Rice Congee with Fish

IMG_0971

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!

 

 

 

 

Albondigas Soup

IMG_0583

Soup soup soup! I love you so! Let me count the ways! Soup is such a yummy, nourishing, and healthy staple in almost every culture. It makes the most of bones and helps to tenderize cheaper cuts of tougher meats. Lately I’ve been making a lot of Asian soups, which prompted a need for change. I haven’t experimented with too many kinds of soups outside of my Asian comfort zone, but I do remember that I enjoyed some delicious Mexican stews when I was growing up in a little city called El Monte. With a predominantly Chicano population, El Monte boasts some tasty Mexican food. I fell in love with Mexican food when I was a kid, craving tacos constantly only to be told by my family “It will make you fat! Eat rice instead!” Oh the irony….

As I no longer live in an area that is blessed with plentiful options for authentic Mexican food beyond tacos, I’ve been playing with recipes to create one of my favorite Mexican stews. I tried it both with and without tomato, and I found that it was much tastier with the acidic brightness that tomato adds. I have also played around with different types of broth bases. But essentially, I think any fresh meat and/or bones that you have lying around are going to make the best possible broth rather than just relying on store-bought chicken broth. I am trying to eat healthier to propel me toward my personal fitness goals, so this recipe fits the bill. It has loads of veggies, some nice lean(ish) protein, and fills you up with a delicious yet light broth. But a friendly disclaimer: I have no idea if this recipe is authentic or not. I am just trying to recreate the albondigas I had from delicious Mexican restaurants when I was younger. I will not claim that this is an authentic version of albondigas, but it is tasty, filling, and healthy. Hope you give it a try and that it helps you toward your health goals!

 

Cooking notes/tips:

When making any bone/meat based broth, always scoop out the brownish foam from the top. That is a result of the blood and any impurities from the meat being released. They have a grimy texture and unpleasant flavor, so always discard. I watch Maangchi, a super popular YouTube food blogger who specializes in Korean cooking. She taught me to soak your meat in cold water for a while before using in broth. Another method is the parboiling method, which is often used in Chinese and Vietnamese soups. To parboil, simply bring a big pot of water to boil, place your bones in, and allow to cook on medium high heat for 5-10 minutes until you see most of the impurities (i.e. foam) form at the top. Then remove pot from heat and discard all the water from your pot, rinse your bones clean, and then start again with a fresh pot of water. This time, once it reaches a boil, lower your heat to a simmer. This will ensure pure and clean broth almost every time.

For my dog owners out there, soups and stews are a great way to make use of the water that is used to boil your dog’s meats for the week. Another reason why I love soup is because I have a dog who loves chicken, pork, and beef meats. Since dogs need to have their meats boiled, I usually use the water from boiling my dog’s meats as a broth base for soup or stew dishes I am working on for the week.

Recipe
Serves: 8
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Broth
1 lb chicken thighs
½ gallon water
3 Mexican squash, diced 1-inch cubes
4 stalks celery, chopped
½ onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
½ can crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp garlic salt
1 tbsp seasoned salt, to taste
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Albondigas
1 lb ground beef
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 minced shallot
1 tsp garlic salt, to taste
1 tsp seasoned salt (e.g., Trader Joe’s), to taste
1 tsp ground cumin
1 pinch red pepper flake
1 pinch of black pepper
1/2 bunch green onion, finely chopped
1 egg
Optional: 1 tsp smoked chipotle powder
Optional: serve with lime juice

 

Directions

Heat a large pot with water. Place chicken thighs inside water and boil until you see a brownish foam ~7-10 minutes. Discard foam from the top. Add in carrots once water begins to boil and turn fire to medium low.

While waiting for water to boil, prepare meatballs. Place ground beef, shallots, garlic, garlic salt, seasoned salt, cumin, red pepper flake, pepper, green onion, and egg into a large mixing bowl. Use hands to mix together all ingredients for meatballs. Knead meatballs for 5 minutes, lifting the mixture and using force to toss it back into the mixing bowl. Repeat at least 5 times until mixture begins to stick together. Set aside.

Check broth. Remove chicken thighs from stew and set aside for later use. Once carrots have softened, add in celery, onion, Mexican squash, and crushed tomatoes. Add in seasonings as well: bay leaves, garlic salt, seasoned salt, and oregano.

Begin forming meat mixture into meatballs 1-2 inches in diameter. After all meatballs have been formed, drop meatballs into the soup and allow to cook until their color turns from pink to light brown ~10-15 minutes.

Once meatballs are cooked through and vegetables are tender, taste for seasoning and add salt, seasoned salt, pepper, and/or garlic salt to taste.

Spoon into individual bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice if desired.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Lion’s Head Soup (pork meatball and Napa Cabbage Soup)

IMG_8922

Note: No lions were harmed in the preparation of this food blog post.

Traditional Chinese dinners always involve some kind of broth-based soup that has been simmering for hours to extract nature’s goodness from yummy veggies. This soup is usually the embodiment of love from a hardworking mother, father, or grandparent and sets the tone for the meal to follow. However, as a working professional, it is really difficult to devote that amount of time to make a soup when you’ve got other dishes to prepare as well. There are times I wish I were living with my family so that I can get spoiled with delicious soup. Stubborn as I am, I’m determined to live independently, so I’ve begun experimenting with soups that are nourishing, filling, and most importantly, less time consuming.

Lion’s head soup is a traditional Chinese soup. I’ve kept my version of this traditional soup relatively simple and healthy. This is a wonderful addition to a meal, especially in the fall and winter, when you want a bowl of something hot and steamy to warm your bones. Think of it as a low-carb deconstructed wonton/dumpling soup. This lion’s head meatball is very similar to the fillings of delicious pot stickers and wontons and can be used as a foundation for your next wonton/pot sticker party.

 

Cooking notes/tips:

Chinese-style meatballs are distinct in that they have a very springy and bouncy texture, achieved by working the meat and developing the gluten from the corn starch that has been added. What we are looking for in this meatball is not a loose, soft texture. Rather, we want these meatballs to be firm so that they do not fall apart as they cook in the soup.

You can easily turn this into a wonton soup by stuffing wonton skins with the meatball mixture rather than cooking the meatballs directly in the broth. To do this, you would need to use another pot of boiling water and cook the wontons separately in this pot, strain, and then serving with the broth at the end. In making Chinese noodle soup, it is always recommended to boil noodles and dumplings in a separate pot of water rather than in the pot of broth. This keeps the broth from thickening as a result of the starch from the noodle.

This next tip may sound more like a rant. Apologies ahead of time, but this is something that needs to change in American versions of Chinese/Asian cooking. Many Americanized versions of Asian recipes call for sesame oil in everything, but I feel that this addition is often gratuitous, and a misuse of a popularized Asian ingredient. In other words, it seems that recipes use sesame oil just because it is a well-known Asian ingredient and people want a surefire way to make their food bear a hallmark Asian flavor. Sesame oil has a potent earthy flavor that can overpower a dish when added without forethought. In other words, it can make your food taste like dirt. In Chinese cooking, sesame oil is only used in specific dishes, not in everything that is prepared. That said, it is my opinion that sesame oil should only be used in specific dishes, paired with specific ingredients. Examples of appropriate uses of sesame oil: a small drop in rice congee,  soy sauce & sugar sauce mixes for braising chicken (e.g., 3 cups chicken), marinating fried tofu, and marinating sweet/savory cucumber pickles. Superfluous/unnecessary uses of sesame oil: stir-fries, chow mien, fried rice. Vietnamese dishes rarely use sesame oil. If you find one with this ingredient, you might question its authenticity. Korean cooking, on the other hand, uses sesame oil heavily.

Serves: 6-8
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

Broth
1 lb pork neck bones
2 tbsp fish sauce or 1-2 tsp salt to taste
4 carrots, chopped into 2-inch pieces
2 cups chopped napa cabbage

Lion’s Head Meatballs
1 lb ground pork
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
pinch of salt, to taste
pinch of white or black pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 bunch green onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp corn starch

Directions

Heat a large pot with enough water to cover the pork neck bones. Place bones inside water and boil until meat becomes brown and begins to produce brownish foam ~7-10 minutes. Discard liquid and rinse pork bones. Fill with 2 quarts cold water and bring to a boil. Add in carrots once water begins to boil and turn fire to medium low.

While waiting for water to boil, prepare lion’s head meatballs. Place ground pork, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, pepper, sugar, green onion, and corn starch into a large mixing bowl. Use hands to mix together all ingredients for meatballs. Knead meatballs for 5 minutes, lifting the mixture and using force to toss it back into the mixing bowl. Repeat at least 5 times until mixture begins to stick together. Set aside.

Check broth. Once carrots have softened, begin forming meat mixture into meatballs ~2 inches in diameter. Turn heat on high. Drop meatballs into the soup and allow to cook until their color turns from pink to light brown.

Once meatballs turn light brown, add in Napa cabbage, stirring gently to submerge into the broth. Cook for another 5 minutes or until cabbage has softened. Taste for seasoning and add salt, fish sauce, or sugar to taste.

Spoon into individual bowls and garnish with fresh green onion. If you would like, add a small drop of sesame oil to the broth and serve.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Chipotle Smoked Pork Ribs

img_1828

I have shied away from making barbeque in most of my cooking, partly because I was avoiding something that intimidated me: cooking on a grill. There is usually a clear gender divide in how we cook-men grill; women bake. Most people follow this rule, but there is really nothing inherently different in men and women’s abilities in most things, especially in cooking. So, I put on my brave face and faced the grill with my tongs. Here is my first real attempt at making grilled ribs.

Within the world of barbecue, there are many factions and camps. First, you’ve got your dry rub vs. sauce folks. Then, you’ve got your sweet vs. vinegar divide. And I haven’t even gotten to the use of wood vs. charcoal. While there is probably an ounce of delicious truth to each of these camps, I decided to just go with what was the simplest for me: a dry rub with sweetness from brown sugar, and grilling with charcoal.

I am a huge proponent of using what I have in the kitchen and pantry for my cooking experiments. I happened to have a pre-made dry rub that had salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and “spices”. I added some garlic salt to the mix. I wanted to add a bit of sweetness and spice, which brought Chipotle powder and brown sugar into the mix.

img_1776

Cooking tips:

Marinating meat overnight is a great way to ensure that flavor is packed into every morsel of your dish. Again, it is best to under-salt rather than over-salt. When mixing my own rub, I made sure to dip my finger in the rub and taste it before I placed it on my meat. If it is too salty, then add more spices/seasonings that do not contain salt. If it lacks sugar, I’ll add some more brown sugar.

When grilling, as in searing meat, do not, I repeat, do not overdo it with turning and touching your meat. Allow your meat to be enveloped by the wonderful heat of the coals. Turning your meat too much could interfere with the searing and caramelizing process that is happening to your meat.

Recipe

Serves: 2-3
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Marinade Time: 4 hours-overnight
Cooking Time: 28-30 minutes

Ingredients
3 pork ribs
½ c brown sugar
4 tbsp barbecue rub (1 tbsp cayenne pepper, 1 tbsp black pepper, 2 tsp salt, 2 tbsp garlic powder)
1 tbsp chipotle powder
1 tbsp garlic salt

Directions

  1. Light charcoal using directions on the bag.
  2. When coals are covered in grey ash (~15 minutes) place pork ribs on the grill and cover the lid.
  3. Allow to grill for approximately 7-10 minutes each side, depending on the heat coming from your grill. My grill was at medium-low, so it took about 10 minutes each side. After turning your meat, cover the grill and allow to cook.
  4. When your meat has seared nicely and become golden brown on all sides, remove from heat and allow to cool. Serve with your favorite sides and enjoy!