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Archive for June, 2009

Your talents reached halfway across the globe to the youths of Thailand.

When this music video was first released, my brother and I watched via satellite from our hometown in Thailand.   We giggled at the Thai dance sequence; it was King and I-esque but not bad, really.

Carabao, a Thai band known for writing politically charged lyrics wrote “Thaplang” in the late 1980s, during Thailand’s dispute with the U.S. over a stolen ancient lintel.   The late 1980s was, of course, also the height of Michael Jackson’s career, and he was hugely popular in Thailand.  The chorus of Thaplang translates as follows:

“Take back Michael Jackson.  Give us back our Phra Narai.”

A little background on how this song came about:

Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, an ancient stone temple built during the Khmer Empire, is located in modern day Thailand in the northeastern province of Burirum.  The Pra Narai lintel was stolen from the temple and reappeared at a museum in Chicago.  In the late 1980s, Thailand launched a huge campaign to have the relic returned, and Carabao did their part by writing this song.  The campaign proved successful and Pra Narai is now back in its rightful home at Phanom Rung.

King of Pop, may you rest in peace.  Thank you for working to make this world a better place.  

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lemongrass tea

My friend Rui from Brazil introduced me to lemongrass tea a few years ago. We were in the kitchen prepping lemongrass to make Tom Yum and Tom Ka soup. Lemongrass is so cheap in Thailand that cooks typically discard the top bits and use only the bottom, more fragrant, part of the stalk.  My friend nearly passed out when he saw me  throwing away the top part.  He told me that those mild top stems are great for steeping tea.

Nowadays when I buy lemongrass, I clean the stalks and separate the top stems for making tea, and the bottom part for cooking.  And I freeze them for later use.

My favorite way of making lemongrass tea is to add a bit of fresh lemon peel.

A good rule of thumb is to use 3-4 inches of lemongrass per each cup of water.  I usually start out with 4 cups of water, with the corresponding amount of lemongrass.  Bring the lemongrass and water to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add some lemon peel (I use about 1/2 a lemon or so).  Allow it to steep on low heat until the flavors marry and concentrate to how you like it.

I prefer lemongrass tea on the gentler side (as opposed to ginger tea where I like it super strong).

When the tea is steeped to your liking, just add a little Turbinado sugar to sweeten at the end.

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Lettuce wrap

This was meant to be a rice porridge dish but it quickly morphed into a lettuce wrap. (I was too hungry to wait for the rice.)  Yummy it was (hello Yoda) – and I didn’t miss the rice!

I was in the process of making one of my favorite breakfast dishes, rice porridge on a bed of lettuce with ground meat garlic stir-fry topping.   The stir-fry was a cinch, as stir-fries often are.  The rice porridge, on the other hand, was easy to make (just boil and then simmer rice with tons of water) but took forever to cook to the right consistency.

So, when the stir-fry was done and the lettuce was all washed and ready, I decided to start snacking.  I remember the little lettuce wrap appetizers from Chinese restaurants and decided to make a little wrap to tie myself over until the rice was done.  Lo and behold, one wrap turned into two turned into an entire meal.  By the time I was happily full, the rice was still not done!

I don’t know how the Chinese restaurants make them, but here is the version that transpired from today’s porridge-intended dish.  Since I hadn’t planned on blogging about this, I didn’t measure the ingredients but it is so easy – you just need to taste and adjust as you cook.  The results are super tasty.

Ingredients:

  • ground turkey (or pork, or chicken)
  • garlic, chopped (a generous amount)
  • oyster sauce
  • fish sauce
  • dark sweet soy sauce (you can substitute with regular soy sauce and add a little more sugar to the dish)
  • sugar
  • ground white pepper (or substitute with regular black pepper)
  • lettuce
  • scallions, thinly sliced
  • chili garlic sauce, as a condiment
  1. Heat wok and add oil.
  2. Stir fry garlic till fragrant.
  3. Add ground meat and stir fry until nearly done.
  4. Add a few dashes each of the oyster sauce, fish sauce, and dark sweet soy sauce.  Add a little sugar and ground pepper.  Stir fry till meat is done.
  5. Taste and adjust seasonings.  Add a little water to make a sauce out of the yummy tidbits stuck to the bottom of the wok.  Stir one last time and you’re done.
  6. Make your lettuce wraps and top with a little scallion and chili garlic sauce.
  7. Enjoy!

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Prik Nam Pla

In my recent post on Sriracha, I mentioned a popular condiment called Prik Nam Pla.  The direct translation is chili (“prik”) fish sauce (“nam pla”).

Prepared simply by cutting up bird chilies, adding some fish sauce and a squeeze of lime, Prik Nam Pla is a condiment for rice-based dishes such as fried rice or just white rice with sides. “Sides” in this case is a reference to all stir-fry dishes, soups, curries, etc. that are to be eaten alongside rice. We call these sides “Gub Kao” which literally means “with rice.”  Noodle dishes tend to have their own separate set of condiments (a topic for another post ;)).

Since I grew up observing my mother prepare fresh Prik Nam Pla to accompany our “Gub Kao” each dinnertime, I would highly recommend that you make it fresh as needed (as opposed to making a batch for storage).  It is easy to do so, and it tastes much better that way!

A note on bird chilies:

bird chiliBird Chili (or “Bird’s Eye Chili“) is called “Prik Kee Noo” in Thai.  Prik means chili and Kee Noo means…ready for this?… “mouse droppings.”  I know.  Such an unfortunate name for a poor little chili, but it makes sense, really.  Bird chilies are so tiny that the name is clearly a reference to its size.

Don’t let its size fool you, however.  Bird chilies are one of the hottest chilies, ranking 50,000 – 100,000 in the Scoville heat scale, a notch below the habanero, and much more innocuous looking, size-wise.

You can buy bird chilies in Asian grocery stores.  I pack them in plastic wrap and freeze them in zip-lock bags for later use.

You can substitute bird chilies with other high-heat chilies.  Serranos (quite a bit milder though) would be a decent substitute, and to a lesser extent, habaneros and Scotch bonnets (both much spicier so be careful!). Jalapenos would be an ‘ok’ substitute but I find that it adds too much of a green pepper flavor and not enough heat.

Let’s conclude this post with a heat remedy.  Let’s face it – the sheer satisfaction and endorphin high from eating spicy foods can sometimes be followed by an excruciating burning of the tongue.  Dairy can help cool you down.  However, I find the best and quickest relief comes from, literally, a spoonful of sugar. Works every time.

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Tuna TartarI’ve come to think about recipes lately.  It’s a funny thing.  I enjoy cookbooks.  I love gawking at pictures of food and reading recipes.  But I don’t always cook with recipes – more specifically, I’m just too lazy to measure stuff :).  Baking is another matter, however.  I don’t mind following such recipes as much.  As for cooking, I prefer freestyle – especially when it comes to Asian cooking.

Well, we had a beautiful warm spring afternoon today so I wanted to make  a light lunch appropriate for such weather.  So tuna tartare it was.  The best tuna tartare I’ve ever had was at Aqua in San Francisco, years ago when I was a West Coaster.  I remember the delicate flavors in the gorgeously presented tartare topped with a raw egg yolk.  The restaurant website posted a tartare recipe, but I was there such a long time ago that I’m not sure if this is the same recipe used back then.  In any case, I was inspired to create my own tuna tartare.

The following are the ingredients that I used to make my tartare, sans egg.  I didn’t measure anything so there’s no recipe.  I just tasted and adjusted the seasonings until the flavors were well-balanced.  More fun that way.

Ingredients

  • Sushi-grade tuna
  • Soy sauce
  • Wasabi
  • Ginger, grated
  • Lemon (use both the zest and juice)
  • Sesame seeds (I used black sesame seeds), toasted – it brings out the flavors
  • Sesame oil
  • Scallions, thinly sliced

Cut the tuna into small cubes (a super sharp knife helps).  In a separate bowl, mix together soy sauce, a bit of wasabi and ginger, some lemon juice and zest, and a small dash of sesame oil (sesame oil can overwhelm a dish if we use too much!).  Taste and adjust the flavors to how you like it.  I like to taste by dipping a cube of tuna in the dressing.  When you are happy with the flavors, pour a bit into the tuna and mix – taste, and add more dressing if needed.  Stir in toasted sesame seeds and scallions.

Enjoy!

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