Vietnamese Butter Garlic Shrimp

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I have been away from food blogging for much too long. I’ve really missed it! While it was fun to be away visiting Korea and Japan, I am now back and more inspired than ever to create yummy dishes and be able to share cooking tips and recipes with others. The food in Japan was notably excellent, as many chefs and cooks take such pride in their products. They value quality over quantity and strive to ensure that their customers will be satisfied with what they have been served. I may try some more Japanese recipes moving forward, as this is a cuisine with which I am relatively unfamiliar. But for today, back to my Vietnamese/Chinese roots!

To be honest, I am not even sure if this is an authentic Vietnamese dish. I just remember having some version of this when I was a kid, so I wanted to recreate and share so that all can enjoy the beauty of this dish. I remember it was flanked on all sides by yummy stir-fried veggies with bits and pieces of aromatic meats for flavoring. I remember biting into each delectable shrimp and feeling so grateful to be alive to enjoy that burst of delicious juice exploding from the shrimp shell. Folks, there is really something magical about eating shrimp that has been cooked with their shells on! This would be followed by bits of sweet shallot and aromatic garlic would then grace my taste buds, adding a fullness of flavor and umami to the whole experience.

It was always interesting to me how Vietnamese dishes use generous amounts of butter. Aha, colonialism explains yet another culinary phenomenon. Butter provides a delicious richness to the sauce, which then mingles with the juices of the shrimp, creating an amazing burst of flavor when you bite into each shrimp.

Cooking Tips:

Definitely do not skimp on the butter. You need some olive oil to prevent the butter from burning, but the butter is what provides the beautiful flavor and silkiness to the sauce. Do not be afraid. Just enjoy!

Having your shrimp defrosted and drained ahead of time is very important to prevent excess water from diluting the flavor of your sauce. It will also ensure a better sauté. This is a good general rule to follow when searing any meats and protein: drier is better. In some cases, e.g., fish, steak, you would want to pat your meat dry before searing.

In Vietnamese and Chinese cooking, people often pre-mix their sauces before they add to their dishes. This allows you to make sure that the sugar is well-incorporated, but it also gives the advantage of being able to taste your sauce for seasoning before you add it to your food. This can prevent you from under- or over-seasoning. Dilute with water and add sugar if your sauce is too salty. Add in oyster, soy, or fish sauce when your sauce mix is too diluted.

Recipe
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4-6

½ stick unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 red jalapeno, sliced
1 tsp red pepper flake, to taste
1 head garlic, finely chopped
2 lb large shrimp, shells on
2 tbsp black pepper
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp sugar
green onion, chopped

Rinse shrimp and leave to drain in a colander. Meanwhile, begin prepping aromatics and ingredients.

Heat a large frying pan on medium. Add olive oil and butter to pan and allow butter to melt. Add in shallot, and red jalapeno into frying pan. Allow to sauté for 3-5 minutes until shallots soften. Then add red pepper flake and garlic and sauté on medium 2-3 minutes, or until garlic becomes golden in color.

Immediately after your garlic turns slightly golden, add in shrimp, turn fire on high, and saute shrimp until they become pink and cooked through ~5-7 minutes. Stir constantly to allow even cooking. Add in pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, combine fish sauce, oyster sauce, water, and sugar. Mix together the sauce to make sure sugar is dissolved. Then add to the shrimp when they are just about cooked through. Adjust seasonings to taste: by adding in a splash of water, oyster sauce, fish sauce, black pepper, or sugar.

Mix in green onion and cook for another minute until green onion is slightly softened. Serve in pan with lots of fresh lemons and white rice or crusty French bread. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Junior Mac

E948D0E4-B029-44BD-8C78-881885E45A2CAs a child of the 1990s McDonald’s was a major pillar in the structure of my life. Because my family was very frugal with their money, my sisters and I often dreamed of dolls and toys from television commercials knowing that they were never coming home with us. Now that I am an adult I realize what a huge waste of money these overpriced toys are. But as a young child, these seemed to be the end-all be-all of life itself. You felt like you had to have a Barbie doll, Furby, and Tomagachi to fit in with the other kids. Anyway, this was why I looked forward to Happy Meals as a kid. It often came with a toy that otherwise would never have reached my eager hands. As I grew older, I began to appreciate food for its own merits as opposed to its role as a bridge to coveted toys. I realized that the Big Mac tasted so much better than the cheeseburgers in Happy Meals. Back in those days, supersize was the way to go. Of course, at the time we did not realize that this would contribute to an already growing obesity epidemic. I remember the joy and reckless abandon with which I approached each Big Mac combo.

Unfortunately these eating habits led to alarming weight gain into my early twenties. I realized that I could not eat McDonald’s on a regular basis if I wanted to live a long healthy life so I changed my eating habits and exercise habits. Nowadays my typical lunch and dinner plates are filled with veggies and lean proteins. But every once in a while, I crave food that transports me back to the simple days. I return to my childhood favorites, and the Big Mac is definitely #1 for me. Something I’ve learned about food is that nothing improves the taste of food more than nostalgia. Well….nothing beside extreme hunger. So, in attempt to relive fond childhood memories, I made my own Junior Mac. It is a very easy recipe, and unlike the original Big Mac, it only has 1 slice of cheese, 1 patty, and 1 bun. It satisfied my craving without breaking the calorie bank. My husband was definitely a happy camper when I made this for dinner. Hope you enjoy it too!

Cooking Tips

The fattier the ground beef, the more juicy and tender it is. 85% lean ground beef would probably yield a juicier burger, but for health reasons, I usually choose 90-95% lean. The choice is yours.

Do not smash or press your burgers as they cook. That will release all the juices and result in a dry patty.

I like to season my ground beef and mix it together, then form a patty. It gives the meat better flavor. Some people choose to form the patty and then put the seasoning on top. It depends on personal preference, but I am always in favor of more flavor.

For burger patties, always make the patty the same size or a bit larger in circumference than your bun. Burger patties shrink when they are cooked, and if yours is too small it throws off the ratio of your cheeseburger.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
1 lb ground beef, 90% lean
1 tbsp seasoned salt (I used the Trader Joe’s brand) or to taste
ground pepper to taste
4 burger buns
4 leaves of lettuce
4 slices sharp cheddar or American’s singles
½ cup onion, diced
8 tbsp Thousand Island dressing
Optional: sliced pickles

Place buns in toaster oven and set to light to medium darkness.

Season ground beef with seasoned salt and pepper, then form into 4 equal patties. Use the burger bun as a reference point for the size of your patties. Make your burger the same size or a bit larger than your bun.

Heat large skillet and spray with a bit of cooking oil. When pan is hot place burger patties on skillet. Fry on each side for 3-5 minutes depending on desired level of doneness.

After flipping burger patties, place a slice of cheese on top of each patty and cover pan with a lid to allow cheese to melt.

(Optional step: sear some additional cheese directly on the pan for 1 minute for a gooey burnt cheese addition to your burger. )

When burger patties are done, spread Thousand Island dressing on both sides of buns.

Place burger patty on bottom bun. Layer lettuce, onion, and pickles on top. Then top with the top bun.

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!