Monday, May 28, 2012

salmon, vegetable & rice noodle salad

although summer doesn't technically start until june, memorial day marks the beginning of summer in the minds of most americans. it's the official start of grilling season and the kick-off of a thousand balmy evenings in the backyard, sipping cold beverages and slapping errant mosquitoes. 

although not at all grilly, this salad is extremely summery - it's cold and crisp and refreshing, with plenty of citrus and tender salmon. it's definitely going to be nice to have around as temperatures start to climb (although here in portland, it's like 60 degrees. but we take what we can get).  

it is always a little jolting to see artichokes growing here - i think of them as being more fond of a mediterranian climate. but clearly i'm no botanist.

the main activities you'll encounter in making this salad are poaching salmon and chopping vegetables. both are quite simple and offer relatively few chances to accidentally kill yourself. so that's good.

first, simply heat up some water in a pan large and deep enough to hold your salmon (a big deep sauté pan works well). i used a fillet of wild sockeye salmon (monterey says "best choice" which makes me feel moderately proud and responsible, like when your 2nd grade teacher writes "nice job!" on your worksheet) that weighed about 3/4 of a pound. the water should be deep enough to cover the top of the salmon. you can add whatever kinds of things you like to the poaching water - white wine or sake, lime or herbs, etc. i kept it pretty simple with like a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar, the stems of a bunch of cilantro and some salt and pepper. just heat the water over medium heat until it simmers. then add the salmon gently (skin side down, if it has skin) and let it cook for about 10 minutes or until it's a nice opaque pinky-red all the way through. you don't want the water to boil at all, so keep an eye on it and turn the heat down if need be. 

once the salmon's done, use a large spatula to maneuver it onto a plate and let it cool for a bit. now you're going to use the hot poaching water to rehydrate some rice noodles. just place some rice noodles in a bowl and pour the hot water over them, using a spatula or something to keep the cilantro from coming along. i used thai rice stick noodles, which are thick like fettuccine, but it would also be good with vermicelli, etc. then just let them sit for 10 - 15 minutes or until the texture seems pleasantly al dente. at that point, just drain them in a colander and let them hang out. 

while that's doing its thing, chop up some nice vegetables. i used some napa cabbage, a yellow bell pepper, a shallot, and some cucumber. some kind of chili would be nice, as would tomatoes, asparagus, scallions, even mango, etc. but you work with what you've got. just cut everything in small pieces that are roughly similar sizes. i cut the cucumber in half, scooped out the seeds (which is supposed to help if one is prone to heartburn), and cut it into little crescents. i julienned the pepper and cut the shallot into tiny thin rings. the cabbage went down like this:

finally it's time to put everything together. i like to mix up the dressing in the big bowl the salad will go in and then toss all of the other ingredients in. the dressing is ridiculous-simple, which means you have time to gawk at the winner of this year's portland pug parade. it seems appropriate for memorial day.

i like the look on the face of the lady on the far left. she can't believe what she's seeing!

anyway, dressing. it's just 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, the zest of about half a lime, the juice of 2 limes, a couple of tablespoons of sugar, a little sesame oil, and a pinch of salt. fish sauce would be good instead of salt, but i forgot that we had some. just whisk everything together, add the noodles and chopped vegetables, then flake the salmon in in big chunks. you want to be careful mixing things at this point so that the salmon stays in nice attractive pieces, rather than falling into little weird shreds. 

the last thing i added was a big handful of fresh herbs cut in little slivers - i used cilantro, mint, and lemon balm, but basil or other herbs would be nice as well. live a little! a little handful of toasted sesame seeds is also a good idea. 

this summer's going to be all right.

3/4 lb salmon in water with salt, stems from cilantro, pepper
1/3 - 1/2 lb rice noodles
1 bell pepper
1/2 of a small napa cabbage
1 cucumber
1 shallot
1/2 cup mixed herbs

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons palm (or other) sugar
1 1/2 - 2 teaspoons sesame oil
zest from ~1/2 lime
juice from 2 limes
sesame seeds

listening to: nothing but mowers, of which there seem to be dozens in the hood today. maybe i should put on some john philip souza! that seems memorial day-y.

Monday, May 7, 2012

kentucky sangria

last saturday was a big day - it was cinco de mayo as well as derby day - cinco de derby!

i'm fairly conflicted about the derby - i like all of the fancy hats and the juleps and the traditions and the tearjerky part of the pre-show where they go through all the human interest stories about the myriad tragedies that have befallen the owners, trainers, and jockeys. someone's always getting over cancer or a rare childhood disease. in this year's derby, the main story was about a heart attack in dubai that caused a workaholic to reevaluate his relationship with his family. presh!

however, horse racing in general is kind of sad and not very humane, so that kind of takes away from it. but i figure i can enjoy it and a mint julep once a year and salve my conscience with donating to horse rescue organizations. or not? 

in the realm of happier subjects, farmers' markets are starting up again here. the one i went to last week had trays and trays of lovely and amazing-smelling strawberries. obviously i had to get some. they ended up coming to our friends' cinco de mayo party as part of a kentucky sangria.

kentucky sangria is the happy marriage of sangria and a mint julep and as such is a good thing to have on hand for those magical times when the derby and cinco de mayo coincide.

a couple of hours before the party, i cut the strawberries and one mango into smallish pieces - maybe 1/3" or so. then i just piled them into what i think was a 32 ounce container with a little sugar (~1/3 cup, although you can adjust to taste), a whole thinly sliced lime (peel and all - as thin as possible), and a big handful of mint (probably like a dozen or 15 large leaves).

then just fill the container with the bourbon of your choice and let it all sit together for awhile. when you're ready to enjoy it, add the fruit & bourbon to a pitcher with a bottle of dry sparkling wine and 12 ounces (+/-) ginger ale or, if you like it less sweet, sparkling water or club soda.

you can probably use other fruits - pineapple would be particularly good. whatever you use, be careful - this is strong but it goes down mighty easily. even if it's not cinco de derby i think this would be a good sittin'-around-on-the-patio drink or cookout accompaniment.

1 pint strawberries (this assumes you will be eating some of them while you cut them up)
1 mango
handful (12-15 leaves) fresh mint
1 lime
like 1 1/2 cups bourbon (something like that - i just poured it into the thing to fill it up)
1 bottle dry sparkling wine
12 ounces or so ginger ale, club soda, or sparkling water

listening to: the delgados.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

arugula & almond pesto

SO. Springy. our yard is full of pretty and good-smelling flowers and i am so ready for backyard cookouts and trips to the beach. i also just took my last law school final EVER and i'm getting an iphone finally, so things are really looking up for old me. this pesto is just the kind of quick and easy spring pick-me-up that i want right now.

arugula has something of a weird reputation, i think. if you look up "arugula" and "liberal" together, there will be a great many results. i'm not sure why arugula is supposed to be more liberal-food than, say, baby spinach (aside from the David Kamp book and the manufactured Obama-elitism thing), but there you go. personally, i prefer to call it "rocket" like the british do. it sounds much cooler. 

this something-like-pesto is extremely simple and could no doubt be dressed up in any number of ways. i like to keep it basic and then use it on lots of different things - sandwiches, frozen pizza, and cheese & crackers are just a few of the things that benefit from the addition of a peppery and pleasantly bitter arugula spread.

you can probably make this with a mortar and pestle, but i found the food processor to be awfully quick and convenient. just blitz together a few handfuls of toasted almonds with 2 - 4 smallish cloves of garlic. it's good to break the garlic up a little before adding it to the processor to make sure it all gets incorporated together.

once the almonds and garlic are ground together (in tiny crumbs, not necessarily a paste), start adding the arugula (ROCKET!). i used about 3/4 of a 7 ounce bag, but it isn't rocket science (or is it?). also add some olive oil. this moistens everything and makes it more sauce-y. you will need perhaps 1/3 of a cup or less - i like to drizzle it in a little at a time while the processor is running.

to cut the bitterness a little, i added some orange juice - perhaps 1/4 of a cup or so - whatever came out of half of a fairly juicy orange. the acid in the juice also helps to keep the pesto a bright vibrant green.

that's it, really. blend everything together until it's at a good texture. if you want to thin it out, add more oil and/or juice. also add some salt, to taste. you could use some parmesan or asiago or something to make it more like traditional pesto, but i like using it on cheesy things (aforementioned sandwiches/pizza), so i like to keep it plain. 

it's a particularly great sandwich topping when mixed with a little cream cheese or soft goat cheese and spread generously onto nutty, seedy toast and accompanied by gruyere/cheddar cheese and some peppery turkey. or, you know, whatever.

it might be obvious, but this is really only good if you really like arugula. it's pretty bitter, so it probably isn't for everyone. 
2-4 small cloves garlic
1/2 - 2/3 cups toasted almonds
5 ounces or so fresh arugula
1/3 cup olive oil (or more, to taste/texture preferences)
1/4 cup orange juice (or about 1/2 an orange's worth)
salt, to taste

listening to: rocket man (shatner, ftw!), saint etienne