Mornay Sauce for Seafood or Pasta

In my general browsing of recipes online, I found myself encountering the term “Mornay,” especially in seafood dishes, such as Crab Mornay or Salmon Mornay. Further research shows that it is — perhaps unsurprisingly — French in origin, a culinary outgrowth of Bechamel sauce, a basic white sauce (butter, flour, milk) that is a core element of French cooking, and that surfaces more widely in recipes of broader Continental origin.

Apparently Mornay is just Bechamel with cheese. The types of cheese used in recipes vary, but the one I seem most commonly is Swiss. I’ve seen it included in recipes to be poured over fish filets, seafood croquettes or crab cakes, even seafood crepes. It doesn’t seem to be used, traditionally, as a sauce for pasta, but its consistency as a cheesy sauce, it seems to me, invites the correlation that Swiss is to Mornay, as Parmesan is to Alfredo, as Cheddar is to Mac & Cheese, etc. Having tried it over pasta, I’m sold! My favorite way to make it, and preserve its longstanding connection to seafood, is to add faux crab and green onions:


2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon white flour
1/2 cup white wine (optional)
2 cups half & half or cream
8 oz Swiss cheese (Gruyere is most traditional)
2-3 green onions, snipped or sliced
8 oz to 1 lb. faux crab, chunk style, or other seafood
salt & pepper to taste
pasta or bread

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. When it is just melted, add the flour and stir until all lumps are broken up. If you’re going to add some wine, make sure it is a light-bodied white so as not to compete with the subtle flavors of the swiss cheese. Heat the wine through and then add the cream and the cheese. I have gathered from looking at several recipes that Gruyere is the variety of Swiss cheese that is considered most traditional, but it can be pretty expensive. Any type of Swiss — or a combination of Swiss cheeses — will do. I use just plain ol’ low-brow brick o’ grocery store Swiss, but don’t rule out a Gruyere or an Emmenthaler or a Jarlsberg as a higher-brow option.

Heat the cream & cheese mixture on medium-low fire in order to soften the cheese. Meanwhile, snip the onions into a bowl and set aside. When the cheese is visibly melting, puree the sauce with an immersion blender to smooth out all the lumps. After the sauce is pureed, add your fish, if you’re using shellfish or faux crab. If you’re making this sauce to top a fish filet, crab cake or seafood croquette, then prepare the fish separately.

Once the sauce is thickened and heated through, add most of the snipped green onions (reserve some for garnish, if you like), salt and pepper. Serve tossed with pasta, over prepared fish and/or with crusty bread. Garnish with parsley.

To be honest, having read a lot of Crab Mornay recipes, I’m not sure what to make of their serving suggestions. Nobody but me seems to have had the idea to serve over pasta. Fair enough. I’ve done pasta but I have also used it (sans faux crab) as a sauce for salmon croquettes. Some of the recipes I’ve read involve serving it over seafood crepes, sometimes with mushrooms added to the crepes or the sauce. Again, seems logical. However, a majority of recipes suggest serving with “crusty bread” or in “a bread bowl.” Are people eating their Crab Mornay like a soup? Or, perhaps, making it thicker for use as a dip (I don’t add as much flour as some recipes because of carbs, but also so it will be pour-able enough to work as a pasta sauce)? I suppose it would be tasty as a fondue, though having larger fish chunks in a fondue seems cumbersome, unless they are also reserved and served on the side for dipping.

The mystery of Mornay will persist, but I’m advocating here and now that we add it to the canon of classic pasta sauces! This simple sauce is quite delicious; cheese lovers rejoice!

Hummus Mastery

I’ve blogged basic hummus recipes before, and while I was never displeased with my hummus creations, I never stopped experimenting with this fundamental recipe. My primary goal in working on this recipe was to create a smoother hummus. Word on the street was that using dried garbanzos, as opposed to canned, would yield a smooth result. I did not find this to be true, but I did find that getting the proportions right with dried beans and balancing it all with the rehydration process was just not worth the trouble. The results I got weren’t especially smooth and the quality was spotty. I eventually scrapped the notion of using dried beans.

All this trial and error resulted in much extra hummus being produced, so I ended up bringing my experiments to work to unload on my co-workers. One of my co-workers at the time, Scott, is a vegan, but also a former employee at Aladdin’s Eatery, a Middle Eastern chain restaurant in our area. As chains go it is actually quite good due to their emphasis on natural foods and ingredients, and I have long admired their hummus and baba. What Scott revealed to me about the way they make hummus was positively shocking… they don’t use garlic. He told me that garlic is in fact not a standard ingredient in traditional hummus. Every recipe for hummus I have seem in my life uses garlic; how garlic weaseled its way into the standard ingredient list, I do not know. It’s not that hummus is bad with garlic. It can be quite tasty. But what I discovered following Scott’s revelation is that hummus can be even better without!

healthy-hummus-recipesSARAH’S MASTERFUL HUMMUS

1 (15oz) can of Trader Joe’s Garbanzo Beans, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons sesame tahini
1/3 cup olive oil
juice of one or two lemons
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of cumin
1/4 cup water
paprika, for garnish

Combine the garbanzos, tahini and oil in the food processor. Juice the lemons, making sure to strain out the seeds. Add lemon juice, salt and cumin to the processor. I usually use 1/4 cup of water, but you may want to use more or less, depending on the consistency you want. If you like a thicker hummus, add less. I recommend adding water one tablespoon at a time while processing to find out how much you need to reach your desired consistency. Adding more liquid will also enable the food processor to make the hummus smoother. Serve with chips or pita bread, garnish with paprika and drizzled olive oil.

I have tweaked this recipe many times, and have done side-by-side comparisons with Aladdin’s hummus (I make a batch for comparison whenever I get Aladdin’s take-out). Over this past weekend I did the same, and it’s finally gotten to the point where they are nearly indistinguishable. Any subtle difference in flavor is probably due to differing source ingredients (I’m sure I don’t use the exact same tahini brand as they do, for example), but the general balance of flavors is the same.

If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s nearby, you can, of course, use another brand of garbanzos, but I would recommend using them if you have a TJ in town. I discovered that Trader Joe’s garbanzos are significantly better tasting than other brands of canned beans after using them in my Garbanzo Salad. They are the only garbanzos I will use, now, for the salad, and they make a big flavor difference in the hummus, too.

One final note about the lemons: I usually double this recipe and use three lemons, so technically, I use one and a half lemons for a recipe of this size, but the flexibility to go up or down in lemon flavor is up to you!

Pad Thai Noodles

I’ve made a couple attempts at Pad Thai with different recipes I’ve encountered online. I can’t say previous attempts were failures, but while enjoyable enough, they just didn’t turn out quite right. This time around, I compared and contrasted a few recipes (including the one I had used the last time), and put together a list of ingredients based on what had worked and what hadn’t during my last attempts. I was quite pleased with the result:


8 oz rice noodles
1/2 cup crushed peanuts (or more, to taste)
2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3-5 green onions, snipped or sliced
8 oz or 1 lb. of shellfish, meat, faux crab, tofu, etc.
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
4-6 eggs
1-2 limes

Soak the rice noodles in warm water for about 30 minutes, then drain and rinse in cold water. Set aside.

At the same time, in a small non-stick skillet, toast the crushed peanuts dry on a low heat, stirring every so often.

DSC01867In a large skillet, heat the oil. Snip the roots off the white ends of the green onions. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs (most recently my recipe for African Peanut Soup), I like to use kitchen scissors for snipping herbs and spring onions. Using scissors will make it very easy to separate the whites from the greens in this recipe. Just snip the onions, starting at the white end, into the saucepan. When you get to the green part of the onions, simply move to a bowl and snip the remainder of the onion to reserve the greens for later.

Saute the white snips of the onion with the minced garlic for a minute or two. Add your meat, fish, etc. and saute until cooked. I used an 8oz package of faux crab, chunk style (I don’t like how the flake style falls apart), and so did not have to cook it long, just to heat through.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the ingredients for the sauce: lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar, tamarind and sriracha. Mix until brown sugar is dissolved. Add the drained noodles to the pan; stir fry for a minute or two, then add the sauce. Reduce heat to low.

DSC01868Mix about half of the toasted peanuts in with the noodles. Reserve the other half in a small bowl and set aside. Use the small skillet to fry the eggs (no need to wash first). I like to mix the eggs with a little extra fish sauce before scrambling. I used 6 eggs because I only used 8 oz of fish, but you can use fewer eggs if you’re using a larger amount of meat or fish. I also added a touch of additional vegetable oil to the pan before scrambling. Stir the eggs in with the noodles once they are scrambled.

Once your stir-fry is heated through, garnish with the reserved peanuts and green onions, and fresh cilantro if you have some on hand (I didn’t this last time and it was perfectly tasty without). Quarter your limes and serve with lime wedges to be squeezed over the noodles before eating.

I didn’t have terribly high hopes for this recipe since it is quite a complex dish and it comes from a cuisine tradition that I have otherwise found difficult to reproduce with great authenticity.

I must say, however, I was quite surprised with how this recipe turned out. It looked like Pad Thai I’ve had in restaurants, and it was extremely tasty. I found myself going back for more time and again throughout the day, eating much more of it than I had intended (sorry, diet!). Pad Thai itself varies from restaurant to restaurant, and I haven’t had a restaurant version terribly recently for comparison, but I found this recipe so delicious that I frankly did not care how close it was in authenticity to my favorite restaurants. I suspect I will be making this dish again very soon!

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

This cream sauce may very well be the most delicious pasta sauce I’ve ever had in my life. Move over alfredo! If you like cheeses with a stronger flavor, this gorgonzola sauce will be right up your alley.

Sarah’s Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

gorgonzola2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup white wine (optional)
8 oz grumbled gorgonzola (or more to taste)
1 cup half n’ half or cream
ground pepper

Melt the butter in a medium/small saucepan. Add the garlic and saute briefly. This might seem like an exceedingly small amount of garlic, but with the gorgonzola cheese, it can very easily become overpowering and add an unpleasant and unintended saltiness to the flavor of the sauce. After a minute or so, add the white wine. Simmer another minute or so, then add the cream and gorgonzola crumbles. Season with pepper. Heat over low fire to melt the gorgonzola. I like to use my immersion blender to help the melting process along and produce a very smooth sauce, but you can also let the cheese melt only partially if you want a more textured sauce with a few gorgonzola lumps remaining. Serve over pasta al dente.

Two Vindaloos

Of all the Indian curry dishes I have tried, Vindaloo seems to manifest with the most different permutations across Indian restaurants. Other curries that are equally widespread seem to be more standardized. If you order Tikka Masala or Korma or Saag (aka Palak), chances are you will get a curry that looks the way you expect, even if the specific recipe of spices differ from one establishment to the next. With Vindaloo, you don’t know what color it will be, whether it will be creamy or dairy-free… the only constant is the sourness of the vinegar, which of course is what the dish is named for. Recipes I have encountered online and in cookbooks vary just as much, leaving me torn and uncertain about which route to take toward Vindaloo greatness!

I recently tried two very different recipes, both with good results:

Vindaloo #1: A more complex vindaloo

1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground hot pepper
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 small onion, chopped
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed (or equivalent amount pork, beef, lamb, etc)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley

images (3)Combine all ingredients in a saucepan or crock pot (use half the water for crock pot). Before adding the the meat, I like to process with my immersion blender to puree, but that’s up to you. The onion and garlic don’t strictly have to be pureed into the sauce, and whole mustard seeds add a nice texture — they won’t be completely pulverized by an immersion blender anyhow. Cook covered on low fire until meat is desired tenderness. If using a crock pot, 4 hours on high or 8 on low should do it. Serve with rice, garnish with parsley.

This Vindaloo turned out quite tasty. In fact, I loved the flavor of this spice combination and can say absolutely nothing against the way it turned out in terms of taste. However, I was less than thrilled with the color. It happens sometimes with recipes that feature the darker spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, etc.) as their dominant characteristic that the color of the curry is affected (e.g. chettinad curry), and such was the case here. This curry ended up a very drab brown color. Most Vindaloo I’ve ever had before is some manner of red or orange color, sometimes a little brighter sometimes a little darker, but usually has a bit of zest to its color. This recipe had none and I was disappointed in that result. Call me crazy, but given the choice, I’d rather have a colorful and flavorful dish!

I remembered a Vindaloo recipe I tried many years ago when I was first experimenting with Indian cuisine. It was a much simpler recipe, but I recalled that it had turned out a nice stark orange. I dug up the recipe last week and gave it a try:

Vindaloo #2: a simpler recipe

DSC018661 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper or paprika
1lb. chicken, beef or lamb cubes
1/2 cup to 1 cup water
cilantro leaves, optional

Combine onion, ginger, garlic, vinegar, and spices in a saucepan or crock pot. Process with an immersion blender, adding water until the sauce is the consistency of a thick gravy. Stew the meat for a few hours on low heat until desired doneness, or slow cook for 4 hours on high, 8 on low. Serve with rice, garnish with cilantro.

This recipe is much simpler. The flavor is very good; the larger amount vinegar gives added tanginess. The color is it nice bright orange! However, I missed the more complex flavors of the first recipe.

For now, I am posting both of these recipes for preservation; they are both worthwhile and make for a great meal. I have not, however, given up on discovering or formulating a recipe that represents the best of both worlds.

African Peanut Soup

This is one of my very favorite soup recipes. It can be made mild or spicy. It is creamy (due to the peanut butter) and yet also completely dairy free. All in all, a wonderful combination of flavors; a delicious pureed vegetable soup!

702ccf7619929e989ed9e0c44246ad62SARAH’S AFRICAN PEANUT SOUP

1-2 tablespoons oil
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
1 cup water or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 (29oz) can sweet potatoes, drained and rinsed
2 carrots, chopped
1-2 bell peppers, red, yellow or orange
1 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne, or more paprika
1 (6oz) can tomato paste
1 (8oz) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
crushed peanuts and chopped green onions

Heat the oil in the bottom of a large saucepan. Saute the onion and garlic for a couple minutes until softened. Add the water (or broth), the ginger, potatoes, carrots and bell pepper. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Use cayenne pepper only if you want to make a spicy version of this soup. Process with an immersion blender until smooth, or process in batches in your food processor. Heat through. Serve garnished with crushed peanuts and/or chopped green onions.

Not only is this soup very tasty, but it is also absurdly easy if you have the right equipment. Every home chef who finds him- or herself with a need to puree — even on an infrequent basis — has absolutely no reason at all not to invest in an immersion blender. Food processors are great, and they are necessary for certain tasks; I still use my food processor for thicker or tackier recipes like dips and spreads (e.g. hummus, salmon spread, artichoke dip, etc.), noodle or bread dough, and curries or curry pastes with whole spices that need to be well-pulverized. But any recipe project a bit more liquid in consistency is made so much easier with an immersion blender.

It has, however, recently come to my attention that all immersion blenders are not created equal. One of my students was telling me about a carrot soup she planned to prepare for a holiday meal. She bemoaned the annoyance of pureeing the soup in batches using a food processor. I, of course, extolled the virtues of the immersion blender, but she told me the last time she’d used an immersion blender it was disappointing and ineffective. I could hardly imagine what went wrong; perhaps some blenders are just not very good quality, or don’t have very sharp blades, perhaps she had been using a blender intended for lighter jobs like mixing powder additives into smoothies. Either way, I recommended my blender, a Cuisinart. She came back the next week and reported that she had purchased a Cuisinart and it had worked like a charm! So, if you’ve had disappointing experiences with immersion blenders in the past, don’t despair! The Cuisinart is designed for heavier-duty food processing, and I highly recommend it.

The other kitchen item that will help you immensely with this, and similar, kitchen projects, is a good pair of kitchen scissors. Most people keep scissors in their kitchen the sake of opening packages, but many have never considered using them for food preparation. In this recipe, for instance, kitchen scissors make the job of slicing green onions a snap. Why drag out the cutting board and slice when you can simply hold the onions and snip? Kitchen scissors are excellent for all sorts of herbs and small greenery. You might not think to use them for cutting larger vegetables, but in a recipe like this where the veggies end up pureed anyway, I like to use the kitchen scissors to open up my bell pepper. Again, it saves breaking out (and washing later) the cutting board and knife. I cut the pepper open, or in half, wash out the seeds under the faucet, and then put the flesh in whole. It will just soften up and get pureed anyway, so why go to all the trouble of slicing or dicing? Kitchen scissors are also very useful in trimming the fat off meat and shredding cabbage or lettuce (just roll the leaf and cut slim ribbons). Once you get a pair, you will find more and more uses for it in your kitchen.