It’s the last month of summer and we all should squeeze in every last moment of that lemon drop sunshine–with outdoor baseball games with some chilled brews, cartwheels on the sandy beaches, and lazy Sunday picnics. I have the perfect pasta salad recipe for you to make that will make you the talk of the town; people will be clamoring to get seconds of this delicious melange of complex, but complementing flavors. On top of that, it’s bursting with color and is a gorgeous salad to eat. What’s food without presentational oomph?
Since I grew up in a household that mostly made Chinese food, I rarely had a chance to eat pasta salads as a child. It was foreign, the ultimate “American” dish, yet I never found one that I liked. If I ever did have some, it would be at a friend’s birthday party out of a Ralph’s plastic box, and it would always be cold with lots of pimentos–I hated that. So, I never really gave pasta salads a chance.
However, it wasn’t until I got older (and had a little more income) that I gave my palate some room to blossom and tried the gourmet, farm fresh salads of restaurants like Lemonade in Los Angeles, where even Asian dishes such as soba noodles with kimchi marinated vegetables and toasted peanuts are considered a pasta dish of sorts.
I found a recipe from Ina Garten (that I slightly tweaked) that combines silky orzo pasta, tangy feta cheese, sweet-roasted summer vegetables, fresh herbs, and a hint of smoky toasted pine nuts–all dressed in a lemon vinaigrette. It’s a crowd-pleaser (even your vegetarian friends will be happy) and something I could see myself eating long after a picnic is over (if there are even any leftovers!). Most importantly, the texture of the orzo pasta is what makes this dish special, so don’t try to substitute it with rotini or fusili pasta. And definitely serve it at room temperature–not straight out of the fridge or piping hot–at room temperature.
1 small eggplant, peeled and 3/4-inch diced 1 red bell pepper, 1-inch diced 1 yellow bell pepper, 1-inch diced 1 red onion, peeled and 1-inch diced 2 garlic cloves, minced 2 – 3 tbsp good olive oil 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1/2 pound orzo or rice-shaped pasta
For the dressing: 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons) 1/4 cup good olive oil 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
To assemble: 4 scallions, minced (white and green parts) 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted 8 oz. block of good feta, 1/2-inch diced (not crumbled) 15 fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Toss the eggplant, bell peppers, onion, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper on a large sheet pan. Roast for 40 minutes, until browned, turning once with a spatula.
3. Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling salted water for 7 to 9 minutes, until tender. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta, scraping all the liquid and seasonings from the roasting pan into the pasta bowl.
4. For the dressing, mix together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pour half of the dressing on the pasta and vegetables, mix it together, and then taste it. It’s all relative to taste, so add more if you want more of a citrus flavor. Let cool to room temperature, then add the scallions, pine nuts, feta, and basil. Check the seasonings, and serve at room temperature.
Kale, like brussels sprouts, are one of those vegetables that have had a complete 360 in their public perception. (Whoever’s their PR camp is doing one helluva job.) I swear, a decade ago, kale was just a garnish I pushed aside with my fork while I was eating my country-fried steak at Claim Jumpers. But now, the curly leaves are sprouting up everywhere. It’s a staple at any restaurant–as a sauteed side complimenting rotisserie chicken, slow-cooked to resemble the buttery and savory Southern-style collard greens–or sold at any Whole Foods in bags of crispy kale chips seasoned with Herbs de Provence.
I know deep down that this newfound love for kale over the past few years may indeed be a fad, but I really do love the seaweed-like kale chips, and some macrobiotic restaurants make the best kale salads I’ve ever had–especially the one at M. Chaya in Los Angeles. Their salad is a tangy peanut dressing coating the curly leaves, coupled with slivers of peanuts and strips of red onion. Plus, kale lowers cholesterol and aids in cancer prevention. Count me in–I want to live to 100.
So, I’ve been obsessed with making a kale salad similar to that M. Chaya one. I ran across a recipe in LA Weekly by a chef of a different restaurant, who forayed in the world of macrobiotic cooking after his wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It’s a touching story, and out of this situation came something beautiful–a recipe that can be shared with others to help them in their quest for living healthier as well. His recipe uses almonds instead of peanuts, and the dressing has a similar tanginess to it, yet it’s different in that it relies on a tahini, miso, and lemon dressing–creamy and served best warm or cold. The shredded carrots make for a vibrant and colorful salad, coated in this creamy dressing. It’s quite pretty, and perfect to bring to a nice picnic in the park, which I’m planning to do since summer is just around the corner.
Note: I made just a minor tweak to his recipe.
For the dressing:
1⁄4 cup white miso
1⁄2 cup sesame tahini
1 lemon, juiced
3⁄4 cup water
2 tsp. grated ginger
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1⁄2 tsp. chili sauce (optional)
Ground black pepper
1. Add all the ingredients in a blender and mix well. Refrigerate for up to a week.
For the salad:
12 oz. of kale, washed and chopped
1 cup shredded carrots
1⁄2 cup whole almond
1. Bring water to boil in a 2-quart pan. Blanch the kale. Drain and then set aside to cool off.
2. In a large bowl, mix the kale, carrots, and dressing to taste.
3. Separate the salad onto 4 plates, adding more dressing around the salad and whole almonds for garnish.
Is it just me or does it feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day to do everything you want to do?
From working to hanging out with friends and exercising…or whatever it is you do on a daily basis, it’s easy to stray from any dieting or budgeting plans, and to say, “The hell with it–I’m going to gorge on that immaculate, double-patty (!) Big Mac slathered in thousand island dressing or that juicy bacon-wrapped hot dog topped with overflowing chili cheese.” (BTW, those are specifically my guilty pleasures.)
Luckily, I stopped myself from devouring either item the other day after a late gym workout–even though I was starving and LA street dogs stands are on every corner tempting me like sirens–and decided to venture into the world of making wraps instead. Mind you, I’m not usually a fan of wraps, and the only one I’ve ever truly enjoyed is the wild salmon with asparagus one at M. Chaya, a wonderful macrobiotic restaurant in West Hollywood. That M. Chaya dish was the inspiration and foundation for my rendition that I lay before you today: a whole wheat wrap chock-full of creamy tuna salad, combined with fragrant herbs and ribbons of sweet, shredded carrots, mixed with asparagus stems and slices of cucumbers, giving it that satisfying veggie crunch.
What I found was that I was able to make these wraps in about 15 minutes, taking about the same amount of time it takes to drive to the local McDonalds and wait through the drive-thru, and packed them for lunch for the next day, with time to spare to catch up on my TV shows! Easy peasy. Also worth mentioning, this wrap tastes much better after a night in the fridge, when all the flavors have melded together and the veggie juices moisten everything as a whole. Simple, healthy, and tasty.
1 persian cucumber, cut in half and sliced into 1/4 inch x 3 inch slices
4 asparagus stalks, ends removed, cut in half
1/4 cup shredded carrots (I just use a potato peeler and peel ribbons of carrots to use)
7 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp of dried onion powder
2 pinches garlic powder
1/4 tsp of curry powder
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried dill weed
1/8 tsp black powder
1. Boil water in a small pot and throw in asparagus stalks for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, drain, and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, add the tuna and fluff with a fork until pieces are flaky and separated. Add in the carrots, mayonnaise, parmesan, onion powder, garlic powder, curry powder, dried parsley, dried dill weed, and black powder. Mix thoroughly.
3. Lay out a piece of lavish bread on a flat surface or plate. At the bottom of the bread, spread 1/4 of the mixture across from left to right. Lay four slices of cucumber across the top. Roundly and tightly fold over once until the tuna is covered. Spread 1/4 of the mixture next and lay four pieces of asparagus on top. Roundly and tightly fold over until it is covered, and then keep rolling the rest of the bread.
4. Take two toothpicks and poke in each end of the wrap, holding the spiral together. Using a knife, cut diagonally in the center. Wrap in saran wrap and put in the fridge.
6. Repeat steps 3-4 for the remaining lavish bread.
Now that the rain cloud over Los Angeles has disappeared, the skies are blue and the air is crisp…and you know what that means: it’s that time of the year for outdoor brunch! Ah, that special time of year where Angelenos can crawl out of the crack of the earth on Sundays afternoons after a long night out (topping their outfits with merely light cardigans!) to be delighted by farm fresh foods from simple egg and bacon sandwiches to chillaquiles Mexican fare. We could only wish that our brunches lasted as long as the ones in New York do, which I know are still popping on weekends at 4 p.m. On a positive note, spring is around the corner and patrons can happily sit at brunch tables on the sidewalk sipping on spicy bloody marys and bubbling guava mimosas.
Cliff’s Edge, however, has one leg up over LA restaurants with sidewalk tables–the seating is all outside, tucked deep in Silver Lake, next to a 99 Cent Store. Yet, when you walk past the large Medieval-like iron door, you get transported to a different place, a paradise of sorts, in an outdoor grotto, secluded from the rest of the world. Light leaks peek in through the trees surrounding the tables. Wooden benches adorned with turquoise and blood orange Moroccan pillows present a cozy atmosphere for long chats over cups of perfect coffee roasts.
With notable menu items like the pork belly hash, a dish that brings out the smokiness of bacon with roasted brussel sprouts, topped with a slightly runny fried egg and crumbles of feta, you’ll realize that this isn’t your average IHOP. The fried chicken boasts a rosemary essence with waffles covered in whipped maple butter and bourbon syrup. The rather large bacon and cheddar frittata is topped with a beautiful green salad with braised leeks and jalapeño crema.
The restaurant, which is also a delight for dinner after dark when the outdoor hanging lights provide a romantic ambience, has had a number of different chefs change the menu over the course of the last few years. When James Beard nominee Benjamin Bailly of Fraiche fame took over as head chef last year, his new menu was met with high acclaim. However, as quickly as he arrived, he left last September, and Public Kitchen and Bar chef Vartan Abgaryan took his place, making sure to include local, seasonal food with a sophisticated flare. Hopefully, Abgaryan remains at Cliff’s Edge, and challenges our palates with unique and elegant nuances.
I have been on an obsessive quest to make the perfect pasta sauce for years, and I am happy to report that I finally perfected it tonight.
I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer buy any pre-made pasta sauces anymore because, frankly, who needs to? Although slightly daunting, creating your own pasta sauce–and not relying on those Prego jars that are chock full of salt and sugar that never quite fit to your refined palate–surprisingly becomes an art form. It costs the same or even less than pre-made sauces, and takes just an extra 30 minutes to make. And by extra, I’m talking about the added time tacked on from opening a stubborn jar lid.
Personally, I enjoy a pasta sauce full of sauteed garlic and onions, ribbons of fresh basil, and crushed tomatoes, brought together with a sauce base that’s on the sweeter side with lighter acidic notes. However, I’m sure other people like saltier sauces, hate onions, have a love affair with fresh oregano and parsley, and like whole tomatoes. So be it. Experiment, adjust, forage. Sometimes, my cooking is based on what I have left in the fridge and what falls into my weekly budget, so, as the saying goes, no two snowflakes (or pasta sauces) are alike.
I may also be prone to use more basil nowadays because I just bought my first basil plant this year, and it’s the only plant sitting on my balcony. I usually announce to my boyfriend that I’m “harvesting” when I head outside to grab a few leaves.
Also, to be noted, the meatballs in this recipe only use beef because honestly, I can’t be bothered to buy ground veal (I’m not quite that bourgeois yet), and I wanted a simpler recipe. Do not fear though, the result of mere beef balls will be just fine, once you throw in some breadcrumbs and freshly grated parmesan cheese. “Voilà!” as the French say–why I’m speaking French when I’m making an Italian dish, I don’t know. But, bon appetit!
1/4 cup of freshly grated pecorino romano (or parmesan), with extra for garnishing later
1 tsp of kosher salt
1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp of dried parsley flakes
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup of warm water
Vegetable oil and olive oil
For the sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1-1/2 tsp of minced garlic
1/2 cup of good red wine (such as Chianti)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
7 to 8 basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
2 tsp of dried parsley flakes
1-1/2 tsp of kosher salt
1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp of sugar
1/2 tsp of dried pepper flakes (optional if you want some spicy kick to your sauce)
For the pasta:
1 lb of angel hair pasta (preferably Barilla brand)
For the meatballs:
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, bread crumbs, pecorino romano, salt, pepper, parsley flakes, egg, and water. Mix and combine.
2. Using your hands, form the mixture into 2-inch balls. You will have about 12 meatballs.
3. Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don’t crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pan.
For the sauce:
1. Heat the oil in the same pan.
2. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
4. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes.
5. Stir in the tomatoes, basil, parsley flakes, salt, sugar, pepper, and dried pepper flakes (optional).
6. Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.
For the spaghetti:
1. Right when you return the meatballs to the sauce, boil 4-6 quarts of water over medium heat in a large pot, add in the angel hair pasta and cook for 4-5 minutes until al dente.
2. Drain and rinse with cold water.
3. Serve the pasta with meatballs and spaghetti sauce, and sprinkle a little extra grate pecorino romano/parmesan over it to taste.
My boss’s father went on a business trip to Taipei, Taiwan and called his son to tell him about this revolutionary dish he had never had before–xiao long bao (also known as “soup dumplings”), a steamed dumpling filled with juicy pork and soup (inside of the dumpling!)–at a restaurant called Din Tai Fung. My boss told him that he already knew about that restaurant and that there was one right in Los Angeles. By the end of his father’s trip through Southeast Asia, every time he had a business meeting, someone would take him to a Din Tai Fung in their country–from Singapore to Japan.
Din Tai Fung is just that big and that amazing.
When I went to Taipei on a vacation in 2006, there wasn’t a direct train route to the restaurant, and I had to take two buses in the rain to get to the flagship location. There was a line outside of the narrow, three-story building; inside, waiters were zooming in and out of the kitchen, up and down the staircase, delivering woven baskets of steamed dumplings to tables. We put in a heap of sliced ginger in a sauce dish, added red vinegar, soy sauce, chili flakes, salt and pepper. The marriage of the two puzzle pieces were almost complete. We dipped the dumpling in the the sauce, put it in a soup spoon, and grabbed a few slices of ginger from the sauce and put it on top, and carefully bit into the juicy dumpling. The first time is like no other.
Luckily, LA doesn’t just have one Din Tai Fung location, but rather two–and they’re right next to each other. Be prepared for a long wait, but it’s always worth it. If you’re going with a big group, also order a variety of items like pork fried rice, shanghai rice cakes, any of the fried noodle dishes, sauteed green beans with garlic, and don’t forget dessert–red bean dumplings are a must!