March 28, 2011

Sriracha Meatballs

Sriracha is a Thai hot chili sauce. It’s made of chilies, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. When you taste it, it hits your tongue in a quick succession of sweet and sour, followed by a spiciness that lingers.

Sriracha is also called Rooster Sauce because of the big rooster on the bottle.

For the past several years, Sriracha has been one of my family’s favorite condiments. The flavor works well with Thai food, of course, but also Chinese and Indian. We’ve also been known to mix it with a little mayonnaise and put it on our burgers. Last week I combined it with some mayo and condensed milk (of all things) to make a sauce for some roasted salmon. 

But while we use it all the time for dipping, spreading and saucing, I’d never used it as an ingredient until I came across a recipe for Sriracha turkey meatballs posted by Life's Ambrosia.

These meatballs have a really nice Asian flavor. Along with the Sriracha, they contain scallions, ginger, garlic and sesame seeds. Sesame seeds are another ingredient I usually use as a garnish. But in this dish they add a subtle nuttiness to the meatballs.

The meatballs are fantastic. You can really taste the ginger, scallion and Sriracha. But a word of warning – they are spicy! You can cut down on the Sriracha in the recipe if you want the flavor without all of the heat.

In my house, I was the only one who couldn't handle the heat. Here’s how we ate the meatballs:

Me: with naan and tzaziki to tame the heat
My 7 year old son: straight up
My husband: with extra Sriracha 

This is a basic meatball recipe, but with Asian ingredients.

First, you combine ground turkey with the Sriracha, ginger, garlic, onion, scallions, bread crumbs, egg, sesame seeds and salt.

Then roll the mixture into balls. You should get about 20 meatballs out of one pound of meat.

Brown the meatballs on all sides in a skillet.

Finish cooking them on a baking sheet in the oven.

I served the meatballs with naan and tzaziki. I’ve also served the meatballs as an appetizer with (what else?) more Sriracha for dipping.

Sriracha Meatballs

recipe by Life's Ambrosia

Makes about 20 meatballs

1 pound ground turkey
1 egg beaten
1/3 cup dry plain bread crumbs
1/2 yellow onion, minced
2 scallions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp sesame seeds
2 Tbsp Sriracha (or less)
3/4 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp canola oil

1.      Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.      Combine all ingredients except canola oil in a bowl. Mix well to combine. Roll into 20 meatballs.
3.      Heat canola oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Brown meatballs on all sides. (I do this in two batches to avoid overcrowding the pan.) Transfer meatballs to a baking dish.
4.      Bake in the preheated oven for 20 more minutes or until cooked through.
5.      Transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with more sesame seeds and chopped scallions if desired.

March 23, 2011

Ginger Chicken with Rice

I love the idea of a lazy Sunday in the kitchen. The whole family together, talking and laughing. Chopping, browning, stirring, simmering, braising and then sitting down to a long, leisurely meal.

But it never seems to work out that way. No matter how free our weekend appears on a Friday evening, Sunday afternoon usually finds us running errands, tackling home improvement projects and driving to and from birthday parties.

This past weekend was no different. By the time Sunday evening rolled around, I only had about an hour to get dinner on the table. I reached back to a recipe I’d tried once before. It was a recipe for ginger chicken with rice, which I’d found in Food & Wine magazine. (You can find the original recipe here.) The beauty of this dish is that it’s prepared entirely in a rice cooker. You layer in your ingredients, and then let the rice cooker do all the work.

The first time I’d made the recipe with mixed results. The rice and chicken were perfectly cooked. But the ginger, which I’d cut into matchsticks as the recipe instructed, was a bit overpowering.

This time I grated the ginger instead of cutting it. You could still taste the ginger, but without having to bite into a big, spicy chunk of it. I made a few other changes to the recipe, cutting down on the amount of chicken and replacing the water/bouillon mixture with chicken broth. The result was a healthy, delicious one-pot dinner.

Next time I might leave out the chicken altogether and serve the ginger, spinach and coconut-infused rice as a side dish.

I grated the ginger on a ceramic ginger grater from Williams Sonoma. This is a great kitchen tool. You rub peeled ginger over the little ceramic nubs and end up with ginger pulp and juice, separated out from the fibers.

There’s really not much else to this recipe. You cut up the chicken into bite sized pieces and assemble the rest of your ingredients.

Then mix the rice, chicken and ginger together in the rice cooker. Layer on the spinach, then add the chicken broth, coconut milk and salt. The spinach releases its liquid into the rice as it cooks. And the coconut milk gives the rice a lovely, subtle, coconut flavor.

Finally, just turn your rice cooker on and walk away. The cooker will turn itself off when the chicken and rice are cooked.

Ginger Chicken with Rice

adapted from Food & Wine magazine

1 cup rice
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 packed cups baby spinach
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 cup unsweetened lite coconut milk
¾ tsp kosher salt

1. In a rice cooker, combine the rice with the chicken and ginger. Arrange the spinach on top. Pour the coconut milk and chicken broth into the cooker and season with salt.
2. Turn the cooker on. The dish should be done in about 40 minutes (when the cooker turns itself off).
3. Let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork, spoon into bowls and serve.

Serves 3

March 15, 2011

Chapatti (Indian flatbread)

I grew up eating an Indian flatbread called chapatti. As in most Indian homes, we used chapattis as a utensil. Instead of a fork or spoon, we tore off a piece of chapatti with our fingers and used it to scoop up some curry or a vegetable before popping the whole bite into our mouths.

Chapattis were also a favorite after-school snack. Back when I was in elementary school, my grandmother (Aaji) lived with us. I’d come home with my best friend Judy and we’d sit in the kitchen while Aaji served us hot chapattis, fresh off the griddle. Judy liked hers with butter and a sprinkle of sugar (just the way millions of schoolchildren eat their chapattis in India). I preferred mine with just the butter. We’d roll our chapattis into little cigars and then savor each bite.

Chapattis take time and they’re labor intensive (two things I definitely didn’t appreciate when my mom stood at the stove, turning out one chapatti after another after a long day at work).

Made properly, chapattis are flaky, thin and light, and yet still incredibly tender. In most restaurants, you’ll find chapattis that are tender but thick. At home you might make a thin chapatti, but it’s likely to be tough, crackly, or dry.

Last time my mom came to visit, I stood over her shoulder as she made chapattis. I wrote down every step, trick and detail I observed. Chapatti making is still as much an art as it is a science. You have to make them over and over again until you know that the dough feels right, that you’ve added enough oil, that you’ve rolled them thin enough.

With practice, my chapattis are getting better. They’re still not in the same ballpark as my mom’s and grandmother’s. But with each attempt, I’m getting closer to carrying the chapatti tradition along at least one more generation.

Chapattis start with atta, a durum wheat flour.

 To the atta you add salt and a little oil, breaking up any clumps with your fingers.

Then add water, just a little at a time. Mix and knead the dough, continuing to add small amounts of water, until the dough forms a ball.

You then cover the bowl and let the dough rest for up to a few hours. Once the dough has rested, remove it from the bowl and then knead it firmly. Then roll it into a log and break into equal-sized pieces. 

It helps to have a small bowl of atta and another small bowl of oil on the counter for the next few steps.

Take each piece of dough and firmly press it into a flat cookie shape.

Dust it lightly with more atta, then roll it out into a flat oval with a  rolling pin.

Spread some oil onto the flat oval, then pinch the oval in the middle.

Fold the oval in half so that it forms a circle.

Dust both sides of the oval with more atta and put it back into the covered bowl. Repeat this process for all of the pieces of dough.

Now this is where it gets interesting. From this point on you have to work pretty fast. It helps to have everything you need in place. That includes a frying pan (ideally with low sides) set over low heat, some atta in a bowl, several paper towels, and some butter.

Once you’re ready to go you sprinkle some atta on your counter and roll one piece of dough into a flat, thin circle (or as close to a circle as you can get it).

Turn the heat under the frying pan to high, then put the chapatti on the frying pan. Let it sit for a moment then, using your fingertips, gently rotate the chapatti a couple of times. Let it sit for a moment, then start pressing the chapatti with a dry paper towel. If you’ve rolled the chapatti properly, it will start to puff up.

Flip the chapatti over (my mom does this with her fingers but it’s fine to use a spatula). Then press the second side with a paper towel.

Remove the chapatti from the pan and immediately spread some butter on it and then cover it with a paper towel. As you make more chapattis, fold the chappatis in half over one another before covering with a paper towel. This helps to keep them from drying out.

Once you’ve finished one chapatti, turn down the heat under the frying pan and wipe out any blackened specks of atta with a paper towel. Then roll out the next chapatti, turn up the heat under the frying pan and start again.

When you've finished the chapattis, keep them under the paper towels for a few minutes and then transfer them to an airtight container.


1 ½ cups atta
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp oil
¼ to ½ cup water
Extra atta and oil

Make the Dough

Put the atta in a bowl. Add salt. Mix well.

Add oil. Mix well again, breaking up clumps.

Add water, a little at a time. Knead dough and continue to add water until the dough forms a ball. Towards the end, add water to your hand, not directly to the dough, so you don’t add too much water. Add a bit of oil to your hand for the final kneading.

Cover the bowl with a plate; let sit for at least 30 minutes or up to a few hours (put in fridge if longer than that).

Make the Chapattis

Take the dough out of bowl and knead firmly. Add oil or atta if needed for proper consistency.

Roll the dough into a log and break off pieces.

Roll each piece firmly into a flat cookie shape with your hands. Dust lightly with atta. Roll out with a rolling pin into a flat oval. Put oil on your fingers and spread onto the oval. Pinch the oval in the middle and fold it over into a circle. (My mom rolls the dough into a circle then oils and folds it twice into a triangle. This results in a more layered chapatti but it takes a lot of practice to roll a triangle into a circle.) Dust both sides with atta and put it back into the covered bowl. Repeat for all of the dough.

Preheat your frying pan (keep on low until almost ready, then turn to high).

Dust atta onto the counter. Lightly roll each dough ball into a flat circle. Dust with additional atta as needed. Make sure the edges are thin and even.

Put the chapatti on the frying pan. With your hand, gently turn it twice. Let it sit for a moment, then start pressing the chapatti with a dry paper towel. Flip the chapatti and press the second side with the paper towel. Remove from the pan. (It’s best to turn the chapatti over only once.) 

Immediately butter and cover the chapatti with a paper towel. (As more chapattis are made, fold them in half over each other).

In between chapattis, turn down the heat under the frying pan and wipe off any remaining flour. Return to high heat when the next chapatti is almost rolled out.

Keep chapattis in paper towels for a few minutes, then put them in an airtight container.

Makes 10 chapattis.

March 1, 2011

Homemade Pizza

I’ve never had much success making pizza at home. The problem is never the sauce or toppings, just the dough. In the past, I’ve bought pizza dough from the grocery store. I’ve tried in vain to stretch it out to the sides of my pan, only to have it spring stubbornly back to the middle. I usually give up after several minutes, ending up with an amoeba-like form in the center of the pan. Not surprisingly, this results in an unpleasantly doughy crust.

If I lived in New York, I’d have had no incentive to delve into the realm of homemade pizza. In New York (the whole tri-state area for that matter), you can find a deliciously drippy, saucy, cheesy slice at even the most modest pizza establishment. This is the pizza I grew up eating and taking for granted. But alas I live in Boston now. And I have yet to find a slice that even comes close to what I’d call “real” pizza.

So homemade it must be. Last year the Boston Globe ran an article for Ultra-crisp No-fuss Sheet Pan Pizza. The recipe was adapted from one published in My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work No-Knead Method. This book was written by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. If his name rings a bell it’s because he’s the guy who shared his now-famous no-knead bread recipe with the NY Times’ Mark Bittman. With credentials like that, I thought I’d give this recipe a try.

The recipe starts out with yeast and flour in one bowl and flour, salt and sugar in the other. Once the yeast has had a chance to bloom, you combine it with the flour and form a sticky dough.

Then let the dough rest for two hours while you go about your business. At the end of the two hours, the dough will have increased in size and should look more regular.

At this point you oil your sheet pan and stretch your dough. As with most doughs, it will resist being stretched to the edges and will pull itself back into the center. But that’s okay! Because this dough needs a little nap to relax. So once you’ve stretched the dough, you let it rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

Then you stretch it again. And this time, the dough will yield to the gentle pressure of your fingertips, stretching out the sides and staying in place. I have no idea what happens to that dough while it’s resting, but this method works!

After that it’s just a matter of adding some sauce and toppings.

Bake the pizza in a really hot oven and voila! You have pizza!


Ultra-crisp, no-fuss, sheet-pan pizza

Makes: one 17-inch pizza

You’ll need a rimmed baking sheet, preferably non-stick, about 11 1/2-by-17, or a 16-inch pizza pan, and a plastic dough scraper.


1 1/4
teaspoons active dry yeast
cup warm (105 to 110 F) water, or more if necessary
1 3/4
cups flour
teaspoon salt
teaspoon sugar

Olive oil (for the pans)

Extra flour (for sprinkling)

Extra salt (for sprinkling)

1. In a bowl, sprinkle yeast into water; set aside for 10 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Stir to blend.

3. With a wooden spoon, stir in the yeast mixture. Add enough additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to make a dough that holds together, but is sticky and too moist to knead. (I had to add 1 additional tablespoon.)

4. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap so the wrap does not touch the dough. Lay a dish towel on top. Set aside for 2 hours.

5. Rub a large rimmed baking sheet or pizza pan with olive oil. Rub the center of 1 long sheet of foil with oil and set it aside.

6. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour. Use a dough scraper to transfer the dough to the baking sheet or pizza pan. Pat the dough with a little flour to within 2 inches of the edge of the pans. Cover with foil, oiled side down. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or as long as overnight. (I usually make and stretch the dough in the morning and then let it rest in the fridge until the evening.)

7. Remove sheet or pan from the refrigerator. Dip your hand in flour and pat the dough with your hand, adding as little flour as necessary, until it reaches the edges of the sheets. Brush the top of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Assembling and Baking the Pizza

(The Boston Globe recipe called for topping the recipe with provolone, cherry tomatoes, ham and parmesan. I made a simple pepperoni pizza this time. In the past I’ve topped the pizza with sautéed zucchini and mushrooms, my personal faves.)

1 8-ounce ball fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
12 ounces of your favorite spaghetti sauce (I used Classico tomato and basil)
Pepperoni or any other toppings you love

1. Arrange racks on the lowest and center parts of the oven. Set the oven to 500 degrees F.

2. Spread spaghetti sauce on the pizza dough to within ¾ inch around the perimeter. (Don't overdo it on the sauce. This crust is pretty thin and you don't want it to get soggy.)

3. Top with mozzarella and pepperoni or other toppings.

4. Bake the pizza on the lowest rack of the oven for about 10 minutes (check after 8 minutes to make sure edges are not burning).

5. Transfer the pizza to the center rack and continue baking for 5 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, the dough is golden and crisp at the edges, and the bottom is firm. (If your cheese isn’t bubbling, you may want to stick it under the broiler for just a minute or so – keep a careful eye on it so it doesn’t burn!)

6. With a wide metal spatula, lift the pizza from the pan and transfer to large wooden board. Cut into rectangles, wedges, or strips.

Two Sheet Pan Pizzas

To double the recipe, use these proportions for the dough.

1 2/3 cup warm water, or more if necessary
1 envelope (2 ¼ tsp) active dry yeast
3 ¾ cups flour
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar

Follow the recipe above, using two sheet pans, and the same rising and baking times. Double the topping recipe. 
Freeze one batch of dough before first stretching.