Week 2: Working Grill

Ladna, Pan-fried Halibut with Kale and Kohlrabi Salad, Fried Eggs with Grilled Asparagus & Red Springs Onions

As the weekend approached, I began crumbling into a ball of stress due a complete failure to plan out anything that I needed to get done other than the CSA . Friday morning I hustled to design business cards and a poster for an event on Sunday, and then set about trying to find someone who could print them for me on basically no notice. In the midst of all of this, we somehow managed to piece together a string of delicious meals that provided enough leftovers to get us through the weekend.

Friday: Ladna with Tofu and Leaf Broccoli

The chief achievement of the week was making ladna at home on the grill. We had wanted to cook ladna the week before, but our local asian grocery store was out of the wide fresh rice noodles that it turns out are pretty essential (we made pad Thai instead). We still had the idea for ladna floating around in our heads, however, and upon seeing that we had leaf broccoli in the CSA, we decided to make it a priority to track down the right kind of noodles.

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This is what leaf broccoli looks like.

This meant a trek to Tai Nam Market near Argyle and Broadway, an intersection filled with some of the best Thai and Vietnamese food in Chicago. It’s an intense grocery store, with live seafood crawling around in tanks next to row upon row of whole fish on ice. We wandered back and forth in front of the row of fresh rice noodles, feeling a little self-conscious that it took us, like, 10 minutes to be sure we had the package we needed.

Friday was the first day of the summer that hit the 90s, so it was arguably not the best day for grilling. But we were deeply motivated having had so much fun grilling the pad Thai, so come evening I traipsed outside with a cold beer to light the coals while Andrew prepped the ingredients inside.

Like any stir-fry, ladna is all about the prep. The rice noodles came in a 2 pound block that seemed fused together. Separating them was a bit challenging, but the recipe from Hot Sour Salty Sweet suggested running them under warm water, which seemed to help a lot. Ladna “gravy” is made with 1 TB fermented soybean paste that’s been mashed until smooth, 1 TB soy sauce, 1.5 TB fish sauce, and 1.5 TB rice vinegar. You also use 1.25 cups mild chicken broth. We had a homemade chicken stock on hand which isn’t exactly mild, so we diluted it by half with water. You also need a cornstarch slurry made with 1 TB cornstarch to 3 TB water.

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In order of appearance

The other big discovery was the chili-vinegar sauce that went along with it. It was really simple: 1/2 a banana pepper sliced thinly, 1/2 cup rice vinegar, and 2TB or so of sugar. We recognized the condiment because we’d seen it at the table when ever we went to Thai Pastry on Argyle, but we had no clue that it was supposed to go on ladna.

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Chile-vinegar sauce

 

Like with the pad Thai, we put the wok directly on the coals until it was scorching hot and then the cooking happened in a sweaty fury. The noodles went in first, cooking for a couple minutes and then being set aside in the serving bowl. The garlic and tofu came next, then the leaf broccoli (some of which overflowed the pan and fell onto the coals, see below). When the leaf broccoli had wilted and the tofu browned, we tossed in the ingredients for the sauce, which came to an instantaneous boil. A few moments later, the sauce had thickened and we poured it over the noodles and went inside to escape the heat.

After we ate, I sat in a sort of stupor, muttering about the dish being a “gamechanger,” though I don’t really remember what I meant by that. All I can say is that everyone should give it a try, on the grill if you can. The flavors were intense, blended yet distinct, and the chile-vinegar sauce brought the whole thing alive.

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A gamechanger

CSA vegetables used: Leaf broccoli

Other ingredients used: Tofu, rice noodles, fermented soybean paste, soy sauce, fish sauce, chicken broth, corn starch & water, banana pepper, sugar, rice wine vinegar.

Sunday: Pan-fried Halibut with Kale and Kohlrabi Salad

I felt it was important while making the week’s plan to put a dent in the kohlrabi before it started getting the upper hand, and we also had a large quantity of kale that didn’t yet have a designated purpose. I didn’t have high hopes for a google search for”kale and kohlrabi,” but probably shouldn’t have been surprised when I came across the webpage of someone else trying to use up their CSA. In this case, I found a recipe for kale and kohlrabi salad with a lemon-tahini dressing recipe from Emma Frisch.

To make the dressing, you blend 2.5 TB tahini, juice from one lemon, 1 TB honey, 1 TB toasted sesame oil, 1 tsp horseradish, and 1 tsp salt. The kale is sliced up thinly and the kohlrabi grated so that it sort of looks like cheese. I doubled the recipe for the dressing and dumped it on top of all of the kale and kohlrabi without too much thought, resulting in the salad being significantly overdressed. Luckily, kale and kohlrabi can stand up to being drenched in tahini dressing more than, say, a bag of spring mix, and it was still quite edible.

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Our protein of choice was halibut, which Andrew pan-fried in butter and olive oil after dusting with smoked paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper. He cooked it over medium high-heat for about 3 to 4 minutes a side, until it was just beginning to flake.

CSA vegetables used: kale and kohlrabi

Other ingredients used: halibut, tahini, honey, horseradish, lemon

Monday: Fried Eggs with Grilled Asparagus & Red Spring Onions, Bruschetta with Spinach Pesto and Feta

The weekend was incredibly busy, with a rehearsal, a gig, a concert, and three hours spent introducing preschoolers to miniature cellos as part of the kids activities tent at the summer street festival in our neighborhood. When Monday came along, all I wanted to do was sleep and eat leftovers. While peering into the fridge to see what our options were, we found the CSA asparagus, which had gotten pushed to the back and hidden by a large bag of kohlrabi leaves. The tips of the asparagus had already started to go, but they were salvageable.

We decided to make the classic and easy dish of fried eggs served over asparagus. During a walk to get wine before dinner, we marveled at how pleasant it was outside once again and decided we should just grill everything—the asparagus and the spring onions—use the wok to fry the eggs. We also still had spinach pesto, which we decided to slather on slices of grilled bread.

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We grilled the asparagus for 3 to 4 minutes over the hottest part of the fire. Then we halved some CSA spring onions and grilled them for about two minutes until they were dark.

We started the slices of bread on the cooler part of the grill until the edges were starting to brown. We then finished them over the hottest part of the fire, turning them frequently to keep them from burning. The slices of toast came off the grill and were promptly spread with pesto and sprinkled with feta.

The eggs were fried in a big glug of olive oil in the wok over the grill, and Andrew spooned oil over them while they cooked.We were aiming for a flash-cooked fried egg, extolled by Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen and Kenji Lopez-Alt. The heat was a little hard to judge, and so the yolks were harder than we liked by the time the whites were cooked through. Andrew thinks he should have put the wok directly on the coals and let the oil heat up a few seconds longer. He’s eager to try it again.

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Not bad

CSA vegetables used: asparagus, spring red onions, leftover spinach pesto

Other ingredients used: eggs, bread, olive oil.

Next: Week 2 field report

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