Tahini-Peanut Dressing

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I am drawn to nutty flavors. So, combining tahini, which is ground sesame seeds, and peanut butter into a dressing, to slather on whatever I can, should be no surprise. It’s a classic combo, and there are many versions out there. I used to make mine with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, but lately have been steering clear of those ingredients. But you can certainly include them to this dressing, too.

What I adore about this thick mixture, call it a dressing, sauce, dip or relish, is that you can use it for some many dishes. I typically incorporate it into my rice noodle bowl, or as a dressing option to Spicy Slaw. It’s also a tasty topping to pork chops, or chicken. It’s the go to mix for satay dipping, but why not for crudités, too, I say. Go ahead and slather it on a grilled tortilla, then fill it up with grilled fish or shrimp with a good helping of slaw for a Asian style taco.

Whenever you hear about musicians being termed as crossover artists, you understand that they are versatile in their craft. I would venture to say that this dressing has them beat. How many musicians can crossover as much as this little dressing. From pasta to veggie dishes to fish or meats, from Asian to Mexican to Indian dishes, this nutty, savory, tangy concoction is the ultimate of multi-duty. And if that’s not enough, it also can hang out in the fridge for awhile, too. But I usually use mine up fairly quickly.

The stars, peanut butter, tahini, sesame oil, garlic, lemon, red pepper flakes, scallions and cilantro.

The stars, peanut butter, tahini, sesame oil, garlic, lemon, red pepper flakes, scallions and cilantro.

Ingredients

1/2 c Tahini
1 c Peanut Butter (I like chunky, but smooth is fine)
1/4 c Sesame Oil
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 T Lemon Zest
2 T Lemon juice
1/2 T Garlic, crushed
1/4 c Scallions
1/4 c Cilantro
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 t Salt, or to taste
Peanuts, for garnish (optional)
Jalapeño pepper, (optional)

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Instructions

  1. Cut up the scallions, mince the cilantro and crush the garlic in a press.

  2. Add all the ingredients, except the scallions and cilantro, into a blender or food processor and combine to the consistency you desire. If you want it more chunky, buzz it less. If you want a thinner sauce, you can add a tad of warm water or vegetable stock to thin it out. I prefer mine thick.

Add the cilantro and scallions on top.

Add the cilantro and scallions on top.

On this particular Tahini-Peanut Dressing day, I mixed mine into rice noodles with a bowl full of greens; sliced scallions, arugula, cucumbers, bean sprouts, more cilantro leaves

I eat this by the bowl full. It’s so satisfying, I usually go for a refill.

I eat this by the bowl full. It’s so satisfying, I usually go for a refill.

It’s perfect for slaw. Top with more peanuts to add texture and crunch.

It’s perfect for slaw. Top with more peanuts to add texture and crunch.

As I said, you can vary this base dressing by adding soy sauce, tamari, rice vinegar, jalapeño or toasted sesame seeds on top. You can use it for salad dressing, or a marinade. Put it on noodles or veggies… yada yada yada. You seriously don’t need me to make a list. I trust you find all it’s savory uses.

 
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Dal - Lentil Stew

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No, not dull. Dal. And it’s anything but. If you like lentils, you will love Dal. Why?, because Dal is lentils- a lentil stew.

I’ve made lentils before. Both as a soup and as a side dish. Both using mirepoix for the base. But, I have never made Dal before. I looked up what spices are traditionally used in making Dal and decided I would use my own version. Ballsy, I know, but what the hell.

If you read last week’s blog post, and I hope you did, you know I had an inspiration spurt propelling me to create a complete Indian meal for JC, my sis Jill and myself. It started with the rice. Then moved onto what will go with the rice.

That’s where the Dal came in.

I used a couple of items that might not be traditional Indian ones but they blended beautifully in the dish.

I had roasted tomatoes. Boy, did I have roasted tomatoes since I just finished making 100lbs. of tomatoes. No, that wasn’t a typo; 100 glorious pounds. JC thought I was nuts. (I must admit that after the first 25lbs, I thought I was nuts too!) So, with plenty of roasted tomatoes on hand, I figured why not use them in my Dal. I also had celery and long hot peppers and wanted to use those up. I always taste as I go, so when I cut into the peppers, which I thought were supposed to hot, they didn’t seem to have the heat I expected. So, I added a jalapeño, too. Believe it or not, the spice level ended up being perfect for my palate. Not so spicy that I couldn’t taste anything else or not be able to detect that my tongue was still attached to my mouth. Yet spicy enough to wake up the senses.

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Ingredients

3 c yellow lentils
1/2 c onion, small dice
2 T celery, small dice
1/3 c red & green long peppers hot, sliced
1/4 c jalapeño, minced
1.5 T crushed garlic
3 T oil
1 T turmeric
1 t cumin seeds
2.5 t curry powder
1 t salt
1 c roasted tomatoes + their juices
2.5 c water

The spice of life. Turmeric, salt, curry powder, cumin seeds.

The spice of life. Turmeric, salt, curry powder, cumin seeds.


Instructions

I chopped everything up into a small dice, slice and a fine mince. I wanted to create a sofrito, if you will. Then sautéd those in a pan with oil.

Fresh aromatics lightly sauteéd.

Fresh aromatics lightly sauteéd.

Once the fresh aromatics were softened, I added the dried spices and let them get all cozy together until they created a lusciously blended ‘sofrito’ base.

Dry spices in to truly spice things up.

Dry spices in to truly spice things up.

Cook down until it all becomes soften and luscious together.

Cook down until it all becomes soften and luscious together.

When you have homemade roasted tomatoes, then that is what you use. They were made with love, so…

(If you don’t have roasted, you can also use whole tomatoes in a can. And then add them in with love.) In went the tomatoes and lentils. Then I added water, covered the pan and let simmer until done.

Tomatoes and lentils finish off the main ingredients, as they wait for their water bath to gently cook them.

Tomatoes and lentils finish off the main ingredients, as they wait for their water bath to gently cook them.

And that is just how easy it was to make Dal. Again, boasting is not my style, yet two weeks in a row, it’s seems to becoming a trend. Here I am tooting my own horn again, because this Dal dish came out super tasty. I was worried about the spice level having added the jalapeño plus the long peppers, but it was quite on point. Again, I got the thumbs up for Jill and JC, both lovers of Indian food.

I served it with the Indian Spiced Rice, Spiced Cauliflower, Potato Pancakes and raita.

I served it with the Indian Spiced Rice, Spiced Cauliflower, Potato Pancakes and raita.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m some sort of expert, nor is this a traditional Indian Dal. But I am seriously happy at my first real foray into using Indian spices to create delicious dishes. I’m all for learning the traditional methods, staying true to a cultures cuisine. But I also believe that you have to just dive in and not be intimidated by it’s complexity. And that’s what I did here. Plus my style has always been, get a glimpse then make it my own.

Don’t forget to make the Indian Spiced Rice to go along with this. In the coming weeks, I will post the potato pancakes and cauliflower. Here’s to spicing up your life!

Screaming Shrimp Cooled by Creamy Avocado & Tomato

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Shrimp; sure their name might denote that they are small in size, but they are big in versatility.  As Bubba so notably recited, "Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. There’s shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That, that’s about it.”  Well, that's where I disagree with Bubba. There are a thousand ways to prepare a shrimp.  Which makes them a perfect non meat dish to serve for a dinner party or crowd. Plus most people love shrimp. (Minus those poor souls with that horrible allergic reaction in the form of swelling, non breathing and other awful symptoms. So sorry for that group.)  

Shrimp, in any form, on a big platter equals party pleaser.  I have found this out the hard way.  Early on in our entertaining days, since I'm a pescatarian, we would make shrimp for me when meat was the main course.  But soon found out that everyone else loved them so much that they would eat up the small amount we made.  We realized that we often didn't make enough for everyone to partake.  Rookie move...that we remedied that quite quickly.  Now, if shrimp is on the menu, it's in quantities that can feed the entire crowd, not just selfish me.

If we get larger size shrimp (does that mean they aren't really shrimp?) then we often leave the shells on. It exudes a ton of flavor.  Marinate and cook them fully cloaked so that all that flavor from the shell cooks into the shrimp meat.   Then suck on the shell before peeling it off.  Don't groan and tell me that's gross.  It's delicious.  For this recipe you can peel the shell first or leave it on.  Your choice.  Either way this dish is about the play off the heat of the spicy shrimp cooled by the creaminess of the avocado and fresh cool tomato that makes it so satisfying.  I like this dish for a summer outdoor party or a late Saturday afternoon lunch. 

The setup.

The setup.

Ingredients

1.5 lb. large shrimp
2 avocados, cut into chunks
scrapings of avocado from the skin
2-3 medium (heirloom) tomatoes, thick slices
3-4 large garlic cloves, crushed
2-3 T jalapeño pepper, finely minced*
1/2 - 1 T Chili oil, or 1-2 t crushed red pepper flakes* 
1.5 -2 T ginger, grated*
1.5 T cilantro, chopped
1/2 c red onion, sliced
1 t salt
1/3 c olive oil
1/2 c white wine to deglaze pan
2 c basmati rice
1/4 c scallions, sliced
1/3 c cilantro
1 lemon, quartered
* These ingredients bring the heat. Adjust the amount according to how hot you like your food.

Dressing

avocado scrapings from the inside of the shell
2 T fresh lemon juice
salt, pepper
1/2 c Olive oil
Whisk together all above ingredients
1 T cilantro, minced for garnish
1 T scallions, sliced for garnish

 

Instructions

In a bowl, combine garlic, jalapeño, chili oil, cilantro, ginger, scallions, red onion, salt and oil.  Mix together with shrimp ensuring all are coated.  Place in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour to marinate.  

Make it sing with spice!

Make it sing with spice!

Combine it all in non reactive bowl. I like glass

Combine it all in non reactive bowl. I like glass

Let those shrimps get cozy with heat.

Let those shrimps get cozy with heat.

While the shrimp are marinating, cook the rice.  I use 1.5 times water to rice ratio, bringing the water to a boil then adding rice.  I add a touch of salt to the water, cover and lower the heat to a simmer.   Let it cook around 15-18 minutes until light and fluffy.

Nothing better than fluffy rice. It's begging for some accents, like scallions and cilantro.

Nothing better than fluffy rice. It's begging for some accents, like scallions and cilantro.

Cut the tomatoes and avocado and assemble your plates so that you only have to add the shrimp and serve.  Make the dressing by scraping out the odds and ends from the avocado shell.  Add them to all the dressing ingredients an whisk together, and set aside. 

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You can create a family style platter. Or you can individually plate them using the avocado shells to hold the rice.   

Then sauté the shrimp in a cast iron pan over medium high heat.  You want to get a nice sear on both sides. Shrimp do not take but 2-3  minutes to cook.  Keep in mind that they will continue to cook once removed from the heat. 

Get some good color and crust on them. Yum!

Get some good color and crust on them. Yum!

While the shrimp are cooking, toss the scallions and cilantro into the rice.  You can plate it by using the avocado shells, or simply plate alongside the tomato and avocado. Be creative, and make a pretty plate.

Fill the shell as a rice holder.

Fill the shell as a rice holder.

Or just lay the rice up against the tomatoes.

Or just lay the rice up against the tomatoes.

After all the shrimp are cooked, sauté the marinade in the pan, then add a splash of white wine. 

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Pour over the shrimp and place them on the platter, garnishing with the lemon pieces.  Drizzle the avocado dressing over the tomatoes and avocado. You can sprinkle more cilantro over the shrimp with a squeeze of lemon, too. Serve immediately. 

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I love all the textures of this dish.  Fluffy, soft rice. Crisp, sweet but spicy shrimp. Creamy Avocado and Cool, sweet tomatoes.  What's not to love?  Let your shrimp scream.

Something from Nothing Asian Style Noodle Soup

I'm sure you are thinking, "hot soup in the summer?"  But as Charles Grodin's character in the movie Midnight Run so famously proclaimed, " What the hell? What the hell?"  I, too, ask the same.  

Global Warming
Climate Change
Mother Nature Screwing Around

Title it however your heart desires, but the weather is playing havoc with my normal summer cooking patterns. One week it's so hot that the act of eating food is almost a chore, let alone preparing it.  The next week is rainy, chilly and desperately screaming out for warm soup to thaw the soul.  Lucky thing for me I had some items that produced the perfect remedy for the fickle temperature swings occurring in my zip code.  Come to think of it, there are plenty of food items that can go from cold to warm food preparations with just a few adjustments.  

If you are still in a time zone that offers true summer weather, God bless, and just push the pause button on this post and save it for a rainy day in your area code.  Or you can make this as directed then let the soup come to room temperature and add a peanut sauce, for a cold noodle dish. Versatility is the name of this game and the items I purchase and keep stocked in my house better know that going in... Otherwise they are OUT.

Embarking on a food adventure to remove the chill from a rainy Monday put the something from nothing mantra to the test.  I started out knowing I wanted to make soup. That usually cures any of my belly aching about the cold. I knew for sure I had:

If you don't have these curly garlic scapes, garlic will do just fine.

If you don't have these curly garlic scapes, garlic will do just fine.

  • Onions & Shallot (ever in abundance in my house)

  • Garlic scapes** (bought them at the farmer's market because they are only in season for about 2 weeks)

  • Ginger (because I've been making ginger mint tea to heal myself from sinusitis)

  • Rice Noodles (another staple in my pantry)

Thinly slice the garlic scapes. I like the diagonal, as it gives more surface area when sautéing. Also, cut off the end of the garlic scape and toss out, as this part, much like that of an asparagus, can be tough.

Thinly slice the garlic scapes. I like the diagonal, as it gives more surface area when sautéing. Also, cut off the end of the garlic scape and toss out, as this part, much like that of an asparagus, can be tough.

I combined a tad of sesame oil and olive oil and salt to soften up the aromatics.

I combined a tad of sesame oil and olive oil and salt to soften up the aromatics.

After I diced up, chopped and sliced up the aromatics (onion, shallot, ginger slices and garlic scapes), they all went into a pot to sauté with some sesame and olive oil. Whilst that was happening, I soaked the rice noodles.  

Rice noodles are easy. Just soak in hot water for 5-10 minutes, then add to boiling water or soup.

Rice noodles are easy. Just soak in hot water for 5-10 minutes, then add to boiling water or soup.

As with any something from nothing escapade, I continue to think and build on an idea as I go. So while those were doing their thing, I starting rummaging through my fridge. Next set of items found and destined to be added:

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  • Jalapeño pepper

  • Scallions

  • Curly Kale

After all those went into the pot with some water, salt and tumeric, I tasted it and felt it needed a bit more flavor.  I decided to grate some of the items already present in the pot.  (Cilantro would be a great addition but I was happy with just the kale.)

Grating can really intensify the flavor, so garlic scapes, ginger and even the onion got the rasping treatment.   Flavor essence enhanced and into the soup.  Then in went the noodles and just like that I had Asian Style Noodle soup.  

As I mentioned, you can certainly enjoy this one hot, as I did.  Any protein could be added to this. Think grilled shrimp, or chicken or steak even.  But if it's not cold where you are and these flavors are calling out your name, add some peanut sauce and enjoy a cold noodle dish.  This hot, steamy pot did more than just shoo the chills away, it soothed my soul.

Something from nothing is just that darn easy.  

**Garlic scapes you ask?  I am drawn to produce that looks different from the usual fair.  So it should come as no shocker that I would grab these curly, wiry thangs.   Garlic scapes are the actual flower bud of the garlic plant.  They are only in season a short while in late June when the bud is removed to encourage the bulbs to thicken up.  Scapes taste just like garlic, but I feel they are a bit milder.