What I Cooked on My Summer Vacation

It made me feel creative to figure out ways to cook in our kitchen-less hotel room in Yemen (steaming eggs with our espresso maker and sauteing veggies in an electric fondue pot, for instance). But it’s a whole lot better having a real kitchen. And this sick loft we’re renting for the summer has an impressive one. All marble and stainless steel, totally wide open and perfect for entertaining. It also has a gas stove, which I’ve never had before and totally love.

I was so excited to try all the new restaurants that sprung up on the formerly dicey strip in DC known as “the 14th Street Corridor” but became disheartened after reading this opinion article in the Washington Post Magazine on how DC will never be a true food scene. In short, too many expense accounts and a lack of a deep-rooted food culture mean there will be pricey, showy restaurants, but few truly good ones. Not to mention you can count the number of restaurants that are a good value on one hand.

So, couple the having an awesome kitchen, the being a little disheartened with restaurants in DC, with the fact that Mr.YemenEm and I are trying to eat very healthfully, and that equals a summer of me cooking lots. Mr.YemenEm tries to limit the amount of carbs he eats, which has been a challenge cooking for him. If I wasn’t in the picture, he’d eat huge slabs of beef and bloated chicken breasts paired with some low glycemic index veggies for every meal (known as the “Paleo” diet in the CrossFit world). But since I’m a vegetarian, I’ve had to get creative coming up with healthy, low-carb, yet protein-rich meals that taste great and will coax the vacation weight off of our bodies Most of the new things I’ve made this summer are Asian-inspired, which, if you take out the rice, work pretty well for a low-carb diet. Not to mention the fresh veggies and light flavors work very well for dinners on the patio with a glass of crisp and cold white wine. (Yeah, we’re not giving up our wine).

The highlights:

No rice vegetarian ‘sushi.’ Or, since that sounds just terrible, how about we call it:

Sweet Egg & Avocado Sushi

Sweet Egg and Avocado 'Sushi'
Sweet Egg and Avocado ‘Sushi’

Ingredients:

1 package seaweed wrappers

6 eggs

1 avocado, very thinly sliced

1 cup cream cheese, at room temperature

Soy sauce

Dijon Mustard

A little sugar

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

Wasabi, soy sauce, and pickled ginger for serving.

1. Make very thin omelets. I cracked all the eggs in a bowl and added a little less than 2 tablespoons mustard, a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of soy sauce and whisked that up. In a medium heat pan with some canola oil so the eggs don’t stick, I poured about one and half eggs on the pan, shaking it gently almost immediately so the egg won’t stick. I covered the egg with a lid and shook about every one minute. After about three minutes, the “omelet” was set. I slid that off the pan. Not all of these omelets came out pretty but that doesn’t really matter.

2. Hold a piece of seawood over a gas flame to get it a little brown on both sides. No gas flame? Use a lighter. This make the seawood a little more flexible to work with.

3. Lay down the seaweed on a cutting board. Lightly spread cream cheese on that. Then lay the omelet on top, cutting off any edges, so it fits nicely. Then lay a few slices of avocado in that. Roll as tight as your able. If you have one of those sushi rolling mats, I bet these would turn out nice and tight like a fine Cuban cigar. I didn’t have one, but mine still turned out pretty good.

4. Put the rolls (you haven’t cut them yet) into a fridge. Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds in a pan. You don’t need any oil, just through the seeds in a small saute pan over medium-high heat and shake the pan now and then so they don’t burn. Then spread the seeds on a plate.

5. Once the “sushi” has chilled for 10 or 15 minutes, cut the rolls into sushi sized bites. Use the sharpest knife you have. I found a delicate sawing motion worked pretty well.

6. Dip the sushi into sesame seeds on just one end and place that end face up on a plate. Serve with soy sauce, pickled ginger, and wasabi. (Repeat all steps until you run out of an ingredient).

meatballsI also enjoyed every page of  Food & Wine’s August issue which was largely devoted to vegetables. I made this rather complicated but very delicious Eggplant & Porcini ‘Meatballs’ in Tomato Sauce. (I clearly like food with quotes around it). It’s not carb-free – the meatballs are bound together with breadcrumbs – but it’s still pretty healthy. I loved the tip to soak dried mushrooms in water to rehydrate them and to then use that soaking liquid in the tomato sauce to give it a earthy, hearty flavor and have since used that clever trick in other dishes.

Clockwise from top left: Cilantro and lime quinoa, Trader Joe's kimchi, grilled tofu, grilled veggies, and Thai peanut sauce. Mixing the cuisine from several countries, but I don't claim to be an Asian food purist
Clockwise from top left: Cilantro and lime quinoa, Trader Joe’s kimchi, grilled tofu, grilled veggies, and Thai peanut sauce. Mixing the cuisine from several countries, but I don’t claim to be an Asian food purist

Last week, I made this delicious Thai peanut sauce from SheSimmers.com which is so good I could  just eat it as soup. But that wouldn’t be a balanced meal, so I served it with grilled tofu and veggies that I marinated in orange juice, soy sauce, and lots and lots of garlic and ginger. One of the vegetables I used were mushrooms that I got dried from this amazing Chinese grocery store called Great Wall, which is located in Falls Church, Virginia. I was blown away when Mr.YemenEm and I accidentally stumbled into this Great Wall while getting a car wash in suburban DC. It has everything. Including an awe-inspiring produce selection with the most unfortunate sign I’ve ever seen in a grocery store (see photo). I soak the mushrooms to rehydrate them and I’ve used them stir-fries and other Asian foods, and they have a great chewy texture.

A misleading sign at the Great Wall Chinese grocery store in Falls Church, Virginia.
A misleading sign at the Great Wall Chinese grocery store in Falls Church, Virginia.

We also hosted a pot-luck dinner party where most of the guests brought takeout Chinese food. I used some basil from our herb garden and added some store bought mint and cilantro and made some very yummy Vietnamese-style fresh spring rolls and served them with a different peanut sauce, this one heavy on the cilantro.

Anyways, after a summer of not much bread or pasta (save for a major splurge at a make-your-own pizza party we hosted), both Mr.YemenEm and I are on track to having our pre-vacation bodies.

But of course, we’re moving to New York in a few weeks and there are just so many things to be eaten there. I’m very excited to cook in “The City” because Fall foods, like Fall clothes, are my favorite. When I’m in work meetings and I’m bored, if you glanced at my paper, you’d most likely see a draft dinner party menu scrawled on my page. There was a particularly sleepy work meeting in Yemen last fall during which I drafted a five-course menu and called it “Autumn New York Dinner Party.” I pictured a group of our close friends, clad in sweaters and crammed into our smallish and ridiculously cozy Manhattan apartment eating comforting mushroom pot pies and apple crisps.

Wishing you some deliciousness in your kitchen,

YemenEm

Vietnamese spring rolls with a cilantro peanut dipping sauce.
Vietnamese spring rolls with a cilantro peanut dipping sauce.

4 thoughts on “What I Cooked on My Summer Vacation

  1. Can’t wait for the Autumn Dinner Party. I will wear my fanciest loose-knit cable sweater and my contribution will be peach cobbler and apple crisp (a la mode, por supuesto). See you all there!! Lauren

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