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.

Fresh Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce

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I make these light and healthy spring rolls all the time, especially when the weather begins to warm up. (Or when it never cools down, as is this case with this year’s endless Bay Area summer.)

Even though I usually make them with shrimp, you can substitute with shredded chicken, fresh crab, or any kind of protein. The herbs are interchangeable too: I prefer a mix of romaine lettuce, mint, and basil, but anything goes. Sometimes I substitute shredded carrots with cucumbers or avocado instead. You get the picture.

Don’t make these too ahead of time, as I’ve learned the hard way that refrigerating fresh spring rolls results in a stale wrapper. Don’t worry, though. These are so good you won’t have any left over.

Shrimp spring rolls

Ingredients:

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons chile-garlic sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
24 medium shrimp (about 1 pound), peeled (or shredded chicken)
4 ounces dried bean thread (glass) noodles
16 round rice paper wrappers
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1 bunch mint leaves, removed from stems
1 bunch basil leaves, removed froms tems
1 Persian cucumber, peeled and julienned
1 bunch romaine lettuce, ribs removed

1. To make the peanut sauce, whisk the first 8 ingredients together in a medium bowl; set aside.

2. To make the spring rolls, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook until pink and opaque, about 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and run under cold water until cool. Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and place on a cutting board. Holding your knife parallel to the cutting board, halve each shrimp horizontally. Set aside.

3. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil and pour over bean thread noodles in a heat-proof bowl and cover for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

4. Place a clean, damp kitchen towel on a work surface. Fill a medium frying pan or wide, shallow dish large enough to hold the rice paper wrappers with hot tap water. Working with 1 wrapper at a time, completely submerge the wrapper until it is soft and pliable, about 15 seconds. Remove the wrapper from the water and place it on the towel.
Working quickly, tear off a piece of lettuce that is roughly half the size of the wrapper and place in the center of the wrapper. Add 3 shrimp halves in a row, cut side up, just above the center of the wrapper, leaving about 1 inch of space on each side. Layer 1/4 cup of the noodles over the shrimp, followed by a spoon of carrot, a few mint leaves, and a few basil leaves. Place 2 of the cucumber sticks on either side of the noodle pile.

5. Fold the bottom and top halves of the rice paper wrapper over the filling. Holding the whole thing firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in. Then, pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire wrapper horizontally up from the bottom to the top. Slice in half.

6. If not serving immediately, keep the summer rolls tightly covered with plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 2 hours. Serve with the peanut sauce for dipping.

Chocolate-Dipped Frozen Bananas

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It turns out I may be developing a sweet tooth after all. Cake and tarts and most pastries still do nothing for me, but these chocolatey frozen bananas are just right. Crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, they keep well for when a craving strikes. Plus, bananas are full of potassium, so these are kind of healthy, right?

Chocolate-dipped frozen bananas

Ingredients:

2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons canola oil
Assorted toppings for coating bananas (toffee bits, chopped Butterfinger candy bars, or chopped salted peanuts)
3 bananas, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1. Stir chocolate and oil in heavy small saucepan over low heat just until smooth. Let stand 15 minutes to cool.

2. Place each topping in separate shallow dish. Line baking sheet with foil. Arrange banana slices on foil. Using fingers, dip 1 banana slice in chocolate, coating completely. Shake off excess chocolate. Drop dipped banana in 1 topping. Using clean hand, sprinkle more topping over banana to coat; transfer to foil-lined sheet. Repeat with remaining bananas, chocolate, and toppings. Freeze until firm, about 3 hours, then serve.

Thai Basil Gimlet

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I used to hate gin. It tastes like liquid bark, and who wants to drink bark? It wasn’t until I tasted a gimlet that I learned to love the libation, and this summer, I experimented with different versions. Cucumber gimlets, albaloo (sour Persian cherry) gimlets, you name it. This Thai basil gimlet is my favorite: herbal, tart, and complementary to the strong flavor of gin.

Thai basil gimlets

Ingredients:

7 large Thai basil leaves
1 3/4 ounces gin
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup

1. Put 6 basil leaves in a cocktail shaker and press them with a muddler or a wooden spoon. Add the gin, lime juice and simple syrup. Fill with ice, shake vigorously and strain into a small chilled glass over ice. Garnish with the remaining basil leaf.

Gai pad gra pow

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I first tasted gai pad gra pow this past spring (late pass, I know), when my friend Natasha offered me a bite of her dish at a Thai restaurant in San Francisco. I was hooked, and I had to learn how to cook it.

Since then, this basil-inflected chicken stir-fry has become one of my favorites. Spicy and full of protein, it pairs perfectly with a cooling cucumber salad and steamed rice.

Gai pad gra pow

Ingredients:

5 cloves garlic, minced
3 bird’s eye (Thai) chiles, stemmed and minced
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cleaned and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup Thai basil leaves

1. Place a wok over high heat. Add the oil, garlic, and chiles and stir-fry for 30 seconds, or until the garlic is slightly golden. Add the chicken and stir-fry for 5 minutes, or until the chicken has cooked throughout, using a spatula to press the meat against the hot wok.

2. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and pepper and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the basil and stir-fry until wilted, about 1 minute, then turn out onto a serving dish. Serve warm.