Showing posts with label Middle Eastern food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Middle Eastern food. Show all posts

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Holiday Vacations, Vietnamese Food & A Lobster Roll Lunch

How lucky we are that holidays allow us to take time off from our daily routines. Right now we are enjoying the in-between time that begins with the day after Christmas, extending until the day before New Year's Eve. In the retail world this is the make-or-break period when the year's profits will tip one way or the other. Besides the year-end sales, a few other price breaks are helping make the season merry.

Lower gas prices definitely help. Filling up for half the cost of a few months ago continues to be a treat. On the food front, while many commodities continue to cost more, a very few have come down in price. One in particular, lobster, surprises and delights. Mark Bittman recently wrote about lobster prices coming down on the East Coast. Even in LA, prices have fallen. At Gelson's, the upscale supermarket, lobster has been on sale for most of December.

For the holiday our family makes a yearly pilgrimage to a week's time share we bought when the boys were young. Less than two hours drive and we're in our home away from home.

Driving south from LA, we have an excuse to stop in Little Saigon, where we can have lunch at Ha Noi and shop at ABC Supermarket. At Ha Noi we had three of our favorite dishes: a shrimp spring roll, pho ga (noodle soup with chicken), and vermicelli noodles with bbq pork and shrimp.

In Vietnamese supermarkets like ABC, the cost of fresh produce, meat, poultry, and seafood tends to be 1/3 to 1/2 the price in mainstream markets. Which means we splurged and bought a lobster and lots of produce, shrimp, and a crab.

Our first lunch on vacation was a simple one: lobster salad and a Persian cucumber salad. The salads are easy to make, fresh tasting, and delicious courses to serve over the holiday or to help you welcome in the new year.

Lobster Salad

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

2 lobsters, 1 1/2 pounds each
1 cup corn kernels
1 cup Italian parsley, washed, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, washed, finely chopped
1/4 cup capers, finely chopped
2 scallions, washed, ends trimmed, finely chopped, white and green parts
1/4 - 1/3 cup mayonnaise
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
Cayenne (optional)

Method

The lobsters can be steamed or grilled, either technique is fine. Use the one that's easiest. If steamed, boil 2" of water in a large pot. Hold the live lobsters, head down in the boiling water for 10 seconds. Cover, reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Take the lobsters out of the pot, let cool so they can be handled, remove the meat, and clean away the liver.

If you want to make lobster fume for sauces or a soup, reserve the cooking water. Add any liquid inside the lobster and all the shells to the cooking water, simmer for 20 minutes, reducing the liquid by half, strain, and discard the shells and solids. Add the fume to a finely diced saute of olive oil, celery, potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic, simmer for 30 minutes, strain, use the fume as the base for a pasta sauce or lobster-vegetable soup.

Saute the corn in olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and pepper until lightly browned. Cut the lobster into bite sized pieces and mix with the other ingredients. Season to taste with sea salt, pepper, and (optional) a light dusting of cayenne.

The lobster salad can be served many ways: with romaine lettuce leaves, grilled rolls or a halved baguette with drizzled olive oil or a heated tortilla, either traditional or ones made from brown rice (found at Trader Joe's and favored by my wife, Michelle).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

California Dreamin: A Salad of Iranian Cucumbers, Cherry Tomatoes, and Onions

Living near the beach in Pacific Palisades, I have to drive a long way to visit one of my favorite places to eat. An Armenian restaurant, California Dreamin (6424 San Fernando Road, Glendale, CA 91201) is located in Glendale some 30 miles inland. Happily a block away is another favorite, Golden Farms (6501 San Fernando Road, Glendale, CA 91202), also Armenian, a supermarket famous for its low prices, fresh produce, specialty cuts of meats, and enormous liquor department.

Reflecting the diversity of the neighborhood, California Dreamin is an all-purpose coffee shop serving American, Mexican, Japanese, Middle Eastern, and Armenian food. I imagine it was once a hamburger joint or the kind of coffee shop that served 99¢ breakfasts.

For years I drove by without stopping. Now I look for excuses to swing by and have lunch.

I'm certain all their food is good but I'm a creature of habit so I always order #8 the Chicken Breast Kabob. The perfectly cooked chicken is tender and juicy. Served with basmati rice, a fire-roasted whole tomato and a pepper, toasted pieces of lavash, and a small bowl of cucumber salad, there's always more than I can eat. Invariably I bring home a to-go box for a late night snack. And they make a cup of thick Armenian coffee that packs more flavor than any espresso.

At some point, I realized I came as much for the cucumber-tomato salad (Salad-e Shirazi) as anything else. The combination of flavors is so deceptively simple. Making the salad at home I shop at the local farmers' markets to get the freshest ingredients. Delicious by itself, the salad is a perfect side dish for grilled meats.

Iranian Cucumber, Tomato, Onion Salad

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 5 minutes

I tried using regular cucumbers but they're too watery. For me the salad only works with Iranian or Persian cucumbers because they have more density and fewer seeds. The traditional version of the salad calls for the addition of an acid, either vinegar or citrus juice (lemon or lime). Personally, I like it without either, but all versions are worth trying.

Ingredients

2 Iranian cucumbers, washed, peeled, thinly sliced into rounds or quarters
1/2 basket cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered
2 tablespoons yellow onion, washed, peeled, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Mix together and dress with olive oil. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.

Serve as a side dish with grilled meats or to be eaten with grilled lavash or tortillas.

Variations

Add a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice, or 1 teaspoon vinegar.

Add finely chopped Italian parsley or cilantro or mint leaves.

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