Poached fish with soy, sesame and ginger (and ginger)

IMG_5846There are people who like ginger, and there are those who don’t. Both are within the bounds of normalcy. But then there are people who like ginger beyond all reason and sense. My husband is one of them. He is not satisfied with a ginger-flavor suffusing the food; it must have that, and also ginger sticks in addition, so he can actually taste it.

It’s pathological, as Donald Trump might say.

So if there is anyone in your life with a similar addiction, here is a recipe to finally satisfy them. And stop them complaining! That alone is worth the price of a good piece of fish.

To everyone’s astonishment (and relief), this meal actually has more to it than just ginger. The base is a poached fish: it could be halibut, or cod, or other white fish. Most people recommend very subtle accoutrements for poached fish in order to not drown out its mild flavor; but that is not what I did. As is my wont, it is often the seasoning that is the highlight of a meal, and the poached fish performs the function here of a nice inoffensive background.

Now for the seasoning. For this dish, I used two dressings, layered one on top of each other. Both use elements from the sort of Pan-Asian cuisine that is popular here in California, with flavors of sesame and soy.

IMG_5834Both dressings use the same trio of scallions, chilies and ginger. The first dressing, which is simmered in soy, has these items minced fine (on the left). While the second dressing, which is fried in sesame oil, has the chilies whole and the ginger in long sticks (on the right).

The poached fish, with both dressings layered on, makes a wonderful side for rice.

The fish, as it poaches:

Here is what the soy dressing looks like, as it cooks:

IMG_5842

Frying ginger and red chilies

IMG_5849

Served with rice and a side of greens

Poached fish with sesame-soy-ginger dressing

Ingredients:
  • 1 lb fish fillet (halibut, cod, snapper, etc.)
  • Half a cup of water
  • Quarter teaspoon salt
  • Dressing 1 (soy-based):
    • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
    • 2 tablespoons white wine
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • white part of about 3 scallions, sliced thin
    • 2 small red chilies, minced
    • Half inch piece of ginger, minced
  • Dressing 2 (sesame oil based):
    • 1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil or plain sesame oil
    • 2-3 red chilies, whole
    • Half inch piece of ginger, cut into long sticks
  • Garnish:
    • Green part of about 3 scallions, sliced thin
Method:

Heat water with salt added to about 160ºF (a simmer, less than a boil). Place the fish in it and poach for about ten minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the soy dressing. In a small pot, combine the ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and let it reduce by about half.

Once the fish is done, place it in the serving platter. Pour the soy dressing over to cover it everywhere.

Heat the sesame oil until it shimmers. Fry the ginger sticks and red chilies until the chilies darken and the ginger sticks shrivel a bit. Pour the hot sesame oil over the fish evenly all over it. Cover with the green scallion garnish. Serve with rice on the side.

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The sweet potato’s diamond-shaped leaves

Sweet potato greens stir-fry

Sweet potato greens stir-fry

The next time you would like greens for dinner, look beyond spinach (the old stand-by) but also look beyond kale (the flashy rising star). You may not find these at a big grocery store, but the farmer’s markets and Asian stores are usually packed with leaves of all shapes and sizes bundled together with a trifling rubber band. Among them, here is what I found the other day — sweet potato greens. Sadly, I have never seen these for sale in any of the big stores, even ones that have piles of sweet potatoes all through the year. If one has any kind of relationship with the growers, one could ask vendors of the sweet potato to occasionally bring in some greens too; or if one has a garden one could try growing them. If all else fails, take a trip to lovely San Francisco for the Alemany farmer’s market on Saturday mornings.

Like its more famous root brother, the leaves are packed with nutrition. Each diamond-shaped leaf is about a few inches long, and the stems are green and look like hollow reeds. They take very little cooking. Once wilted, they are pretty much done, and the tender stems can be eaten too. Only the tougher ends (you can feel them resist as you try to snap them, much like one trims asparagus) must be thrown away. Once cooked this way, their taste is extremely unobjectionable; a slight sliminess is about the only thing that sets it apart.

You know what that means — it is all about the seasoning! A simple sauté will wilt them nicely. We needed a side for an Asian meal that centered around rice. Here is what I did.

Sweet potato greens with ginger, garlic and fish sauce

The ingredients here are so few that the details matter. The ginger and garlic are minced fine and cooked in oil in a slow sizzle. Fish sauce adds a wonderful aroma so I would suggest you don’t substitute with soy (though in pinch, I have).  The leaves and tender stems are cut in two-inch segments, which is large enough to have body and small enough to be bite-sized. And the sesame oil topping is just the thing.

A tip! There are other mild-flavored greens that would do just as well: pea shoots and chard come to mind. This goes very well with some plain white jasmine rice.

Diamond-shaped leaves of sweet potato

Diamond-shaped leaves of sweet potato

Trimmed

Trimmed

Ginger and garlic and greens

Ginger and garlic and greens

Gently saute

Gently saute

Sizzling

Sizzling

Piling greens in

Piling greens in

Wilted

Wilted

Sweet potato greens stir-fry

Ingredients:
  • 1 bunch sweet potato vines
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch piece of ginger root, minced
  • Quarter teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • Few squirts of roasted sesame oil (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • Red chili flakes or sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
Method:

Wash and trim the greens. Only remove the tough stems; this can be discovered by snapping them at the point where the tender stem ends and the tough stem begins, much like snapping asparagus spears. Mince ginger and garlic.

Heat the oil in a wide, thick-bottomed pan. When it shimmers, put the ginger and garlic in. Turn the heat to medium-low and allow them to cook slowly. This will ensure that all the aroma is released, but also that they do not brown. When they start to seem shriveled, pile in the leaves along with whatever drops of water cling to them.

Turning carefully with tongs, allow all the greens to be covered with oil. This will take a few minutes; as soon as the bottom ones wilt, turn it over, and shortly all the greens will have wilted. Add the small amount of salt and the fish sauce. If you are adding sugar, now is the time.

This barely needs covering in order to cook; once all the greens have wilted, remove to the serving dish. There will be some flavorful liquid left over, carefully pour that over the greens. Add a few squirts of sesame oil, and the cracked pepper and sesame seeds.


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Why these beans might fly off at any moment

Winged beans sauteed with red-chili garlic paste

Winged beans sauteed with red-chili garlic paste

The other day, walking through the farmer’s market, I had one of those moments that stops you short in your tracks. I saw an odd sight. I raised a trembling finger and exclaimed — with some rich feeling, I might add — ‘what on earth is that?’

I saw bunches of long frilly green pods sitting next to a whole pile of long frilly green pods. I walked over to the stall where they had already caused a minor stir.

Now The Odd Pantry is no stranger to odd vegetables. It has covered, with delight, the scruffy taro and the anatomical fiddleheads. This one though was new. Completely. At first glance I would have guessed it was a type of seaweed. I could just picture it in great rippling ribbons underwater.

But upon asking the lady of the stall, they turned out to be long beans — yes, legume pods that grow on vines — that had four rows of frills all along the length. Winged beans.

The winged bean

The winged bean

I asked the lady how one would go about eating them.

‘Well,’ she said. Long pause. She looked at me, judging how far to go. ‘Salad, stir-fry.’

Hm. Tight-lipped. The bird was caged but wouldn’t sing. I pressed her for more information. Placing my hand tellingly on my purse, I grilled her for the goods. ‘Out with it,’ I said, noting that she was starting to wilt.

Then it all came tumbling out. She broke off a piece for me to try. Hmm — tastes like — a vegetable. Maybe a fresh green bean of the French sort. ‘Make a paste of garlic and red chili,’ the lady said. ‘I’m Pilipino and that is what we do.’

A man walked up with a cloth shopping bag. ‘You Indian?’ he said to me, waggling his eyebrows. Yes, indeed, I am.

‘You know saag?’ he continues. Eyebrows doing a proper jig, now.

‘Intimately,’ I reply.

‘You cook it like saag!’ he says like a punchline, rifling through the bunch of winged beans.

Hm. I think I’ll stick with what the lady said.

Winged beans (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus)

This has become a habit. The Alemany Farmer’s Market will introduce me to a brand new vegetable that then turns out to be a complete miracle plant, so much so that you would think the Department of Marketing this vegetable is making stuff up. What else can you think about a plant that offers so much?

  • Every part of it can be eaten. From a New York Times article: ‘Theodore Hymowitz, an agronomist at the University of Illinois who is a member of the Academy’s panel on the winged bean, said, ”it’s like an ice cream cone – you eat the whole thing.”
  • Excellent source of vitamins, minerals, protein, calories.
  • It can grow in nutrient-poor soils
  • The seeds can make a coffee substitute
  • The leaves can be a tobacco substitute
  • Can produce a milk like soymilk
  • The milk from the beans can be fermented into tempeh
  • Mushrooms can be grown on the dried pods
  • Can be boiled, roasted, stewed, stir-fried, eaten raw, or in soups
  • Can be grown as animal fodder, and used as a cheap source of protein for fish farmed for food

There is also an enduring mystery about winged beans — nobody has found the wild form of it. Given its wonderful qualities it isn’t surprising to find it cultivated in any resource-poor traditional culture that can grow it. It is grown for its roots in Burma, in South East Asia for its pods, in great variety in New Guinea (where the winged bean has developed a fondness for the mountains).

But the wild form of it has never been found. Where is it really from? Some guess Africa because most of its relatives come from there. Some guess New Guinea because it just seems so at home there. Perhaps the wild form has become extinct. Who knows? Entire careers in botany could be made or broken on this one fact. So if you see a wild winged bean growing somewhere out on your travels, call someone!

Winged bean roots for sale in Burma. (source: Wikimedia Commons user Wagaung own work)

Winged bean roots for sale in Burma. (source: Wikimedia Commons user Wagaung own work)

Winged bean stir-fry

I figured I would stir-fry the winged bean pods using some South East Asian ingredients. Shrimp paste is often used in these cuisines, and I didn’t possess any, so I used anchovies to replace that missing umami flavor. Also, fish sauce. This is a light salty liquid that is extracted from the fermentation of fish. It is a great replacement for soy sauce that can instantly take a dish from tasting Chinese to tasting more tropical, reminiscent of islands and bays and inlets and other such watery waterworlds.

Garlic and red chilies

Garlic and red chilies

Pound it

Pound it

Anchovies too

Anchovies too

Paste

Paste

Slice the winged beans

Slice the winged beans

Saute

Saute

Sauteed

Sauteed

Fry paste

Fry paste

Fried paste

Fried paste

Enter the beans and fish sauce

Enter the beans and fish sauce

Winged bean stir-fry

Ingredients:
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1-4 fresh red chilies, or according to taste (use fresh green if you can’t find fresh red, I got mine from my garden)
  • a few anchovies (packed in oil)
  • 1 pound winged bean pods (green beans or asparagus would make a good substitute)
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons oil (I used sesame oil)
Method:

Make a paste of the garlic, fresh chilies and anchovies in a mortar and pestle. Takes about 7 minutes, not too bad. Wash, trim and slice the winged beans lengthwise. If you are using green beans or asparagus, just trim them and leave them intact.

Meanwhile heat half the oil in a wide thick-bottomed pan. When it shimmers put in the winged beans. Stir-fry them on high heat for a few minutes until the frills look a little browned. Remove them with a slotted spoon or tongs.

Add the rest of the oil and fry the paste. It will take a few minutes for it to dry out and for the oil to separate. Watch it carefully and use medium heat to make sure it doesn’t burn. Once this is done, put the winged beans back in, add the tablespoon of fish sauce. Stir to coat the beans with the paste and fish sauce, cover for a few minutes to steam before serving.

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