As I round the corner on finishing the Asian Tofu manuscript for submission next week, there is little time for complicated cooking. Nevertheless, a girl has to eat and I’m not one to give up good food just because I have a deadline to meet. I just figure out some simple things to make. Once in a while a friend invites us over and I don’t have to cook and clean!
A couple weekends ago, winemaker Randall Grahm and his wife Chinshu invited us to dinner. You can’t bring wine to a winemaker’s home, so I called and asked what I could contribute in terms of food. A fine cook, Randall had things covered, though he said that if I had time, I could bring an appetizer.
That afternoon, Rory and I went out for our daily walk and when we got home, we had exactly 1 hour to make some snacks and drive to Randall’s house, about 10 minutes away. I fell back on the notion of a spreads and dips as they’re easy and fast. I knew that Chinshu appreciated little Asian twists on things so I pulled out an old stalwart from back pocket – avocado and mint chutney. Then I came with a no-brainer new one – togarashi goat cheese.
As I readied those appetizers, Rory baked toast points and Vietnamese rice crackers (banh trang nuong/banh da) for guests to scoop and spread to their heart’s delight. We arrived at Randall and Chinshu’s home right on time!
Here they are the recipes for you to try out and tinker with:
Avocado and Mint Chutney
This is basically guacamole but with ginger, garlic, green chile, cumin, and mint. I borrowed the idea from Neelam Batra’s The Indian Vegetarian (1994) and adapted to my regular guacamole recipe. If you have some green or mint chutney on hand (recipes are in Asian Dumplings), mash the avocado and stir in the chutney and yoghurt.
1 tablespoon chopped yellow onion1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 Thai or Serrano chile, chopped
1 large ripe avocado, pitted and roughly chopped
Fresh lemon or lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped mint leaves
2 tablespoons plain yoghurt
1. Use a mortar and pestle to pound the onion, garlic, ginger, chile and a pinch of salt into a coarse texture. You want the ingredients to shed their liquid. Add the avocado and a few good squeezes of lemon or lime juice. Lightly pound to mash and mix the ingredients together. Stir in the cumin, cilantro, mint and yoghurt.
2. Transfer to a serving bowl. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then taste and adjust the flavor.
Togarashi Goat Cheese
Instead of buying expensive goat cheese already coated with herbs or spices, do it yourself! I put a peppery Japanese coating on a little log of goat cheese. The hardest part was figuring out how to do it without making a mess. You can come up with your own spice blend, perhaps with Sichuan peppercorn for a numbing effect.
Yield depends on the size of the goat cheese
1 log or round goat cheese, any size
Japanese 7-spice pepper blend (nanami/shimichi togarashi)
1. Chill the goat cheese to make it easier to handle. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on your work surface. Sprinkle on some Japanese 7-spice pepper blend (nanami/shimichi togarashi) so that you can set the log atop of it so the cheese does not stick to the plastic.
Put the goat cheese on top of the area covered by the spices, then sprinkle and roll on more of the spices. Use the plastic wrap to efficiently coat the cheese. When you’re satisfied, transfer the goat cheese to a serving plate or wrap it up and you’re ready to go!
2. To serve, slice the cheese into a few rounds to reveal what you have, or else it may look awkward or mysterious to your guests.
With the chutney and cheese, offer toast points, crackers, pita, or tortilla chips! Randall served some amazing Rieslings that paired perfectly with the zesty flavors.