Garlic Thai Fried Rice

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If I told you this simple, humble plate of only five ingredients is one of the best fried rice dishes I’ve ever had, would you believe me?

I served this alongside grilled chicken but the rice stole the show. With only garlic, green onions, and fish sauce as seasonings, this dish is an umami bomb. The secret lies in duck fat instead of the standard peanut oil. You can buy jarred duck fat at some specialty grocers and it’s worth seeking out as it imparts a subtle meatiness and heft to an otherwise simple dish. It’s not traditional, but I had some in the fridge and wanted to add an extra layer of flavor to the rice. Chicken schmaltz will do just fine as well.

Garlic Thai fried rice

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons duck fat
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups cold cooked jasmine rice
2 or 3 green onions, trimmed, slivered lengthwise, and cut into 1-inch lengths
3 teaspoons fish sauce

1. Heat a wok over high heat and add the duck fat. Add the garlic and stir-fry until slightly golden, about 20 seconds. Add the rice, breaking it up as you toss it. With a spatula, keep moving the rice around the wok, cooking for about 2 minutes. Add the green onions and fish sauce and stir-fry for another minute. Serve warm.

Lamb Larb

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Anything I get to wrap in lettuce to eat makes me happy. (See: bulgogi, spring rolls, etc.) Larb is right up there with the best of them. It’s typically meat seasoned with that perfect balance of hot-sour-salty-sweet and served with sticky rice, herbs, and lettuce to wrap it all up in. Larb is popular in Laos and the Issan region of Thailand and while lamb doesn’t usually factor into traditional larb, I love this unorthodox version.

Ground peanuts substitute for the more traditional toasted rice here. Think of this as a protein-packed flavor bomb wrapped up in guilt-free packaging.

PS: Please ignore the godawful lighting in this photo. Blame my impatient tummy.

Lamb larb

Ingredients:

1 stalk lemongrass
4 garlic cloves
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
2 red Thai chiles
2/3 cup salted, roasted peanuts
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 pound ground lamb
Cooked sticky rice, butter or bibb lettuce leaves, sliced cucumber, lime wedges, and mint sprigs for serving

1. Remove tough outer layers from lemongrass. Thinly slice the bottom 6 inches from the bulb end. Pulse lemongrass and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add shallot and Thai chiles and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl; set aside. Pulse peanuts in food processor until coarsely ground and transfer to another bowl; set aside.

2. Whisk lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar in a small bowl; set lime dressing aside.

3. Heat oil in a large skillet over high. Add lamb to skillet and press into a single flat layer with a spatula. Cook, undisturbed, until underside is browned and crisp around the edges, 5–7 minutes. Use spatula to break into smaller pieces and turn. Cook pieces on the other side until edges are crisp and meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer lamb to a bowl with a slotted spoon, then use spoon to break up meat into bite-sized pieces.

4. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons oil from skillet and set skillet over medium heat. Cook lemongrass mixture, stirring often, until fragrant and starting to stick to skillet, about 3 minutes. Add reserved lime dressing and peanuts and return reserved lamb to skillet. Toss until meat is coated. Remove from heat and season with more fish sauce, if desired.

5. Serve larb with rice, lettuce, cucumber, limes, and mint sprigs for making lettuce cups.

Chicken Soup with Sticky Rice

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‘Tis the season for rainy days, for heavy coats, for wanting nothing more than to curl up with a bowl of warm soup and binge-watch Game of Thrones. Winter is coming, y’all.

My favorite thing about this time of year is cold-weather cooking; namely, soups! Especially this one: an easy-to-make but complex-tasting chicken soup redolent with Vietnamese flavors of fish sauce, cilantro, and chiles. Make sure you add enough chicken broth: as the soup cools and settles, the sticky rice will thicken the soup.

Vietnamese sticky rice and chicken soup

Ingredients:

3 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 5-inch piece dried kombu
1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled, crushed
4 star anise pods
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
3 cloves
6 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup glutinous (sticky) rice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced white onion

1. Bring chicken, kombu, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, stock, and 2 cups water to a simmer in a large pot over moderate heat. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook until chicken is tender. Transfer chicken to a plate.

2. Strain broth through a fine-mesh sieve into another pot; discard solids. Return broth to large pot and add rice, fish sauce, and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook until rice is very tender, about minutes. Shred chicken and return to pot; season soup with more fish sauce if needed.

3. Divide soup among bowls and garnish with green onions, jalapeno, cilantro, and white onion.

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.