Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pan Seared Salmon with Charred Corn and Tomato Salad

Though I spent the majority of June confined within the walls of Grady Hospital, I've done my best to celebrate the start of summer through my cooking. To me, summer is all about simple meals that highlight fresh and seasonal fruits, vegetables and proteins. A few weeks ago, I cooked a congratulatory dinner for my friend Brandon, who recently matched into a Laryngology fellowship on the west coast. Congrats, Brandon!

The meal was inspired by a seductive display of brightly colored heirloom tomatoes that I found at Whole Foods. Though available year-round, off season tomatoes tend to be rather unappetizing. But come the warmer weather, these fruit become big, round, and juicy. Tomatoes are also loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, making them one of my favorite summer ingredients.

The display of heirlooms reminded me of an episode of Barefoot Contessa where Eli Zabar made Ina a spectacular salad from just 3 ingredients - heirloom tomatoes, tarragon, and red wine vinegar. How bad can that be? I channeled my inner Ina (which I do more frequently than I should admit) and carefully picked out a half dozen perfectly ripened (slightly firm, but not hard) tomatoes of varying sizes and colors, which were ready to serve that evening.

In the spirit of simplicity, I decided to serve this salad with a basic pan seared salmon started on a very hot grill pan and then finished in the oven. It was perfection. To complete the meal I made another summer staple, fresh corn. I lament over the bad rap corn gets because of it's highly processed cousin, high fructose corn syrup. Fresh corn is an excellent source of plant based carbohydrates that, along with other complex carbs, are an essential part of a heart healthy diet. I made Ottolenghi's charred corn salad with fresh mint, parsley, cilantro, and jalapeños. It's flawless and so versatile.

Before we get to the recipe, a quick pat on the back (for myself). Though easily confused for Dr. Mike, I reserve my scrubz selfies for special occasions such as surviving my last call day of intern year! It's remarkable how much I've learned and grown as a doctor and person in just one year, but the amount I still don't know is humbling. I'm eager to share the ups and downs, new responsibilities, and call room gossip (err, kidding) that comes along with second year. I'm also excited about my future blog posts and look forward to seeing how my work experiences reflect in my cooking and writing.

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Pan Seared Salmon with Charred Corn and Tomato Salad:
  • High quality ingredients are essential for simple recipes. 
    • Look, smell and taste* (within reason) ingredients as you shop. Buy what's in season. 
      • *To be clear, I'm a doctor, not a lawyer. Take samples at your own risk. I personally think trying a couple of grapes before buying the bunch or tasting a few olives from the olive bar before choosing is acceptable as long as you're sanitary. Others, may feel differently.    
  • These recipes don't require precise measurements. Taste frequently and trust your palate.
  • Tomatoes and salt are a magical pairing, so season liberally*. 
    • *If you have conditions such as high blood pressure, kidney disease, or congestive heart failure, salt restriction (generally less than 1.5 g per day) is especially important 
    • Of note, recent American Heart Association guidelines recommend salt restriction even in healthy patients. 
  • Try the dish as written or make just one component (salmon, charred corn, tomato salad) 
  • Get your pan hot before adding fish. 

Heirloom Tomato Salad:
Heirloom Tomato Salad Ingredients:
  • 6 heirloom tomatoes, varying color and size, cut into slices (for larger tomatoes) and wedges (medium and small tomatoes) 
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Bunch of fresh tarragon 
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heirloom Tomato Salad Recipe:
Take the sliced and and wedged tomatoes and arrange nicely in a large shallow bowl or serving platter. Season generously with kosher salt. Liberally drizzle red wine vinegar over all the tomatoes. Using kitchen scissors, clip tarragon leaves off of their stem over the salad. Season with several grinds of black pepper. Pop a tomato into your mouth and make adjustments to personal taste. Allow salad to sit for 10 minutes for flavors to mingle. Serve at room temperature. 

Charred Corn Salad:
Charred Corn Ingredients:
  • 4 ears of corn (fresh and in season), shucked
  • 1/2 small onion, thinly sliced or diced small (size of corn kernel)
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced or diced small 
  • 3 tablespoons torn mint leaves
  • 3 tablespoons torn parsley leaves
  • 3 tablespoons torn cilantro leaves
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Charred Corn Recipe:
Heat a grill pan, electric grill, or outdoor grill (preferred method) to high. Coat corn with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place corn over heat, turning until all sides browned and crisped, about 12 minutes on an outdoor grill, but may take significantly longer depending on heat source. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

While corn is cooking, combine the onion and lime juice in a small bowl and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Stir in the maple syrup, jalapeño, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

With a sharp knife, cut a small tip off each ear of corn to create a flat edge. Using the flat edge, prop corn upright in a large bowl. Run knife down each side of the corn to cut off the kernels. Mix the corn kernels with the onion and jalapeño mixture. Add the fresh herbs. Season to taste and serve.

Pan Seared Salmon:
Seared Salmon Ingredients
  • 4 salmon filets with skin on, 7 oz each (one filet per person) 
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Seared Salmon Recipe
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set aside a parchment lined baking sheet.

Heat a ridged grill pan or electric grill to highest setting. Coat salmon liberally with oil and season both sides with salt and pepper. Once pan is very hot, place each filet flesh side down on grill (pink side down, skin facing up). Allow fish to sear (with minimal disturbance) for about 3 minutes, until an outer crust is formed. Carefully transfer each filet off the grill and onto the lined baking sheet, skin side down. Cook in oven for 4 to 5 minutes (for rare to medium rare) and up to 6 minutes*. Plate with charred corn and tomato salad and serve immediately.

*Regarding cook times: Remember, salmon will continue cooking a bit even when out of the oven. So even if salmon appears slightly under for your desired doneness, think twice before throwing the fish back int he oven for another 1 or 2 minutes.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Tuna Sashimi Pizza on Scallion Pancakes

June 17 marks my one month blogiversary. How has it only been one month? I love writing about my culinary adventures and have come to appreciate how deeply connected people are to the foods they eat. Every dish is a story, an emotion, a memory. I especially enjoy reliving my childhood through cooking. Earlier this week, for example, I made tuna sashimi pizza, a treasured dish from my upbringing at the Jersey Shore.

I was first introduced to tuna pizza at Yumi, one of my favorite Japanese restaurants from back home. My experiences there have largely influenced my current eating habits - lots of fish and sushi. Yes, it's true. Yumi is where I had my metamorphosis from young boy to sushi crazed, Juicy-Couture-wearing Jewish American Pri...err, I mean man...My second Bar Mitzvah, so to speak. In other words, Yumi's tuna pizza is basically a gateway food that has led me down a dangerous gastronomical path (I offer the photos below into evidence: Omakase at Sushi Yasuda).

I remember Sunday night family dinners at Yumi. We'd order one tuna pizza "for the table" and fought to the death over the last pieces. Over time, we needed two, then three...four...orders of tuna pizza "for the table." Eventually, we realized we needed a pizza for each of us. "Six orders of tuna pizza, please...for the table..." Totally reasonable. What made this appetizer so addicting was the warm, flaky scallion pancake crust topped with sliced tuna sashimi and drizzled with several Japanese sauces.

I recreated the dish by modifying chef Morimoto's signature tuna pizza recipe. The tuna is topped with cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, red onion, and anchovy aioli. I substituted the original tortilla base with a homemade scallion pancake crust. I admittedly dislike baking...probably because my mom demonized it growing up (she hated a messy kitchen)...but this is worth it! Also, if you can find quail eggs, top the pizza with a couple of egg yolks.

Tips/Tricks to Making the Perfect Tuna Sashimi Pizza
  • Make the dough first and do your other prep (mise en place) as the dough rests
  • All prep should be done prior to cooking the pancakes! It's best to serve the pancakes warm! 
  • Refer to my previous post on sashimi grade fish 
  • I used olive oil instead of vegetable oil for cooking as it's healthier 
    • Olive oil has a low smoke point, so watch closely. Adjust temp as needed.
    • Before adding oil to the pan, heat the pan on high heat until hot. Then pour in the oil and heat till shimmering (should take just a few seconds). Add pancake immediately.
  • Drizzle the aioli onto pizza using a pasty bag or a makeshift one made from plastic zip bags with a tiny piece of corner cut off .
  • Try new toppings/sauce combos. Salmon pizza sounds amazing. So does adding Sriracha!
  • If you do not have a food processor for aioli, you can (theoretically) use an old fashion whisk.
    • As with the food processor, whisk mixture rigorously while slowly pouring in oil. Continue till thickened.  
  • Find quail eggs! And get extra because they break. 
    • To open, try removing the top part of the shell with a serrated knife.
    • Pour egg onto hand. Remove whites. Place each yolk in its own small prep bowl.

Tuna Sashimi Pizza Ingredients: 
  • Scallion pancakes (recipe below)
  • 18-20 ounces sashimi grade tuna, thinly sliced (slice against the grain)
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, thinly sliced
  • Red onion, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise (about 1/2 cup)
  • Kalamata olives, pitted and thickly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
  • Anchovy aioli (recipe follows)
  • Soy sauce 
  • Cilantro, sprouts, or microgreens for garnish
  • Quail eggs, yolks only (optional as topping)
Serves 4 as an entree or 8 as appetizers. (Recipe makes 4 pizzas)

Scallion Pancake Ingredients:
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Enough olive oil for frying (may use vegetable oil if concerned about smoke) and for brushing
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 bunch scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced or chopped

Anchovy Aioli Ingredients: 
  • 2 egg yolks (chicken eggs)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons of anchovy paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tuna Sashimi Pizza on Scallion Pancakes Recipe:

For the Scallion Pancakes:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Mix the flour with water until a smooth dough is formed. Kneed the dough until it's very elastic (the dough should bounce back quickly when poked). Coat the dough ball lightly with olive oil, cover with a damp towel, and allow to rest while you prep the rest of the meal (or minimum of 30 minutes).

Divide the dough into two equal parts. Follow the steps below for each of the dough halves.

Roll out one of the dough halves into a thin rectangle (roughly 9 x 12 inches). Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle evenly with scallions and a generous amount of kosher salt.

Starting from the long end, tightly roll the dough to form a long log. Cut the log into two equal parts. Coil each half around itself to form dough bundles. Rest for at least 15 minutes. Be sure the aioli is made and pizza toppings prepped before moving on to the final step.

Take one of the rested dough bundles and flatten it with your hands or a rolling pin into a round, flat pancake about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. Place a 10 inch frying pan on high heat. Once pan is hot, add enough oil (olive vs vegetable) to thinly coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil shimmers (should happen quickly), immediately throw in a pancake. Allow each side to cook for about 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you make the other pancakes.

For the Anchovy Aioli:
Combine egg yolks, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, anchovy paste, and soy sauce into a food processor with an emulsifying blade.

With the machine running, slowly pour olive oil through the feed tube. The ingredients should thicken into a mayonnaise-like consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon mixture into a pastry bag (or makeshift version).

For the Tuna Pizza: (Assemble immediately prior to serving)
Take a scallion pancake and cover with sliced tuna. Add jalapeño, olives, onions, and tomatoes to taste. Drizzle generously with the anchovy aioli, a pinch of kosher salt, and a few dashes of soy sauce. Garnish with the cilantro or microgreens. Optional, but highly recommended: Carefully pour quail egg yolks over the pizza. Voilà!  

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Nordic Cured Salmon with Mustard Sauce

When I share my experiences from this past year as an Internal Medicine intern, I'm often asked how I endure such long hours and cope with death and tragedy. The simple answer is that I love what I do, so the long hours don't phase me. No, I'm definitely not phased by missing my 5 year college reunion, most holidays and weddings, family vacations to Miami, Israel, the Galapagos, and the Philippines. Nope, not phased at all. 

As for the tragedies I've witnessed as a doctor, the answer is a bit heavy for a food blog. I jokingly tell people I've become desensitized. I think I'm joking at least until I look down at my workstation at 6 in the morning to see my bagel with lox that I grabbed from the Grady cafeteria. Yes, I said the Grady cafeteria. As a New York Jew, I'm a bagel and lox snoboisseur. I would never eat lox, or bagels for that matter, from a hospital cafeteria....unless I was desensitized.

While the hospital lox was a personal low point, there are many questionable dietary choices among residents. On busy call days, for example, it's common for the attending or resident to bring in snacks...some not very healthy

I've challenged that practice by bringing healthy alternatives for my co-residents, medical students, attendings, and the awesome nurses and staff at my continuity clinic. I've shared cauliflower, pomegranate, and pistachio salad served with Greek yogurt, matzo ball soup, mujaderah, and fassoulieh.  They've all been well received (and one recipe was actually mentioned in a letter of recommendation), but the dish that has gotten the most accolades is my gravlax.  So please, don't completely discredit my lox authority because of the cafeteria gaffe.  

Gravlax is a Nordic preparation of cured salmon made with sugar, salt, and lots of dill. It's traditionally served on bread with mustard sauce.  I serve mine on pumpernickel bread with salmon roe and crème fraîche. I used a recipe from Ina's Back to the Basics with a few small adjustments. 

The recipe entails taking two salmon fillets filled with the brining ingredients, and allowing them to cure in the fridge for 48 hours. The hardest part is the wait, but it's very much worth it. I love this recipe because it's more economical (and tastier) than smoked salmon from the market, which comes in expensive, small quantity packages. This recipe makes plenty to feed a family breakfast for a week or to serve on a platter for a party. It's also heart-healthy given the omega-3s, but beware if you need to follow a low sodium diet. 

Also, special thank you to Ben for saving the day when I passed out watching Top Chef before packing up the gravlax to take to work the following morning. I woke up disappointed only to find a bag in the fridge with a hand written note stating that all the ingredients were inside and ready to assemble at the hospital.  It was so thoughtful. Ben sliced the gravlax, crusted and cut the bread into little rectangles, chopped some herbs for garnish, and then packed it up into tupperware along with some crème fraîche and the jar of salmon roeCouldn't ask for a better sous chef. 

Tips/Tricks to make the perfect Nordic Cured Salmon with Mustard Sauce:
  • Fresh ingredients are essential. It's a simple recipe, so the quality of ingredients matter.
  • Unlike salmon tartare that required sashimi grade fish, the curing process of gravlax makes those extra precautions unnecessary
  • Have some heavy cans available to weigh down the salmon
  • Slicing the salmon is challenging at first, but there's plenty of fish to practice with. The less attractive pieces are still edible.
  • You can prepare the gravlax slices, mustard sauce, sliced pumpernickel in advanced, but only assemble the sandwich when ready to serve to prevent sogginess. 

Gravlax Ingredients:
  • 3 pound salmon (with skin), cut in half crosswise 
  • 1 bunch of dill
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons crushed peppercorns (white and/or red)
  • 1 tablespoon crushed fennel seeds
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • Mustard sauce for serving (recipe below)
  • Sliced pumpernickel bread for serving
  • Salmon roe for serving (optional)
  • Sour cream or crème fraîche for serving (optional)  

Mustard Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground dry mustard
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Nordic Cured Salmon With Mustard Sauce Recipe:
For the Gravlax:
Place one of the salmon halves in a deep dish skin side down. Pile salmon with the dill, followed by sugar, salt, peppercorns, fennel seeds, and vodka. Place the other salmon half on top, flesh side down (skin should be facing the ceiling).

Wrap "salmwich" in plastic, weigh down with heavy cans and refrigerate for 48 hours, flipping every 12. Slice and enjoy. 

For the Mustard Sauce:
Mix the dijon mustard, ground mustard, sugar, and vinegar together in a small bowl. Whisk together as you slowly add the olive oil. Stir in the dill. Keep refrigerated until ready to use. 

How to Assemble the Gravlax "Salmwich":
Take slices of pumpernickel bread and lightly coat with mustard sauce (too much sauce will overpower the salmon). Add the desired amount of salmon to each slice and then add a small spoonful of salmon roe and sour cream.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Brown Rice with Caramelized Onions and Lentils

Mujadarah is a classic Middle Eastern dish that consists of rice, lentils and caramelized onions. It's substantial enough to be a stand alone dish served with Greek yogurt, but is also fantastic with chicken and other proteins. Growing up, there was always leftover mujadarah to be found in the fridge ready to heat up. Things haven't changed much, as this remains a favorite dish of mine to have around on busier months. Mujadarah is packed with healthy ingredients (more on that below), but is also inexpensive (see...proof that I can survive without infusing every dish with saffron and morels), and very versatile (easy to throw in a poached egg or other fun toppings)! Over the past year, I've made this dish my own by combining flavors from Ottolenghi and Poopa Dweck's recipes with my own additions.

The American Heart Association recommends a diet rich in fiber derived from whole grains as part of an overall heart-healthy diet. Fiber may help lower blood cholesterol levels as well as the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. Fiber also keeps you feeling full, so it may help prevent obesity. The lentils in this dish are an excellent source of both fiber and protein, which make the dish incredibly satisfying. This recipe is also a great source of whole grains as it uses brown basmati rice which is rich in both fiber and fat soluble vitamins. Brown rice has a nuttier taste compared with refined (not in the cultured sense) white rice, which gets milled of the outer bran layer and stripped down to nothing (how humiliating), becoming "empty carbs". I'll stick with brown rice, por favor. Serve with a few dollops of low fat Greek yogurt and we're really talking business.

While Mujadarah traditionally uses fried onions, I have two alternative methods of caramelizing onions. I most often use the oven method where I roast the sliced onions with olive oil at 400 degrees for about an hour, mixing every 15-20 minutes. This approach uses far less oil than frying and preserves the crispy, caramelized onion texture and taste. The downside, however, is that some rogue onions may decide to burn, so you really need to watch it closely the whole time. The second method (which I just tested for the first time and love) is Alton Brown's microwave method. I was amazed at how sweet and delicious the onions became in the microwave, though they were considerably more mushy than the fried or roasted alternatives. (I'll need to test this method with thicker onion slices in the future, so look out for updates). Both methods are great, and recipes are below for your enjoyment.

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Mujadarah:
  • If you have a food processor with a slicing blade, give it a try prepping the onions. It will save you time, but is definitely not necessary. I used a level 3 on my adjustable slicing attachment for the Breville Sous Chef.
  • Having a plan and good time management is really helpful. Start with the onions. While they're cooking, work on the lentils and then the rice.
  • When cooking the rice, let it get to a true boil before covering. Once boiling, cover and lower the temp to your lowest setting and don't open the lid.
  • Cook times may vary between brands of brown rice. I used Lundberg organic brown basmati rice.

For the Onions:
  • 4 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (2 tablespoons for oven method)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda (only for microwave method)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Mujadarah:
  • 1 1/4 cups lentils (green or brown)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 1 cup brown basmati rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 1/3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
  • Low fat Greek Yogurt (My favorite is Fage) for serving 

Mujadarah Recipe:
Place the rice in a bowl, cover with plenty of cold water, allow to sit for 30 minutes while you continue with your prep work. Drain and set aside.

Cook onions using either the microwave or oven method (see below).

While onions are cooking, place the lentils in a small sauce pan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, cook for 12-13 minutes, until softened, but still retaining a bite. Drain and set aside.

In a medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan with a lid, toast the coriander and cumin seeds over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until aromatic. Add the rice, olive oil, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, kosher salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Mix well so that rice is well coated in oil and spices, add the lentils, then add the water. Bring to a rapid boil, then simmer for 40 minutes covered with tight fitting lid (at the lowest possible temperature). Do not be tempted to open the lid prematurely.

Remove from heat, quickly lift the lid and place a clean kitchen towel over the rice and immediately seal again with lid. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Add the caramelized onions to the rice and fluff with a fork, garnish with parsley, and serve with low fat Greek yogurt. Enjoy!

Method 1: Microwaved Caramelized Onions:
Place half the thinly sliced onions in a large microwave-safe mixing bowl and mix with 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Add the rest of the onions and add the additional 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 10 minutes.

Removed bowl from the microwave and carefully uncover and drain any excess liquid. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the baking soda. Microwave uncovered for 15 minutes. Stir well and again drain any excess liquid.

Microwave uncovered at 3 minute intervals for an additional 15-20 minutes, stirring well after each interval until the desired level of brownness is achieved. Set aside until ready to use.

Method 2: Oven Roasted Caramelized Onions:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Using clean hands, mix the sliced onions with 2 tablespoons of olive oil (may need slightly more to coat all the onions) and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Divide evenly onto 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper so that each baking sheet has a single layer of onions.

Place the baking sheets in the oven and cook for about 1 to 1.5 hours, mixing every 15 to 20 minutes, until onions are browned, but not burnt. Note, once onions have shrunken considerably, you can consolidate the onions onto 1 baking sheet for the remainder of the cooking. Once done, set aside until ready to use.