Smacked Cucumber in Garlicy Sauce

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There’s this cucumber appetizer at Z&Y Restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown that I love: piquant, garlicy, and salty, it’s perfect in its simplicity yet a challenge to recreate. Until now. This is as close as I’m going to get to achieving this cooling cucumber that’s perfect alongside a meal of spicy dishes.

Resist the urge to make smacked jokes: the smacking refers to whacking the cucumber to help it absorb the flavors of the sauce. Try not to crush it into a million pieces!

Smacked cucumber in garlicy sauce

Ingredients:

1 English cucumber
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar (or substitute balsamic vinegar)
1 tablespoon chili oil

1. Lay the cucumber on a chopping board and smack it a few times with a rolling pin. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into 4 pieces. Cut the cucumber on the diagonal into 1-inch slices. Place in a bowl with the salt, mix and set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl.

3. Drain the cucumber, pour over the sauce, stir, and serve.

Steamed Eggplant with Chili Sauce

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I love eggplant but I hate frying them but I love their buttery texture when they’re fried. First world problems, amirite? I’ve tried grilling, I’ve tried baking, I’ve tried broiling eggplant to recreate that fried buttery texture, but to no avail.

Until I tried steaming them.

Whatever magical alchemy is happening under the steamer results in a smooth, creamy texture reminiscent of fried eggplant but without, you know, gobs of oil. This simple dish is enlivened with a fiery chili sauce and pairs perfectly with some jasmine rice.

Steamed eggplant with chili sauce

Ingredients:

4 Asian eggplants
salt
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon black Chinese vinegar (or substitute with balsamic vinegar)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon chili oil with chili flakes
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1. Trim the eggplants, cut them in half lengthwise, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Leave for at least half an hour to draw out the bitter juices.

2. Steam the eggplants over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes or until tender, preferably in a bamboo steamer fitted over a wok. Leave to cool and then cut into 3-inch pieces.

3. Combine the soy sauce, vinegar and sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Mix in the oils and pour the sauce over the eggplant on a serving platter.

Tomato Curry

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What do you do when you have too many tomatoes? Make tomato curry. This summertime curry is my new surprise favorite — I had an excessive tomato haul and wanted to try something different than salad or tomato sauce. Spicy and savory and slightly sweet from ripened tomatoes’ natural sugars, this whole thing comes together in only a few minutes and is finished with a touch of creamy coconut milk.

If you never thought tomatoes could be the star ingredient in a curry, try this and see if you don’t change your mind. It’s perfect alongside heftier curry, some rice, and pickled things to make a perfect meal.

Tomato curry

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 onion, chopped
1 serrano chili, chopped
1 pound tomatoes, quartered
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground corriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Maldive fish

1. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add fenugreek, mustard seeds, curry leaves, cinnamon, onion, serrano chili, and cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Add cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, salt, and Maldive fish and cook for another minute, being careful to not burn the mixture.

2. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 7 minutes, until they have softened. Add coconut milk and water, bring to a boil, and simmer until the liquid thickens.

3. Serve as a side curry to a main vegetable, fish, or meat curry alongside rice.

Thai-Style Mixed Vegetable Stir-Fry

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This easy, healthy stir-fry is a welcome addition to any meat-heavy (or vegetarian) meal and best of all, it’s easily adaptable so you can use whatever vegetables are in season.

The dao jiao, or Thai fermented soybean paste, is necessary to achieve the characteristic salty-savory flavor. When I traveled through Thailand last year, it was in lots of the vegetable stir-fries I ate, especially in the north near Chiang Mai. I’ve been hooked ever since.

I couldn’t find dao jiao even at large Asian grocery stores like 99 Ranch, but the local Southeast Asian market in my hometown had it. Shout out to Phnom-Penh Grocery in Santa Rosa for holding it down since childhood.

Thai-Style Mixed Vegetable Stir-Fry

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 pound napa cabbage, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
1/4 pound snow peas
1/4 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon fermented soybean paste (dao jiao)
1/4 teaspoon pepper

1. Heat a wok over high heat. Add the oil and toss in the garlic and stir-fry until beginning to turn golden. Add all the vegetables and stir-fry until starting to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the fish sauce, cover, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the soybean paste and mix well. Remove from heat, season with pepper, and serve.

Green Corn Soup

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Move over gazpacho. I have a new favorite cold soup celebrating summertime in all its glory.

Adapted from a Food & Wine recipe, this chilled dish is full of spinach, jalapenos, limes, and of course, corn. It’s all of summer’s bounty in vibrant, showstopping form. Make this a couple hours ahead of time to let the flavors develop. It’s perfect on a sweltering day.

Green corn soup

Ingredients:

8 ears of corn, shucked

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, sliced

salt
pepper
2 cups packed baby spinach leaves 

3 jalapenos; 2 stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped; 1 stemmed
 and thinly sliced

juice of 1 lime

1. Cut the kernels from the cobs; you should have 6 cups. Working over a bowl, scrape the cobs with the back of a knife to release the corn milk; discard the cobs. 


2. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over moderately high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, 
stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add 4 1/2 cups of the corn kernels and the corn milk and cook, stirring occasionally, until the corn is crisp-tender, about 
6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a blender and let cool slightly. Wipe out the skillet.


3. Add 1 1/2 cups of water to the blender with the corn and puree at high speed until very smooth, about 5 minutes. Strain the puree through a fine sieve set over a large bowl, pressing on the solids. Discard the solids. Return the corn puree to the blender and add the spinach, chopped jalapeños and half of the lime juice and puree until the spinach is finely chopped and the soup is green. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in 1 1/2 cups of water. Cover and refrigerate the soup until cold, at least 2 hours.

4. Meanwhile, in the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of corn kernels and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 1 minute. Transfer the corn to a small bowl and refrigerate until cold.


Step 5
Add the sliced jalapeños 
and the remaining half of the lime juice to the chilled corn kernels and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the soup to bowls and top with the corn to serve.