sugar

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 }

Steven’s co-worker owns a rental property in the Central Valley. The small apartment building sits on a big chunk of land which her husband planted with fruit trees. A few months ago she gave us bags and bags of citrus. Now that we’re nearly in summer, we’ve entered the stone fruit season. Thus far, she’s given us some cherries, plums, apricots. I don’t even know if cherries qualify as stone fruit. Are they berries? Anyway over the past week we got two bags of sour plums from her garden. The first batch I devoured in no time after dinner. Yum! The second one Steven wanted me to bake into something. So, ta-da: sour plum upside-down cake.

sour plum upside-down cake

sour plum upside-down cake

Sour plums tend to be a little sweet in the middle but sour near the skin and close to the pit. I love taking a bite of a plum and tasting all these flavors. Well with this cake, despite the sugar caramel coating the bottom of the pan, the sour flavor came out in FULL! We loved it: perfect with some tea or a cuppa coffee. We ate this entire cake in a couple of days for breakfast.

sour plum upside-down cake

~2 lbs sour plums, skin on, pitted
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp sea salt
2 eggs
1 cup soy or almond milk
½ cup canola oil
2 tbsp butter
Cast iron pan (12 inches diameter, 2 inches deep)

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

Add one cup of sugar along with one tablespoon of water to cast iron pan over medium heat on your stovetop. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar melts and acquires a nice caramel color. If some sugar sticks to the wooden spoon scrape it off and let it melt until all lumps are gone. Spread the caramel all over the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat to cool down if caramel starts to burn. You just want a caramel color, not a smoking ruin. Cooking to long will make the flavor bitter. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

In a bowl, put remainder of the sugar, then eggs, salt and vanilla. Whisk it to combine. Add oil, soy milk, flour and whisk it again to combine. Lastly incorporate baking powder into the batter.

At this point, although still warm your caramel may be hardened and stuck to the bottom of the cast iron pan. Worry not! Spread the butter until all melted over caramel and sides of the pan. Add sour plum, along with juices if any and spread the fruit evenly over the bottom of the pan. Gently top with the batter. Bake about 35 minutes. Check for doneness via inserting a tooth pick in the center. If it comes out clean then baking is done, if not then you know what you have to do.

{ 1 comment }

Eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables and whenever I see a new recipe for it I just want to try it right away. This recipe is featured in the March 2013 edition of Saveur Magazine. A few years ago Steven’s colleague at work lent him a wonderful cookbook, “Pei Mei’s Chinese Cookbook Volume 1.” That book had an excellent recipe for Sichuan Eggplant.

vegetarian Sichuan fried and braised eggplant

vegetarian Sichuan fried and braised eggplant

He made it once and we were hooked. I’d say we have this dish at least once a month. It is so flavorful with black bean sauce, ginger, sesame oil, scallions and other delicious ingredients—and eggplant, of course: sweet, savory, sour and lots of umami flavor.

I would say that this recipe is actually a variation on Steven’s version. Both are Sichuanese style using very similar ingredients. In Steven’s recipe he cooks the diced eggplant in a hot pan, just tossing it around until they are done, so the oil absorbed is very little. This recipe calls for deep frying the eggplant, which I did, despite the guilty feeling. To prevent the eggplant from absorbing too much oil they suggest soaking it in ice water first. I’m not sure if that helped much, but it hardly mattered, as the dish itself had such a lovely delicate flavor, you could hardly tell.

vegetarian Sichuan fried and braised eggplant

4 Japanese eggplants
2 cups chopped Chinese chives
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp fresh ginger paste (I used fresh ginger that I ground with a fine micropane)
2 tbsp Chinese chili bean sauce (Toban Djan)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1½ tsp sugar

Quarter the eggplant lengthwise. Make incisions in a lozenge pattern in the flesh without piecing the skin. Soak pieces in salted cold/ice water for 5-10 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Fry in hot oil (350F) for about 3 minutes. Remove from pan and lay eggplant pieces on paper towels.

Drain all but two tablespoons of frying oil from pan. Add garlic, ginger and cook for a minute just until raw aromas disappear. Add Chinese chives and continue cooking for another minute or so to wilt. Add chili bean sauce, soy sauce and sugar. Continue cooking to warm through. Add eggplant, one cup of hot water, black vinegar and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Drizzle with sesame oil, transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle some Chinese chives over and serve with some rice cooked in the Brazilian way.

{ 4 comments }

The first time that I had this soup was with my glamorous friend, Euriele. At the time we both worked together in Palo Alto. One day we just took a long lunch break and feasted on an authentic Korean meal with multiple courses: kimchi soup, pickled cucumber, bean sprout, rice cooked with beans, Napa cabbage kimchi, Korean seafood pancake, seaweed salad and other items I don’t recall right now. There were so many! The centerpiece of the lunch was the spicy soup served piping hot in a stoneware pot. You cracked a fresh egg over the soup and watched it cook while at the same time you waited for the soup to cool down enough to eat. I love spicy food. That said, some Korean dishes are not for beginners when it comes to chili pepper intensity. This soup is an exciting and hot example.

spicy kimchi soup aka Kimchi Jiigae

spicy kimchi soup aka Kimchi Jiigae

To make my kimchi jiigae, I used the rest of the Napa cabbage kimichiI had prepared the previous week.

This recipe was adapted from this you tube video. The video uses meat, so I changed it here. If you’re vegetarian then no need to watch it :)

spicy kimchi soup aka Kimchi Jiigae

1lb silken tofu (extra soft type) chopped into 1x1x1 inch thick pieces
5 cups chopped kimchi and juices
1tsp sugar
1tbsp Korean Gochugaru hot pepper paste
1tbsp Gochugaru pepper flakes
½ cup red onion chopped
3 whole scallions chopped
Water to cover the chopped kimchi by two inches
Toasted sesame oil
½ head iceberg lettuce cut into large wedges

Place chopped kimchi and juices in a large sauce pan with onions, scallions, gochugaru peppers, sugar and water. Bring everything to a boil, cook on high for about 10 minutes, reduce temperature to medium and continue cooking for another 20 minutes. Add tofu towards the last 10 minutes.

Place a wedge of iceberg in each bowl. Add a couple of ladles of the soup, and drizzle with some toasted sesame oil. Serve with a side of rice.

{ 3 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.

{ 1 comment }

I know I should have bought a smaller container of Greek yogurt in the first place…

We don’t normally eat yogurt by itself. In fact, we usually only have it at home when a recipe calls for it. Like Ottolenghi’s Greek yogurt baba ghanoush. But that scrumptious dish only required two tablespoons. What to do with the rest??

Blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes, of course!

blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes

blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes

The day before I made these pancakes NPR’s Morning Edition aired a special report on Smitten Kitchen during our morning breakfast ritual. Not about pancakes, the story spoke about how that now famous blogger turns out beautiful dishes in her tiny Manhattan kitchen (That sounds so familiar! Do you think that she got the idea from Julie Powell? Just a thought…)

Obviously, Deb Perelman was also promoting her new cookbook over the radio. Congratulations, Deb! She prepared latkes for Lynn Neary during the story—so not pancakes exactly but bear with me here. The following day I googled blueberry yogurt pancakes and one of Deb’s entries came up first.

So influenced by the morning news and Google’s high ranking, I decided to give the recipe a try. I didn’t have all the ingredients that she calls for. Here’s my adapted version of Smitten Kitchen’s dish.

blueberry Greek yogurt pancakes

1 large egg plus one egg white
1 cup plain, full-fat yogurt
2 to 4 tablespoons soy milk
3 tablespoons canola oil
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cup (62 grams) whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup frozen blueberries, thawed
Some butter to grease the skillet

Sift together sugar, salt, flour, baking powder and set aside. In a separate bowl add egg, egg white, soy milk, lemon zest, vanilla extract. Whisk to combine then whisk in yogurt. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Add a bit more soy milk if batter seems too thick.

Place two non-stick skillets on stovetop over medium. Melt a bit of butter in each pan. Add one small ladle full of batter to each pan and cook for about 3-4 minutes on one side, sprinkle some blueberries on top, flip and cook for about 3 minutes more on other side. Continue in that way until batter used up.

Serve with butter, maple syrup and a good cup of freshly brewed black coffee.

{ 3 comments }

Steven’s been complaining about my cooking lately. Well, maybe not complaining exactly but pointing out a bit clearly that we’ve been in a breakfast rut for a while—bread and coffee, bread and coffee, bread and coffee. Perhaps we’ve both been a little bored with this monotonous refrain. We do eat whole wheat, which is very healthy. He has his with jam and nut butter; I have mine with Earth Balance. Sometimes though what starts out as a virtue can become a culinary straightjacket.

nut and seed granola with date and pomegranate molasses

nut and seed granola with date and pomegranate molasses

Breakfast food is normally loaded with cholesterol so we try to stay away from eggs, cheese and butter as much as possible. Plus during the week, we have virtually no time to cook in the morning. Both of us want to maximize sleep so we get up and leave for work in about thirty minutes. That includes showering, taking out Clarence, getting ready and sharing a little breakie together. So forget cooking!

Granola is a Northern California stereotype and certainly I’ve seen more than one hiker whip out a pouch of the stuff or a few bars in the middle of the woods. Despite the silliness, just like Martha says, “it is a good thing.”

I adapted this recipe from Alton Brown and David Lebovits. I think they adapted their recipes from someone else because they seem fairly similar. You can vary the ingredients to customize your granola or improvise and just toss in whatever’s at hand in the pantry.

I had originally intended to use maple syrup like that other granola I wrote about years ago but realized at the last second that we’d run out. The date and pomegranate molasses were wonderful substitutes.

nut and seed granola with date and pomegranate molasses

5 cups organic rolled oats
2 cups chopped pecans
½ cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup cashew nuts, chopped
½ cup Brazil nuts, chopped
½ cup dried grated coconut
1/2 cup brown sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
1 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup raisins (or a mix of dried fruits)

2 tbsp walnut oil
1/3 cup rice bran syrup
¼ cup date molasses
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
½ cup warm water

Pre-heat the oven to 300F.

With exception of the raisins, place all dry ingredients in a bowl, mix and set aside.

Add wet ingredients to a separate bowl and whisk to combine. Pour over dry ingredients. Use your hands so it gets absorbed evenly. Spread the granola on two large baking trays and bake for 45 to 60 minutes. Stir granola with a spatula every 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool a bit then add raisins and toss to combine. Let cool completely. Transfer to an air tight container and have it for breakfast with some soy milk, or on a hike to somewhere gorgeous.

do you feel the call of the wild

do you feel the call of the wild?

{ 1 comment }

spicy pressed tofu salad

by Stevie on August 21, 2012

spicy pressed tofu salad

spicy pressed tofu salad

I’m so excited about this new-to-me book, Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Tofu. I saw it by chance at the local Whole Foods and was cautiously interested. I ordered a copy from the library and couldn’t put it down once I started reading. I shall have to splurge and actually buy a copy soon.

Nguyen writes in a lucid style with a modern sensibility. Despite the extremely broad sounding title, the focus here is on traditional uses of the various kinds of tofu. She’s lots of helpful illustrations and really breaks down the subject matter into digestible portions—pun intended. I made this dish last week just before we left for a trip to LA to hear fun. at the Wiltern. Mmmmm!

spicy pressed tofu salad

1 package pressed tofu cut into bite-sided cubes
2/3 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
4 spring onions, cut into rounds
3 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp fermented black beans, mashed
2½ tbsp chili bean sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp sugar
1 to 2 tbsp spicy chili oil to garnish

Andrea recommends “refreshing” the peanuts by lightly roasting them in a dry pan. Let cool. Add to tofu with spring onion.

In a small pan, add canola oil, sesame oil, fermented black beans and chili bean sauce. Heat about two minutes on medium. Remove from heat and add sugar and soy sauce.

Toss sauce with tofu. Sprinkle with some chili oil. Serve.

{ 7 comments }

faux pho: vegetarian Vietnamese Pho

August 16, 2012

I have fond memories of a cooking class we took in Chiang Mai, Thailand several years ago. The chef picked us up early in the morning from the hotel then off we went to a thrilling local market to buy the ingredients for the cooking class feast. I think there were about 16 of us […]

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rhubarb and buttermilk quick bread

July 12, 2012

This is my first time ever cooking rhubarb. I have eaten it before of course. Steven made a beautiful rhubarb streusel cake last year. His recipe used rhubarb with very red stalks. At the time I didn’t think much of it. The stalks are always red, no? We inherited a rhubarb plant in our new […]

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