Archive for May 27th, 2007

Odds and ends I

Time to clean up my to-blog list!

Miscellaneous things I made in the past five months…

When we ran out of Kraft singles

Sriracha tuna salad, Sichaun peppercorn pickles,
Pecorino crisp and mesclun greens on rye

The original plan was tuna melt, but then I had to change my agenda slightly due to the lack of Kraft Singles. But fear not! When there’s a will (to eat), there’s always a way. Luckily I found a wedge of pecorino in the fridge, so I just grated up a good amount and crisped it in a dry pan on the stove–this would make a good snack on its own too with some extra seasoning. For the tuna salad, I mixed canned tuna (in water, drained) with chopped onion, a portion of mayonnaise and an equal portion of Sriracha hot sauce, then finished with a squeeze of lemon. I love the Sriracha-mayo combination. It’s a great way to cut calories without compromising the taste. I piled the tuna salad on a piece of rye, followed by a few slices of homemade Sichuan peppercorn pickle, then the mesclun greens, and finally the cheese crisp. I guess you could call it a tuna tartine.


Pecorino crisp

For the Sichuan peppercorn pickles, I used a simple pickle recipe from Epicurious as a reference for the vinegar/water/sugar ratios and then made modifications to it (lots of garlic and crushed Sichuan peppercorn instead of dill). Pickling is actually a lot of fun because you can really go wild with the choice of spices/flavorings you put in the brine. Plus it takes only five minutes but it makes you feel really domestic, which is a good thing (as Martha Stewart would say :p). Then you let the pickles soak up the yumminess of your self-designed brine for 1-2 weeks, and there you have it, your very own homemade pickles. Now how about homemade Koolickles? *cringe*

When the weather outside was frightful


Tom Kha Gai – hot and sour chicken soup with coconut milk and galangal
(hah, wordy enough for ya?)

Nothing warms you up like a bowl of soup, and here’s a really great one: Tom Kha Gai. Besides keeping you warm on a chilly day, the kha in Tom Kha Gai can help alleviate your stomach discomfort, help with indigestion, remedy vomiting, treat diarrhea, improve circulations to your hands and feet, and even cures hiccups. This is not counting the health benefits from lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves–miracle soup indeed!

(“Kha” is the Thai word for galangal. It is a relative of ginger.)

Tom Kha Gai is among my favorite Thai soups to make because most Thai restaurants in the States just can’t get it right; they butcher it with too much sugar and coconut milk. The result is a disgusting, depthless, overly thick, cloyingly sweet soup. My grandmother would raise hell at the taste of it (I am so serious). Tom Kha Gai in its true form should not have any sugar in it, and the ratio of coconut milk to chicken broth:stock should be no higher than 1:3. The key is to use enough herbs–galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves–so the soup gets sufficiently infused with their flavors and aromas. Another crucial ingredient is lime juice, because it cuts through the richness of the coconut milk and chicken fat. Most restaurants tend to use too little lime juice resulting in something that is either too salty or sweet, or just plain flat.

Tom Kha Gai (hot and sour chicken soup with coconut milk and galangal)

1/2 lb. chicken breast/thighs/drumsticks (sliced if using breast)

6 cups chicken broth or water (or a mix)

1-2 cups coconut milk

2-4 stalks of lemongrass, cut into short pieces, and pounded

3-6 kaffir lime leaves

5-10 slices of galangal

2-4 fresh Thai chilies, pounded

lime juice and fish sauce

1) Boil the chicken broth or water in a pot. Add the chicken and simmer until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

2) Add lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal. The quantity to use for each herb really depends on whether the herbs are fresh or frozen and also your liking. I like my soup very aromatic so I usually throw in a lot more of each thing than what most Tom Kha Gai recipes call for. It’s probably better to add a moderate amount at first then keep tasting and adjusting along the way. Let the soup simmer.

3) After simmering and infusing for about 8-12 minutes, add the coconut milk. Again, add a moderate amount at first, and if it’s not rich enough then you can add more later. Season the soup with fish sauce and lime juice. This is like a titration process; you just keep adding a little bit of each until it hits that right balance of flavors, just like when the solution turns pink.

There should be a pronounced sour taste, followed a salty and then spicy taste. The subtle hint of sweetness should only come from the chicken/chicken broth. If you like smoky flavors, you could substitute dried chilies for the fresh kind or even use a combination of the two. For more contrasting texture, you could also add oyster mushrooms to the soup (just make sure to add them towards the middle/end of the simmering so the mushrooms don’t become too flaccid).

Tom Kha Gai is extremely aromatic and piquant but still mild enough to be drinkable. This makes it likable even too people who are less adventurous with food, and I have yet to find a person who doesn’t like it. Among my biggest Tom Kha Gai fans are BFF and R. BFF is a very picky eater. R basically eats everything, literally. Once he was drinking the soup and he said, “These things are very fibrous. I can’t really swallow them.” So I replied, “Uhhh, those are herbs. They’re not for eating…they’re just there for the aroma. You might be able to eat the galangal, but definitely not the lemongrass. Dude, do they even taste like you should be eating them???”Then R said, “Which one’s lemongrass? But if they’re not for eating then why did you put them in there anyway?? Witch.”

Just remind me to make a bouquet garni with galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves next time. You should too, so someone won’t try to chew and swallow the herbs then choke to death.

Where to get Thai herbs:

I get mine in Chinatown. Udom’s Thai and Indonesian Store is a tiny hole in the wall jam-packed with all things Southeast Asian ranging from spices and condiments to dried food and frozen herbs. For Tom Kha Gai, I can usually find frozen galangal and frozen lemongrass here. Obviously, they won’t have as strong aromas as their fresh counterparts so you’d have to use more of them. Bangkok Center Grocery is exclusively Thai, and here you’ll find fresh, hard to find herbs like galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, and even more exotic things like pandan leaves.

Udom’s Thai and Indonesian Store
81 Bayard St.
New York, NY 10013
(212) 349–7662

Bangkok Center Grocery
104 Mosco St.
New York, NY 10013
(212) 732–8916

To be continued…


May 2007
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