Saturday, March 15, 2014

Quick Shiitake and Green Bean Stir-Fry with Coconut Rice

A couple weeks ago, a friend brought me these stunning shiitake mushrooms from a bigger city with more Asian markets than where we live. When I saw how giant and utterly gorgeous they were, I knew I needed to use them in a dish where they could shine. So I adapted a beef stir-fry from the Green Mango Cafe & Bakery Cookbook, subbing in shiitakes for the beef.

This stir-fry was quick, simple, and wonderfully delicious with a delightfully balanced flavor. The brown sugar made it slightly sweet and sticky, the fish sauce added just a hint of funk, and the shiitakes were meaty and earthy. If you don't have access to shiitakes, I'd recommend portobellos, baby bellas, or crimini, as they tend to be meatier and earthier than the basic white mushrooms.

I also highly recommend making coconut rice instead of plain rice. It doesn't take any longer to make, but the coconut milk puts the rice on a whole 'nother playing field. As I've written the recipe below, the coconut flavor is fairly pronounced. But if you prefer a more subtle coconut flavor, use less coconut milk and more water.

My green beans were a little on the crunchy side. I'm keeping the recipe with the steps I followed. But for more well-done green beans, either toss them in with the mushrooms and shallots, or steam them for a bit in the microwave before adding them to the skillet.

I think this stir-fry would be great with beef or chicken--perhaps switch out half the mushrooms. For beef, follow the directions exactly as they're written; for chicken, you may need to add a bit extra cooking time in the first step to ensure it gets fully cooked. For added crunch and protein, some sliced toasted almonds would be lovely sprinkled on top at the end.

This dish reheated well, but be careful not to cook it too long in the microwave, as the mushrooms can get kinda rubbery if they get zapped too long.

Quick Shiitake and Green Bean Stir-Fry
Adapted from Green Mango Cafe & Bakery Cookbook
Yield: 4 servings

Coconut rice (recipe below)
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 lbs. shiitake mushrooms, thickly sliced
2 medium or 1 large shallot, minced
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 birds eye chili, thinly sliced (optional; more or less to taste)
10 oz. fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed, and sliced into 2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 dashes fish sauce
3 Tbsp. reduced sodium soy sauce
3 green onions, thinly sliced

Start the coconut rice. If it finishes before the stir-fry is done, simply remove it from the heat, fluff with a fork, and re-cover. Then prep all the veggies. For a stir-fry like this where you add ingredients every couple of minutes, I find it helpful to pre-measure everything, including the sauces and spices, and line them up on my counter in the order that they'll go into the skillet.

Heat the sesame and canola oils in a large wok or skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms, shallots, salt, pepper, and bird's eye chili (if using; I didn't). Stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Add the green beans and stir-fry for another 3 minutes. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 10-30 seconds.

Add brown sugar, fish sauce, and soy sauce; stir to coat evenly. Continue to stir-fry for another minute or two, until everything is cooked through. If needed, add water 1 Tbsp. at a time.

Serve with coconut rice and garnish with green onions.

Coconut Rice
Yield: 4 servings

1 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup water
Pinch salt
1 cup basmati rice

In a small saucepan, combine coconut milk, water, and salt. Bring to a boil. Add the rice. As soon as it returns to a boil, reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat, stir, and re-cover until ready to serve.

Some varieties of basmati recommend rinsing the rice before cooking it (to remove extra starch) and/or adding the rice to the liquid(s) before bringing it to a boil. Also cooking times may vary. So check the instructions on your rice and adjust my directions accordingly. The main thing is to use coconut milk for a hefty portion of the water measurement.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Apple, Leek, and Gruyere Grilled Cheese

Apple, Leek, and Gruyere Grilled Cheese
Adapted from Eats Well With Others
Yield: 4-6 servings

1 loaf fancy bread of choice (I used a rustic french bread)
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only
2 oz. gruyere, shredded
1 granny smith apple, cored and sliced
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Butter, softened, for pan and for spreading on bread
Swirl of olive oil

Prepare the leeks: Chop off the dark green tops; discard or reserve for another use. Remove the very end of the bulb. Cut the white/light green stalk in half lengthwise, then slice thinly. Fill a large bowl with water and place the sliced leeks into it. Swirl them around with your fingers to help loosen any dirt on them. Remove the leeks to a colander, then dump out the dirt-infused water and rinse out the bowl. Repeat until you're not getting any dirt in the bottom of the bowl. Let the leeks drain in a colander while you grate the cheese and slice the apple.*

Heat a pat of butter and a swirl of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, until leeks are softened. Add the apples and cook for a few minutes more, until apples are also soft. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, set bread slices in pairs, and butter the outsides of what will be each sandwich. When apple and leek mixture is ready, build each sandwich: Lay apple slices on the un-buttered side of a slice of bread. Top with some leeks, then sprinkle on some gruyere, then top with the other piece of bread (buttered side out).**

Transfer any leftover apple-leek mixture into a bowl or storage container; wipe out the skillet. Return skillet to medium-low heat. Once it's hot, carefully add sandwiches to the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, turning carefully, until each side is crusty and golden. Remove each sandwich to a cutting board and, using a good bread knife, slice each sandwich in half.

Joanne (the original recipe writer) called for 4 large leeks for 4 servings. I used 2 large leeks and got 5-6 servings. Perhaps my leeks were bigger than hers, or her bread slices were bigger than mine? Her pictures don't look like she filled her sandwiches fuller than I did.

*At this point, Joanne said to blanch the leeks (boil for two minutes, then dunk in ice water). I did that, but didn't think it accomplished much other than getting another pan dirty and making the process more complicated, so I'm leaving that step out of my instructions.

**On this step, it's best to use your fingers so you have maximum control over your ingredients. Just let the apple-leek mixture cool enough for you to handle it. For more cheese throughout the sandwich, do apple, cheese, leek, cheese. I tried it both ways and liked them about equally.