It’s Thai dinner night again and I love it. The rest of the family, especially the kiddos, not so much. No matter, I’m craving a rich spicy coconut based curry with tons of flavor and that’s what I made. A refreshing crunchy tart Thai salad is always a must to balance the meal.
Making the curry paste using a pestle and mortar is cool, almost therapeutic but also time consuming. This was a weekday meal at our household though. So, as I frequently do, I reached out for my blender and used that to make a smooth green curry paste. I used a recipe in David Thompson’s Thai Food as a base and made this one with cilantro, stems and leaves, galangal, chilies, lemongrass, fresh turmeric, ginger along with a few spices.
I heated up some coconut cream (I’ve been using Arroy-D brand recently) and used that to cook the paste for a few minutes. I added coconut milk and tossed in chicken thigh pieces and cubed tofu. Thai apple eggplant are cool looking fruit. They are about the size of a golf ball and have a wild green striped color. They are also, as far as I know, the only eggplant that is good to eat raw or under-cooked. They have a nice crunchy texture and mild taste with no bitterness. I added the quartered eggplants in the last 10 minutes or so of cooking to get them heated and slightly cooked. Lastly I put in a bunch of Thai basil and finished seasoning the delicious stew with fish sauce and lime juice.
I made the Thai-style cabbage salad in the granite mortar by pounding some garlic with salt, peanuts, lime and fish sauce. I added the cabbage and bruised the whole thing together. Lastly went in the cucumbers pieces and using a spoon and the pestle everything came together with some fish sauce, lime and cilantro.
I was picking up some ingredients for another dinner of Ramen the other day and stumbled on these awesome looking King Trumpet mushrooms. They looked fresh and plump, so I picked a few clusters up. The first thing that came to mind is to treat them as if they were the more prestigious Porcini or Matsutake mushrooms. When cooked like this these trumpets so resemble the texture of scallops and have an earthy mild flavor. I sliced each mushroom in half and slashed it in a corss-hatch pattern. These were then marinated in Ponzu sauce while I prepared the rest of the dish. Right before serving, I pan fried them in garlic flavored oil and re-seasoned with Ponzu.
The miso sauce was pretty simple. It consisted of soy milk, dashi (prepared following Cooking Issues method: 10g/L Kombu/water, circulated for 1 hr at 65C) white miso, pickled ginger and was set with a little Gellan F to give a good texture. It was very tasty and I could see a soup made from those ingredients and maybe garnished with mushrooms. I had seen in the Alinea cookbook a technique that makes a “sheet sauce”. Basically a sauce is gelled with gelatin or gellan and frozen. It is then cut into rectangles (or any other shape as appropriate) and then it is placed on top of the food at service. The sauce then comes to room temperature and coats the food item in an even layer. The effect is both functional (an even layer of sauce) and aesthetically beautiful. Here is a post of this technique by one of the chefs at Alinea on the Alinea-Mosaic site. You can also see a couple of examples on Alineaphile’s blog here and here. I wanted to give this technique a shot with this dish, but did not want to risk it completely not working. So I divided the sauce up into two. One got the freezing on acetate treatment and the other sat in a bowl in the fridge. I’m glad I did that. The sheet sauce kind of worked but it is not nearly as successful as I had hoped. I think it needed to be thicker to work better.
For the tofu, I made my own bean curd and cut it into cubes. I seasoned them with chinese 10-spice powder and breaded them (egg wash, flour, crumbs) with Panko bread crumbs before frying them till nice and crispy. I wanted to add some color to the dish and that’s where the orange sweet potato balls came in. I cooked them Sous Vide with a few tablespoons of pickled ginger juice. They tasted fantastic and looked really nice on the plate.
The rice is regular sushi rice seasoned with rice wine vinegar and sugar. Cooking it in more dashi as opposed to water gave it a deep and rich flavor. To make it into a cylinder I extruded it through an oiled cannoli mold. The garnishes were soy bean sprouts (much more falvorful, substantial and have a better texture than mung bean sprouts I think) that were seasoned with rice wine vinegar and a touch of salt. The purple leaves are some sort of basil I think. They have a good sharp mint/basil flavor. I picked them up at the Asian grocery store as well and they had no label, but worked well in the dish and added a good color.
Here are a couple of shots of the dish plated with the “sheet sauce”. Notice how it kind of breaks a bit as opposed to staying intact and enveloping everything. I think a touch more gelling agent and making the sheet a bit thicker will help a lot. Overall this dish was fantastic, a really refined, delicious and wonderful looking vegetarian main course.
Monday, March 25, 2009
I tried making tofu a few months back and it was a total failure. I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from his vegetarian cookbook. He offers several options to curdle the soy milk and produce tofu including vinegar. I chose to use Epsom salt. It is used in a very small quantity and leaves no taste. Well, the soy milk was heated and the Epsom salt was added and…nothing. Not even a single curd! I was pissed and though maybe the recipe was just this bad, then it occurred to me to review the ingredient list of my “all natural”, Organic, “Plain” flavored soy milk. Well, it included stuff like stabilizers, sugar and preservatives. Stabilizers! I did not need the dam thing stabilized and I sure did not want it to be sweet. I needed it curdled.
Fast forward to this week. I picked up a gallon of real soy milk from a local Asian grocery store. Ingredients: Soybeans, water. This one worked great and in no time produced more than a pound of fresh tofu. I had no proper mold (aka an old cube shaped Tupperware with holes in it) ready, so I just used a regular strainer with cheese cloth. Then I weighed the tofu in the strainer with a round Tupperware top and some heavy cans.
The resulting dome of tufu was stored in a pot of cold water in the fridge. What did I do with it? The tofu was what I would call semi-firm and delicious, a bit nutty with a smooth texture. I made a small simple salad with some of it to taste the fresh flavor (cilantro, sesame oil and soy).
For dinner I braised some with a mixture of soy, caramel sauce, ginger, garlic, herbs and Thai eggplant. I served it with soba noodles sautéed with cabbage. Very good stuff.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Here’s another very easy last minute tofu dish. I had a couple of yellow bell peppers on hand a nice block of soft tofu. I sautéed the peppers with onions, ginger garlic, a good dose of chilli oil, homemade pickled ginger and soy sauce. This makes for an awesome base for almost any meat or fish or in this case a good flavorful dressing for a block of tofu.
To serve it, I sliced the tofu and transferred it to a plat then “artfully” arranged the yellow pepper sauce on top. Some cilantro leaves and Chinese black vinegar finished the dish.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Thai curry paste preparation is typically a bit complex. The number of items that go into the past can be huge, anything from dried shrimp to Kefir lime leaves to coriander roots. This one is a fairly simple one I improvised to make a quick weekday dinner. To make it faster I also used a mini-processor instead of my usual granite mortar and pestle. The result was very good for a tasty Thai-style green curry that took less than an hour from start to finish.
The past included garlic, galangal, turmeric (fresh NOT dried…well actually frozen and it looks like a miniature knob of ginger), shallots, lemongrass from my garden, Kefir lime leaves also from my own tree and cilantro. I pulverized the ingredients as well as I could in a small processor than sautéed them in coconut cream. Good Thai coconut cream separates in the can. So, you end up with a top layer of thick coconut cream, almost like sour cream in texture, and a more liquid part that is the coconut milk. Roughly about 30% of each can is cream. After the paste is cooked for a while and a bit dried, I added palm sugar, tamarind pulp, fish sauce and the coconut milk left in the can. I le this simmer VERY gently (or it will curdle) and then added my cubed soft tofu. I finished the curry with cilantro leaves and some shredded Kefir lime leaves.
I intentionally made the curry on the soupy side. The idea is sort of like a curry noodle soup of sorts! Heresy maybe, but the taste was exceptional. That blob of brown in the opening picture, by the way, is a Thai Chilli jam . I bring that up because it looks odd but it is so delicious. This mixture of chillies, dried shrimp, galangal and shallots among many other things is one of the best recipes I culled from David Thompson’s amazing tome, Thai Food.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Ma Po Tofu is a very common item you see on most Chinese menus. This classic from the Szechuan cuisine of China is usually made with minced pork and some meat stock in addition to the tofu. It is flavored with chillies, zippy and numbing Szechuan peppercorns and hot bean paste (made with fava beans and chillies and sold in jars). For a vegetarian version, I eliminated the pork and used vegetable stock.
The base recipe I used is from Fuschia Dunlop’s ‘Land of Plenty‘, a book about the cooking of the Szechuan province. To give it some body and more flavor I fried diced eggplant and used it instead of the pork. I garnished it with fried ginger threads and some more chilli paste. It worked wonderfully and the end dish was as addictive as the non-vegetarian original.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Tofu is good when cooked right. I just never attempt to substitute it for a meat preparation. Crap like tofu dogs or tofu chili sound ridiculous and do not treat this product with the respect it deserves. I usually buy the soft tofu for almost any preparation. I love its smooth silky texture and custard like consistency.
This time they were out of soft tofu, so I picked up some medium tofu (www.banyanfoods.com brand from Houston of course). First I marinated it with some Chinese 10 spice powder, soy sauce, garlic and ginger. I let it sit for some time to absorb the flavors of the marinade. Before adding it to the stir fry I fried it till lightly golden and crispy on the outside. You can always improve tofu by frying it first, but you do not need to.
The stir fry consisted of garlic, ginger and green onions as a base. To that I added some brown mushrooms, and cooked asparagus. I made the braising sauce from soy, hoisin, water and a little corn starch. I added the fried tofu during the last 2 minutes of cooking. I served it with steamed rice and some home pickled ginger.
One more note about home pickled ginger. This stuff rocks and if you have a V-Slicer or Mandolin (or if you have some time on your hands to thinly slice ginger) is amazingly easy and beats those sorry pink specimens you see at the sushi bar by a mile. This recipe is from Barbara Tropp’s ‘The China Moon Cookbook‘. Other than the ginger, all you would need is sugar, salt and vinegar. It lasts for a long time in the fridge and I always have a jar in there to add some zing to Asian dishes on the spot.