Japanese Knotweed Simple Syrup

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Combine in a large saucepan :

8 oz. young japanese knotweed shoots, washed and roughly chopped

4 cups sugar

4 cups water

Bring to a boil, cut heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to sit until cool.

Makes a great base for knotweed margaritas, knotweed mojitos, etc. Excellent made simply into a knotweed soda or knotweed and tonic, very refreshing going into the warm days of late spring and early summer. Can be frozen into knotweed granitas or sorbettos, or combined with other fruits, ices or creams for sweet and sour treats.

While very often I like to use japanese knotweed as a savory vegetable, in simple syrup form it is an excellent addition to a sweet dish using fruit or cream. It has a sour but not puckery sour taste and sweetness from the knotweed as well as the sugar.

Garam Masala March 2015 : New Times Masala

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Place in a large, heavy skillet or cast-iron pan over medium-low heat :

1/2 cup coriander seeds (1.75 oz)

1/2 cup cumin seeds (3 oz)

seeds of 3 tbs green cardamom pods (.5 oz) (about 1 1/2 tbs seeds)

1 tbs vietnamese cinnamon (.25 oz)

1 tbs cloves (.25 oz)

4 tbs black peppercorns (1.75 oz)

Toast spices, tossing gently, until aromas have been released but before coriander and cumin seeds begin to darken. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Leave whole and store in glass to be ground fresh and used in recipes, or grind to a fine powder and store in glass jars or shakers. I usually like to leave about half as a solid spice mix and grind the other half. Remember when using the whole spice mix that it should be shaken before measuring, as it will likely settle and separate in the jar.

Ground masala will remain usable for at least a half of a year, the whole spice mix for a year. If spices are burned or darkened they will deteriorate more rapidly.

Masalas are inherently variable things, dependent on the mood of the cook and the spices available. I encourage you to come up with your own spice mixes, reflecting your own tastes and adding a touch of your own personality as a cook. This one is just a snapshot, a new masala for new times.

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Spiced Daikon Pickle

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Another year-round staple of my kitchen, this is pickled radish inspired by the Vietnamese do chua pickles, served with noodle dishes, salads and banh mi. I specifically made this to pair with my sweet-hot pickled carrots. I was introduced to the combination of pickled carrot and radish threads (sometimes with cucumbers added) in the Vietnamese restaurants and sandwich shops of Houston, and have made some variation on do chua ever since. My love of variety gave me the idea a few years ago to separate the pickles into two different treatments, adding chile and more sugar to the carrots and a mix of savory spices to the radish.

Place in a glass quart jar* :

2 star anise

2 tsp sichuan peppercorns, whole

2 tsp black peppercorns, whole

1 stick of cinnamon or a few pieces of cassia

*You may choose to place these spices in an infusion bag, so that the flavors get into the pickle without having whole spices scattered amongst the pickle. You may also simply leave them in, and enjoy the intense flavor of crunching into whole spices. I like both, and will vary according to my mood or what I plan to serve this with.

Slice into shreds / julienne with a mandoline or knife :

1 lb. daikon radish or other large asian radish

Heat in a small saucepan, stirring until the sugar and salt are dissolved :

2 cups white vinegar, brewing vinegar or other mild vinegar

3 slices of ginger, about 1-2″ inches long and wide

2 tbs sugar

1 tsp salt

Place the shredded radish into the quart jar with the spices, then pour in the seasoned vinegar while it is still hot.

Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

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This is another fairly straightforward quick pickle, once which will be ready to eat once it cools, slightly more flavorful after 24 hours, and which will develop in flavor over time and last at least a month or two.

It does, however, come with a warning. Pickled radish has a very strong odor. When I serve this pickle for a buffet of noodles or banh mi, or any other occasion, I always make sure to open the jar a couple of hours before the guests arrive. Another option is to place a serving of the pickle in a small bowl and return it to the fridge, uncovered, which will keep the pickle cool and let it air out. Once you make this pickle, you will quickly understand how important a step this can be. It doesn’t bother me much, but for some the smell will permeate the pickle board and inhibit their appetites. None of the odor really permeates the flavor of the dish, which is spicy and mildly sweet.

Excellent served with sandwiches, salads, noodle bowls and so on, either as a component of the dish or an optional garnish. Because of the complex, savory spices used this pickle doesn’t necessarily register as specifically “asian” in flavor and can be used to accompany a wide variety of dishes and cuisines. An especially enjoyable use of them that might not be readily obvious is to pair them with hard cheeses such as gruyere, cheddar or gouda. They also make an excellent foil for sweet or spicy cold meats and sausages.

Fermented Sriracha (Tuong Ot Sriracha)

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Making a homemade version of the popular sriracha hot sauce couldn’t be any easier : a simple fermented version can be made that is far more flavorful than any commercially available one. You could also make this sauce fresh, simply omitting the fermentation stage, but I think you will find that the extra time really adds a strong depth of flavor not present in the fresh version. For such a simple preparation, this sauce has a zesty, complex taste that far outstrips the somewhat one-note heat of Huy Fong and other store-bought brands.

I like to make two versions of this sauce : one red, one green. They have quite different characteristics from each other, the red one possessing a much deeper, more complex heat and the green one a sharp, fresh heat. Neither is really superior to the other, and both are worth trying. I use the green one more often with salads and raw preparations, the red in soups and hot noodle dishes. Both are outstanding in cold noodle bowls, with the green getting the nod if I am using a lot of raw vegetables and herbs and the red if the majority of accompaniments are pickled or preserved. Fish? Green. Pork? Red. Tofu dishes? Both harmonize quite capably.

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First, you will need to choose appropriate chiles. I would avoid extremely fire-y chiles like Thai bird or habanero chiles, as they tend to be somewhat overpowering in a sriracha. Remember, this sauce is almost entirely chiles with only a smattering of other seasonings. What is wanted here is a deep, resonant, complex heat, not a pain-inducing power sauce. For a green sauce, jalapenos are completely appropriate. With red, look for either fresno chiles (sometimes erroneously called red jalapenos) or hot red cherry peppers. Cherries are my favorite, they have a perfect balance of hot and sweet that shines in both this sauce and the related chile-garlic sauce known as tuong ot toi. In fact, I have grown these chiles in the past couple of years explicitly for the purpose of making these particular sauces. You will want to experiment with this recipe, using the chiles you can grow or buy locally and that suit your particular taste. My only word of advice would be to avoid being overly macho the first time you make this. Use jalapenos or medium-heat red chiles and see how you like it before stepping up the heat.

Roughly chop :

1 lb medium-hot chiles, green or red (but NOT a mix of the two), de-stemmed and NOT de-seeded

.5 oz crushed, peeled garlic (a few cloves)

Combine in a food processor with :

1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1.5 oz palm sugar (regular white sugar can be substituted but the taste is inferior as well as less authentic)

Pulse until well-chopped but not liquified.

Place into a glass or plastic container, cover with a towel and allow to sit at room temperature for several days.

When the sauce begins to take on a fermented smell and begins to bubble ever so slightly (you may find this is easier to SMELL and HEAR than SEE), usually about 3 or 4 days (less in hot weather, perhaps more in cold), place in a saucepan with :

1/3 cup vinegar (I use Korean brewing vinegar for this, but white vinegar is also good. Seasoned rice vinegar and apple cider vinegar CAN be used but they impart more sweetness to the finished product.)

Bring to a low simmer and cook for five minutes or so.

Puree in a blender or food processor. If the mixture seems to thick add a spoonful or two of water, but be conservative.

Strain through a wire mesh sieve into a squeeze bottle or jar.

Use with, on and in everything.

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N.B. : You may find that you have quite a lot of seeds and pulp that will not fit through the strainer. I strongly encourage you to make a fermented salsa or sambal from this remainder, you will not find that it lacks heat or flavor.

Fried Shallots & Shallot Oil

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I am a tremendous fan of any kitchen process that yields more than one useful pantry item, not to mention any recipe in which there is no waste. Fried shallots and shallot oil are a perfect example, creating two delicious products that can be used independently or together.

A common preparation in Vietnamese cuisine, this is simple and delicious enough to be used with any kind of cooking. Fried shallots are an even more delicious variant on fried onions, and homemade ones knock the socks off of those horrible dehydrated bits in the supermarket that often appear in 50’s style casserole recipes, usually alongside canned cream of mushroom soup. Shallots in general do not get enough love–this deeply-flavored allium can be used as a substitute for onions in sauces and many other dishes where a touch of sophistication is needed. They have a raw flavor that may be a bit intense for some, but become much more mellow and deep in taste when cooked.

Fried shallots can be used as a garnish or addition to all kinds of dishes cold or hot. They are used most extensively in Vietnamese cooking as additions to noodle bowls and soups, but will add a great flavor and texture to sandwiches, omelettes, spring and summer rolls, raw salads, cold composed salads (such as egg or potato salad), and so on. Heck, you can even use them to top that casserole–best to leave the cream of mushroom soup at the supermarket, though. One of my absolute favorite things to do with them is to lay them out with or without breadcrumbs on top of a pan of macaroni and cheese. Best of all is to serve the shallots and shallot oil as accompaniments to a large or festive meal, and allow your guests to experiment.

Shallot oil has as many uses as fried shallots, perhaps even more since it can be used as a cooking oil as well as a dressing or garnish. I enjoy the oil most as a part of a vinaigrette or dressing, as a last-minute flavor booster for soups or cooked vegetable dishes. It works wonders drizzled onto grilled vegetables, fish and meat. It can be substituted for olive oil or butter in cooked or cold dishes such as pasta salads, egg dishes, bean and grain salads, and so on. One of my favorite things to do is to add it to mashed potatoes instead of butter, and then garnish those potatoes with some of the fried shallots as well.

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To make fried shallots and shallot oil, peel and slice 8 oz (1/2 lb) of shallots into slices about 1/8th of an inch thick. You can go a bit thicker, but be careful not to slice them too much thinner or they will burn up in the oil. Measure out a cup and a half of oil and pour into a wok, deep skillet or wide saucepan. I use a pan called a sauteuse for this and many other preparations. It’s flat like a saucepan, wide like a skillet and very deep with raised sides. An ordinary skillet with work fine provided it’s not super shallow. Peanut oil is most traditional, but a neutral oil such as sunflower or vegetable will work as well. Often I will use a mixture of half peanut and half vegetable for a well-rounded flavor.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it is quite hot. Test the heat by dropping a cube of stale bread in–if it sizzles up right away your oil is ready. Add the shallots and fry for a minute or two. Then reduce the heat to medium-low. There is no pre-set or perfect time for frying the shallots. They are done when they are nicely browned but not burned. A good rule is to remove them from the oil before you think they are finished. They will cook a bit more after being removed from the oil, and a little bit undercooked is far preferable to burnt. Overcooked shallots have a strong, bitter flavor that is unpleasant. They will also impart a bitterness to the oil if burned.

To remove the shallots, I use a spider or metal spatula with drainage holes. Tongs will also work, but may damage the crispy texture of the shallots. Place the fried shallots on a paper or kitchen towel placed on top of a plate. Allow to cool, and store at room temperature in plastic or ceramic with a plastic wrap covering. Allow the oil to cool and strain through wire mesh or cheesecloth into a jar. This can also be kept at room temperature, but will eventually become rancid. You may of course refrigerate it, but of course allow for some time to sit out at room temperature before using. The fried shallots may be refrigerated but I find this destroys their texture. They usually don’t last long enough in my house to spoil, even when stored at room temperature. They should last at least a week if covered loosely with plastic wrap.

This procedure can also be used to create other fried garnishes and flavored oils. A very good one is made of spring onions, perhaps with ginger or garlic added. Thin slivers of garlic are also popular, and traditionally used as a garnish for fish and seafood soups as well as salads and noodle dishes.

A final word of caution : the oil will become rancid over time, so always make sure to taste it before bringing it to the table.

Pickled Burdock Root

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Place in the bottom of a glass pint jar :

1/2 oz turmeric root, peeled and sliced into a few long strips (optional, can use turmeric powder instead)

1 tsp whole black peppercorns

1 tsp whole yellow or black mustard seed

1/2 tsp whole pieces of vietnamese cinnamon

1 star anise, broken up

Fill with peeled burdock batons : cut batons to the height of the jar (allowing room for the spices and headspace) and about half as thick around as a pencil. Pack batons into jar until you cannot fit any more. Keep all the batons vertical. Trim any that stick out too far. This should require around 3/4 of a pound to a pound of burdock root.

Heat in a small saucepan until the sugar and salt are dissolved :

1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

When dissolved and the vinegar is still hot, pour into the filled jar. Allow to cool, then cover and refrigerate. Add more seasoned rice vinegar as needed to cover the batons.

This will be ready to eat when cool, but tastiest after at least 24 hours. It should last several weeks.

This can be made with either wild burdock root or the cultivated kind sometimes found in asian markets.