At the height of the Mendocino Complex fires this summer, my sister and I spent a smoky 48 hours in Portland, Oregon. But wait, isn’t Portland 550 miles from Mendocino? Yes, but the fire was so big that the smoke had not only descended southward into the Bay Area, but also north to Oregon. I guess we can consider smoke as one of California’s new dystopian seasons these days.
But back to Portland. We ate and we ate well. The real star of this trip? Kachka, which is kind of like what would happen if your Russian grandma and a hipster opened a restaurant serving fare from all over the former Soviet Republic, from the Baltic states to Armenian, Azeri, Georgian specialties that aren’t too far flung from the flavors of Iranian cuisine.
Yes, Santa Rosa’s airport is adorably Snoopy themed, complete with a The helper is in Lucy information desk inside. Life-size statues of Snoopy abound.
Crispy, salty, and savory, these Vietnamese-style spring rolls are fried to perfection and make a delicious appetizer. I’ve adapted these from the traditional version: I use ground turkey instead of pork, and I shallow-fry instead of deep-fry. And you know what? Even though they’re labor-intensive, I prefer them to the restaurant version.
Make sure to make enough nuoc cham dipping sauce to go with these spring rolls: the bright, tart sauce cuts through the spring rolls perfectly.
1 pound ground turkey
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1 ounce bean thread noodles, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, drained, and cut into 1-inch lengths with scissors (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fish sauce
40 round rice papers
Vegetable oil for frying
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons rice or apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Thai bird chile, minced
1. Combine 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup fish sauce, lime juice, water, vinegar, sugar, and chile in a bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar. Set aside.
2. Place the turkey in a mixing bowl and add the shallots, remaining garlic, carrot, bean thread noodles, black pepper, and remaining fish sauce and mix well. Set aside.
3. Set out two large plates. Fill a wide bowl or basin with 2 inches of warm water. Wet 1 paper until softened, then place on one of the plates. Place 2 tablespoons filling in a line about 5 inches long across the wrapper, leaving a 3/4-inch border at either end of the line. Fold the edge nearest you over the filling, fold over the sides of the rice paper, and roll up tightly. Place on the other plate, cover with a damp cloth, and repeat with the remaining papers and filling.
4. When ready to fry, set out another large plate lined with paper towels. Place a stable wok or heavy skillet over medium high heat and add oil to a depth of about 1 inch and heat until hot. Add the rolls one at a time to the pan, being careful not to splash yourself with oil, without crowding, and make sure the rolls aren’t touching. After you add the rolls to the oil, they’ll bubble and the rice paper will change texture. Use a spatula or heat-proof tongs to gently turn the rolls so they cook evenly. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until lightly golden all over, then use a slotted spoon to transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining rolls.
5. Cut each cooked spring roll in half on the diagonal and arrange on a platter alongside the nuoc cham dipping sauce and serve warm or at room temperature.
I’m trying to eat grain-free as much as possible these days, and while I haven’t completely cut out grains, I have reduced them by about 75%. I feel good about that: I’m eating more greens and more sources of lean protein.
I’m always trying to come up with creative and delicious ways to put together a grain-free meal, and these turkey lettuce cups are one of my favorites. They’re not traditional, though: I’ve replaced pork with turkey and omitted some of the toppings (*cough* cilanto, my nemesis *cough*).
These are kind of like larb, but without the toasted rice powder and herbs. (But don’t fret, there is always a time and place for larb.) The best part? You probably already have most of the ingredients in your pantry.
1 pound ground turkey
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp, dissolved in 1/3 cup warm water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup chopped shallots
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon palm or brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons minced ginger
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, finely chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and minced
1 head butter or bibb lettuce, cleaned and leaves separated
1. Place a sieve over a bowl and press the dissolved tamarind through the sieve; discard the pulp. Set the tamarind juice aside.
2. Heat a wok over high heat. Add the oil and when it is hot, add the shallots, garlic, and lemongrass. Stir-fry until golden, then add the turkey and stir-fry until it has all changed color and is almost cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar, the tamarind juice, the fish sauce, and salt and cook until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and peanuts and stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Remove from the wok and let cool.
3. To serve, put a lettuce leaf in the palm of your hand, then scoop up a tablespoon of filling and place it on the leaf. Fold the leaf over to make a bundle, or leave it open, and place on a platter. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
I’m just going to break it to you now: this appetizer is definitely not healthy. Like, not even remotely. As in, I-bought-Velveeta-for-the-first-time-in-my-life-for-this-recipe levels of unhealthy.
But it’s worth it. I mean, there’s nothing quite like semi-food Velveeta to keep your queso at a smooth, dip-able consistency even after it’s cooled. A liberal sprinkling of turkey chorizo (don’t @ me, it’s actually really good) rounds things out with another layer of crumbly texture and warm spice.
After the chips are gone, you’ll be licking the bowl with this one.
1. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add chorizo and cook, stirring and breaking up with a spoon, until browned and crisp, 8–10 minutes; set aside.
2. Heat half-and-half and Velveeta in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until Velveeta is melted, 6–8 minutes. Add Monterey Jack and cheddar; cook, stirring, until mixture is smooth. Mix in chipotle chiles, salt, and chile powders.
3. Transfer queso to a warm bowl and top with chorizo.
Remember the Great Guacamole-gate of 2015? I do. The New York Times suggested adding peas to your guacamole, and a near all-out war ensued. And understandably so. Peas do not belong in guacamole. Ever.
Nor does celery, or so I thought. I sort of hate myself for even making this recipe, but it’s really, really good. The celery adds an addictive crunch without overwhelming the avocado-lime-onion trifecta of flavor that makes guacamole, well, guacamole.
Just try it. Sorry not sorry.
4 avocados, chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 serrano chiles, seeds removed if desired, finely chopped
1 clove garlic finely grated
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 red onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, plus leaves for serving
1. Mash avocados, celery, chiles, garlic, lime juice, onion, and cilantro in a bowl to desired consistency; season with salt. Top guacamole with remaining cilantro leaves.