Monday, February 18, 2013

Roasted Chickpeas with Swiss Chard

I’ve recently noticed nice displays of bulk supply goods at our local supermarkets. This is particularly helpful for when I prepare my granolas because I want to try different combinations all of the time.
However, they also have bulk quantities of quinoa, couscous, nuts, dried fruits, brown rice, rolled oats… just a lot of wonderful things that you should have big bags of in your pantry. My recent investment was in garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas.
Garbanzos are probably known to most of you as the main ingredient to hummus, the Mediterranean dip comprised of Tahini (almond paste), garbanzos and olive oil. I personally love hummus, but I wanted to explore some more options with these glorious little beans. In Spain, we would slow cook them in a soup all day with onions, bell peppers, pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika), and usually broth from whatever stock you had laying around the house. Still, I was looking for more inspiration…
I found my answer at the Douglass Loop Farmers Market, where I am often inspired on Saturday mornings to cover new culinary terrain. I bought the most gorgeous bushel of leafy green Swiss chard, and my mind was blown! Coincidentally enough, Epicurious had just the recipe for me, combining the Swiss chard with roasted garbanzos–a totally new way to approach garbanzo beans. The result was an unprecedented silkiness, achieved by the gentle roast of the garbanzos in golden olive oil and aromatics. I never thought that I would taste garbanzos like this. Then pairing them with Swiss chard, which was stewed on the stove with garlic and aromatics, and you have a delightful surprise awaiting. This bowl of joy was enough to satiate my appetite as a main course, and the leftovers just got better every day. I think this would be a wonderful filling for pita or as part of a salad, or served next to braised cabbage and a carrot slaw, like I did.
Roasted Garbanzos with Swiss Chard

3 C Garbanzo beans, rehydrated
1 Head of garlic, smashed and peeled
3 Bay leaves
2 Shallots, peeled and separated
Olive oil
1 Bunch Swiss chard
1/2 Head of garlic
2 Shallots, chopped
White wine
Chili powder

To start, you need to handle the garbanzo situation. I recommend starting with dried garbanzos because they yield a better taste and texture (you can use canned garbanzos too). Just think of garbanzos as any other dried beans. They require a good healthy soaking overnight, or the quick soak method, which involves boiling and changing water, but the overnight soak, all of the way up to 24 hours, is your best bet. Rinse and drain.
The easiest way to peel garlic is to smash it with the side of your knife and remove the skin. Crushed garlic can then be minced or sliced or whatever, but for this recipe you can just throw in the entire smashed cloves and be fine. Combine the garbanzos, garlic, shallots, and enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a 9”x13” glass casserole dish. Make sure it is a flavorful olive oil. Toss all of the ingredients together, cover the dish with foil, and throw it in a preheated 350º oven. You can tell it is finished when the garlic has roasted itself to softness. I stirred it a couple of times just to make sure everything was evenly roasting–my oven has a few hot spots.

While the beans are roasting in the oven, you can prepare your Swiss chard. Heat some olive oil over medium heat in a large pot and add the garlic, shallots, and bay leaf. Cook until fragrant and just on the verge of translucence. At this point, I decided it would be a good idea to deglaze the pan and basically steam the chard with white wine…this was an incredible idea! So, before adding the wine I took as much Swiss chard as I could fit (it is too much to add the entire bunch at once, so you have to wait until it shrinks down a bit), and tossed it around in the pot until the leaves were decently coated. Then I added the wine and put a lid on it for about a minute. The chard shrunk as expected, and I was able to add the remainder and continue cooking until everything was soft and tender. I chopped up the stem and all, because it is edible and delicious, you just have to cook them until they are easy to chew–by the time that was accomplished, everything was ready!

When the beans are finished, remove them from the roasting pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to the Swiss chard mixture. You should have extra oil left in the roasting pan. Take the shallots and garlic along with it, but remove the bay leaves (from the Swiss chard as well). Reheat in the pot with the Swiss chard and add a few spoons of oil from the roasting pan if needed. Finally, season with salt and chili powder (or black pepper) and you are set to sail!
Bon Appétit!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Continuing a Zen Kitchen Study: Panko

This is a continuation of the trilogy that started with my new favorite snack, Onigiri. You can find that post linked here. Today we are going to talk about Panko, it's many components and applications, and my recipe for panko-crusted chicken.

I have a great love for both tempura and panko in their approaches to frying. There is something about lightly battered and flash fried goodies that makes my heart flutter. However, the miracle of panko not only lends itself to frying but also to baking, which is a recipe that I feature here today. If you want to read more about the approach to tempura frying, it is much more involved than panko, I also whipped up a batch of tempura okra that turned out to be legendary.

I believe that most people have tried panko fried shrimp, which is a wonderful dish completed by ponzu sauce, or whatever light Japanese-inspired sauce you can whip up. Honestly, it doesn't even make it to a sauce when I encounter a plate of panko shrimp, it just pops directly into my mouth. In my experience panko lends itself best to vegetables, fish, and lean meat, and I only say this because I can't imagine trying to panko encrust beef or just doesn't feel right, but perhaps there is a tradition somewhere that features such a protein selection. In my book, fish, chicken, and vegetables provide fine vessels for panko, allowing it to cook quickly, remain light, and deliver a satisfying crunch.

If you do want to fry using panko, let me recommend some techniques I've picked up from various places. First soak the chicken in milk for at least 30 minutes, then roll it in corn starch and tap off the excess, then dip it in an egg wash and press it into your panko crumbs. Fry as normal. This ritual is changed slightly while baking because that crunchy crust is not entirely necessary or achievable as with frying...but make no mistake, it is no less satisfying! The overhaul of dairy products not only provides adherence for the breading, but it also adds incredible richness.

Crunchiness is one of the aspects of mouthfeel that I desire almost to the point of addiction. If I am snacking on something, I typically want a crunchy snack. Perhaps it is my subconscious feeling like it's getting something done, or maybe my jaw enjoys the fact that there is percussion accompanying all its hard work. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way---otherwise, if it weren't for the inspirational crunch, how could anyone put up with the god-awfulness that is the "Cheeto"?

Let's return to something that will make your meals a little better, inspired by the beautiful breading that has become associated with Japanese fried goods, and now can grace your baked mains.

Note: I chose to crumble up some seaweed (sold now in packets as "Sea veggies", which I find amusing, as if the term "seaweed" was somehow not as marketable anymore....please) and mix it in with the panko crumbs. You could easily do this with roasted nori or sesame seeds, to add a little color and flavor. I found it delightful and it cooked up really well next to the panko, not changing the integrity of the breading.

Panko Chicken
Organic chicken breast, sliced thin
Sesame oil
Panko crumbs
Seaweed, crumbled to the size of the panko (optional)
Sesame seeds (optional)

Clean and trim your chicken breast of fat and slice it into even pieces. Cutting them smaller and even will ensure that they all cook at the same rate, and that they cook faster.

Heat your oven to 350º

Crack a few eggs into a medium bowl and beat them with a couple splashes of sesame oil. Put the chicken breast in this egg wash and let them sit in there while you are preparing your breading. If you want to do this ahead of time, the chicken could sit in the egg wash in the fridge, covered. However, it is always better to cook your food while at room temperature--you can be more accurate with timing and the food isn't forced to change its temperature at an unnatural speed. Trust me, adding fire is quick enough for room temperature food, then try to imagine it with something that has been frozen or refrigerated. I store my eggs on the counter at room temperature anyway, so I don't have a fear or letting chicken sit in eggs..but some of you might have, so just take note of the room temperature thing for when you prepare your food.

The breading should be spread out on a large plate that will allow you ample room for rolling around your chicken pieces. You can choose at this point to go straight panko, or add your seaweed and/or sesame seeds. I promise that the addition of these last two optional ingredients will only add to the flavor and crunch, as they do not suck up additional moisture and they do not burn in the baking process. Press the eggy chicken pieces into the breading, making sure that all surfaces are covered

Arrange the breaded chicken on a baking sheet....parchment paper might be a good idea, but it doesn't take much to get it off after cooking. I used a pair of tongs. I'd say bake it for 15-20 minutes. Check around 15. They should come out slightly golden. I served it with straight soy sauce, which in retrospect is a little heavy for my taste, so I'd go with ponzu sauce if any. I enjoyed the addition of seaweed to the breading, so that was enough for me!

I hope you try this little gem out, and try your hand at fish or vegetables. Play around, I'd like to see what else is happening outside my kitchen!


Monday, February 4, 2013

The Mayan Café: My Louisville Love

There are a few places with which I have a relationship that I can name with certainty. By that I mean that I feel like I have a connection with their mission, true and vivid memories of my visits in the past, and a real desire to come back again and see what's new, like we are old friends. I am happy to say that this is a phenomenon that happens with some frequency in my hometown, Louisville, but none so much as with The Mayan Café.

The name itself conjures some sort of mysticism, at least from my personal associations with the Mayan people and their history. The restaurant has a feeling of home, although its roots are from a place most Louisvillians have never visited. It is a concept fully realized because of the heart and passion of its creators.

The Mayan Café is sustainable, conscious of the bounty of our local resources, and infinitely aware of their ability to impact our local community, from farm to table and beyond. What can be better than a socially-conscious, environmentally-friendly, and consistently inspiring place to nourish your soul? Nothing really, at least from this Louisville Lady Gourmet's point of view.

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but I'm a big fan.

There is a fire that drives the rhythm of The Mayan Café, the flavors, the presentation, the technique. No, I'm not talking about the stereotypical spice that we North Americans attribute to our neighbors down South (yes, it's hot down there guys, but seriously...). It is raw and original beauty, or better yet, it's got soul.

This family affair nestled on East Market (before it became trendy) is honestly what I would consider the cornerstone of that neighborhood, and even further, the flagship of really fantastic and honest food in our fair city. I get excited just thinking about an occasion I can celebrate at Mayan-- let's be serious, the visit itself is a celebration.

When I tell people that I like to cook, eat out in Louisville, and write about it, they usually ask me what my favorite restaurant is. This is always a difficult question because I don't have favorites of anything. However, I consistently answer that The Mayan Café is the restaurant that has delivered the most shockingly good food I have had in this city on every single occasion I have visited. That is a testament to the restaurant's commitment to great food, ambiance, service, and community presence.

I must admit, I have a really great capacity for remembering meals that I have eaten. I can relive the flavors and textures, and even the feelings that those meals inspired. Every time I go back to the Mayan Café, a flood of wonderful memories overwhelm me, the flavors, the friends I shared my meals with. That is what makes good food...when it transcends a metamorphosis of ingredients, and becomes something to remember.

Now let's get to the actual food of my last visit.

Funny thing, during all of the silliness of the Mayan apocalypse, I did find myself at the Mayan Café know, just in case. That is where I wanted to eat my last meal...does that tell you anything? Their menu was spot on. I felt comfort and fulfillment, probably the two most sought after feelings of one facing their possible last day on Earth. Luckily enough, that wasn't the case and I'll be able to continue my visits.

On this particular day we were having a dinner out before our Christmas break from our flamenco company, so our friends joined us making a party of five. To me, that meant I got to try five different menu selections, and to be honest that is ideal for me because I genuinely want to eat everything on the menu anyway! Here were our choices:

Lobster ceviche
Chicken tamale
Vegetarian burrito
Cochinita Pibil
Beef Tenderloin
Seafood bisque and salad with pomegranite, pepitas, pears, and winter greens
Chocolate bread pudding with lavender chocolate sauce.

The Lobster ceviche and chicken tamale were the choices of the Handsome Spaniard, who was visiting for Christmas...oh what a happy time! His choices were equally joyful. The lobster ceviche was gorgeous with a perfect mouthfeel. I'd never tried lobster ceviche, but have had tuna and whitefish ceviches that were beautiful, I just didn't know what it would do to the flesh of the lobster, which differs from regular fish. I can only tell you that it is an experience you should have before your life ends...and the heat of the habañero with the freshness of avocado and cilantro...oh, yes!
The chicken tamale was everything a tamale should be, with a comforting and velvety smooth masa sweetly embracing the spiced shredded chicken inside. Never a disappointment.

The Vegetarian Burrito is a favorite on our visits to Mayan. It is always fantastic, friendly to the wallet, and chock full of good nutrients and even better flavor. The sauce that is served with it is to die for...any of Chef Ucán's sauces would definitely need to be involved in my last meal on earth, and that's not an exception. The fried egg on top is truly what crowns this masterpiece of a burrito, and the slightest prod with your knife will send a cascade of golden yolkey goodness to round out the flavors and blow your mind.

The Cochinita Pibil was my choice for the night, and it helped me inch closer to nirvana. I swear, everything that their talented chefs touch turns to gold (or Mayan gold, because that cacao bean really makes some magic in their kitchen). In my experiences across all of their dishes, I have never been disappointed by the variety of ingredients and their balanced representation. I feel like I can actually taste all of the vegetables, meats, spices, starches, and sauces that make up a mere forkful of food at this restaurant, without a certain flavor sacrificing itself to another. That is something special my friends, something very special indeed.

The Beef Tenderloin, which featured the legendary Tok-Sel Lima Beans that are also on my last meal list, was just heavenly. Whenever you can take a piece of beef and cook it until it still holds its shape, but somehow changes states of matter from solid to melted tenderness in your mouth, you've also created culinary bliss. That was this beef tenderloin; so tender that a single bite was enough for me to swear up and down about the merits of the dish as a whole. My friend across the table had good taste that night in more ways than one.

The Seafood Bisque and Salad with Pomegranate, Pepitas, Pears, and Winter Greens was a lighter, yet no less fulfilling choice by another friend with fine taste. The bisque was rich and satisfying with the depth of flavor that can only really come from seafood-- as well as great color and consistency. It smelled and tasted like my best days on the Mediterranean, but with a distinctly Yucatán flavor. The accompanying salad was full, exciting, and left nothing to be desired except for another plate full. I loved the playful flavors of the pumpkin seeds (pepitas) next to the pears and pomegranate, especially the juxtaposition of the pepitas' rich nuttiness and crunch with the always delightful pops of pomegranate. It was a beautiful fresh winter salad, which is something we often take for granted.

Finally, and yes I'm almost finished, we arrive at the grand finale: dessert. This is always exciting for me because my choices have the opportunity to stretch their legs a bit. The dessert menu changes frequently, as does their full menu, but the desserts always remain a mystery until that I get a little more excited. Honestly, any time you give me choices of chocolate, more chocolate, something with bourbon, something with chocolate and lavender, and cream sauce, I'm going to be the happiest little Lady Gourmet there ever was. I know there are more choices outside of chocolate, but that's all I choose to listen to, and this particular evening we went for the chocolate bread pudding with chocolate lavender sauce, kissed with pomegranate seeds. That chocolate-lavender combination makes my soul sing. Do I need to say anything more?

As a closing: I have met Chef Bruce Ucán once in person, and I nearly genuflected. As a lover of creating and consuming great food, I admire him, his fellow chefs, the front of the house, management, and all of those who make that restaurant truly Louisville. I am happy to have a restaurant that I will always look forward to indulging my best self in.

Cheers to The Mayan Café, and here's to hoping that future generations of Louisville culinary masterpieces follow in stride.

...I would love to peek my head into that kitchen one day and learn what makes those guys tick. This year's goal is to try to pick the minds of the great cooks of our fair city, so let's see what happens!

¡Salud y Qué aproveches! 

The Mayan Café
813 East Market Street
Louisville, KY 40206
You should probably go make your reservation now...