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Food is a fast way to the human heart, and the double-truth there is that it touches warmth not only to the hungry recipient, but also the kind provider/designer of the meal.
Over the course of my 20s, cooking has been healthy and functional, but the ingredients of patience and passion were never afforded much presence — most food I prepped at a North American pace, with frugality of time in mind — many salads and fruit smoothies fueled me.
Recently, the passion has taken me, and I’ve been joyful in preparing and making special dishes and working on improving as a cook.
Here are a few simple meals that you can surely make.
1. Theatrical Home-made Pizza
Part 1 (early in the day, or the day before).
Ingredients: ½ tsp dry active yeast, ⅛th cup olive oil, 2 cups flour, 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp salt
- Pour ¾ cup of warm water into a bowl, and add the dry yeast; let sit for five minutes.
- Whisk in sugar, salt, oil — then add the flour (I usually whisk in cup 1, and stir in cup two with a wooden spoon).
- Help to unify and bind the dough with a bit of light kneading. Transfer the dough into an oiled bowl, cover hermetically with saran wrap.
- Let the dough sit; 3-4 hours is good, 6-8 will give you a magnificently aerated dough. If you make the dough the day before, or further in advance, you can put it in the fridge or freezer. If frozen, leave 24 hours to thaw and rise.
Part 2 (prep)
Ingredients: fresh rosemary, olive oil, garlic, parmesan, butter
- In a small bowl, let a small amount of butter (perhaps 1-2 tbsp) soften (it can be quick-softened with a microwave, but leaving the butter out to soften naturally works best).
- Pour in some olive oil – not enough to drown the butter, just enough to make a spreadable mixture (this concoction will furnish your crust).
- Finely chop the rosemary and sprinkle in enough to make the mix speckled with green.
- Grate parmesan into your mixture and stir the ingredients together with a fork. If you want to make this mixture even better, wrap a head of garlic in tin foil and bake it for 45 minutes to an hour. When it’s done, squash the garlic and separate the soft flesh from the shell. Mix this mush into your rosemary spread and you will manifest heaven upon your crust.
“Pizza toppings are a matter of individual palettes and politico-culinary leanings. I share my own partisanships, substitute your own as you like.”
- Either immediately before cooking or some time in advance, lightly fry mushrooms and onions in a pan (give the onions a good 5 minutes start, on a lower heat); I use 1-2 decent sized portobellos, however, any old porcini will do, and oyster mushrooms are also a wonderful tack. I like to cut them invariant chunks, so that some pieces become more cooked through and seared, while others preserve the memory of that raw mushroom succulence.
- Add a sprinkling of thyme, and some salt and pepper. The idea here is not to thoroughly cook these veggies, but to give them a little singe and a little head start, because we’ll be doing the pie at a high temp; therefore, we want to make sure the veg isn’t left slightly undercooked in its oven stint.
- Key tip: after cooking your onnies and mushrooms – let them rest in a strainer so that their excessive moisture is removed. This will seriously help to avoid the sogginess factor and help to keep your pizza strong and pretty.
- Roll your dough out on a flour’d surface. (If you do not possess a wooden roller, a wine bottle will do). Be gentle and caring with your rolling — do not over-thin the dough, or unbalancingly amass it in different regions. Roll slowly and keep circularity and evenness in mind.
- Oil a pizza pan (the more porous the better! Do not settle for a pinholed pan — you’d sooner want a hole’d castiron grill pan than a pizza pan with insufficient diameter to its pores). Place the rolled dough on the pan and lightly spread on the pesto, circulating it with a large spoon. It’s very important to put the pizza on the pan before adding ingredients.
- I use pesto as a light spread on my dough (easy to make on your own). If you want a traditional tomato sauce, I implore you to make your own. Even a simple tandem of basil and fresh tomatoes run through a blender will give you a nice fresh spread for your base. Leave room on your dough to put that beautiful rosemary rub around the rim.
- Next, finely chop maybe 8-9 sizable sundried tomato slices, adding those into the pesto spread, circulating them also with a large spoon. Olive-lovers may also want to collaborate with some Kalamatas, doing similar with them as you’ve done with the sundried tomatoes. After doing so, you may grate mozzarella cheese on top (surely you can decide how much you want for yourself – a medium amount is best IMO).
- Add your mushrooms and onions and focus on distribution. This is where I like to add a few other kinds of cheese: a small amount of goat, blue, and most anything will add a nice zing to the pie’s finish. If fruit on pizza is not sacrilegious, you can very thinly slice some pear for sweetness. Finally, garnish your pizza with some basil leaves.
What makes or breaks every pizza is the bake. It’s easy to make a good pie, almost impossible to substantiate a great one. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Put your pie in the oven (middle rack, unless your pan ain’t porous — then, lower rack) and set the timer for 8 minutes. When 8 minutes comes, use a spatula and take a quick glance at the bottom of your pizza — if it’s browned and firm, and the dough has a light tan, then, to me, it’s ready. It should ultimately take between 8-13 minutes depending on your oven’s propensities and how well-cooked you want the pie.
Slide your pizza off the pan onto a large cutting board. Using a pizza-knife (the rolling ones), divvy your pie. Embellish by carrying the board elevated on your hand towards the table, and portion out slices to your servee(s).
Taste your pie and evaluate where you (or I) may have erred. Be honest and severe with your judgement; I hold this juridical integrity as a key part of this meal.
2. Sexy From-Scratch Mex-style Tortillas
Part 1 – Refried Beans (day before if you make your own)
Canned will do, but making your own is really rewarding and it tastes way better. Simply soak your beans overnight (I’ve been using a mix of red kidney beans + black beans (surely pinto and others will do as well)); boil the beans in a large pot until they are soft enough to easily blend. In a food processor, or in a bowl with some sort of grinding mechanism, blend and mush your beans. Add olive oil and water as needed to create a smooth, creamy texture. Add s+p, coriander, cumin seeds, chilli powder, and lemon juice to taste.
If you make these beans ahead of time, you can warm them a little in a pot or microwave to spread on your tortilla once it’s cooked.
Part 2 – Guacamole + Salsita
Grind down two ripe avocados and add s+p, a little bit of olive oil (for texture), a healthy amount of lime juice (maybe 2-3 tbsp), 2 cloves of finely minced garlic, and ¾ of a finely chopped onion.
Chop 3-4 tomatoes in a bowl, add half a bunch of chopped cilantro, 1 chopped onion, 2 chopped cloves of garlic, and 2-3 tbsp of fresh-squeezed lime juice (to taste), and s+p. Add one chilli pepper if you like that fire.
Part 3 – Dough
Mix 1.75 cups Masa Harina with 1⅛ cups hot water → the huge huge key with the tortilla dough is your kneading; knead until the dough is really flexible, well-bound, elastic-y; ideally you work the ball until it can be pressed down flat without the edges fraying too much, although it won’t ruin your tortilla if does a little … (I’d say this kneading should take a good ten minutes)
If you make the dough ahead of your meal, make sure to cover it with a damp cloth to keep the moisture in — this is especially important with corn tortilla dough.
Cook your tortillas last, when everything else is prepared. When you’re ready to cook, split your dough into small balls — it really only matters in terms of how big you want the tortillas to be. Golf-ball size or a little larger is fine. (Alternatively, you can roll out the whole dough and then, using a cookie cutter, take circle cuts for your tortilla flats).
Press the dough flat with the underside of a pan or plate (unless you have a tortilla press). Then use a roller and try to thin the tortilla out to a few centimeters (if you can). When you’re ready to cook, heat up a pan (I like castiron) on medium-high. Cook the tortilla on both sides for about 1-2 minutes — but use your eye and look to see that the dough is cooking through and there’s a nice browning on your tortilla.
Part 4 – Assemblage
Cook the tortillas, spread refried beans on top once they’re cooked, grate cheese (mozzarella) on top, and add your guacamole and salsa.
3. Vietnamese Vegetarian Spring Rolls
Part 1 – Peanut Sauce
In a food processor, place 1.5 cloves of finely chopped garlic, and about an inch of ginger, also finely chopped. Blend these together so that they’re quite finely broken down. Add to the food processor 1 cup of peanut butter, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp lime juice, a sprinkling of hot chilli flakes, 2 tsp of brown sugar, and a half cup of water for texture (add more if it’s too dry, bearing in mind it will dilute the taste as you add).
Part 2 – Tofu
Cut firm tofu into strips and dry thoroughly with paper towel. Heat the pan on medium and fill with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Place the dried tofu strips in the pan and drizzle sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce (go easy on it), on top. Turn them over when they’re golden brown.
Part 3 – Veggies & Assemblage
Boil water in a kettle and pour a layer of hot water into a shallow round dish. You will use this to submerge your rice paper rolls for about a minute (or however long they need to become pliable).
Veggies: Julienne (thin strip) cut cucumber (red pepper and cabbage work great too), peel carrot into long shavings, create thin strips cut from 1 ripe avocado, and do the same with a ripe mango. Finely chop parsley to add in. To assemble your veggie rolls: take the rice paper after it’s been submerged in hot water and lay it flat on a cutting board, or another surface that won’t become too sticky. Create a bundle-like assemblage in the middle of the paper with your cooked tofu, carrot shavings, cucumber, mango, avocado, parsley. Take one side of the paper and fold it over the central pile, tucking it together nicely, then folding over the sides, and finishing by rolling the central pile to the end of the rice wrap. Can be eaten immediately or refrigerated.
4. Pakistani-style Paratha with Potato
Part 1 – Dough
Put two cups of all purpose flour in a bowl and add enough warm water (usually about 1 cup or less) to form the flour into a ball of dough. If the dough is a little dry, try kneading it for a couple minutes and see if it will consume the surrounding flour. If it’s still too dry, add a small amount of warm water. A little water goes a long way. Knead your dough thoroughly until it’s strong and flexible. Let it sit for 20-30 mins in a sealed bowl.
Part 2 – Dal?
Boil a pot of medium-sized potatoes: anywhere between 6-12. In a separate bowl, chopped ½ bunch of spinach leaves and two stems of green onion. In a separate pan, lightly cook 2 cloves of minced garlic in butter until it’s softened. After you finished the garlic, cook ½ stem of chopped leeks. Add all these together in your vegetable bowl, and add in the potatoes when they’re nice and soft. Mixed these veggies together and break apart the potato so that you have a mixed mashed bowl of filling. Add chili powder, cumin seeds (pre-warmed in a pan if you like), ground coriander, salt + pepper.
Part 3 – Assembly and Cooking
Cut your dough into 8 golf balls-sized dough spheres. Take two balls at a time, flatten them with your hand, then, also with your hand, work and stretch them into flat tortilla-like circles. Use a rolling pin to get them very thin and stretched out, and try to make sure the two flats are similar in size and both circular. Leaving about ½ inch of room at the edges, place your veggie filling onto one of the roti flats. Then place the second flat on top and use your fingers to bind the edges together, enclosing the veggie filling in the middle. With the rolling pin, flatten out the roti, starting by sloping the edges and enforcing the bond between the base roti and the lid. Stretch and roll the paratha out until it's crepe-thin, the dough and dal having integrated together. Heat up your pan to medium, and use an oil brush to coat your paratha with oil, placing it onto the pan, and then oiling the other side once you have. Flip the paratha a couple of times, and let the whole thing cook for about 3-5 minutes, waiting to see nice spots of brown and slight charring on the outside.
Enjoy with yoghurt and mango chutney, or simply on its own.