Aloo Paratha, or the Perfect One-Dish Meal

About four years ago, I met Shelly Krishnamurthy. An amazing woman, Shelly has Parkinson’s disease but she is a fearless community activist, raising funds for Chaya, a non-profit organization serving South Asian women in times of crisis and need, and paying school visits to teach elementary students about Indian food and culture.

When Shelly heard about my book project, she introduced me to her 78-year-old mother, Champa Ramakrishna.

Champa Krishnamurthy by you.

Champa is already bustling around the kitchen when I arrive. She has soft, kindly features and wispy gray hair bundled into a single braid swishing down her back. As she prepares the ingredients to make aloo paratha, potato-stuffed flatbread, she floats around the spacious, modern kitchen decisively yet gracefully, her orange and burgundy sari rustling about her petite frame.

Aloo paratha is a great one-dish meal for the family that can be served anytime of the day, Champa tells me. It’s especially convenient when she tires of making the requisite three dishes per meal everyone is accustomed to.

Food, I have learned, is never territorial. Even though aloo paratha is a northern Indian dish and Champa’s roots are in the south, she has no qualms about calling this dish her own. However, most of her repertoire hails from the south. Not surprising since her parents are from Bangalore and three generations of her family lived in Bhopal, central India. This is the cuisine she picked up from her mother by watching and learning.

“Southern (Indian) cooking is simple, and uses less fat,” she explains. And in the south, almost all the Hindu sects don’t eat onion and garlic because of their pungent smell.

Aloo paratha doesn’t use onion or garlic, in fact, it comprises few ingredients with potatoes (aloo) making up the bulk of the dish. The potatoes are ready once they are tender “but not too soft,” Champa instructs me as she starts to peel them. She prefers the texture of Yukon gold potatoes and instead of mashing them she grates them. “So there are no lumps,” she explains, fingering a handful of lump-free grated potato.

Her face creased in concentration, Champa mixes onion, cilantro, cumin seeds, chili flakes and cilantro by hand into the potatoes. As her hands massage the mixture into a smooth filling, the gold bangles sparkling with emeralds around her left wrist clink sweetly. For a little pizzazz, she suggests adding grated cauliflower, paneer, lentils or green mung beans to the mixture as well. With the endless variety of fillings, Champa and her family–who as Hindus, are all vegetarian–can eat a balanced diet with just one dish!

As Champa works, she tells me that she moved to the U.S. when her husband got a job with the World Bank in 1979. They lived in Washington D.C. for 10 years before settling down in Austin, Texas. She recalls how difficult it was to find Indian spices 25 years ago. “Every time I went back to India, I would stock up on all kinds of things from all the different regions.” Her suitcase was always full coming back stateside!

When the potato filling is done, Champa sets it aside and starts preparing the dough. Adding water to Indian whole wheat flour, she kneads the dough until it is pliable but “not too loose.”

Champa divides the dough up into balls and deftly rolls each ball into a flat disc about 4 inches wide with a rolling pin. Holding the dough disc in the palm of her left hand, she places a good chunk of potato mixture in the middle and folds the dough over, fully enclosing the filling. Then she rolls it out again into a flat disc. Other than the occasional green speckle, you’d never guess the secret mouthwatering ingredients hiding within.

Champa folding the potato filling into the dough by you.

The griddle–yes, Champa uses a modern electric griddle!–is soon fired up. She lays the pancake-like parathas gently down on the hot surface one at a time. She sprinkles some oil over each disc and smears it all over the top. After a couple of minutes, she flips them to reveal lightly charred brown spots.

In no time, they are done.

Champa serves me my meal on a shiny stainless steel plate typical of a thali meal. She instructs me to scoop some yogurt into a small bowl and season it with a sprinkling of cumin, chili powder and salt.

I break off a portion of the flatbread and dip it into the yogurt. The paratha’s crisp outer layer gives way to soft shreds of bread spiked with cumin, cilantro and chili, which contrasted nicely with the cool yogurt.

Yes, it is confirmed. This is a one-dish meal I could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Potato-Stuffed Flatbread (Aloo Paratha)

aloo paratha by you.

Whenever Champa Ramakrishna doesn’t feel like preparing the requisite three dishes per meal, she makes aloo paratha. Easy to make and nutritious, the one-dish Indian meal can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. While Champa can churn out perfect parathas in a matter of minutes, making them symmetrical takes some practice-so don’t be discouraged if your first few don’t turn out quite right. Instead of the yogurt dip, you can serve the flatbread with your favorite pickle or chutney.

Time: 1 1/2 hours
Makes: 10 parathas, 4 to 5 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

2 cups Indian whole wheat flour (atta), or a combination of 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour and 1 cup all-purpose white flour, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for drizzling
3/4 to 1 cup lukewarm water
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (3/4 cup)
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground red chili powder or crushed red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Yogurt Dip (recipe follows)

In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, oil, and a pinch of salt. Add the water a little at a time and knead into a soft, pliable dough. Once the dough starts to pull easily away from the side of the bowl, knead it on a lightly floured surface until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the potatoes in a medium saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a fork can prick them easily. The potatoes should still be somewhat firm and not too soft. Let cool.
When the potatoes have reached room temperature, peel and grate them. You should have about 2 cups. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, onion, cilantro, chili powder, cumin seeds, cumin powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix thoroughly with your hands. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Divide the dough into 10 equal 1½-inch balls (an easy way to do this is to divide the dough in half, then each half into 5 balls). Divide the potato filling into 10 equal portions. Prepare a plate with about 1 cup flour for dusting. Sprinkle flour liberally onto a work surface and roll a ball into a disk about 4 inches in diameter with a rolling pin. Place 1 portion of filling in the center and gather the edges up and around it, stretching the dough if necessary. Pinch to seal securely at the top so that the filling is entirely enclosed. It will look like a fat dumpling.

Gently flatten the dumpling into a thick patty, being careful not to let the filling escape. Dip both sides in the flour. Lay the patty seam side down and carefully roll it out into a circle 5 to 6 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. Don’t worry if a little filling pops out. Just pat it back inside the paratha as best as you can.

Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, dusting with flour as needed.

Place the parathas on a plate, layering them between parchment paper to prevent them from sticking together before cooking.

Preheat a heavy griddle or 8-inch nonstick skillet. Place 1 paratha on the ungreased griddle and cook over medium-high heat until the underside is speckled with golden brown spots, about 3 minutes. Flip and drizzle the top with oil (about ½ teaspoon). Smear the oil all over the surface with a spatula and press down to ensure even browning. Flip again, drizzle more oil on top, and repeat the smearing process. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, flipping every minute or so, until the paratha is evenly browned on both sides.

Slide onto a plate and keep warm in a low oven while you cook the remaining parathas. To eat, tear off bite-sized pieces of paratha and dip into the yogurt mixture.

Variations: Add any of the following cooked ingredients to, or in lieu of, the potato filling: grated cauliflower, mashed lentils or mung beans, and paneer.

Pat’s Notes: Atta (sometimes called chapati flour) is a very finely ground whole wheat flour made from hard wheat. With a high protein content and just enough bran to give it body without making it too coarse for soft pliable Indian breads, atta flour is also strong and dough made from it can be rolled out very thin. It is available at Indian grocers.

Parathas freeze well. Just cook them without oil and freeze, placing wax or parchment paper in between each paratha. When ready to use, defrost and reheat the paratha on the griddle with some oil.

Yogurt Dip

Make individual servings and have everyone tailor the dip to their personal taste.

Makes: 1 serving

1/2 cup homemade or Greek yogurt
Ground cumin
Ground dried red chilies

Spoon the yogurt into an individual dish. Sprinkle cumin powder, ground chilies, and salt to taste (I recommended pinches to start with). Mix well.

As grandma always says, please share!

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The Char Siu Challenge

Eleazar Juarez, owner of Rio de Parras Organics, pressed a brown bag full of greens into my hands. I peered inside and beyond the feathered leaves I saw the pale, straggly cilantro roots still attached. Who knew that a simple herb could invoke such a spring in my step!


This was one of the smaller roots that Eleazar gave me

Ever since I discovered the recipe for Chinese barbecued pork (char siu) in the Chong Family cookbook, I’d been at a lost where to find cilantro roots. I didn’t want to pull out the fragile seedlings growing on my windowsill and everywhere I went cilantro was sold with the roots already lopped off. Then it hit me. Duh, ask a farmer! And so I did.

If your hunt is not as successful, the stems will do fine. Besides, not all recipes for char siu call for cilantro roots. I must say that the addition does add an earthy and musky nuance which I thoroughly enjoy. Cilantro roots are also used in Thai cooking. Fat roots are crushed to flavor soups just like lemongrass and thinner ones thrown into stir-fries.


Chinese Barbecued Pork (Char Siu)

IMG_4766 by you.

The words char siu literally mean “fork burnt or roasted,” a nod to the traditional preparation method of skewering strips of pork with long forks or hooks and cooking them over a fire or in a hot oven. This has its benefits. It allows the meat to cook evenly from all sides. If you’d like to try this, hang pork strips from metal S-hooks on a high rack in your oven over a foil-lined pan on the lowest rack to catch the drippings. I improvised even further by rolling strips of aluminum foil to act as loops and tied them to the upper rack (see photo below).

Time: 1 hour (15 minutes active) plus marinating
Makes: 4 to 6 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

2 1/2 to 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder (measuring about 8- x 6- x 3-inches)
2⁄3 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 green onions, smashed with the flat part of a cleaver or a large knife
2 cilantro stalks (preferably with their roots attached), smashed with the flat part of a cleaver or a chef’s knife
1 star anise pod
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon 5-spice powder

Cut the pork lengthwise into four long strips. Lay each strip flat on the cutting board and cut in half lengthwise. You will end up with 8 strips about 1½ inches wide, 1 ½ inches deep and 7 to 8 inches long. Place in a dish large enough to hold all the pieces in one layer.

In a small bowl, mix the together the sugar, soy sauce, green onions, cilantro, star anise, rice wine, sesame oil, and 5-spice powder. Pour the marinade over the pork. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or preferably a day and a half.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Remove the pork from the marinade and place on a broiling rack set on top of a foil-lined roasting pan to catch the drippings. Reserve the marinade. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, flipping halfway, or until the pork starts caramelizing and is just beginning to char at the edges. Baste at least once on each side during the first 30 minutes of cooking.

Transfer the pork to a chopping board and let rest for about 10 minutes before cutting crosswise into ¼-inch-thick slices. Meanwhile, simmer the reserved marinade over medium heat for at least 10 minutes and skim off any scum that rises to the surface.

Serve with freshly steamed rice or noodles and sauce.


An easy way to “skewer” your meat and roast it from all sides

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The Real McCoy–Homemade Sweet and Sour Pork

sweetandsourpork1 by you.

We’ve all had sweet and sour pork at some point or another. If you, like me, have been put off this dish forever by greasy battered pork doused in toxic pink glow-in-the-dark sauce served at a Chinese-American restaurant and/or the supermarket deli counter, take heart, there is hope yet!

I was actually surprised to find out that sweet and sour pork is a bona fide Cantonese dish. It’s just that many restaurants in North American do a lousy job of it.

Some say it originates from a traditional Jiangsu pork dish made with a sugar and vinegar sauce (tang chu li ji) and it is closely related to sweet and sour spare ribs (tang chu pai gu). Sweet and sour pork probably spread to the U.S. in the early 20th Century when Chinese migrant gold miners and railroad workers swapped trades and started cooking. And from thereon it permeated the country and is now a standard item on every Chinese-American menu.

Remember Aunti Pearlie? Well, try he rsweet and sour pork recipe and you’ll look at this oft-vilified dish with entirely new eyes and your tastebuds will thank you for it.

Sweet and Sour Pork (Gu Lao Rou)

sweetandsourpork3 by you.

There are endless variations of this quintessential Chinese dish but it always tastes best homemade. The pork cut of choice is pork butt or shoulder–not too lean, not too fatty. Other cuts may be leaner but they often turn tough and chewy when fried. So trim the fat if you must, or substitute with chicken breast.

Time: 1 hour plus marinating time
Makes 4 to 6 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

1 pound pork butt, trimmed of fat if desired and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons self-raising flour
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups vegetable oil, divided
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut thinly on the diagonal
1 green or red pepper, cut into 1-inch squares
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges and separated
1 clove garlic, minced
One 8-ounce can pineapple chunks, well drained (about 1 cup)

2/3 cup water
3 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

In a medium bowl, mix the pork together with the flour, rice wine, salt, pepper, and egg with your hands, making sure to coat each piece of pork well. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, preferably 12 hours.

Bring marinated pork to room temperature before cooking.

Line a plate with paper towels.

In a large wok, heavy skillet, or Dutch oven, heat oil over high heat until it reaches 350 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer.

Reduce heat to medium-high. Using tongs, drop the pork a few pieces at a time into the hot oil, ensuring the pieces don’t stick together. Fry in batches, 7 to 8 pieces at a time, until golden brown and crispy, about 6 to 7 minutes. When done, remove the pork with a slotted spoon, shaking off excess oil, and drain on paper towels. Keep warm in a 300 degree F oven.

Use a slotted spoon or a wire mesh strainer to remove any debris from the oil and bring oil temperature up to 350 degrees F again before frying the next batch. Repeat with remaining pork.

Drain the remaining oil and wipe down the wok with a paper towel. Heat 2 tablespoons of fresh oil over medium-high heat. Fry the garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Toss in the onions and carrots and stir for about a minute. Add the peppers and stir-fry until tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. (If you prefer softer carrots, cook ahead by microwaving or steaming.) Add the pineapple, give everything a quick stir and turn off the heat, leaving the vegetables in the wok.

In a small saucepan, mix the sauce ingredients together and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring continuously. Once the sauce starts to bubble and thicken, about 1 to 2 minutes, reduce the heat to low. Pour in the vinegar and stir to mix. Set aside.

Tumble the cooked pork nuggets into the wok with the vegetables and pour the sauce over. Toss to coat and transfer to a large rimmed platter or bowl. Serve immediately with freshly steamed rice.

Grandma says:
You may deep-fry pork the nuggets ahead of time. Refrigerate or freeze until needed. Then re-heat with a quick dip in hot oil or in the oven. Don’t forget to bring the meat to room temperature first.

Stuffed Egg Crepe Rolls (Yu Gun)

egg rolls3 by you.

When Nellie Wong was growing up, she made fish paste from scratch. She’d scrape the fish filet off the bones and mix it with egg white. Today, fish paste is readily available in frozen tubs at Asian markets. Look for a light grey emulsion the color of fresh fish meat. Don’t buy a product that’s light brown or darker grey, a sign it’s been frozen too long. Traditionally, this recipe only uses fish but Nellie prefers a combination of pork and fish, adding ginger and sherry to neutralize the “fishy” smell. You can also stuff vegetables with the paste.

Time: 40 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

1/2 pound ground pork (1 cup)
1/2 pound fish paste (1 cup)
4 water chestnuts, finely chopped
2 medium dried black mushrooms, rehydrated and finely chopped 
2 green onions, cut into thin rings (1/2 cup)
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons corn starch
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger (from a 1/4-inch piece)
Ground white pepper to taste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons dry sherry
2 teaspoons water

Egg crepes:
4 large eggs
Vegetable oil for frying

Soy sauce and sesame oil, or light sauce (recipe follows)

In a large bowl, mix all the stuffing ingredients together to form a thick paste. Set aside.

Make the egg crepes one at a time. Beat 1 egg lightly with a pinch of salt in a small bowl using a pair of chopsticks or a fork. You don’t want to introduce too much air and the egg to become frothy.

Lightly brush the base of an 8-inch nonstick skillet with oil and heat over medium for 1 minute. Swirl in the egg mixture to coat the bottom of the skillet in a thin, even layer. Cook until the omelet surface is nearly dry and the underside is light golden, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Lift the edge of the omelet to check. Flip and cook for another 1 minute or so. Slide onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Set aside to cool.


Nellie making the egg crepes

Set up your steamer.

Fill the steamer pan half full of water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium until you are ready to steam.

When the crepes are cool enough to handle, spread one quarter of the paste (about 1/2 cup) evenly over each crepe, leaving about a half-inch gap all around the edge. Roll into a fat cigar and seal the edge with a little paste. Place the roll seam-side down on a greased pie plate (or any rimmed platter) that will fit inside a steamer without touching the sides. Repeat with the remaining crepes, arranging them in a single layer on the plate. The size of your steamer will determine how many rolls you can steam at a time.

egg crepe rolls in wok

The pork and fish-stuffed rolls are ready to be steamed

Return the water in the steamer to a rolling boil. Set the plate of rolls in the steamer basket or rack. Cover and steam over high heat for 20 minutes, or until the filling is firm and no longer pink.

When done, turn off the heat and wait for the steam to subside before lifting the lid. Lift it away from you to prevent condensation from dripping onto the rolls, or scalding yourself. Carefully remove the basket or the plate and set the rolls aside to cool. Repeat as many times as necessary.

When the rolls are cool, transfer them to a serving platter and cut into 1-inch diagonal pieces. Reserve the “drippings,” the juices left at the bottom of the plate, to make the sauce. Drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil to taste or light sauce (recipe follows).

Pat’s note:
If you don’t have a brush to lightly grease the bottom of your skillet, wrap a 5-inch square piece of paper towel around the tip of a chopstick with an elastic band to form a “sponge.”

Light Sauce
1/2 cup drippings (make up the difference with chicken stock if necessary)
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water to make a slurry

Heat the drippings in a small saucepan over medium heat until it starts bubbling. Stir in the cornstarch slurry and mix until the sauce thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drizzle the sauce over egg crepe rolls.

Grandma says:
Use the inside edge of a teaspoon to scrape the papery thin skin off fresh ginger. It works better than using a peeler or a paring knife which creates more waste than necessary.

Quack … Quack …

I love duck! But I don’t like the changes they’ve made on the WordPress dashboard at all :(. I’ve had to re-acquaint myself with all the buttons and it’s taking me that much longer to post. That and the fact that my manuscript deadline is looming. I know I haven’t been posting as often but please be patient with me. The end is near!

Anyway, let me leave you with this very simple and very tasty Asian version of coq au vin. Well, not quite, but duck is also considered poultry, and if you think of soy sauce as wine … oh, and it’s braised in my very French Staub Dutch/French oven too! It comes from my good friend Angie’s mum, Aunty Rose, who hails from Singapore.

Teochew Braised Duck (Lo Ack)

Photo by Lara Ferroni
Photo by Lara Ferroni

As a newly-wed, Rosalind Yeo learned how to make this dish from her mother-in-law using a Chinese rice bowl as a measuring implement. The recipe is now a family favorite, often served at Chinese New Year as well as for everyday meals. While it originates in Chaozhou province, China, the addition of lemongrass and galangal is very Southeast Asian. The sweetness of the duck is contrasted sharply by the tart dipping sauce and you get a tingly sweet sour sensation in your mouth. You can also add fried tofu or hard boiled eggs 20 minutes before the duck is done. Or jazz up the meat a little with a medley of intestines, duck liver, or gizzards. Do I hear “yum?”

Time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours
Makes: 4 to 6 servings as part of a family-style meal

One 4- to 5-pound duck, rinsed, and patted dry with paper towels
1 to 2 tablespoons coarse salt
4 whole cloves
4 whole pieces star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed (cut off bottom root end and 4 to 5 inches at the top woody end where the green meets the yellow, peel off loose outer layer), bruised and halved
One 1-inch-thick slice galangal, smashed
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, or to taste
1/2 cup dark soy sauce
Chili-lime dipping sauce (recipe follows)

Sprinkle salt on the duck skin and in its cavity.

In a 14-inch wok or 6-quart Dutch oven (or any vessel large enough to hold the whole duck), combine 2 cups water, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, lemongrass, galangal, sugar, peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Gently lower duck into the wok. There should be enough liquid to reach halfway up the duck. Top it up with water, if necessary. Baste the duck every 5 minutes or so for the first 20 minutes so that it colors evenly. Cover and simmer for another 40 minutes to 1 hour until duck is tender and the meat is falling off the bones. Halfway through the cooking process, flip the duck. If the sauce looks like it’s drying up, add more water.

To check for doneness, poke duck in the thigh with a chopstick. If the juices run clear, the duck is cooked. Or, use a meat thermometer to check if the internal temperature has reached 165 degrees F.

Turn off the heat and leave the duck immersed in the sauce for another hour if desired.

Cut the duck into serving pieces and serve with rice and chili-lime dipping sauce.

Chili-Lime Dipping Sauce

1 to 2 cloves garlic
1 long fresh red chili (like Holland, Fresno or cayenne), or 1 tablespoon bottled chili paste (sambal oelek)
3 tablespoons lime juice (3 key limes)

Pound the garlic and chilies in a mortar and pestle, or pulse in a small food processor, until a coarse paste forms. Add lime juice and mix well.

In search of perfect Thai basil pork

Several years ago, when I was a grad student studying in Boston, a Thai friend took several of us to her favorite Thai restaurant. She ordered in a flurry of Thai without so much as a glance at the menu and out came a succession of delicious dishes to our table that evening. And pad gkaprow mu or Thai basil pork was one of them. It had never tasted so good–the heady fragrance of basil and the earthy flavor of pork, rounded up togther with sweet, salty and spicy notes–and it hasn’t since.  This recipe comes pretty close although I’m sure even taste buds can lose their memory.

If you know of the perfect recipe, do drop me a comment! 

Thai Basil Pork (Pad gkaprow mu) 


This versatile recipe is a Thai favorite. Ground pork is usually paired with holy basil (bai gkaprow). However, Thai sweet basil (bai horapa) is much easier to find in Asian markets in America and makes a worthy stand-in. If all else fails, substitute with any basil or a mixture of basil and mint for a bright, refreshing flavor. Ground chicken or turkey also work well in this dish, as well as fresh seafood: Shrimp, scallops, mussels and firm-flesh fish like salmon or halibut.

Time: 25 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings as part of a family-style meal

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 1/2 cups packed fresh holy basil or Thai basil leaves
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 small shallots (or 1/2 small onion), cut into thin slices (1/2 cup)
6 red Thai chilies, cut into rounds (or to taste)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Dash white pepper or freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Preheat a 14-inch wok or 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in oil to coat the bottom of the wok and heat for 10 to 15 seconds until oil thins out and starts to shimmer. Stir in garlic and shallots. Stir 15 to 20 seconds, until garlic is light golden and fragrant.

Add pork, breaking it up with the edge of your spatula. Stir-fry until meat has just lost its blush, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium. Throw in chilies. Sprinkle oyster, fish and soy sauces and sugar, and toss to mix well. Add basil and stir until leaves are wilted and pork is cooked through, about half to 1 minute. Don’t overcook the pork.

Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with pepper. Serve hot with steamed rice.

If you can’t find Thai chilies, substitute with 4 to 6 serranos or jalapeños, cut into large slivers.

Marie Tran tested this recipe for me, check out her blog for her results. Thanks, Marie!

How meatloaf saved the day

hungry_hobbit, a.k.a. my husband, has been lamenting that all we’ve been having at home is Asian food (now c’mon, would you complain?). Well, with all the recipe testing that’s been going on, it’s not like I can help it.  

Then it came time to try Leah Tolosa’s Filipino-style meatloaf recipe, embutido.

hungry_hobbit stopped asking me what’s for dinner months ago but I volunteered the evening’s menu anyway. “Honey, we’re having meatloaf, but with a Filipino twist.” 

Ding! His eyes lit up! 

That evening, hungry_hobbit dined with a smile. The next day, he brought embutido to work for lunch and he ate it again for dinner! 

Thank you, Leah, your meatloaf saved the day!

Filipino-style meatloaf (Embutido)

I read online somewhere that embutido is traditionally wrapped with the skin of pig’s intestines. Does anyone have any input?

All I can say is that I’m thankful modern-day versions like Leah Tolosa’s are wrapped with aluminum foil. Embutido can also be served as a “cold cut.” Lightly pan-fry slices or deep-fry the whole log then slice. However, you choose to serve it, it’s delicious dipped in banana ketchup or Thai sweet chili sauce.

Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (30 minutes active)
Makes: 4 to 6 servings

2 slices white bread, cut into cubes (2 cups)
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped (3/4 cup)
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated (1/2 cup)
1/2 small red bell pepper, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 1/2 pounds ground meat of choice (chicken, turkey, pork, veal or beef) (2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup sweet relish
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3 hard boiled eggs, each halved

Three (12- by 12-inch) square sheets of aluminum foil

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, soak bread cubes in milk until soft, about 5 minutes.  Mix in beaten eggs.

In an 8-inch skillet, heat oil over medium heat until hot. Add garlic and onion and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until onions are soft and translucent. Add carrots and bell pepper. Cook another 1 to 2 minutes until heated through. Cool veggie mixture slightly, about 5 minutes.

Add veggie mixture to bread mixture in the bowl followed by remaining ingredients except hard boiled eggs. Mix well.

To assemble embutido, lay a sheet of aluminum foil on the counter. Scoop one third of the meat mixture (about 2 cups) onto the center of foil. Shape into a 9- by 5-inch rectangle.


Lay 2 egg halves, cut-side down, on top of meat mound.


Lifting the 2 longer sides of foil, shape meat mixture into a log around the eggs and hide them in the center.

Wrap completely with foil, rolling back and forth into a tightly packed log about 2- to 3-inches in diameter. Secure by twisting ends shut. Repeat with remaining meat mixture and eggs to form 2 more logs.

Place wrapped logs on a baking sheet or pan and bake for 1 hour.


Cool embudito completely before serving. To serve, unwrap aluminum foil and cut embutido into half-inch-thick slices. Arrange at an angle on the platter to show off hard-boiled egg in the center.