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Spokane-area chefs share favorite ingredients (Molly Quinn) (Molly Quinn)

Are you looking for a few simple ways to add flavor to everyday dishes and try something new? We asked local chefs to share their favorite ingredients – the one item they just couldn’t cook without. Here’s what they had to say.

Anna Vogel, Luna Restaurant

Favorite ingredient: Capers

“I love the flavor of capers. Growing up we always had a lot of capers, olives and cornichons,” says Vogel, who grew up in Switzerland with a German father and French mother.

“Capers are amazing,” she says. “You can do a lot of things with them.”

Vogel likes to use them in hot and cold sauces, relishes and as a garnish. At Luna, she features a scallop dish with crispy fried capers.

First, squeeze out the brine and then cook the capers on low heat in butter, shaking the pan so they don’t burn. They will turn crispy like chips and can be used to garnish fish dishes.

Look for smaller nonpareil capers, which are softer and easier to work with than large caper berries.

“Look for Spanish brands,” Vogel recommends. “See if they are nice and green with plenty of liquid.”

Duane Sunwold, Culinary Arts Instructor, Spokane Community College

Favorite protein: Tofu and nut combination

Sunwold has been experimenting with a new protein combination: unsalted almonds and Small Planet tofu.

He follows a mainly vegan diet due to chronic kidney disease, so finding protein sources can be challenging.

Sunwold soaks unsalted almonds in water overnight, drains them and processes them in a food processor until smooth. Next he adds Small Planet tofu and blends again.

“It becomes an incredible base for fillings,” he says.

Sunwold mixes in taco seasoning and uses the filling for enchiladas, or seasons it with Italian herbs and makes savory puffed appetizers by placing the filling in phyllo dough cups that are baked in muffin tins.

“It’s a great protein source and it’s high in omega-3 fatty acids,” he says.

Once prepared, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for at least a week.

Sunwold likes Small Planet tofu because the texture is heavier and denser than other brands. Cashews can be substituted for almonds.

Raymond Kong, China Garden Restaurant

Favorite way to turn up the heat: Dried red chilies

“You don’t eat the chili, it just kicks up the flavor,” Kong explains as he sets down a plate of chili-laden Kung Pao Chicken. “You want to get the flavor but not the ‘wow’ hot taste.”

In stir-fry dishes, the dried red chilies are cooked for 15-20 seconds until they plump up and turn dark in color, giving them a smoky flavor.

Kong uses whole chilies in his recipes and warns “when you cut them, they turn into chili paste and make things stronger.”

If it’s heat you’re looking for, don’t cook the chilies. Grind the dried chilies and mix them with a little oil, and use the chili oil to season the dish.

Kong buys the 2-inch-long dried red chilies at Cash ‘n Carry. Once the bag is opened, store it in the refrigerator and the chilies will keep for one to two years.

Fery Haghighi, Fery’s Catering

Favorite ingredients: Onions and fresh herbs

“I am from Iran and in my country we don’t have anything without onions,” says Haghighi. “We don’t use so much fat and cheese. Onion flavor goes with everything – it’s like the backbone.”

Haghighi uses red onion for color in salads, sweet onions in milder dishes and raw white onions on kebabs.

“High heat makes the onions more potent,” she says. “Lower heat with a lid caramelizes them – they become sweeter.”

As for herbs, she says, “There’s no table in Persia without a platter of green onions and herbs – basil, tarragon, chives – you put some on with each bite. It’s very healthy.”

Karen Torkelson, Women and Children’s Free Restaurant

Favorite flavor-booster: Garlic

“I like the life garlic brings to food – the spice, the flair,” says Torkelson. “I like to use fresh garlic – never the kind that’s already chopped. To me, the flavor is hugely different.”

For the restaurant, Torkelson buys pre-peeled garlic cloves at Costco and keeps them in the refrigerator. If they’re not peeled, it’s OK to keep them on the kitchen counter.

Torkelson adds minced sautéed garlic to soups and sauces, and adds whole cloves to vegetables before roasting. But her favorite way to enjoy garlic is simple.

“I like to buy elephant garlic, cut the top off and drizzle it with olive oil,” she says. “Place it in a small pan covered with foil and roast at 400 degrees for 35 minutes. The cloves are buttery-soft, with a nutlike flavor.”

Scoop out the cloves with a knife and spread the garlic on ciabatta bread.

“With a bottle of red wine, it doesn’t get any better,” Torkelson says.

David Blaine, Latah Bistro

Favorite ingredient: Eggs

Blaine likes eggs because they are one of the most enjoyable simple foods and they have the power to transform other ingredients.

“Eggs are the most miraculous thing in the world,” he says. “Look at a soufflé or cakes and cookies – they’re like magic.”

Blaine suggests trying to find eggs that come from free-range chickens or chicken tractors, where portable chicken coops without a floor are moved around outside, giving the chickens access to bugs in their diets.

“The eggs are incredible,” he says.

At Latah Bistro, Blaine cooks with goose, quail, duck and chicken eggs.

“You can tell the difference in flavor in the yolk,” he says.


Vegan Enchilada Casserole

Courtesy of Duane Sunwold, Spokane Community College Culinary Arts Program. Though Sunwold began experimenting with tofu-nut dishes because of his chronic kidney disease, this recipe is not suitable for kidney disease patients since it has high levels of potasssium.

1/2 cup almonds, soaked in water overnight in the refrigerator and drained

8 ounces Small Planet tofu, drained

1 package taco seasoning

1 can enchilada sauce

1 can Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies (mild)

12 corn tortillas

1 can sliced olives

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Chop the almonds in a food processor until they are smooth; add tofu and puree together. Add taco seasoning and mix thoroughly. In a bowl mix enchilada sauce and tomatoes.

Spray a 9- by 13-inch pan with cooking spray. Layer the pan with 6 corn tortillas; spread the tofu-almond mixture over the tortillas. Pour half the enchilada/Rotel sauce over the tofu mixture. Sprinkle with the sliced olives.

Add another layer of corn tortillas and cover with the remaining sauce. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes.

Yield: 6 servings.

Caesar Salad

Courtesy of Karen Torkelson, Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant.

3 to 4 garlic cloves

3/4 cup mayonnaise

4 canned rolled anchovy fillets with capers, drained

2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 large head romaine lettuce, cut into bite-size pieces

1 cup of croutons

Salt and pepper

To make the dressing, mince garlic cloves in food processor. Add mayonnaise, anchovies with capers, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Process to blend. Transfer to medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Place lettuce in a large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Add remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese and croutons and toss gently to blend. Divide among 4 plates and serve.

Yield: 4 servings.

Kung Pao Chicken

Courtesy of Raymond Kong, China Garden Restaurant

4 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into small squares

1/8 teaspoon sesame oil

1/8 teaspoon each: garlic powder, white pepper and ginger powder

½ teaspoon plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, divided

6 dried red chili peppers

2 ounces diced mushrooms

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

1 medium green bell pepper, diced

2 ounces diced yellow onion

2 teaspoons soy sauce

¼ teaspoon chicken soup base dissolved in 1 teaspoon vinegar

3 teaspoons sugar

Season diced chicken with sesame oil, garlic powder, white pepper, ginger powder, ½ teaspoon vegetable oil and ¼ teaspoon cornstarch (added last). Mix remaining ¼ teaspoon cornstarch with 2 teaspoons water to make a slurry; set aside.

Heat a large frying pan or wok to medium-high. Add remaining 1 teaspoon vegetable oil to pan. Add the dried chilies and cook 15-20 seconds or until they darken and plump up.

Add chicken to pan and cook on medium high for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms, diced bell peppers and onions; cook for 1 minute more, stirring occasionally.

Add soy sauce, vinegar mixture and sugar, stirring and cooking for 30 seconds. Add cornstarch slurry and cook until dish gets creamy and sticky.

Yield: 1 to 2 servings.

Salsa Verde

Courtesy of Anna Vogel, Luna, who says “this is great for grilled fish, lamb or even on toast.”

4 tablespoons capers (drain off excess liquid)

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped mint

1 tablespoon chopped tarragon

1 tablespoon chopped chives

1 tablespoon chopped basil

1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots

1 teaspoon chopped anchovies

1 clove garlic, chopped

Juice of half a lemon

1/3 cup virgin olive oil

Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor until the mixture reaches a smooth, pastelike consistency, adding more olive oil if necessary.

Yield: About ½ cup.

Scotch Eggs

Courtesy of David Blaine, Latah Bistro, who serves them with Coleman’s Hot Mustard.

For each Scotch Egg:

1 hard-boiled egg, shell removed

4 ounces ground pork sausage

1/3 cup bread crumbs

Press the sausage around the egg, packing it down firmly. Roll the egg in the bread crumbs and bake in a 350-degree oven until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees, about 15 minutes.

Kirsten Harrington is a freelance writer. She can be reached at kharrington67@