Thai Salmon and Risotto

With a side of seared scallops with lime-cardamom dust, naturally.

This is a tasty dish, requiring a bit of work, but very nice for a dinner party. It can be largely prepared in advance, with ten minutes of work prior to serving. This is for four people.

Salmon Marinade:
Combine two chopped shallots or half an onion, two cloves chopped garlic, two tablespoons shredded ginger, juice of a lime or two, two tablespoons of brown sugar, 3 tablespoons of red curry paste, a teaspoon of fish sauce, 1/2 a teaspoon of sesame oil, and 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil, and mix really well.

Cut a pound of salmon into 4 filets and cover with about 1/2 the marinade. (Save the rest to add to the risotto and drizzle around the finished dish.)

Lime Cardamom dust
Crush a dozen little black cardamom seeds from inside the pod in a mortar and pestle; save a pinch for the risotto, below. Zest a lime. Mix the two in a small microwave-safe bowl and zap for 10 or 15 seconds at a time until the zest is dry. Sprinkle half of this dust on both sides of 8 sea scallops. (Save the rest for the finished dish.) Season them with salt and pepper too.

This can be half-cooked ahead of your dinner party. Mix together a tablespoon of cumin, a teaspoon of sweet paprika, and the leftover pinch of cardamom dust. Heat 4 cups of seafood stock until it simmers and keep it aside. In a large saucepan or saute pan, saute a chopped shallot in a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add a tablespoon or two of shredded ginger, two cloves crushed garlic, one teaspoon of red chili paste and the spice mix and saute for 30 seconds. Add one cup of short grain rice and stir to coat the grains in the flavor mixture. Start adding the stock, a ladle or two at a time, and let the rice simmer away. You can do this until about half the stock is absorbed, then stop. The risotto will be half-cooked but you can pick it up again just prior to serving dinner-- the salmon will be broiling and the scallops will be searing at the same time. But for now, go relax, have a drink, chill out with your guitar before your guests arrive.

Bringing it all together
After several cocktails with your guests, maybe a salad or something to start, preheat the broiler. Start heating the remaining fish stock and the turn on the heat under the risotto. Heat a saute pan. Open a can of coconut milk. Get ready to multi-task.

The rice will take longest, about 10 minutes so start that first. The scallops will sear about two minutes each side, and the salmon will broil in five minutes, so you'll start these when the rice nears completion. Or, wait til the rice is done before starting the seafood. It'll hold for a few minutes.

As the rice nears completion-- you're tasting as you're going, right?-- add about 1/3 can coconut milk and stir well. Add about a tablespoon of the leftover marinade and stir again. Lay the salmon filets on a foil-lined baking sheet and throw under the broiler. Add some bacon fat, duck fat, or vegetable oil to your hot saute pan and saute the scallops for about 2 minutes per side.

To assemble:
Mound some rice in the middle of each of four plates. Top with a piece of broiled salmon. Place two scallops next to this, which a small pinch of leftover "dust" next to the scallops. Drizzle a little marinade around the edge of the plate.

This would be nice to top with a little chopped cilantro and a couple of Thai basil leaves... a quarter lime would not be out of place. I'd drink a New Zealand sauvignon blanc or a crisp lager with this.


Grilled Cheese

Grilled cheese sandwiches. They've come a long way since two greasy slices of Wonderloaf surrounding molten American Cheese/food product. The two main ingredients (those would be "bread" and "cheese") offer so much variety as to create an infinity of delicious combinations. (Having said that, even a basic sandwich of whole wheat bread filled with shredded Cheddar is downright delicious.)

Let's all explore the universe of grilled cheese sandwiches. Let's get slightly adventurous with additional fillings (without drifting too far from the path of righteousness). Let's use that expensive cheese that ought to really only be served by itself, bereft of honey, balsamic vinegar, or chutney and nuts. Let's use bread that doesn't come in a plastic sleeve. Who's with me?

Basic grilled cheese:

Preheat oven to 350.

Preheat cast iron pan over medium heat.

Butter two slices of whole wheat bread.

Turn one slice over, butter side down (ew).

Cover this slice with lots of grated Cheddar.

Cover with second slice of buttered bread (butter side up).

Carefully transer the greasy mess to the hot pan.

After a couple of minutes, gently lift the bottom of the sandwich with a spatula; when it is golden brown, flip the sandwich and place the pan in the oven.

After approximately 5 minutes, remove the pan, remove the sandwich, cut it in half-- diagonally is nice-- and scarf down.


Beans and Greens

I like canned beans. I like the mushy texture. I'm growing to like the viscous liquid they're packed in. Generally, I'd drain the beans and rinse them well. But when used judiciously, the liquid in the can thickens dishes and adds a pleasant creaminess.

Our garden is ripening. Pea pods have appeared, though they still resemble snow peas. A single green fruit adorns one tomato plant. Most of the spring greens have aged to the point of toughness and bitterness, though we can still pluck the occasional tender leaf. The beats are of varying size. Yesterday I thinned them, primarily to get the leaves, which I turned into beans and greens.

Saute half a chopped onion in olive oil.

Add some cleaned, chopped greens like beet greens, chard, kale (from which you've cut out the tough central stem). Use more than you think, they'll cook down significantly. Season well with salt and pepper.

After the greens reduce, about two minutes, add a few cloves of chopped garlic and half a can of white beans, with a little bean liquid. Add half a cup of chicken or vegetable stock or water, and a bit more salt. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes.

Cover and let cook on a low heat for about 15 minutes. Remove lid. If too moist, allow to simmer lidless for a few minutes.


Thai Beef Salad

We have big lettuce leaves available to us in our community garden. And cilantro, mint, chives and basil. Got me thinking of rolling and dipping things into sauces, as we did in Hoi An, Vietnam a couple of years ago. But spring rolls and banh xeo are beyond the commitment I was prepared to make on a Friday evening. The prep work alone would interfere with my ability to enjoy a cocktail.

A modified Thai Beef Salad would be a good compromise, and except for the beef, I had all the ingredients on hand-- or at least enough to approximate the dish.

Five minutes prep work, then you have a couple of hours to kill (read: drink) while the marinade works its flavor magic.

This is a great dish for a hot night, especially delicious when paired with cold lager.

1. Season your steak well S and P. I used sirloin, a mid-priced cut that grills well.

2. Make the marinade. Mix together:
one chopped shallot (or half an onion)
grated ginger, about the size of a ladyboy's thumb
two cloves minced garlic
juice of two limes
black pepper

Let this sit and stew for a few minutes while you replenish your drink.

four tablespoons vegetable oil
two tablespoons brown sugar
one or more tablespoons red curry paste (this is mild)
splash sesame oil (optional)
splash fish oil (optional)

3. Set half the marinade aside-- this will be the dipping sauce. Marinate the steak in the rest, for a minimum of two hours, preferable many more.

4. After a few cocktails, nonchalantly light your grill. Grill steak to MR, then let it rest for at least five minutes. Slice it and serve it with lettuce leaves and lots of fresh herbs. Roll up the meat and the herbs in the leaves and dip into the flavorful sauce. Don't wear your best shirt. In fact, eat naked.