A three-course meal that I didn't think about very much and revised mid-preparation, which resulted in three dishes that didn't relate to each other and had to be served at different times, which is far too fussy for me.
First up, Sweet Potato and Leek Vichyssoise. I saw this dish in Williams Sonoma's New Orleans cookbook, then found it online at ReluctantGourmet.com (why reluctant? embrace your snobbery; it's what separates you from the inferior masses). This dish seems a bit contradictory, even in the name; as a cold soup, vichyssoise might be most appropriately served in summer, but sweet potatoes and leeks are fall or winter crops. Whatever.
First, I brought 4 cups of water to a boil in a pot, then plunked in 2 chopped large sweet potatoes. The recipe called for quartered sweet potatoes. I wanted them to cook faster, so I chopped them much smaller than that. I decided to use water instead of any sort of stock to protect the mellow flavors of leeks and sweet potatoes, the stars of this soup, from being muddled or even overpowered. The 2 chopped leeks I thought could wait until later in the cooking time, so perhaps preserve some of their freshness somehow. This idea may have had some validity, but in fact I forgot to put them in until a few minutes after I should have, so they were still a bit stringy when I removed the pot from the heat, which caused minor difficulties later.
After the potatoes and leeks were mostly cooked, but still had some texture, I removed the pot from the heat and let it cool a few minutes. At first I tried to use a stick blender to puree the vegetables into the water, but that lacked the power to get the potatoes to the even texture I wanted, and furthermore couldn't chop all of the somewhat stringy leeks. Luckily, the food processor worked fine and got the soup along with a bit of grated ginger to an even consistency. Added cream, then seasoned with kosher salt and ground white pepper. If I were to make this soup again, I think I might use water to thin the soup instead of cream, for lightness. Also, there's a bit of guesswork in the seasoning at this stage, since you're going to chill and age the soup, which changes its flavor. It might make sense to leave the seasoning until after chilling and be careful with the pepper, which wouldn't then have time to mellow.
After a few hours of chilling in the fridge, I garnished with a bit of cream (couldn't be bothered with anything else, but some green would have been perfect) and got Rorshach Vichyssoise.
Second course: Yao Choy and Fennel Seed Dumplings. Today I felt like making dumplings and also wanted some sort of green vegetable in this meal, so I put together this dish based on a kind of bao (Chinese steamed filled bun) I had in either Beijing or Shanghai. That particular bao was too salty and generally unpleasant, but I understood the green veg + fennel thing they were trying to get at.
I chopped up half a package of Yao Choy (or Green Yu Choy or whatever) in the mini-food processor chamber attachment for my stick blender, then mixed in minced garlic, minced shallots, minced ginger, freshly ground fennel and cumin seeds, a bit of ground hot red peppers, sesame oil, and some salt and ground black pepper. That stuffing went into round wonton wrappers, which were then folded in half and crimped. If I use this brand of wrappers again, I'll definitely roll them out a bit thinner and cut them in half; as they were, they were a bit too large and a bit too thick.
To cook the stuffed dumplings, I first browned them in a combination of canola and sesame oil, then poured a bit of water in the pan and covered to steam/boil them. Dipping sauce was just soy sauce with minced ginger, though I think they would have been better with the soy sauce-rice vinegar combination they serve with steamed dumplings in China.
Finally, Black Bean Burgers with Tamarind-Ginger Sauce. Probably needs a better name. My girlfriend and I saw a recipe for bean-based veggie burgers the other day and we vowed to make them eventually. Being a bit of a jerk, I jumped the gun. Grabbed this recipe off the Washington Post and kind of followed it. Sort of not really at all. Simmered a can of black beans for a while to soften them up while I got everything else together. Mixed some freshly ground cumin seeds with minced shallots, garlic, and cilantro. The recipe wanted panko bread crumbs, but I don't have anything fancy-schmancy like that (actually, I'd like to get some at a decent price), but my father is always making these "tortilla chips" by baking store-bought flour tortillas, so I just ground up a bunch of those in that darn-useful mini food processor bowl for my stick blender. They were dry and kind of sharp-ish, which is what I imagine panko is like. The beans got drained and half of them got pureed in the same food processor before the whole bit was mixed together with salt, ground black pepper, a bit of sesame oil, and two eggs, which turned out to probably be one too many. The whole mix was a bit slimy from the egg, so when I formed it into three patties about 3/4-inch thick, I coated the top and bottom of both with more tortilla-chip crumbs to promote trouble-free browning in the pan.
Most interesting to me was the sauce I put on these moderately-bad-boys, a tamarind juice reduction with ginger. I've never worked with tamarind before, though I've known about it for a long time and in fact had had this vacuum-sealed package of pulp sitting in the pantry for a long time. Well today I finally opened it up, took about about a third of the half-pound package, and mashed it into some boiling water. 10 minutes later, I had this thick, brown, slightly musty, sort of sweet, bracingly tart juice. Strained out the pulp (saved that in a bag for another soaking), brought to a simmer with some minced shallots and ginger. I reduced the liquid until it had a good concentration of the aromatics, then added brown sugar to further tame the tartness and a bit of cornstarch to bring it to the spoon-coating thickness I wanted.
Plated: rice + burger + avocado slices + sauce. The burgers were a bit bland, especially in contrast to the sauce, but their combination of crispy-brown outside and smooth pureed beans inside punctuated by a few whole beans and the other ingredients was excellent. I think next time I might form the patties a bit thinner. The sauce was wonderfully striking with its balanced tartness, but it might have used some more ginger to make the complexity of the sauce more apparent.