No Contest

thaichowlede

Thai food has become my comfort food. It’s the cuisine I crave on the regular. It’s become a big problem.

At work we had an open call “Salmon Chowder Contest” that would run on our menu at the restaurant if it was chosen to be the winner. This is the soup I made for the contest.

I decided to base my recipe off of one I made last year for my Tom Kha Gai soup. It’s not your traditional chowder, but it’s crazy delicious. Like, it’s really good. Trust me.

Forget tradition and try this! You won’t be disappointed.

Coconut Salmon Chowder
Yields 2 quarts

FOR THE CHOWDER

INGREDIENTS
2 nubs medium-sized galangal, peeled and sliced*
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, sliced thin
5 kaffir lime leaves
6 Thai bird chiles
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
1 yellow onion, julienned
2 cups Yukon potatoes, peeled and medium-diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans coconut cream
2 cups vegetable stock
1 pound salmon, skin-off, cut into medium-sized cubes
1/8 cup fish sauce
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup Thai basil, picked and minced
1 cup cilantro, picked and minced
1 lime, zested and juiced
salt and pepper, to taste
*galangal is a rhizome from the same family as ginger, used primarily in Thai, Lao and Vietnamese cooking. Find it at your local Asian supermarket.

METHOD
Place the first 4 ingredients in a food processor and process to a paste. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and add the paste, stirring till fragrant; about 5 minutes. Add the onions and saute till lightly browned. Add the potatoes and garlic and stir for a minute.

Turn down the heat and add the coconut cream and stir. Stir in the fish sauce and sugar, and bring to a gentle simmer, then add the salmon and simmer for an additional 5 minutes or till salmon is cooked.

Add the cilantro, Thai basil, lime zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper. Top with a healthy drizzle of Thai basil oil. (Recipe below).

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FOR THE THAI BASIL OIL
Yields 2 cups

INGREDIENTS
2 cups Thai basil, packed
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 3/4 cups olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

METHOD
Blanch the basil leaves in boiling salted water for 20 seconds. Remove the basil and shock in an ice water bath. Add in the garlic and olive oil. Process in a food processor till fully combined.

Store in an airtight container overnight in the refrigerator. Not he next day, strain the oil through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the leaves.

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Recreating: Pica Pica’s Arepas

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The Mexican Gordita.

The El Salvadorian Pupusa.

The Venezuelan and Colombian Arepa.

Each are comprised of a corn flour-batter mix, shaped into a disc, fried in oil and stuffed with various fillings.

They all sound strikingly similar, but most will argue, are quite different. (Just ask a Venezuelan how their arepas compare to that of a Colombian’s, or vise-versa, and you will get strong disagreements from each party.)

While in the past I’ve enjoyed a Gordita or two or 10, and have had quite the experience being a human pupusería, I hadn’t stumbled upon Arepas until my recent trip to San Francisco a few weeks ago. My awesome, longtime friend  and hostess Amber, took me to this amazing Venezuelan restaurant in the Mission called Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen. It is FAN (freaking!) TASTIC. I can’t even begin to describe how delicious the sweet corn, cake-like arepas, filled with hearty shredded beef pabellón, fried plantains, black bean purée and queso fresco were. I was in Arepa heaven. If such a heaven exists, I was definitely in it.

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The sweetness of the yellow corn viuda (Spanish for “widow” referring to an unfilled arepa) is most excellent on its own, but when paired with the various fillings, it becomes this flavor explosion in your mouth–the sweetness from the viuda and plantain, the salty from the pabellón and queso fresco and the gentle acidity from the guasacaca. Every inch of your tastebuds are satisfied, wanting more and not knowing when, (or how) to stop.

I had long (actually not quite that long, more like a week after) daydreamed of my rather virginal Arepa experience, wanting more. So I made my best attempt at recreating these delicate bellezas del cielo.

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Venezuelan-Style Arepas
Serves 3-6
Arepa dough recipe slightly adapted from Mommyhood’s Diary blog

FOR THE AREPAS (VIUDAS)
4 cups of water, room temperature
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
3 cups Harina P.A.N (precooked white corn meal. Look for the “P.A.N” as it’s very different from the harina used in pupusas and gorditas.)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil

METHOD
In a medium-sized bowl add the water, salt and sugar. With a whisk, mix until the salt and sugar is dissolved. Slowly add in the Harina P.A.N. Using your hands, mix the dough, breaking any clumps with your fingers. Allow the dough to rest 5 minutes to thicken up.

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While you’re waiting, heat a non-stick griddle pan or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Then add the oil to the dough, working the dough with your hands for about a minute. The arepa dough should be firm but not cracking when formed. If the dough is too soft add a little more of Harina P.A.N or more water if it’s too hard.

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Form dough balls and flatten them gently into discs until they’re about 1/2-inch thick. Immediately place the discs over your preheated pan and cook the arepas for 5-7 minutes on each side or until lightly golden brown. Repeat till all dough has been used. Serve immediately with your choice of fillings.

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FOR THE AREPAS RELLENAS (Filled arepas)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, julienned
2 1/2 pounds flank or flat iron steak
1 cup (8 ounces) canned tomato sauce
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large ripened plantain, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces on a bias
6 Arepas vuidas
3 Tablespoons butter
1/2 of small wheel Queso Fresco, crumbled
1 cup Guasacaca Salsa*

For garnish
2 small green onions, julienned (green and whites)

METHOD
Rub a generous amount of salt and pepper to both sides of your steak. Preheat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add in the oil, and when the oil begins to slightly haze, add the steak.

Cook each side for about 3 minutes, or until lightly browned. When both sides are gently seared, using a pair of tongs, remove the steak and place onto plate to rest. Keeping the heat still on medium, add the onions  and sauté till onions are translucent. Then add the tomato sauce, stirring well. Add the oregano and season to taste with salt and pepper. Lower heat to low and allow to simmer for about 20-25 minutes to thicken.

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While your sauce is simmering, and after resting your steak for at least 15 minutes, slice your steak into even 1/4-inch slices. The steak should be at a nice rare pink.

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When your sauce has thickened up, immediately turn off the heat and throw in the sliced steak. The residual heat of the sauce will further cook the meat just a tad.

In another medium-sized non-stick pan or skillet, heat a Tablespoon of oil on medium.

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Place the sliced plantains in the skillet, cooking each side for about 3 minutes each or until nicely browned and caramelized. Immediately remove from the pan and into a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil.

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Next, gather all filling ingredients together.

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When ready to assemble, split each arepa in half horizontally with a knife. Butter each side of the still-warm arepa. Fill the bottoms of each arepa with the plantains, then layer on the steak, and a heaping spoonful of guasacaca salsaqueso fresco crumbles and green onion garnish.

Serve immediately. (Knife and fork optional, but highly recommended!)

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How To: Guasacaca Salsa

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The guacamole of Venezuela, guasacaca is the green condiment that almost every Venezuelan household has in their fridge. Instead of lime juice, the salsa uses red wine vinegar, giving it heightened acidity, much similar to an avocado relish. The salsa is excellent for dipping (taro chips? plantains? yucca fries?!) or as a condiment spread for Arepas. It’s easy-to-make and stores well in the fridge for about 2 weeks.

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Guasacaca 
Yields 1 quart
Recipe via Mami Talks

INGREDIENTS
1 avocado; halved, pitted and flesh removed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper; deseeded and finely chopped
3 green onions, finely chopped (the white and the green part)
1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt

METHOD
Place all ingredients, except the oil, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor. Blend till fully incorporated. Turn off. Use a rubber spatula to scoop the excess bits on the side of the machine’s bowl, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Blend on medium for 30 seconds. Season to taste.

In Living Color

thailede

Um, so summer got here way too quickly, wouldn’t you agree? I had a big reality check when I decided to weigh myself the other day: I had maintained the 25 pounds I had gained last fall. Last fall. I never lost the weight during the winter. (Who does?) Shit happens.

But now that temperatures are reaching the mid-80s and low-90s, I simply cannot hide underneath a flannel or sweatshirt anymore. I’ve begin to notice that certain items in my summer wardrobe aren’t fitting the way they used to. You know, when skirts and shorts are tight (and not in a hot way).  So I have decided (yet again!) to go on a serious health cleanse. Meaning, I’m cutting out the sweets and other bad things from my diet.

I was doing a little research and stumbled upon The Color Diet: The simple rule to follow is getting a lot of color in your diet. And no–chocolate chip cookies and bacon aren’t valid colors. Neither are doughnuts.

The cuisine I crave most is Thai. It’s my fave. While there are so many wonderful Thai restaurants here in Portland–sometimes I’m too lazy to venture out, and just wanna make something in the comfort of my own home. (Sounds counter-productive to some, but it’s actually easier for me this way.)

This dish is my take on Gai Pad Krapow (Chicken with Thai Basil) with the addition of some fresh veggies. And you can add whichever veggies you have in your fridge. I opted for some red bell peppers, jalapeños, and carrots. Doesn’t hurt they add a splash of color, eh? (Hence, the Color Diet.) This dish goes perfectly with these Spicy Thai Noodles and Jasmine Rice.

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Gai Pad Krapow
(Thai Basil Chicken Stir Fry)
Serves 2-4

INGREDIENTS
3 Tablespoons olive oil
24 fresh Thai chile peppers -or- 2 jalapenos, sliced thin
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken breast, cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 red bell pepper, julienned
2 small carrots, peeled and sliced on a bias
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons Fish sauce
2 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon Sriracha
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup fresh Thai basil, picked

METHOD
Heat a skillet or wok with the oil over medium-high. Add in the garlic and chiles, stir-fry for a minute.

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Add in the chicken, toss to coat. Cook for about 3 minutes then add the chicken stock and the vegetables. Cook for another 5 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer a pinkish hue and the vegetables are slightly tender.

Add the fish sauce, sugar, soy sauce and Sriracha. Turn off the heat and fold in the Thai basil. Serve with Jasmine rice and Spicy Thai Noodles.

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Hot Noods

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I eat more ice cream in the winter than in the summer. I enjoy a good bowl of ramen or pho on a hot summer day. I bake more in the summer than in the winter.

Weird.

I don’t know what it is (maybe my body is calibrated to the opposite side of the hemisphere?), but I tend to eat atypical foods seasonally. Am I the only one here on this?

So it’s summer and it’s HOT. And this is coming from a girl who was born in LA. I LOVE the cold. While I lived in New York, most of my friends complained about the snow storms and low temps, I relished in it. So when the temps jump to above 80 degrees, I’m not too stoked.

Yet I crave hot things. And that’s not limited to the spicy-hot variety. I make this Thai-style noodle dish a lot in the summer. Instead of the standard peanut sauce, I swap it for almond butter, which is just as good. This time around I opted for a vegetarian version, but I’ve made this dish with shrimp, chicken, pork and tofu. All of which tasted excellent. Love pairing these noodles with this Thai Basil Chicken dish.

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Spicy Thai Noodles with Almond Butter Sauce
Serves 2-4

INGREDIENTS
6 ounces Pad Thai noodles
4 Tablespoons almond butter
4 Tablespoons soy sauce
½ cup chicken stock, plus 1 cup if needed
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tablespoons Thai Chile Garlic Sauce
3 Tablespoons Sriracha
1 cup cilantro leaves, for garnish

METHOD
Cook the noodles according to the manufacturers’ directions.

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As the noodles are cooking, whisk together all of the ingredients in a shallow skillet or pan. Cook over medium heat until the almond butter is completely melted and the sauce is smooth. If the sauce is too thick, add in another 1/2 cup of chicken stock to thin out. Adjust spice accordingly. Turn off the heat.

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In a large bowl, place the drained noodles and mix in the almond butter sauce. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves and serve immediately.

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(Bowie really liked the shrimp version I made of this recipe a few months back.)

El Pollo Loco

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I go crazy over this chicken. This is a very easy (and delicious) recipe I use all the time. Perfect for tacos, burritos, cemitas, and nachos, this is one recipe staple you’ll find you’re using on the regular.

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Shredded Chicken
Serves 2-4
Recipe slightly adapted from The Food Network

INGREDIENTS
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds rib-in chicken breast
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 cups thinly sliced red onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/8 cup lime juice

METHOD
Place a large shallow pan or cast-iron skillet with a lid over medium-high heat and add the oil to the pan. Season the chicken pieces with the spices and salt, tossing both sides evenly to coat. Add the chicken to the pan (skin side first) and sear for 3 minutes per side. Add the onions to the pan and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté for a minute. Add the chicken stock over the chicken and slowly bring to a boil. Once the stock is boiling, lower the heat to low and cover with the lid.

Cook the chicken till tender, about an hour. Once fully cooked, turn off the heat, and allow the chicken to cool for about 15 minutes. Once slightly cooled, add the lime juice to the pan and over the chicken, then shred the chicken with your hands, discarding the bones. Season with salt.

Roll Out!

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This is a great beginner’s recipe for making bread. I haven’t made baguettes since my Breads and Pastries class in culinary school, so this was a great refresher course. I made this bread specifically for this recipe. 

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Vietnamese-style French Baguette
Recipe adapted from Vietnam Online
Yields 4 small baguettes

INGREDIENTS
4 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons and 2 teaspoons melted butter
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 Tablespoons softened butter
extra flour for coating

METHOD
Dissolve the sugar and 3/4 cup of the lukewarm water, add the yeast and dissolve.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, melted butter and salt. Add the sugar water yeast mixture and beat slowly with an electric mixer. Add the rest of the lukewarm water gradually if the mixture is still dry. Beat and mix well until the dough has a smooth surface.

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Butter a large bowl and place the dough there, cover with a damp towel and allow to sit for about an hour or until the dough doubles in size. Once doubled, beat the dough slightly and knead well. Divide the dough into 4 equal-sized portions. Slightly deflate the dough to even out the flour and roll back into mini baguettes.

Place the rolls onto a sheet tray. Preheat the oven to 212°F. Allow the rolls to proof in the oven for 30 minutes, turning off the heat after 10 minutes. (You can spray a little water onto the rolls to give the bread some moisture.)

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After proofing, the rolls should be doubled in size. Remove from the oven and preheat the temperature to 375°F. Using a sharp razor, make a vertical slash onto the top of each roll. Smooth a tiny bit of water on the surface of the bread and dust with flour. Use the leftover butter to fill in each slash.

Bake the rolls for about 15-20 minutes until the bread turn light yellow and toothpicks come out clean. Remove and set aside to slightly cool.