Khao Soi (Chiang Mai Curry Noodles)

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Chiang Mai has two seasons: smoky and not smoky. Each spring, farmers create manmade fires to get rid of material from old rice stalks to clear the way for the next season’s planting. The air becomes polluted in addition to the stiflingly hot weather. It’s not the most popular time of year to visit Chiang Mai.

But I am undeterred. When I visited Thailand last year, I had to include Chiang Mai in my travels. Why? I wanted to eat khao soi. Khao soi is a soupy, curry-laden bowl of Burmese-influenced goodness, a mix of deep-fried crispy egg noodles and boiled egg noodles, shallots, lime, ground chilis, coconut milk, and usually meat. I researched the best khao soi restaurant in Chiang Mai and Nishan and I trekked through the smoggy heat until we found it: a nondescript outdoor restaurant with a corrugated sheet metal roof and plastic stools, identifiable only by the huge crowd of happy eaters.

The khao soi was worth the walk and when I’ve since learned to recreate these curry noodles at home, adapting my version from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. If you want to make this dish a bit healthier and easier to cook, omit the fried noodles. The red curry paste is a shortcut to making your own curry paste by hand, but the results are still delicious.

Chiang Mai curry noodles (khao soi)

Ingredients:

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
1 tablespoon cooking oil plus more for deep-frying noodles
3 cups canned coconut milk, with 1/2 cup of the thickest milk set aside
1/2 pound sirloin beef, cut into thin slices
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 pound Chinese egg noodles
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 shallots, chopped

1. In a small bowl, mix the garlic, turmeric, and a pinch salt until well blended. Stir in the curry paste and set aside.

2. Place a large heavy pot over high heat. Add the one tablespoon oil and when it is hot, add the curry paste mixture. Stir-fry for one minute, then add the reserved 1/2 cup thick coconut milk and lower the heat to medium-high. Add the meat and sugar and cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes, until the meat has slightly browned. Add the remaining coconut milk, the water, fish sauce, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook at a simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice. The soup can be prepared ahead of time and reheated just before serving.

3. Make the optional crispy noodles: line a plate with paper towels. Place a large wok over high heat and add about 1 cup oil, or 1/2 inch oil. When the oil is hot, drop in a strand of uncooked noodles to test the temperature. It should sizzle slightly as it falls to the bottom, then immediately puff and rise to the surface; adjust the heat slightly, if necessary. Toss a handful (about 1 cup) of noodles into the oil and watch as they crisp and puff up. Use a spatula or long tongs to turn them over and expose all of them to the hot oil. They will crisp up quickly, in less than 1 minute. Lift the crisped noodles out of the oil and place on the paper towel-lined plate. Give the oil a moment to come back to temperature, and then repeat with a second handful of noodles.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the remaining noodles, bring back to a boil, and cook until tender but not mushy, about 6 minutes. Drain well and rinse in fresh water to get rid of extra starch and stop the cooking process.

5. Divide the cooked noodles among four bowls. Ladle over the broth and meat. Top with crispy noodles and a pinch each of shallots and scallions.

Sri Lankan Lamb (or Mutton) Curry

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The flight from San Francisco to Toronto is only four hours but each time we land, I’m hungry. I’m dreaming of curry, you see. (Doesn’t everyone?)

My mother-in-law always has a meal for us when we arrive in the evening — we can hardly wait to put away our luggage before sitting down for a meal of parripu, rice, and always some sort of curry. Sometimes fish, sometimes mutton, sometimes lamb. I love them all and as I learn to cook Sri Lankan food, lamb curry has become one of my go-tos, albeit with a few Iranian touches. I cook my basmati rice Persian-style and serve the curry with tahdig and vinegary torshi on the side.

I cannot overemphasize how worth it is to make your own curry powder here. It only takes a few minutes and the flavor is superior to store-bought. Marinate your meat overnight, cook the next day, and voila. This fiery curry tastes even better the next day. You can follow this same recipe and use mutton instead of lamb, if you prefer.

Sri Lankan lamb curry

Ingredients:

2 pounds lamb or mutton, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons roasted curry powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
2-inch piece ginger, minced
2 green chiles, sliced
2-inch stalk lemongrass
2-inch cinnamon stick
1 or 2 sprigs curry leaves
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

1. Lightly prick meat with a fork to tenderize.

2. Slightly toast the curry powder in a pan for 3 minutes, until fragrant but not burning. Remove from heat and mix with meat, cayenne powder, paprika, and vinegar and marinate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.

3. Heat oil in a large pot. Saute onions, garlic, ginger, chiles, lemongrass, cinnamon stick, and curry leaves until onions are translucent.

4. Add marinated meat and saute for a few minutes until browned.

5. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes.

6. Add coconut milk, salt, and tomato paste and simmer over low heat, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes. Serve warm with rice.

Lahmajoun (Armenian and Turkish Meat Flatbreads)

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Turn on the news these days and all you’ll hear of Turkey and the neighboring region are stories of violence and chaos. But I know a very different Turkey, one bursting at the seams with friendly faces, proud and cosmopolitan Istanbulus, and most memorably, delicious scents wafting from what seemed like every storefront.

Nearly nine years ago, I visited Istanbul. The city is dotted with vendors selling fried fish sandwiches, molasses-dipped and sesame-crusted bread, stuffed mussels, and of course, lahmajoun. Lahmajoun is like pizza’s long-lost Middle Eastern cousin. Oven-baked flatbread is topped with meat, tomatoes, and an array of spices to create a dish beloved in Armenian and Turkish communities around the world.

Traditionally, the flatbread is handmade, but this version substitutes pita bread for an easy-to-make weeknight version. The results are just as delicious. I love to serve this with pickled vegetables and thick yogurt dusted with Iranian-style dried mint. One bite and I’m transported back to Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar in Eminonu. I yearn to visit Istanbul again, and until then, I have lahmajoun.

Lahmajoun

Ingredients:

4 pita breads
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 yellow onion, grated
1/2 red bell pepper, minced
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Arrange the pita breads on a foil–lined baking sheet.

2. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, onion, bell pepper, tomato paste, pistachios, parsley, cumin, oregano, allspice, garlic and salt. Spread the meat mixture on the pitas in an even layer. Bake for about 8 minutes, until the meat is browned in spots and cooked through. Serve warm.

Beef and Asparagus Stir-Fry with Noodle Pancake

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I’ve been making this dish since I was a teenager. I can’t even remember the source anymore, and over the years, it’s changed from the original recipe to something entirely anew. But it remains one of my favorite things to cook and eat. The Hong Kong-style crispy noodles soak up the spicy, savory sauce oh so wonderfully. The meat is tender. The vegetables are crisp. This dish, my friends, hits all the right notes.

It may take a while to cook, but the results are well worth it. The leftovers won’t last nearly as long as you think they will. Consider yourself warned.

Beef and asparagus stir-fry with noodle pancake

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon ginger
1 lb sirloin beef or flank steak, sliced thin
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
8 ounces fresh thin Chinese egg noodles
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces

1. Marinade beef: stir rice wine, soy, 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, garlic and ginger in a large bowl. Add beef to marinade.

2. In a separate bowl, mix chicken broth, oyster sauce, chili garlic sauce, remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, pepper and sesame oil together. Set aside.

3. Cook noodles in large pot, according to directions. Drain, rinse under cold water, drain again.

4. Heat nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and coat. Spread noodles evenly and cook, pressing lightly from time to time to form a cake, until bottom is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn cake over. Drizzle one tablespoon oil on bottom and cook other side, about 5 minutes. Transfer to plate.

5. Heat wok over high heat and add remaining tablespoon of oil. Add meat and stir fry until cooked through and no longer pink. Remove from wok. Add onion to wok and stir fry for two minutes. Add asparagus and cook for four minutes.

6. Return meat to wok, pour in sauce and bring to boil. Cook until slightly thickened, about two minutes. Spoon over noodle pancake and serve.

Sri Lankan Beef Curry

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This fiery curry is colossal. Left overnight to meld flavors and reheated the next day, it’s perfection alongside a plate of basmati rice and cooling yogurt.

Make sure to allow the meat enough time to marinate and adjust the amount of cayenne pepper depending on your heat tolerance. If spicy curries are your thing, go to town. My spice tolerance used to be pathetically low, but with practice, I’ve gained a respectable ability craving for heat. If I can do it, so can you.

Sri Lankan beef curry

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons roasted curry powder
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2 pounds sirloin beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2-inch piece ginger, finely grated or minced
2 green serrano or Thai chiles, sliced
1 sprig curry leaves
2-inch stalk lemongrass
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
2 cloves
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup coconut milk
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt

1. Lightly toast curry powder and fenugreek seeds in a small pan. Mix with beef, cayenne pepper, paprika, and vinegar and marinate overnight.

2. Heat oil in pan. Saute onions, garlic, ginger, green chiles, curry leaves, lemongrass, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves until onions are translucent.

3. Add marinated beef and fry for several minutes, turning occasionally, until beef is browned.

4. Add 1/4 cup water to the marinating bowl to release the remaining spice mixture and add to pan. Add remaining water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

5. Add coconut milk, salt, and tomato paste and simmer, partially covered, for an additional 40 minutes, until curry is thick.