now to have with kefir and fruit for breakfast. I also improvised a pureed kabocha squash soup with miso and gochugaru that turned out super well, and was a lovely way to celebrate early fall produce. Today I also made chicken stock, then pulled apart the chicken to make into curried chicken salad with toasted pecans and golden raisins. I mixed together Greek yogurt, curry powder, lemon juice, a little bit of the stock to thin out the yogurt, a dash of olive oil, a dab of Dijon mustard, and honey for the dressing. That's a #notsaddesklunch right there.

This is all to say, I've been doing really well adjusting to adult life and finding time to exercise, relax, and cook. I can't say that I have a routine, but I've at least established some weekly patterns with activities I've already paid for (like rowing and salsa) that force inspire me to go and get out of my own head when I'm feeling down and prone to binge-watching bad romcoms on Netflix. Having these patterns is especially important for weeks like this one, when I've just come back from visiting Jimmy in Chicago or when he's left after visiting me, and it's difficult to return to the normalcy of being in my apartment alone. Cookies are also especially important. Cookies indeed.

Ginger Molasses Cookies
barely adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang

1 1/2 sticks (170 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 c (220 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/4 c (80 grams) unsulphured dark molasses
1 egg
2 c (280 grams) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1+ teaspoon freshly grated ginger
Granulated sugar for coating

Whisk (or mix on low speed) together the butter, brown sugar, molasses, fresh ginger, and egg until well combined. 

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt until well mixed. Add the flour mixture into the wet mixture and stir just until combined. Put the dough into an airtight container and let rest in the refrigerator at least 3-4 hours or preferably overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the granulated sugar in a small bowl. Scoop out  a 1/4 c of dough at a time, roll into a ball, roll in the sugar, then place on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 16-18 minutes until the cookies are crackly on top and just barely firm to the touch. Let cool until you can eat them without burning your mouth too badly.