Kelp and Mushroom Relish

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My first taste of kombu tsukudani was as a university student in San Francisco. My roommates were Japanese (hi Sanae!) and we’d often head to Nijiya Market in Japantown to do our grocery shopping. The first time I tasted this kelp relish, I fell in love with the salty, slightly-sweet, oceany flavor.

This tastes perfect on top of rice or as a filling in onigiri, but I also like it eat it by itself. If you make homemade dashi and find yourself with lots of leftover pieces of kombu seaweed, this is a perfect use. I like to add enoki mushrooms to the the mix for a textural contrast, but it tastes just as good without.

Kombu tsukudani

Ingredients:

About 50 square inches kombu, leftover from making dashi stock (or equivalent amount soaked in cold water for 20 minutes)
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sake
3 teaspoons mirin
5 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup enoki mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths

1. Slice the kombu into narrow strips 1 1/2 inches long. In a saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil and add the vinegar. The vinegar helps tenderize the kombu and eliminate bacteria.

2. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook the kombu for about 8 minutes. Test for doneness by pinching a strip of kombu: it should yield easily. If it does not, continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Drain under cold water and rinse.

3. Rinse and dry the saucepan and add the sugar, sake, mirin, and soy sauce. Bring to a simmer over low heat and add the kombu. Simmer for 4 minutes and add the mushrooms. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring often to not let the liquid scorch.

4. When the kombu looks glazed and the liquid has mostly reduced, remove the pan from the heat, let cool to room temperature, and serve.

Khao Soi (Chiang Mai Curry Noodles)

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Chiang Mai has two seasons: smoky and not smoky. Each spring, farmers create manmade fires to get rid of material from old rice stalks to clear the way for the next season’s planting. The air becomes polluted in addition to the stiflingly hot weather. It’s not the most popular time of year to visit Chiang Mai.

But I am undeterred. When I visited Thailand last year, I had to include Chiang Mai in my travels. Why? I wanted to eat khao soi. Khao soi is a soupy, curry-laden bowl of Burmese-influenced goodness, a mix of deep-fried crispy egg noodles and boiled egg noodles, shallots, lime, ground chilis, coconut milk, and usually meat. I researched the best khao soi restaurant in Chiang Mai and Nishan and I trekked through the smoggy heat until we found it: a nondescript outdoor restaurant with a corrugated sheet metal roof and plastic stools, identifiable only by the huge crowd of happy eaters.

The khao soi was worth the walk and when I’ve since learned to recreate these curry noodles at home, adapting my version from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. If you want to make this dish a bit healthier and easier to cook, omit the fried noodles. The red curry paste is a shortcut to making your own curry paste by hand, but the results are still delicious.

Chiang Mai curry noodles (khao soi)

Ingredients:

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
1 tablespoon cooking oil plus more for deep-frying noodles
3 cups canned coconut milk, with 1/2 cup of the thickest milk set aside
1/2 pound sirloin beef, cut into thin slices
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 pound Chinese egg noodles
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 shallots, chopped

1. In a small bowl, mix the garlic, turmeric, and a pinch salt until well blended. Stir in the curry paste and set aside.

2. Place a large heavy pot over high heat. Add the one tablespoon oil and when it is hot, add the curry paste mixture. Stir-fry for one minute, then add the reserved 1/2 cup thick coconut milk and lower the heat to medium-high. Add the meat and sugar and cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes, until the meat has slightly browned. Add the remaining coconut milk, the water, fish sauce, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook at a simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice. The soup can be prepared ahead of time and reheated just before serving.

3. Make the optional crispy noodles: line a plate with paper towels. Place a large wok over high heat and add about 1 cup oil, or 1/2 inch oil. When the oil is hot, drop in a strand of uncooked noodles to test the temperature. It should sizzle slightly as it falls to the bottom, then immediately puff and rise to the surface; adjust the heat slightly, if necessary. Toss a handful (about 1 cup) of noodles into the oil and watch as they crisp and puff up. Use a spatula or long tongs to turn them over and expose all of them to the hot oil. They will crisp up quickly, in less than 1 minute. Lift the crisped noodles out of the oil and place on the paper towel-lined plate. Give the oil a moment to come back to temperature, and then repeat with a second handful of noodles.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the remaining noodles, bring back to a boil, and cook until tender but not mushy, about 6 minutes. Drain well and rinse in fresh water to get rid of extra starch and stop the cooking process.

5. Divide the cooked noodles among four bowls. Ladle over the broth and meat. Top with crispy noodles and a pinch each of shallots and scallions.

Linguine with White Clam Sauce

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“Mariam, when are you making linguine with white clam sauce again?” – My sister, every month since forever, basically.

Growing up, this was one one of my sister’s favorite dishes that I’d cook, but let’s be honest. It’s one of my favorites too. What’s better than pasta? Pasta enveloped in a garlicy seafood sauce. Sure, the dish has 1990s vibes, but good taste is timeless. This dish is easy and it’s a crowd pleaser. The next time my sister asks, I’m making a huge pot of this — for us both.

Linguine with white clam sauce

1/3 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup bottled clam juice
1 pound linguine
3 pounds small clams, scrubbed well
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Heat oil in a large pot over high heat until hot but not smoking, then saute onion, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in wine and clam juice and boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.

2. Cook pasta in another large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, then drain in a colander.

3. While pasta is cooking, stir clams into sauce and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until clams open wide, 4 to 6 minutes. (Discard any clams that have not opened after 5 minutes.) Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted.

4. Add pasta to clams along with parsley and salt to taste, then toss with sauce until combined well.

Manhattans

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I know what you’re thinking. Manhattans? Too easy. But I beg to differ. I’ve had many a sad Manhattan: too bitter, too sweet, too weak. It’s easy to go wrong. I’m taking it back to basics. Artisanal vermouths are all the rage right now, but you know what? I actually prefer Martini brand vermouth in my Manhattans. It’s smooth and it’s balanced. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

Manhattans

Ingredients:

1 cup bourbon, preferably Bulleit
2/3 cup red vermouth, preferably Martini Rosso
4 dashes Angostura bitters
4 thin slices orange
4 maraschino cherries

1. Combine bourbon, vermouth, and bitters in a mixing glass.

2. Divide cocktail among 4 ice-filled rocks glasses. Garnish each drink with an orange slice and cherry.

Caesar salad with Parmesan toasts

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Kale Caesar salad, spinach Caesar salad, Brussels sprouts Caesar salad. You get the picture: Caesar salad is overdone. But despite its infinite variations, I always return to the first Caesar salad I learned to make, well over a decade ago. It’s heavy on the garlic, the anchovies, and the Meyer lemons.

The best part? Little Parmesan cheese toasts to sop up all of the leftover dressing. And if you want to be fancypants, don’t chop up your lettuce. Instead, serve the leaves whole and delicately piled on top of each other. Who’s eating fancy salad? YOU’RE eating fancy salad!

Caesar salad with Parmesan toasts

Ingredients:

1 sourdough baguette
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese plus 1/3 cup thinly shaved Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/3 cup lemon juice
9 canned anchovy fillets, drained
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound romaine lettuce leaves, rinsed and dried

1. To make Parmesan toasts, cut baguette into diagonal slices 1/4 inch thick. Lightly brush one side of each slice with olive oil, using 2 tablespoons total. Arrange in a single layer in a baking sheet.

2. Bake bread in an oven at 350 degrees for 5 minutes. Sprinkle slices evenly with 2/3 cup shredded Parmesan and paprika. Bake until cheese is melted and bread is golden, 10 minutes longer.

3. In a food processor, whirl 7 tablespoons olive oil, 1/3 cup shredded parmesan, lemon juice, anchovies, garlic, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt until smooth.

4. Place lettuce in a large bowl and Parmesan toasts in another. Drizzle 2/3 of the dressing over lettuce and remaining 1/3 over toasts. Mix toasts to coat with dressing; gently lift and mix lettuce to coat.

5. Arrange Parmesan toasts alongside lettuce and add Parmesan shavings, layering if desired.