My adventures recreating Alinea Restaurant’s food at home

OCTOPUS, Eggplant, Beans, Soy

Alinea Recipe, pages 146-147.

This is a very tasty, light salad entrée, perfect for summer entertaining. You can prepare everything ahead of time and show off your grilling prowess at the last minute. I made this for guests as part of a great meal al fresco on our sunny backyard deck.

If you soak the dried chickpeas and want to freeze your eggplant purée overnight, this recipe takes two days — or perhaps one really, really, really long day.

Frozen Eggplant Purée
This recipe called for whole, green cardamom (Elettaria repens) seedpods. I understand wanting pungent, fresh spices, which requires removing the seeds from their pods and then grinding. I thought about just using some powdered. But I relented and went through the work…

Did you know that cardamom is a member of the ginger family? I didn’t know that, either. No wonder it makes for such a perfect flavor combination with ginger. Other members of the Zingiberaceae plant family are turmeric and galangal.

From left: green pods of cardamom, their seeds, and ground.

Alinea recipes frequently use ginger. I always use fresh, not powdered. This is a hand of fresh “root” ginger (the rhizome of the plant), cheaply available in mass quantities at my local Asian markets.

I juiced the ginger root, skin and all, with my Breville 800JEXL Juice Fountain Elite juicer.

I peeled then chopped about six eggplants to get the required weight.

Mise en place:

I sautéed the eggplant with some oil…

…until it browned.

Then combined in a large stainless bowl with the ginger juice, chopped chilis, cardamom, soy, wine, chopped garlic, sugar and water.

I sealed the mixture in a vacuum bag with my FoodSaver V2240 vacuum sealer.

There were still a few pockets of air in the bag. It does the job, but grudgingly…

Then I brought a large stock pot of water 195ºF and cooked en sous vide for about an hour. I still have yet to purchase an immersion circulator. I’m still eyeing the PolyScience 7306C Thermal Circulator system at Oh, one day…

I transfered the cooked mixture to my Osterizer, and blended until smooth.

This is where I deviated from the Alinea recipe. The cook book says to strain through a chinois onto a sheet pan to cool. Then to run through a full cycle in a Pacojet. I don’t have one, nor do I plan to buy one. I do have a little electric ice cream maker, and thought of using that instead.

I finally decided to simply put the unstrained mixture in a 9×13-inch glass PYREX baking sheet and freeze.

This did not give me a consistency of smooth ice cream that a Pacojet would have, but served perfectly well without adding US$4,500.00 (Eee gads, man!) for equipment to my budget.

Spectrum Naturals peanut oil, from Whole Foods
Fresh eggplant, peeled and chopped
Fresh ginger
Red Thai chilis
Green cardamom pods
Kikkoman reduced sodium soy sauce
Quail Creek merlot
Fresh garlic, chopped
C&H cane sugar
Morton’s kosher salt

Soy Bubbles
I’m finally getting the hang of foams. It has, in the past, been a difficult challenge. I never seemed to execute the fluffy consistency I witnessed on professionals’ dishes. My foams were usually flat and wet looking. UNTIL NOW.

Mise en place:

I combined soy sauce, water, sugar and soy lecithin powder in a small saucepan and brought to a simmer to dissolve the solids.

Then strained into a tall plastic cup. See all the lecithin that was not incorporated?

I realized I was using too heavy a hand. If I positioned the Cuisinart SmartStick hand blender higher up in the liquid, at a 45º angle, in my 40th Anniversary San Diego Padres cup — it worked like a charm.

I think it will be my lucky foam cup from now on.

I skimmed the foam off the top and reserved in a small plastic container to my prep area.

Kikkoman reduced sodium soy sauce
C&H cane sugar
Soy lecithin, from L’Epicerie

Fried Chickpeas
Chickpeas. I keep thinking of them as “garbanzo beans,” ’cause this is what we always called them in my family. But fried chickpeas? Mmmm — they’re delicious and oh so snacky! I ate most of them while finishing up everything else.

Hint: They don’t stay crunchy for long, so do these last — before you grill and plate.

About Chickpeas

Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum) are also known as garbanzo beans, Indian peas, ceci beans and Bengal gram.

There are two main kinds of chickpeas: Desi, which have small, darker seeds and a rough coat, cultivated mostly in the Indian subcontinent, Ethiopia, Mexico, and Iran. And the kind with which most Americans are familiar, Kabuli, with lighter colored, larger seeds and a smoother coat, mainly grown in Southern Europe, Northern Africa, Afghanistan, and Chile (also introduced during the 18th century to the Indian subcontinent).

Most often you can find them canned or dried. The Alinea recipes call for dried. You can sometimes buy the fresh, ripe shrubs of ’em at the Santa Monica farmer’s market. But as one chef I know said, it’s waaaay too much work shelling. “We want… a shrubbery.”

I had bought some dried chickpeas at Mitsuwa Marketplace awhile back, so I threw a bunch in some water to rehydrate “overnight.”

I simmered them in a covered pot of water until they were tender (but not squishy like canned garbanzos).

Then strained…

…and drained on paper towels until they were pretty dry to touch. Keep in mind the damper they are, the more they will POP when you fry them.

In my now-thrashed frying pot, I heated some canola oil to 400ºF, then fried the chickpeas in small batches, until they were golden brown.

Then drained on paper towels and hit ’em with a little kosher salt.

I reserved these to my prep area in a small plastic container.

Dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, from Mitsuwa Marketplace
Pot of canola oil for frying
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste

Marinated Yellow Wax and Green Beans
I usually find both yellow wax and green beans at my local farmer’s market. Occasionally the yellow are just impossible to find. In those instances, I resort to pre-packaged at the local grocers. This time, I was lucky enough to find some at the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market.

When I was little, my Mom used to make her “world famous five-bean salad” for Summer get-togethers. Ordinarily, any self-respecting nine-year-old boy would vehemently scoff at the mere idea of having to consume pickled green things with… onion, of all things! But I liked it. Still do.

So I was nostalgic, and excited, to try this recipe.

I rinsed, trimmed and thinly sliced the yellow wax and green beans. In a stainless bowl, I whisked together the rice vinegar and grapeseed oil until they had emulsified. Added a bit of salt and pepper to taste, then tossed in the beens to marinate.

I reserved the bean salad in a plastic container in my prep area.

Rice vinegar, from Mitsuwa Marketplace
Romanina grape seed oil, from North park Produce
Morton’s kosher salt, to taste
Ground black pepper
Fresh green beans, from Hillcrest Farmer’s Market
Fresh yellow wax beans, from Hillcrest Farmer’s Market

Grilled Octopus
Now the last time I had baby octopi was with my friend Candice at South Beach Bar & Grille in Ocean Beach, and I was grossed out. Even though they were cooked to perfection. And tasty. So certainly not by the taste, but by the texture. Specifically, the popping of their little baby heads in my mouth. You can’t know how relieved I was to know that I’d not be including the heads in this recipe.

When shopping for some of the ingredients for this dish, I picked up a package of flash-frozen baby octopus at Thuan Phat Supermarket (US$4.29). Thawed them out in water.

They were already cleaned of their innards, which was good. An octopus’ guts are all located in its “head,” including ink and poison sacks. I just learned that octopi have three hearts and are just about as smart as a domesticated housecat. Not recommended as pets, as they can learn to escape their tanks!

Well. Not to worry. We’re not going to keep ’em. We’re gonna eat ’em.

Once they were thawed, I went Jules Verne on ’em. This is where you cut off the head at the base of the neck, then you can remove the beak if needed.

You are left with an eight-armed, radially symmetrical segment. (Thus the OCTO- part of the name eh?)

Yes, octopi have eight arms. Squid are decapods, having eight arms plus two longer tentacles. I trimmed off the heads, and reserved. I later cut up and sautéed for the cats, ’cause I was not eatin ’em.

Then I started the marinade.

Combined the soy sauce, mirin sugar, vinegar, wine, garlic and ginger in a large pot and added the prepped octopus to marinate.

The Alinea cook book says to marinate these overnight.

Kikkoman reduced sodium soy sauce
Honjozu mirin, from Mitsuwa Marketplace
C&H cane sugar
Rice vinegar, from Mitsuwa Marketplace
Quail Creek merlot
Fresh garlic, minced
Fresh ginger, peeled and minced
Frozen baby octopus, from Thuan Phat Supermarket

To Assemble and Serve
The final prep and assembly for this is easy. Like many of the other Alinea recipes, it’s just in multiple components.

Earlier, I bought some bean sprouts, cilantro and scallions from my local grocer. If you’ve never sprouted your own mung beans (Vigna radiata) before, it’s very easy. I even sprouted some thyme seeds for PROSCIUTTO, Passion Fruit, Zuta Levana. You can get dried mung beans (US$1.49 a bag) at just about any Asian market. Or easiest yet, buy them sprouted (US$00.99 a bag).

I rinsed and reserved some sprouts in a plastic container.

I thinly sliced some of the green parts of a scallion on the bias, and reserved in a plastic container.

And grabbed some nice looking cilantro leaves for garnish.

I removed the frozen eggplant purée squares from the freezer and placed them on the serving plates to thaw. Then gathered the rest of my mise: soy bubbles, bean salad from the fridge and fried chickpeas.

The prep area:

I went outside and grilled the octopus on a medium flame. This takes very little time, 30 seconds to a minute each. They go on the grill soft and slippery, but once they start heating up their arms start thrashing about alarmingly. But pretty cool looking nevertheless. Mmmm. And the smell was amazing!

I took them inside and was ready to plate!

I placed an ample serving of the beans atop each eggplant square.

Then topped with those crispy, delicious fried chickpeas.

Placed about 6-8 baby octopi on each, then topped with some sprouts, scallion slices and cilantro. To finish, I plopped an ample pile of soy bubbles next to each.

Fresh cilantro leaves
Fresh mung bean sprouts
Fresh scallion, thinly sliced

Salter digital scale
Measuring bowls
Cutting board and kitchen knife
Paring knife
Spice grinder
Breville 800JEXL Juice Fountain Elite juicer
FoodSaver V2240 vacuum sealer
Sous vide immersion circulator, or large stock pot and thermometer
Wooden spoon, rubber spatulas
Strainers and sieve
Osterizer bar blender
Medium pot for deep frying, or deep fryer
Spoon or small strainer for skimming
Small bowls
Sauté pan
Stainless steel bowl
Cuisinart SmartStick immersion blender
Craftsman barbecue grill
Paper towels and sheet tray
Plastic containers

Good ol’ plain white plates, from IKEA

Yields: About 12-16 servings, depending on your portion size, and how much octopus you grill!

Goes well with: a cool Corona beer and lime. Or two!

Next, PUSHED FOIE GRAS, Sauternes, Pear, Chervil

Five-Bean Salad
Recipe, Zelma Lindsay, c.1969

1 can garbanzo beans
1 can yellow wax beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can bean sprouts
2 cans French green beans
1 pkg frozen baby lima beans
1 small bottle stuffed olives, sliced
1 medium, dry onion, sliced in rings
1 bottle Good Seasons Old-Fashioned French dressing
1 tablespoon French’s yellow mustard
2 tablespoons Best Foods mayonnaise

Drain beans, and combine all in a large bowl. Add dressing and marinate overnight. The next day, pour off excess dressing and reserve. Add the prepared mustard, mayonnaise, some of the reserved dressing and fold together.

Makes me shudder now, just thinking about canned bean sprouts…

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