Vegetables: Class Four

For 98% of my life, I have hated greens. Bitter, overcooked, wilted – greens had no appeal. Occasionally greens with large amounts of animal fat would be acceptable. It was only recently that I began to appreciate greens more. I discovered alternative sauces and dressings. I learned of the potent nutritive power of greens. Cooking greens well is critical, so I was looking forward to our class.

Below: Preparation of greens is critical, especially thorough washing. Notice the aphids on the leaf below.

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Below: Chef Shahnaz instructs us on proper preparation and enjoyment of leafy greens.

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Below: Preparing a pressed salad. This stage of the process involved tossing thinly-sliced carrots, parsnips and celery in sea salt. Then you place a weight over the vegetables to squeeze out some of the liquids.

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Below: My team’s blanched greens between our braised cabbage (top) and our improvised sauce (bottom). The sauce was a blend of sesame oil, cilantro, and a number of other ingredients.

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Below: More blanched greens.

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Below: Two versions of cumin cabbage. The one on the left was cooked a bit more than the one on the right and was more tender. I think I preferred the slight crunch of the one on the right. Plus it had more of a cumin flavor, which is surprising because the spice isn’t as visible.

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Napa Cabbage Salad with Asian Dressing

The Plan

Sweetish Asian dressing + crunchy napa cabbage = happy tummy.

A Bit More Detail

Here’s what I used:

  • Tahini (for creaminess)
  • Canola oil
  • Brown sugar
  • Soy sauce
  • Rice vinegar
  • Ginger
  • Toasted sesame oil
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Szechuan peppercorns (pounded into submission)
  • Shredded napa cabbage and whatever salad stuff you like (carrots, green onions work nicely)

The Spice

Below: First thing’s first: I HAD to smell those peppercorns.

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I had given up hope of finding some Szechuan peppercorns when I drifted past Penzey’s Spices on North Lamar. They had everything under the sun, so I brought home the peppercorns and gave them a whiff. They’re like nothing I’ve ever smelled before. Aromatic with mint and citrus notes. And spicy! But in a wholly unique way. And I don’t just mean really hot, I mean truly unique. My tongue is feeling hot and a bit raw as I type this from eating one of the peppercorns whole. I’d like to say that I loved it, but let’s say it’s a flavor that might have to grow on me. I really appreciate the novelty and the complexity, however.

Below: Mortar and pestle, one of the most fun kitchen gadgets ever.

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Below: Napa cabbage. Before you run off and think that napa cabbage comes from wine country, let me tell you that it actually comes from China. The term “napa” is from the Japanese term for edible vegetable leaves (1). A wonderful cruciferous vegetable, which are called Super Veggies by WebMD for their antioxidative powers and possible anti-cancer benefits. It’s the main ingredient in the main type of kimchi (a spicy fermented dish), so you could say that the Chinese cultivated it, the Japanese named it, and the Koreans use it — it’s a pan Asian foodstuff.

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Below: Tahini, which is ground sesame seeds. It has a somewhat bitter taste straight out of the can, but it’s normally mixed with other things. It is used as an ingredient in hummus.

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Below: The apple cider vinegar was for drinking, not for delicious-dressing-making. :)

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Below: I want to dive into all of those amazing flavors right there!

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Below: Shredded leaves looking so sad and un-spicy.

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Below: The final product, complete with carrot shreds and snow peas. And, the delicious dressing. It was a sweet, soy-ish, ginger-ish, creamy delight that motivated me to make this salad three times in two days from scratch each time. So easy!

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(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napa_cabbage

Collard Green Tacos

I’ve been digging collard greens lately. But you get into a rut sometimes. So, I decided on a new twist on the greens.

I mixed tahini with toasted sesame oil and ume plum vinegar to make a thick Asian flavored spread. I spread the sesame mix inside a taco shell, stuffed it with lightly steamed collards, and topped it with crunchy radish half-moons for more texture.

The Senses Engaged

There’s something primal about savory flavors eaten between crunchy layers of carbohydrate. Tacos, sandwiches on toasted bread…other stuff. Po’boys on crusty French bread were standard eats back in Louisiana for a good reason. Continue reading