Saturday, April 30, 2011

Malaysian Spicy Squid

When I was in Kuala Lumpur last summer, I stopped at Kinokuniya Bookstore inside the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center (known locally as KLCC). My goal was to find a good Malaysian cookbook. The cookbook section was well-stocked and it took me quite a while to pick out my final choice: The New Malaysian Cookbook, authored by a Malaysian, Nor Zailina Nordin, and a Chinese Muslim, Fatihah Seow Boon Hor. It's a gorgeous cookbook that shows colorful illustrations of ingredients central to Malaysian cuisine. That's why I bought it; so I could familiarize myself with ingredients that I would need to shop for at my local Asian markets.

For a while, I've been toying the idea of making a squid dish. The recipe for spicy fried squid looked really attractive and colorful. I was determined to make it. So I found my way to the Super 88 Asian Supermarket where I picked up chili paste and chili sauce, galangal, fennel seeds and tomato puree. Everything else I had on my shelf.

The recipe is organized in four phases: preparing and marinating the squid; mixing the blended ingredients; making the spice paste, and; sauteeing everything bit by bit. It's not a technically difficult recipe, but it is a bit time-consuming. I dry-roasted the coriander and fennel seeds and ground them in a spice mill in order to have a better result. Powdered spices just do not compare to whole ones.

Bear in mind that you'll need to roast the candlenuts for a bit before using, as they are slightly toxic if consumed raw. I heated them in a non-stick pan until they browned.

So how did it taste? First of all, the bright red of the tomato puree, chili paste and chili sauce contrasted beautifully with the lightness of the squid and onion. This is a dish that you eat with your eyes as well as your taste buds. I thought that I had entered an altered state of reality. Seriously. The sauce was highly aromatic and fiery, which I absolutely love. And the sweetness of the sugar mixed nicely with the tomatoes and chilies. It was sublime. The squid absorbed the flavors well and the texture was perfect. (You must be careful not to overcook
squid or it become rubbery.) I served the squid over rice. I warn you -- my mouth was peppery for a good while after I finished eating the squid. It's very spicy, so be prepared.

600 g. squid (cleaned and sliced if large)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper powder
salt and sugar to taste
60 ml oil
2 tablespoons chili paste
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 tablespoon chili sauce
2 tablespoons coriander powder
1 tablespoon fennel powder
little water
2 tomatoes (quartered)
1 large onion (sliced into rings)
coriander leaves(finely chopped, for garnishing)
Mix from chili paste through fennel powder with water to make a paste.

Blended Ingredients
6 shallots
3 candlenuts
1 cm. ginger
1 cm. galangal

1. Marinate squid with white pepper, salt, and sugar.

2. Heat a quarter of the oil; fry squid until half-cooked. Remove from wok.

3. Heat the remaining oil; saute blended ingredients and spice paste till aromatic. Combine well and add water.

4. Continue stirring until the oil rises. Season with salt and sugar. (I found that it did not need any additional salt. And I ended up using about 1 tablespoon of sugar.

5. Put in fried squid and tomatoes. Stir completely and dish up onto a serving platter.

6. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves and serve.

Salvaged biscuits

Sometimes when I cook something that I've made before, I go on automatic pilot.

That's what happened this morning with the Emeril cheddar cheese biscuits that I made (but this time without the cheddar cheese).

Instead of adding 1/4 cup of milk, I spaced and put a full cup into the dry ingredients. As soon as the milk hit the bowl, I immediately realized my mistake. My first reaction was to grab a plastic bag to pour the ruined batter into, which would then go into the trash. But I stopped myself.

All I needed to do was change the amount of salt, baking powder, baking soda, shortening and milk. The challenge was that I had used the rest of the shortening in the original batter. And I didn't have any butter on hand (I need to go to the supermarket this morning after I post this!). So what did I do? I took a deep breath and added vegetable oil and hoped for the best.

The salvaged batter looked like this:

Because I had made this biscuit recipe on numerous occasions, I could tell the difference in the texture of the batter. It was more moist and elastic than usual. Despite the trepidation that I felt, I forged ahead. Curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to know what the salvaged version of the biscuits would be like.

Into the oven they went. When they came out, I saw that they had spread and connected to each other. The biscuit batter should be free-standing and fairly firm. But the taste was actually not that bad. The biscuits were softer on the inside than they would have been had I made the recipe correctly. But they were still crisp on the outside. It's not clear to me that I would want my biscuits to taste this way on a regular basis. But the objective of salvaging them paid off. They were more than edible. They were actually fairly tasty!

By the way, here is the original Emeril Lagasse recipe (from New New Orleans Cooking, by Emeril Lagasse and Jessie Tirsch, published by William Morrow, 1993) for the cheddar drop biscuits:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon solid vegetable shortening

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk

1 cup shredded Cheddar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil a pie tin.

Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well. The dough will be slightly sticky.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions and drop into the pie tin. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve right from the oven.

Yield: 4 biscuits

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Banh Mi

I am very fortunate. I live near Boston's largest Vietnamese community. (It's known as Little Saigon because the majority of the Vietnamese there moved to the area as the Vietnam War ended in the mid-1970s.) What that means is that I have easy access to delicious Vietnamese food! For years I've had my go-to places where I happily go to slurp on large, steaming, healthy bowls of pho and canh chua ca. The former is a combination of noodles and various cuts of beef, while the latter is a sweet and sour fish soup. Both are glorious.

Then I discovered banh mi, which are essentially Vietnamese heroes. They're made on crisp-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside French baguettes (remember that Vietnam was under French rule for the first half of the 20th century, until the United States intervened) and are filled with a combination of meats. Commonly pork, pate, head cheese, etc. are fillings, along with pickled carrots, radish, cucumber and hot peppers. All are put inside the cut baguette, which is spread with a seasoned butter mixture.

I've visited several shops along Dorchester Avenue over the past several months. One is so filthy that I refused to buy anything there. It probably needs to be raided by the Public Health Department. A second one that is located closer to Columbia Road is just ok. The beef used was tough and way too salty. I would not go there again.

There is one banh mi shop that has emerged as head and shoulders above the rest. It's called LA Baguette and Restaurant, located in the heart of Little Saigon, at 1229 Dorchester Avenue ((617) 436-5464).

The place is clean and unassuming. But the food is a joy to eat! While the restaurant name highlights banh mi as its specialty, there are other food items on the menu: fried rice, crab mixture on baguette, fried fish, stewed chicken, chicken lo mein with vegetables, etc. These are served cafeteria style and are changed regularly.

But let's be clear. Banh mi is the star here, as it should be. First of all, the baguettes are made fresh. I would put them against the best French baguettes that I've eaten in Paris. Yes, I'm serious; they are that good. When I go to the restaurant, I often see people buying bags of baguettes.

As much as I love bread, I'm more interested in the stuff on the inside. LA Baguette features a fairly extensive menu of banh mi choices. There are vegetarian, tuna, beef and variations on the traditional pork fillings. The astounding thing is that the highest price point for a banh mi is a whopping $3.50. And the women who prepare the sandwiches do not skimp on either the protein or the vegetables.

I went today to buy one and chose the King Do Special, which features different cuts of pork and ham. I always get my sandwich with hot peppers, as I like a kick to my food. The sandwich is fairly generous in size and bursts with contrasting sweet, sour and salty flavor.

I especially enjoy the pickled vegetables, which provide a nice degree of contrasting texture and crunchiness to the softness of the meats.

If you're in Dorchester, I highly recommend LA Baguette and Bakery.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Napa Cabbage and Snow Pea Slaw

Surely there are other people out there like me who absolutely despise the taste of mayonnaise. I find it repulsive. The thought of mayonnaise makes me queasy. Literally. You'll never, ever, ever find it in my refrigerator! If I have to use mayonnaise, I prefer to make it myself.

What does this revulsion of mayonnaise mean? It could limit my ability to enjoy dishes such as potato and chicken salads and cole slaw.

But I refuse to be excluded!

I've spent ages looking for alternative ways to prepare slaws that don't involve the use of mayonnaise. Thank God for South East Asian cuisine!!!

One of my favorite magazines is Cooking Light. One issue a few years back featured a recipe for an Asian slaw that I make on a fairly regular basis. The sauce uses sesame oil, lime juice and fish sauce. No mayonnaise in sight! Hallelujah!

The slaw is crisp, crunchy and full of texture and sharp and tangy flavor. Over the years, I've modified the recipe by adding various julienned vegetables such as carrots.

If I want to serve it as a main course, sometimes I add grilled beef or chicken. But it tastes great by itself!

I've frequently taken this dish to potluck meals and it is always a hit.


YIELD: 4 servings (serving size: 1 cup)


2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
Dash of ground red pepper
4 cups (1/4-inch) slices napa (Chinese) cabbage
1/2 cup snow peas, trimmed and cut lengthwise into (1/8-inch) thin strips
1/2 cup fresh bean sprouts
1/2 cup (1/8-inch) julienne-cut peeled jicama
1/4 cup (1/8-inch) julienne-cut red bell pepper
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro


To prepare dressing, combine first 6 ingredients, stirring with a whisk.
To prepare slaw, combine cabbage and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add dressing, and toss well to coat. Chill 30 minutes.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lemon-Cream Cheese Cake

Recently, I found myself wanting a dessert made with cream cheese. But I was not in the mood for a cheesecake. And I wanted to make something that would not be time consuming. I decided to make a lemon-cream cheese cake, which I found on

Although I love rich foods, I found myself feeling convicted. We are in an age of health-consciousness; so I decided to make a lightened version of the cake. This was very easy to do. All I did was replace the regular cream cheese with neufchatel; and I used low-fat milk in place of whole milk. The taste was still very, very good and the cake was light and moist. The lemon glaze added a nice layer of tang that contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the sugar.

I served the cake with hot tea, which was the perfect accompaniment.


8 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 tablespoons grated lemons, rind of
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Prepare 10' Bundt Pan.

3. In large mixing bowl, blend cream cheese and shortening until creamy.

4. Beat in 1 1/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

5. Add lemon peel, flour, baking powder, salt and milk.

6. Blend at low speed just until thoroughly blended, scraping bowl

7. Pour batter into prepared Bundt pan and bake 45-50 minutes .

Glaze: Combine lemon juice and 1/3 cup sugar. Pour over hot cake, allowing it to run down edges between cake and pan.

Cool 30 minutes, then remove cake from pan. If desired, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Curried Vegetables

I posted recently about my outing to the meat-heavy Brazilian restaurant, Midwest Grill.  What I neglected to mention is that I actually had the nerve to return there four days after my dinner.  I went alone for lunch.  What was I thinking?  I knew that it was a bad idea to eat yet another heavy meal so soon after the first one.  But I chose not to restrain myself.

I felt gross, truth be told.  My stomach felt like lead.  While I still had to eat, I decided to cut meat out and focus on vegetables.  Salads are easy, crunchy, full of texture and adaptable.  But I found myself wanting more out of my vegetables, especially since they were going to be the main course!

Inspiration comes from the strangest places.  I live in a very diverse neighborhood in Boston with a strong spirit of entrepreneurship.  What that means is that you can drive down the street and pass large trucks with people selling fruits and vegetables out of the back for insanely low prices.

No, I don't ask the origins of the produce, and maybe I should.

When I saw the truck as I made my turn, I immediately pulled over.  Who could pass up a sign that said, "$2 bags of fresh fruits and vegetables"?  An idea formed in my head for a vegetarian meal.  It solidified as the guy told me that the large bag included potatoes, green beans, and zucchini.  With the carrots that I already had in the crisper, I decided that a curried vegetable dish served over rice, would be a nice change of pace.

I whipped up something from my head.  I heated about 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil and added 1 tablespoon of curry powder and 1 1/2 teaspoons of cumin seeds.  I left them heat until they became fragrant.  Then I added a combination of green beans, cut potatoes, 1 zucchini, chopped, two cubed carrots and 1 cup of diced tomatoes.  I added enough chicken stock (you could use vegetable stock, of course) to cover and brought the mixture to a boil.  Then I turned the heat down and let it simmer for about 40 minutes or so. I added salt and pepper to taste.

I served the vegetables over steamed rice. It was flavorful, spicy and delicious -- a very, very welcome change after all the meat I'd been eating.  The dish was so good that I'm certain I'll make it again.


When Recipes Don't Work!

I posted before about William Sonoma's fast Asian cookbook.  The recipes are easy to follow and very tasty.   I thought that I would continue to work my way through the recipes and settled on braised soy-ginger chicken and bok choy..  I love braised meats and the sauce-- which adds sesame oil and honey to the reduced marinade-- sounded flavorful.

What a disappointment!  I know that these recipes are tested before they make their way into a cookbook.  Something clearly went wrong with this one. 

The recipe needs to be re-vamped.  I was concerned about the use of a full cup of soy sauce as part of the braising liquid. All that sodium! I thought that I would get around the issue by using low-sodium soy sauce.  The marinade/sauce was still way too salty!  I'm not anti-sodium by any means.  But the chicken and bok choy were rendered nearly dead by all that sodium. 

In addition to using low-sodium salt, I would decrease it by 1/4.  Also, try using more water (increase by 1/2) and more rice wine (increase by 1/2).

I'm hesitant to even post the recipe.  Maybe after several weeks, I'll give it a try again with the modifications.

I blame myself for the problems. My instincts told me that there was too much soy sauce relative to the other liquids. Using common sense is as important as reading the recipe carefully.

Braised soy-ginger chicken and bok choy

1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons minced ginver
3 thinly sliced scallions
2 lbs. skin-on, bone in chicken thighs or breast halves
1/2 lb. bok choy, quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons hone
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
steamed rice for serving

1. Braise the chicken
In a Dutch oven or deep frying pan, combine 1 1/2 cups water and the soy sauce, wine, brown sugar, five-spice powder, ginger, and scallions.  Bring to a boil over high heat adn then reduce the heat to medium-low.  Submerge the chicken pieces, skin side up, in the liquid and simmer gently for 8 minutes.  Turn the pieces and continue to simmer until the chicken is opaque throughout when tested with the tip of a iknife, about 8 minutes longer.

2.  Cook the bok choy
Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a serving platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm,.  Bring the braising liquid to a boil over medium heat, add teh bok choy, and cook until tender about 3 minutes.  Using the tongs or slotted spoons, transfer the bok choy to the platter, arranging it around the chicken.

3.  Glaze the chicken
Bring the braising liquid to a boil over high heat and boil until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the honey and sesame oil.  Pour over the chicken and bok choy and serve with the rice.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review: Midwest Grill, Cambridge, MA

Any fans of Brazilian food out there?  If you love Brazilian cuisine like I do (I even lived there for a bit over a year), and are a meat eater, then you need to make a trip to Midwest Grill ( It's located in Inman Square, Cambridge, MA. 

The restaurant features grilled meats, which are a specialty in the southern part of Brazil.  Churrascaria is akin to Argentine, Uruguayan and Chilean asado.  Different cuts of meat (sirloin, various sausages, chicken wrapped in scallops, chicken wings, pork, beef short ribs, lamb, chicken hearts, etc.) are put on a spit and roasted over an open flame. A waiter comes around with individual spits and you decide whether you want the meat being offered.  If you do, then the waiter cuts it, you put on your plate with the tongs provided, and voila!  You can dig in.  What makes the grilled meats work is their quality.  I sampled the sirloin and the beef short ribs, both of which were very, very tender and flavorful.  The sausages were packed with good seasonings

While the meats are the centerpiece of this orgy of carnivorous delights, don't forget the sides!  Midwest Grill features a good selection.  There's white rice, and a saffron rice with vegetables.   Black beans cooked with various cuts of pork (think feijoada, Brazil's national dish) are available, as is cassava, fried sweet plantain, cabbage, fried chicken wings and fried fish.  There's also a cold salad bar that featured beets, shredded carrots, tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber. There were olives, cheese, and various salad dressings. 

I'm often wary of buffets, for obvious reasons.  Often, the food is not fresh, dries out, and loses flavor.  Not so with Midwest Grill. I took note of the fact that the staff routinely changed the dishes, so that the food was always fresh.

I should point out that the restaurant features other fishes as well, including moqueca, a regional fish stew associated with Bahia made with tomatoes, garlic and spices.  There's also a shrimp stew and sauteed shrimp. I've had the moqueca at Midwest.  It's good, but not great.  Maybe I'm being unfair, since my point of comparison is moqueca made in Salvador's most authentic restaurants. 

The group that I went to dinner with decided to share dessert.  We had flan.  It wasn't the best flan I've had, but it was decent.

The great food was accompanied by an acoustic guitar player, who serenaded us with classic Brazilian bossa nova. music. 

I highly recommend Midwest Grill!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Thai Cooking Rampage!

I'm not sure what got into me this past Saturday.  Whatever it was, it was a great day.  A friend of mine offered to hang out with my son.  They went to the symphony, the museum, and then to his music class. I was free for several hours!!  The weather was pretty decent -- sunny and not too cold.  I could have (and probably should have) spent my free time enjoying the warmth of the early spring sun.  What did I do?  I went to two supermarkets (including one that specializes in Asian ingredients), stocked up and went to my kitchen and cooked until the late afternoon.  I had a blast!

For the previous several days, I had become engrossed by a cookbook that I had bought a few months before:  Fresh Thai written by Oi Cheepchaiissara. I found it in the bargain section at my local Border's before it closed (I'm still very upset about the closing). What drew me in was the photography -- really more like food porn!

I highly recommend the cookbook, as it is a delight to read. The introduction is about the author's experience of family and food while growing up and he does a great job of painting a vivid picture of Thai food culture.  I could also relate to it personally because of my own family experiences with food.  My family, with strong roots in the US South, was very much like this.  Food organized our family events, our time after school, during holidays, etc.   And both my parents were excellent cooks!

The first section of the cookbook gives an overview of Thai cuisine and clearly explains the ingredients commonly used. It's a great introduction for those who are new to Thai cooking.  The recipes are divided by courses:  soups and appetizers; salads; fish and seafood; meat and poultry; vegetables; rice and noodles; and desserts.  The recipes are clearly written and easy to follow. In  a nod to concerns about cholesterol, the recipes combine coconut milk with stock, which maintains the cultural integrity of the recipes, while keeping your arteries open. 

I've made several recipes from the book and am determined to work my way through all of them!!!  I know it's ambitious, but your mouth waters at every recipe.  So why not?

I made a good dent in my plan Saturday, as I made four dishes, including a dessert (lime/lemongrass sorbet).  The first dish was Thai barbecued ribs.  The supermarket had a special running and I picked up a package of ribs for about $3.00!!!  The second dish was a yellow chicken/pineapple curry made with a homemade curry paste.  Then I found a quick and easy stir-fried vegetable dish.  I was happy about this, as I had a crisper full of fresh vegetables that really needed to be used.  Finally, I tackled the surprisingly easy lime/lemongrass sorbet, which is sublime.

What I love about Thai food is the fact that the seasonings enhance, but don't mask, the ingredients. The marinade for the barbecued ribs was easy, and very, very flavorful!!  I used boneless ribs, by the way. I marinated the ribs overnight to enhance the flavor.  And I used cilantro roots instead of the ground coriander.  It was all I could do to keep from eating all the ribs by myself -- they were that good.  The chicken/pineapple curry was warm, with just enough bite.  While my child likes spicy food, I was careful about the number of dried red chilies I added.  According to my son, Brooks, it had just enough kick.  The veggies were the perfect side dish; and you can pretty much use whatever veggies you have on hand and the dish will work.  Finally, the sorbet was absolutely delightful.  I used palm sugar in place of brown sugar, as it is commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine.  I will definitely make the sorbet again.


Barbecued pork spare ribs with honey

2 lbs. pork spare ribs, cut into 4-5 inch lenghts
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 cilantro roots, cleaned and finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon coriander
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (optional)

To serve: 1 red chili, finely sliced
1 green onion, finely sliced

1.  In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients with your fingers or a spoon.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave for a t least 3 hours or, if time allows, overnight in the refrigerator. 
2.  Place the ribs with all the marinatde in a baking dish and cook in a preheated overn, 350 degrees F, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, basting several times during cooking.  Broil for another 5 minutes on each side until well browned and slightly charred.
3. Alternatively, preheat a grill or broiler to medium heat.  Grill the pork, turning several times and brushing frequently with the remaining sauce until the meat is cooked through and slightly charred, which should take 10-12 minutes on each side.  Serve garnished with chili and green onion slices.

Yellow curry chicken with pineapple

1 1/2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 recipe Yellow Curry Paste (see below)
10 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
3/4 cup canned coconut milk, shaken well
3/4 cup chicken stock (I didn't have any fresh stock on hand, so I used low sodium, 99% fat free stock)
10 oz pineapple, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 long red chili, stemmed, seeded, and finely sliced, to garnish

1.  Heat the oil in a nonstick wok or skillet and stir-fry the hyello curry paste over medium heat for 2 minutes or until fragrant.
2. Add the chicken and stri-fry for 4-5 minutes. 
3.  Add the coconut milk, stock, pineapple, and fish sauce.  Spoon into a serving bowl, garnish with chili and serve immediately.

Yellow Curry Paste
2-3 dried, long red chilies, each about 5 inches long, or 5 dried, small red chilies, each about 2 inches long
2 lemongrass stalks (white part only), each about 5 inches long, finely slied
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
3 shallots, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon yellow curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin

1.  Remove the stems and slit the chilies lengthwise with a sharp knife.  Discard all the seeds and roughly chopt he flesh.  Soak the chilies in hot water for 2 minutes or until soft, then drain.
2. Use a mortar and pestle or blender to grind the chilies adn lemongras into a smooth paste.
3.  Add the garlic and shallows and then the remaining ingredients.  Pound together until the mixture becomes a smooth paste.

Stir-fried mixed vegetables

10 thin asparagus spears
10 baby corn
4 oz green beans
4 oz red and yellow bell peppers
4 oz small zucchini
4 oz snow peas, trimmed
1 small carrot or 4-5 baby carrots
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
4 oz small broccoli florets
4 oz bean spreots
1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and finely sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup vegetable stock or water
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
cilantro leaves, to garnish

1.  Prepare the vegetables.  Cut off the tips of the asaparagus and cut each stalk into 2 inch lengths.  Cut the baby corn adn green geans in half lengthwise at an angle.  Halve and seed the bell peppers adn cut the flesh into bite-sized pieces.  Slice the zucchin thinly.  Leave the snow peas whole, although tif they are rather large cut them in half an trim.  Peel and cut the carrot into matchsticks or scrub them if you are using whole baby carrots.
2.  Dry-fry the sesame seeds in a small pan for 1-2 minutes or until lightly brown; set aside.
3.  Blanch the asparagus stalks (not the tips) baby corn, green beans, zucchini, snow peas, carrots, and broccoli florets in boiling water for 30 seconds.  Plunge into a bowl of iced water to ensure a crispy texture, drain and transfer to a mixing bowl with  the asparagus tips, bell peppers, bean sprouts, and ginger.
4.  Heat the oil in a nonstick wok or skillet and stir-fry the garlic over medium heat until lightly browned.  Add the mixed vegetables and the remaining ingredients and stir-fry over high heat for 2-3 minutes.  Transfer to a serving plate, garnish with a few cilantro leaves and toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Lemongrass and lime sorbet

2 1/2 cups water
3 lemongrass stalks, each 7-8 inches long, cut into 4-5 pieces and bruised
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lime rind
2/3 cup lime juice

1.  Boil the water, lemongrass, and sugar in a saucepn over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved
2. Strain the syrup and discard the lemongrass solids.  Add the lime rind and juice.  Set aside until cool.
3.  Pour the mixture into a freezer box or other container and freeze for 1 1/2 hours or until half-frozen.  Take the mixture out of the freezer and blend in a food processor.  Return to the container.  Whisk at least twice during freezing time.. There should be plenty of air whipped into it or it will be too ice and hard.  Cover and freeze completely.

Monday, April 4, 2011


When you think of Korean cuisine, what comes to mind? Is it the spaghetti-and-meatballs of the culture, known as jap chae? Or perhaps your mind goes to bulgoki, the tender strips of beef that are marinated and grilled.

If you’re like me, you immediately think of kimchi. Kimchi is the national food of Korea and is served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s also used in cooking dishes – especially stews. So representative of Korean culture is this spicy, vinegary cabbage dish that there is even a museum in Korea devoted to it. That’s right – the Kimchi Field Museum opened in 1986 under the sponsorship of a large Korean food production company. Pulmuone, Inc. (

Kimchi has evolved within the context of Koren cuisine over hundreds and hundreds of years. There are numerous variations on the basic recipe (which includes cabbage, chilies, ginger, scallions, garlic and vinegar) that change by region and family. Variations between spicy to set-your-mouth-on-fire, as well as between levels of tang, all put a stamp on the final outcome.

I first discovered kimchi when I was a freshman in college. David Lee, my small group leader, organized an excursion for all of us to Kabuki House, a Japanese/Korean restaurant located in Central Square, Cambridge, MA (that has, sadly, closed). We were l8 and David made us line up by the bus, giving us each a token as we boarded. No, I’m not kidding.

The restaurant, like the owner, was warm. It felt like you were in someone’s dining room and not a restaurant. We ordered a combination of Japanese and Korean dishes, which were accompanied by spinach, daikon, and of course, kimchi. From the time the spicy, pungent, crunchy cabbage hit my mouth, I knew that I had begun what would be a lifelong love affair.

Over the course of my 25-plus year relationship with kimchi, I’ve learned that a cook’s individual personality, mood and taste affect how the kimchi comes out. And by the way, kimchi-making is the domain of Korean women.

I have posted elsewhere in my blog about kimchi at various restaurants. However, it’s not really feasible to eat at Korean restaurants for both lunch and dinner, every day. So what’s the alternative?

There are two, as I see it. One is to make kimchi from scratch. That is on my to-do list and I will blog about it after I make a batch of it. The second, make-do alternative is to buy kimchi at the store. There are several brands on the market, each with their own taste.

I’ve eaten two recently, both of which I enjoyed. The first (I ate half a jar over the course of one day) brand is King’s ( Generally, I prefer very hot kimchi. The supermarket had only the mild variety. This one lists the ingredients as: nappa cabbage, garlic, scallion, hot pepper, sugar, salt, paprika and ginger.

I really liked the King’s brand. It was quite mild and I think, accessible to those who are wary of spicy foods. While there is sugar in it, it is (at least to me) difficult to taste. It had a nice vinegary tang with just enough salt. And the crunchiness was delightful!!! I am looking forward to trying the spicier version.

The second brand that I’d like to mention is made by Kimchee Pride ( The listed order of ingredients is: Chinese cabbage, onion, garlic, ginger, scallion, red pepper, salt, sugar, and anchovy sauce. This brand of kimchi has more of a kick to it, which I really liked. While I could taste the tanginess of the vinegar, it seemed to compete with the sweetness of sugar. It’s not unpleasant at all, but I’m not accustomed to eating kimchi that is as sweet as Kimchee Pride is.

While I love eating kimchi as part of a total meal, there’s nothing more satisfying than eating it right from the jar!