Thai Green Papaya Salad

IMG_0803On hot summer days, all I want is something cold. I want cold breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with plenty of cold beverages throughout the day. Salads definitely fit the bill and hit the spot. But I easily get tired of eating the same lettuce based salads with vinaigrette dressing. Bleh. Especially since I have been trying to eat more healthfully lately, I feel as if I’ve fallen into a rut with my meals. Which is why I am so excited to post this recipe for a Thai green papaya salad. It is a different kind of salad because it tastes rich at the same time that it is light and healthy. I love Thai food because of its complexity in flavor combinations and textures. Most Thai dishes have a delicate balance of savory, sweet, and spicy. This mixture tantalizes your taste buds and keeps you coming back for more after every bite.

Green papaya is such a wonderful base for a salad because it has very little flavor of its own beside a clean fresh taste. It is a chameleon that changes its flavor profile based on what is in its environment. In this case, limes, garlic, chili, and dried shrimp create a flavor explosion in your mouth. Thai papaya salad is traditionally prepared by mortar and pestle. You start by grinding together your aromatics and herbs first. Once that forms a nice paste,  you begin pounding that flavor into the shredded papaya. This is different than Vietnamese papaya salad, which involves no pounding at all. It is still shredded finely, but it is served plain. It is then dressed with a sweet vinegary soy sauce mix, then topped with fresh basil, sweet and savory beef jerky, and freshly roasted peanuts. Both are delicious of course, but I chose the Thai route because I was craving a sour punch to my dinner tonight.

The best part of this salad? The longer you have it sitting in its own juices, the tastier it becomes! The flavors really develop and meld together after sitting overnight. I’ve seen this served with some boiled shrimp at Thai restaurants for some added protein.

 

Cooking Tips

Invest in a mandolin or some kind of food processor that has a shredder attachment. You won’t be sorry. This will open up a world of possibilities in terms of expanding your experience with fresh veggies. Raw veggies are so much more tolerable when they are cut finely and allowed to marinade in something delicious.

I’ve heard people say that grinding your aromatics is better than using a food processor because a food processor cuts up and breaks the cell walls of the food in question. In this case, I used a food processor to mince my garlic and dried shrimp and the papaya salad still turned out delicious.

If you do not own a mortar and pestle, using your hands to punch and squeeze the papaya salad into the lemon juice mixture will also work. Just remember to wear sanitary cooking gloves while you do this; otherwise, your skin will become irritated from the acidity of the lime juice and chili.

If you want to make this dish vegetarian, just omit the dried shrimp and substitute salt for the fish sauce. Make sure to taste as you go to adjust for seasonings.

Only put peanuts on to the specific portions you plan on eating. Adding peanuts to all of your papaya salad will lead to soggy peanuts the next day.

Recipe
Servings: 6-8
Prep Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 medium green papaya, finely shredded into 3-inch long pieces
1 handful of dried shrimp, finely chopped
1 head garlic, minced
1 tbsp red chili flake (or to taste)
juice of 4 limes, freshly squeezed
7-8 tbsp fish sauce, to taste
1 tbsp white sugar, or to taste
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 handful of green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces and sliced lengthwise in half
optional: top with handful of crushed peanuts

Prepare papaya by peeling the skin off, cutting in half length-wise, and scooping out all the seeds. Using a mandolin, shredder, or food processor with shredding attachment, cut papaya into thin julienne slices approximately 3-inches in length. Set aside.

Using mortar and pestle, grind together dried shrimp, garlic, and red chili flake. When a relatively smooth paste has formed, add in some of the papaya and pound into the paste with the pestle. Continue to add papaya until no more can fit into the mortar bowl.Transfer the mixed in papaya salad into a large mixing bowl and add the rest of the shredded papaya. Add in fish sauce and sugar and use hands to mix into papaya salad. Use hands to squeeze papaya and pound it with your fist. This will help to enhance absorption of flavor.

Then add in green beans and cherry tomatoes and continue to squeeze and pound until all tomatoes are slightly crushed.

Serve a portion onto a plate and top with roasted peanuts. (Only put peanuts onto the specific portions you plan on eating.)

Enjoy!

 

Pulled Pork Sliders with Cilantro Lime Cotija Dressing

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Ok, brace yourselves. This recipe has multiple components, but with a little patience and the help of a slow cooker, you will get through. I love Mexican flavors and spices, and will oftentimes use them in recipes that are my own versions of some traditional dishes that I’ve tasted growing up in a Chicano community. I do not pretend to be an expert in Latin cooking, but I definitely have a fond appreciation of it and try my best to emulate some of the flavors that I’ve tasted.

I had a house warming party for my husband’s cousins about a month ago. I took requests for what they wanted to eat and my nephew Miles requested something with slow cooked pork using Latin spices. Which is how I came up with this Latin-inspired pulled pork slider. The pulled pork is actually quite simple to make because I use pre-made salsa as the sauce/marinade for the pulled pork.

Because the pulled pork brings spice and savory meatiness, I wanted to have a contrast of flavors and textures. I wanted some sweetness, which was why I chose to serve the pulled pork on Hawaiian rolls. I also wanted an acidic sharp brightness to lighten the heaviness of the pulled pork, which was why I added some pickled red onion. Lastly, the cilantro lime cotija dressing brings everything together with a nice creaminess that adds a zing and cools the tongue after it’s been tantalized with those wonderful spices in the pulled pork. So there you go: every component serves a purpose and helps to make this a complete dish.

Cooking tips:

Usually slow cooking results in lots of liquid left in the pot. I decided to pour out this liquid, remove most of the fat, and then boil it on high heat to let it reduce to about half its volume. I then added this reduced sauce back into the pulled pork to soak in. The result? Amazing depth of flavor. I highly recommend doing this to any slow cooked meat dish you make in the future. Do not waste those yummy juices! They just need a little tweaking and help from heat to concentrate their deliciousness.

To dilute the harsh spiciness of raw onion, soak it in cold water for at least an hour before using. I did this for the pickled onion prior to marinating it in its pickling brine and it worked really nicely.

For better depth of flavor and richness, use full fat Greek Yogurt rather than reduced or non-fat. You will not be sorry.

Cotija can be substituted with feta cheese, but the cotija gives this dish the Latin flair that I was aiming for.

A leaner cut of meat would not do well with this recipe because slow cooking can really dry out the meat, resulting in a tough product at the end. For example, a pork loin center cut would not be recommended.

Since this is a crockpot recipe, it can be done ahead of time and would even be more delicious the day after making the pulled pork. Meat dishes that are slow cooked tend to taste better 1-2 days after the initial cooking time.

Serving suggestions for leftovers (as you all know that I do not like to waste food): the pickled onion is great in salads and on other sandwiches if you have any leftover; the cilantro lime dressing is something that I make for dipping veggie sticks or as a kind of green goddess dressing for my salads and/or pita wraps; the pulled pork can be frozen and later used as a filling for quesadillas and enchiladas, even tamales if you are up to the task.

Recipe
Serves 20
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Passive Cooking Time: 6 hours

1 dozen Hawaiian rolls

Pulled Pork
10 lb pork butt
4 tbsp BBQ rub (salt, black pepper, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper)
½ tub of Del Real red salsa (or your favorite red salsa)
4 whole tomatoes, diced

Rub pork with BBQ rub, then place into a large crockpot.

Pour salsa and tomatoes into the crockpot surrounding the pork.

Add 1 cup of water.

Turn crockpot onto high heat and slow cook for approximately 6 hours, or until pork is tender and can be easily pulled apart with a fork.

When pork is ready, remove from the crockpot and allow to cool before starting to pull pork apart.

Remove fat from the liquid left in crockpot and place the liquid in a saucepan. Boil over high heat for 10-15 minutes or until liquid reduces in volume by half.

When pork is cooled, use fingers to pull pork into small 1-inch pieces. Remove any excess large pieces of fat remaining on the pork. When pork is completely pulled, add in reduced cooking liquid. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Pickled onion
1 red onion
2 cups water (for soaking)
2 cups water
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp salt

Thinly slice onion and submerge into a cold water bath for at least an hour.

Then mix water with vinegar, sugar, and salt until sugar and salt crystals dissolve. The mixture should be somewhat salty and sweet, with a sour bite from the vinegar. Taste for seasoning. Then place soaked onions into this pickling liquid.

Pickle onions at least 2 hours. For better results, pickle overnight.

Cilantro Lime Cotija Dressing
1 handful fresh cilantro
juice and zest of 2 limes
1 cup full fat Greek yogurt
½ cup cotija cheese, crumbled (can be substituted with feta)
1 tsp black pepper
pinch of salt to taste
1 tsp sugar

Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until it becomes a smooth green mixture.

Taste for seasoning and adjust to your taste.

After all pulled pork, pickled onions, and cilantro lime cotija dressing are prepared, assemble sandwiches using Hawaiian rolls. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Serve to your guests and enjoy!

Chinese Spiced Meatballs

CEA054EE-A857-44BA-8530-9A1E08A3D268 (1)These meatballs transport me back to the past, when my now-husband (then-boyfriend) was completing an internship in Shenzhen, China. We had been a long distance couple since we first started dating. After 6 years of living in different ends of the state, it felt so good to finally live in the same city. We enjoyed 3 years of living together for the first time, and it was challenging but incredible. Unfortunately, after this brief period of bliss, life took us in different directions yet again. Ray was offered an internship in Shenzhen, China following his graduation from architecture school in 2013. He was in China for what felt like an eternity, but in actuality, was 3 months. The time difference and lack of cell phone data made it difficult for us to keep in touch. We had daily chats during his lunch time, when he would tell me about his upcoming weekend adventures or new food finds.

Ray and I are huge fans of good food. My way of showing love for him is to remember his favorites and to try to either recreate them or find a local restaurant that serves them. One of his favorite street foods came up again and again in our conversations: spiced lamb skewers. My family had never made these for us, as their culinary and cultural roots were in the Canton province of China. I had never tried Chinese lamb skewers until I attended the 626 Night Market, when I made it a point to finally sample this special treat. I was blown away by the explosion of flavor in my mouth-there was sweet, salty, spice, and heat all in one bite. After trying the traditional lamb skewers, I have wracked my brain to figure out how to recreate the dish. I did not have lamb available, so I used ground beef instead. When I eat these meatballs, I remember the time that he was in China, as well as the separation that we have weathered as a couple. Sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, and spice-this meatball carries it all; just like what life has to offer. Having these elements in balance is key to a beautiful dish and a beautiful life.

When Ray came back to the States, he was offered a job and had to move away. We were apart yet again. We were reunited in 2015 when I successfully matched to an internship near him. We found an apartment together, took in my family dog, and the rest is history. We are now newlyweds and cannot be more grateful for the amazing life that we have -full of love, family, friends, and wonderful moments. After all these years of distance and missing one another, we have learned to cherish the precious amount of time that we have together.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

When making any meat dish that is marinated, I highly recommend cutting of a small piece to cook and sample to taste for flavor. I prefer not to eat raw meat. So when you make any meatball/meatloaf dish or have a filling for ravioli or dumplings, always taste for seasoning before proceeding with your dish.

Do not over mix meatballs as they can become tough and difficult to eat. Mix just enough for your ingredients to be evenly distributed.

Thai restaurants provide delicious red pepper flakes that would be perfect for this dish. If you are getting takeout from a Thai restaurants, do not throw these red pepper flakes away. Making these spiced meatballs is a great way to use up this often discarded condiment.

Please do not add sesame oil or sesame seeds to a dish just because it is Asian. Not all Asian dishes have sesame oil and sesame seeds in them. In fact, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines hardly use sesame oil. Korean cuisine uses it the most, followed by Chinese cuisine, and even then, only very specific Chinese dishes use sesame oil. Ok, end rant. Thanks for reading.

Recipe
Serves: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes

1 lb ground beef
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp seasoned salt (e.g., Trader Joe’s), to taste
1 tbsp red pepper flake
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp honey
optional: sambal (red chili sauce)

Directions

Prepare meatballs. Place ground beef, spices, soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Use hands to mix together all ingredients. Set aside (preferably for 4 hours or overnight).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Begin forming meat mixture into meatballs 1-2 inches in diameter.

Place meatballs onto an oiled baking tray, allowing some space between each meatball. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove 2 tbsp of juices from cooked meatballs and mix with honey. Use this to glaze meatballs after they are cooked.

Optional: top with red chili sauce and serve hot.

Enjoy!