Recipe: Sea Urchin Spaghetti

I was in the mood for something really decadent yesterday, so when fresh sea urchin (uni) caught my eye at our local Japanese grocery store, Little Tokyo Marketplace, I really couldn’t resist getting some. I decided to make a sea urchin pasta dish, something kind of similar to the sea urchin spaghetti at the restaurant Chaya in West Hollywood.

It was amazing!! As soon as I finished my plate, I wished I had more. But, at $6.99 a package for sea urchin, this is going to remain a special occasion recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 servings of gluten-free spaghetti (I’ve still been using M&S gluten-free pasta that Jon brings me back from England)
  • 5 whole cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of red chili flakes (approximate)
  • 1 package of cherry tomatoes, washed and sliced in half
  • package of sea urchin (you can get this at most Asian markets that sell fish)
  • leaves from about 6 sprigs of fresh parsley, chopped finely
  • salt

Bring a large pot of water to boil.

While waiting on the water, pour the olive oil into a large frying pan (the pan will have to be big enough to hold the pasta later). Add the garlic and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, until the garlic cloves caramelize. You’ll want  to flip the garlic cloves every few minutes, so that all sides are caramelized evenly.

Next, add the chili flakes to the frying pan, turn the heat up to medium, and saute until crispy, about two minutes. Next, add in the cherry tomatoes, and cook until just wilted. Set aside.

When the water in the pot boils, add a generous spoonful of salt and the spaghetti, and cook until barely al dente. Drain the pasta, setting aside one cup of the pasta water for use later.

After you’re done cooking the pasta, add about 3/4 of your sea urchin to the frying pan with the tomatoes and garlic. Turn the heat back on, add a generous splash of the reserved pasta water to the pan, and saute until the uni is blended into the water. Then, add the cooked spaghetti to the pan, and mix it into the sauce. Then, add the parsley, and mix. When ready to serve, place spaghetti on a plate with the remaining sea urchin as garnish. Enjoy!

Recipe is adapted from here.

Recipe: Vegetarian Chorizo and Potatoes (Mexico)

This morning, we drove to Boyle Heights to check out the Mexican grocery store El Super. It was super all right. Walking into the store was like taking a trip into Mexico. You’re greeted with the smell of fresh homemade tortillas, big displays of chiles, corn husks, and cactus. The produce is fresh and everything in the store is so cheap!

One of my favorite finds in the grocery store was vegetarian chorizo. Often, fake meat has wheat as an ingredient, but this package proclaimed it was gluten-free! I decided to make some for brunch today in a chorizo and fried potato recipe I found in my favorite Latin American cookbook, Jose Garces’ “The Latin Road Home”.

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Jon had a version of this recipe with real meat chorizo, and this was his review: “Tasty! Would go great with salsa verde and scrambled eggs”

Ingredients (serves 2):

  • 1/2 pack of vegetarian chorizo, crumbled
  • 1-2 yukon gold or similar potatoes, cubed
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, diced
  • olive oil
  • handful of crumbled quesa fresc0 (for serving)

Boil water in a medium pan. Add potatoes and boil until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain potatoes and set aside. Heat olive oil in a frying pan and add chorizo, onion, and jalapeno. Cook for about 10 minutes until onions are caramelized. Then, add potatoes to the frying pan, and more olive oil as needed. Cook for about 5-10 minutes until potatoes are crispy and fried. Serve with crumbled quesa fresco and your favorite Mexican breakfast dishes!

Review: Sarita’s Pupuseria in Grand Central Market (Downtown, Los Angeles)

Grand Central Market  is another gem in Downtown LA. It’s a dusty old place that has been in operation since 1917, and has lots of stalls that sell super cheap vegetables, tacos, Asian rice bowls, fish, ceviche and more.

Recently Grand Central Market has been going through some big changes. A new breakfast place called Eggslut opened up a few weeks ago, and just last week a fancy cheese shop opened up. While it’s nice to see some new things in the market, I really hope the affordable old-world food stalls can survive the gentrification!

One of my favorite classic stalls in the market is Sarita’s Pupuseria. If you haven’t had them before, pupusas are cornmeal pancakes, filled with cheese and vegetables. In addition to the classic cheese, at Sarita’s you can have pupusa fillings ranging from mushrooms to spinach or jalapenos. They also serve their pupusas with complimentary spicy coleslaw, which really livens up the softer taste of the pupusas.

I’ve tried out some other dishes at this stall, including the plantains, but you really want to stick with the pupusas here – they’re the best thing on the menu.

Jon and I went to Sarita’s for breakfast today and it was delicious as always!

Jon’s Review: A delectable combination of cheese and whatever the other ingredient is.

Here's a picture of Sarita's. If you enter the market on Broadway it'll be one of the stalls on the right.
Here’s a picture of Sarita’s. If you enter the market on Broadway it’ll be one of the stalls on the right.

Sarita’s Pupuseria. Grand Central Market. 317 Broadway #41, Los Angeles, CA 90013, (213) 626-6320, Open everyday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Recipes: Rajas Con Hongos

I picked up a copy of Jose Garces’ “The Latin Road Home” from the LA Public Library the other week, and every time I thumb through it, my mouth starts watering. The other night I decided to make his recipe for Rajas con Hongos (Roasted Poblano Chiles with Mushrooms), which I used as a taco filing along with Mexican rice, grated cheese and homemade tomatillo salsa (recipe will follow soon!).

Here’s the recipe (adapted):

Ingredients:

  • drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 white onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 large handfuls of crimini mushrooms, chopped in half
  • 4 roasted and peeled poblano chiles, cut into strips (for instructions on roasting poblanos, click here)
  • 8 diced cloves of garlic
  • salt, pepper, and fresh cilantro (optional)
  • small corn tortillas

Directions:

Toss the onions and mushroom in a saucepan with olive oil and cook for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chiles and garlic and cook for approximately 5 more minutes. Add salt, pepper, and cilantro. Serve over a warm corn tortilla, along with your other favorite taco ingredients (fresh salsa, rice, cheese, cream etc.) Enjoy!

Review: Nickel Diner (Downtown, Los Angeles)

Our lives have changed a lot in the past month. We moved out to LA so I could start a new job as a pollster for a Democratic political consulting firm, and we found a beautiful loft in a historic office building in Downtown to call home.  Jon finished up his DPhil, and is commuting back and forth between Oxford and Los Angeles until we get married.

Downtown LA is an incredible place to live, but it’s certainly a place of stark contrasts.   For many years, Downtown was a seedy ghost town of abandoned old office buildings. It’s recently gone through a significant revival, due in part to creative reuse laws that made it easy to convert empty buildings to lofts. Some of the most amazing old vaudeville theaters and gorgeous architecture in the United States is crammed into a few blocks here. But, it’s also the location of LA’s “Skid Row” – the homeless capital of the United States. In Downtown Los Angeles, within three blocks, you have a sushi restaurant that only has $165 per person menus, and large homeless shelters that sleep hundreds. I haven’t yet found stats on the income inequality in this neighborhood, but it’s soul crushing.

DTLA is also a culinary hub, with lots of cheap grocery stores, and new inventive restaurants sprouting up all over the place. It’s also where LA’s Central Library is located, so a treasure trove of cookbooks are right around the corner from us.

So far, one of our favorite DTLA neighborhood spots is Nickel Diner. As the home of the legendary maple-glazed bacon donut, it might not sound like a gluten-free breakfast spot. But, from huevos rancheros made with corn tortillas, to omelets with sides of polenta, there’s a lot on the menu for gluten-free folks here. Today for breakfast, I had an egg scramble with smoked salmon, cream, and chives, with a side of polenta and maple syrup. Mmm!

This isn’t gourmet food, but if you’re looking for classic old-fashioned diner dishes with a modern twist, this place is fantastic.

Unlike the old days, you can’t get anything on the menu for a nickel, but at under $10 a dish, the prices aren’t horrible either.

I have a long commute to work, so my internal body clock is set to wake up very early. Normally, I find it annoying that I can’t sleep past 7am on weekends, but on the plus side, it means that Jon and I always get to Nickel Diner early enough to miss the weekend brunch crowds (pictured below)

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Nickel Diner, 524 South Main Street, Los Angeles, CA, (213) 623-8301

Vietnamese Shrimp Pho

To toot my own horn, this is the best Pho I’ve eaten in my life (I stole the recipe from here). It was incredibly flavorful, but none of the spices were too overpowering. You could taste the accents of fresh lemongrass, the intensity of the fresh herbs, the saltiness of the fish sauce, and the sharpness of the garlic.

However, Jon thought the Pho was too difficult to eat with the flat spoons and forks we have in the house we’re renting, and I think this influenced his views on the dish.

Jon’s Review: “This is really tasty, but don’t make this if you’re in a hurry; it takes forever to eat!”

I adapted my pho recipe from this website, because it only had five-star reviews. The high ratings are entirely deserved.

Ingredients (serves two):

  • 3 birds-eye chilis, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 stick of lemongrass, sliced open with the side of a knife
  • 2 cm piece of ginger, skin removed and squashed slightly
  • 4 spring onions, sliced diagonally
  • 4 mug-fulls of water
  • 2 cubes of vegetable stock.
  • 3 tbsp of fish sauce (also called nam pla)
  • handful of fresh cilantro/coriander leaves
  • handful of fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 package of cooked shrimp, tails removed
  • 1/2 package of thick rice noodles
  • handful of bean sprouts
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Instructions

  1. Put the water and veggie stock cubes into a medium size pan. Add the lemongrass, garlic, ginger and two of the chilis and boil for about 15 minutes to create the basic broth. Taste it and, if necessary, add more sliced chilis. Turn down the heat, cover the pan and leave to simmer for a further 15 minutes. This will allow the flavors to mesh together. Taste the broth again. Add about one mug-full of water, if the flavors are too strong.
  2. Add the prawns to the soup, and add three chopped spring onions, the fish sauce, the beansprouts and the herbs. Reserve a little of each herb for garnishing. Put the lid back on the pan, and leave it whilst you carry out step 3.
  3. In a pan of boiling water, add the rice noodles and cook for 4 minutes. Drain. Then, remove the lemongrass, ginger and garlic from the soup.
    Divide the cooked noodles between two deep bowls. Pour the soup over the noodles. Garnish with a little of the cilantro and mint leaves, a few slices of red chili and spring onion. Serve with a wedge of lime.

Gỏi cuốn – Vietnamese cold spring rolls

This was the dish that inspired me to test out some more Vietnamese recipes. I used to eat rice paper spring rolls pretty often as a kid, but I hadn’t had them in years until I tried one out in a cafe in Shoreditch last week. Basically, Vietnamese cold spring rolls are a way of disguising extremely healthy raw vegetables into something even more delicious. I served the ones I made this week with a dipping sauce of vinegar mixed with fish sauce.

I made this spring roll recipe with mint and shrimp, but you could also make it with cooked salmon and dill, or with tofu.

Jon’s Review: “I’m really surprised how well these ingredients all go together.”

Ingredients:

  • Cooked, peeled shrimp (about three per spring roll)
  • Vietnamese or Thai rice vermicilli, cooked
  • 1 package of rice paper for spring rolls (sold in most major grocery stores)
  • 1 head of lettuce, diced
  • 1-2 carrots, shredded
  • 1 bunch of fresh mint, leaves removed.
  • fish sauce
  • white vinegar

Carefully slide one piece of dry rice paper wrapper on a plate, and run the plate under very hot water from the kitchen sink tap. The rice paper wrapper will change in texture, from firm and stiff to delicate and soft. Pour off water from the plate, and put aside.

On one end of the now soft rice paper, place a small mound of vermicilli, lettuce, carrots, shrimp, and mint. Sprinkle with vinegar and fish sauce. Very carefully and gently pick up one end of the rice paper, and wrap the spring roll tightly, as if you were making a burrito. Here is a picture, to help you get it right!

A half-way rolled spring roll.
A half-way rolled spring roll.

Serve with a dipping sauce of vinegar mixed with fish sauce. You can also fry a diced shallot until crispy in a frying pan, and sprinkle the crispy bits on top of the spring roll.

Recipe: Bánh xèo – Vietnamese pancakes

There’s some debate over when this dish originated in Vietnam. Some link it to French colonialism, but others claim it’s a dish with more of a South Indian influence. Regardless, it’s absolutely delicious and seriously competes with French buckwheat galettes on my mental list of best pancakes.

It’s almost unbelievable that this recipe works so well. The banh xeo pancake batter is mainly just rice flour, coconut milk, water. No eggs! No flour!

That said, it took me a little trial and error to make the pancakes go from yummy to phenomenal, and I share all the tips in the recipe below. The pancakes are best when they’re paper thin and super crispy.

Jon’s Review: “I’m really shocked that a pancake without egg and flour can taste this good”

Ingredients:

Pancake Batter

  • About 250-300 g of rice flour (I used a little over half of a 400 g package)
  • About 2 1/2 cups of water
  • 1/2 cup of coconut milk
  • 2-3 green scallions, chopped (you can use a little more of the green part than you would normally)
  • about a teaspoon of tumeric

Other ingredients:

  • pre-cooked shrimp, tails removed (about 5 per pancake)
  • a handful of bean sprouts, blanched
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • a big pat of butter
  • for serving: vinegar and fish sauce.

To make the batter, mix about 250 g of rice flour with about 2 1/2 cups of water, 1/2 cup coconut milk, 2-3 chopped scallions and a teaspoon of tumeric. These are just estimates. You want the batter to be about the consistency of milk. Too thick, and you’ll get a gooey pancake (this was a mistake I made on the first try!).

Once the batter is ready to go, melt a big pat of butter in a non-stick pan, and add the diced onion. Saute so that the pan is coated generously with butter, and the onion is cooked. Next, add a thin layer of batter. And I mean thin! You want to have to shake the pan to get the batter to coat it thoroughly. If you’ve done this right, the batter will bubble and turn crispy (see the pictures of the “right” and the “wrong” amount of batter below). After about one minute, add the shrimp on one half of the pancake, along with the pre-cooked bean sprouts. Cook until the batter is cooked through, and turns from pastel colored to dark yellow. Then, flip half the pancake over (omelet style) and slide onto a plate. Serve with your favorite Vietnamese seasonings (I used a mix of vinegar and fish sauce, but you could also use siracha). The pancake might need a pinch of salt on top, to round everything out – you’re call.

This is based on this recipe.

As promised, here are pictures of the right and wrong ways to make these pancakes:

THE RIGHT WAY:

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Look at the edges – see the bubbles and the crispiness? Of course, the batter still needs to cook through.

THE WRONG WAY:

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See how this pancake is just a little too thick? The edges are a lot thicker. There is more batter in the middle. It won’t taste as good.

Recipe: Jamaican Jerk Shrimp

I’ve taken a few days off from creative cooking. This week, I was busy preparing my first academic paper based on my MPhil dissertation findings for a human rights research conference in London. With that done and dusted, the culinary food travels are back up and running.

We had a heavy night out on the town last night – one of Jon’s friends from Newcastle came down to London for a visit. Afterwards, I was craving some healthy comfort food for dinner. This Jamaican Jerk Shrimp recipe turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

This was the first time I’ve tried jerk seasoning. When I first opened the seasoning jar to smell it, I was worried it might be too sweet. But, it was actually really good – the sweetness dissolved into the shrimp. The combination of jerk spices, shrimp, and onions is pretty magnificent. You can use jerk seasoning on barbeque skewers as well.

Jon’s Review: “MMMMMMM!!! THIS IS DELICIOUS! This is really fantastic… You should make this again.”

Ingredients:

  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 1 package of pre-cooked shrimp, defrosted
  • 2 teaspoon Jerk seasoning (approximate). If jerk seasoning is not available in your grocery store, you can make your own mix.
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tomato, chopped (optional)

On medium or high heat, saute butter in a saucepan or wok with onion, garlic, and jerk seasoning. Stir occasionally, until onions are cooked and somewhat charred. Next, add in the shrimp, coating in the seasoning and mixing with the onions. Cook for approximately 1-2 minutes. When the shrimp is cooked through, add the chopped tomato, and stir until it soaks up the spices. Serve with rice, or other Jamaican side dishes.

Review: Pham Sushi – Best Sushi in London?

I’m about to wrap up Jamaican cooking week, but thought I’d add a new London restaurant review to the mix – Pham Sushi. I am a complete sushi addict. Hands down, my favorite thing about growing up in Los Angeles was the delicious and cheap sushi at places like Noshi Sushi, and I’ve been missing good sushi like crazy over here in England.

This month, Jon and I tried out a few sushi places in London, and Pham is definitely our favorite place in the city so far. Pham operates both a formal restaurant and a more low key sushi takeway shop across the street. The fish is incredibly juicy and fresh – it really melts in your mouth. Both times that we went, I ordered a bento box and sake, and Jon ordered Japanese beer and the house sushi special.

The bento box comes with different types of nigiri sushi everyday. One time it came with mackerel nigiri which was absolutely AMAZING – a perfect mix of slightly salty fish and sour vinegared rice. It would never have occurred to me to order mackerel sushi, but now it’s one of my favorites.

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Jon’s House Sushi Platter

Jon’s Review: “This is possibly what God would make if he was a sushi chef.”

Pham Sushi, 159 Whitecross St  London, Greater London EC1Y 8JL, 020 7251 6336, Near Old Street Tube Stop. Closed Sundays.

Other sushi places we tried this month, which weren’t as good as Pham were: Eat Tokyo near Piccadilly Circus, the all you can eat sushi buffet at Hi Sushi in Covent Garden, and Ichiban in Brixton.

Japan Centre near Green Park actually has great cheap sushi for takeaway, and they also sell a wide range of Japanese products. Japan Centre’s sushi is a great cheap snack before a West End theatre show! Definitely better than comparable takeout sushi options Wasabi and Yo Sushi.

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