fish sauce

Our friend John prepared this dish for us long ago. Completely delighted, I meant to ask for the recipe but kept forgetting. The southeast Asian mix of fresh garlic, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chili pepper is divine.

southeast Asian-style shrimp and Persian cucumber with rice

southeast Asian-style shrimp and Persian cucumber with rice

Recently I was craving it so I decided to take the risk of making/mixing my own sauce. I may have made it a bit Japanese with the addition of mirin and rice vinegar for an extra bit of sweetness and tartness. You know rice just goes so well with these two flavors, right?

Another thing I find makes me eat with gusto is atypical use of cucumber, here served in a warm dish. I grew up eating cucumbers only in salads so enjoying them any other way is incredible. The cukes were warm but still crunchy. I think Persian or Japanese cucumbers work best for this dish.

southeast Asian-style shrimp and Persian cucumber with rice

1½ cups rice (Thai Jasmine, Basmati or Spanish)
4 tbsp olive oil
1 lb wild caught shelled and deveined medium sized shrimp
6 Persian cucumbers
sea salt
1 clove of garlic
Chili pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper

sauce:

juice of 5 large limes
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 clove garlic
1 green or red chili pepper seeds partially removed
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp mirin
2 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves

Heat olive oil in a large pan, add rice and a sprinkle of salt. Toss to coat rice with oil. Add 2 and ½ cups of hot water. Bring to a boil, stir, reduce temperature to low, cover pan and cook for about 15-20 minutes until soft and water absorbed. Removed from heat and keep it covered for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut a ¼ inch top of the cucumber and rub cut sides together for good luck and good flavor. This will create a bit of a gooey slime that you should rinse away in cold water. Cut cucumber into ½ inch disks and soak in cold water. Repeat process for remainder.

Turn oven on to broil. Rinse and pat dry shrimp. Toss with juice of ½ lime, salt, chili flakes and one garlic clove that has been crushed. Spread shrimp loosely on a large baking sheet then broil for about 5 minutes or so. Remove from the oven and let rest. For a delicious charred flavor and lovely grill marks use your outdoor grill.

To make the sauce, put garlic, sugar and pepper in a mortar and grind ingredients to a paste. Transfer to a bowl. Add lemon juice, mirin, fish sauce, soy sauce and cilantro. Toss to combine. This sauce should be salty, sweet, sour, and pungent with a spicy kick. Taste and adjust flavor with more of any of the ingredients. If you find my mix to strong you can dilute it with a bit of cold water. You should have around ¾ to 1 cup of sauce.

Drain cucumber slices and pat dry on a dish towel.

Mix rice, cucumber, shrimp and shrimp juices carefully not to break the rice too much. Drizzle most of the sauce over and carefully give it another toss. Taste and add more sauce if needed.

This is a delightful, simple, and chock full of flavor meal.

{ 4 comments }

authentic Napa cabbage kimchi

by Heguiberto on January 11, 2013

This Napa cabbage kimchi turned out as authentic as the ones I eat at Korean restaurants here in San Francisco. It was fun to make and it took just 3 days before it was ready. (Three days might sound like a long time to some, but I’ve seen recipes where the kimchi had to ferment for a week or more.) I have made kimchi at home before but never used the traditional Korean gochugaru pepper. Instead I substituted jalapeño and poblano peppers, which resulted in an ultra-spicy version. This is milder.

authentic Napa cabbage kimchi

authentic Napa cabbage kimchi

This recipe, with some minor adaptations, comes from Insanity Theory written by Ellie Won, a South Korean who grew up in Australia.

Aside from the excellent recipe, she wowed me with a kimchi refrigerator! Pretty cool! It makes sense to me. My jar of kimchi only fit in the refrigerator after some serious reshuffling.

Steven served it for the first time with rice and beans cooked in the Brazilian way. I simply love mixing foods from different ethnic backgrounds. The results can be surprisingly good. I think that this is what they call fusion cuisine? A bit of this and a bit of that combined together? It certainly breaks the monotony of a meal that could otherwise be boring and monochromatic. A toast to globalization!

The recipe calls for Chinese pear, which I didn’t have. I added red radish to it and changed the proportions of chili powder, sugar and fish sauce. I also added a fresh red jalapeño pepper because… well why not?

authentic Napa cabbage kimchi

1 large head Napa Cabbage cut into wedges (~6Lbs)
~1½ cups non iodized sea salt
4 cups water (1 quart)
1 heaping tbsp sweet rice flour (sticky rice)
1 &1/3 cup Gochugaru chili powder
3 tbsp fish sauce (leave it out in case you want to make it vegan) use ~ 1 tbsp salt instead
1 tbsp sugar
6 whole scallions cut into 2’’ long segments
6 cloves garlic
1 2’’ piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
½ white or sweet onion
1 fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and ribs removed
5 small red radishes, thinly sliced
1/3 lb daikon, sliced

key ingredients for authentic kimchi

key ingredients for authentic kimchi

Dissolve ½ cup of salt in the water. Add cabbage bottom parts in first. Make sure all leaves and base receive a coat of this brine. Drain water.

Use part or all the remainder salt to sprinkle over each leaf, including the thick white parts at the base. Put the cabbage in a bowl and let the salt dehydrate it for about 3 hours (Ellie recommends 5-6 hours or until it is floppy). Mine became floppy within 3 hours.

Rinse cabbage thoroughly in running water to remove excess salt. Squeeze it to remove as much water as possible. Place it in a colander and allow it to drain for another 15 to 20 minutes.

During the cabbage dehydration process, make a ‘pudding’ or ‘glue’ by mixing rice powder with ½ cup of water and cooking it on low heat, whisking nonstop until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Towards the last 10 minutes before draining is complete, add jalapeño chili, onion, ginger, garlic, and daikon to your food processor. Whiz into a pulp. Mix this pulp with the rice ‘glue’ along with gochugaru pepper, sugar and fish sauce.

Using a spatula spread the kimichi paste uniformly on both sides of each of the leaves. Put the cabbage in and jar, cover and let it rest in a dark, cool place for about 3 days. Be careful when opening it as gases that build up during fermentation will be under pressure. When ready the flavors will have married and you will sense a slight fizzyness, At this point refrigerate and enjoy.

As your kimchi continues to age in the fridge the flavors become more pungent. If it gets too intense to eat by itself, you can turn the kimchi into soups or make a yummy kimchi fried rice.

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When I was in Brazil recently my niece took me to a fun restaurant in São Paulo that offered dishes from South East Asia, Peru, Japan and northern Brazil. The flavors were very exciting. We ordered a lot so we could taste everything. For my main course I had a white fleshed Brazilian fish served in a thick green curry with coconut broth that was divine! The fish was ultra fresh and the curry well balanced. It came with a bowl of perfectly cooked fragrant jasmine rice.

fresh Pacific cod in Thai green curry

fresh Pacific cod in Thai green curry

This eating out experience reminded me of the green curry we made while in Chiang Mai several years ago in a traditional Thai cooking class. I realized that I had never actually made it home, despite my vows to the contrary throughout our glorious trip to that lovely country, until now.

I prepared the green curry from scratch. You can refrigerate the leftovers for later use.

fresh Pacific cod in Thai green curry

for the curry paste:

dried spices:

1 tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ pepper corns

fresh ingredients:

1 inch piece of galangal root, peeled and roughly chopped
1 bunch cilantro, stems, leaves and roots
3 tbsp minced lemon grass (white and tender part)
4 kaffir lemon leaves, cut thinly, center stem removed
5 small shallots
10 to 15 Thai green chilies
1 cup Thai basil
10 cloves garlic
1 tbsp salt

preserved ingredients:

1 tbsp shrimp paste

Place dry ingredients in shallow pan and toast until aromatic. Let cool. Grind in a coffee mill.

Add all fresh spices plus shrimp paste to food processor and whiz until mix turns into a paste. Use a spatula to push down spices so it blends uniformly. Add dry spices and blend again. Transfer to a bowl. Set aside.

Steven and I at Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai--in 2005

Steven and I at Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai–in 2005

for the dish proper:

2 cups coconut milk
1 lb fresh cod, cut into chunks
A few leaves of Thai basil
1 tsp brown sugar
1 chili pepper cut into small rounds
1 kaffir lime leaf
3-4 spoons green curry paste (prepared above)
1 tbsp canola oil
2-3 tbsp fish sauce

Heat up canola oil in a pan, add green curry paste and cook for a couple of minutes without burning. Add coconut milk, sugar, kaffir leaf and bring to a quick boil. Reduce temperature to low, add fish sauce. Taste it, adding more fish sauce if needed. Lay cod fish over sauce and let it simmer for a couple of minutes. Add basil leaves and chili pepper. Remove from heat and serve with Thai rice.

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My salad dressings are always made the same way, with lemon, olive oil and salt. Sometimes I add a new thing here and there, but usually I stick with plain-and-simple. When we eat out, I often enjoy Caesar salad. I think Zuni Café here in San Francisco makes a tasty one. I remember that theirs is a little zippier than those at other restaurants. Somehow that sparkle of acidity makes me feel guilt-free as I always imagine it has less dairy. Ha, ha! I’m sure that I’m being delusional here.

Romaine and oak lettuce salad in zippy improv Caesar dressing

Romaine and oak lettuce salad in zippy improv Caesar dressing

Anyway, I left work the other day ready to make my own Caesar only to discover that we didn’t have all the ingredients I thought I needed. A couple of months ago we went to see an improv comedy show in Freemont with our friends Amie and Whitney. With improv theatre, there is no script and the actors react to one another’s speeches on the fly. It’s very creative and can be exciting. You never know what’s going to happen next, until it does. Very Zen, improv. Even the background music was improv, played by a friend of Amie and Whitney. Very cool!

Well then, this Caesar dressing is our improv show and my kitchen is the stage.

I didn’t have anchovies so I replaced them with fish sauce. I didn’t have regular mayo so I used vegan mayo. After adding all the ingredients I realized I needed more umami flavor so I added some miso paste to it. The zippiness comes from the amount of lemon. I used the juice of 2 large fruit. Don’t skimp on the lemon. Definitely use more if yours are tiny or not juicy. And don’t bother with bottled lemon juice.

key ingredients for zippy improv Caesar dressing

key ingredients for zippy improv Caesar dressing

zippy improv Caesar dressing

2 tbsp vegan mayo
1 tsp red miso paste
1 tsp fish sauce
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 tsp olive oil
¼ tsp Worcestershire sauce
Black pepper to taste
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 large juicy lemons

for the salad:

Romaine and Oak lettuces rinsed, dried and leaves tore into bite size (enough for 2 large portions)
Authentic Parmesan cheese to be grated at the table

Place all ingredients for salad dressing in a bowl and whisk to combine. Let rest at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes for flavors to marry. Place lettuces in a large bowl. Pour half of the dressing over, toss and taste it. Add more dressing or just serve it on the side at the table. Plate salad and grate parmesan cheese over top. If you leave the Parmesan out, which is fine, you will have a dairy free Caesar salad dressing.

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This yummy recipe comes from The Kimchi Chronicles by Marja Vongerichten, a marvelous and very accessible Korean cookbook. Marja writes that she learned this recipe from her husband, who apparently first discovered it on a visit to a small island off the southern coast of Korea, called Jeju.

Korean kimchi seafood bouillabaisse AKA haemul jeongol

Korean kimchi seafood bouillabaisse AKA haemul jeongol

I love bouillabaisse-style seafood soups with flavorful clear broths, though this is not your typical one at all. This turned out lively with a powerful spicy and sour flavor. Somewhat reminiscent of Thai bouillabaisse this one does not use the aromatic herbs, galangal root, lemon grass and kafir lime leaves. But the umma paste gives it wonderful flavor.

I used store-bought kimchi this time but for the next, I want to make my own.

store-bought kimchi

store-bought kimchi

Korean kimchi seafood bouillabaisse AKA haemul jeogol

3 cups chopped kimichi with juices
8 cups water
1 small onion, cut into large cubes
6 Korean radish (moo) or daikon root sliced thin, ~ 2 cups
1 bunch watercress
3 tbsp umma paste
2 tbsp fish sauce
½ tsp sugar
Salt
10 clams
10 mussels
6 shrimp
1 piece red snapper

Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan, add chopped kimichi and boil for about 5 minutes. Add moo, umma paste, fish sauce, sugar and salt and cook for 8-10 minutes. Adjust flavor with more salt, fish sauce or even umma paste. Add fish and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove fish and keep warm. Add clams and mussels and let them cook until they open. Discard unopened shells. Turn temperature to low, add shrimp, fish and watercress. Turn heat off, keep it covered until watercress has wilted and shrimp turn pink. Serve and enjoy!

{ 4 comments }

umma paste

by Heguiberto on October 21, 2011

umma paste ingredients

umma paste ingredients

I fell in love with this Korean cookbook, The Kimchi Chronicles by Marja Vongerichten, while perusing a book shop at The Japan Center in SF recently. I adore kimchi and the book has a whole variety of recipes for them, and for banchans, those tapas style Korean side dishes. I can’t wait to try them all. I’ve made a couple delicious vegetarian kimchis before: look here, and here.

The Kimchi Chronicles has other great recipes too, including amazing sauces and pastes, many perfectly adaptable to our pescatarian diet, just like this umma paste.

Umma is a Korean style chili garlic paste. The word, “umma” is the phonetic equivalent of “mother” in Korean. So umma paste translates into mother paste. She uses this paste ubiquitously and liberally on her dishes. I made a large batch and used it in several things: first in her Korean Bouillabaisse, then on sushi rolls and finally as a flavorful spread on toast topped with a fried egg. All were delicious.

Umma paste has a uniquely bold earthy, salty, sweet, sour, spicy, umami, garlicky, funky (in a good way) flavor, which I think defines a lot of what Korean cuisine is about. This is a new addition to my top favorite hot sauces: chili garlic sauce, sriracha and harissa.

I forgot to take a decent picture of the umma paste!  Darn it.  The one that I do have is so blurry that it looks like an abstract painting in a moving car.  As such, it is bound to make you dizzy so I’ve left it out of the article.  Instead, I put a pic of the ingredients, which are quite colorful. The paste is a very deep red color and was quite thick.    

umma paste

4 large garlic cloves
3 tbsp gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)
3 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
3 tbsp sake

Throw everything in the food processor and whiz it until all turns into a smooth puree. Scoop it out into a bowl. Use as needed.

We got the Korean ingredients at Kukje Supermarket.

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Thai bouillabaisse

by Heguiberto on September 15, 2011

I always ordered this dish when eating out at the Thai Pavilion restaurant in Astoria, Queens, my favorite Thai place when we lived in New York. There they called it Potek. It was this clear aromatic and spicy broth with loads of fish and shellfish. After moving to San Francisco, I learned to make it myself because I got tired of asking at restaurants whether they could accommodate my needs by making the soup with vegetable broth or just plain water. Plus I like making Thai food.

Thai bouillabaisse with salmon and clams

Thai bouillabaisse with salmon and clams

The soup can be like Tom Yum on steroids. Beyond shrimp, potek is packed with other types of seafood, such as fish, clams, mussels, sea scallops, crab claws or lobster. Heaven! You can use the seafood of your choice, like I did here: this time, just salmon and clams.

key ingredients for Thai bouillabaisse

key ingredients for Thai bouillabaisse

Thai bouillabaisse

7½ cups water
2 stalks lemon grass, smashed with a cleaver
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 inch piece of galangal root, cut into chunks
½ cup cilantro, chopped
10 mint leaves
10 Thai basil leaves
½ Thai red chili pepper cut in thin rounds
1 tsp garlic chili pepper
½ tsp sugar
7 tbsp fish sauce
Kosher salt
3 small individual pieces of sushi grade king salmon
1 lb clams
1 cup button mushrooms, quartered

Bring water to a boil then add lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves and galangal root. Simmer for about 10 minutes so flavors meld. Add garlic chili paste, sugar, salt and fish sauce. Adjust flavor with more fish sauce, salt or chili sauce for spicier results. Add clams and cook for a couple of minutes or until they begin to open, add mushroom followed by the salmon. Remove from heat. Let it poach in the broth. Toss in Thai basil, red chili, mint and cilantro. Ladle soup into bowls and serve with a side of Thai Jasmine rice.

{ 7 comments }

som tam AKA spicy green papaya salad

som tam AKA spicy green papaya salad

We had a Thai inspired dinner the other evening. This som tam was served with a spicy potek soup and Jasmine rice. In Brazil we frequently ate green papaya at home but the way my mother made it was completely different. She cooked it with garlic, oil, salt and pepper and sometimes stewed with tomatoes. That was good, but not as incredible as this Thai dish that is just packed with amazing flavors: spicy, sour, umami, salty, sweet and crunchy. I love it!

green papaya

green papaya warming in the afternoon sunshine

som tam

1 lb shredded green (unripe) papaya (I used a mandolin to shred it)
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 Thai bird’s eye chili pepper
8 fresh green beans, cut into 2 inch lengths
1 large clove fresh garlic
Juice of 4 limes or more
½ tsp sugar
4 heirloom tomatoes cut into wedges
Japanese cucumber slices

In Thailand, it is fun to watch green papaya salad being prepared by street vendors. They pound garlic, sugar, tomato and green beans in a large mortar and pestle right in front of you. Then they add the papaya, lime juice and pound it again to bruise everything to release flavors. It is like a cooking demonstration on the side of the road. I don’t have a mortar so I improvised a bit. I placed the green beans between 2 layers of saran wrap and flattened them with the rolling pin. I squeezed the tomatoes a bit with my hands. I grated the garlic and chili pepper with a micro-plane grater. Then everything was mixed together and let macerate for about 20 minutes before going to the table. The delicious Japanese cucumber slices helped cool down the heat of the salad. Serve on a few leaves of lettuce with some cucumbers on the side.

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Thai tomato, coconut and Dungeness crab soup

September 5, 2011

I had this tomato soup at a dinner party recently. My boss, Elliot, hosted at his place. It was a fun evening filled with good chat, many delectable savory dishes and lovely wine! Thank you Elliot for being such a good cook and host! I wanted to ask for the recipe but didn’t get the […]

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long bean tofu stir fry, Southeast Asian style

December 30, 2009

I’ve adapted this recipe from an original, Dau Dua Xao Tom, that calls for shrimp instead of tofu. It’s a stir fry which I think works better on a gas stove. We live in earthquake prone San Francisco so have a glass top electric one. It doesn’t caramelize like I want but still the dish […]

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