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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Tomato Cucumber Avocado Toast

868A05A6-5D3E-4EDA-B98D-747EF0092292 (1)I am a person with many unpopular opinions and preferences. For one, I dislike Hello Kitty. * Gasp* This one has always shocked my friends. I also dislike Disneyland because I feel that it is an over-commercialized theme park that drains honest working people of their money and creates a vicious cycle for parents and their children. How does this relate to my post for today? My last unpopular opinion that I dare to share is that I dislike most breakfast foods. It’s not that I hate eating in the morning; I just do not enjoy the super rich foods that are popular as American breakfast items: scrambled eggs, omelets, pancakes, sausages, breakfast burritos. For breakfast, I usually enjoy lunch/dinner foods. People often give me strange looks when they see what I bring for breakfast. Growing up in a Cantonese/Vietnamese family, breakfast was often a savory affair that consisted of whatever leftovers we had from the previous night. Or we would have rice porridge (i.e., congee) flavored with chicken, pork, and various herbs.

Anyway, I’ve had to re-think what I find acceptable for breakfast because it is not ideal to start the work day on an empty stomach. I am someone who experiences pretty extreme hanger (defined as anger precipitated by hunger). It would definitely not be ideal to snap at my coworkers just because I have sworn off most breakfast foods. I like simple foods for breakfast that are not overly heavy or rich, and importantly, do not take too much time to prepare. So, toast with different types of toppings is a perfect solution. I really enjoy the freshness that lime juice, tomatoes, and cucumber bring to this avocado toast. It makes breakfast feel lighter, while also providing adequate nutrition to start your day. Ironically, there is a running joke about Millennials and how much money we spend on avocados. Who knows if my extravagant spending on avocados will prevent me from ever being a home owner? But I do know this: I will be smiling in the mornings because of the satisfaction from eating this delicious and satisfying breakfast. And happiness is what life is all about, right?

 

Cooking Tips

This is a ridiculously simple recipe, so no, there are no “real” cooking tips for this specific dish. But I think that seasoning is so important for this dish because of its simplicity and “cleanness” of ingredients. I made sure to lightly season all the layers of veggies with a sprinkle of garlic salt to infuse the avocado toast with flavor. If you only season on top, the rest of the toast will be bland and then you will be hit with a wall of salt on the top. That is definitely not yummy, nor is it pleasant. So, with this dish as with others, season your components individually and then as whole. Always season along the way.

With certain dishes using cucumber, you would want to cut the cucumber in half length-wise and spoon out the seeds in the center. In this casual breakfast dish, feel free to leave the seeds in.

Recipe
Servings: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
2 slices whole wheat toast
½ avocado sliced
1 Persian cucumber, thinly sliced
1 Roma tomato, thinly sliced
squeeze of lime juice
pinch of garlic salt
pinch of fresh ground black pepper

Place toast in a toaster/toaster oven and allow to toast for 5-10 minutes at 300 degrees F.

Slice avocado, cucumber, and tomato thinly. Set aside.

When toast is golden brown and crispy, layer cucumber on and sprinkle sparingly with garlic salt. Then layer tomato and sprinkle sparingly with garlic salt. Lastly, top with avocado.

Add a little splash of fresh squeezed lime juice on top of avocado toast. Add a small sprinkle of garlic salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Enjoy!

 

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

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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!