Beef and Basil Stir Fry

IMG_1017Growing up in southern California, I have been incredibly fortunate to have a variety of cuisines easily available to me. After visiting Thailand a few years ago and tasting the local cuisine, I realized that immigrants in America are doing a wonderful job retaining the authenticity of their native cuisine. There were a few specialty dishes that I had never even heard of, but the stir fries, noodles, and rice dishes were very comparable between the U.S. and Thailand. I even took a cooking class with my husband, friend, and her boyfriend. We were dropped off in the middle of a rice field, with no buildings in site except for one shack with no walls. I realized that this design was on purpose because it allowed copious airflow into the cooking area and all one could see was green all around. It was breathtaking and stark at the same time. We made tom yum soup, pad Thai, cashew nut chicken, and mangoes with sticky rice in humongous woks, which lit on fire when swerved the right way. This was one of the best meals I have ever had in my life and would highly recommend folks to take a cooking class like this in Thailand.

Thai food is really tricky to make at home because of its delicate balance of flavors. Many dishes have elements of sweet, savory, spicy, and tangy. Garlic, basil, lemongrass, bird chiles, and galangal, are the primary aromatics used. Having all flavors in perfect balance is the culinary goal. Thai stir fries are extra yummy in my opinion because the veggies are barely cooked, retaining a nice crunch and bite to them. This is true even for Thai curries. It’s a great reminder of the freshness of the ingredients being used. One of my favorite dishes in Thailand was a chicken curry noodle soup that hailed from the north. I will never forget the aromatic and slightly spicy broth, delicately kissed with sweetness from fresh coconut milk and palm sugar. Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out how to recreate this dish. That will have to wait for another post.

Stir fries are my go-to for meal prep throughout the week. They are quick and relatively easy to execute. Stir-frying can also be a very healthy technique of preparing food, assuming one does not use an excessive amount of oil. Using a huge ladle of oil for a stir fry is actually considered the authentic method. You’ll find that most of my recipes will find a way around this, as using excessive fat is unhealthy.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

An essential nuance in cooking with a wok is timing and knowing which ingredients to stir fry first, which to stir-fry together, and which must be separately stir-fried and then combined later on with the sauce. Most stir fried veggie dishes start off with the browning of garlic in oil before adding the other ingredients. The problem is that the garlic will quickly burn if it is not given some liquid. To prevent burning of garlic, I usually add a splash of water to my stir-fry after adding the vegetables. Traditional Chinese cooking utilizes LOADS of oil to prevent garlic from burning, but that is a rather unhealthy approach, so I prefer my splash of water.

In stir-fries involving meat and veggies, I almost always stir-fry the meat first, remove it from the pan, and then stir fry the veggies separately. This allows proper cooking of each ingredient, as cooking them all at once will create a watery mess. They are later combined and stir-fried with the sauce, which is oftentimes soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, fermented bean sauce.

Stir-fried vegetables should always retain some level of crunch after cooking. When in doubt, slightly undercook your veggies. That way, the residual heat will do the rest of the softening of the veggies. For people who follow a meal prep life, undercooking the veggies is a good strategy to give your veggies the perfect texture after re-heating.

 

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients
½ lb Flank steak, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp oil
1 bell pepper, sliced
½ onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red jalapeno, thinly sliced
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch basil

Marinate steak in soy sauce and corn starch. Allow to sit at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prep other ingredients.

Turn on wok or skillet on high. When pan is hot, add oil. When oil is shimmery, add flank steak and stir fry for 3-5 minutes until beef is just cooked through. Then remove from heat.

Add oil to the skillet/wok, and when oil is shimmery, add in garlic and red jalapeno. Stir fry for 30 seconds-1 minutes to soften garlic and jalapeno. Then add bell pepper and onions. Stir fry for 3-5 minutes, until vegetables are slightly softened.

Add in beef and stir fry together. Add in oyster sauce, black pepper, and sugar. Stir fry another minute. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed with oyster sauce or additional soy sauce. Add in basil and stir fry until basil has just softened.

Remove from heat and serve.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Rice Congee with Fish

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Rice congee is a classic Chinese breakfast dish. People from all over China and Hong Kong eat this dish. It has even spread to Vietnam, Korea, and Cambodia, and many other Asian countries. It is essentially the oatmeal of the East. The only difference is that congee is cooked down until the rice almost loses all of its original structure, resulting in a thick but wet soup. Another major difference is that rice congee is often eaten as a savory item. It is either cooked with a protein and its broth or with just plain water, then served with pickled savory vegetables. Oftentimes, it is served with a savory long donut for dipping.

When I think of congee, 2 things come to mind: grandmothers and being sick. The latter is not the most pleasant of thoughts, I realize. I have fond memories of having a big bowl of congee made lovingly by one of my grandmothers when I was down with a cold/flu. It was a vehicle for them to convey the warmth and love in their hearts. One grandmother actually made plain white rice porridge for us every day, which led to an eventual aversion to rice congee for much of my adolescence. As an adult, I can now reconnect with my roots and appreciate congee for both its complexity and simplicity.

Some classic congees are: egg, chicken and ginger, fish and ginger, pork and thousand-year egg.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

Make sure that you have an excellent quality broth to cook with your congee, because that is the foundation of flavor. If you rely solely on MSG-filled canned chicken stock, your congee will not be as nutritious or delicious. I always have homemade chicken stock in my freezer because I boil chicken for my dog to eat. If you want to make your own stock, just add some chicken thighs, breast, or bones to a big pot of water and let it simmer for an hour or so, and you’re good to go!

To save time, I use a rice cooker to cook the rice down first, and then I add it to the broth to cook down on the stove. Having the rice do its initial cooking in the rice cooker means that you do not have to monitor or stir until you start cooking it on the stove.

Toppings are everything when it comes to congee. Having fresh green onion and cilantro (unless you are one of those people with a genetically determined aversion to it) is almost a must. If you have time to make the shallot oil, that would be even better. Adding this touch is something I learned from my brother-in-law’s family, who has Cambodian roots. I believe Chinese people tend to drizzle a tiny drop of sesame oil as a topping for their congee.

Recipe
Serves: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2.5-3 hours

 1 quart chicken broth (homemade preferred)
1 quart water
½ cup michiu (rice wine)
1 cup white Jasmine rice, washed
2 tilapia filets (or other white fish)
4 tbsp minced ginger
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp of white pepper
3 tbsp fish sauce or to taste
1 bunch green onion, finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced

Heat a large pot with water, chicken broth, and rice wine. Once water begins to boil and turn fire to medium low. Add in rice. Drop a metal or porcelain spoon into pot –this prevents sticking. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Boil for 2 hours until rice begins to cook down, resulting in a thicker consistency. (a thick soup texture). Stir occasionally and scrape bottom of pot to prevent burning and sticking.

Cut fish into thin pieces (½ inch thick) and marinade with fish sauce and ginger. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes, then add to porridge. Cook on low fire for another 10 minutes until fish has cooked through and porridge is at desired consistency (much wetter and thinner than cooked oatmeal). Add approximately 4 tbsp of fish sauce, or to taste. Add white pepper.

While porridge finishes cooking, heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pan and place shallots in the oil. Fry on low medium heat until golden brown. Set shallot oil aside for topping.

Spoon into individual bowls and garnish with fresh green onion, cilantro, and some shallot oil.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Jenny Crack Corn

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Summer is in the air, and so is fresh, delicious corn on the cob! Corn has gotten a bad wrap lately due to the high fructose corn syrup industry and its contributions to the diabetes and obesity epidemics in the US. When not forced into unnaturally high concentrations of sugar content, corn is actually a delicious and nutritious food. I love grilling corn in the summer, but if I’m too lazy to start up the grill, I often like to sauté my fresh corn. Sautéing achieves a delicious caramelization and sweetness that, in my opinion, surpasses the flavors you can obtain through grilling.

I call this my crack corn because it has been a crowd pleaser at family gatherings and friends get-togethers. It can become seriously addictive. The combination of corn’s natural sweetness, salty bite, a bit of a kick from the pepper and red pepper flake, and the nuttiness achieved from the caramelization process in butter….this corn dish is one of my all-time favorites. I often serve this as a side for decadent steak dinners because the sweetness of the corn adds a pleasant contrast to the richness of the steak and its heavy friends of mashed potato and mac and cheese.

Cooking Tips

This dish is best when you use fresh corn on the cob. However, frozen corn would also do the trick. You might need to add a tablespoon of sugar halfway into the sautéing process to add some sweetness that is often lost in frozen corn.

I add garlic toward the end of cooking of this dish because if you add garlic too soon, it could burn before your corn has finished cooking. In general this is a good rule of thumb when you are doing sautés that do not include the addition of wines, broth, or any other kind of liquid. Stir-fries are an exception because the vegetables used often release liquid into the pan, which prevent garlic from burning during the cooking process.

If you want to infuse your dish with a specific herb or spice, make sure to sauté it in your cooking oil for a minute or two before adding other ingredients. In this dish, I did this with both red pepper flake and shallot, as well as garlic toward the end.

 

Recipe
Servings: 3-4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
4 ears of fresh corn on the cob or 2 cups frozen corn
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, sliced
1 pinch red pepper flake
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp salt, or to taste
1 tbsp black pepper
2 sprigs of scallion, finely chopped
Optional: splash of fish sauce for a Vietnamese twist

 

Cut corn off of the cob.

Heat a skillet on high heat and add butter and olive oil. Once butter is melted and well incorporated with olive oil, add shallots and red pepper flake. Sauté for 2 minutes on medium heat or until softened.

Add corn and continue to sauté on medium heat for ~10 minutes or until corn becomes slightly golden brown. Stir frequently as it will stick.

Add garlic and scallions and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Continue to sauté for another 3-5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust seasoning to taste.

Optional: add a little splash of fish sauce for a Vietnamese flavor.

Enjoy!

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