Tuesday, February 22, 2011

spicy toasted nori chips

One afternoon a while back, craving a crunchy snack, I discovered a packet of nori sheets in the pantry, skillet-toasted them, and voila - a bowlful of satisfyingly crisp chips! They hit the spot. Then more recently I picked up a packet of Annie Chun's wasabi seaweed snacks at Health Nuts on Broadway and, after eating its entire contents in about 5 minutes flat (they go down like wasabi-kissed air!) decided to go back to the drawing board to perfect a spicy, oven-crisped variety of my own.

With the nori chip-making methods of Mark Bittman and The Kitchn's Emma Christensen as guides, I set about making a batch of spicy, double-layered nori chips, with a wasabi-water mixture functioning as the "glue" between the layers and a sprinkling of sea salt and sesame seeds inside. Oven-baked at a low heat and cooled for about 5 minutes, they crisped up to a lovely, shattering crunch. For extra heat (baking mellows the wasabi quite a bit), I lightly brushed them with hot sesame oil. Freakishly good. I dare say they are superior to the Annie Chun seaweed chips - thicker, with a more satisfying crunch and more complex flavor. 

I also should add that, while I have a serious weakness for the crunch of Kettle potato chips (especially the jalapeno variety - oh, my), I envision these nori chips taking their place in my snacking repertoire. The nori chips have the added benefit of being nearly fat-free, save the small amounts contributed by the sesame seeds and hot sesame oil. Plus you're getting the myriad health benefits of sea vegetables in every bite! So you can crunch all you like. (If you're interested, here is a great run-down of the health benefits of sea vegetables. Stock up!) 

Even if you're not a big fan of the oceany taste of nori, or of sea vegetables in general, I encourage you to give these chips a try. The flavor of the nori mellows nicely in the oven and contributes more of a back-up note to the assertiveness of the wasabi and hot sesame oil. 

spicy oven-toasted nori chips
You might want to make a double batch - these go down easy. As in, I ate the whole batch by myself. 
Makes about 30 chips

1 tsp wasabi powder
3 Tbsp water
5 sheets of nori
1/2 tsp sea salt, or as needed
2 Tbsp sesame seeds, or as needed
2 Tbsp hot sesame oil, or as needed

Preheat oven to 250 F.

Whisk together the wasabi powder and water in a small bowl. With a pastry brush, lightly brush a sheet of nori with the wasabi mixture, then sprinkle with sea salt and sesame seeds. 

Fold the nori sheet in half, and press to adhere the two sides (they won't completely stick together, but it's okay - everything will come together in the oven). Cut into 1-inch strips (perpendicular to the fold) and transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining nori sheets.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the chips are shriveled and crisp. Cool for about 5 minutes, brush lightly with hot sesame oil, and crunch away!

Friday, February 4, 2011

old-school breakfast: kasha with egg

I seem to be channeling an Eastern European grandmother these days. For breakfast this morning I made kasha with egg. And added a spoonful of schmaltz.

Does anyone else think of Frank Costanza when they hear the word kasha? The famous Seinfeld kasha scene! It's one of my favorites (obviously I have watched one too many series reruns, but bear with me). I can't seem to find a clip of the scene on youtube, so instead I share with you an excerpt from the episode's script.


[George's Apartment]

George sits up in bed reading a magazine. Frank enters, carrying a small bowl. George puts his magazine to one side, as Frank carefully climbs into bed whilst keeping hold of the bowl. George takes off his glasses, as Frank settles back. Picking up a spoon from the bowl Frank is about to eat, when a thought occurs. Carefully, Frank reaches over with the spoon, to offer George a taste.

FRANK: Kasha?

George looks disdainfully at the spoonful. A few morsels have fallen onto the bedclothes, George picks them up and puts them back into Frank's bowl.

GEORGE: No. Thanks, dad.

Wearily, George puts his glasses on the bedside table, and switches off his bedside lamp, bringing darkness to the room. George shuffles down beneath the bedclothes, to get comfortable, just as Frank switches on his bedside lamp. Exasperated, George lifts his pillow and places it over his own face, as Frank continues to eat his kasha.


Although I've never eaten a bowl of it in bed, I do love kasha. My mom used to make it for breakfast, and it was one of my favorites. But I must have lost touch with kasha at some point, forgot about it entirely, until I was reintroduced to it in a whole-grains class during cooking school. The moment the aroma of steaming kasha hit me, I knew this was a food I had loved at a young age (behold the power of olfactory memories!). I've been cooking kasha ever since.

Kasha, or buckwheat groats, is one of my pantry staples -- it's quick-cooking, gluten-free, great at any meal, and has a unique, wonderfully nutty flavor. Though we often lump it into the grain category, botanically speaking the buckwheat groat is not truly a grain but rather the fruit seed of a plant related to rhubard. High in antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, and one in particular called rutin, which helps to normalize blood lipid levels and mediate blood clotting. Also rich in magnesium, which promotes blood vessel relaxation, and manganese, which acts as a cofactor in many enzymatic reactions in the body. Altogether, a nice synergy of beneficial effects for the cardiovascular system.

This cold morning I decided to make kasha and egg, and since I can't resist tinkering, fancied it up with some fresh rosemary and parsley and a sprinkling of dulse flakes (a variety of sea vegetable). Remembering a container of schmaltz in the fridge, I stirred in a spoonful of that, too. The result was comfort food at its best: the kasha was tender, nutty and earthy, with notes of brightess from the fresh herbs and complexity from the rich schmaltz and savory, umami-rich dulse. 

I have a feeling kasha is going to be a regular in my breakfast rotation from now on. Although I made a savory combination this morning, I can also imagine taking the kasha in a sweet direction, topping it with milk (dairy or not), butter, cinnamon, and honey or maple syrup. Maybe some diced apple or pear on top, too. 

kasha with egg, herbs, and dulse
Serves 4

1 cup kasha (buckwheat groats), rinsed and drained 
1 egg
2 cups boiling water
1/2 tsp sea salt
small sprig of rosemary, finely chopped (about 3/4 tsp)
1 Tbsp schmaltz (see below), unsalted organic butter, or extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsp dulse flakes
black pepper

In a medium saucepot combine the kasha and egg, stirring well so all the groats are coated. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the grains are separated and dry, and the kasha begins to smell nutty (about 5 minutes).

Add the boiling water, salt, and rosemary to the kasha mixture, stir well, cover, and simmer until water is absorbed and kasha is tender, 15 to 18 minutes. 

Stir in the schmaltz or other fat, parsley, and dulse, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve hot.

a word on schmaltz

I made schmaltz for the first time a couple of weeks ago. As I was preparing to roast a pasture-raised chicken that I had brought home from the greenmarket, I noticed two large pieces of fat just inside the cavity, and immediately thought schmaltz! (This was a treat, since even when buying direct from the farm these fatty lobes are often removed before you buy the chicken.)

I removed the pieces of fat with kitchen shears, tossed them into a small pan, and cooked the fat, covered, over low heat for about 15 minutes (I learned later that it's traditional to also add some chopped onion when rendering the fat). It spat and sputtered a good deal, and eventually I was left with liquified, translucent yellow chicken fat and two well-browned cracklin'-like things (which I discarded; though it's possible they are edible, I wasn't too eager to find out). I strained the fat to remove the brown bits, refrigerated the clear portion, and now have about 1/4 cup of lovely schmaltz to use in all sorts of things.