Saturday, July 24, 2021

COOKING WITH NICO

 

Grandson Nico with his poké bowl. (Photos by Daniel Searl)

“Can you show me how to make poké bowl?” asked Nico, my 13-year-old grandson who had come to visit for a week. “What’s a poké bowl?” I asked. Nico showed me a photo of the bowl he had enjoyed in Segovia, the first stop on a trip around Spain with his parents. 


Poké is a Japanesy-Hawaiian dish, a combo of seafood, chicken or tofu and salad vegetables on seasoned rice. But, what’s it doing in Spain? Apparently, poké bowls are popular. The restaurant in Segovia, Selfish Poke, bills itself as “Hawaii meets Segovia” and claims the food is so good “you won’t want to share.” 

I’m guessing the “build your own bowl” style appealed to Nico, who is an eclectic but finicky eater. He’s crazy about cuttlefish but eschews (some words for you to look up, Nico) cooked green beans. At the restaurant he opted for raw tuna with algae salad, corn kernels and sliced avocado served over rice with a ponzu sauce.

Searing fresh tuna.
Nico and I shopped for fresh tuna at the local market. We came home with two thick tuna steaks. As we intended to eat the tuna raw or very rare, I popped it in the freezer for 24 hours which destroys any possible parasites. Before assembling the bowls, I seared the tuna on all sides, leaving it rare inside. We cut it into bite-size cubes. 

I had several kinds of seaweed in the cupboard, so I made a seaweed salad. I made ponzu sauce using the recipe in Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji, but substituting PX Sherry for mirin, a sweet cooking wine, in the recipe.

While Nico was out playing basketball with his cousin, I made sushi rice, using Spanish Valencian short-grain rice. It’s washed and steamed, then seasoned with rice vinegar and salt.

Cucumber curls to garnish.


I cooked romano green beans cut into short lengths and asparagus tips for the rest of us who do like cooked vegetables. Nico grated carrots and curled cucumber ribbons. I put out an Asian-inflected cole slaw (rice vinegar and a little sesame oil). Even though raw, Nico was having none of it. Cherry tomatoes, yes. 



Nico and I laid out a poké bowl assembly board. Here’s what we had.

Build your own poké bowl.
Vinegared rice
Seared tuna, cut in dice
Cole slaw
Romano beans
Asparagus tips
Cherry tomatoes
Grated carrots
Slivered onions
Cucumber twists
Chopped red bell pepper
Strips of nori (seaweed)
Seaweed salad (recipe follows)
Ponzu sauce (recipe follows)




Nico went first, spreading rice in the bottom of the bowl, adding tuna, carrots, seaweed salad, peppers. Even a few cooked vegetables, just for the beauty shot. He ladled on some sauce. Except for missing corn kernels, he was very satisfied with our poké efforts. Once he gets back home where he can buy ponzu sauce in a bottle, he should easily be able to replicate the poké bowl. 


Nico builds his poké bowl--first, a scoop of sushi rice, then cubes of seared tuna and seaweed salad.


Nico chooses cubes of tuna, seaweed salad, cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers, grated carrots and a few green beans, just for color (he didn't plan on eating the beans).


Seaweed Salad
Ensalada de Alga


You can buy jars of prepared seaweed salad or you can easily prepare it yourself with dried algae. Use a single seaweed, such as wakame, or a combination. I used wakame plus a little kombu and sea spaghetti. 

The seaweed is edible after simply soaking in water to rehydrate it. But I prefer it cooked, as well. Soak the sea spaghetti and wakame separately for 10 minutes and cook each in simmering water 10 minutes more. Soak kombu 10 minutes and cook it for 35 minutes.
 

1 ½ cups rehydrated and cooked seaweed (about 1 ounce dry)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar
Salt, to taste
Toasted sesame seeds, to serve
Sliced cucumber, to serve

Drain the seaweed well. Place it in handfuls on a cutting board and chop or shred it. Put the seaweed in a bowl. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, soy sauce, sesame oil and vinegar. Mix with the seaweed. Taste for salt and add if needed. Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered.

To serve, sprinkle the salad with toasted sesame seeds and garnish with sliced cucumber.


Ponzu Sauce, Spanish Variant
Aliño Ponzu

Instead of mirin, a sweet Japanese cooking wine, I used PX Sherry in this recipe. Put it in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil to cook off the alcohol. Cool before adding to the sauce. The authentic Japanese recipe for ponzu says to mature the sauce, refrigerated, for 3 months. I made it the day before we used it. 

1 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1 cup soy sauce
¼ cup PX Sherry, alcohol cooked off
Small handful of bonito flakes (optional)
2-inch square of kombu (kelp)

Mix all the ingredients and let stand 24 hours. Strain the sauce and discard the solids. Refrigerate.




More recipes with algae (seaweed), a product gathered and processed in Spain here.

Another Japanesy recipe: Spanish-Style Sushi.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

CELEBRATE CHOCOLATE!

Chocolate.

Did you celebrate World Chocolate Day (July 7)? Oblivious of the occasion, I nevertheless was moved to make a chocolate dessert. Visiting friends presented me with a lovely gift, a 1 ¾ -pound block—like an ingot--of dark chocolate. I couldn’t just let it sit there to be chipped away in bits.


July 7, 1550, was, supposedly, the date Hernán Cortes, Spanish explorer, introduced chocolate to Spain. Chocolate was originally consumed by the Mayans of Central America. The Aztecs discovered cacao when they took control of Mayan lands in trade expansion. Known as “food of the gods,” it became so valued that only the nobility was allowed to partake of it. Emperor Moctezuma served a chocolate beverage flavored with vanilla in cups of gold. The Spaniards were impressed.

Back in Spain, the Spaniards added sugar to the bitter brew and chocolate soon became all the rage with the nobility. From 1521 until 1600, Spain had a virtual monopoly on the trade in cacao from the New World. Only after that did the British, Dutch and French expand cultivation of the treasured cacao in other parts of the world (Indonesia, Africa, the West Indies). 

Spain still has a passion for thick, drinking chocolate. What is surprising is that they invented few desserts based on chocolate. Even if you spell it “mus” or call it “espuma,” chocolate mousse is still French. 

I’m making a chilled, no-bake chocolate tart. 

Easy to make, no baking required--rich chocolate tart.




 

Tart has a crunchy crumb crust, creamy filling and intense chocolate ganache topping.


Peanuts on top and peanut butter in the filling add depth to the chocolate.


No-Bake Chocolate Tart
Tarta de Chocolate sin Horno

This tart needs to be chilled at least 8 hours to firm it up. It also can be frozen. 

Use any dark chocolate (from 54 to 70 percent). If you’re using very bittersweet chocolate, you may want to add sugar to the filling mix. 

Galletas for crumb crust.
Unbaked crumb crust needs butter to set up firm, so this is one recipe in which olive oil doesn’t substitute well. Use plain cookies, such as Spanish galletas Marías, digestives, vanilla wafers or graham crackers to make the crumbs for the crust. 

A food processor works well for grinding the crumbs and mixing the cream cheese and chocolate for the filling.

Chop the chocolate to make melting easier. Melt it over hot water or in the microwave.

PX Sherry, a sweet, raisiny wine, adds a subtle fruity taste to the chocolate. If you don’t have it, use a tablespoon of milk to mix the filling.

For the crumb crust:
12 ounces galletas (plain cookies) to make 3 1/3 cups crumbs
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon peanut butter
½ cup melted butter (3 ½ ounces)

Grease a 9-inch springform mold. 


Grind the galletas in a food processor to make fine crumbs. (Save 2 tablespoons of the crumbs for the topping.) Add the cocoa powder to the crumbs and process again. Add the peanut butter and combine. With the processor running, pour in the melted butter and process until the crumbs come together in a ball.  

Spread the crumb-butter mixture evenly in the springform pan. Use a large spoon or flat plate to press it firmly. Refrigerate the crumb crust at least 1 hour before filling.


For the chocolate filling:
7 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 ½ cups cream cheese (12 ounces), softened
1 ¼ cups mascarpone (9 ounces), softened
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon PX (sweet raisin wine)
Pinch of salt

Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set it over a pan of boiling water. Heat the chocolate without stirring until most of it appears melted. Stir the chocolate until smooth and remove it from the heat. Let it cool before incorporating in the filling mixture.

Combine the cream cheese and mascarpone in the bowl of a food processor. Process until they are smooth and creamy. Add the peanut butter and process again. With the processor running, pour in the melted chocolate. Add the vanilla, the PX wine and the salt. 

Pour the chocolate filling into the chilled crumb crust. Spread it evenly. Cover the pan with plastic film and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

For the topping:
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
½ cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons roasted salted peanuts
1 galleta

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Place the cream in a small saucepan. Bring it just to a boil. Immediately remove and pour over the chocolate. Let it stand 5 minutes to soften the chocolate. Then stir until chocolate is completely smooth.

Place the peanuts and galleta in a mini-processor and process until coarsely chopped. 

To finish the tart:
Loosen the sides of the tart in the springform pan. Release the side and carefully remove it. Place the tart on a cake dish. Pour the chocolate topping evenly over the top of the tart, letting excess drip over the sides. 

Sprinkle the top with the mixture of chopped peanuts and galleta. 

Return the tart to the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Thanks to Sharman Haley, who gifted me with a 1 3/4-pound block of dark chocolate. Sharman is the granddaughter of the founder of Brown & Haley (Tacoma, WA), makers of Almond Roca and other chocolates.

More recipes with chocolate:









Saturday, July 10, 2021

A SUMMER MENU

What a pleasure to have dinner guests again! Although, I’ve totally abandoned my hostessing skills, I still enjoy putting together a meal for friends and sitting around the table to catch up—or get acquainted.


On a recent sticky July evening, I had one pescatarian and one vegetarian among my guests, so putting together a menu was a challenge. Ben suggested “a big fish” for the grill. I added several vegetable dishes, some inspired by my garden, and two sauces to go with everything. 

Here’s a summer menu that you can adapt to every taste.

Rebujitos (recipe here.)
Rebujitos—spritzer with fino Manzanilla. 

Salad cups with tomatoes, cucumber, melon, goat cheese and fresh basil.

Grilled corvina
Green chile-cilantro sauce (mojo verde)
        Caper-yogurt sauce

Grilled vegetables (escalivada)

Potatoes with lemon dressing (papas aliñás)

Watermelon ice cream






Salad Cups with Melon and Cheese
Ensaladilla con Melón y Queso Fresco

Summer tomatoes, crunchy cuke, sweet melon, soft cheese and fresh basil. 

I like queso fresco de cabra, a soft, fresh white goat cheese, with the raw vegetables and sweet melon. Feta would be good as well. The quantities can easily be increased to serve a crowd. With the addition of diced smoked ham the salad easily becomes a (non-vegetarian) lunch bowl. 

Serves 4-6.

1 ½ cups chopped tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
1 ½ cups diced melon
½ cup peeled and diced cucumber
¼ cup diced celery
2 tablespoons chopped scallion
1 cup diced queso fresco de cabra (fresh white goat cheese)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
Salt
Handful fresh basil leaves
Salad greens
Pine nuts, to garnish

Combine the tomatoes, melon, cucumber, celery, scallion and cheese in a bowl. Add the oil, vinegar and salt to taste. Mix well. Salad can be prepared in advance and refrigerated, covered, until ready to serve.

Tear the basil into pieces and stir into the salad immediately before serving. Put salad greens in salad cups or small bowls and spoon the salad into the cups. Garnish with pine nuts.

Grilled Corvina
Corvina a la Parilla

Fresh corvina for the grill.

I had two whole corvina, a fish somewhat like sea bass, each weighing almost 2 pounds before being gutted. I left them unscaled, with the heads on for easiest grilling. We used a gas grill. A hinged grill made turning the fish easy. 

We cut slashes in the fish so they would grill quicker. Grilling time depends on the size and thickness of the fish, heat source and placement of the grill. (Next time we will have the fish butterflied, opened up so they grill a la espalda, "on their back.”) These were done perfectly—the flesh was still moist, but easily lifted off the bone. Ben pulled off the skin and served the pieces of fish onto a serving platter.




Grilled corvina (fish) with grilled summer vegetables and two sauces. Green chile sauce (mojo verde) has green chile, cilantro, garlic and oil (recipe here). The other sauce is yogurt-mayonnaise-capers (recipe here ).





Grilled Summer Vegetables
Escalivada

Grill eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, onion and garlic. Peel the vegetables and dress with oil and vinegar.


The vegetables—eggplant, peppers, onions, tomatoes and a whole head of garlic—roast in the time it takes to char them. They can be grilled before putting the fish on the grill.  Once cool enough to handle, pull off the skins and tear or cut into strips. Mash the cloves of roasted garlic and mix into the vegetables.  Dress with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. (See the recipe for escalivada here .)

Potates with Lemon Dressing
Patatas Aliñadas


This side can be be prepared in advance and served room temperature or chilled. In tapa bars, it's often served with chopped tomatoes, olives and chunks of (canned) tuna.

Use mature, mealy potatoes that will soak up the dressing, but take care not to overcook them. Chilling the potatoes before peeling and slicing helps to keep them intact. Be sure to use lots of extra virgin olive oil and enough lemon juice to give the potatoes tang. 

1 ½ pounds mature baking potatoes 
Salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Hard cooked egg, sliced, to garnish

Cook the whole potatoes in boiling salted water until they are just tender when pierced with a skewer, 20 to 30 minutes, depending on size. Drain and cool.

Peel the potatoes. Cut them lengthwise into quarters, then slice the potatoes crosswise. Put a layer of potatoes in a bowl. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and some of the oil. Add the remaining sliced potatoes. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt and most of the remaining oil. Add the lemon juice, parsley and red pepper flakes, if using. Stir very gently. 

To serve, spread the potatoes in a shallow bowl. Garnish with sliced egg. Drizzle the remaining oil on top of the potatoes.

Watermelon ice, a cool finale.


Watermelon Ice is a cool finish to a summer meal. It is not ice cream, nor is it sorbet. Pureed watermelon combined with Greek yogurt give a smooth ice. No ice cream machine is needed, but you do need to blend or process the partially frozen ice. (The recipe for Watermelon Ice is here )


Fresh basil, handfuls of it for the salad cups.


Jalapeños! Inspiration for the mojo verde, green chile sauce, to go with the grilled fish.