Sunday, August 9, 2009

Inspired by Tawan's

Spicy Basil Chicken with Green Beans

When I think of Thai food, chili basil dishes like this one, with fresh vegetables and meat, are what immediately come to my mind. For this dish, I started with a basic recipe for basil chili chicken but instead of using sliced chicken, I used ground. This is how they serve the dish at one of my favorite Thai restaurants. I think fresh ground chicken picks up the flavors of the fish sauce, chili, and basil better than sliced chicken breast, which sometimes tastes dry. I also added fresh green beans, straight from Lancaster County, PA.

Above are basil (Thai basil would be better, but I only had regular basil available), sliced red bell peppers, Thai chili peppers, garlic, and green beans.

Here are the sauces - fish sauce, canola oil, and black soy sauce by Healthy Boy.

This is a great weeknight dish, because the ingredients are simple to come by and it's quick to cook. Even the ground chicken and Thai peppers, which aren't in all grocery stores, are easy to store. Thai peppers seem to last a while in the refrigerator, and ground chicken can be frozen.

Like many of the things I have made, basil chili stir-fry starts out with hot oil, chopped garlic, and sliced chili peppers in a hot wok. After about fifteen seconds, the ground chicken goes in. After a few minutes, when the chicken is about halfway cooked through, you add the green beans.

I let these cook for about another minute or so, and then added the fish sauce, water, and black soy sauce. After about another half minute, I added the sugar. When the chicken was fully cooked and the green beans were near done also, I added the basil and sliced bell pepper.

Once the basil wilts, the dish is done. I served it on jasmine rice.

* * *
3/4 lb. ground chicken
1/2 lb. green beans
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon minced Thai chili pepper
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup basil leaves
9 long thin bell pepper strips

Heat a woke or skillet to medium-high heat. Add the oil to coat the surface. When oil is hot, toss in the garlic, immediately followed by the minced chili. After 15 seconds, add the chicken and stir-fry until about half way cooked, about a minute.

Add the green beans and cook for another minute.

Add the fish sauce, water, and soy sauce, and combine with the meat. Cook another minute. Add the sugar and stir-fry until both the chicken and the green beans are done. Add the pepper strips and the basil and stir-fry until the basil has wilted.

Serve over rice.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Tentacles, Basil, and Lemongrass Salad

I bought one of the most beautiful cookbooks I have ever seen a few weeks ago - Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Vietnamese Recipes from the Heart - and at the time bookmarked a few recipes. One of these recipes was Muc Nuong Xa, or Salad of Grilled Octopus, Basil and Lemongrass.

The original plan for tonight was to make this salad and a simple Vietnamese fried rice on the side. However, I had some trouble procuring a pound of octopus. The fish monger I go to at the Reading Terminal Market only had 3-pound octopus. That was too much octopus for me.

Instead of octopus, I left the market with a pound of squid tentacles, which to my knowledge I have never before cooked, let alone eaten.

First I trimmed the tentacles, removing the hard bits at the end (the left side of the picture above), cut the tentacles in half, and rinsed them. I'm not sure whether any of this was actually necessary. I then marinated in fish sauce, lemon juice, sugar, salt, garlic, and oil for 30 minutes.

While the tentacles were marinating, I cut up vegetables. I cut the cucumbers into very sloppy matchsticks, sliced the red onion, cut the grape tomatoes in half, and thinly sliced the lemongrass. I left the basil as is.

The recipe I was following called for roasted rice powder. I made this by toasting raw jasmine rice and grinding it with a mortar and pestle. I'm not really sure what this added to the salad. Maybe a little texture? I guess I would have to try it with and without in order to tell. In any case, here is a picture of the roasted rice powder:

As I do not have a backyard, rooftop, or balcony, I don't have a grill. Instead of grilling, I cooked the squid on a cast iron skillet. The problem I found is that squid releases a lot of liquid when cooking. Mid-way through I drained the liquid. Also interesting to note is that the tentacles start moving when you cook them. It is kind of creepy and strange. They look alive.

After they were done I mixed all the vegetables and roasted rice powder, put the tentacles on top, and garnished with a Thai chili, Vietnamese dipping sauce, and chopped roasted peanuts. Guess what? It was actually pretty good, though time I think I'll thinly slice a shallot and leave the red onion out, or alternatively, learn how to thinly slice an onion and use less of it.

* * *

Tentacle Salad Recipe adapted from Secrets of the Red Lantern by Pauline Nguyen.

1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoon sugar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoon oil
1 small octopus, ideally
2 small cucumbers
2-inch piece of lemongrass, white part only, finely sliced
1 small red onion or a few shallots, sliced thinly
1 handful Thai basil leaves
10 cherry or grape tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon roasted rice powder
3 tablespoons dipping fish sauce
1 tablespoon chopped roasted peanuts
1 bird's-eye chili

Mix the fish sauce, lemon juice, sugar, garlic and oil and marinate the octopus in it for 30 minutes. Cut the cucumbers into matchsticks and combine with the lemongrass, onion, basil, tomatoes, and powder.

Grill the octopus for 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until done. With the tentacles, I probably only cooked for 3 minutes total. Once cooked, add to the salad, dress with the fish sauce, and serve garnished with peanuts and chili. Can also garnish with fried shallots.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Malaysian Noodles

Mee Goreng
(Egg Noodles with Shrimp and Asian Greens)

Mee Goreng is a stir-fried noodle dish of Malaysia and Singapore that uses fresh Chinese egg noodles. I bought the same brand of fresh noodles that I used when I made curried Chiang Mai noodles, but selected the thicker, Spaghetti-like variety instead of the fine noodles.

My asian green of choice was a pretty flowering boy choy relative labeled only in Chinese at the grocery store. After some internet research, I think this is a variety of choy sum, but I could be wrong.

I cleaned ten stalks of the above vegetable (this involved pulling them apart), chopped them crosswise into thirds, spun them dry in a salad spinner, and set them aside with washed bean sprouts. Next I stir-fried the garlic and sweet soybean paste* in peanut oil and then added shrimp.

Once the shrimp turned pink, I added the greens and raised the wok temperature.

After about 2 minutes of stir-frying, I added the bean sprouts.

Immediately after, I reduced the heat and added the noodles, warm water, and sweet soy sauce. After soaking up the liquid, the noodles were done and ready to serve.

Unfortunately, I was not completely satisfied with this Mee Goreng for two reasons. First, it was way too oily. If I make it again, I will halve the quantity of peanut oil and see if I can keep the noodles from sticking to the wok. Second, I am convinced that I did not buy the right soybean paste product. To read more on this, see below.

*Shopping Diversion: Finding Sweet Soybean Paste

Finding the ingredients for Mee Goreng proved difficult. My problem ingredient was sweet soybean paste. According to James Oseland in Cradle of Flavor: Homecooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, Sweet soybean paste is sold under many different names including "whole soybean sauce," "yellow soybeans," "salted soybeans," etc. However, it should not be confused with the darker, Chinese products called "brown bean sauce" or "bean sauce." During my first trip to the store, I saw one jar labeled "sweet soybean paste," but did not buy it because it contained MSG, which I try to avoid. Instead I bought "sweet bean sauce," which had all the same ingredients as the MSG-containing sauce, except for the MSG, of course. However, after some research at home I began to think that my sauce was actually the Chinese version that Oseland says not to buy. I made a trip to the Vietnamese market, hoping to find something better. There was a greater selection, but again, many Chinese products. I wound up buying this:

I'm not sure this was the right sauce for a number of reasons. (1) Like the first sauce I bought, this is a Chinese product, so I may have again bought the type of sauce that Oseland says not to buy; (2) Oseland says Mee Goreng is supposed to be "light" but my Mee Goreng was kind of heavy; and (3) my noodles tasted more like Chinese noodles than any Mee Goreng my dining companion had tried before (my own experience with Mee Goreng is too limited for me to make any comparisons). Oseland says that his favorite brands of sweet bean paste are P. Pra Teep Thong's "soybean paste" and Kwong Hung Seng Sauce. If they aren't too much, I might try to order one of these online and try making Mee Goreng again.

* * *
Recipe adapted from Cradle of Flavor by James Oseland.

1 pound precooked fresh Chinese egg noodles, rinsed and ready to go 10 stalks of choy sum or other asian green (about a half a pound)
4 tablespoons of peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons sweet soybean paste

7 ounces medium-sized shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 1/2 cups mung bean sprouts
4 tablespoons warm water
2 teaspoons double-black soy sauce
salt & fresh pepper (optional)

1. Prepare the choy sum by washing thoroughly and removing any spoiled leaves. Look in all the crevices because sand hides everywhere in some of these greens. Chop into 3 or 4 inch pieces. Dry the greens with a salad spinner or towel.

2. Heat peanut oil in the wok until it is hot. You can test by throwing in a piece of garlic. When hot, add the garlic and the sweet soybean paste and saute until the garlic is no longer raw but has not begun to change color. Take the wok off the heat if the garlic begins to turn golden, let it cool, and then continue.

3. Add the shrimp to the skillet and stir-fry until they begin to turn pink, about 2 minutes. Add the greens and raise the heat to high. Stir-fry vigorously until the greens begin to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add the bean sprouts and stir-fry for another 15 seconds.

4. Reduce the heat and add the noodles. Combine them well with the greens, sprouts, and shrimp, then add the warm water, and soy sauce. When the noodles have soaked up all the liquid, they are ready to serve.

5. Oseland recommends adding freshly ground black pepper, which he notes is tasty though not authentic.

Friday, May 29, 2009


Sauteed Mushrooms
with Shrimp and White Pepper

I tried this dish with plain old button mushrooms and it turned out great. I say that everything is easy. This is both quick and easy, and contains no hard-to-find ingredients. In the picture below are the ingredients: shrimp, button mushrooms, sliced shallots, onion, ground white pepper, and garlic.

In a wok, I heated 2 tablespoons of oil and then stir-fried 2 tablespoons of garlic for 30 seconds. Next, I added 2 tablespoons of sliced shallot and stir-fried for about another minute. I then added 1/2 pound of shrimp and cooked for 1-2 minutes until it was no longer translucent.

Next come the mushrooms - a whole pound of them - and the onion. I cooked for another minute. I then added 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 3 tablespoons of water, and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground white pepper.

The sauce was very good and unlike any of the Thai foods I have eaten before. I ate the dish with my leftover Chang Mai noodles, but it would be great with simple jasmine rice.

The above recipe is adapted from Real Thai by Nacie McDermott.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Getting to Five a Day

Thai Green Curry with Chicken
and Many Vegetables

There is a small list of things I usually order when I go to a Thai restaurant. The rotation includes pad see ew, some sort of basil and chili stir fry with chicken or shrimp or vegetables, and more rarely, pad thai, spring rolls, or chicken satay. If I order a curry, it is almost always Panang curry. Until yesterday, I had never had green curry!

For this green curry, I followed a recipe in Real Thai, but cut the meat by 1/3 and nearly doubled the vegetables.

Below is a plate of some of the vegetables. Clockwise, there are grape tomatoes, green beans, kaffir lime leaf, Chinese eggplant, and Thai basil. I also added strips of bell pepper and 1 red chee fah chili at the end.

I set the ingredients out on the stove. This made it easier to get everything into the pot.

Here is the finished curry:

The recipe is easy to follow and results in a flavorful, vegetable-rich dish. I think I'll be making more of this curry as the farmer's market starts to have summer squash, green beans, and other vegetables. I ate the green curry for dinner two days in a row and I think it tasted even better the second day. After the eggplant has sat in the curry for awhile, it gets very soft and really absorbs the flavors. Another upside of this curry, at least for some, is that it is not overly spicy.

* * *

Recipes Adapted from Real Thai by Nancie McDermott.

Green Curry with Chicken and Vegetables

2 chicken thighs cut into bit-sized strips
1/2 cup coconut cream
1/4 cup green curry paste (see below)
3 cups coconut milk
1 1/2 cups diced eggplant
about 20 green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup basil leaves
3 red chee fah chilies or 9 long, thin red pepper strips
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
12 fresh kaffir lime leaves

Warm the coconut cream over medium heat until it boils gently. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook 6 to 9 minutes, stirring occasionally. When you see tiny pools of oil glistening on the surface, add the curry paste and stir to dissolve into the coconut cream. Cook for 1 to 2 more minutes, until the curry paste has a pleasing aroma.

Add the chicken and stir to coat the pieces so they are all coated, about 1 to 2 minutes. Cook for about 2 minutes more. Increase the heat and add the coconut milk, eggplant, green beans, fish sauce, and sugar. Stir well and then add 6 of the lime leaves. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook 8 to 10 minutes.

When the chicken and vegetables are about done, add the tomatoes. After about one minute, remove from the heat and add the basil leaves, peppers, and remaining 6 lime leaves.

You can serve the curry over rice or noodles.

Green Curry Paste

1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
5 peppercorns, freshly ground
3 stalks of lemongrass, edible parts minced
1/4 cup cilantro roots or leaves and stems
1 tablespoon ginger
1 teaspoon fresh lime peel
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
1/2 cup fresh kii noo chilies (Thai chilies)
1 teaspoon shrimp paste

The traditional way to make the curry paste is to use a a mortar and pestle to pound the ingredients together. This results in a moist fragrant paste. As with the red curry a made two weeks ago, I threw everything into the food processor. The recipe makes quite a bit, so I froze the extra in an ice tray to use later.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Skimping on Condiments.

Kao Soi
Chiang Mai Noodles with Curry Sauce

This is a mild curried dish from Northern Thailand that uses fresh egg noodles. It is typically served with lime, shallots, a bit of fried noodles, green onion, pickled cabbage, and chili oil. As you will see, I really skimped on the condiments, but it still turned out well if only because of the great noodles. I think I could eat them bare. Here is the package of the fresh noodles, which I bought from a Chinese grocery store in Chinatown:

First I made the curry in the dutch oven, which works great for saucy things. I boiled coconut cream, then dissolved a tablespoon of my red curry paste from the freezer and turmeric and continued the boil. Then the a pound of chicken goes in (I used thighs). After about two minutes, I added coconut milk, fish sauce, regular soy and dark sweet soy.

After 10 mines it was done. I should have added lime juice to the curry, but instead garnished with a lime. I sprinkled some shallots on top too.

My verdict: make this again, maybe with shrimp, and if I am going to skimp on condiments, at least make the chili oil.

The recipe above is found in:
Real Thai by Nancie McDermott.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pan-Asian with Mixed Results

Tonight was a mix and match night with some Indian, Malaysian, and Thai. I wanted to try to make chicken satay with peanut sauce, but wasn't sure what to eat with it. I went with Creamy Spinach with Mung Dal (yellow lentils) and coconut rice.

Coconut Rice

First the coconut rice: an utter failure. It was way too rich to eat with anything and it was kind of thick and soupy. If it was sweetened, I could have made mango and sticky rice. Sadly, this one went into the trash. I did not even take a picture.

Creamy Spinach with Mung Dal

This wasn't the failure that the coconut rice was, but that is not saying much. Basically, this was just lentils with spinach, onion, cayenne, turmeric, chilies, yogurt to make it creamy, and ginger - lots and lots of ginger.

Everything going into the pot looked really pretty.

But once cooked down, it was just gingery, soupy, and creamy. There wasn't much depth of flavor. It was very unsatisfying on all accounts. I won't be making this again.

Chicken Satay
with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Luckily, tonight was not a wash. The chicken satay and the spicy peanut sauce were both amazing. This is the second time I have made chicken satay with a peanut sauce, but this time I used a new recipe for both the satay and the sauce.

The Satay

For the marinade, I used the food processor to grind coriander, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, brown sugar, and peanut oil into a paste.

After marinating the chicken thighs for two hours in the paste, I skewered them and put them on a foil-covered pan. I neglected to follow the directions. The ends of the skewers should have been propped up against the side of the tray. Once the chicken was on the tray, I basted it with peanut oil using the crushed end of a lemongrass stock.

I put the skewers in the oven on the highest heat, next to the heat source. My oven does not have a fancy broiler as it is ancient. Here is a picture of me turning on my oven (yes, I have to light it with a match each and every time):

After about six minutes on each side, my apartment was smoky with smoldering bamboo skewers. I soaked the skewers first, so luckily no fire.

Spicy Peanut Sauce

The spicy peanut sauce I made is a Thai adaptation of what was originally an Indonesian sauce. This sauce is just amazing and really easy to make. You boil coconut milk, add red curry paste, peanut butter, stock or water, brown sugar, lime, and fish sauce. The red curry paste I used is from the same batch I made earlier in the week for the country curry. I froze the paste in tablespoon-sized balls using an ice cube tray and now have a ready store in my freezer door.

So, even though the rice and the creamy spinach with lentils were failures, tonight was a good night. This particular satay peanut sauce combination is a winner. I will be making this again.

Chicken Satay Recipe found in:
Cradle of Flavor by James Oseland.

Spicy Peanut Sauce recipe found in:
Real Thai by Nancie McDermott.