Spring VI: Watercress Sandwiches

Sunday, March 15, 2009

In the E.B. White novel Trumpet of the Swan, a swan named Louis stays at the Ritz hotel and orders watercress sandwiches. He eats them without the bread, but since reading that book I've always associated watercress sandwiches with luxury even though it is as affordable as any other green this time of year. Somehow I got talked into buying an enormous bunch of watercress today at the market, and the first thing I made was watercress sandwiches. It might be hard to tell from the picture, but the bread is from a mini loaf (labeled 'Children's Bread'); this sandwich is a bit smaller than palm size.

Spread one slice of fluffy white bread with mayonnaise and another with butter. You can use either, but I like the combination of both. Pile very fresh, crisp, dry watercress leaves between the slices and enjoy.

Spring V: Tatsoi Salad with Ketchup and Mustard Dressing

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Tatsoi is a fantastic vegetable to eat raw. It has a strong flavour without being bitter, tough, stringy, or tooth-coating like spinach. Mixing up a salad dressing from whatever is in the cupboard is a great way to enjoy spring greens, and I wanted something a spicy and a little sweet - something that could stand up to the tatsoi.

I tried using Chinese tahini in the dressing, but it seized up every time I added another ingredient. I later learned this is completely normal, I had just never run into it before because every time I've used tahini it was in a blender recipe. Cooking 'unplugged' definitely helps you develop a deeper feel for ingredients.

A creamy dressing of mayonnaise mixed with ginger juice and a little sugar tasted fine, but too much dressing clung to the leaves and made the salad soggy. (Everyone has food quirks - I happen to hate leafy salads that are too wet. The greens have to be bone dry before I will dress them. I even use a hair dryer.) This vinaigrette worked much better - 1/2 tbs olive oil, 1/2 tsp prepared mustard, 1 tsp ketchup, 1/2 tbs white wine vinegar, and a pinch of sugar, just enough for one bowlful of leaves.

Spring IV: Ginger, Carrot and Fava Bean Salad

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

While walking by a table of preserved food at the market, I saw a cold dish that combined carrots and fava beans in a spicy, sour dressing. It was simple but very bright and appealing, and I decided to try carrots and favas in a salad together. My market sells the fava beans already shelled and peeled, but you can leave the peel on if desired (the cold dish in the market had whole beans).

Grate enough fresh ginger to produce 1 tbs ginger juice. Mix ginger juice with 2 tbs white wine vinegar, 1 tsp white sugar, 2 tbs olive oil, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cube half a pound of carrots and boil for a couple of minutes, then add 1/2 lb shelled fava beans and boil til together until beans are just tender. You want the carrots and beans to finish cooking at the same time and still be a little crisp.

When vegetables are finished cooking, drain well and toss immediately with dressing. Let the dressing soak in as the salad cools. Can be eaten at room temperature or cold; serves 4.

Spring III: Mixed Noodles and Mushrooms

Had a very frustrating morning trying to make a dressing for tatsoi salad. Got a surprise carrot and bean salad out of the experience, which will be appearing soon, and then made myself this for lunch - oven roasted mushrooms on top of fresh noodles mixed with herbs and seasoning. The sauces are black Chinese vinegar and tian mian jiang (sweet wheat paste, or sweet Beijing sauce), and sesame oil. All should be easy to find if you have a Chinese market near you, and should be inexpensive.

For each person: Start by chopping 1/4 lb of mushrooms and sprinkle olive oil and salt on them, then pop in the oven for 15 min. on an uncovered pan. When they are nearly done put 1 tsp tian mian jiang, 1 tbs black vinegar, and 1 tsp toasted sesame oil in the bottom of your serving bowl. Chop up one handful fresh herbs. (I used Thai basil and the last of my teeth. Can use something milder like watercress too.) I would normally mince half a clove fresh garlic to add, but my garlic was very seedy looking so I added 4 cloves sliced garlic, with the bitter core of each clove discarded, to the pasta water. Garlic is totally optional here. Cook 100g fresh noodles in the boiling salted water til tender, then drain, then toss into bowl with seasonings and stir up til noodles are coated. Top with mushrooms and dig in.

Spring II: Teeth

Monday, March 02, 2009

The market project is proving a little more challenging than I thought. I figured I could pick something out, ask the vendor what it is and how to prepare it, then go home and try to find the characters and a simple recipe. However, in order to find out what things are I have to translate the vendors' Sichuanese into standard Chinese (change F to H, L to N, fourth tone to second tone, and sometimes that doesn't even work....) and vegetables are named very differently in different areas of China.

These little red bundles of sprouts were too beautiful to resist, though at Y5 for a tiny bundle they were pretty expensive. The vendor called them chun ya, or 'spring teeth' (Web searches revealed that 'tooth' is often mixed up with the word for any small, fresh shoot or baby leaf that emerges in spring) and told me to mix them with fried eggs. Then my North Chinese friend came over, gave me a completely different name, and said to chop them very fine and mix with cooked noodles. (Update: Correction - Chinese name is 椿芽, and never rely on market vendors to tell you accurate characters. Pronunciation is the same.)

Anyway, I sauteed them in a little butter and used them to make Eggs in the Middle: lentils on the bottom, then scrambled eggs, then the sprouts on top. They were good this way but also mild enough to eat raw, so I will probably use them uncooked next time.