July 9, 2014

Dear friends:

Ambrosia is so old-school that I never make it. I couldn’t live down serving something that contains miniature marshmallows. I secretly love it, though, and eat it every chance I get at pot lucks.

So it’s no surprise that I pounced on a recipe for ambrosia in an Asian grilling cookbook. This ambrosia is cool!

For a July 4th picnic I rounded up fruit and grated coconut, and made sure I had limes, a chile pepper, shallots and Vietnamese fish sauce (nam pla) on hand. The fresh mint was available in gobs near my greenhouse.

No, this is not your grandmother’s fruit ambrosia. It’s a little bit hot and just slightly sweet, with an overlay of the complex flavors of Southeast Asia.

The recipe in the cookbook, “Asian Grilling” by Su-Mei Yu, makes just four servings and includes two fruits –pineapple and apple or mango – so I tinkered with it. I doubled the amount of pineapple and added luscious, ripe cantaloupe and pitted dark-red cherries. I also doubled the dressing. I made the salad a few hours before the picnic but won’t do that again. As my amended recipe instructs below, the fruit should be tossed with the dressing just before serving. Otherwise, the juices that seep from the fruit and combine with the dressing threaten to overwhelm everything.

The only drawback to this ambrosia is that it doesn’t contain miniature marshmallows. I guess I can live with that.

ASIAN FRUIT AMBROSIA

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  • 6 tbsp. grated coconut (preferably unsweetened)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tbsp. fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 fresh serrano chile, seeded and minced
  • 2 mangos, the flesh diced
  • 1 cup diced fresh pineapple
  • 1 cup diced cantaloupe
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup halved and seeded fresh sweet cherries
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 rib celery, thinly sliced
  • Grated zest of 2 limes
  • 12 mint leaves, torn and bruised

Dry-roast the coconut in a small skillet over high heat, stirring to prevent burning, until coconut is golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Cool.

In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, sea salt and minced chile. Set aside.

Just before serving, combine the diced fruit, shallots, lime zest and mint in a large bowl. Toss gently to combine. Add dressing and toss to coat. Sprinkle with toasted coconut and serve. Make about 8 servings.

HELP U COOK

My fridge overfloweth with green beans. Hooray! The little beauties are haricots vert, the slender, tender beans with the French pedigree. I planted two short rows two weeks apart to extend my green-bean season. The first picking Sunday yielded a couple of quarts. That’s a lot for two people and a dog (Oscar likes the occasional bean), so some will go into the freezer.

Home-frozen green beans taste fresher than commercially frozen beans, I’ve found. That’s why I’ll go to the bother of freezing at least half of my summer bounty. I usually blanch the beans (drop them into boiling water for a minute, then stop the cooking and set the color with an ice-water bath). But I’ve been reading in gardening forums about the high quality of green beans frozen without blanching. I plan to try that with at least some of the beans. The method: Wash, dry very well and either vacuum pack or place in zipper-lock freezer bags, sucking out as much of the air as possible with a straw before sealing the last quarter-inch of the zip.

I’m all for shortcuts, especially in the summer when I’d rather be picking raspberries or reading a novel on the porch.

THE MAILBAG

From Annie Fry:
Another possible substitution for garlic is asafoetida powder or hing. It is available in Indian food stores.  According to Wikipedia, it is the dried latex (gum oleoresin) exuded from the rhizome or tap root of several species of Ferula, a perennial herb that grows 1 to 1 1/2 meters tall. The species is native to the deserts of Iran, mountains of Afghanistan, and is mainly cultivated in nearby India. As its name suggests, asafoetida has a fetid smell but in cooked dishes it delivers a smooth flavor reminiscent of leeks. By its physiology, it appears to be related to fennel and dill.

Dear Annie: I used asafetida (dried grayish-brown leaves, as I recall) in Mexican dishes in the distant past. I appreciate the information.

From Karen M.:
I recently had candied pecans on a salad at Todaro’s. They
had a clear coating on them and were wonderful. Just wondered if you knew
how to make them. Thanks!

Dear Karen: You don’t mention whether the nuts were spiced or plain, so I’m going with plain. Although I haven’t had Todaro’s version, candied nuts are pretty standard. They’re also very easy to make. Here’s a basic recipe:

CANDIED PECANS

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup raw pecans

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add butter and sugar. Heat, stirring once or twice, until both butter and sugar have melted. Toss pecans in mixture and transfer to waxed paper to cool. Makes ½ cup. When completely cool, candied nuts may be stored in a tightly closed lidded jar.

From Eric:
I absolutely adore the Navajo Tacos from Russo’s restaurant. I get some every time I’m in town, visiting my parents. Unfortunately, I now live in Michigan and it is impossible for me to get the tacos on a regular basis. I heard that you have the recipe, and I was wondering if it would be possible to share it so that I can make the tacos whenever I have the urge. Please let me know. Thanks.

Dear Eric: Chef David Russo of Russo’s Restaurant on State Road at the Cuyahoga Falls/Boston Heights border gave me the recipe in November 2001 for Second Helpings, the Internet newsletter I wrote for the Beacon Journal. But beware: making the fabulous tacos isn’t easy. Back then I wrote, “The tacos are time-consuming to make (it took me two hours and I’m fast), but the results are worth it — puffy, deep-fried Navajo bread topped with a spicy, Cajun-Southwestern ragout of shrimp, peppers and fresh vegetable salsa.”

I’m hungry just thinking about them.

DAVE RUSSO’S NAVAJO TACOS

SALSA:

  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Combine everything in a bowl, stirring well.

SEASONING MIX: 

  • 1 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 2 tsp. ground New Mexican dried chili pepper
  • 2 tsp. ground guajillo chili pepper (or use all New Mexican pepper)

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar.

FILLING:

  • 1 tbsp. toasted corn meal
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 14 oz. of your choice of chicken, steak (cut into strips about 2 inches long and 1/4-inch thick), or peeled shrimp 
1 red bell pepper, in julienne (very thin) strips
  • 1 green bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 medium red onion, julienned
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup peeled, seeded and chopped ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chicken or beef broth

In a dry skillet over medium heat, shake corn meal until toasted medium dark. Set aside. 
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon seasoning mix over chicken, steak or shrimp, coating all sides. Add the meat or seafood to the hot oil. Brown meat, stirring constantly (if using shrimp, sear on both sides and remove from the pan and set aside). 
Add peppers, onions and 1 tablespoon of seasoning mix to pan. Cook, stirring, about three minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.

Stir in toasted cornmeal, then tomatoes and broth (if using shrimp, return to pan now). Simmer 3 minutes, until sauce has reduced and thickened. Keep warm.

FRY BREAD:

  • 3 cups sifted flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup warm water

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Slowly mix in warm water with a fork. Stir until soft, but not sticky. If too sticky, add a touch more flour. Gather into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand 15 minutes. 
Pull off egg-size balls of dough. Pat or roll into flat disks 1/4-inch thick. Press thumb into center of dough round and pierce several times with fork. 
In a large skillet, bring 3 cups of vegetable oil to 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. Fry the cakes 30 seconds on each side until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

To assemble tacos, place one fry bread on a plate, spoon on some of the filling, and place a second fry bread overlapping the first. Spoon on more filling. Top with salsa and a dollop of sour cream. Makes about 4 servings.

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