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.

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She Likes Starch!

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In one of my favorite (and famous) scenes in the movie, Big Night, a customer at Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo’s (Stanley Tucci) Italian restaurant is upset because the Seafood Risotto she ordered appeared to have “nothing that looks like a shrimp or a scallop (anywhere).” The customer then asked for a side of spaghetti and meatballs. Upset, Secondo then goes into the kitchen to tell his brother, the chef, Primo, that he needs to make an order of spaghetti and meatballs. Primo is not happy with this request, as he believes in the integrity of the food. The two argue about the customer liking too much starch. Primo then barks back with, “Maybe I should make her a mashed potato on the other side!” The scene is pure comedy and sets the tone of the movie.

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For the Primo (first) course of the meal, I wanted to recreate the Seafood Risotto to my own liking. I wanted the caramelization of the seared scallops to shine, so opted out on not adding any other seafood to the mix. The brightness of the spinach greens and basil work well with the creamy risotto, allowing the scallops to take center stage. Adding a splash of fresh lemon juice finishes the dish perfectly.

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Risotto con Capesante (Seared Scallop Risotto)
Serves 2-4
Recipe slightly adapted from Barbells and Bellinis 

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE RISOTTO
5 cups chicken broth
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups arborio
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
1/2 cup shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups of fresh spinach or other leafy green (chard and kale work well, too)
1/2 cup basil, chiffonade cut

FOR THE SCALLOPS
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound of scallops (I used diver)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

METHOD
In saucepan, bring chicken broth to a boil.  Reduce to medium-low to keep warm.

In a large shallow skillet, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Sauté the shallots till translucent. Turn down the heat to medium and add in the garlic and stir till aromatic–don’t burn the garlic!

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Add in the rice, stir to coat with the butter and cook for about 3-5 minutes.  Deglaze the pan by adding the wine and cook till the liquid is evaporated, stirring constantly.  Start adding your hot chicken broth in 1 cup-intervals and cook until mostly absorbed, stirring constantly. Continue to add the broth 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly until broth is almost completely absorbed (this should take 20-30 minutes).

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Stir in the spinach and basil after the final 1 cup of broth has been added.  Remove risotto from heat and add the Pecorino Romano. Cover and allow to stand for about three to five minutes (or until scallops are finished).  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To cook the scallops, heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat.  Add in the olive oil and allow oil to heat for a minute till hazy. Just before adding the scallops, pat them try with a paper towel; any excess water will create a splattery mess. Add the scallops to the pan, giving each scallop enough room to cook evenly without crowding the pan. Let the scallops sear without disturbing them for about 3-5 minutes. Once you’ve got a good dark, caramelization on one side, flip it over to cook for another 2 minutes. Remove the cooked scallop and top with the risotto.

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Return to the full story HERE

(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots are property of Rysher Entertainment and Timpano Productions.)

Save this one for Louis Prima

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“This is so fucking good, I should kill you!” screams rival restauranteur, Pascal (Ian Holm), as he takes his first bite of the grand, drum-shaped Timpano. 

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In what is truly a labor of love, the Timpano is a very special Italian dish–best explained by Primo to have, “a special crust, that is shaped like a drum, and inside…all of the most important things…in the world.”

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There are several components to the dish. First, the pasta crust. Then the meatballs. Then the marinara sauce, and everything else in between. Unfortunately, because of time restraints, I wasn’t able to make the pasta by hand, so I decided to cheat a little bit (just one cheat!) and topped the Timpano with lasagna sheets. The result is not as good as its original, but boy, the inside of the pasta pie well then makes up for it!

If you’re ready to wow your guests (and impress yourself, for that matter!) roll up your sleeves, and prepare to make this very special, timely dish.

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Italian-Style Meatballs
Yields 14-18 meatballs, depending on size
Recipe via A Streetcar Named Devour

INGREDIENTS
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 small onion, finely minced
1 shallot, finely minced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 egg
1/4 cup Parmesan, grated
1/2 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 Tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flake
olive oil

METHOD
In a medium-sized skillet, heat the oil till hazy. Add in the onion and shallot, saute till translucent. Add in the garlic, stirring for one minute. Remove from the pan and allow to cool.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the ground beef and pork, egg and cheese. Once the onion mixture is fully cooled down, add it into the mixture. Finish with the rest of the ingredients, mixing till just incorporated.

Roll the meatball mixture into 2 1/2 Tablespoonfuls-sized balls. Set aside.

Heat the same skillet over medium-high heat, adding just enough oil to reach about 1 1/2 inches of the skillet.

Load the skillet with the meatballs, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Cook all sides of the meatballs for 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and place onto a baking sheet.

Once all of the meatballs have been cooked, place into a 350-degree oven and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the center of the meatballs are cooked through.

(This can be done a day ahead.)

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Italian-Style Marinara Sauce
Yields 3 1/2 quarts
Recipe via A Streetcar Named Devour

INGREDIENTS
24 ounces of canned whole tomatoes
3 Tablespoons dried oregano leaves
1/2 cup basil, torn
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons Kosher salt

METHOD
Place all ingredients into a food processor or blender. Puree till all ingredients are completely blended together. Set aside.

(This can be done a day ahead.)

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Timpano (Baked Pasta Pie)
Serves 4-6 people
Recipe slightly adapted from LA Mag

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE ASSEMBLY
1 1/2 cups Genoa salami pieces
1 1/2 cup sharp provolone cheese chunks
6 hard-cooked eggs, shelled and quartered lengthwise, each quarter cut in half
2 cups small meatballs* (Recipe above)
3 1/2 cups marinara sauce* (Recipe above)
1/2 pounds ziti, cooked al dente (about half the time recommended on the package) and drained, tossed in olive oil
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino Romano
3 eggs, beaten
8-10 sheets of lasagna, cooked al dente, drained, tossed in olive oil

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METHOD
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Make sure salami, provolone, hard-cooked eggs, meatballs and marinara sauce are out at room temperature. Toss the ziti with 2 cups of the marinara sauce. Place 4 cups of ziti onto the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of a 1/2 cup salami, 1/2 cup provolone, 1 1/2 eggs, 1/2 cup meatballs and 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese after that. Pour another 1/2 cup of sauce over the ingredients, repeat this step, adding layers of ingredients until the filling comes to about 1 inch of the top of your timpano pan. The last of the marinara sauce should be the top layer. Then pour eggs over the filling. Fold the lasagna sheet layers over the filling to seal it completely.

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Cover with aluminum foil and bake until lightly browned, about 1 hour. Remove the foil and continue to bake the timpano till it’s cooked through and is golden brown (and reaches an internal temperature of 120 degrees), an additional 30-45 minutes. Once done, remove from oven and allow the timpano to rest for another 30 minutes to allow it to cool and contract before attempting to remove it from the pan. Failing to do so, will result in a broken pasta pie. Once it’s fully cooled down, the baked timpano should not adhere to the pan.

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Place a baking sheet or a large, thin cutting board that covers the entire diameter on the pan on top of the timpano. Grasp the baking sheet or cutting board and the rim of the pan firmly and invert the timpano. Remove the pan and allow timpano to cool for 10 minutes. Using a long, sharp knife, gently slice the timpano like slicing a pie into individual portions. Serve!

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Return to the full story HERE

(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots are property of Rysher Entertainment and Timpano Productions.)

The Cookie Strikes Back

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One of my favorite ice cream sandwich memories were in the early-2000s, in the countless times I waited in a line that curved around the corner of a bakery in Westwood (close to the UCLA campus) called Diddy Riese for a sweet treat. Their ice cream sandwiches were a big deal to Angelenos and UCLA students alike. It was a #treatyoself moment every time my friends and I would drive over and grab a sandwich. Back then the cookies sold for .25 each and $1 for a scoop of ice cream to make the sandwich, and you could mix-match whatever cookie and ice cream flavor you wanted. I’d always take an extra bag of cookies back home for sharing and snacking.

I haven’t been to Diddy Riese in years, but I always enjoy a good ice cream sandwich when I can get one, or better yet, make one. The following cookie and ice cream sandwich combo was with some ingredients I already had in my refrigerator and pantry. Tart blueberries and rich white chocolate chips just go so greatly together, and I love the idea of a rum-coconut ice cream with a nice salty macadamia nut note.

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Brown Butter Blueberry White Chocolate Cookies

Adapted from Keep It Sweet Desserts
Makes about 12 large cookies

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large whole egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2  teaspoon Kosher sea salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup fresh blueberries, washed and dried 

METHOD
Brown the butter by heating in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. When the butter turns a medium brown color, remove from the heat and pour into a small bowl. Allow to cool.

Once the butter has cooled completely, place into a large bowl of an electric mixer with the sugars; beat on medium-high speed till well combined. Add in the egg and vanilla extract, mix on medium speed until thoroughly combined.

In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt; slowly add into the wet ingredients with the mixer on low speed till just combined.

Turn off the mixer and with a spatula, slowly stir in the white chocolate chips and then gently fold in the blueberries. Wrap the dough into a container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, overnight if possible.

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When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees. With an ice cream scoop, scoop the dough (about 4 tablespoons) onto a parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet tray. Bake the cookies till medium golden brown, about 17-20 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Macadamia Nut-Rum-Coconut Ice Cream
Yields 1 pint

INGREDIENTS
3 cups coconut milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup honey
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup dark rum
1/2 cup macadamia nuts, roasted and roughly chopped
1 1/2 Tablespoons coarse sea salt

METHOD
Heat the coconut milk in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, stirring the bottom every few minutes to avoid scorching.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks till slightly thickened. Set aside.

When the coconut is heated and it begins to haze, take a ladle or 1/2 cup measuring cup and slowly add in the heated milk into the egg yolks. Whisk quickly to incorporate and to avoid curdling. Slowly add in more milk until 1/2 of the milk is incorporated, then add in all of the egg-milk mixture back into pot and turn the heat down to medium. Whisk the mixture to avoid curdling.

While the mixture heats up, set up an ice bath in a large bowl.  Wait for the custard to thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon. When the custard is thickened, remove from heat and place into a shallow pan or bowl. Stir in the rest of the ingredients.

Place the bowl over the ice bath and whisk the custard to cool down. Allow ice cream base to fully cool down in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Place ice cream base into your ice cream maker and operate using the machine’s instructions.

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Cookie Sandwich Assembly
Pair the cookies according to likeness in size. Scoop the ice cream onto the bottom side of one cookie and top with the other. Place into the freezer for about an hour to finally set. Enjoy!

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Marta! Marta! Marta!

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And now a scene from one of my favorite movies:

(This scene in Clueless always makes me laugh. Cher is so ignorant clueless, she doesn’t realize that her maid, Lucy, is from El Salvador, not Mexico. And that they are, in fact, two different countries. Luckily, hunky Josh sets the record straight.)

I first learned how to make traditional El Salvadorian pupusas with a very fiesty 50-something-year-old woman named Marta. I worked with Marta at a restaurant a few years ago; she was our dishwasher who’d come into work every day with the reddest lipstick and a full face of makeup and her curly hair all styled perfectly. You wouldn’t think she came into work to wash dishes by the way she presented herself. She took pride in the way she looked, and always joked to me and the other cooks that she was a “hot mama.”

Marta didn’t speak a word of English, so we communicated with each other in Spanish. Marta called me “Selena” because I would often belt out a song by the Tejano singer when I’d bring dishes to the dishpit, and she would be there, smiling brightly as I sang the words to “Como La Flor” with such passion and conviction. (Marta was one of my biggest fans.)

I learned in our conversations that she owned a pupuseria in El Salvador. How fortunate was I to work with a real pupusa expert?! “Mira, Selena,” she’d say, as she brought me and the staff pupusas con chicharones (shredded pork) and share them with the staff. I wanted so desperately to pick her brain and learn how to make the pupusas myself. So after a while we began serving her pupusas once a month in the restaurant, and guess who made them with her? Yep, me. Working next to her as she formed and shaped the pupusa balls at lightning speed was so impressive. It was, at first, quite difficult catching up to her. (She had been making pupusas for 40+ years.) But I was determined to be well versed in pupusa-making. And after a while, I got pretty good at it! Here are the recipes I remember making with Marta.

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El Salvadorian Pupusas with Curtido and Salsa Roja
Yields 5 pupusas; 1 quart curtido; 1 pint salsa roja

INGREDIENTS
FOR THE CURTIDO
1/2 head of small green cabbage, julienned thin
2 each carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1/2 white onion, julienned thin
1/2 cup white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
1/4 cup fresh oregano, finely chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

FOR THE SALSA ROJA
1 each canned tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed
1 bunch fresh oregano, picked
1/2 white onion, roughly chopped
1 jalapeño, tops cut off and deseeded
1 each lime, juiced
Kosher salt, to taste
splash olive oil, to taste

FOR THE PUPUSAS
2 cups masa harina (corn flour, I used Maseca)
2 cups water
1 cup shredded habanero jack cheese
2 jalapeños, minced
oil for frying

METHOD
FOR THE CURTIDO (cabbage slaw)
Mix the shredded cabbage, onion, carrots in a large bowl. Sprinkle salt and add in the vinegar and herbs. Mix thoroughly with your hands. Set aside for at least 1 hour to allow the cabbage to break down.

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FOR THE SALSA ROJA
Place all ingredients into a blender or food processor till fully incorporated. Add salt to taste. Set aside.

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FOR THE PUPUSAS
In a large bowl and with your hands, mix the masa, salt and water till the dough is thoroughly mixed and feels like slightly wet clay or Play-Doh.

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Divvy up with dough and form into large balls. You should have about 5. In a small bowl add the minced jalapeños and shredded cheese. Add a splash of water to help bind the cheese-chile filling together.

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Fill a small bowl with lukewarm water. This water will help you when working with the pupusa dough, as it may harden and may become difficult to shape. Take one of the masa balls into your hand and flatten it onto your palm, creating a plate-like shape. Place a dollop of the cheese-chile mixture into the middle of the masa ball.

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Bring the outer sides of the masa to the other side to close the filling. Press down on the sides together to seal the seams. Shape the pupusa balls into a saucer-like shape. Dip your hands into the water bowl to add moisture to the dough if needed. Using some of the water also helps to close the seams and any cracks the dough may create.

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Fill a cast-iron skillet or shallow pan with about a half-inch of oil and turn the heat onto medium. When the skillet is hot and a little haze is over the oil, slowly add in the pupusas without overcrowding the pan.

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Allow the pupusas to cook for about 5 minutes per side. Using a heat-resistant spatula, place the fried pupusas onto a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat till all pupusas are cooked off. Serve with curtido and salsa.

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Seoul For Real

Who remembers this song?

I do! I do!

Soul for Real was a very talented R&B singing group that I listened to as a kid. And I admit to having mix tapes with “Candy Rain” that I still listen to today. Great record.

Anyway, my first introduction to Korean cuisine was less than great. My family and I were headed to the Philippines for vacation. (Keep in mind I was 13 years old at the time and my palette wasn’t as sophisticated as it is today.) We flew via Korean Air and had an 8-hour layover in Seoul. (Despite how long the layover was, the shopping at the airport, however, was very exciting!)

Our mid-flight meal consisted of a menu I honestly cannot remember in great detail. But the food that me, my brother and cousins ordered was what was labeled as, “Pancakes and Sausage.” Of course, to kids we were overwhelmed with excitement. “Pancakes?! YESSSSSSS!” <hands in the air> Little did we know, the airline’s interpretation was not what we had imagined. I remember the pancakes being super thin and pale, and the sausage being white in color. “White sausage?!!” Us kids complained. We didn’t know any better, of course. Remember, we were just kids. So we refused to eat it. Looking back now, I really do wish that I did at least try it.

So now that I’m older and wiser (haha) I’m lucky to have been exposed to several different cuisines and foods that I would have never tried before. Culinary school and my genuine curiosity is to thank. But my favorite current Korean-style meal right now is Beef Bulgogi (Korean bbq) and Hobak Jeon (savory zucchini pancakes). Check out the following links for these very delicious and worthwhile recipes!

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Tom Tom Club

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Feels like I’m dreaming but I’m not sleeping.

My mom introduced me to Thai cuisine at a young age. She and I frequented a local family-owned Thai restaurant almost monthly. We’d always order the Tom Yum Soup and Pad See-Ew dishes. Those were our favorites. We’d crave them all the time, discussing the delightful sourness of the soup and the tender bites of Chinese broccoli in the noodle dish. We became such regulars that the owners of the restaurant had already placed our orders by the time we sat down and got our drinks (I always had Thai Iced Tea with my meal).

My first obsession was Tom Yum soup, then came my meeting with Tom Kha Gai. In Thai, the dish literally translates to Spicy Galangal Chicken Soup (Tom = Spicy Soup, Kha = Galangal, Gai = Chicken). Thai cuisine reminds me so much of my mom, so I crave this food when I’m missing my family most. I’ve tried Tom Kha Gai soup in almost every Thai restaurant I’ve visited, but this recipe (with my own personal tweaks) is the closest to the authentic Thai flavors I grew up tasting.

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Tom Kha Gai
Thai Coconut Chicken Soup
Recipe slightly adapted from Bon Appetit
Yields 6 servings

INGREDIENTS
1 each galangal, peeled and cut into 3 2-inch pieces*
3 stalks lemongrass, tough outer layers removed and sliced into 1-inch pieces
10 each kaffir lime leaves*
6 each Thai bird chiles
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 13.5-oz. can coconut milk
8 ounces mushrooms, stemmed, cut into quarters
1 tablespoon fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup Thai basil leaves
Hot chile sauce (such as Sriracha), to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

*Cook’s note: Galangal is a rhizome related to ginger, although it has a tougher skin that’s lighter in color. It also has a distinct peppery flavor much different than ginger’s.
 Kaffir limes are native to the Southeast Asian countries and have astringent qualities. Their leaves carry a lovely and distinct aroma. Galangal and kaffir leaves may be difficult to find, depending on where you live. Check out your nearest Asian markets for these speciality items.

METHOD
In a large saucepan, bring the lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, Thai bird chiles and broth to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until flavors are well pronounced, about 30-45 minutes. Strain the broth into clean saucepan; discard the galangal, but keep half the amount of chiles and half of the lemongrass.

Add the chicken and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the mushrooms, skimming occasionally until the chicken is cooked through and mushrooms are softened, about 20–25 minutes.
Mix in the coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar and fresh herbs. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce.
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