A Seriously New Column: DINNER FOR TWO, and Some Amazing Coconut Mussels

RECIPE: Coconutty Mussels with Ginger, Lemongrass, Chili, and Cilantro on Rice Noodles
Coconutty Mussels with Ginger, Lemongrass, Chili, and Cilantro on Rice Noodles

Coconutty Mussels with Ginger, Lemongrass, Chili, and Cilantro on Rice Noodles

Two weeks ago, sitting on a wooden bench under a leafy tree in a breezy London park, my boyfriend, known affectionately as Mr. English, turned to me and said, “Will you marry me?”

I knew it was time for a new column.

Everywhere I look, I see the same thing: couples living together, both working hard, coming home tired and hungry. We all want to eat well, especially in a time when good, creative, local, special food has become part of our daily zeitgeist, but we don’t always have time to do it. That is my life. And so, I’m writing a new Friday column called Dinner for Two.

It’s all about dinners that are fast but sophisticated, simple but delicious. All the recipes are done in a matter of minutes, using just a handful of easily found ingredients, prepared simply but inventively, most of the time in a single skillet or pot. Recipes meant for those of us with very little time but a lot of ambition. You don’t need much skill in the kitchen, a ton of space in your fridge for leftovers, or a lot of patience for washing dishes. You just need a hearty appetite.

Cooking for two is really my favorite way to cook. You have someone to cook for, to share with, but nothing is too arduous, and you can keep it fun. In the coming weeks, we’ll be making pork loin roasted in sweet, spicy ginger preserves and thyme. Salmon crisped under mustard-spiked breadcrumbs. Fiery sliced steak tacos with cool avocado cream. And scallops broiled in a dish with ruby-red Spanish chorizo. None of these dishes takes more than 30 minutes or 1 pot. We (you, me, and Mr. English) are in for a feast.

To start things off, try these Coconutty Mussels. I make a quick a broth from coconut milk, sliced ginger, fresh lime, cilantro, chilies, and lemongrass. Sounds exotic, but you can get all those ingredients in the produce aisle of almost any supermarket. Then, I use that fresh, tangy, spicy, creamy broth to steam open a couple of pounds of mussels. They cook in less than five minutes, and are just about the most inexpensive seafood you can get—I bought enough for the both of us for under five dollars.

Plus, you get to eat with your hands, and I don’t think there’s anything more romantic than a steaming pot of hot mussels to share. Very twenty-first century Lady and the Tramp. Again, 30 minutes, one pot, and seven easy-to-find ingredients. A little bundle of pre-cooked rice noodles nestled underneath the mussels will help suck up all the coconutty broth, and I can fish them out with some of the takeout chopsticks that accumulate in my silverware drawer. If your supermarket doesn’t sell them precooked, all you have to do is soak the dry version, easily found in your supermarket’s Asian aisle, in some hot water for a few minutes.

Simple as that. Of course, if you’re not the noodle type, a loaf of crusty bread is always a good sauce-soaking tool.

This recipe is pretty great, if I do say so myself. Happy cooking, and happy eating, to you and your very lucky plus one.

From my weekly column Dinner for Two on Serious Eats.  Check it out every Friday!

Coconutty Mussels with Ginger, Lemongrass, Chili, and Cilantro on Rice Noodles
serves 2

Coconutty Mussels with Ginger, Lemongrass, Chili, and Cilantro on Rice NoodlesINGREDIENTS

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 6-inch stalk of fresh lemongrass
  • A small bunch of fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1 jalapeno or Fresno chili, thinly sliced
  • 2 pounds of mussels (buy them de-bearded and scrubbed: usually that’s how they come)
  • Sea salt
  • 1 10-ounce package of precooked rice noodles

PROCEDURE

Pour the coconut milk and water into a large stockpot over low heat.  Slice the ginger into rounds.  Halve the lemongrass, and beat it with the dull side of the knife to release its flavor.  Tear the leaves from the cilantro stalks.  Peel three strips of zest from the lime with a vegetable peeler.

Add the ginger, lemongrass, cilantro stalks (reserve the leaves for later), and lime zest to the coconut milk.  Raise the heat to high, bring the coconut milk mixture to a boil, then lower the heat all the way down to the lowest setting.  Cover the pot and steep the broth for 25 minutes.

Raise the heat to high and add the chilies and mussels and season with salt.  Cover, and steam the mussels open for 4 to 5 minutes.  Add in the roughly chopped cilantro leaves.

To serve, cut the half a lime from which you stripped the zest in half.  In two large bowls, place large handfuls of the rice noodles.  Divide the mussels and broth over the noodles.  Serve with 1 lime wedge in each bowl.

A NOTE ABOUT MUSSELS

Cooking mussels couldn’t be easier.  When you bring the mussels home from the store, throw out any that are open.  Then, steam them open with a little bit of liquid (coconut milk, in this case) in a large pot with a lid over a high flame.  In about 5 minutes, they will all have opened.  That means they are perfectly cooked.  If there are any mussels that this point did not open, discard them.  That’s it.

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Cheap, Dinner for Two, Easy, Eat, Fish, For a Crowd, Main Courses, Recipes, Series
 

French in a Flash: Roasted Ratatouille Lasagna Napoleons

RECIPE: Roasted Ratatouille Lasagna Napoleons
Roasted Ratatouille Lasagna Napoleons

Roasted Ratatouille Lasagna Napoleons

There is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence, a little city famed for its quaint charm, fantastic shopping, “typique” markets brimming with olives and purple asparagus and rustic Provençal almond macarons, and leafy, shaded boulevards.

The restaurant is a pizza joint.  I have no clue what it’s called, but we go there every time we’re in town.  Just make a left up the hill at the church with the fountain just past the market in the square.  Somehow we always find it.  And even though it’s a pizza place, we always order the vegetable lasagna.

There are several reasons it’s to die for.  It’s served like a tian, baked in its own individual stone dish in a hot pizza oven.  But the best thing is, it’s so much lighter than the lasagnas we are used to.  After a few bites into the deceptively Italian, bubbly dish, you realize that it’s actually ratatouille sandwiched between layers of pasta, bathing gently in tomato sauce, and blanketed with just one fine layer of cheese gratined like onion soup with mozzarella and Gruyère.  It’s simple and light and so of the earth in Provence that you can’t help but trek around town trying to find it.

This is my version.  I create ratatouille planks: long slices of eggplant, zucchini, yellow bell peppers, red onion, and whole garlic cloves, that I roast with olive oil, chili flakes, and herbes de Provence until they are just slightly charred.  Then I layer them with sheets of fresh pasta, bought or homemade tomato-basil sauce, sun dried tomatoes, fresh thyme, basil, and mint, and a final layer of fresh mozzarella and shredded parmesan.  Sliced into four big rectangles, the dish really becomes a ratatouille and pasta Napoleon, beautifully stratified with that signature vegetal Provençal flavor.  And the best part is, you don’t have to boil the pasta!  Just roast the vegetables, and after that, it’s just a simple assembly job that comes out to be a real stunner.

Roasted Ratatouille Lasagna Napoleon Top

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats. Continue reading

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, Vegetarian, Vegetarian
 

French in a Flash: Fun and Fiery Moroccan Lamb Meatball Tagine

RECIPE: Moroccan Lamb Meatball Tagine
Moroccan Lamb Meatball Tagine

Moroccan Lamb Meatball Tagine

Eating dinner at my Moroccan Mémé’s house is the highlight of my year.  It used to be the highlight of my week, and my stomach and I both profoundly regret my decision to move so far away from her kitchen.  Moroccan dinners  have this amazing complexity that is somehow rooted in extreme freshness.  The meal starts off with ten salads.  And it ends with a spread of sliced fruits and sweet fresh mint tea.  In the middle there is fish, and then there is meat, often with couscous and vegetables, and chickpeas.  Yes, the fish and meat are intensely flavored, but sandwiched between all those fresh vegetables and fruits, the meal is like a walk through some enchanted exotic garden.

One of the best parts about eating in France is eating Moroccan. Continue reading

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Meat, Recipes, Series
 

The Secret Ingredient (Parsley): Beurre Maître d’Hôtel

RECIPE: Beurre Maître d'Hôtel
Beurre Maître d'Hôtel, stuffed with parsley, on a juicy, charred sirloin steak

Beurre Maître d'Hôtel, stuffed with parsley, on a juicy, charred sirloin steak

Beurre Maître d’Hôtel, or the maitre d’s butter.  I’m not sure why it’s called that, but whoever the maitre d’ was, I’m glad he turned his hand to the kitchen.  Beurre Maître d’Hôtel is a simple French compound butter stuffed with chopped fresh parsley and a squidge of lemon juice.  Traditionally it is mixed, rolled, chilled, and sliced.  You set a pat of the freshly flavored butter on a seared steak as it rests, and the butter melts into the grains of the meat, and the parsley and lemon go with it, and the steak becomes moist and the fresh flavors of parsley and lemon cut through the heaviness of the butter and steak.  Quite ingenious, don’t you think? Continue reading

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Categories: Bread & Butter, Cheap, Dips, Spreads, Preserves, Easy, Eat, Fish, Main Courses, Meat, Recipes, Series, The Secret Ingredient, Vegetarian
 

French in a Flash: Pork Chops with Norman Cider Cream Sauce and Thyme

RECIPE: Pork Chops with Norman Cider Cream Sauce and Thyme
Creamy, Fast Normandy Apple Cider Pork Chops

Creamy, Fast Normandy Apple Cider Pork Chops

These days, living in London just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Channel, I’m milking my family in Normandy for all they’re worth.  Just don’t tell them I’m only visiting so I can get my hands on their fantastic cidre buché!  It translates to ‘corked cider’ which doesn’t really do much to describe it.  Imagine the Champagne of ciders.  Apples instead of grapes, but just as dry and elegant and bubbly.  Stunning.  Local.  Pressed from all the orchards that fly by the car windows as you drive along.  If Champagne is a beautiful blonde, then cidre buché is a stunning redhead: more elusive, but also more characterful.  Worth looking for.  And you can find it. Continue reading

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, French in a Flash, Main Courses, Meat, Recipes, Series
 

Tapas-Perfect Spanish Roasted Red Pepper Salad with Garlic and Olive Oil

RECIPE: Spanish Roasted Red Pepper Salad with Garlic and Olive Oil
Garlicky Spanish Red Pepper Salad

Garlicky Spanish Red Pepper Salad

If you’re in the mood for Spanish tapas, which, as you can see from my recent posts, I certainly am, then add this salad on to the last post’s recipe for Shrimp with Green Sauce.  This is a really cool technique.  Just pour a good glug of olive oil into a baking dish with garlic and chili flakes, and put it straight in a hot oven.  The oil will bubble up, the garlic and chilies will toast and get nutty and spicy and sweet.  Then, you just add in strips of jarred sweet bell peppers, and the perfumed oil warms them, and all the peppery juices just splash out and make the most incredible sauce.  Warning: you need a ton of bread with this one. Continue reading

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Cheap, Easy, Eat, For a Crowd, Recipes, Salad, Soup & Salad, Vegetarian
 

The Secret Ingredient (Parsley): So-Easy Shrimp with Green Sauce

RECIPE: So-Easy Shrimp with Green Sauce
Parsley-holics' Shrimp with Green Sauce

Parsley-holics' Shrimp with Green Sauce

This dish is very close to my heart. Before I was born (back in the seventies), my parents used to go to an old Spanish restaurant on the Upper East Side of New York called Malaga. It’s an old-fashioned place in that terrific and charming New York way: wine-red booths. A stately and enormous awning. A bar to the left as you walk in with the same guy sitting behind it. Porcelain portraits of flamenco dancers, wooden details, plants, and the best part: the dessert case that you can see at the very back of the seemingly endless rooms, full of flan. A relic from when restaurants looked like the places that inspired them–not like a blank if stylish canvas. Continue reading

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Cheap, Easy, Eat, Fish, Main Courses, Recipes, Series, The Secret Ingredient