Yucatán Bentosh

This inspired take on the traditional rice bowl comes from a trip to the Yucatán peninsula. After discovering these bright pink pickled onions (escabeche de cebolla) in Mérida, I needed a place for them. As with all my recipes, the ingredients here can vary— here, I’ve used ground beef. But it is just as good with shredded spiced chicken or beef, or beans. If you’ve got the time, you could even take this to the next level with Mayan style Cochinita Pibil, which is another dish I first had in Mérida. Cochinita Pibil is like pulled pork, but with a kick from sour orange juice instead of vinegar. There’s a good recipe for this on rickbayless.com.

For this four person version, you’ll need:
• Ground beef (a pound or so)
• One red onion (medium size or however much pickled onion you want)
• Two small/medium yellow onions (one for the rice, one for the beef)
• Medium tomato for the rice
• Two cups Jasmine rice
• Cumin
• Chili powder
• Garlic (two or three cloves should be good)
• Diced tomatoes (14.5oz can)
• Iceberg lettuce (to me, iceberg tastes the best here since it is cool and kind of sweet)
• Cilantro leaves (I pluck the leaves unless the stems are really tender)
• White vinegar (around a cup)
• Salt
• Olive or canola oil
• Additional toppings: avocado, jalapeno slices, shredded cheese….

Equipment I used:
• Three quart saucepan for the rice
• Twelve inch frying pan for the meat
• One quart saucepan for the onions
• Glass bowl with lid for marinating the onions
• Mesh strainer
• Cutting Board
• 8 inch chef’s knife

Work on the onions first because they need time to cool; you can also make them early in the day or days in advance. Thinly slice or roughly chop one medium size red onion and boil covered in water for two minutes or so, until they soften. Don’t worry when you see their color fade. Drain the onions, place in a bowl big enough for them, and cover with white vinegar. Now the magic will happen: they’ll start turning bright pink.

Get a pot out for the rice. Here, I am making around five cups cooked, I think. Add some oil to the pot, I use about a tablespoon of olive or canola oil, and a teaspoon of salt. You can set this on low while your finely chop a half of a yellow onion. Saute the onion until it’s kind of soft. While this is going on, finely dice a medium size tomato or two small ones, or half a ginormous one. When the onion is done, add about a teaspoon each of cumin and chili powder and let that warm up a bit. Add the tomato and saute for a minute. Stir in two cups of rice— I’ve been using Jasmine rice here—and three cups of water and bring to a boil; then cover and set on low for seventeen minutes. This is the perfect rice timing I got from one of my first cookbooks, a ‘learn to cook’ cookbook by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey, but once I accidentally just turned the burner off and it sat for the seventeen minutes on its own heat and it was fine. Who knows, every time I think something is a ‘must,’ I find it may not be so. But the general rule is a cup and a half of water for every cup of rice and seventeenish minutes. You could also make cilantro lime rice. Or you could also use Near East Rice Pilaf Spanish Rice to cut down on prep time; two boxes would equal about what I have here. Put the bowls on the stove to warm up.

Once the rice is on its own, start browning your ground beef while you chop one yellow onion and a few cloves of garlic. Add the onions and garlic to the meat and brown everything up a bit before adding around a tablespoon of chili powder and a teaspoon of cumin. Give the spices a minute to bloom before adding a 14.5 (why isn’t it 15 ounces?) can of diced tomatoes and their juice. Bring to a boil and then let this simmer. I stir it every few minutes; sometimes I need to add a little water.

While the meat and rice are cooking, you can get the toppings ready. Toppings can be a lot of things here: any kind of lettuce, chopped tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, any kind of salsa, cilantro leaves, sliced jalapeno peppers, roasted peppers, shredded cheese, gosh what else? Don’t forget the pickled onions. I’m sure there’s other stuff. Oh, lime quarters (maybe not with the pickled onions). Avocado. Beans too. I’m allergic to legumes so I can’t really recommend what kind, but they could be in addition to or instead of the meat. Margaritas and mojitos pair well with this. Duh. But Mexican Coke in the green bottle is awesome. Wait! Horchata! That would be most awesome.

Notes: I’m starting to buy some different chili powders. Just like olive oil, there are a lot of different flavor notes in them: different kinds of smoky, some have citrus flavors, and others are almost sweet, some are H-O-T. I find them in local Hispanic markets, where I also see a lot of whole dried peppers. I haven’t advanced to grinding my own, but one day I’ll probably give that a try just to see if it makes a difference. Whole Foods has some different ones now. I use grass-fed ground beef all the time now. In this dish, you can’t really taste the difference, but you can appreciate the tender texture of the grass-fed beef. I also want to try cotija or queso blanco. I’ve made this with jack cheese, but I wasn’t crazy about the flavor.

Copyright © 2017 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

Thai Beef and Basil

I keep a few well-wrapped packages of ground beef in the freezer for quick recipes like this. You could use any ground meat or tofu. I’ve tried it with both Italian and Thai basil. I like them both; the Thai basil is a little stronger. I have also used brown, Basmati, and Jasmine rice and I think I like the Jasmine best. Again, this would have been another good recipe for when I first lived in New York and had nothing but a two burner hot plate and a toaster oven.

For this four person version you’ll need:
• Around a pound to a pound and a third of ground beef
• Two cups Jasmine rice
• Around six cloves of garlic
• A half cup beef broth or water
• Two cups basil leaves
• Two to three carrots julienned or shredded (I use this Japanese julienne tool)
• Tablespoon of Canola oil (if cooking rice in pot)
• Half cup rice wine (optional)
• Salt and pepper
• Two red chiles or add chili garlic sauce at end
For the sauce:
• A quarter cup of soy sauce
• A quarter cup of fish sauce or oyster sauce or hoisin
• Tablespoon of sugar
To finish:
• One cup basil leaves (torn if big)
• Two to three carrots julienned or shredded (I use this Japanese julienne tool)
• Four to six scallions
• One lime cut into four wedges
• Chili garlic sauce
Cooking equipment I used:
• Ten inch frying pan for beef
• Pot for rice—I used a 3 quart saucepan, or rice cooker

If using frozen beef, get that started in the pan, breaking it up as it browns. Then make the rice how you want. I usually heat the rice up in a tablespoon of canola oil, stirring to coat, and then add a cup and a half of water for every cup of rice. Here, I used two cups of rice and three cups of water. Add salt to water if desired. Bring to a boil and cover for 15 minutes before fluffing. Put your bowls on the stove to warm up.

While the beef is browning, julienne the carrots, remove stems from basil, finelly slice the scallions, and take skins off garlic cloves. Stir the soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar together. When the beef is browned, add the garlic. You can slice, finely mince, or put the garlic through a press and add to the beef. Let this work together for a minute. Deglaze the pan with a half cup of rice wine and let that almost burn off. Then add the beef broth and two cups of basil. When the basil is wilted and the sauce is bubbling, it’s ready! Put some rice in the bowls, top with the beef and basil, then divide the the basil and carrots, then drizzle over the sauce, and finally, sprinkle the scallions. Serve with lime wedges and chili garlic sauce.

Copyright © 2016 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

Hoisin Tsukune with Cabbage

If my mother saw me eating this, she would scream. When I was a kid, none of my food could touch. Sometimes we would have Swanson’s TV dinners and one section would invade the other; she would have to cut all of the mixed stuff out. And even then, I wasn’t happy because the molecules had been in contact. This was one of the first bowls I did. It was originally a bento box and I wondered how it would taste together. I was super surprised that I liked the combination, especially the rice and the cabbage salad. This is another recipe that can work in a tiny kitchen: you only need one burner —or a rice cooker—and a toaster oven for the meatballs.

Meatball options: I have been using ground chicken breast. I seem to like the kind of mild flavor here, but you could really use any kind of ground meat— pork, turkey, even tofu. I’m also thinking about swapping out the scallions for chives or chopped spinach.

Rice options: I used basmati when I took the picture because I’m trying to use up a ridiculously enormous bag I bought at an Indian market. I usually make it with short grain sushi rice, but I would really be happy with any rice— even brown rice. I also think quinoa would be a good option.

Cabbage salad options: This can really be anything. I used savoy and red cabbage, but green cabbage or napa or any cabbage you want will work. I have been adding carrot and scallions, but you could really use a lot of different things: peppers, radish, what else? kale?

Sauce options: You can use store bought hoisin sauce to coat the meatballs if you have one you like. I used to have one I liked, but it disappeared, so now I make one that is a little more tomatoey than most traditional ones. You could also add peppers or Sriracha to the sauce to take heat level up.

Time note: The meatballs take me around 10-15 minutes to make and then 25-30 minutes in the oven. Everything else comes together while the meatballs cook— unless you use a rice cooker, in which case the rice can take around 50 minutes.

For this four person version you’ll need:
• Around a pound to a pound and a third of ground chicken breast
• Two cups short grain white sushi rice
• Half cup or so of Panko
• One large egg
• Tablespoon or so of grated ginger
• Eight scallions
• One to four or more garlic cloves, depending on taste
• Toasted sesame seeds
• Four cups finely shredded Napa cabbage
• One cup finely shredded red cabbage
• One large carrot grated
• Rice Vinegar (around a half cup, plus two tablespoons)
• Two tablespoons of toasted sesame oil
• Half a cup of ketchup or chili sauce
• Quarter cup of soy sauce
• Two tablespoons of brown sugar or honey
• Two tablespoons of rice vinegar
• Two tablespoons of orange juice (if you have it around)
• Tablespoon of Canola oil (if cooking rice in pot)

Cooking equipment I used:
13×18 sheet pan for meatballs (or toaster oven pan)
Pot for rice—I used a 3 quart saucepan, or rice cooker

Get the oven going at 400º F and then start on the meatballs— unless you’re using a rice cooker, then get the rice going first. In a large bowl, beat the egg. Finely mince three scallions (white to light green parts) mince or run through the garlic press one to four cloves of garlic depending on taste (I used four) and mince or grate a tablespoon or so of ginger. Add all of this plus a half cup of Panko to the egg. Now I get my sheet pan out and put it next to the bowl. Add the ground chicken and mix everything together. I usually make the meatballs around two inches diameter, giving me around fourteen meatballs. They’ll spend about 30 minutes in the oven to get brown.

If you’re doing the rice on the stove top, get the pot going on high and mix one tablespoon of canola oil and two cups of rice in the pot stirring for a minute to coat the grains before adding three cups of water. Bring to a boil and then cook on low for 20 minutes.

Now get the cabbage salad ready. Finely shred (I used a little hand-held mandolin) around four cups of Savoy cabbage, put in a large bowl, and coat with around a half cup of rice vinegar. Finely shred around cup of red cabbage and add that, then grate a large carrot and add that, then finely slice three scallions (white and light green parts) and add that, tossing after each addition. Then finely slice the two remains scallions on a diagonal and set aside to garnish. Toss in two tablespoons of toasted sesame oil. Set the salad aside but keep tossing it every few minutes while you make the sauce, tasting once or twice to see if it needs something more. Sometimes I add a little sugar, sometimes I add some red pepper flakes.

I usually make the sauce in a two cup Pyrex measuring cup. Combine two tablespoons of brown sugar or honey with two tablespoons of rice vinegar to dissolve and then add around a half cup of ketchup or chili sauce, around a quarter cup soy sauce, and around two tablespoons of orange juice (I only add this if I have it around). Taste it to see if you want to add more soy sauce or whatever.

By now the meatballs should be done. In a bowl, toss the meatballs until coated with however much sauce you want. Then you can layer the rice, cabbage salad, meatballs and top with scallions and toasted sesame seeds. I try to pause for a moment her to appreciate how cool it looks before I dig in.

Copyright © 2016 MRStrauss • All rights reserved

Lemon Polpette with Spinach

I never thought I would like meatballs with lemon in them, but over the years I kept seeing recipes putting lemon in meatballs, so I thought I would give it a try. Now I hardly ever make any of my other standard meatball recipes— recipes that took many moons to perfect. Although there is some preparation involved with the meatballs, overall the dish keeps the simplicity I was looking for. Actually, after watching a show about tiny houses— the ones built on trailer beds— I realized this would work well for a tiny kitchen: you could easily do the meatballs in a toaster oven and you only need a two burner stove for the rest.

Options: The lemon goes really well with spinach and probably other greens too— maybe chard or kale. I’ve been alternating between two sauces: one is Marcella Hazan’s classic with the onion and butter— which I won’t put here since it’s easy to look up— and the other is a kind of basic sauce with a little wine kick. These meatballs are all beef, but you can make them with a combination of beef, veal, and pork, or you can make them with ground chicken or turkey— maybe even tofu. I’m using 90% organic grass-fed beef because I think it has the most tender texture and a really clean beef flavor. I also make this with a panade of crusty Tuscan bread soaked in milk, but you could substitute with Panko, bread crumbs, or saltines. I usually make this with gemelli pasta but I could only find strozzapreti this time. Any pasta could work here; wagon wheels could be fun.

Timing note: It takes me about 10-15 minutes to make the meatballs and then they take around a half hour in the oven. Once the meatballs go into the sauce, I like to let them simmer for 20-25 minutes, but you can skip this step and have the meal done in less than 45 minutes. I usually check email or clean up while they simmer.

For this four person version, you’ll need:
• Around a pound and a third of 90% lean organic grass-fed beef
• One pound of gemelli pasta
• Large slice of Tuscan or Italian bread (around 1″ thick)
• A half cup or so of whole milk
• One large egg
• One tablespoon each of lemon zest and juice (or more, or less to taste)
• Garlic (I used four cloves in the meatballs and four in the sauce)
• Salt & pepper
• Olive oil (or other mild oil)
• Small yellow onion (or half a large one)
• Half cup of red wine
• 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes (I used Muir Glen Organic)
• 8 oz fresh baby spinach (or other greens)— save a few leaves to garnish
• One teaspoon crushed rosemary
Optional: fresh cracked pepper, Parmesan or Romano

Cooking equipment I used:
• Saute or saucepan (I used a 3 qt All-Clad lidded saute pan)
• 13×18 sheet pan for meatballs (or toaster oven pan)
• 4 qt stock pot for pasta and spinach

Put a rack in the upper third and get the oven going at 400ºF.

Start with the meatballs.  I like this recipe best when I make a panade with a large slice of crusty Tuscan or Italian bread in milk. If you want to do this, you need to get this going first. In a small bowl, break the bread into small pieces and add about a half cup of milk and then use a fork to kind of smush the bread and milk together; you’ll need to keep coming back and smushing it while you work on the other stuff. You may need to add more milk. If you don’t want to use bread, you can use a half cup of Panko or bread crumbs or even eight smashed-up saltines. You can soak these in milk or just add to the rest of the mix dry.

Next, line your sheet pan with parchment or foil if needed. In a large bowl, beat up one egg. To this you add around a tablespoon of lemon zest, around a tablespoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of crushed rosemary, minced or pressed garlic (I ran four cloves through the garlic press last time I made this but you may want to start with one), and around a teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Add the bread mixture or crumbs and the meat and mix everything together. Now you can make the meatballs. I have been making them a medium size, around two inches giving me 16 meatballs. If you are doing this in a toaster oven, you will need to make 8 larger meatballs. Once you have them done put them in the oven. They’ll take around twenty-five, maybe thirty minutes to get nice and brown.

Set your bowls on the stove to warm.

Next up is the sauce. As I mentioned before, I’ve been alternating between Marcella Hazan’s classic sauce and this basic one. In a large saute or saucepan (you’ll need room to put the meatballs in later if you want) add a few tablespoons of good-tasting olive oil and get that warming up on medium while you finely chop a small yellow onion or half of a large one and add to the oil. Turn the heat up to kind of sizzle but not brown the onions. Add a teaspoon of salt. Finely chop or put through the press however many cloves of garlic you want (I used four again). Add the garlic to the onions and saute until the onions are sort of translucent. Now deglaze the pan with a half cup of red wine and let it reduce to about half. Then add one 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. You can taste it now and see if it needs more salt or some pepper. If you think you want more sauce, you can add a 14.5 oz can of tomato sauce. Let this kind of simmer/bubble on medium/low with the lid slightly ajar.

When the meatballs are done, add them to the sauce.

There’s a little bit of a lag here depending on how you want to do this. I like to let the meatballs simmer in the sauce for 20-25 minutes, so I usually don’t start the pasta water until the meatballs go in the sauce. I use the time to clean up the prep area or go through the mail, whatever.

So, depending on your timing— gemelli usually takes 12-13 minutes— once the meatballs are in the sauce, get your pasta water started on high, salting it if you want, and get out the colander. Also get the spinach out. When the pasta is three minutes from finished, add the spinach, mixing it with the pasta as it wilts— if you try kale or chard, they may need an extra minute. You could probably add the spinach to the sauce— and I may try that— my worry is it will make the sauce taste bitter.

Once the pasta and spinach are drained, it’s ready. You can top with some Parmesan or Romano or both. A friend mentioned maybe goat cheese or feta. I’ll have to warm up to that idea a little bit. I guess fresh basil too— that wouldn’t clash with the spinach, would it? I’ve been garnishing it with a few fresh spinach leaves.

Notes: For olive oil, I use Columela or Nuñez de Prado— they both have a sort of spicy flavor, for sea salt flakes, I use Maldon, and for pepper, I use the Tellicherry variety. I use table salt for anything mixed in or cooked and save the sea salt flakes for finishing or roasting. Using these ingredients adds a little extra flavor to the dish and they’re getting much easier to find now. I also use grass-fed organic beef all the time now— the flavor, and especially the texture, are better.

Copyright © 2016 MRStrauss • All rights reserved