Saturday, April 14, 2018

Udon Noodles with Snow Peas and West African Peanut Sauce

It’s always so interesting to learn how cuisines have been influenced by different cultures and distant places. Cross-cultural effects on food is the focus of Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day of which I received a review copy. These recipes are from two Harlem restaurants where Alexander Smalls and JJ Johnson created menus with an Afro-Asian-American flavor profile. Because of forced migration, peoples of Africa brought seeds and farming and cooking techniques to many parts of the world. This book explains culinary connections between faraway places such as the mix of cumin, coriander, and pink peppercorns from Ghana that was taken to Puerto Rico and then to the US. And, there’s Roti flatbread found in Trinidad, Suriname, South Africa, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. The book also offers a very modern collection of recipes with bold, fabulous flavors and lots of dishes I want to taste. For instance, the Roti with Black-Eyed Pea Hummus, Eggplant Puree, and Carrot Curry Puree would be a flavorful and colorful snack platter with cocktails. I have to quote a statement about collard greens that I particularly enjoyed: “’Are Collard Greens the New Kale?’ No. Collards have worked harder than kale ever will. Collards are out there digging ditches and roofing houses while kale goes to spin class and leaves early for brunch.” Love that. And, the recipe for Collard Green Salad with Coconut Dressing made with ginger, lime juice, and chipotles sounds fantastic. Another collard greens recipe I want to try is the Collard Green Salsa Verde served with Salt-Crusted Salmon. A perfect example of a melting pot type of dish is the Afro-Asian-American Gumbo. The roux is made with dried shrimp which is also done in Senegal, okra was of course first grown in Africa and brought to North America by slaves, and the rice is added in a South Carolina style. I got completely distracted by the recipe for Tofu Gnocchi with Black Garlic Crema and Scallions since I’d never before encountered tofu gnocchi. The Beer-Battered Long Beans also got my attention. And, the Cocktails chapter continued the book's excitement with a West African Peanut Punch made with a smooth puree of peanuts, bourbon, and chile honey. My first trip to the kitchen with this book was to try the Udon Noodles and West African Peanut Sauce. The inspiration for this dish came from a mix of African and Japanese populations in Brazil. 

In the book, the dish is made with edamame. I couldn’t help making a local and seasonal adjustment. I had just brought home snow peas from Boggy Creek Farm and opted to use them here instead of edamame. This dish is all about the sauce, and this Mother Africa Peanut Sauce begins with a mirepoix and then some. First, cumin seeds were toasted in olive oil. Then, diced onion, carrots, tomatoes, celery, garlic, bay leaf, cilantro, bird’s eye chile, salt, and lemon juice were added. Next, tomato paste and peanut butter were added followed by vegetable stock. The sauce was stirred well and left to simmer for about 45 minutes. The bay leaf was removed before the sauce was pureed with an immersion blender. For the noodles, carrots were julienned and stir fried before being added to cooked udon along with chopped green onion and snow peas in my case, cilantro, Thai Basil, and the peanut sauce. 

There’s a lot of history that accounts for the combinations of flavors in these dishes, but the recipes are fresh and contemporary. There are big flavors, lots of spices and bright herbs, and a generous use of vegetables throughout the book. It’s going to be fun to continue tasting my way through the pages.

Udon Noodles with Edamame and West African Peanut Sauce 
Excerpted from Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day by JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls. Copyright © 2018 by JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photography by Beatriz da Costa. 

In Brazil, there is an African population and a Japanese population that live really close together, and both grew up on udon West African peanut sauce is the mother sauce: peanut butter, tomato paste, tomatoes, French mirepoix, and our special mirepoix In the end it’s like a pad thai with more frequent flyer mileage in its account. There’s nothing like eating noodles and pasta when the sauce is really right. West African peanut sauce provides the perfect creamy coating for the Japanese udon noodles. 

6 to 8 servings 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 cup julienned carrot 
1/2 cup thinly sliced onion 
2 cups Mother Africa Peanut Sauce, warmed 
kosher salt for pasta water 
1 pound udon noodles 
1 cup shelled edamame, boiled in salted water for 5 minutes 
1/2 cup cilantro leaves 
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves 

Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Stir fry the carrot and the onion for 1 minute. Add the peanut sauce and stir to coat. In an 8-quart pot, bring water to a boil, salt it, and cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain and add the noodles directly to the peanut sauce mixture, tossing to coat. Plate the noodles and top with edamame, cilantro, and Thai basil leaves. 

The Mother Africa Sauce 
Makes about 4 cups 

1 tablespoon olive oil 
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds 
1/2 white onion, diced 
1/2 cup coarsely chopped carrots (1 medium carrot) 
1 plum tomato, chopped 
1/4 cup finely diced celery (1 rib) 
1 clove garlic, minced (1 teaspoon) 
1 bay leaf 
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro 
1 bird’s-eye chile, seeded and minced (1 teaspoon) 
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste 
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon) 
2 tablespoons tomato paste 
1 cup unsweetened, creamy peanut butter 
4 cups vegetable stock 

Heat the oil in a 4-quart pot over medium heat, add the cumin, and fry for 1 minute, stirring constantly. The cumin will become very aromatic and a few shades darker. Add the onion, carrots, tomato, celery, garlic, bay leaf, cilantro, chile, salt, and lemon juice, stirring to coat the vegetables in the toasted cumin oil. Sauté until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Once the tomato paste is incorporated, add the peanut butter, working it into the vegetables with a little stock, if needed. Cook until the oil separates from the peanut butter, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and stir, making sure to bring up all of the tomato paste and peanut butter from the bottom of the pot so it is well blended. Increase the heat to medium high to bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook, stirring, for 45 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce in the pot until smooth. Season with salt to taste. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Tostones with Mango Avocado Salad

When I received a review copy of Cuban Flavor: Exploring the Island's Unique Places, People, and Cuisine by Liza Gersham, the photos immediately began to tell the story. My first reaction to the book was that it was going to make me want to travel. I wanted to see the sights and taste the food in Cuba. But, as I started reading and becoming more informed about current life there, I realized that tourism brings as many problems as solutions. Food scarcity among Cubans is common, and ration books for food tend to last for only part of a given month. A lot of the food supply is taken by restaurants serving the tourist trade where higher prices are paid. So, I began to wonder if visiting is a good idea. I found an article that describes both sides of the conundrum, and it does a good job of pointing out ethical ways of traveling. Staying in a home via a service like Airbnb and visiting paladares, or restaurants created in homes, can more directly benefit families. Also, bringing supplies to share with locals is a good way to help slightly alleviate needs. Being mindful of the local situation helps in making the best choices you can as a visitor. And, without even leaving home this book transports you to the island with recipes and stories about their origin. There are recipes for beef although it’s pointed out that access to beef is a rarity. The Carne con Papas stew is a dish from a feast served at the Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso. There’s a chapter just for chicken and another for fish. The Shrimp Tamales and Empanadas Decameron both got my attention. In the Vegetariano chapter, it was interesting to read that organic farming in Cuba is common because it’s a necessity. The farmers don’t have access to pesticides and are coming to realize the benefits of growing food without chemicals. Among the desserts, the Chocolate Rum Ice Cream and Guava Sugar Cookies both sound delicious. And, several of the cocktails would be fun to sample. It had been ages since I’d made tostones, though, and I had an idea to use them as bases topped with salad to serve as little appetizers. 

Making tostones is a fun process. The hardest part is peeling the green plantains. Once they’re peeled, you slice the plantains into thick chunks and fry them for a few minutes on each side. After the first frying, the plantain pieces are drained on paper towels and mashed while still warm with a spatula. They crush easily and smoosh down to about a third of their original height. Then, each piece is fried again for just about 30 seconds per side. After draining on paper towels a second time, the tostones are sprinkled with salt and are ready to serve. I also made the Mango and Avocado Salad from the book. The dressing was a mix of olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, ground achiote, minced garlic, and salt. A red bell pepper, a mango, and an avocado were diced and tossed with minced onion and more cilantro before the dressing was added. I cut all the salad ingredients small so they would fit better on top of the tostones.  

I felt more than a little guilt having read that avocados in Cuba can cost almost as much as a laborer’s day’s wage when they can be found at all. Avocados are enjoyed and shared when available. I kept that in mind and enjoyed every bit of this salad on the crunchy tostones. They made a great pairing, and I learned to appreciate the ingredients that are often taken for granted. 

Tostones Chatino Plantains 
Recipes reprinted with publisher’s permission from Cuban Flavor: Exploring the Island's Unique Places, People, and Cuisine

Tostones are a ubiquitous starter in Cuban restaurants. Known throughout Latin America as tachino, chatino, or plátano a puñetazo, this savory twice-fried plantain can be very filling and tasty. There are two types of plátanos that offer significantly different flavors—one variety looks more like a banana and is sweet, while the other is starchy and bigger. You can make chips with it, or you can boil it, mash it, and fry it to make the well-loved tostones. 

2 green plantains 
Vegetable oil, for frying 
Salt, to taste 
Dollop of sour cream (optional) 

Peel the plantains, removing the ends. Cut them in rounds that are 1–1½ inches in thickness to make the shape of a chip. 

Carefully place the plantains in a pan with hot oil for approximately 7 minutes. When crisp, remove, drain, and press the plantains with a spatula to flatten until they are approximately 1/2 inch thick. 

Raise the temperature of the oil and add the flattened plantains again. Cook for approximately 80 additional seconds. Sprinkle with salt and serve with sofrito salsa. Add a side of sour cream if you like. 

Mango Avocado Salad 
Unlike Mexico’s abundance of avocados, avocados in Cuba are a rarity. Difficult to find in local markets, avocados typically cost almost as much as a laborer’s day’s wage. Therefore, when an avocado comes your way in Cuba, you covet it and share with friends. 

1/4 cup olive oil 
3 limes, juiced (about 1/4 cup) 
Sprig of cilantro 
1 Tbsp achiote 
2 cloves garlic 
2 Tbsp salt 
1 red bell pepper 
1/2 large sweet red onion, sliced 
2 ripe avocados, sliced 
Sea salt, to taste 
1/2 fresh mango, cubed 
Fresh cilantro, chopped 

Prepare the dressing. Whisk olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, achiote, garlic, and salt. Blanch the bell pepper, and then dice into pieces. Place in a bowl and let cool. Add the dressing to the cooled bell pepper. Arrange red onion slices on a plate, and top with sliced avocados and a touch of sea salt. Pour dressing over, and top with mango cubes and fresh cilantro. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 
Blogging tips