Monday, October 19, 2015

A Blessing on Saffron

I've been eating at Saffron since I moved to San Diego in 1988. I was living in Hillcrest and once I discovered the little place on India Street just down the hill, where I could bring home a feast of Thai crispy roasted chicken, fragrant rice, and my favorite peanut sauce, I was hooked. Years later I met owner Su-Mei Yu. I took one of her cooking classes, held in the serene patio above Saffron, and appeared last season on her series, Savor San Diego. I've long regarded her as a community treasure.

So, I was honored to be invited to a very special occasion held Monday afternoon at Saffron. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, she organized a gathering of friends for a blessing ceremony and lunch. The ceremony was led by her teacher, Chodon Samtem Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist monk from Drikung Kyobpa Choling Monastery in Escondido. The main dining area was cleared and in the place of tables and chairs was a temporary altar with a statue of Buddha, offerings, foods, flowers, incense, and candles.

Mats were placed on the floor for guests to sit on during the ceremony and each of us was given a simple white scarf, or kata, which is used by Tibetan Buddhists as an offering and was to be blessed by Rinpoche, then draped over each person as a protective and blessing symbol.

Saffron's Su-Mei Yu

It was a moving ceremony, with chanting, the anointment of each of us with saffron water, then the tossing of rose petals.

Following the ceremony, we were treated to a spectacular vegetarian buffet that included:
  • Kanom Cheen Nam Ya – Rice vermicelli served with a curry sauce made with mushrooms, spices, herbs and coconut cream. The accompaniments include sliced cucumber, long beans, and beansprouts. 
  • Yum Woon Sen – Glass noodle salad with radish, cherry tomato, lotus root, pineapple and cashew nuts
  • Pad Jay – Vegetarian stir-fry of cauliflower and peas
  • Jab Chai – Vegetarian stew
  • Saku Fuk Tong – Tapioca with pumpkin sauce
  • Kanom Thom – Auspicious Thai sweets used since ancient times as an offering to Buddhist monks made with rice flour, fresh grated coconut and palm sugar. 

To celebrate this auspicious anniversary, Su-Mei is offering customers 30 percent off select daily specials from Oct. 19 to the 25. You can see a full list of the specials on Saffron's website.

Among the specials are these dishes, her Go Green Stir-Fry with Organic Thai Red Rice and Brain Food. Su-Mei gave me the recipes to share with you. Happy anniversary, Su-Mei, and thank you for all you do in our community!

photo courtesy of Su-Mei Yu

Go Green Stir-fry with Organic Thai Red Rice

Go Green Paste: 
Makes about 1 1Ž2 cups

1/2 cup organic carrot tops, chopped
1/4 cup minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped arugula
1/4 cup chopped cilantro stems
2 large green Serrano chilies, sliced
1 cup spinach 
3/4 cup Thai basil leaves
1/4 or more rice bran oil or grape seed oil

Put all the ingredients in the food processor except for the oil and turn the machine on to mince. While the machine is running and the ingredients begin to puree and mince, slowly add the oil to puree into a smooth paste. Transfer to a container with a lid and refrigerate in the refrigerator. It will keep for several weeks. 

Makes one serving

1 tablespoon rice bran or grape seed oil
2 tablespoons Go Green Paste
1/4 cup diced firm tofu
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cups cooked red rice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon or more gluten free soy sauce
1 cup shredded kale
1/2 cup shredded cabbage
Pinches white pepper powder
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Sliced lime

1.    Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the paste, lower the heat to medium and stir to mix. 
2.    In a couple of seconds, add the tofu and chopped onion, stir to mix. 
3.    When the onion turn translucent, add the rice and stir to mix. 
4.    Season with salt, soy sauce and stir, before adding the kale and cabbage. 
5.    Stir to mix until the colors of vegetables brighten. Once they turn limp, remove from heat and transfer to a serving plate. 
6.    Garnish with white pepper powder, cilantro and lime slice.

photo courtesy of Su-Mei Yu
Brain Food 
Makes 4 servings

Anti-inflammatory Paste
Makes about 1/3 cup
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
1-inch peeled ginger, minced
1-inch peeled turmeric, minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro stems
1/2 teaspoon white pepper powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

In a mortar, pound the salt and garlic together to puree, before adding the next ingredient to puree. Repeat the process with the remaining ingredients. If making ahead, store in a container with a lid and refrigerate. It will keep for several weeks. 

Brain Food
2 cups sweet potato cubes – approximately 3/4-inch cubed
1/4 cup minced sage
Pinches of salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon rice brain or grape seed oil
2 tablespoon anti-inflammatory paste 
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 cups cubed firm tofu 
3 tablespoons gluten free soy sauce
3 cups or more thinly sliced kale

1.    Turn the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the sweet potato with sage, salt and olive oil. Spread over the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Cool and set aside.
2.    Heat the oil in skillet. Add the paste and stir fry till fragrant. Add the onion and tofu and continue to stir-fry until the onion turn limp and translucent. Season with soy sauce and add the kale. Continue to stir fry until the color brighten and it starts to wilt. Add the sweet potato cubes and mix and stir until warm. Transfer to a serving plate. 

Saffron is located in Mission Hills at 3731 India St.

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