Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ajvar: Serbian Salsa

Saturday mornings are my favorite because I go work out and then head down to the River Market and pick up a week's worth of fresh produce from the market. It is my routine every weekend and I do not feel like myself, if I do not make it down there. I bring my little blue basket and fill it up to the brim every time with seasonal goodies.

This morning, I made a special stop at Al Habashi, the Middle Eastern grocery store. I picked up some dried apricots for cookies I am planning on baking tomorrow (which I will post), dried papaya, fresh pitas, and a jar of ajvar. Ajvar is a type of Serbian salsa and consists of fire roasted red peppers and eggplant, salt, vinegar, vegetable oil, and spices. It is a delicious spread and I decided to eat it for lunch today by dipping freshly baked and still warm pita in the dip. Yummmmm. It almost tastes like pimento cheese but a lot healthier because it doesn't have all of the cheese and mayo in it. Growing up in the south, I learned to love pimento cheese spread. Now, this will be my healthy alternative! If you can find it at your local grocery store, I suggest you check it out. You will not be dissapointed.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thai Coconut Ginger Soup

I hosted "ladies night" last night and decided to try a new recipe that took me a bit out of my comfort zone. I rarely cook thai food...chinese yes, but thai, no. Normally, when I scan a recipe for potential use, I look at the ingredients to see if I have to purchase a bunch of items and at the prep time. The only ingredient that stood out to me was lemongrass. I didn't think my local grocery store would carry lemongrass, and in deed, I was correct. I had to truck it over to the new specialty grocery store downtown to look for it. As for prep time and cooking time, they both seemed feasible for a week night. I did boil a few chicken breasts the night before to save some precious gossip time with the girls. I love experimenting with new recipes- the anticipation of its success is the best part.

· 14 oz can of lite coconut milk
· 1/2 cup water
· 3 stalks of lemongrass (cut in half and bruised)
· 6 tbsp. of fish sauce
· 1/3 cup of fresh lime juice
· 1 inch piece of fresh ginger (sliced)
· 2 tbsp. of sugar
· 2 tbsp. of hot and sour soup mix
· 2 tbsp. of red chili paste
· cilantro
· green onions (chopped)
· 15 oz. can drained straw mushrooms
· 1 lb. of cubed chicken breast/ shrimp/ tofu (all cooked prior)
· 8 oz. bean sprouts
(I also added 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth to extend the recipe. This soup only serves 3 to 4 and I needed to serve 5 to 6)

· In a large pot, combine the coconut milk, water, lemongrass, fish sauce, lime juice, ginger, and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce and simmer for about 15 minutes.
· Then, add the hot and sour soup mix and red chili paste. Stir well.
· Add additional items. (your choice of protein and veggies) I added bean sprouts and cooked chicken breast.
· Simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Remove lemongrass and ginger before serving.
· Garnish with cilantro and green onions.
· Serve over rice.

While cooking the soup, you will notice that is smells strange...a little like feet. But do not fret! It tastes nothing like this. I think when all of those flavors are cooking down, the scent is strong...but in the soup, they are delightful.

This soup has such a complex flavor. It is sweet from the coconut, ginger, and sugar; sour from the lime juice. The infused lemongrass and ginger are quiet but still noticeable. There is definitely a kick from the chili sauce. It was a hit and I will be preparing this again soon because it is waist friendly!