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No-Fuss Tuna Tartare

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!

Say hello to the ultimate Thai comfort food – a simple fried omelette, Kai Jeow, served with Sriracha, the ‘real’ one ;).  A classic go-to  dish, so under-rated, so obscure (on the international Thai food scene), so simply delicious.

Kai Jeow

The widely beloved Kai Jeow is  the Thai equivalent to meatloaf and mash potatoes in terms of comfort food and to peanut butter and jelly sandwich as the go-to meal that everyone knows how to make.

The key to good Kai Jeow is a hot wok and a generous amount of oil.  No worries, just use decent-for-you oil such as canola.  The other key is a good condiment – real Sriracha sauce.  Yes, that’s right.  Real Sriracha sauce to me is the one called Sriracha Panich (arguably the original sauce from the seaside town of Sriracha in Chon Buri province).  It’s the one my father grew up with and still considers the ultimate chili sauce.

Best Chili Sauce Debate

Sriracha and Gold Label

An ongoing debate between my father and brother centers around which is the best brand of chili sauce, my father’s nostalgic favorite Sriracha Panich or my brother’s preferred Gold Label brand.  Gold Label is a solidly good chili sauce but not a dominant brand in Thailand.  In our hometown province, only one store carries this brand, and my brother would literally empty out the store of his favorite sauce every time he visits.  Needless to say, our childhood home is stocked with at least two brands of chili sauce to appease both my father and brother.

As for me, I side with my father’s chosen brand, for taste and for sentimental value.

Will the real Sriracha please stand up?

Two Srirachas

Sriracha sauce (pronounced “See-Rah-Cha”) is named after the Thai seaside town of Sriracha in Chon Buri province.  It was concocted as a dipping sauce, mostly for different kinds of meats.  The brand become widely popular and has taken on the meaning of chili sauce itself (think Kleenex and Xerox, and in the U.K., Hoover).  Nowadays, there are numerous competing brands of chili sauce, but Thais will still refer to them collectively as “Sriracha.”

Consistent with the original intent, Sriracha (and chili sauce in general) is still used almost exclusively as a dipping sauce for meats and, of course, Kai Jeow.  It is rarely ever used merely to add heat to a dish (a la noodles, stir-fry, etc).  Condiments for adding heat are typically bird chili in fish sauce (Prik Nam Pla), hot pepper in vinegar (Prik Nam Som), or crushed red peppers.

The American version of Sriracha (the omnipresent plastic bottle with the green top produced by Huy Fong) has taken on an all-purpose role of condiment and cooking sauce.  U.S. cooks and chefs  incorporate Sriracha in their recipes, a practice not common among Thai cooks – save the occasional use in some versions of fried rice.

*Note:  The original Sriracha Panich ศรีราชาพาณิชย์ (panich means commerce)  now markets the product under the name Sriraja Panich (with a “j”) since “Sriracha” was trademarked in the U.S. by Huy Fong.

But I digress.

Let’s talk about Kai Jeow.

There are many versions of Kai Jeow, from the plain Kai Jeow to one with scallions, with ground pork (kai jeow moo sub), “stuffed” (kai jeow yud sai) with a saute of ground pork, tomatoes and onions.  The possibilities are endless, and endlessly delicious.

My favorite is the plain Kai Jeow.  I also like my father’s version – adding a little chopped scallions to the wok a few seconds before the egg.

Kai Jeow is typically served with white jasmine rice.  In Northern Thailand, where I am from, sticky rice rules, so I happen to love my Kai Jeow with sticky rice, eating with my hands like a true Northerner.  (I always give my Bangkokian friends a hard time for using utensils to eat sticky rice.  Sacrilege, I say!)  There is something about the glutinous texture and slight sweetness of sticky rice that goes perfectly well with the savory golden crusted Kai Jeow.  Bliss.

Kai Jeow in the simplest form has only two ingredients – egg and fish sauce. Different cooks have their different variations.  I like to add a couple dashes of soy sauce to mine.

Here’s my version:

Ingredients

  • Egg, 1
  • Fish sauce, few dashes (say 1/2 teaspoon worth)
  • Soy sauce, fewer dashes than the fish sauce (maybe 1/4 tsp).  Golden Mountain Seasoning Sauce (a soy-based sauce) works great here.

Beat Egg

  1. Break the egg into a bowl.
  2. Add fish sauce and soy sauce.
  3. Heat up the wok and add enough oil to coat bottom of the wok.
  4. While waiting for the oil to heat up, beat the egg with a fork (this is how we do it in Thailand, but a whisk is cool too) until frothy – we want lots of air bubbles.
  5. When the oil is hot (test it by adding a tiny drop of egg – it should really sizzle), slowly pour in the egg.  It will sizzle and bubble away.  Spread it around so it cooks evenly.
  6. When one side is golden brown, flip it, and cook the other side till done.
  7. Serve with rice (either regular rice or sticky rice) and ‘real’ 😉 Sriracha.

An ode to the beloved Kai Jeow, by the equally beloved Thai band Chaliang.

Ginger Tea

It was a dark and stormy night…

Well not yet, despite my Charlie Brown opening.  However, weather.com says it’s coming, so I best be prepared.  There’s nothing like a soothing cup of hot tea to make for a cozy night in.  Tonight it shall be ginger tea.  

Ginger tea

I keep a stash of ginger in my freezer for a time like this.  I buy a few ginger roots at a time, break them up in manageable chunks, wrap them individually in plastic, and store in a ziploc bag.

When time calls for ginger tea, I take a chunk out, peel off the skin, and slice horizontally into thin-ish pieces.  I don’t really measure – it just depends on how strong you want your tea.  I like mine pretty strong, so I’d say three inches worth of ginger root.

I place the ginger pieces in a saucepan with a few cups of water, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Because I like my tea strong, I usually let it reduce to half, then I add sugar to taste. (Turbinado sugar works great with ginger tea.)

Just what the doctor ordered for a rainy night in. 😉

No-Name Noodles

No name noodlesOr perhaps this should be called “Whatever-I-had-in-the-Fridge Noodles.” Whatever the name, it was mmm..mmm good.

The story is that dinnertime came and I had no idea what to make and my supplies were running low.  I did have a few random ingredients leftover from other meals – some ground beef from making burgers, some jalapenos from making prik nam som, half a bell pepper from a recent stir-fry, some somen noodles (well, I always have a some kind of noodles lying around), etc.

I wanted a stir-fry over noodles, not noodle stir-fry.  I also wanted a soy-saucy flavor with a little kick.  So, the following recipe emerged.

The Ingredients (one portion)

  • Somen Noodles (totally substitutable!), a portion
  • Ground Beef, about a cup
  • 2 cloves Garlic, crushed
  • 1 Jalapeno, cut horizontally
  • 1/4 of an Onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 Red Bell Pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbs, Dark Sweet Soy Sauce (or substitute with regular soy sauce but start out using half Tbs instead, then taste and adjust.  Some soy sauces are saltier than others.  Also, add a bit more sugar since sweet soy sauce is, indeed, sweet.)
  • 1  1/2 tsp, Fish Sauce (Note: this is in teaspoons. A little fish sauce goes a long way!)
  • 1/2 tsp, Sugar
  • Scallions, thinly sliced – a little for garnish
  • Cilantro, chopped – a little for garnish
  • Chili garlic sauce (condiment)

The Noodles:

  1. If you are using somen (or another Japanese noodle), cook according to instructions, drain, and rinse.  This will prevent it from clumping.
  2. Place in a bowl to await the stir-fry.

The Stir-Fry:

  1. Heat the wok, add oil, wait till hot.
  2. Add garlic and jalapeno, stir-fry till fragrant (just not too long or garlic will burn!).
  3. Add onions and red bell peppers, stir-fry till tender.
  4. Add ground beef.
  5. Add sweet soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar.
  6. Stir-fry till done.  Spoon on to noodles and garnish with scallions and cilantro.  Top with a small dollop of chili garlic sauce.
  7. Enjoy!

Popsicle

I wanted to make Thai Iced Tea popsicles but at the last minute realized that I was out of Thai tea.  Well, the Thai coffee I had on hand made for really amazing popsicles.   ‘Twas meant to be.

This recipe was inspired by David Lebovitz’s blogpost on Vietnamese Coffee Popsicles.  

Since vendors in Thailand typically use both evaporated and sweetened condensed milk in Thai iced tea and Thai iced coffee, I incorporated both ingredients in the popsicles.

I like it when flavors are true to home. 🙂

First, make the coffee.  I used a French press since I find it easiest.


  • Thai Coffee, 2/3 cup
  • Hot water, 2 cups

If you use a French press, it will yield 1 1/2 cups of coffee.

Add:

  • Evaporated milk, 1/3 cup
  • Sweet condensed milk, 1/3 cup

Mix together, taste, and adjust the flavors to your liking.  Pour into mold and freeze.

I had some coffee left over after filling the molds, so I just poured it into a glass filled with ice for an instant gratification treat.  Hello summertime!

Thai Coffee

Exploding Egg was the name of the dish.

I ordered it out of curiosity, but it was really the classic Thai fan-fave Pad Krapao (Basil Stir-Fry) topped with, or served over, a crispy fried egg with a slightly runny yolk.  Yum.

Krapao

During college, our group of friends’ go-to lunch spot was an area near our university called Sam Yan, in Bangkok.  Sam Yan back then was a massive food court with seemingly endless food choices from vendors serving up seriously good eats.

Food court with good eats (?), one might ask in true wonder?  Actually, food courts in Thailand are generally a good thing, and it is where you can find great eats for cheap.  Food courts are an extension of street food basically — “organized street food,” if you will.

Our favorite vendor was the one nearest the front entrance, and not for convenience – we would also make a ceremonial lap around the court to check out other food stalls.  This vendor was just our favorite.  It was simply the best and the one that served Exploding Egg, their version of Pad Krapao.  Instead of serving the crispy fried egg on top of the Krapao (the traditional way), they served the Krapao on top of the egg, making it look like the Krapao “exploded” out of the crispy egg.  Hence the clever name.

This isn’t their recipe per se but it is a Krapao recipe I learned from my aunt, who, I must say, is one of my favorite cooks!  It’s super easy to make.  For purposes of picture-taking, I present the egg on top.  Prettier. 🙂

Krapao ingredients

Ingredients (1 serving)

  • Ground meat (pork is most traditional and will result in a juicier krapao but you can also use chicken or turkey), about a cup
  • Thinly sliced onions, 1/2 of a small onion
  • Garlic, 2 cloves chopped
  • Bird Chilies ** These chilies are spicy.  If you enjoy the heat, use a few,  if not, either omit or use just one…or even half.  Pound them like you would a garlic clove.  (I used five for my portion.  Yes, I’m crazy like that.)
  • Red Bell Pepper, 1/4 of a whole pepper thinly sliced (I like the pepper because it adds color, but bell peppers are not used in traditional Krapao.)
  • Thai Basil (also called Holy Basil – you can substitute with regular basil, also called Sweet Basil), about 10 leaves
  • Fish sauce, 1 to 2 tsp
  • Sugar, 1/2  to 3/4 tsp
  • Vegetable oil, just a little
  1. Set wok to high heat, add oil, wait till hot.
  2. Add garlic and bird chillies.  Stir fry till fragrant.  Be careful not to burn the garlic.
  3. Add the onions.  When the onions start to smell like onions, add the ground pork.  Stir fry until the pork is almost done.
  4. Add red bell peppers – we want this to be tender.
  5. Add fish sauce and sugar.
  6. Add Thai basil leaves.
  7. When done, taste, and adjust seasoning.

Crispy Fried Egg (Kai Dao)

A good Kai Dao has a crispy egg white and a creamy yolk.

While it’s cooking (pic below), it should bubble happily away in the wok.

Kai Dao

Simply heat up a generous amount of oil in your wok. The oil needs to be hot enough that when you add the egg, it really sizzles.   The egg whites should also puff up and blister – a good thing. You want to help it along by spooning the hot oil over the top of the egg. When the whites are nice and crispy and the yolk is still a little runny, drain it on the side of the wok and let the excess oil run off.

Now you have the perfect topping for your Krapao.

Serve Krapao Kai Dao over Jasmine rice with a side of Prik Nam Pla as a condiment.  Yum.

Pad See U

Meet Pad Thai’s more popular cousin.

Pad See U

Well, more popular in Thailand, that is.

As far as stir-fry street noodles go, one could argue that Pad See U is the noodle of choice for Thailand’s lunch crowd.  (Pad Thai seems to be more of a U.S. phenomenon — a delicious one nonetheless — but that’s a post for another day.)

Today, let’s talk about Pad See U.

Pad See U literally means “soy sauce stir fry.”  A Pad See U done well is savory, slightly sweet, and with a hint of wok fragrance, or “glin kata.”  Wok fragrance? Well, it is simply caramelization of food when it comes in contact with a very hot and well-seasoned (i.e. food won’t stick) wok, resulting in a slight char.

Generally, a workhorse wok, one that has been lovingly put to use for a long time, will give out more fragrance.   To be honest, it helps to have a commercial grade, high BTU wok stove, and a well-used (think black surface) wok.  However, home cooks can still achieve good wok fragrance to a certain degree, with some practice.

One of my aunts showed me how to make Pad See U a few years ago.  She also wrote down a recipe, but only as a guideline, as hard-set recipes are a rarity in Thai cooking.  If you observe a Thai cook or stir-fry street vendor, you’ll seldom, if ever, see a proper measuring device being used.  You’ll generally see the cook adding in a few shakes of this sauce and that (bottles of fish sauce, various types of soy sauce, oyster sauce, i.e. those essential to a Thai kitchen, are always at hand), the more experienced cooks virtually on auto-pilot while the less experienced may taste and adjust more frequently until the flavors come together.

When making Pad See U, I encourage you to taste and season along the way. Also, I like to make one portion at a time.  The more contact the ingredients have with the wok surface, the better the dish will taste.  Cooking one portion at a time will also provide you with good practice.  If the first one doesn’t turn out the way you expect, no worries, just make another one.  You’ll get better each time, and you’ll develop your own techniques.

Flat Noodles

Pad See U

Ingredients (for 1 portion)

  • Fresh flat rice noodles,  around 1 1/4 cups or approx 200g (The key to good Pad See U is to use fresh noodles, found at Asian marts.  These noodles are made fresh and delivered to the marts every morning.  It comes pre-cooked and oiled to prevent sticking.)
  • Meat, about 1/2 cup (chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, tofu – use pressed tofu so it doesn’t disintegrate during stir-frying.)
  • Egg, 1
  • Garlic , 1 clove chopped
  • Chinese Broccoli, 2-3 stalks
  • Thin soy sauce, 1 tsp
  • Seasoning sauce, 2 tsp (I use Golden Mountain seasoning sauce – a popular brand in Thailand.  This is essentially a soy-based sauce, so you can substitute with another rich flavored soy sauce such as mushroom soy sauce.)
  • Black soy sauce, 2 tsp
  • Sugar, 1-2 tsp (depending how sweet you like it)
  • White ground pepper
  • Vegetable oil
  1. Thinly slice your meat of choice (except for shrimp*)  Put a few dashes of the soy-based seasoning sauce (say, 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp) to briefly marinate.
  2. Cut the flat noodles into 1″ to 1.5″ wide.  Separate the noodles and mix in 2 tsp of black soy sauce.
  3. Rinse the Chinese broccoli and remove the tough stems, much like you would regular broccoli stems.  Cut the stems at an angle – very thin.  Cut the leaves into big pieces.  Separate the leaves from the stems (they have different cooking times).
  4. Set your wok on high heat, let it heat up before adding a little oil.
  5. Add garlic, a few stirs, then add the meat and stir some more.  The meat should cook up fairly quickly.  Push it up the side of the wok to make room for the next ingredient.
  6. Add a tad bit more oil, wait till it heats up, and add the noodles.  Don’t stir the noodles right away.  Wait a few seconds (we want it to lightly char), then start stir frying.  Stir some more, bringing the meat back in.
  7. Push everything up the side of the wok.  Add the stems of Chinese broccoli to the middle of the wok to cook.  About 30 seconds later, add the leaves.
  8. Make room in the middle of the wok, add a bit of oil, wait till it heats up, and add an egg.  Scramble until firm and stir everything back in together.
  9. Add in the soy sauce, seasoning sauce, and sugar.  Add a little dash of ground white pepper.
  10. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.

* If you use shrimp, add it later in the process, before the egg.

** Note that the wok is designed so that the sides are cool enough to rest already-cooked ingredients while allowing new ingredients to have its turn to cook in the middle.  If you wish, you can scramble the egg first and take it out of the wok to add back in later.  You can do the same for the Chinese broccoli, stir frying it first, taking it out, and adding it back in later, or you can choose to blanch it in boiling water.

A personal note on eating Pad See U:

The joy of Pad See U, for me, is utilizing the condiments.  Traditional condiments include:

  • Fish sauce
  • Sugar
  • Crushed red peppers
  • Vinegar and pepper (“Prik Nam Som” – details in this post.)

I start out eating Pad See U without adding any condiments.  About a third of the way through, I start adding in condiments a little at a time, mixing and matching as I go, making it sweeter, saltier, spicier, and more sour.  My last few bites are quite different from my first few, always delicious, and quite enjoyable.