Memories and a Mango Salad

When my husband was deployed for one year last year, he was entitled to a two-week R&R (rest and relaxation) trip which meant the military would fly him anywhere in the world. Many choose to go home but we decided to entrust Isaac to the grandparents and rendezvous in Vietnam.

My trip from Seattle took about 17 hours. His, two days. But that’s beside the point.

Hoi_An lanterns
A kaleidascope of lanterns brighten up the inky darkness at a Hoi An night market.

Because this is meant to be a brief post–we are moving yet again, but at least it’s only across town this time!—I’ll get to the point. One of my favorite experiences on that trip was a cooking class at the Morning Glory Cooking School  in the picturesque town of Hoi An along the central Vietnam coast. I wrote about it here.

And this gorgeous mango salad is testimony to it. Every time, I make it–and it’s quite often–I think of the blissful (and childless) two weeks my husband and I spent in Vietnam, lovers without a care in the world, taking comfort in each other and in the moment that was now.

~~~

Hoi An Mango Salad

Adapted from The Morning Glory Cookbook by Trinh Diem Vy

mango_salad2

The key to this vibrant salad is selecting a mango in the right stage of under-ripeness—you want mango slices that are slightly tart and still have some crunch (I don’t like them too sour though). Don’t focus on color as it’s not the best indicator of ripeness. Squeeze the mango gently and it should give ever so slightly but not too much. If it’s too squishy, the mango will be too sweet and mushy, and is better eaten out of hand. The breed of mango doesn’t matter as much–Ataulfo, Tommy Atkins, Kent, any of these will do.

Time: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 appetizer servings

1 medium (about 13 ounces) underripe mango
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 small clove garlic
2 teaspoons sugar (palm or white are fine)
2 teaspoons roasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lime juice (1 key lime)
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 small onion, sliced and soaked in water to remove its bite (about 1 cup)
1 ½ cups Vietnamese mint (rau ram or laksa leaf) and mint leaves
2 tablespoons fried shallots

Peel the mango with a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife. Hold the mango firmly down on the chopping board (or in one hand if you are comfortable) and use a paring knife to make vertical incisions down the mango from stem-end to tip, about half-an-inch apart. Do this on both sides of the seed.

With the vegetable peeler (or the nifty knife below), “peel” strips of mango away from you.

mango_mosaic

In a mortar and pestle, grind the chili paste and garlic together. Place the chili-garlic paste in a large bowl and add the sugar, 1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds, vegetable oil, lime juice, and fish sauce. Mix well.

Add the shredded mango, onion, half the mint leaves and toss until the ingredients are well coated with dressing.

Turn onto a serving tray and garnish with remaining mint leaves, sesame seeds and fried shallots.

~~~

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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

Ann Mah’s “Kitchen Chinese,” a Q+A, and Salt and Pepper Shrimp

Kitchen Chinese Ann Mah

Ann Mah’s debut novel, Kitchen Chinese: A Novel About Food, Family and Finding Yourself, has all the ingredients for a successful chick lit novel. It’s an easy, breezy read. It has a lovable heroine–Isabelle Lee–who has her flaws yet  emerges victorious. And it offers so much more, especially for Asian Americans who hardly see themselves reflected in mainstream literature. Plus, the book is chock full of mouthwatering descriptions of the regional cuisines Isabelle samples in Beijing, Shanghai, and beyond.

Isabelle leaves behind debris of an ex-boyfriend and a dead-end editorial job in New York for the bright lights of big city Beijing. She moves in with her high-powered attorney sister, Claire, who helps her land a job as dining editor for an expat magazine. True to formula (and just the way I like it!), Isabelle bounces between two irresistible men, all the while struggling with her identity as American yet Chinese.

With her knowledge of the culture and language limited only to what Ann terms “kitchen Chinese” (hence the title of the book), Isabelle finds her way in Beijing’s fast-paced society and reconnects with her roots with a touch of self-deprecating humor, warmth, and somewhat wide-eyed innocence.

I couldn’t put the book down for many reasons. It was smart, funny and overall, a very engaging read. Three things really struck me:

1. Isabelle, with all her insecurities and self-doubts (about her identity, talents, allure, etc.) was very much like me. I could really identify with her character and I deemed her my soul sister!

2. The smattering of Mandarin words (written in Romanized hanyu pinyin) used throughout the book encouraged me to pick up Mandarin again.

3. All the luscious descriptions of regional specialties like jianbing, mabo tofu and Peking duck made me so hungry I was enticed to either seek out recipes or call for takeout.

To give you a taste, I asked Ann to share a little bit about herself (do check out her blog) and her book and I hope you treat yourself or a friend to it. You can still order it in time for Christmas here!

Q+A with  Author Ann Mah

Ann-in-Paris KGL

 1. What inspired you to write this novel?

In 2003, my husband and I got married and a month later we moved from New York to Beijing. I gave up a job I loved in New York book publishing to become a diplomat’s wife. Initially, I was a little stunned — and I missed my job so much it felt like I’d amputated a limb — but slowly the local Chinese food ignited a spark to explore. This book grew out of those experiences.

2. You’ve admitted that Isabelle’s story is inspired by your own life. But how much is true to (your) life and how much is fiction? Did you embellish Isabelle’s character/life with elements you wish were present in your life?

Oh, of course! Isabelle is based loosely on my own experiences but ultimately I decided to write a novel because it allowed me to explore ideas of ethnicity and self-discovery more metaphorically. Isabelle is much braver than I am, especially when it comes to eating everything and traveling in the primitive Chinese countryside. And, unlike me, she’s lucky enough to have a sister.

3. You spent a year in Bologna, Italy on a James Beard Foundation scholarship, and after living in Paris for several years you are now working on a book about regional French cuisine. But you are ethnically Chinese and grew up eating Chinese food. How important was it for you to write this book and to spotlight China and Chinese cuisine?

I love Chinese food but in my Chinese-American home, I grew up eating it every day so I thought I knew everything about it. But when I got to China, I was shocked to discover an enormous landscape of regional cuisines — everything from numbing peppercorns to Chinese cheese — stuff wildly different from the food in my parents’ house. Food became the bridge that drew me into China. But the tale that burned inside of me was of a young American woman — who happens to be Chinese — living in Beijing. Food is the metaphor that allows the main character to make peace with her circumstances.

4. Growing up in Southern California, were you raised with strict Chinese traditions? Did living in China and/or the process of writing this book connect you to your culture? What are your reflections on both?

My father is ethnically Chinese but he was born in the States and as a result I had a very American childhood and grew up with a very American perspective. Living in China actually made me feel more American than Chinese because I felt more accepted by my compatriots, who understood that the conflict of outer appearance and inner identity. It also made me appreciate the struggles faced by my grandparents, who must have experienced the same fish-out-of-water challenges in 1920s California that I faced in 21st century Beijing. And, after leaving China, I have to say I missed Chinese food for the first time in my entire life. I still do.

5. You used to work in book publishing and made the transition to writing when you moved abroad. How did this decision come about and why focus on food?

I always secretly dreamed of being a writer but never had the gumption to go for it. Living overseas changed that — especially living in a place like Beijing, which pulsed with opportunity for someone young, energetic and educated in the West. I’ll always feel grateful to China for giving me a chance to realize a dream. As a young, semi-illiterate woman in Beijing, food was the bridge that drew me into China, the thing that made me eager to learn more about the culture and history. In fact, I’ve learned, it’s a pretty great way to explore the whole world.

6. Unlike many households, your dad did most of the cooking. Did you find this odd? Can you share a favorite recipe your dad taught you?

My dad grew up in central California, the son of Chinese immigrants who owned a Chinese restaurant. When he moved to North Carolina for his first job, he missed his mom’s food so much he taught himself how to cook it. I love to imagine him growing bitter melons and gailan (Chinese broccoli) — he even made his own tofu (once). Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the counter while he chopped garlic; he remains one of my favorite cooking partners. For his legendary dinner parties, he always makes a dish of salt and pepper shrimp — they’re so delicious, they can make even the most squeamish of eaters start to suck shrimp shells.

**Question #7 has a spoiler so it’s after the recipe.

~~~

Salt and Pepper Shrimp (Salad)

salt and pepper shrimp_blog

Ann learned to make this dish from her dad. She usually serves the shrimp as a salad with arugula or mixed greens tossed in balsamic vinegar, olive oil and sesame oil. I adapted the recipe a little, tweaking amounts as well substituting pine nuts for red bell pepper. I also chose to serve the shrimp as a main course on an undressed bed of shredded red lettuce.

Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 2 to 3 servings as part of a multi-course family meal

1/2 pound shrimp (about 20 31/40 shrimp), peeled, cleaned, and patted dry (*preferably fresh because frozen shrimp contains salt, and you may have to alter the amount of salt you use)
1-1/2 teaspoons salt-pepper-sugar mixture (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 plump garlic clove, minced
1 green onion, chopped
1/2 small red bell pepper, diced (about 1-1/2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dry sherry or white wine

Bed of shredded lettuce or mixed greens for serving

In a small bowl, toss the shrimp with the salt-pepper-sugar mixture and cornstarch until well coated.

Preheat a wok or large skillet. Swirl in the oil and heat over high heat until it starts to smoke. Add the shrimp and cook until they just turn pink (1 to 2 minutes on either side). Add the garlic, green onions, and red pepper and stir and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Drizzle in just enough sherry to create a sauce that barely coats the prawns. Remove from the heat.

Place the shrimp on the bed of greens and serve with rice.

Salt-Pepper-Sugar Mixture

This is a master batch for your spice cabinet (about 6 batches). You can increase the quantities to make more and store it in a bottle. I used white pepper from the Asian store which in my opinion is spicier than black pepper. Feel free to adjust the ratio according to taste.

2 tablespoons ground black pepper or white pepper
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar

Combine all the seasonings in a small bottle or jar. Shake well and store for up to a month.

 

~~~

**SPOILER ALERT—If you don’t want to know what happens in the end, stop reading now!**

7. This question is to satisfy my personal curiosity. I like that you left Charlie and Isabelle’s relationship open-ended. I get annoyed when authors feel they have to give their characters a happy-ever-after ending. Was this intentional?

Ha ha — well, yes, I wanted Charlie and Isabelle to have a chance to be together, but who knows what happens to them in the end? I like to think Isabelle stays in China for a good long while, unlike me. Maybe she is my döppelganger in that sense.

Coronation Chicken–A Sandwich Fixing Fit for a Queen

Depending on the quality and amount of curry used, the color of coronation chicken can range from acid yellow to subtle ochre. I like to think mine is the latter

Coronation chicken isn’t so well known in these parts (i.e. the U.S.) but in the U.K., this dish has a fabled history.

A humble dish with a regal name, coronation chicken was invented by Rosemary Hume, the founder of Le Cordon Bleu, joining the ranks of its Anglo-Indian brethren, chicken tikka masala and mulligatawny soup. It’s basically chicken salad’s gussied up little sister–shredded chicken dressed with a curry- and chutney-spiked mayo and studded with raisins–served over basmati rice or between bread.

According to this Guardian Newspaper article (where you can also read more about its provenance and permutations), coronation chicken was originally called poulet reine Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth chicken). And since Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this year (she ascended the throne 60 years ago on February 6th, and her coronation took place June 2, 1953), why not pay tribute to my colonial heritage?

And besides, I had leftover chicken, curry powder, and preserves just waiting to be used up. Operation “Cook Down My Kitchen” cracks on!

Do you have a favorite way with coronation chicken?

~~~

Coronation Chicken

I first discovered Coronation Chicken when I was living in England. A friend ordered a coronation chicken sandwich for lunch one day. (This was one dish that didn’t quite catch on in the colonies, at least not Singapore). I wasn’t enticed by the turmeric yellow-tinged chicken but she coaxed me into having a bite and I’m glad she did! That first bite was an intriguing mélange of tender chicken, spicy curry, and sweet raisins. I’ve had many versions since then, not always tasty and often not pretty. I came up with a dressing that wasn’t too sweet, doing away with the requisite raisins/dried apricots of many recipes, and cut the greasy mayo with the lighter texture of yogurt. Plus, I added some celery (another refrigerator legacy!) for a nice crunch. The result–a light and bright filling I enjoyed sandwiched between hearty slices of herb bread.

Time: 15 minutes

Makes: 4 appetizer servings, or enough filling for 2 to 3 sandwiches

2 cups shredded cooked chicken (about 4 drumsticks or 3 breasts worth)
2 stalks celery hearts, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoon preserves (I used a tropical mix but try apricot) or mango chutney
2 tablespoons yogurt (whole milk or lowfat is fine)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
A few squirts of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Place the chicken and celery in a medium bowl.

In a small cast iron skillet, toast the curry powder until fragrant, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Combine the curry powder, chutney, yogurt, mayo, and lemon juice in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.

Fold the curry dressing into the chicken until the chicken is well coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for at least an hour in the fridge to allow the flavors to meld. Serve the chicken on a bed of lettuce leaves or between slices of freshly baked bread.

Homemade: Peanut Sauce

I’m a peanut sauce convert. There I said it.

It’s true, I never liked peanut sauce.

It probably has to do with the fact that my mom always served peanut sauce with boiled vegetables, i.e. the popular Indonesian dish gado- gado. C’mon, do boiled vegetables sound appetizing to you? I didn’t think so. To my 8-year-old self, gado gado’s only saving grace was the crispy shrimp crackers (krupuk) crushed and scattered atop this mound of rubbery greens.

Peanut sauce plus boiled vegetables=Gado-gado
In the U.S., however, it seems people don’t have such prejudices and just about everyone is enamored with peanut sauce. This fact is, of course, reflected on the menus of Southeast Asian restaurants all across the country. Without fail, you’ll find Swimming Rama (the Thai version of gado gado) on page 1 or 2, and if you look a little further down you’ll find the ubiquitous satay (grilled skewered meat) accompanied by its faithful companion–peanut dipping sauce.

Heck, even my husband adores peanut sauce!

Thankfully, I have seen the light in recent years. My peanut sauce awakening came in the form of a soba noodle salad tossed with a peanut dressing singing of ginger and rice vinegar. This was when I decided I could like peanut sauce after all. A quick call to my mom and a few days later I was making peanut sauce from scratch.

Many peanut sauce recipes start with peanut butter as a shortcut. Not for me. In fact, I’m so dead serious about making it from scratch I pass on the food processor and grind the peanuts using pure muscle power instead. (Ok, ok, so our food processor is in storage).

Indonesian cuisine has a dizzying array of peanut sauces, each with subtle nuances. Each region has its own version and a different dish to go with it.

By tweaking the basic recipe below, you can make a sweet and sour sauce for a dish called asinan comprising salad leaves, eggs, tofu, cucumbers, and cabbage tossed with the sauce. Just add dried shrimp (dry-fried in a wok) and enough sugar and vinegar for the right balance of sweet and sour.

Or mix in sweet cloves of garlic, pounded to a paste, vinegar and petis udang (black shrimp sauce), for tahu telor, a tofu omelet of sorts. I asked my mom how much garlic to add and she told me, “Supaya wangi bau bawang putih,” until it is fragrant with the smell of garlic. I love how poetic that sounds!

You could add any of the above ingredients to flavor your peanut sauce regardless of what you want to eat it with.

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Toss the vegetables with the peanut sauce and top with shrimp crackers and fried shallots, and your gado-gado is ready to be eaten

As a healthy veggie-eating adult, I usually toss the basic peanut sauce with a medley of vegetables like green beans, cabbage, and beansprouts (yes, they’re all boiled), and top it with fried tofu, potatoes, and/or hard-boiled eggs. Sometimes, I’ll rebel and use fresh vegetables like Romaine lettuce and cucumbers. Or I’ll mix it in with vermicelli rice noodles and tofu.

A light drizzle of kecap manis, plus the mandatory shrimp crackers, and lunch is ready.

~~~

Peanut Sauce
peanut sauce

The raw shelled peanuts I buy at the Asian market usually come with their skins on, but don’t worry, the skins aren’t noticeable once they’re all ground up. The 12 oz bag makes 2 cups of ground peanuts but since I like to make my peanut sauce in small batches, I only use 1 cup of ground peanuts at a time (half the total amount). I’ll fry the entire bag of peanuts at one go, grind them up and refrigerate the remaining cup. If you prefer to make the sauce all at once, just double the amount of water and increase the seasonings judiciously.

Makes: about 1 cup sauce
Time: 30 minutes

1/4 cup oil (or just enough to coat the peanuts)
1 (12oz) package raw peanuts (about 2 ¼ cups)
2 to 3 kaffir lime leaves
Sliver of shrimp paste (terasi), toasted (optional)
1 tablespoon seedless wet tamarind, or lime juice
3 tablespoons Indonesian palm sugar or packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon chili paste like sambal oelek(or to taste)

Pour the oil into a wok or large skillet. Heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the peanuts and stir-fry them until the skins turn a darker shade of reddish brown and the insides turn golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Toss them continuously so they cook evenly and don’t burn.

When the peanuts are done, scoop them up with a slotted spoon and leave to cool on a plate lined with paper towels. Remove any burnt peanuts, they will taste bitter.

When the peanuts are cool enough to handle, grind them until fine like sand, in a food processor or pulverize them with a mortar and pestle like I did, in which case, grinding them till the texture of coarse sand will do. Otherwise your arm might fall off!

In a small pot, combine 1-1/2 cups water, the lime leaves, shrimp paste, tamarind, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, breaking up the shrimp paste and tamarind pulp. Inhale the intense fragrance of the lime leaves!

Using a strainer or slotted spoon, remove the leaves and any remaining tamarind pulp. Add 1 cup ground peanuts and bring to a boil. Save the remaining 1 cup for later. Simmer until thick and creamy like gravy, stirring often so that the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes.

Stir in the sambal oelek. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Serve the peanut sauce with vegetables, over soba noodles, or as a dipping sauce with grilled meats like satay. Garnish with fried shallots, fried shrimp crackers, and kecap manis.

Pat’s note: The sauce will keep for up to a week in the fridge. To reheat, add a little water if it’s too thick, and warm on the stove or in the microwave.

~~~

Pickling Workshop at La Cocina, SF

Last Sunday, I conducted my very first cooking class/workshop in San Francisco. It was organized by Slow Food SF and held at La Cocina, an incubator kitchen for low income minority women.

The series was aptly titled “Grandmother Workshops” and the goal was to teach people the traditional culinary skills our grandmothers used to teach us. Obviously, you needn’t be a grandmother to teach a workshop.

My chosen topic was pickles: kimchi, Chinese cucumber and carrot pickle and asinan buah (Indonesian fruit salad, see below).

The days leading up to the workshop was a flurry of activity shopping for the right ingredients, not so easy when you don’t live in a metropolitan city. Fortunately a small Korean-owned market in Seaside proffered red pepper powder, the one ingredient I thought would be most difficult to find.

When I got to San Francisco, I stayed with my friend Angeline who was my chauffer, helper and photographer (yup, she took all the pictures on this page) all rolled into one. I owe you one, Ange!

On Saturday, I scoured Chinatown for some fresh produce. While I was lugging daikon, jicama, cabbage and the like up and down Grant Street, Angie and my hubby went for foot reflexology and a full body massage respectively (I am in no way bitter about that, of course).

me and sugars

Prepping for the class

On Sunday, we got to La Cocina an hour early to prep. The large cavernous space comprises 2 sections, 4 work stations, even more sinks, several industrial-sized burners, an industrial-sized mixer, and a massive dishwasher, just to name a few accoutrements I saw.

By 3 o’clock, about 25 people had filled the room. I talked a little about pickling in general and the ingredients we would be using.

class

Everyone had different reasons for coming. One gentleman really wanted to learn how to make kimchi and requested that straight out. My second cousin came because she wanted to see me (or so I’d like to think). A science teacher thought that pickling might be a fun food science lesson to teach her students.

Soon, the sound of (knife) blade to (chopping) board reverberated throughout the space and informal chatter invaded the kitchen. I walked around making sure everyone knew what they were doing.

pickle mania

Pickle mania!

The communal pickle pot was the first to fill with the assortment of vegetables everyone brought. This we pickled using the same brine as the Chinese pickles. Some students worked on the kimchi and others tackled the jicama and pineapple for the asinan.

kimchi making2

Massaging the chili paste into the vegetables to make kimchi

There was some bickering over the vegetable peelers (we only had 3!) and we ran out of ginger and vinegar halfway. It was also hard to be heard with the banging of pots and pans in the next room and because of the echo-y space. And yes, there was chaos; as my friend said, “hands-on workshops are always a handful.”

In the end, everyone seemed to have a great time. I believe that the asinan was hands down the favorite. When everyone was filling their take home jars, that was the first to disappear.

As for me, I had lots of fun and it was definitely a learning experience.

Indonesian Fruit Salad (Asinan Buah)

asinan2

The communal pickle pot is on the left and the asinan is on the right

There are two versions of asinan, this one with chunks of fruit and (fruitlike) vegetables and another with a medley of vegetables–carrots, cucumbers and cabbage–and showered with roasted peanuts. This is my favorite, eaten as a refreshing snack on a hot, sunny day. Indonesian palm sugar might be a little difficult to find. Substitute Thai palm sugar or seek out Sweet Tree Sustainable Sweeteners evaporated palm sugar which I found at Whole Foods.

Time: 20 minutes
Makes 4 servings

2 cups fresh pineapple cut into 1/2-inch chunks (about 8 ounces)
1 large firm mango, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
1 small sweet potato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 small (about 8 ounces) jicama (Mexican turnip), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons (about 2 ounces) chopped Indonesian palm sugar
1 fresh, long red chili (like Holland or Fresno), pounded with a mortar and pestle or chopped in a food processor into confetti-sized bits, or 1 teaspoon bottled chili paste
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

Place the fruit and vegetables in a colander over the sink to remove excess liquids.

Place the palm sugar, chili and salt in a large bowl. Pour in the boiling water and vinegar and stir well. Let it cool.

When the dressing is cool, tumble the fruit and vegetables into the bowl and toss. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to meld. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

As grandma always says, please share!

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All Pickled Out

Last Labor Day weekend, 60,000 people converged on beautiful San Francisco to attend Slow Food Nation. I was one of them, except I was working behind the scenes at the Taste Pavilions, at of all places, the pickles and chutney booth!

The 50,000 square foot pier at Fort Mason was transformed into 15 distinct pavilions where tasters could sample regional food products from across the U.S. hand-picked by ‘curators’ who are nationally recognized experts on various types of food. The Taste Pavilions represented Beer, Bread, Charcuterie, Cheese, Chocolate, Coffee, Fish, Honey & Preserves, Ice Cream, Native Foods, Olive Oil, Pickles & Chutney, Spirits, Tea and Wine. I have to say they did a fabulous job, not just with the food but with the décor as well. Some of the Bay Area’s most celebrated architects and artists worked pro-bono to design each booth. (I have pictures but need to figure out how to upload them from my phone! For now, please visit http://slowfoodnation.org/blog/2008/09/02/taste-pavilion-photo-gallery).

While I got to walk the cavernous exhibition space housing the Taste Pavilions and breathe in the foodie-charged atmosphere for about 15 minutes, I spent most of my five-hour shift pinching pickles into little sampler cups. Sandwiched between Gudrun (she writes the blog www.kitchengadgetgirl.com) and DeeAnne (she owns Pig and I Farm), we chatted as we worked, making the time pass by quickly. I did also get to sample some yummy pork rillettes slathered over tasty Acme bread, woodfired pizza with an herby white-sauce base (sorry, I inhaled it so quickly I don’t recall what else was on it), paprika-marinated octopus with spiced chickpeas, pickled sardines, and pickled trout. Oh, and more pickles than I can ever hope to sample in my lifetime: kimchi, curtido (a Salvadorean cabbage and carrot relish steeped with cilantro and jalapenos), lacto-fermented sauerkraut, Sichuan cabbage pickles, beet and red cabbage pickles, and cabbage and fennel pickles (made by Barbara of Picklopolis). Can you tell it was a cabbage-based session?

Just in case you’re curious, it’s a funny story how I got involved, and a perfect example of just how amazing the Internet is at connecting people.

Pickle and chutney curator extraordinaire Michelle Fuerst was surfing the web looking for a small kimchi producer when, lo and behold, she came across my blogpost on kimchi. She emailed me asking if I knew anyone. I didn’t but we became friends and I volunteered to help Michelle out at the event.

On Saturday, I finally got to meet my internet friend in person. She’s just as lovely in real life as in cyberspace. Check her out in this podcast interview. Anyways, I brought along some Indonesian pickles with me which was to be served on Sunday evening with rice, eggplant pickle, lemon sun pickle, and a carrot pickle.

For those who’d like to try it at home, here’s the recipe.

Indonesian Turmeric Spiced Pickles (Acar Kuning)

DSCN1436 by you.

I made about a gallon of this yellow-tinged, flavor-packed, sweet and sour pickle for Sunday’s event but unless you’re feeding a crowd or really, really love acar, who wants to make such a humungous amount? Using a conversion factor (new/old quantity=conversion factor; I learned it during my first culinary arts class at the Monterey Bay Peninsula College!), I calculated this recipe for a smaller, saner batch.

Time: 1 hour plus waiting and steeping time
Makes: about 4 cups

5 pickling (Kirby) cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut into julienne pieces
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into julienne pieces
1 teaspoon salt
8 Asian shallots, or 3 small red onions, coarsely chopped
3 candlenuts, crushed
2 cloves garlic
1 plump stalk lemongrass, trimmed and coarsely chopped (or 3 tablespoons thawed frozen ground lemongrass)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar or to taste
2 tablespoons sugar or to taste
Salt to taste
1 cup cauliflower florets
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
1/4 cup chopped red pepper
4 Thai red chilies, chopped, or to taste
2 salam (Indian bay) leaves
Two 1/4-inch slices fresh galangal, smashed

Place the cucumber in a colander and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let it sit over the sink for 30 minutes to remove excess water. Rinse, drain thoroughly, and set aside. Repeat with the carrots.

Place the shallots, candlenuts, garlic, and lemongrass in the work bowl of a food processor and whirl until finely chopped to confetti-sized bits. You don’t want the shallots to be too watery.

Preheat a large wok over medium heat and swirl in the oil until it thins out and starts to shimmer. Scoop the lemongrass paste into the wok and sprinkle with the turmeric. Using a spatula, scrape the bottom of the wok and toss and turn the paste until the shallots turn pale and translucent, there is no trace of raw garlic, and the paste is a few shades darker, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Stir in the vinegar, sugar and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired and take off the heat.

When the pickling mixture has completely cooled, add the cucumbers, carrots, and remaining ingredients. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup more water if there isn’t enough of the pickling mixture to coat the vegetables. Toss to coat and transfer the pickles to an airtight container. Cover and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours.

Fish out the bay leaves and galangal and serve the pickles cold, or warm over fried fish.