japchae

Korean Stir-Fried Glass Noodles (Japchae)

I heart noodles.

Ramen.

Chow mein.

Pancit.

And especially my mom’s mie goreng (Indonesian fried noodles).

But today, I’d like to give a shout-out to a lesser known noodle dish—japchae.

A classic Korean dish, you’ll find japchae on the menu at just about any Korean restaurant in the U.S. If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a party at a Korean friend’s house, japchae will probably show up on your plate together with kalbi and kimchi.

Like many other Asian noodle dishes, japchae is a stir-fried mix of noodles, vegetables and meat. It happens to use an unusual type of noodle made from sweet potato starch, which seems to be unique to Korean cuisine (I’m happy to be proven wrong–anyone?).

Koreans have already shown their ingenuity by mixing rice with other grains to make supplies go further—et voilà, jabgok-bap (mixed grain rice), So perhaps they invented sweet potato starch noodles when wheat was unavailable.

Clear and chewy, sweet potato noodles are a fabulous blank canvas for soaking up the sweet and savory flavors of soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. These pale gray strands are also the reason why japchae is commonly known as glass noodles.

Plus, japchae has mass appeal: it’s popular for feeding a crowd because it’s easy to make in bulk and is tasty both warm or at room temperature—perfect for a buffet or a picnic.

Noodles–signifying long life–are a must during birthdays and the new year. Since Lunar New Year is next week (February 15, 2015), you might want to try slipping japchae into your celebration menu!

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Stir-Fried Glass Noodles (Japchae)

japchae

Japchae is often a co-mingling of noodles and an assortment of vegetables and meat. My recipe uses only vegetables but feel free to add your choice of protein. I’ve sliced up leftover sirloin steak and and barbecued pork (about 1 cup) and tossed them in with the noodles. Sweet potato noodles are sold at Asian markets. If you can’t find them, substitute the fattest mung bean/cellophane noodles available and follow the package directions to cook.

Time: 30 minutes plus soaking
Makes: 6 to 8 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

1 pound dried Korean sweet potato noodles
Hot water
8 ounces spinach, trimmed (4 to 5 cups)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more as needed
6 medium dried black mushrooms, rehydrated and cut into thin slices (3/4 cup)
1 small yellow onion, halved and cut into thin crescents
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks (1-1/4 cups)
3 green onions, white and green parts, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄3 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

  1. Place the noodles in a heatproof bowl and soak in hot water for 15 minutes.
  2. With kitchen shears, cut into 3- to 4-inch pieces. You just want the noodles to be manageable so don’t worry about getting exact lengths. Drain and set aside.
  3. Place the spinach in a heatproof bowl and soak in very hot water for 1 to 2 minutes until wilted but not fully cooked. Rinse under cold running water and drain. Gently squeeze the water from the spinach and cut into 3 sections.
  4. Preheat a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Swirl in the oil and heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add the mushrooms, onion, carrots, green onions, and garlic and stir and cook until the carrots are crisp tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and toss in the noodles (here’s where you add precooked meat if you’d like).
  5. Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, and sesame oil. Stir everything swiftly around the wok for 3 to 4 minutes, coating the noodles evenly with the seasonings. Add more oil if the noodles stick to the bottom of the wok. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired.
  6. Mix in the spinach and sesame seeds at the very end and toss with a couple more flourishes. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature.

Note:  Japchae keeps well and can stay fresh for up to a week in the refrigerator. To reheat, cook in a skillet and add sesame oil until the noodles are supple and heated through.

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This post is for #LetsLunch, a monthly virtual potluck on Twitter.  The theme this month is noodles, hosted by Betty Ann at Asian in America. Please keep coming back for more #Let’sLunch noodle dishes (perfect for Lunar New Year!):

Annabelle‘s Emergency Anti-Hibernal Salad at Glass of Fancy

Betty-Ann‘s Chicken Noodle Soup with Roast Barbecue at Asian in America

Cheryl’s Gingery Chicken and Bokchoy Noodle Soup at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Demetra‘s Southern Style Ramen with Bacon at Sweet Savant

Eleanor‘s Marinara Chicken in a Wok — With Pasta at Wok Star

Juliana‘s Grilled Tofu Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad at J. Loh

Linda‘s Taiwanese Hot Pot at Spicebox Travels

Lisa‘s Lokshen Kugel at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Naomi‘s Biang Biang Noodles at The Gastrognome

Tammi‘s Thai Glass Noodle Salad at Insatiable Munchies

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Celebrating Lao New Year with Green Papaya Salad

We all know about Lunar New Year, celebrated most notably by Chinese and Vietnamese in January or February every year. However, under-the-radar new year festivities take place at the start of spring.

A banner welcoming everyone to celebrate Lao New Year at Lao Wat Buddhist temple of North Philadelphia.

Lao New Year is celebrated as a three-day-long festival from April 13-15 (it can vary and may occur April 14-16 according to some calendars). The 13th is the last day of the old year, the 14th is the “day of no day”, and the 15th marks the start of the new year. Catzie Vilayphonh, creative director of LaosintheHouse.com (a collaborative arts project that brings together the collective stories of Lao-Americans) puts it simply, “On the first day, we clean everything, on the second we don’t do anything and on the third, we celebrate!”

I asked Catzie to give me some insight into her new year experience, especially the foods eaten.

Unlike the Chinese, Laotians don’t celebrate with a lavish reunion dinner at home. Instead, families head to the closest Lao Buddhist temple (called a wat) to pray and seek blessings, to take part in cultural activities, and of course, to eat lots of good food. Here, they also follow an important tradition: splashing water on each other. “It’s a cleansing ritual signifying starting anew,” explains Catzie.

Catzie points out that because of schedules, and perhaps competing wats, Lao New Year is celebrated almost every weekend in April.

Girls dressed in traditional Laotian costumes line the parade during new year festivities

There aren’t any symbolic foods or traditions that usher in wealth and good luck, nor are there sound-alike ingredients for gold and long life. A practical people, Laotians eat everyday foods to ring in the new year. “There’s no one thing that we must eat,” says Catzie. “We’ll just eat everything that we like.”

As a teenager, Catzie, who was born in a Thai refugee camp and raised in Philadelphia, went along to the temple for one reason—the street food vendors who thronged the temple grounds.

Street vendors busy shredding papaya to make salad for the masses who visit the temple during Lao New Year

She describes some of her favorites:

  • Mieng kaham is an aromatic street snack. Sticky rice is dried, fried and smashed in a mortar with a pestle and pork broth is added to it until it becomes a sticky mush. You put the mush in lettuce and wrap it with lemongrass, toasted coconut, peanuts, dry roasted pepper and tomatoes.”
  • “There’s always barbecued meat on sticks—beef chunks on skewers, chicken wings, and lemongrass sausage (som sai gok) made with ground pork that’s allowed to sit for a day to ferment.”
Lemongrass sausage being boiled in a huge pot before being skewered and grilled
  • And probably the most well known Lao/Thai dish:“Lao papaya salad is made with just papaya (Thai papaya salad, som tam, has plenty of extras) and garnished with pork rind for extra flavor and texture. It’s served with cabbage which is used like a spoon to pick up the salad. It’s extra sour and extra spicy, not like Thai papaya salad!”
A special tool makes easy work of shredding green papaya

For those of us who are accustomed to gathering at mom and dad’s for Thanksgiving or Lunar New Year dinner, it might seem odd not to celebrate this important cultural celebration with a large family meal.

But eating together as a family is just as special any time of the year, not just during the holidays.

Catzie recalls annual visits to a cattle ranch as a little girl with her extended family—uncles, aunts and cousin–to pick a cow. The cow was slaughtered and butchered onsite and everyone brought home a share of the animal.

“That first meal was the best part. We had to eat certain parts (of the cow) right away and we had a big family meal (usually raw laab),” she reminisces. “Everyone took turns working and we all had a part to play.”

“Sitting down with the family all together and sharing the meal. That’s truly, authentically Lao.”

Photo credits: Fawn Grant
Pictures taken at Lao Wat Buddhist temple of North Philadelphia, 2012

~~~

Sheng’s Papaya Salad

Recipe excerpted from Cooking from the Heart–The Hmong Kitchen in America (University of Minnesota Press, 2009)

Photo credit: Robin Lietz.
Photo credit: Robin Lietz

The country of Laos comprises three main ethnic groups—Lao (60 percent), Khmou (11 percent) and Hmong (6 percent). Papaya salad is a dish that’s prepared by all but this particular version comes from Sheng Yang who is Hmong. In Lao, it’s called thum bak hoong, and in Hmong, see taub ntoos qaub. This papaya salad is probably rather different from what you’ve had at a Thai restaurant—it’s earthier and more complex than its Thai counterpart thanks to fermented shrimp and crab pastes; it also lacks the usual accoutrements like crushed peanuts, garlic, snake beans, etc. Leave out the funky pastes if you prefer, and by all means add peanuts if you’d like.

Makes: 6 servings

4 cups shredded green papaya or 4 medium sized carrots
2 to 4 garlic cloves (depending on your taste)
1 to 3 Thai chili peppers (depending on desired heat)
1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce
½ tablespoon shrimp paste (optional)
½ tablespoon crab paste (optional)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon MSG (optional)
Juice and some pulp of 1 lime
6 cherry tomatoes
3 cups shredded cabbage (optional)

Some Asian markets sell shredded green papaya or you can shred it yourself using a special shredding tool available at Asian markets. If preparing this dish with carrots, scrub them well and cut off top ends. Peel into long, thin strips with a vegetable peeler and set them aside.

Remove the papery skin from the garlic cloves and put into a large mortar. Remove the stem ends of the chilies and add the chilies to the garlic. With a pestle, pound the garlic and chilies until they are mushy. Next, add the green papaya or carrot strips, fish sauce, shrimp and crab pastes (if desired), sugar, and MSG (if desired). Squeeze the lime juice into the mixture, discarding the seeds. Use a spoon to scrape some of the lime pulp into the salad. Pound together a minute or two, turning the mixture over with a spoon. Continue until the flavors are extracted and mixed but the papaya strips still retain their shape.

Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters and mix them into the salad. Put ½ cup of the cabbage on 6 individual plates and top with the salad mixture.

Lemongrass and Pandan Christmas Sugar Cookies

stacked cookies

Growing up, my family didn’t have a tradition of baking Christmas cookies. My mom would place several orders of Bûche de Noël (Christmas log cake) for our family dinner on Christmas eve and to give away to friends but nary a sugar cookie was in sight.

I never realized what I was missing until I moved to the U.S. where everyone I met seemed to have a favorite family Christmas cookie. My husband has fond memories of churning out pizzelles (even though his adopted family is of mostly German descent, go figure!) in a pizzelle iron with his sister. My church friend Karen introduced me to biscochitos, or Mexican weddign cookies, the official cookie of New Mexico. (*Note: a reader was adamant that biscochitos and Mexican wedding cookies were not the same so I removed this reference. If you have an opinion please comment below!). And Deb was baking glazed lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) months before Christmas, packing them into tins to “age.”

When my sis and I lived in the same city for a couple of years, we baked an assortment of Christmas cookies to share with our friends: Snickerdoodles, Mexican wedding cookies, thumbprint cookies, etc. But that arrangement didn’t last long because we moved away.

Two years ago, when my son was a year and some, I decided I wanted to create my own Christmas cookie tradition. These lemongrass and pandan cookies were the result of my experimentation (read my original post here).

To make them festive for the season, I sprinkled the cookies liberally with colored sugar. Stacked, wrapped in cellophane, and tied with a bow, they make a lovely edible gift. Or, invite your girlfriends over for a spot of afternoon tea to escape the hecticness of the season and a plate piled with cookies will be a welcome–and pretty to look at–treat on your table. 

Have fun baking cookies and Merry Christmas everyone!

~~~

Lemongrass and Pandan Christmas Sugar Cookies

Adapted from Easy Sugar Cookies on Allrecipes.com

cookeis in a row

Cake flour produces a softer cookie with a finer crumb and I combined it with white whole wheat flour (that’s what I had but you can use all-purpose flour too) so that it would still stand up as a sugar cookie. You can make the cookies entirely with all-purpose flour if you desire. I also prefer natural cane sugar to white granulated sugar. I like its richer, almost molasses-like flavor. If you prefer a sweeter cookie, add up to ½ cup more sugar. If you can’t find fresh lemongrass, try dried lemongrass bits available at some herb and spice shops or lemongrass paste available at some supermarkets.

Makes: about 4 dozen cookies

2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup natural cane sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup Lemongrass Confetti (see below)
1 tablespoon Pandan Extract (see below), or 1/2 teaspoon pandan paste (available at Asian markets)
Sugar sprinkles or other decorations

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Combine the flours, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well mixed.

Add the dry ingredients gradually, blending each batch in before adding more. Mix well.

Divide the dough into 2 balls and place in separate bowls. Add the lemongrass bits and pandan juice to each bowl respectively. Knead each ball with your hands until the flavoring is completely mixed in.

Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten with the back of the spoon and sprinkle with colored sugar or other decorations.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Let the cookies stand on the cookie sheet for two minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks.

Rinse out cookie sheets, wipe down, and repeat until all the cookies are baked. (Don’t place dough on hot cookie sheets or they will cook unevenly and/or burn quickly.) Or refrigerate (up to 2 days) or freeze (up to a week) remaining dough to bake later.

Lemongrass Confetti

Trim about an inch from the hard root end of one plump lemongrass stalk and chop off the woody top where it just starts to turn from green to pale yellow. You should have 6 to 7 inches of lemongrass stalk remaining. Peel off the loose, tough outer layers to expose the tender white core, then bruise the entire length of the stem with a meat pounder, large knife, or heavy glass to release the aroma and oils. Cut the stalks crosswise into very thin ringlets (as thin as you can possibly cut them). Then rock your knife blade over the pieces to chop them into confetti-sized flakes. The tinier you can chop the lemongrass, the less chance you’ll be chomping down on hard bits when you bite into the cookie. Or whirl in a food processor. You should get about 2 to 3 tablespoons from one stalk so you’ll probably need 2 stalks for this recipe.

Pandan Extract

Pandan (also called pandanus or screwpine) leaves are considered the Southeast Asian equivalent of vanilla extract and are used to flavor cakes and kuehs in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. You can find pandan leaves in the freezer section of Asian markets. They are occasionally available fresh. (Go here for an article on pandan leaves I wrote for Saveur magazine)

Rinse 10 pandan leaves and snip off sharp tips and hard bases. Snip into 1/2 inch sections. Place the leaves in a small food processor with 3 to 4 tablespoons of water. Whirl until pulpy and wrap in a cheesecloth placed over a bowl. Squeeze out as much pandan juice as possible. You’ll have more than the required 1 tablespoon. You can boil it down in a small saucepan over low heat for a more concentrated flavor or just save the extra for making other desserts or add some to a pot of tea.

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Today’s post is part of the monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter blogger potluck and we’re featuring festive and edible foods! For more Let’s Lunch posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below (please check back throughout the day for additions): 

Lisa’s Chocolate Almond Tree on Monday Morning Cooking Club
Anne Marie’s Ornament Sandwiches on Sandwich Surprise
Betty Ann’s Mini Bibingka on Asian in America
Lucy’s Peppermint Candy Tray at A Cook and Her Books
Tammy’s Chewy Gingerbread Cookies at Insatiable Munchies
Vivian’s Festive Gingerbread Cookies at Vivian Pei
Linda’s Merry Kale Trees at Free Range Cookies
Annabelle’s Pecan Caramels at Glass of Fancy
Linda’s Ottolenghi-Style Eggplant with Tahini and Pomegranate at Spicebox Travels
Nancie’s Bûche de Noël at NancieMcDermott

Mango-Banana Bread–A Perfect Post-Nap Treat

mango chunks
Mango chunks add tropical delight to a simple banana bread recipe

My parents aren’t natural storytellers (perhaps I should ask more often?) but every once in awhile a gem from their childhood pops up. Like this one story my mum recently told me: Ma remembers always waking up from her afternoon naps to the intoxicating aroma of freshly-baked-or-cooked something wafting in from the kitchen. To get her and her siblings to fall asleep with the least amount of fuss, Popo, her mother and my grandmother, would promise her and her siblings a treat when they woke up. The post-nap delights ranged from roti bakso (savory meat-filled buns) to kue mangkok (“cup”cakes), and all were delectable.

While Ma and my uncle and aunts wriggled restlessly in their beds anticipating what lay in wait for them when they woke up, I envision Popo (whom I only know from photos) hard at work in her tropical kitchen. As she rolled and flattened soft balls of dough, she’d occasionally wipe sweat from her brow with a hanky she stuffed into her bra strap. Taking a teaspoon in hand, she’d scoop a mixture of pork, candied winter melon, and green onions into the middle of each dough disc. Gently, she’d bring the dough edges together and wrap it up into a neat oval package as she listened for rogue sounds coming from the children’s bedroom.

When Ma and her siblings woke up in a couple of hours, the buns would be out of the oven and ready to be grabbed by little hands and devoured with squeals of delight.

All this I see in the sepia tones of my mind’s eye, imagining what my mom’s childhood was like and what Popo was like.

Inspired by this perfect anecdote, I decided to recreate this experience for my son with my own post-nap treat.

One Tuesday afternoon after Isaac goes down for his nap, I busy myself in the kitchen. I want to bake banana bread but I only had two bananas (three at first but one was so ripe it fell splat on the floor when I accidentally dropped it). Desperation incites innovation and digging around my kitchen, I discover two bright yellow mangoes, ripe and ready to eat, in my fridge.

Bananas and mangoes are both tropical, I convince myself, they’ll couple very well in a quick bread recipe!

mango
The easiest way to peel and chop a mango is to first slice off the flesh, skin and all, on either side of and as close as possible to the seed. Holding the skin-side down in one hand, cut a grid into the flesh without slicing through the skin. Then turn the skin inside out and pop the cubes off the skin.

As I prepare all the ingredients, I hear a squawk. My heart sinks, it’s been barely 30 minutes since Isaac went down! Sure enough, the little guy emerges from his room, his disheveled hair in a post-nap Mohawk. I panick for two seconds before realizing, wait, he can help me bake! All kids love to measure ingredients and mix batter don’t they?

Isaac has never really shown much interest in helping me in the kitchen and I’ve never forced him. But this time, I drag his stool into the kitchen and try and talk up the mother-and-son baking experience.

“This is going to be so much fun! You can measure the sugar, flour and butter, and mix everything together. Come help mommy in the kitchen.”

“I don’t want to. I want to watch TV!”

“But baking is so much fun! Don’t’ you want to help mommy?”

“I don’t want to! I want to watch TV!”

A few volleys back and forth ending with a promise of “Thomas the Tank Engine” later, Isaac steps up onto his stool. He starts by scooping sugar into the mixing bowl. Then he helps me add the butter and proceeds to “cream” the mixture with a wooden spoon. After two or three turns around the bowl, he declares, “I’m done!” He hops off the stool and goes off to play with his airplanes.

Isaac mixing
Isaac took some time out from the laborious task of creaming butter and sugar to smile, or rather grin, for the camera

Nothing I can say henceforth can cajole him back into the kitchen.

Feeling dejected, I finish mixing the batter and shove the loaf pan into the oven.

As I sit down to wait for the bread to bake, I realize how silly I was for getting frustrated. Did I really expect everything to go according plan? Hah, it was definitely wishful thinking on my part.

If there’s one important lesson to take away from raising a toddler, it’s that you should always expect the unexpected. It builds character and encourages a flexible outlook on life. And sometimes results in a new favorite recipe!

~~~

Mango-Banana Bread

mango banana bread vertical

Simple and straightforward, the original banana bread recipe came to me on the back of a bag of flour many years ago when I was in college. It’s been my go-to recipe ever since. Over the years, I’ve mixed it up a little: varying the ratio of white to brown sugar, using a combo of all-purpose and whole wheat flour (I add some applesauce or yogurt to moisten it up), substituting butter for shortening, etc., etc. And the sweet smelling loaf—crusted in a shiny mahogany veneer–comes out lovely every time!

Time: 10 minutes prep, 50 minutes baking
Makes: 1 loaf

3/4 cup granulated raw sugar or brown sugar (I really like Wholesome Sweeteners brand)
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs at room temperature
1-3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 very ripe honey (Altaufo) mango, peeled, seeded, chopped and mashed (about 1 cup)
2 large bananas, mashed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs and beat well.

Sift flour, baking powder and soda and salt and add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the mango and banana and mix until just blended. It will be lumpy but don’t fret.

Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning the loaf onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing (if you can wait!).

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Too Hot To Cook: An Almost No-Cook Rice Recipe

Help! I’ve turned into my mother!

As much as I love my mum, I’ve lived in fear that our bloodlines run so deep I was bound to inherit some of her “quirky” (yes, that’s a diplomatic term) traits sooner or later.

While I’ve managed to dodge Ma’s penchant for sucking in her breath every time the car brakes (an unfortunate habit learned over decades of being in the passenger seat while my dad is driving), or haggling with poverty-stricken market vendors in developing countries over 10 cents or some such paltry sum (seriously, my heart breaks every time I witness this injustice), like her, I am now a perpetual rice-eater.

No matter how much protein or how many potatoes I consume, if I don’t eat rice, I’m just not satisfied. Not to mention, my belly starts rumbling barely an hour later.

Growing up, hot and fluffy rice took pride of place in the center of the dinner table, forming the blank canvas of my childhood palate. Plain white rice, usually jasmine, would be embellished by a stir-fry of bok choy and garlic, and turmeric fried chicken or spicy beef curry. The next day, any leftover rice was transformed into fried rice or thick rice porridge for breakfast.

Granted this rice-eating habit has followed me into adulthood, but when days are pushing 80 or 90 degrees, the last place I want to be is in a smoldering hot kitchen.

And so began my quest for no-cook — or as close to it as one can possibly get — rice recipes.

I’ve been inspired by visits to farmers’ markets, my favorite cookbook authors, and by experimenting with creative riffs on Asian favorites. The results were spectacular: a mound of rice studded with assorted seasonal vegetables, like gems, and seasoned with my favorite vinaigrette du jour; no-cook “fried” rice using the same ingredients but in different guises — grated carrots, shredded Chinese cabbage and crumbled hard-cooked eggs tossed with rice; rice cakes dipped in wasabi dressing, and the list goes on.

In the end, I’ve discovered several “out-of-the-wok” rice recipes to add to my repertoire, often saving the day when the pool, rather than the stove, beckoned.

Thank you, Ma, I owe you for this one!

~~~

Harvest Red Rice Salad

ricesalad-s4

I’ve grown to love the reddish-brown hue of Thai red rice, some grains with the bran rubbed off to reveal the white beneath. The needle-thin grains are pretty to look at and have a pleasing chewy, nutty flavor. Thai red rice is unmilled (like brown rice) and takes longer to cook than polished rice like jasmine. However, because the grains are slender, they cook more quickly than other unmilled rices and use less water. Use a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid to ensure the steam is retained in the pot during cooking. One cup raw rice yields about 3 cups cooked rice. Measurements and times vary according to rice type, so follow the package directions. Jasmine rice takes 15 to 18 minutes. Find red rice at Asian markets or specialty markets, or substitute brown rice.

Makes: 4 salad servings, or 2 light lunch servings

1 cup Thai red rice
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or water
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice (about 2 large limes or 1 lemon)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 heaping tablespoon honey
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 green onions, using green parts only, chopped
1/2 green or red bell pepper, chopped (1/2 cup)
1/4 small red onion, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the rice well and drain. In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine the rice and stock. Bring to a boil over high heat and let boil for 1 minute. Stir the rice to prevent sticking. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand covered for 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whirl the canola oil, lime juice, soy sauce and honey in a blender until smooth to make the vinaigrette.

When done, fluff the rice with a fork and combine the rice and vegetables in a large bowl. Add the vinaigrette and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the salad sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving, or refrigerate for later.

~~~

This post is part of the monthly #Let’s Lunch blogger potluck. For more Let’s Lunch “Too Hot to Cook” posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below:

Lucy’s “The Girl in a Hat Goes on a Picnic” at A Cook and Her Books.

Monica’s Peanut Salad at A Life of Spice

Lisa’s Aperol Spritz Granita at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Cheryl’s Mango-Key Lime Pie at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Linda’s Escape from San Francisco Picnic at Spicebox Travels

Recording Family Recipes

My mum recently showed me how to make ayam buah keluak (chicken cooked with black nuts), one of my favorite childhood dishes–it was much easier than I expected especially since the nuts are available already peeled and processed here in the U.S.

Since the launch of the paperback version of “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook,” I’ve been doing book events and signings around town.

Rather than just talking about the book and the process of putting it together, I’d like to encourage everyone to emulate it and start recording their own family recipes for posterity. It’s no secret that I’m all for that!

To get you started, I came up with a list of tips. (Thanks to Emily Ho for some great ideas in her article on thekitchn.com).

  1. Don’t procrastinate! I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to have told me that their grandmother used to make this absolutely fabulous dish for them but they didn’t learn how to make it, their mom didn’t learn how to make it, and now that their grandma’s gone so’s the recipe. So don’t wait, do it today!
  2. Get organized. Before you start cooking, lay out all the ingredients on the kitchen table or counter and run through them together. Note them all down, together with the amounts (weight, cups, bundles). If possible, go shopping with grandma so you know what to look for and where it’s available. You’ll also pick up tips on selecting vegetables and meat. (Just don’t poke those peaches too hard!).
  3. Be prepared. When I cooked with a grandma, I brought my arsenal with me–measuring cups, measuring spoons, tape measure, timer, camera, notebook, and pen. I was always ready to pounce and intercept with cups and teaspoons before the cook could pour salt or soy sauce into the pot. You don’t have to be as anal, especially if you’re good at estimating. Just ask grandma to slow down so you can absorb what’s going on, and also so she can show you how many peppercorns are in her hand before she throws them in the pot. Jot down rough estimates like “sugar–about 1 tablespoon,” or “soy sauce–1 Chinese rice bowl.” You can translate everything into standard measurements later. In the end, the finite amounts don’t really matter because no matter how hard you try, no two cooks make the same dish exactly alike. Plus, you and your family will have your own preferences for how salty or sweet you like a dish.
  4. Video or audio record the cooking session. You won’t be distracted by trying to write everything down, and you can pay attention and enjoy the experience with grandma. Videos can also be useful for documenting steps or techniques, and they also serve as wonderful mementoes when loved ones are gone. And if you can get grandma to narrate the steps as she cooks, you can listen to the audio recording when recreating the dish on your own.
  5. Tag team. Have someone else record the video (this is a great sibling project), and ask them to zoom in when grandma is demonstrating a technique like caramelizing sugar or chopping lemongrass. This way, you can also be in the video cooking with your grandma. Or, your partner can take photos and you can take notes. It always helps to have two sets of eyes and ears!
  6. Taste as you go. Seasoned home cooks rely on their senses rather than standard measurements, having honed their taste buds, eyes, ears, and fingers to know what a dish is supposed to be like at different stages. When I cook(ed) with my mum, she would taste the dish at several different stages of cooking, and I’d taste right along with her. In addition to taste, try and learn other sensory cues. Don’t be afraid to ask how things are supposed to look, sound, smell, and feel at different stages of the recipe. Pay close attention and watch to see if grandma adjusted heat levels and cooking times based on these factors.
  7. Find out the story. The story behind a family recipe is just as important as the ingredients and technique. Ask grandma when she learned how to make the dish, and who taught her. Is it a special dish served during a holiday or a particular season of the year? What other dishes or beverages would she serve it with? Depending on the situation and the complexity of the dish, you can always sit down and do a separate interview instead of talking while cooking.
  8. Ask for feedback. Afterwards, make the dish on your own and ask for feedback. Does the texture feel right? Did you add so much cardamom that it overpowers the rest of the flavors in the dish? What suggestions does grandma have to improve it?
  9. Compile a family cookbook once you have enough recipes. It can be as simple as photocopied sheets in a binder, or you could go all out and produce a cookbook on a photo site like Shutterfly and blurb.com.

I can’t emphasize #1 enough so I hope you’ll start recording family recipes now. To encourage you further, I have 2 promo codes to give away for a blurb.com photo book (worth $40.95) so that you can create your very own family cookbook! All you have to do is leave a comment telling me what’s your favorite family recipe and why. **This contest ends October 1.

Or, you could come to one of my events in the Seattle area. I’ll be giving them out there as well.

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* I requested blurb.com promo codes for free photobooks to distribute at my events, as well as family cookbooks from Shutterfly and blurb.com to share with my audience as examples of what they can create. I am not compensated in any way for promoting their Web sites.

“Many Grandmas'” Asian Pickles

Left to right: Popo, my mum on her 16th birthday, and my mum’s cousin

One of the most common questions I get asked about my cookbook is: “Which one’s your grandma?”

My sad reply: “She’s not in there.”

I didn’t really know either of my grandmothers. My paternal grandmother, whom I called Oma, (I wrote about her in this post) lived in Indonesia while we were growing up in Singapore.

When I was little, Oma would stay with us for extended visits once in awhile and we would make the one-hour flight over to Jakarta once or twice a year. But the language barrier and her ailing health prevented us from developing a deeper relationship.

When I was 24, Oma passed away after being bedridden for many years. I only learned her name then: Sicilianti.

Popo was the maternal grandmother I never knew. As a matter of fact, I just found out that her name was Helli. Popo died of breast cancer when I was very young, before I could make any memories of her.

What I do know is that Popo was a fabulous cook and thankfully her culinary legacy lives on in my mother. However, when I asked my mother for a specific recipe for this post, she told me Popo cooked traditional Indonesian dishes but everything was kira kira, estimated, without ukuran, or measurements.

Over the years, I’ve envied my friends who had grandmothers who cooked for them, regaled them with stories, and gave them presents (ding ding!).

By the powers that be, “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook” project serendipitously fell into my lap. What became a labor of love also somehow completed me, filling this childhood void.

Today, I am thankful for all the surrogate grandmothers I met during this amazing journey. These women shared their incredible stories with me, many gave me sage advice in and out of the kitchen, and a few still check up on me once in a while.

Above all, they have given me the most meaningful gifts—their treasured recipes that I will continue to cook for my family and pass on to my children.

~~~

“Many Grandmas'” Asian Pickles

This month, my kind #LetsLunch buddies are posting about grandma recipes in honor of my paperback book launch last month. Unfortunately, I don’t have one of my grandmother’s recipes to share but I decided to come up with a “many grandmas'” quick pickle recipe.

I learned some great pickle tips while working on the book. Grandma Nellie taught me to randomly strip the cucumber of peel for a pretty finish, and to salt the vegetables to draw out moisture and make them crunchier (although I never found much difference). She also showed me how to feather the edges of the cucumber so the pieces can absorb the brine chop-chop. (Slicing the cucumber paper-thin as I’ve done below has the same effect). And Grandma Ling used maple syrup (instead of the prepared ginger syrup she was used to back home) to sweeten her brine. Yet another grandma massaged her carrot and daikon sticks before pouring the brine over.

So here is my quick pickle recipe lassoing tips, tricks and ideas learned from all the grandmas (including my mum who is grandma to my son) in my life together with my own adaptations.

Time: 15 minutes plus standing and brining
Makes: 1 pint

2 large seedless cucumbers (European or Persian cucumbers would be lovely too)
1 medium carrot
Salt
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons maple-flavored agave syrup (I used *Wholesome Sweeteners brand. You can also use maple syrup, regular agave syrup or honey, but start with less and adjust the amounts to taste)
1 clove garlic, smashed
Pinch crushed chipotle chilies

Halve each cucumber lengthwise. Place one half flat-side down on your cutting board, and using a vegetable peeler (a ‘Y’-peeler works great), slice the cucumber lengthwise into paper-thin strips. Repeat with the rest of the cucumbers.

Peel the carrot. Using a lemon zester, make nicks at equal intervals down the length of the carrot. Slice the carrot crosswise into thin slices. The slices will look like flowers.

Place the vegetables in a colander and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let them sit over the sink while you prepare the brine. (Skip this step if you’re in a hurry. I don’t find much different if you don’t salt the veggies first).

In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, water, maple syrup, sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt, garlic, and chilies. Microwave on medium-high for 30 seconds. Stir the brine, making sure all the sugar has dissolved. Taste and adjust the seasonings if desired. Go read a chapter in a book while you let the brine cool.

Rinse the vegetables and shake dry. Toss them into the bowl with the brine, mix well and chill for at least one hour. Serve with fried rice, noodles, or munch on it throughout the day. This is a great snack if you’re pregnant too!

*I didn’t purchase the Wholesome Sweeteners maple-flavored agave syrup but I use it because I like it, not because it was free.

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This post is  part of #LetsLunch, our monthly Twitter-inspired food bloggers potluck. This month it’s a tribute to grandmas and their recipes.

Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ creations below (the list will be constantly updated). And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #LetsLunch.

Charissa‘s Apple, Pecan & Raisin Gluten-Free Depression Cake at Zest Bakery

Cheryl’s My Tanglin Ah-Ma’s Gambling Rice at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Emma‘s Irish, Polish & Korean Grandmothers’ Recipes at Dreaming of Pots & Pans

Jill‘s Stuffed Cabbage at Eating My Words

Karen‘s Semifreddo at GeoFooding

Linda‘s Taiwanese Oyster Omelet at Spicebox Travels

Lisa‘s Polish Potato Cake at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Lucy‘s Grandma Kitty’s Biscuits at A Cook and Her Books

Renee‘s Chinese Grandmother’s Tofu at My Kitchen And I