I love Asian food. Much to my husband, Jason’s, regret, I could eat it every meal of every day. If I had to pick favorites, they would be mú xī pork, tom yum soup and Thai eggplant. In pursuit of better health and frugality, I want to know how to make these at home.
It’s easier said than done. I’ve tried five recipes each for mú xī’s combination of cabbage, egg and pork wrapped in light, wheat flour pancakes, and the spicy, bright flavors of lemon grass, kaffir lime, cilantro and stock I’ve downed in bowl after bowl of tom yum. All to no avail.
Last week, after three dinners in a row of Thai eggplant, I finally cracked the code. Extra palm sugar and soy help lift and balance the earthy bitterness of the eggplant. Thai basil, chili oil and vinegar make it bright. Red peppers and shitake mushrooms give depth of flavor.
Now back to work on the other two*. Sorry honey.
*I’d welcome any suggestions on these two dishes! The sooner I get them right, the sooner Jason gets to stop eating my attempts week after week.
Stir Fried Eggplant
- 3 tbs peanut oil
- 4 cups Thai or Japanese* eggplant cut in 1.5” cubes
- 2 cups thinly sliced Shitake mushrooms
- 1 medium red pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup Thai or Italian (common) basil, not packed
- 2 tbs each soy sauce
- 2 tbs palm sugar*
- 1 tbs fish sauce
- 1 tbs Merken Chile Oil*
- 1 tbs Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar*
- 1 tbs cornstarch
*Substitutions: Yes, there are a lot of ingredients here, and many you may not have on hand. Here are some easy substitutes. Thai eggplant are small and thin. You can cube a large, Italian eggplant and use that instead. Palm sugar tastes identical to Maple sugar. You can use brown sugar too. Merken Chile Oil and Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar are both from Sapore in DC. I’ve gone through two bottles of the Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar since Renee introduced it a month ago. Order them online, or use chili oil and rice wine vinegar from the Asian section of your grocery store.
- Heat 2 tbs peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant and cook approximately 5 minutes until softened and golden. The eggplant will look translucent. Remove from pan.
- Reduce heat slightly, add remaining tbs peanut oil in same skillet and add red pepper and Shitakes. Cook 3-5 minutes until softened.
- While mushrooms and peppers cook, whisk together the sauce ingredients in a separate bowl with 1/4 cup warm water.
- Add garlic and return eggplant to pan. Cook 1 minute.
- Whisk sauce and add to pan. Stir with ingredients until it is reduced and coats the vegetables.
- Add basil, stir through. Season to taste with white pepper and serve.
I love quesadillas, that authentic Mexican treat that I first enjoyed overlooking Boothbay Harbor in Maine. It was the day before my 21st birthday and Sandy Larsen née Bugbee took me out to dinner. I believe that evening’s special involved crab and brie. Authenticity aside, it was delicious, and certainly freed me to think beyond chicken and cheese.
Just about anything tastes good grilled between two tortillas with hot melted cheese, including, it turns out, peaches. Sounds funny, right, but think about the joy of peach salsa over grilled chicken or with salty tortilla chips. Peaches are a natural with sharp Amish cheddar, mild Asian Barbecue sausage from Canales Quality Meats, warm cumin and bright red onion between hearty corn tortillas.
I cook the sausage and onions and assemble these ahead of time for entertaining. Stack them in the fridge, pull them out and fry them right up. A pizza cutter is your best friend for slicing these without pushing all the filling out. No salsa is needed, but this smoky peach salsa would gild the lily* beautifully.
*We don’t us phrases like “gild the lily” nearly often enough anymore. “Right as rabbits” is a bit neglected too.
- 3 Asian Barbecue sausages*
- 1 red onion, diced and sautéed
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 8-10 6” corn tortillas
- 2 – 3 cups grated Cheddar cheese
- 3 peaches, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup chopped basil
- Olive oil
*No Asian Barbecue sausages on hand? Sauté any good pork sausage and add a tsp of Chinese 5 Spice powder and a tablespoon of soy while cooking.
- Squeeze the sausage from the casings and sauté over medium heat, breaking them up with a spoon until crumbled, browned and cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
- Add 1 tbs olive oil to pan and sauté onion until softened and edges begin to brown. Season with cumin, salt and pepper.
- Layer one corn tortilla with cheese, cooked sausage, peach slices, onions and basil. Top with more cheese and a second tortilla.
- Fry quesadillas in 1 tbs oil over medium heat, about 3 minutes per side, turning once when the tortilla begins to brown in spots.
- With a pizza cutter, slice into wedges and serve.
It’s 5pm, and today has been long. The last thing I want to do is go home and cook, at least, not until I’ve opened a bottle of wine, which usually leads to an hour of sitting on the couch followed by dialing for dinner. I’ve got a fridge filled with ripe tomatoes, sugary-sweet peaches, sockeye salmon and crisp green beans. Honestly, I would rather debate Miley’s new haircut (get over it!) than face another night of steamed veggies and baked fish.
I’ve just killed your buzz. Here you are thinking that I will arrive home with a basket of farm fresh produce on my arm to be lovingly prepared, while discussing the events of the day with my loving husband soothed by a soundtrack of jazz vocals. A long-stemmed glass of something fabulous in hand, we’ll sit down to a candlelit evening at the dining room table, cloth napkins draped over our laps.
For real?! I’ve got a full time job, I’m beat and I want cheap Chinese and glass of whatever I know I won’t really taste after the second glass anyway. Which is when I think about compound butter.
Rolled in my fridge is a pound of farm-fresh, Amish butter (yes, from Dan at Agora). The other night I softened it and folded in fresh cilantro, lime zest, cumin and scallions. In under 30 minutes this evening I can sear a salmon filet, dress a salad and steam those green beans. A thin slice of the cilantro-lime butter will melt over the cooked fish. I’ll toss another with the beans. Suddenly I face the prospect of a richly sauced, yet light, healthy dinner on the table.
Plus, it’s cheaper than eating out, so we can treat ourselves to a good bottle. Something bubbly.
Cilantro Lime Compound Butter
Slices of the compound butter can be spread on fresh corn-on-the -cob, grilled meats or hearty fish like tuna or salmon. Try tossing a tablespoon with steamed green beans or zucchini.
- 1/2 pound softened butter
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp chili powder or Spanish Paprika
- 1 tsp finely grated lime zest
- 1/4 tsp white balsamic vinegar*
- 2 scallions, whites plus 1 inch greens, finely minced
- 3 tbs finely chopped cilantro
*Or Champagne vinegar. I bought mine at Sapore.
- Soften the butter at room temperature and stir it briefly in a medium bowl until creamy.
- With a rubber spatula, fold in the dry spices and lime zest.
- Fold in the vinegar a few drops at a time.
- Fold in the scallions and cilantro.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Using a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap, roll the butter into a log and refrigerate until firm.
You know when parents talk about sneaking vegetables into their kids food? None of us really believe that it works, right? Vegetable strips are not “french fries,” shredded vegetable patties aren’t “burgers,” and raisins may be sweet, but nature’s candy is a bridge too far.
Zucchini, however, is a different animal altogether. Put it in cookies, pancakes, bread and pizza, and I’ll gladly be fooled any day of the week. It was my Mom’s recipe for zucchini pizza – where shredded zucchini mixed with a little cheese, flour and egg forms the crust – that inspired me.
This meatloaf does everything that “sneaking-in-veggies” recipes are supposed to. It turns a pound of ground beef into eight, hearty servings, each of which has almost half a cup of zucchini. Replacing the usual tomato paste with a homemade tomato jam sneaks half a tomato in there t0o, along with an amazing amount of flavor. All these veggies lighten the meat loaf so it feels summery, not dense and wintry.
Zucchini Meat Loaf
- 1/4 pound pancetta, diced or bacon*
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 4 tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 1/4 cup Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar**
- 2 medium or 4 small zucchini shredded, about 3.5 cups
- 1 pound ground beef, not lean
- 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tbs chopped basil
- 1.5 cups Parmesan cheese
*Pancetta is salt cured, not smoked. If you use bacon you can simmer it for a couple minutes first to remove some of the smoky flavor.
**Another magic vinegar from Sapore. If you need a substitute, use a nice, acidic Sherry vinegar.
- Make the tomato jam.: Over medium heat sauté pancetta in one tbs olive oil until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
- Add onion. Cook until soft. Add garlic. Cook 1 min until fragrant.
- Add tomato and cook until thick and jammy. Add a little water when pan gets dry. Deglaze pan with vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Mix the warm jam with the rest of the ingredients, reserved pancetta and salt and pepper.
- Fry a small patty of the mixture then season to taste adding additional salt, pepper, cheese or vinegar as needed.
- Press into a 9” square baking dish or form into a loaf on a baking pan. Bake at 325 for about an hour.
- Let rest 10 minutes tented with foil and serve.
I wanted super mushroom soup. Mushroomy soup that tasted like mushrooms. Deep rich and delicious, not dull and salty, overpowered by cream and thickeners. I know that much flavor would need to start with a strong stock. Once I had that base I needed more mushrooms. I sautéed the Oyster and Shitake caps whose stems had flavored the stock. A half hour later, I strained the soup again. Now it was rich and mushroomy, beautifully dark brown and clear. But I wanted more!
I sliced Crimini mushroom caps thinly and sautéed them in farm-fresh butter. Deglazing the pan with Madeira added richness. This was it! Three layers of mushrooms and I was finally satisfied. This is was the mushroom flavor I had been looking for!
Mushroomy Mushroom Soup
- Olive oil
- 1 shallot, minced
- 4 cups chopped wild mushrooms. I used Shitake and Oyster.
- 2 additional cups Crimini mushrooms thinly sliced
- 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 8-9 cups Rich Mushroom Stock*
- 2 tbs butter
- 1 tbs chopped thyme
- 1/2 cup Madeira
- 1 tbs chopped parsley
- Heat 2 tbs oil in 4 qt saucepan over medium.
- Sauté shallot 4-5 minutes.
- Add 4 cups wild mushrooms and sauté until lightly brown.
- Add thyme and mushroom stock. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.
- Strain soup, pressing on solids. Reserve the liquid. Save mushrooms for other use.*
- Meanwhile…melt butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Cook 2 cups sliced mushrooms until lightly browned and pan is dry. Stir in thyme. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Deglaze pan with Madeira.
- Return mushroom broth to 4 qt saucepan. Add sautéed mushrooms and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
- Season to taste and serve soup garnished with parsley. A tablespoon of butter stirred through will make it nice and rich.
*If you want a thicker soup you can purée the mushrooms into the soup at this point and continue as below. Add a 1/4 cup cream before serving. Or add the mushrooms to braining liquid or Sunday morning’s omelet.
It’s about flavor. Lots and lots of flavor.
You’ve had mushroom soup fresh from the can or carton, right? The first thing you taste is salt. Lots and lots of salt. Then there is this vaguely earthy note. Is it mushrooms or just the packaging? If the soup is creamy, the salt is typically the only flavor to escape the overwhelming starchy, non-dairy-ness of the concoction.
I wanted real mushroom soup. Earthy and rich. I wanted to taste concentrated, slap-your-mama, fresh, mushroom flavor. I knew that a good soup recipe alone wouldn’t get me there. I needed the foundation of a rich, flavorful stock.
Knowing I was going to serve this up at Eastern Market on Saturday morning, I had a few constraints. No oven and little time. that meant no roasting the ingredients, and not enough time for a beef stock. Some quick sautéing started to provide rich flavor. MIso paste was a quick and serviceable substitute for beef and a splash of Madeira gave me depth. All that was left was mushrooms, and several cups of stem trimmings, along with some dried Porcinis did the trick.
Now, several cups of mushroom trimmings invariably come from lots of mushrooms. To save a few pennies, I bought some criminis and used the trimmings from the Shitake and Oyster mushrooms I used later in the soup. This stock isn’t cheap (nor is it outrageous) but it satisfyingly delivers every bit of flavor I have promised.
Rich Mushroom Stock
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 2-3 cups chopped mushroom stems. I use Shitake, Oyster and Crimini
- 2 tbs red miso paste
- 1/2 cup Madeira
- 1-2 oz dried Porcini mushrooms
- 4-5 parsley stems
- 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- Sauté onions 2-3 minutes over medium heat in 1-2 tbs oil in a 4 qt saucepan
- Add carrots and celery. Cook for another 5 minutes. There should start to be some browning on the bottom of the pan.
- Add mushroom stems and cook until lightly browned.
- Add miso paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
- Add the Madeira. As it simmers, stir up the yummy, brown bits off the bottom of the pot. Reduce until almost evaporated.
- Pour in 10 cups water, add Porcini, parsley, thyme and bay and simmer for 30-40 minutes, partially covered.
- Strain through a colander, pressing on the solids to release their juices. Then discard solids.
- Strain a final time through cheese cloth or a chinois. You should have 8-9 cups of stock for your mushroom soup.
This stock would also be wonderful for braising leeks, beef or chicken. Add some to a pan sauce next time you sauté pork chops.
Chicken stock is cheap and easy.
Okay. Go ahead. Get the jokes out of your system. I like my coffee black too*. Ready to move on?
Stock is the perfect weekend project. Hit the market in the morning for your ingredients – or pick them up on your way home Friday night. Saturday or Sunday you are going to be home for a few hours: working in the garden, cleaning house, or sitting on the couch watching an America’s Next Top Model marathon while recovering from Friday night happy hour, right? So, dump your ingredients in a pot, set it to a low simmer, and kick your feet up on the couch. Tell everyone not to bother you. You’re cooking.
*I’ll buy you a cup of coffee if you got the joke.
Homemade white chicken stock
“White” here refers to the fact that your ingredients go right into the pot without browning them first.
- 6 lbs chicken parts (see notes)
- 1 large carrot (2″ diameter and 8″ long)
- 2 ribs celery
- 1 large onion (about the size of a baseball)
- 1 leek, white parts only (optional)
- 8-10 black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 6-8 parsley stems
- 4-6 sprigs thyme
- Cut the chicken into 3 inch pieces. Better yet, have your butcher do it. Place them in an 8 quart stock pot and add water to cover the chicken by 2 inches.
- Meanwhile, roughly chop the vegetables. This is not the time for fine knife skills.
- Bring the pot to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat and hold at a slow simmer – just a few bubbles per second.
- Cook the chicken for 15-20 minutes. Skim off the grey/brown foam that gathers on the surface, and discard.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to simmer for three hours.
- At the end of three hours, remove and discard the solids.
- Strain your stock through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheese cloth or a coffee filter.
- Remove the fat from the stock. the easiest way to do this is to cool the stock to room temperature and cool it in the fridge overnight. The fat will congeal on the surface and is easily removed. If you need the stock right away, let the stock rest for 15-20 minutes. It will float to the surface of your stock. You can remove the liquid fat with a spoon.
- If the stock is too thin, or bland, reduce your stock down to 8 cups over a gentle boil.
- Most grocery stores have their chicken delivered pre-butchered. Buy cheap meat with plenty of bones, like thighs and wings. You could also chop up an entire chicken. If your market or specialty grocery breaks down whole chickens into parts, ask them for chicken backs and have them cut them into 3″ pieces for you. You will pay about $.98 a pound.
- Letting the chicken cook for 20 minutes first makes it easier to skim off the foam. Otherwise you are fighting with the veggies floating on the top of your pot.
- Don’t let the stock boil until the end, after you have removed the solids and the fat. Otherwise your stock will get cloudy
- You can test the level of flavor by putting a little in a small dish and adding a pinch of salt. Taste it. If it tastes to watery, reduce the stock further.