Tag Archives: rice

Laili Restaurant Review

On Friday night Andrew and I ventured into downtown Santa Cruz to catch a movie at the Riverfront Twin. We were planning on seeing 50/50 since we’re Joseph Gordon Levitt fans and Seth Rogen is generally amusing. We eschewed the typical pizza, taqueria, or falafel choices that we usually make and decided to check out a restaurant that’s been around for about a year: Laili. It is located on Cooper Street where I believe there used to be an apothecary, but I’m not certain. They have indoor and outdoor space; we chose to sit outdoors since the weather was nice and indoors was fairly noisy and dark. The patio area is beautiful: ivy growing everywhere, tea lights, etc. The only way you were reminded that you were next to Pacific Ave were the drummers outside of O’Neil’s which quieted down about fifteen minutes after being seated.

 

Afghan Chai

The waitress got our drinks ordered quickly: Andrew ordered a beer (typical) and I ordered a chai (also typical). Our drinks came quickly and then we ordered our appetizers and entrees. The chai was an Afghan chai, sweeter and not as spicy as Indian chai. It was also pinkish in color. I really enjoyed it and it had these beautiful bubbles on top that I really wanted to photograph.

While we were enjoying our beverages, a waitress came by and tried to give us someone else’s entrees. Then another waitress came by and dropped off an appetizer that we didn’t order, but we couldn’t exactly remember the names of what we ordered so we started eating it anyway. The Pumpkin Boranee is stewed pumpkin, qurut yogurt, mint, and garlic. It was a very pretty dish that sounded good, but the texture of the stewed pumpkin was slimy and stringy.

Pumpkin Boranee

Next came the appetizers that we did order: the Silk Road Plate and the Pumpkin Bolani. The Silk Road Plate was a selection of hummus, tabbouleh, babaghanoush, and cucumber yogurt dip with “naan”. Their idea of naan was not typical of the naan that I’ve had: it was simply a flour tortilla grilled, completely tasteless and not naan. The hummus was good and the pumpkin bolani was absolutely delicious, crispy on the outside and sweet, spicy pumpkin on the inside. Along with our appetizers, we ordered a prawn salad with arugula, fennel, seasonal fruits, and pomegranate vinaigrette. This was a completely overpriced salad with (18 dollars) with about six prawns, the pomegranate vinaigrette that did not taste of pomegranate at all, and maybe about three strawberries.  Total disappointment.

 

For our entrees, I ordered Chicken Kabob and Andrew ordered Anar Chicken. The chicken kabob was moist and tender unlike a lot of chicken kabobs that I’ve had. It was served with saffron rice, steamed vegetables that were overcooked and undercooked (a definite low point in the meal), and several different chutneys that really helped add flavor to the meat which was slightly bland. The Anar Chicken was a half roasted chicken with pomegranate sauce, roasted potatoes, and mixed vegetables. Andrew said it was very good.
 Anar Chicken with Roasted Potatoes

Chicken Kabob with Saffron Rice

The service was definitely off. They tried to serve us food that wasn’t ours, served us food that wasn’t ours which we ate anyway, and there was nearly forty-five minutes between being served our apps and being served our entrees. The staff were friendly when they did stop by, but they were simultaneously overattentive and not attentive enough. Overall, the food was good, the service mediocre, and definitely overpriced for the amount of food and quality of that food.

Six Layer Dip: A Way to Use Leftovers

Andrew and I had much food leftover from our Saturday night shindig. There was still a considerable amount of chili verde, pulled pork and one chicken breast left. What do with it? I contemplated chili verde pork tacos/burritos, but we had no tortillas. Then it came to me: I could make a layered dip for tonight’s BBQ at Peter’s house. Starting at ten in the morning, I started cooking my beans from scratch.

Cooking dried beans either intimidates people or just doesn’t sound very exciting. Okay, I get it. Beans are not a sexy food to cook. Plus it is so easy to buy canned beans. Canned beans however are expensive (much more expensive than buying them dried by the pound) and they often contain a lot of sodium. I also find them a tad mushy. Most of the time I do used canned beans, but I did not have any left and I did have half a pound of dried pink beans in my cupboard.

Cooking beans is a lot easier than people make it out to be. It’s certainly not quick but it is not the long ordeal that it is often made out to be. From cupboard to dip the beans took about an hour and a half. That is not bad considering many recipes say that YOU MUST soak them overnight or they will take forever to cook. Simply not true.

First, I rinsed my beans in cold water. Then I put them in a pot and covered them with water. You want at least two to three inches of water over your beans. Yes, you will need to watch the level of your water and replenish it from time to time. Do some laundry, bring a book into the kitchen, do some knitting, whatever. Bring your beans to a boil then reduce to a simmer so they are gently bubbling. Cover with a lid partway and cook for until they tender. This can take anywhere from an half to four hours. It depends on how much you’re cooking and what kind of bean it is. Mine took about an hour and a half to cook.

Cover beans with at least two inches of water. 

Bring beans to a boil, then reduce heat so they bubble gently.

Partially cover and cook until beans are tender. 

Drain the beans, rinse, and let sit until room temperature. 

When the beans are tender, take off the heat and drain in a colander. You may want to save some of your bean cooking liquid for the next part of the recipe. I did not save mine and I had to use water. Rinse the beans and let them come down to room temperature.

Mash the beans with a fork. I also added spices. 

Now is the fun part. You get to mash your beans to whatever texture you like. I wanted mine chunky so I tried a fork. That was not getting me ANYWHERE. So I used my fist instead. Yes, I fisted my beans. Yes, my hands were perfectly clean and this was totally sanitary. It was also fun. You should never doubt your hands as tools. You may need to add a little water, broth, or bean liquid to get a smoother texture. You can also go a whiz in the food processor depending on how smooth you would like your beans.

Smooth out the beans with a spatula. 

The beans serve as the base for your dip. They are the heaviest and need to be smoothed out. Pour into a large bowl and smooth until level. Then I topped it with the pulled pork which I also smoothed out with a rubber spatula.

Add pulled pork. 

Next I made some rice. I took half a cup of white rice and put it in a small pot. I covered it with vegetable broth with at least an inch covering the rice. This is the correct amount and  you don’t need to measure this exactly. From there bring to a boil then reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for about fifteen minutes or until the liquid has evaporated and your rice is cooked.

Top the pulled pork with rice. 

Chopped chicken breast marinated in Frank’s Red Hot. 

Add chicken and more Frank’s Red Hot sauce. 

Cover the pulled pork with the rice layer. I topped the rice layer with chopped chicken breast marinated in Frank’s Red Hot sauce (my friend Ian’s contribution to our Saturday night shindig) then topped with more Frank’s Red Hot. Next came chopped avocado. Then this was finally topped with some of the leftover manzana chili verde (see previous post).

The final product

Crispy Skinned Salmon: An Ode to Ranch 99

I have probably waxed poetic about the beauty of Ranch 99 before. Ranch 99 is a chain of Asian supermarkets found in the Bay Area (and I’ve heard rumors of them existing in other parts of California as well). Right down the street from us is the Ranch 99 Cupertino store. It is in a busy shopping center with one of the most dangerous parking lots I’ve ever encountered along with a large number of mostly Chinese restaurants and bubble tea stores. I like having this grocery store within walking distance and it will be one of the few things that I will miss after we move back to Santa Cruz.

Fresh wild salmon filet with large ribbons of fat running through it.

One of the best things about Ranch 99 is the fresh seafood. They have live shellfish of all shapes, sizes, and varieties there. They also have live fish there that you can choose from. Now I am not so knowledgeable, skilled, or adventurous enough at the moment to choose my own fish and gut it at home. Instead Andrew and I opted to purchase their fresh, wild salmon filets stored on ice in the fish market. These filets were huge and mine alone was over a pound of brightly colored, fat ribboned salmon glory.

Salmon Skin is not only beautiful but incredibly delicious and crispy when grilled. 

 I went for a simple treatment of the fish. I marinated it in the juice of one lemon, two tablespoons of soy sauce, and rubbed some brown sugar into the flesh. Before marinating make sure to wash the fish so any slime comes off and pat it dry with paper towels. This is also a good time to debone the fish if there are any. There were so few bones in my fish that I just skipped this step all together. Let it marinate on the counter for thirty minutes before throwing it on the grill.

Marinating salmon in soy sauce, lemon juice, and brown sugar. 

Grill the salmon skin side down so the skin becomes crispy and delicious. The skin may stick to the grill. It did in my case because of the marinade that we put on it, but Andrew’s simple treatment of olive oil and lemon juice did not stick to the grill. You want to grill it on medium high heat with about four inches of space from your rack to your heat source (we use a propane grill). Our filets were large so it took about twenty minutes for them to cook to about medium. It will be less time if your filets are thinner or if you want to go for medium rare. Only eat medium rare or rare fish if it is very very fresh and you know the source. Just because the grocery store says it is sushi grade does not necessarily mean that you can it rare.

We served the salmon with asparagus cooked on the stovetop with olive oil and lemon and brown rice.

 

Tacos…or something with tortillas

One thing we eat a lot of around here in California is “Mexican” food. “Mexican” is a blanket term for anything involving tortillas, rice, beans, and avocados. This can be in the form of burritos, tacos, papusas, empanadas, enchiladas, or quesadillas. I’m not sure what can be classified as authentic around here. Then there is also the clash between the NorCal and SoCal burritos. I’m a NorCal burrito person myself because I’m not into the refried beans that are used in the SoCal burrito. Plus, NorCal burritos are monster sized and super cheap. They can last me two meals.

Last week we bought a large package of flour tortillas from Safeway and did a taco night. Taco night around our house pretty much consists of pinto beans, avocados, flour tortillas, chile verde, and cheese (for me). This time I made brown rice to go with it and Andrew sauteed some diced yellow onion. This was the first time that I succesfully made brown rice. It was great! This is a simple, easy meal. I wouldn’t say it’s quick because brown rice takes almost an hour to cook, but it definitely is easy.

Basic Brown Rice

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 2 cups vegetable broth

1. Put brown rice and vegetable broth in a small saucepan. Then bring heat to high and boil.

2. Once the rice and broth are boiling, turn the heat to low and cover with a lid. Let it simmer for forty-five to fifty-five minutes.

3. Remove the lid and fluff the rice. I had excess liquid even though my rice was done cooking. I just drained this out into the sink.

Here is what it looks like as you’re cooking:

1. The rice and broth boiling. The red rings are what heat my food (I miss gas burners).

Yes, our stove-top is almost always that clean.

This is the rice simmering. Seriously, this is thrilling stuff. Do the rest of your cooking while the rice is cooking away or be like me and read a history book (I recommend Alison Weir)

And here is the finished product. No, yours will not be this glowing. That is just my lovely over the top flash because I do not have my portable desk lamp at this house yet.

We ate this with canned pinto cooked with onion powder, chili powder, and minced garlic. We always buy the organic, low-sodium kind and then rinse them before cooking.

And this is the final product. It is a terrible picture but I couldn’t focus with that little of light.

Coconut Toasted Rice with BBQ Black Eyed Peas

Most of the time food around my kitchen is not fancy. The fancy stuff I cook is for when people come over for dinner or when I really want to try a complicated recipe. For the most part, I’m happy with beans and rice, a poached egg, ramen, or oatmeal. Today wasn’t much different. I have a twenty something pound bag of white rice in cupboard that I’m trying to make use of. I don’t really like white rice. I find it bland, boring, and not very nutritious. However, I have it, it was free, and it doesn’t take long to cook. I also had a can of black eyed peas in my cupboard. So I came up with the idea of cooking black eyed peas with white rice.

White rice. Boring. I decided to vamp up my white rice by cooking it in some light coconut milk. Yes, coconut milk is high in saturated fat, but it’s a good saturated fat and I’m eating the light kind. What came out was incredibly fragrant, a little toasted, and much tastier than plain white rice.

Toasted Coconut Rice

  • 1 cup white rice
  • 1 1/2 cups light coconut milk (you can use full fat)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

1. Bring coconut milk, salt, and rice to boil. Once the mixture is boiling, stir a bit, lower the temperature to low, and cover. Cook for about fifteen to twenty minutes. Rice should be fluffy with some sticking to the bottom of the pan to get crunchy and toasted (this was a complete accident on my part).

BBQ Black Eyed Peas

  • 1 15 oz. can black eyed peas
  • 2 tbsps. BBQ sauce (homemade or prepared)
  • black pepper
  • red chili pepper flakes

1. Rinse black eyed peas before adding to skillet. Do not rinse completely. The bean juice from the can will make a nice sauce. Add black pepper, red pepper flakes, and BBQ sauce . Stir and cook until heated.

Do not add salt when cooking the black eyed peas. Most canned bean products already contain a considerable amount of salt as does BBQ sauce.

Chickpea Curry

I’m not sure if anyone has realized yet but I love chickpeas. Andrew also loves them so we cook them a lot. He is really trying to reduce his meat intake and one way of doing that is bulking up on other proteins. Chickpeas are one of my favorite beans to eat. One of my favorite things to eat them in is curry. There is a curry place very close to where Andrew used to live in Santa Clara that served amazing channa masala. Now their channa masala was not vegan and this one is!

This post celebrates the first time I have made rice correctly without a rice cooker. I am very proud of myself.

Chickpea Curry (Channa Masala)

  • 1 15 oz. can cooked chickpeas
  • 1 pkg. Chicken Tikka Masala mix (I know this is cheating)
  • 1/3 cup lite coconut milk (the mix called for heavy cream, but I wanted to make it vegan and Andrew hates dairy)
  • cooked rice

I made my curry with white rice, but next time I think I will do brown rice. It has more flavor than white rice. I do however have twenty pounds of white rice sitting in my cupboard.

1. In a pot bring water, spice packet, and coconut milk to boil. Then add chickpeas and cook until heated through.

We served this with Andrew’s asparagus with olive oil and lemon juice.

Rice with Poached Egg

I am terrible at making rice without a rice maker. I can never seem to get the texture correct. The outside is mushy and the inside is undercooked. I always do the right proportion of water to rice, I cook it the amount of time that the recipe says, yet I am a failure at making rice. However, the rice is not inedible so I will end up eating at least one serving of it and throwing the rest out.

This week I made brown rice with a broth, blanched asparagus, and a poached egg. The egg, broth, and asparagus came out nicely. I will have to keep working on my rice cooking skills.

Rice with Poached Egg

  • one serving of cooked brown rice (you can also use white rice, if you like)
  • one egg
  • water
  • soy sauce
  • sriracha sauce
  • not-chicken chicken broth (this comes in a powder at one of the grocery stores I shop at)
  • nutritional yeast

Note: I made this broth on the fly and I didn’t measure anything. It definitely came out with an Asian influenced flavor.

1. Boil water and add chicken broth powder. Stir in the rest of spices and nutritional yeast. Once boiling, bring down to a simmer. Crack egg into broth. Do not disrupt the egg at this point. You want to keep your white and yolk whole.

Note: To make sure an egg is fresh fill a cup with cold water. Add the egg to the cup. If the egg floats then the egg is bad. If it sinks to the bottom it is still good to use.

2. Remove the egg from the broth with a slotted spoon once the white has set and the yolk gives but is slightly firm to the touch. If you prefer a harder yolk then let it cook for longer. Put this aside with your rice.

3. Add chopped asparagus to the broth and cook briefly. Put in a cup of cold water to cool it down and stop the cooking the process. This is one of those things that I keep checking for doneness. I like my asparagus still fairly crisp, but not bitter the way raw asparagus can be.

4. Place rice in a bowl, top with poached egg, pour broth over egg and rice. Then add the asparagus. Enjoy!

Tri-Grain Salad

Today I showed up for babysitting and my clients were not home. They had not called me or texted me or emailed me. I thought that I was supposed to come today, but the driveway gate was closed and no one answered the door when I rang. So, I had the evening off to cook. I went straight away to Staff of Life Market in the mid-town area of Santa Cruz. For the vegans and veggies out there, Staff of Life is amazing. They have vegan hot food bar choices, baked goods, and tons of supplements, flours, and starches. Amazing.

I decided I wanted to make a multi-grain, multi-pulse salad. What came out was delicious, though a little soggy. My landlord thought it even looked, smelled, and tasted great. She usually looks at my food with a big “Huh” on her face and says “oh, that looks interesting”. It was salty, sweet, tangy with a variety of textures.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup brown rice
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 1/2 cup soft wheat berries
  • 5 medjool dates (you could use dried apricots instead)
  • 1/4 cup dried unsweetened cranberries (you could use raisins if you prefer)
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1/2 pkg. steamed yellow corn
  • 1/4 cup millet
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • pineapple salad vinegar (use whatever vinegar you have on hand)
  • sunflower oil
  • agave nectar

1. Boil a large pot of water. While water is boiling, chop carrots, dates, and avocados. Put wheat berries and rice into pot. Let boil for five minutes. Add red lentils to the pot. Boil another five minutes. Add carrots to the pot and boil. After five minutes, add millet and boil all grains until done. Then add an egg and stir. The egg is definitely optional if you want a vegan dish.

2. While the grains are cooking, microwave steam in the bag corn. You could definitely use fresh corn and I recommend doing that, but I had the frozen corn handy. Do not use canned corn. Do not use canned corn ever. If you use canned corn I will stop speaking to you because it is revolting.

3. Add dates, corn, cranberries, avocado, and chickpeas to a large bowl. Add some salt and pepper to this mix. Add minced garlic to this mix.

4. When the grains are done cooking, drain them over the sink very very well. Like through a flour sifter. I did not do this and my salad came out a little wet. Then add them to the dried fruit and chickpea mix. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Add salad vinegar (I think this would be bomb with balsamic vinegar or rice vinegar) and sunflower oil. Mix until combined. I let mine cool a bit. I think it would be even better refrigerated. Then I added pesto on top of this and mixed.

Restaurant Reviews

As a recent traitor to omnivorism and convert to cooking vegan, I feel very lucky to live in an area with as many options as Santa Cruz has. Going out to eat is not difficult, it’s not as easy as it was before, but it’s definitely do-able and delicious. There are a couple restaurants in Santa Cruz that are purely vegetarian/vegan: Saturn Cafe, Malabar/Asian Rose, Charlie Hong Kong (I think, though I’m not 100%), Alfresco, and Dharmas.  There is also Black China Bakery which has a great variety of fine vegan desserts. I have only been once to the actual bakery, but they sell their desserts at some local grocery stores and coffee houses. Many of the restaurants have a large variety of vegetarian items.

This weekend Andrew and I got food from Yan Flower, Zachary’s, the Falafel House, and Sitar. Ugh, that’s a lot of eating out, but we almost always cook. On Friday night we got food at Yan Flower before going to see Robin Hood.  Before this weekend Andrew was convinced that there was no Chinese food restaurant that was better than competent. I told him that Yan Flower was pretty good compared to all others in Santa Cruz and therefore could possibly be considered “good”.  We got hot tea, vegetable potstickers, white steamed rice, salty and chilli pepper tofu, and Andrew got Mongolian Lamb. The potstickers were very good, but a little hot (as in temperature) and I almost burned my mouth. The rice was actually good for steamed rice: fluffy and tender. The salty and chilli pepper tofu was fried tofu, jalapeno peppers, garlic, and onions. It was not as salty or spicy as I remember it, but the tofu texture was great. Andrew described it as “egg like” and he enjoyed it as much as he could enjoy tofu. He said the Mongolian Lamb was very good as well.

After taking the night to recover from the mediocrity that was Robin Hood (or Gladiator 2010: Time Travel to The Dark Ages), Andrew and I got breakfast at Zachary’s. Zachary’s is an insanely popular breakfast venue on the main drag downtown. It usually would be insanely crowded at 9am on a Saturday, but we were lucky due to the craptastic weather that we are experiencing mid-May.

I got coffee with soy milk, tofu scramble with avocado, vegan home fries, and oatmeal molasses bread. They make their breads in house and they are all amazing, but oatmeal molasses is my favorite. I thoroughly enjoyed the bread with the avocado spread on it and the home fries were tasty. Tofu scramble just isn’t my thing and this had a rotting garlic scent to it. Andrew enjoyed his scrambled eggs, sausage, and pancakes with Earl Grey Tea.

Later that day we went to check out the Greek Festival in downtown Santa Cruz. There wasn’t anything to it this year: just a bunch of different food booths. This was mostly desserts with a gyro place and another place where you could get souvlaki. There was no falafel which was what Andrew was looking for. Instead we ended up going to the Falafel House on Walnut Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. The Falafel House is a Syrian/Middle Eastern restaurant. I got the vegetarian combo platter which consisted of baba ghanoush, pita bread, taboulleh salad, falafel, and hummus. Now, I fucked up. I ate the regular yogurt sauce on the falafel instead of the vegan tahini sauce. I didn’t know that they were going to put the yogurt sauce on the falafel and I didn’t feel like bothering them to change it.

I enjoyed the falafel, hummus, and pita bread. I liked the baba ghanoush as well which surprised me since I don’t like eggplant. I definitely think I make better hummus though. I didn’t like the taboulleh salad too much, but I still tried to eat it and it wasn’t wretched. I think I don’t like taboulleh. Another great thing about the Falafel House is the fact that they are always playing Syrian MTV or some other music video channel. Oh and they’re onion rings are amazing.

Today we went out for lunch/dinner instead of cooking because we were bummed after the Sharks losing the first game of the conference finals. Andrew got pizza at Pizza My Heart (a local San Francisco Bay Area chain that began in Capitola). My favorite slice at PMH is pesto. It was the first thing with pesto that I ever liked and converted me to a pesto lover. Screw you campus dining halls for making me afraid of pesto for so long.

At Sitar, I got Chana Masala (vegan chickpea/garbanzo bean curry), vegan naan, basmat rice, ice berg lettuce crap in a compartment, and raita (which I didn’t eat since it’s made with yogurt). The chana masal had wonderful texture: thick sauce, creamy garbanzo beans, melt in your mouth pieces of onion, but it the curry could have been spicier. The rice was a good texture and the naan was good.

Thrown Together

Sometimes when I get off work I want a burrito or french fries or something else that I can’t make at home,  then I remember that  I have to eat what I have in the cupboard because it’s already paid for. It was freezing today so I wanted to make something warm and with substance. I threw together a tasty, simple stew of carbohydrates, veggies, and protein.

Ingredients

  • one russet potato, washed and cubed
  • one can of green peas (no salt added)
  • one can of chickpeas
  • one tablespoon of garlic
  • two baby carrots, washed and diced
  • 1/4 cup brown rice
  • sprinkling of nutritional
  • salt and pepper
  • water

1. Boil water on high. Add nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, garlic, potato, carrot, and brown rice. Reduce heat to medium and put a lid on it.

2. After about twenty minutes add the canned goods. Ladle into a serving bowl and add mustard.

The mustard really made it for me. Otherwise it was kind of a bland dish. You could always make this into a curry or serve it with bread. I just didn’t have either of those.