Wednesday, November 25, 2009

CSA Week 1 - Callaloo and Momofuku

So here's what I started the week with:

CSA Week 1
Four ears of corn, a bundle of callaloo, a bag of green beans,a head of lettuce, some cherry tomatoes, a Florida avocado, a bunch of dill, a few stalks of lemongrass, a bok choy, and a bundle of roselle (a/k/a Jamaican sorrel a/k/a Jamaican hibiscus).

First things first: the red petals of the roselle were steeped along with a stalk of the lemongrass and some fresh ginger to make a tea:

roselle tea
The dill became a tzatziki, after being chopped and mixed with some Greek yogurt, grated cucumber, garlic and lemon juice:


I know, so far we're not winning any James Beard awards.

From there, I drew much of my inspiration this week from the MomofukuMomofuku cookbook, after being immensely pleased with my first experiment with the bo ssäm recipe.


Some more lemongrass found its way into these pork sausage ssäms, as did the lettuce for the wraps:

pork sausage ssam
I liked this Vietnamese-flavored spin on the Korean ssäm (basically, a wrap) idea, and it was "easy peasy" as Jamie Oliver might say. But first a general comment: I am horrible with recipes. I cook by look, feel, smell, sound and taste, am not big on measuring, and often regard printed recipes the way Captain Barbossa regards the Pirates' Code - more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules.

With that said, in broad strokes, here's what I did. A pound each of ground pork and ground turkey (certainly no turkey in the original recipe; Mrs. F said make it healthy. Whatever.) were mixed with two stalks worth of finely chopped lemongrass, a couple chopped shallots, salt, sugar, fish sauce, sriracha, and a bit of flour to hold it together. I pressed the mixture into a square baking dish (you want it to be about 1-inch deep) and stuck it in the oven at 300F for 30 minutes (the recipe says 20, I upped it on account of the turkey). Pour off the excess fat, and when it's cooled to room temp, cut out 1x3-inch "sausages" and then grill them for a couple minutes on each side in a hot grill pan.

One of the great tricks I've picked up from the book is David Chang's super-simple "quick pickle" technique: for every cup of finely julienned veg (here carrot, though the recipe called for both carrot and daikon I had none of the latter), spinkle with 1 tsp. salt and 1 tbsp. sugar, toss well, and let it sit as long as you have time for. I put a few drops of water in the mix too to help move things along, and in about a half-hour the carrots had softened and had a nice salty-sweet tang not terribly dissimilar from the pickled veg you'll often get with a banh mi sandwich.

The pork "sausages" are topped with the "pickled" carrot, a dash of sriracha, and a sprig of cilantro, with a lettuce wrapper (the recipe also called for a fish sauce vinaigrette, but alas I had run out of fish sauce!).

Next up, the tomatoes, also drawn from the Momofuku cookbook:

tomatoes closeup
The book recounts that Jean-Georges Vongerichten told David Chang that this was the best dish they'd ever come up with, one that made him think "Why didn't I think of this first?" And it is a clever twist on the ubiquitous "caprese," using cherry tomatoes, tofu and shiso. The tomatoes are first peeled (cut an "x" on the bottom, drop into rapidly boiling water for about 10-15 seconds, pull them out and drop into an ice bath, and the skins will peel right off), then dressed in a simple vinaigrette of oil (I used canola) and vinegar (the recipe says sherry vinegar, which Chang uses often, I subbed rice wine vinegar, looking to go a bit lighter) in a 2 to 1 ratio, spiked with usukuchi soy sauce and Asian sesame oil. (A note for Hiro's Yakko-San fans: this is mighty similar to the dressing used on the crispy fish and onion salad.) The tomatoes go over slices of silken tofu (subbing for the mozzarella) and julienned shiso leaf (subbing for the basil). Really nice, light flavors, and they do indeed seem as if they should have been together forever.

OK, what to do with this callaloo?

I have already learned one CSA lesson: greens wilt quickly. After only a few days, the callaloo was looking pretty sad and droopy, and some of the leaves just didn't make it. After seeing what could be salvaged, there wasn't enough to make a traditional callaloo soup, so I went in a different but related direction. Most of the Jamaican and Trinidadian callaloo soup recipes I found used basically the same ingredients: onion, garlic, scotch bonnet pepper, crab, coconut milk. I'd found some nice dry pack scallops, so decided to use those for the seafood element, and the rest would become a sauce. I sauteed some onion, garlic and chile pepper in a little butter with salt and pepper, then added the julienned callaloo leaves and cooked for a couple minutes (many recipes warn not to overcook callaloo). I then used an immersion blender on it, and noticed that the blender gave it all a nice frothy consistency.

While keeping that warm, I quickly seared the scallops with another technique out of the Momofuku book. Pat the scallops dry and sprinkle with salt and white pepper. Pour a little bit of neutral oil (I used canola) into a hot pan, and put the scallops in the pan, pressing each one as you put it in to make sure the entire surface gets seared. After about 1 1/2 minutes, add a goodly amount of butter to the pan. Tilt the pan to pool the butter on one side and use a big spoon to baste the scallops as they continue to cook, about another 2 minutes. Pull from the pan and drain on paper towels (seared side up) before plating. Though they only cook on one side, this gives a really nice crusty sear without overcooking them.

scallops & callaloo
The scallops went on the plate, the callaloo sauce was pooled around them, and a sprinkle of finely chopped green onion on top for a little texture. The sweetness of the callaloo and coconut nicely complimented the natural sweetness of the plump sea scallops, but was still cut by the hint of heat in the sauce from the chile pepper.

Aside from setting the world record for f-bombs in a cookbook, Momofuku really is a great book. For those of us who often spend more time reading cookbooks than actually cooking (guilty!), it provides some interesting reading material on the genesis and trajectory of David Chang's restaurant career, insight into the process (or sometimes, the fortuitous lack thereof) behind the creation of a dish, and it has - like some of my other favorite cookbooks, such as the Zuni Cafe Cookbook and The French Laundry Cookbook - a true voice to it.

And then, when I did actually get around to cooking from it, the recipes so far have been money. Though some of them may seem daunting - the Momofuku ramen, with all of its sub-components, goes on for nearly 20 pages - many are actually mind-bogglingly simple. Indeed, several, like the simple "quick pickle" I described above, or the slow-cooked pork shoulder for the bo ssäm (or, for that matter, the pork belly used in the ramen and the famous pork buns) are odes to the simple alchemy of salt and sugar and nothing else. Even Sandra Lee could handle this.

Still awaiting their fate: green beans, corn, avocado and bok choy.


  1. Here's another CSA lesson:
    DON'T JUST THROW YOUR GREENS INSIDE THE FRIDGE UNPROTECTED! Put them in a plastic bag & close it before storing them in your veggie drawer. If they're already slightly limp from sitting in the warmth, sprinkle a few drops of water in with them. They'll stay fresh a LONG time!

  2. BTW-those recipes sound wonderful- my mouth is watering!!

  3. Thank you for the storage advice - lessons learned!

  4. Storage was one of the issues I had two years ago when I did CSA. I wrote a little post on storing lettuce as a result of it (with the help of Margie). Wish I had done CSA this year!

  5. I'm experimenting this week with inflating the bags I'm storing my greens in instead of squeezing all the air out. I really don't know if that's going to make them rot faster or slower. I'll report in my wrap up post when the new share arrives.

  6. I am a Trinidadian who loves cooking callaloo from home, now living in Canada. Yes the idea of using scallops in this dish is great. Oh yes, you can buy fresh taro or callaloo leaves/bush and place it in a freezer type ziplock bag for about 3 weeks - Oh yes donot wash the leaves before freezeing. The taro leaves uncooked freezes well. Take it out 4 hours before cooking time to use. Enjoy.