Fresh and Easy Green Papaya Salad

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I’m not sure why I ended up becoming a chef. It’s not like I grew up in a family with a rich culinary history. In fact, to this day my mom wonders how I “got to be so good” with food because she’s… well, not (her words, not mine).  Both my parents valued our family time around the dinner table, but the focus was never on the actual meal. Food took a backseat to conversation and time together. And for that, I’m incredibly thankful. But it’s hard to say how our uninspired weekly meals of macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, or microwaved frozen peas and carrots led to my creative hunger for all things food. Maybe it was the lack of something that drove me to see what else was out there. Maybe it was my way of exploring other worlds or cultures that were absent from my little life in the quiet farm town I grew up in Northern California. Maybe it was boredom. Whatever the reason, it sure led me down one flavorsome path.

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Chalk it up to craving more spice on my growing palate but my love of (all) Asian food started pretty early in my life. The spices, the strong aromas, the incredible produce, and the lengthy, all day preparation of layered flavors intrigued me as a young chef. Not only were the flavors beyond anything I had eaten growing up but the diverse culinary traditions that expands the entire continent kept my insatiable curiosity on overdrive (and it still does). And one of the dishes that made me first fall in love with Southeast Asian food was this simple, yet incredibly flavorful green papaya salad.

I’m sure you’ve eaten this salad before; it’s a standard on any Thai, Vietnamese, Laos menu.  And for good reason! Its light, refreshing, packed full of spices, herbs, and zesty flavors. But I bet most of you have never attempted to make it at home. It’s funny to me when I hear how many people love eating Southeast Asian food and yet are so scared to make it themselves. I get it- it can be an intimating cuisine. But once you understand a few flavor profiles synonymous with the region, it’s actually quite easy!

I like adding a little yuzu juice (or extract) to my recipe for another layer of citrusy pop. And it includes one of my all-time favorite ingredients: fish sauce!!!


Honestly, can you think of any other ingredient that has the power to smell like rotting gym socks left in the trunk of an old car on a 100 degree day and yet taste so freakin good??

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Crunchy Green Papaya Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 small red Thai chills, seeds and spines removed for less heat (if super sensitive to spice try jalapeno, Serrano, or Fresno chilies instead)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 unripe green papaya, shredded*
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped
  • ½ cup nuoc cham (recipe follows)
  • ½ cup herb mix (mint, Thai basil, cilantro), roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp yuzu juice (optional) **


Nuoc Cham:

  • 6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (preferably nuoc mam)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 garlic clove, finally minced
  • 1 small Thai chili, seeded and finely chopped

*If you don’t have a food processor with a shredding blade, get yourself one of these!! A cheaper alternative, easy to clean, and use!

** Yuzu, a citrus fruit describe to taste like a cross between orange and lime,  is not synonymous with Thai recipes since it originated in China but the citrusy bite adds another layer of complexity to this dish.

Combine Nuoc cham ingredients in bowl and set aside. Shred papaya and toss with minced garlic, chili, herbs, and peanuts. Finish by tossing with nuoc cham and garnish with more herbs and lime wedges.

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Cranberry Chutney

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Raise your hand if you have a soft spot for canned cranberry sauce. I do! But even though my inner child tends to crave the canned stuff every year, I always make sure to have a homemade cranberry component to my Thanksgiving table as well. This particular cranberry chutney recipe acts like more of a condiment rather than a side dish…which I suppose can be the case for all Thanksgiving cranberry sauces anyway. This recipe blends tangy, sweetness, a little spice, and plays well with all of the other delicious flavors on the Thanksgiving table. Serve it hot, cold, on a baked sweet potato with greek yogurt, on top of your turkey, or as its own side dish. 

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Cranberry Chutney

Yields 6 cups
Ingredients
  • 4 tbsp. oil (canola, avocado, vegetable, or butter)
  • ½ red onion, small dice
  • 2 tbsp. freshly peeled and finely grated ginger
  • 1 granny smith apples, small dice
  • peel from 1 orange
  • juice from 1 orange
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1½ cups brown sugar
  • ½ cup currants or dried cranberries
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • 2 lbs fresh cranberries
  • 1 jalapeño, seeds removed and minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
Using a sharp knife, peel the oranges, removing all of the bitter white pith. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add red onion and sauté for 1 minute. Add ginger, apple, orange juice, orange peel, brown sugar, currants, raisins, cranberries, and cinnamon sticks. Cook over medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Add jalapeño, allspice, cloves, and salt. Cook for an additional 10 minutes or until cranberries are soft and sauce is
thick.
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“Green Bean Casserole”

img_4555As much as we look forward to that glistening, golden turkey every Thanksgiving, I’m sure we can all admit that the real stars of the big show are those side dishes. I’m almost certain that 80% of my calorie intake that day comes from side dishes. Year after year, its those pesky sides that make me want to moo under the covers for the next 3 days. (Contrary to popular belief, turkey is actually not at fault for feeling sleepy after Turkey Day. There is more tryptophan in cheddar cheese than in your Thanksgiving bird.) And yet, we can never pass up those delicious sides, no matter how full they make us feel.

The good news is that you can essentially have your cake and eat it too! If you pay a little more attention to the ingredients that go into those side dishes and alter them slightly with healthy alternatives, you can present similar family favorites with a little less guilt. For example: green bean casserole. A close second to my favorite stuffing, green bean casserole has graced almost every one of my Thanksgiving tables for as long as I can remember. It is also one of the main contributors to that glutinous guilt I feel every year. So I made it a goal of mine to create an updated, healthier version with just as much flavor and a little less fat. And I have to say, this recipe is a pretty tasty alternative…. You might even say it’s better than the original. But wait, there’s more! Not only is this a one-pot dish but you can separately par-cook the ingredients earlier in the day and then warm it just minutes before dinner begins. One less T-Day recipe to stress about! At this rate you’ll be able to enjoy those appetizers while watching The Kennel Club Dog Show right along with your guests!

img_4550“Green Bean Casserole”

Yields 5 portions
Ingredients:
  • 8 oz crimini mushrooms, quartered
  • 8 oz wild mushrooms (I used oyster), trimmed if needed but leave whole
  • 1 lb French green beans
  • ½ red onion, thinly julienned
  • 3 gloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ tbsp. sherry vinegar
  • 6 tbsp. neutral oil (avocado, vegetable, or canola)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp. asiago or parmesan cheese, shaved
In a large non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat, add 2 tbsp oil. When the oil is shimmering, add in the julienned onions. Spread the onions in an even layer and cook, without stirring, for 30 seconds. The goal here is to create a crispy, “fried” texture instead of a soft consistency. The less you stir the onions, there more the sugars in the onions will caramelize and get crispy. When the onions are crisp, place in a separate bowl and set aside until serving.
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In the same sauté pan over medium heat, add 2 tbsp oil. When it’s shimmering, add the crimini mushrooms, a generous pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté until cooked (about 5 minutes. They will be soft on the inside with slight browning on the outside). When the criminis are almost fully cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the wild mushrooms. If you’re using a delicate mushroom like the oysters that I did, you don’t want to cook them too long or they will turn limp and lose their beautiful shape. Set the mushrooms aside in a separate bowl until later.

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When Thanksgiving dinner is 5 minutes from being served, add 2 tbsp oil to that same pan over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, sauté the garlic for 1 minute. When the garlic is soft, stir in the green beans. Sauté until al dente (5 minutes). At about the 1-2 minute mark, stir in 2 tbsp of water to “pan steam” the beans. This will help breakdown the fibers in the beans and cook them properly without burning them or drying them out. When the beans are al dente, stir in the mushrooms, onions, pepper and more salt to taste, and the sherry vinegar. Cook for additional 1-2 minutes. And don’t forget that generous finishing touch of shaved cheese on top!

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Artichokes

 

img_3787Artichokes

Yields 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 artichokes, sharp tips cut off
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 tsp. cayenne
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 3 tbsp. salt

Start by preparing the artichokes. Cut the tips of the leaves off with kitchen scissors. Using a sharp knife, slice the top inch or so of the artichoke off. Next, rinse the whole thing under running water, spreading the leaves to thoroughly clean each artichoke. For an easier serving and eating experience, I alway cut my artichokes in half and scoop out the choke (the fuzzy part right above the heart). You are welcome to skip this step — just alter your cook time, since the halved artichokes will take less time then a whole artichoke. If you do decide to cut the artichoke in half, place the halves in a bowl of water with the juice from 1 lemon. This will prevent the artichoke from turning brown. After the artichokes are cleaned, place them in a large stock pot along with the lemon-water they were soaking in. If the water doesn’t cover the artichoke completely, add more.

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If you’re having trouble keeping them submerged, place a plate or smaller lid on top. The weight will push the artichokes under water.

They must be completely submerged in order to cook evenly. Add the remaining ingredients to the stock pot, turn to medium-high, cover, and boil for 30-45 minutes (or until an inner leaf pulls free with ease). Once cooked completely, drain the water and serve alongside your favorite dipping sauce…like our Lemon Aioli. You can also throw these cooked artichokes on the grill for a minute or two for extra flavor!

img_3790Roasted Garlic and Lemon Aioli

Yields 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • juice and zest from 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • minced parsley (optional)

Wrap the garlic cloves in an aluminum foil pouch with a couple drops of oil (olive, avocado, or vegetable) and roast in 350°F oven for 15 minutes. Unwrap and cool garlic completely before mixing with the remaining ingredients.

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Seared Summer Salad with Pecorino Vinaigrette

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As I anxiously await my favorite food season of the year (fall!!), I’m trying to take advantage of the last of the summer produce before it disappears. Yesterday’s trip to the farmer’s market gave us so many beautiful and delicious vegetables, the recipe basically wrote itself.

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Sautéed Summer Salad with Pecorino Vinaigrette

Yields 4 portions

Ingredients: 

  • 3 large tomatoes (heirloom, if possible)
  • ½ lb. haricots vert (French green beans), ends trimmed
  • 1 large romaine heart, cut in half (from top to bottom) and washed thoroughly
  • 3 tbsp. shaved pecorino romano cheese (or your favorite hard cheese)
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar, plus 2 tbsp.
  • ¾ cup avocado oil (or olive oil), plus 2 tbsp.
  • 1 tbsp. dijon mustard
  • ¼ sprig rosemary, finely minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • toasted bread (optional)

Remove the core from the tomatoes, and cut into large chunks. Place the cut tomatoes in a small bowl with 4 cups of water and 5 tsp. salt. This brining solution helps to evenly season the tomatoes without breaking the cell walls of the tomato which would typically leave you with a mushy mess. Set the bowl aside until plating (30 minutes).

IMG_3383To prepare the vinaigrette by hand, place the pecorino, dijon mustard, rosemary, garlic, and sherry vinegar in a bowl. In a slow and steady stream, pour the avocado oil into the bowl while vigorously whisking. Make sure the oil is poured in very slowly; otherwise, the vinaigrette won’t emulsify. (It would still be a tasty vinaigrette, but it wouldn’t have its desired creamy texture.) Season with pepper to taste. The pecorino provides salt for the vinaigrette, but feel free to add more cheese or salt if you’d like.

To finish the dish, place a large skillet on medium heat with 2 tbsp. oil. Add the cleaned haricots vert to the pan and season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir occasionally and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until skin starts to brown slightly. (Note: I personally prefer haricots vert, also known as French green beans, over standard green beans because French green beans have a softer skin, are less fibrous, and cook quickly without losing their crunch. You are welcome to use any kind of green bean for this recipe, but make sure to alter your cook time according to the bean used.)

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Check out these purple French beans! Unfortunately, they don’t retain their purple color once heat is applied, but they were a fun find at the market!

IMG_3385Turn the heat down to medium-low and move the green beans to one side of the skillet. Add the romaine halves, cut side down, to the pan and sear for 1 minute. Flip romaine hearts over, season them with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the 2 tbsp. sherry vinegar over entire pan, stirring to combine. (Don’t worry if the beans mix with the romaine). Remove from heat and take romaine hearts out and place on cutting board. Cut romaine into large chunks.

Drain tomatoes from brine and place in large mixing bowl. Add seared romaine pieces, sautéed haricots vert,  and ¼ cup of vinaigrette (reserve extra vinaigrette for later use) to bowl and gently toss. Finish with a final dusting of shaved pecorino. And if you’d like, serve the salad with a piece of toast to soak up the delicious juices at the end. A refreshing side dish for a summer afternoon! You can also top this salad with seared fish, grilled steak, or roasted chicken for a more filling entree.

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