Monday, February 27, 2012

Southwest Black Bean Burgers

After mining through dozens of recipes, I've decided to post a choose-your-own-filling (with a spicy flare!) recipe for these Southwest Black Bean Burgers.  I'm giving so much leeway in this recipe because you basically can't go wrong with the classic Southwestern combo of black beans, onions, pepper, corn, and chile; despite the existence of so many variations on this dish.
Mushrooms are optional to create a more "meaty" burger-like consistency, but without them the texture of these burgers are still pretty firm- they even resemble the coloring of a medium cooked hamburger both inside and out! It's easy to forget you are eating vegetarian here. Speaking of, feel free to pile on the veggies: I've seen shredded carrots, beets, and radishes all added to the batter. Vegetables do tend to retain water though, so just make sure your patty consistency remains thick enough to stick together by balancing it out with the right amount of beans, egg and breadcrumbs to hold together. Conversely, stay in the Southwest theme by substituting crushed tortilla chips for breadcrumbs. Consider adobe chile, chopped jalapenos or cayenne pepper to create spice..adjust amounts accordingly depending on your gringo tolerance!

These burgers incorporate just about everything I can kvell about in a recipe. They are super healthy, filling, tasty, easy, quick, you can freeze the batter for later use, and the ingredients are cheap. I recommend topping with salsa, fat-free sour cream or yogurt, and avocado slices, and serving with a side of Baked Sweet Potato Fries, or serve mini patties hors d'oeuvre style with a dollop of salsa on top of each bite.

Southwest Black Bean Burgers
Yield: 4 servings
1 (14-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed (1 cup)
1/3 cup corn kernels (defrosted if frozen)
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/4 cup diced red or green pepper
1 serrano chile, minced
1 chipotle in adobo + 1/2 teaspoon adobo liquid OR 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon coriander spice and dash of cayenne pepper (if you love spice, try both!)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 egg (or egg white)
1/3 cup whole-wheat panko bread crumbs or crushed tortilla chips
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 clove minced fresh garlic
1/2 tablespoon lime juice or orange juice
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons canola oil, divided
Optional veggies: grated carrots, radishes or beets; shredded mushrooms
Optional toppings: salsa, fat-free sour cream or greek yogurt, sliced avocado, sliced tomato, cheddar cheese, whole-wheat hamburger buns, ketchup, hot sauce

1. Warm 1 tsp oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often. Add spices (if using), garlic, serrano chile, peppers, and optional veggies, and cook for a 5 more minutes.
2. While the vegetables cook, combine beans, corn, chipotle (if using), adobo liquid, cilantro, and lime/orange juice in a food processor or mash by hand in a large mixing bowl. Fold in cooked veggies (if liquidy, cook uncovered until vegetable liquid evaporates), egg, and bread crumbs/tortilla chips, and mix together. Season with salt and pepper.
3. To pan-saute: Heat 1 tsp oil in pan over medium heat. Pour batter (1/2 cup for large patties, 1/4 cup for hors d'oeuvre sized) and cook until browned on both sides, flipping once, about 8 minutes total.
    To bake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Form burgers on a lightly-oiled baking sheet, and cook for 25 minutes, until firm and lightly crusted.
4. Serve warm with toppings of your choice.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Spicy Peanut Noodles

Sesame noodles defined my childhood Chinese take-out Sunday nights.  I never left the table without second helpings (or sometimes thirds.)  My family became wary of our weekly tradition though after learning about the harmful effects of MSG, loaded salt, and saturated fat used in Chinese food cooking, and consequently substituted Sunday night take-out with more healthful alternatives.

Therefore, I was delighted to get my hands on this healthy version of my beloved sesame noodles. Serious Eat's Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad with Cucumbers, Red Peppers and Basil is the perfect makeover to a classic calorie-laden dish. Peanut butter provides the majority of calories in the salad, but they are derived from the LDL (bad) chloesterol-lowering "good fat". A heaping serving of julienned vegetables helps lighten up the calorie density while providing a nutrient boost, and whole wheat linguine or the fiber-rich, calorie-free Shirakati noodles (read more below) can be used to eliminate carb overload. Finally, preparing the dish yourself rids the mystery of any hidden additives, oils or salt that are potential in the restaurant-made counterpart. Another tip to maximum the health benefits of this dish: half the sauce and noodles while keeping the original quantity of veggies, and add a lean protein like grilled chicken to the mix.

Sesame oil is the key ingredient in this dish if you want it to taste authentic; I would not recommended substituting anything else. I mostly stuck to the original recipe here, but I did use a bit less chili sauce (as mine was garlic-chili and I didn't want it to overpower), and used lime juice and rice vinegar as I enjoy both. A huge cilantro buff, I stuck to this herb but would highly recommend basil as well.

Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad with Cucumbers, Red Peppers and Basil (original link here)
Yield: 4 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes


8 ounces fresh Chinese noodles (see note)

For the Dressing:
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons fresh ground chili sauce (such as Huy Fong brand Sambal Oelek or Sriracha), more or less to taste
2 tablespoons juice from 2 limes (or rice wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil
1 clove garlic, grated on a microplane grater
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
3 tablespoons warm water

To Assemble:
2 large red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, sliced into thin strips
1 large cucumber, seeded and sliced into fine julienne or small half moons
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil, mint, or cilantro leaves
8 scallions, finely sliced at a severe bias to create long, thin strips
2 jalapeƱo peppers, seeds and ribs removed, sliced into fine strips
1 to 2 red thai bird chilis, finely minced (optional)
1/2 cup roughly crushed roasted peanuts

1. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl of ice water. Agitate noodles until thoroughly chilled. Set aside while you make the dressing.
2. In a large bowl, combine peanut butter, soy sauce, chili sauce, lime juice, sesame seed oil, garlic, sugar or honey, and water. Whisk until homogeneous. Drain noodles thoroughly and add to bowl. Add bell peppers, cucumber, bean sprouts, basil leaves, scallions, jalapeƱos, and bird chilis (if using). Toss to combine. Serve immediately, topped with roasted peanuts.

What are Shirataki Noodles?
Shirataki noodles are a Japanese noodle composed of a dietary fiber called glucomannan that is either extremely low-calorie or calorie-free.  Similar to tofu, they do not have much taste on their own but easily absorb the sauce or dressing they are submerged in. Shirataki noodles are also called "yam noodles", as they are made from the flour of the yam-like Konjac plant.
Approach these noodles as you would any other high-fiber food: if you don't normally eat a lot of fiber, eat a moderate moment to make sure the fiber doesn't get funky on your stomach. Also make sure to drink lots of water with the noodles. A recent converter to shirataki noodles myself, I can personally vouch for them: the texture is spot on comparable to any thin Asian noodle, and twirls perfectly with chopsticks too :)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chocolate Ganache Truffles

I often get asked if I blog about every recipe I make. The answer is no: if a dish comes out mediocre, I won't write about it, and then there's the obvious: if a recipe ends up being a disaster, and I can't even finish it. Sadly, I found myself in the second situation last night. In a miserably failed attempt to make Valentines Day themed strawberry French macarons, I found myself- and my kitchen- covered in head to toe pepto-bismol pink batter that refused to bake appropriately in the oven. Fine Laduree, you win....I'll wait in that endless line for my pretty little macarons like everyone else.

But! There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Precisely, inside the macaron. I had purchased ingredients to make chocolate ganache filling, the go-to chocolate concoction for all amazing desserts: you can use it to ice a cake, but its most common use is to fill truffles. And what is more appropriate for Valentines Day than truffles! Hence, these Chocolate Ganache Truffles were born. (Also appropriate: ganache means "idiot" in French, which is basically how I felt in my pink-battered hurricane of a kitchen last night.)

Ganache is super easy to make: it only uses two ingredients, chocolate and cream, and the formation of its signature rich consistency is out of your hands: it emulsified by sitting for a few hours on its own. A few years ago Mark Bittman wrote an article entitled "At the Heart of Truffles, Adaptable Ganache", where he quipped: "If the word 'ganache' intimidates you, you are not alone. Maybe if the stuff were called 'basic, simple and entirely superior chocolate sauce,' more people would make it."

The word "adaptable" defines this recipe. You can add flavored liquor to the chocolate, and roll your truffles in whatever coating you want: dutch chocolate, powdered sugar, cinnamon, chopped nuts, sprinkles. The result is a beautiful mosaic of assorted textures and colors.  Another fun (and easy) suggestion: to breakaway from the traditional truffle ball, set your ganache in parchment paper-lined ice cube trays to add some squares into the mix. If you do this though, make sure the two ends of the parchment strip are longer than the lining of the tray, so you can tug them up to pull the truffle out of its mold after its been refrigerated.

Chocolate Ganache Truffles (courtesy of Serious Eats)
Yield: 2 dozen truffles
Special (optional) equipment: immersion blender, melon baller, ice cube trays

8 ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (a cacao content of about 60% works best)
½ cup of cream (for chocolate with 70% cacao, increase the cream by about a tablespoon or two)
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
1 tablespoon rum, or other liquor (optional) I used orange flavored liquor
1/2 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder for coating the truffles (or use chopped nuts or melted and tempered chocolate), confectioners sugar, cinnamon, sprinkles, etc. 

1. Chop the chocolate into fairly even, small pieces—a heavy serrated knife works well. 

2. Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat until it begins to boil. Remove from heat. Add the chopped chocolate to the cream. For an extra smooth truffle, add butter. Add any liquor here, too. Wait a minute or two until most of the chocolate and butter is melted.

3. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Whisk until smooth. Once the chocolate is mostly melted, quickly but gently transfer the mixture to a bowl so that you can form your emulsion in a cooler environment. 

4. Whisk the mixture vigorously until it’s thick and smooth, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl and incorporating all the cream and chocolate. If you have one, an immersion blender helps make sure the emulsion is stable. 

5. If the ganache shows signs of breaking at this point (if it looks curdled or oily), you can add a few drops of cream to help re-emulsify it. A well-emulsified ganache should look like chocolate pudding: thick, smooth, and glossy. Leave it in a cool spot to firm up for at least four hours, ideally overnight. (If are using ice cube trays to form your truffles instead of scooping them into balls, pour the ganache directly into the trays after it has reached the appropriate “chocolate pudding” texture. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to manipulate the batter because it will begin to harden, so do this immediately.)
6. Once the ganache has set into a uniformly firm mass, scoop out small balls with a melon baller or spoon. Roll each one briefly in the palms of your very clean (or gloved) hands. It helps if you have cold hands or are in a cool room. 

7. Chill the truffles briefly, for about 15 minutes, while you prepare whatever you’d like to roll or enrobe them in.
If your ganache isn’t firm enough to scoop into balls, you can chill it in the fridge to harden. Or, whip it very briefly until the color just begins to lighten—about 30 seconds on medium-low with a hand mixer. Let it set again and it will firm up.

8. Roll the truffles in cocoa powder, confectioners sugar, etc. shaking off any excess cocoa. You can also roll them in chopped nuts or enrobe them in melted and tempered chocolate. 

9. Store them at room temperature for up to a week, in the fridge for two to three weeks, or in the freezer for two months. They taste best eaten at room temperature.