Sunday, June 28, 2009

Baja Crab Cakes

I forgot to add this recipe which I made last week for some guests. This is my own spin on crab cakes for the fast. I make this with a combination of surimi, the Japanese imitation crab sticks, and shrimp. Surimi is widely available. You can use canned crab meat as well, if you can afford it.

The key is soy mayonnaise, lime juice and onion crackers – these ingredients bind the little cakes without egg. Some cooks use cornstarch, but this changes the texture and consistency of the cakes. Unlike fish cutlets, crab cakes made with surimi are quite dry and needs a moister binding agent than just bread or crackers so that the cakes hold together when you fry them.

The green chilies available in Moscow are usually pretty mild but still more exciting than green bell pepper, which you can use as a substitute if you need to. If you want something with more kick, fee free to add hotter chilies or 1-3 tsp of Tabasco sauce.


500 g surimi / imitation crab sticks

500 g shrimp meat

1 cup finely crushed onion crackers

2/3 cup each finely chopped onion, celery and green chilies

¼ cup (packed) fresh chopped cilantro leaves

¾ cup soy mayonnaise

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp dry mustard

Juice of 1 lime

2-3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp cajun salt

2 tsp cumin

1 tsp chili powder

½ c white flour

¼ c tempura batter

Salt, pepper to taste

½ cup vegetable oil for frying

To make the crab cakes, remove the crab sticks (surimi) from their individual wrappers, cut the sticks in thirds crosswise and then use you hands to break up the meat into stingy pieces in a large bowl or pot. Rise shrimp and press out excess water using cheesecloth or a sieve. Grind the shrimp in a meat grinder or chop very finely with a knife. Chop up all vegetables very fine. Add minced shrimp and vegetables to the crab meat and add lime juice and spices. Using your hands or a big spoon, mix the ingredients well. I like to use my hands to break up the surimi even more and make sure all the ingredients are well distributed. Finally, add the soy mayonnaise and mix well. The resulting mass should stick to itself pretty well.

Use the mass to form 3 cm balls and place them on a 20 x 30 cm piece of waxed paper or baking paper.

Mix the flour, tempura batter, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Coat the balls one at a time with the flout-tempura mixture and form them into rough patties about 2 cm thick. You may need to wash your hands every now and then to keep the mixture from sticking to your hands. It is important to make the cakes all roughly the same size so they cook evenly.

Heat the 1/2 of vegetable oil in a large pan for 3-4 minutes, or until you're sure it is hot and fry the cakes in the hot oil in small batches of 3 to 5 for about 2 minutes per side or until golden brown. Placed the cooked crab cakes on a plate layered with paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Serve Baja Crab Cakes with guacamole and Spanish rice and plenty of cold beer.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Foil Baked Fish

The health benefits of fish are well known but preparing fish can be a hassle for many. Here is a simple technique for baking individual portions of fish in about 20 minutes and involves very little clean up. Foil baking is especially suited to frozen fish, which is easier to store and more cost effective if you want small portions or eating alone. Cod, tilapia, pollock or sole are good mild white fish you can buy in the frozen section of most supermarkets. There are anywhere from 2 - 4 fillets per pound, depending on the fish.

Never soak frozen fish in hot water. To thaw frozen fish, simply remove it from the package and holding one or several frozen fish fillets in your hand, run warm (but not hot) water over it until any ice falls off and the fillets can gently be unstuck from each other. At this point, it is ok to re-freeze any unwanted fish fillets. Continue to run warm water over the fish you want to cook until it becomes slightly pliable. Pat the fish dry with a clean towel or several paper towels. Now you are ready to bake your fish.

You will need:

a baking sheet or dish, preferably one with a small edge

25 -30 cm of aluminum foil

one or two frozen fish fillets

vegetable oil, olive oil or sesame oil

any combination of onion, garlic and or ginger

lemon or lime juice

salt, pepper


a small quantity of fresh herbs such as thyme or marjoram

dry prepackaged seasonings for fish, if desired


Small amounts of olive or plain vegetable oil can be infused with fresh herbs, dark sesame oil, dry seasonings, garlic, ginger or onion for 5 minutes to create unique flavors that can enhance the mild flavor of white fish fillets.

Savory Foil Baked Cod

Preparation time: 25 minutes

1 frozen cod fillet, thawed
1 shallot or 1/2 of a finely chopped onion
1 1/2 Tbsp of oil
1/2 tsp lemon pepper
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme or rosemary
sea salt to taste
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed or sliced very thinly


Place the fish fillet on the foil lengthwise and salt. In a small bowl, mix onion, garlic, oil, fresh herbs and lemon pepper. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes. Brush onto fish fillet and close foil loosely.

Place fish on the baking pan in a 180 C or 350 F preheated oven for 20 minutes. Serve with rice or vermicelli noodles and a bit of margarine. Liquid from the fish will be savory and can be poured onto the rice as well.

Foil Baked Asia Pacific Tilapia
Preparation time: 25 minutes

2 frozen tilapia fillets, thawed
1 shallot or 1/2 of a finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp dark sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp finely minced ginger
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed or sliced very thinly
sea salt and pepper to taste


Place the fish fillets on separate pieces of foil lengthwise and salt. In a small bowl, mix garlic, oils, soy sauces and ginger. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes. Brush onto fish fillets and grind a bit of fresh pepper on, as desired. Close foil loosely.

Place foil fish packets on the baking pan in a 180 C or 350 F preheated oven for 20 minutes. Serve with rice topped with 2 tsp of dark sesame oil and soy sauce.

Foil Baked Lemon Sole or Hake

Preparation time: 25 minutes

1 - 2 frozen sole or hake fillets, thawed
1 shallot or 1/2 of a finely chopped onion
1 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil
2 tsp of lemon juice
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme or rosemary
sea salt to taste
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed or sliced very thinly


Place the fish fillets on separate pieces of foil lengthwise and salt. In a small bowl, mix onion, garlic, oil, and fresh herbs together. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes. Brush onto fish fillets and top each fillet with 1 tsp of lemon juice.

Place fish on the baking pan in a 180 C or 350 F preheated oven for 20 minutes. Serve with rice or vermicelli noodles and a bit of margarine.

After preparing fish in this manner several times, it will go faster and you might be inspired to experiment. Good luck!

The Apostles Fast

In the Russian Orthodox Church, the Apostles Fasts lasts from June 15th to July 11th (NS) this year (2009). In the Moscow Patriarchate, it is a mild fasting period with frequent allowances for oil, fish and wine. The fast ends with the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul on July 12.

Stricter fasting days during this fast are on Wednesdays and Fridays, with no fish allowed. Beans are a good source of protein and Georgian cuisine makes use of them in a variety of bean dishes called 'lobbio'. Georgians use either kidney beans or green beans, walnuts and a spicy sauce called adzhika to make lobbio, but a bit of vinegar, onion and BBQ sauce make a suitable substitute. Here is a quick and filling sandwich for 2 people.

Lobbio Sandwich
preparation - 15 minutes

For the filing:
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 can red kidney beans in tomato sauce
1/2 shallot, chopped finely (or 3 Tbsp minced onion)
2 tsp BBQ sauce
1/2 tsp red wine / apple cider vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar

2 pita pockets, cut in half and carefully opened
1 ripe tomato
3/4 cup finely chopped iceberg lettuce
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, stems removed
juice of 1/4 lemon wedge
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

In a skillet on medium heat, warm the vegetable oil for about 30
seconds and then add the shallots. Saute shallots for about 1 minute
or until they become a little soft and then add the beans along with the
tomato sauce, the BBQ sauce, sugar and vinegar. Stir well and simmer on
medium heat for 5-8 minutes.

In the meantime, wash the tomato, cut in half and then cut halves into very
thin slices. Using a good sharp knife, chop up the lettuce and
cilantro and mix them together in a bowl. Sprinkle the juice of the 1/4 lemon on
it and toss it a bit.

Divide the lettuce and cilantro mixture into 4 parts and fill the pita
halves. Spoon in about 3-4 tablespoons of the warm beans and top with
tomato slices and chopped walnuts. Salt and pepper as desired.


Welcome to the Side Board Kitchen

Hello everyone.

This blog is dedicated to a particular (bachelor) friend who has recently moved to New York, to all striving Orthodox Christians with little or no kitchen savvy and anyone who is interested in understanding more about the culinary habits of one of the worlds oldest confessions. The richness of the Orthodox tradition might suggest hours of painstaking labors and many, for the sake of love, endure this to glorify God and bring delight to friends and family. The principles supporting the Side Board Kitchen blog are less ambitious, however. The aim of this blog will be to demonstrate how to prepare quick and easy meals in harmony with the Orthodox calendar of Feasts and Fasts and empower the less adventurous with basic culinary know how.

As some of you know, Orthodox Christianity offers a curious mix of lifestyle experiences. We are irregular vegans, temporary fish eating lacto-ovo vegetarians, complete abstainers and then all meat feasters, depending on the day. Fasting in Orthodox tradition doesn't mean the complete abstention from food, but the periodic abstaining from certain foods and limiting the intake of food according to the conscience and the principle of satiety. The dietary restrictions of Orthodoxy may seem to follow a inscrutable Byzantine rhythm, but the cycle of fasting and feasting is actually quite simple. The essence of the Orthodox diet is not weight loss, ascetic heroism or blind obedience to 'food rules' but a moderate middle way in our relationship to sustenance so as neither to be blinded by the weight of the flesh nor paralyzed with fear about breaking the rules, which are essentially guidelines provided for achieving harmony between body, mind and soul. Fasting in the Orthodox Church is, along with prayer and repentance, a way of life and as such affects our day to day behavior in a visible way. It is the outward aspect of an inner attitude which provides both opportunity for personal growth as well as consolation and strength.

The guidelines for fasting in the Orthodox Church come from several sources. The primary source is, of course, the Old Testament which establishes fasting as a bodily practice for coming closer to God. Feasting, an aspect of Orthodoxy that is often misunderstood by the average person and greatly underrated by the pious as irrelevant, is also an important part of Orthodoxy and the Old Testament is replete with celebrating God's mercy and loving kindness with the gifts of the earth which He gave us for our enjoyment.

The Jews practiced fasting in several modes. Complete abstinence from food was rare, but the practice of xerophagy, (Hebrew, lit. 'dry eating') which is the practice of abstaining from meat, dairy products and oil on Wednesdays and Fridays, has been preserved in Orthodoxy and forms the basis of routine fasting in Orthodoxy practice today. The monastic diet, depending on the community and the rule followed, is predominantly meatless but otherwise contains dairy products and fish at regular intervals. Many Orthodox communities around the world have modified fasting (and feasting) to reflect what is locally available. In Russia, for example, the rules for abstaining from oil are milder than in some other places. In China, Africa and other countries, for example, abstaining from meat is less dramatic than it is in North America and Eurpoe becasue meat plays a less important role in diet in general.

The brass tacks for fasting in the Orthodox Church are laid out in the daily Orthodox Calendar. For a daily guide to fasting, you can go to the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Chruch calendar online or the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America calendar online. Another important source for fasting is a book called The Lenten Triodion, which gives instructions on how to conduct Church services during Great Lent and provides a commentary on fasting and its significance for Orthodox Christians. Here is a link for more online literature concerning the practice of fasting.

In this blog, I will strive to share my love for God, friends, food and fasting in such a way as to provide a glimpse of this way of life in practical terms - recipes and techniques that are quick and easy enough for busy people to use. In many places like Russia or in big cities in the US and Europe, it is easier to find vegetarian and even vegan restaurants and cafes but this can be an expensive way to keep the fast as well as feasts.

It is my hope that this blog and the recipes posted here will help my friend in New York and anybody else to prepare food for themselves and start to celebrate the important events in their lives in the more intimate environment of their home, sharing their table and way of life with others.