Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Napa and Red Onion Salad

from Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travel in the Other China, p. 86.

I have owned this fabulous cookbook less than a week and already several pages, including this one, is bespattered and wrinkled.  As I went through the book page by page in the bookstore, I stopped counting when I reached the tenth recipe I knew I would make if I owned it. That’s my minimum. (On the same visit to the bookstore, I had the same experience with David Chang’s Momofuku, but that’s another post.) The day I brought the book home I made two salads, this Mongolian one and the Cucumbers in Black Rice Vinegar from Xinjiang (I have NO idea where that is). I have the summer ahead of me to delve more deeply. In the meantime, this is a salad that will suit the summer heat.

I learned one great trick from this recipe:

  • Pouring boiling water over the shredded cabbage in a bowl, waiting a minute or two, and then draining it keeps the color of the cabbage bright and the leaves still a little crunchy.

The recipe needs practically no emending:

1 small or 1/2 medium-large red onion (1/4 pound)

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

2 cups shredded Napa cabbage, sliced crosswise into thin slivers

2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil, or to taste

Shadowcook: Frankly, since most of us chop up a whole head of cabbage, I’d make it 1 tablespoon

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon rice vinegar, or to taste

About 1/2 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves.

Slice the onion lengthwise into quarters, then very thinly slice each quarter lengthwise. You should have about 1 cup. place in a sieve, add 1 teaspoon of the salt, and toss well. Set over a bowl and let stand for 10 minutes to drain.

Meanwhile, place the cabbage in a bowl and pour over boiling water to cover (about 4 cups). Let stand for a minute or two, then drain in a colander. Place back in the bowl and set aside.

Rinse the onion with cold water, then squeeze dry and add to the cabbage. Set aside.

Heat the 2 teaspoons sesame oil in a small wok for small skillet over medium heat. Add the ginger and cook for about 1 minute, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Add the vinegar, and once it bubbles, pour the mixture over the salad. Toss to blend, then add the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and toss again. The salad can be served immediately or left to stand for up to an hour so flavors can blend.

Just before serving, taste and add a little more sesame oil if you want to bring that flavor forward, as well as more salt if you wish. Add the coriander leaves and toss.

 

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Yotam Ottolenghi’s Sweetcorn Soup with Chipotle and Lime

From The Observer/Guardian, September 10, 2010.

It’s a good day when a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe fits within my Weight Watchers diet. Ottolenghi comes up with ideas that work better on paper than in the pan. This one is a keeper. In this spice fantasy of his, he takes summer (corn) and winter (squash) on a vacation to Southeast Asia. The directions are straightforward. The ingredients are not as outré as you might first think. Yotam offers good substitutions, if you can’t come up with lime leaves, like I can.

A bit of chopping but otherwise easy…

Serves 6

Amount per serving: 1 and a half cups

Weight Watchers points per serving: 5

Calories per serving: 350

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 shallots (100g), peeled and chopped

5 garlic cloves, chopped

3 celery sticks, cut into 1 cm [1/4 inch] dice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

400g [14 oz] peeled pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into 1 cm [1/4 inch] dice

2 bay leaves

3 lime leaves, or a few shaved strips of lime zest

1 liter [4.2 cups] water

1 chipotle chilli, soaks in boiling water for 15 minutes

Shadowcook: Or, if you can’t find dried chipotles, buy a can of chipotles in adobo sauce, rinse off the sauce, and chop. The more seeds you remove, the less heat you’ll taste in the soup.

4 sweetcorn cobs, kernels shaved off

160g [about half a cup] soured cream [that’s sour cream]

3 limes, halved

1 handful torn coriander [cilantro] leaves

Salt

Heat the oil in a medium pot, add the shallots, garlic, celery, ground cumin, ground coriander and a little salt, and sauté on low heat for 12 minutes, to soften the vegetables.

Add the pumpkin (or squash), bay leaves, lime leaves (or zest), and water. Squeeze the water of out of the chipotle chilli, remove and discard the seeds, chop roughly and add to the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft. Add the corn and cook for five minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to lift out about half of the vegetables, and removed and discard the bay and lime leaves. Blitz the remaining soup until smooth, then return to the vegetables to the pot and bring to a light simmer. Add a little water if you find it too thick. Stir in half the soured cream and taste for seasoning.

Shadowcook: I used my blender. A food processor works just as well.

Divide the soup into six bowls, squeeze the juice of half a lime into each portion, drop about a tablespoonful of soured cream in the middle and scatter over the torn coriander leaves.

Shadowcook: Or, for all you singletons, freeze in 4 or 5 small containers all but a cup and a half. A bowl of this soup in winter will remind you of August.

Return to Weight Watchers: Peppers Stuffed with Greens and Israeli Couscous

A couple of month ago, I decided to drop twenty pounds by New Year’s Day. As the first step on the road to Slimmerdom, I eliminated alcohol from my diet. That was hard until, suddenly, I got over it. Then in August, I realized that I had to return to the only method that has ever resulted in my losing weight: Weight Watchers. As the Sex and the City character Samantha says, overhearing two women in a bookstore talking about diets, in one episode, “It’s the only thing that works.” It’s true. If you follow WW’s program, you will lose weight. The genius of WW is its simplicity. Simplicity is also what makes it hard. It’s all about repackaging calories in a user-friendly form. You have to have a little bit of the control-freak in you to do it, since you weigh and measure everything you eat. In Spring 2004, I followed the WW regime for about 8 months, and by 2005 I had lost thirty pounds. Since then, my weight has slowly crept back to its starting point. It took a while, but I finally worked myself up to the decision to try WW again. And I’m glad to say that it’s working. Ten pounds down, fifteen to go. And then I’ll lose a last five pounds in a victory lap.

However, I am pissed off. Even though I am in my fifties, when metabolisms are notoriously slower, I am not ready to entirely relinquish my appetites. I like to cook and to eat in reasonable quantity and frequency. It’s the unfairness of life that gnaws at my innards. Some of my friends who are of a similar age eat like birds — or less. Others eat whatever they want and don’t gain weight. They all annoy me. I like to eat. But I am one of those people who will always have to be hungry in order to keep my weight down.

That, as I said, is life. I have to deal with it. The challenge in restraining myself for the next few months to only 1200-1300 calories worth of food a day lies in making it interesting. I don’t want to eat only steamed vegetables. Fortunately, in the five years since I was last on WW the recipe database has greatly improved. It still is by no means a Foodies’ paradise, but one can now make do very well and adapt the recipes to make them more flavorful without adding many calories. Whats more, there’s an iPhone app for WW! When I learned that, I thought all is well with the world.

The photo shows one green pepper cut in half and stuffed. That counts as two servings, if you’re eating anything else in the meal:

2 servings

350 calories or 7 points per serving

about pound of greens (Swiss chard, kale, spinach, or a combination of all three2 green bell peppers)

1/2 onion, chopped

1/2 oz pine nuts

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup Israeli couscous

1 ounce hard cheese (Comté, Gruyère, any hard cheese conducive to melting)

Preheat oven to 350.

Clean and stem the greens. Shake the greens of water, but don’t dry the leaves completely. Roughly chop. Set aside.

Chop the half onion. Set aside.

Cut the pepper in half, seed and take out the ribs. Place cavity-side up in a very lightly oiled small baking dish.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet wide enough to accommodate the chopped greens. Add onion and sauté for a few minutes. When the onions are translucent, add the damp greens. Stir to coat with the olive oil and onion. Let the greens throw off their water and wilt. If you want to experiment at this point by adding spices to the greens (a pinch of nutmeg?), do so now.

Meanwhile, place a small saucepan of water on to boil. When the water is boiling, add the half cup of Israeli couscous and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and add to the wilted greens in the skillet. Stir to combine. Add the pine nuts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fill the pepper halves with the greens-Israeli couscous filling. Don’t pack it, but you can mound it. You’ll probably have leftover filling. Grate the one ounce hard cheese and sprinkle it over the pepper halves.

Bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Variations:

  • If you to add protein and have room for more calories, consider adding a few anchovies to the onions as they sauté.
  • Or skip the Israel couscous, beat an egg and mix it into the sauteed greens after cooling them. The egg will work as a binder.
  • Add a lttle lowfat ricotta to the cooled sauteed greens.