Saturday, March 29, 2008

The art of cooking Asian

I have always wanted to try Thai and Indian food. REALLY good Thai and Indian food. I've always been a fan of Chinese food and Japanese food, but I've never really tried anything other than Kung Pao chicken or Mongolian beef at PF Chang's and my extensive Japanese selections are limited to certain very cooked sushi rolls and hibachi food at Benihana's or Jinbeh.

One time, my friend S took me to an Indian buffet food place in Charlotte, but being squeamish about buffets and germs, I didn't really enjoy it that much and have always wanted to try it for a second time since then.

However, I never have, and I have come to the conclusion that I am afraid because I don't know what I am getting when I order a dish.

The BEST way for me to overcome food fears is to make it myself. That way, I know what's going in it and can control it a bit more. are the first attempts at cooking Thai, Japanese and Indian. In order to prepare for this new cooking adventure, I purchased a new wok, a bamboo chopstick set and a lot of really weird ingredients. Not to mention a ton of cookbooks on Amazon. There are some great books out there for this cooking persuasion, and I am SO fortunate to live in a 'burb of Dallas that is a melting pot for different makes it much easier to find the unusual ingredients. I have a Asian market, a michoacana and an Indian grocery store within a short radius of my house.

Thai Beef with Rice Noodles

3/4 lb sirloin, trimmed, rinsed and patted dry, and sliced into 2" long, 1/2" wide strips
1/2 lb dried rice noodles
1/4 c soy sauce
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
5 Tbsp vegetable oil (divided)
2 Tbsp minced garlic
bag of baby spinach leaves
2 eggs, beaten
crushed dried red pepper flakes and pepper mill
rice vinegar

Cover noodles with warm water for five minutes and drain. Combine soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar and fresh ground pepper to taste in small bowl and set aside. Heat a wok or heavy skillet over high heat and add 2 Tbsp of the oil. When oil is hot but not smoking, add the garlic. Stir for five seconds and add the spinach, stir-frying for approximately two minutes and set aside. Add
2 more Tbsp of oil to the wok, add the beef and stirfry ntil browned on all sides, approximately two minutes. Set beef aside. Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in wok and add the noodles. Toss the noodles until warmed through and set aside. Place eggs in wok and cook without stirring until eggs are set, about 30 seconds. Break up eggs with a spoon and stir in noodles, beef, greens and red pepper flakes. Add the soy mixture to the woke and toss mixture to coat, heating through. Sprinkle dish with rice vinegar and serve.

What I liked about this recipe: It was fun to make in the wok and the ingredients were basic.
What I disliked about this recipe: The eggs cooked a little too fast and were kind of brown.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I really like the wok, but I ended up returning it because the finish started flaking off as the wok cooled. The replacement wok is a Calphalon wok that hasn't even been used yet.
Tastiness factor: Very, very good...nice flavor and not too salty.

Erica's Tips: Do not even think about attempting this dish unless you have prepped every single item down to the last detail. I would even make sure and put the rice vinegar out. It cooks THAT fast. And because the cooking times are so precise, this works better as a duet if you have a sous to stir fry and one to read the directions! The way we did it, P manned the wok and I was in charge of setting the timer for the cooking times, reading the book and throwing in the ingredients and getting the "set aside" bowls prepared. It worked well, and after we prepped, we were eating in like 15 minutes.

Steak in Roasted Sesame Seed Marinade

1 lb tenderloin, divided into four 4 oz steaks
2 Tbsp white Japanese sesame seeds
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 1/2" piece of raw ginger, peeled and grated
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sake
1 tsp caster sugar
1 Tbsp oil
3 scallions chopped for garnish


1 1/2" fresh ginger
1/2 tsp shichimi togarashi
1/2 c soy sauce
2 tsp dashi granules
2 Tbsp water

Roast the sesame sseds in a dry skillet over low heat for two minutes, stirring constantly, until seeds are well-toasted and start to pop. Crush seeds in a mortar and pestle. Place in a bowl with the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sake and sugar and whisk until the sugar has dissolved completely. Place the steaks in a shallow dish and spoon marinade over the steaks. Let marinate on counter for 30 minutes. Lightly brush steaks with oil and grill them for 4-6 minutes on each side. Let steaks rest for five minutes before cutting them on the diagonal to serve. Serve with some dipping sauce drizzled over the top and the remainder on the side. Garnish with onions and serve with steamed rice.

To make dipping sauce, cut the ginger into very fine strips about 1 1/2" long. Combine ginger, shichimi togorashi, soy sauce, dashi and water and whisk lightly until combined.

What I liked about this recipe: Oh, it smells SO tasty while marinating! Look out, Benihana's!
What I disliked about this recipe: You can not get shichimi togarashi (a Japanese spice blend), dashi (fish soup granules), sake or the white sesame seeds at the local grocery store. Lucky for me, there is an Asian food market around the corner, so I am all set there. However, if you don't have one, these ingredients, especially the spice blend, could be hard to come by. I'm sure you could find a recipe online for making it yourself though, but the ones that I found still called for some hard to find spices, so I would suggest ordering this spice online if you can't find it locally.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I have one of those cast-iron grill pans....very handy for this. My microplane was also awesome for grating the ginger.
Tastiness factor: OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH, SO good. Very similar in taste to beef tataki at sushi bars, if you have ever had that, except the beef is cooked to your specifications. However, I think it was really good rare. It was just SO yummy!!! I would definitely make this again.

Erica's Tips: Caster sugar, in case you are wondering, is SUPER-fine sugar. This is a recipe published by an Australian publisher and they use British terms for certain ingredients, I have realized. I learned what caster sugar was when I bought a baby cookbook that was written by a British author. Anyway, you can find it in the baking aisle...usually comes in a small box. It dissolves very quickly, hence its appeal.

And the really complicated recipe...

Spiced Chicken in Green Curry or Murgh Hariyali

Remove stems from two serrano chilies and chop lightly. Place in a food processor or blender with 1/2 c chopped and peeled ginger root and 1/2 c peeled garlic cloves. Blend and add one tablespoon of water to make a thick paste. Remove 2 tsp from mixture and place the rest in one tablespoon portions in an ice cube tray and freeze for future uses.

3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, minced
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste (above)
2 serrano chilies, seeded and minced
4 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro
4 Tbsp minced fresh mint
5 Tbsp minced fresh baby spinach leaves
1 1/2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into bite-sized chunks
kosher salt to taste
1/4 tsp red chili powder
1/2 c heavy cream
1/2 c water

In a large pan, heat the vegetable oil on medium. Add the onions and saute until well-browned, about 7-8 minutes. Add the ginger-garlic paste and saute for an additional minute. Add the chilies, fresh herbs and stir-fry for about four to five minutes. Add the chicken, salt and chili powder, and fry for five minutes. Add water, cover and cook the chicken until done, about 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally to keep the chicken from sticking to the pan and add a little more water if needed. Add the cream and cook for one additional minute. Serve hot with rice.

What I liked about this recipe: I cooked it exactly as the recipe said, with the exact temperatures and exact times, and it was ready right on time. It also smelled incredible cooking with all the fresh herbs and the ginger-garlic paste and onions. And it wasn't too hard.
What I disliked about this recipe: The prep time was a little long. Again, if I wasn't afraid of cutting my fingers off, maybe it wouldn't have been an issue. Next time might not be so bad since I have the ginger-garlic paste ready ahead of time. Also...when I reheated my leftovers two days later, it had a very strange smell. I couldn't really figure out where that came from.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: The mezzaluna is my favorite thing for chopping fresh herbs. It is great. My food processor was also great for making the paste and for chopping the onions.
Tastiness factor: Delicious. Talk about a taste explosion! It was great.

Garlic Rice or Lasuni Palao

1 c basmati rice
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 serrano green chili, seeded and minced
1/4 c plain yogurt, whipped
kosher salt to taste
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 3/4 c water
1 Tbsp minced cilantro

Rinse the rice 3-4 times and drain. Heat the vegetable oil in a deep saucepan. Add the garlic and chili and saute for about 20-30 seconds or until garlic turns light brown. Add yogurt, salt, and garam masala and saute for one minute. Add the rice and mix well. Add the water and stir for one minute. Bring water to a boil. Reduce heat, loosely cover the rice with a lid and cook about 12-15 minutes or until most of the water has evaporated. Small craters will form on the surface of the rice. Cover tightly and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for an additional 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve immediately.

What I liked about this recipe: The garam masala (or warm spice) smells incredible. I was actually going to make my own until I found it premade at Whole Foods. It's a combination of coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and peppers. Yummy yummy. And I was very unclear about what the yogurt would do to the recipe. Surprisingly, it just dissolved and disappeared in the oil. Who knew.
What I disliked about this recipe: It was a little vaguer than I would have liked. For example, it did not specify that you should use regular white basmati and I used brown basmati, which killed this recipe. BIG TIME. It also did not specify how FAR you should reduce the heat after bringing water to a boil. you see anywhere in the recipe where you should add the cilantro? I could not figure that one out. I ended up just adding the cilantro with the yogurt and salt and garam masala and it was fine. Just added a little crispness to the rice and a splash of color.
Cool kitchen gadgets: I used my large santoku knife to crush the garlic. I had no idea until I read this recipe that if you crush the garlic instead of chopping it, you will actually get a stronger garlic flavor. Cool, huh?
Tastiness factor: As stated above, I used the brown basmati instead of the white basmati and it did NOT work. I could never get the rice to soften up. It just cooked and cooked and cooked and never got anywhere. I thought I had messed up the recipe until I realized that it was probably the brown rice. So, I'm going to try it again using the white and see what happens. However, the few bites that I had of the rice before deciding to give up were very tasty. This rice is very aromatic and flavorful and GARLICKY! I can't wait to make it again. I ended up just making some Minute rice to go with the curry chicken above and it was ok although definitely not as good as the garlic chicken would have been or as good as jasmine rice would have been had I had time to make it.

Added on 3/30/08: I made this garlic rice again tonight, used white basmati and followed the directions to a T, and it was perfect. Not as garlicky as I would have liked but still delicious.

And something for McKenna...

Curried Chicken

2 Tbsp butter
1 lb ground chicken (I used turkey)
1/2 c diced onion
2 diced carrots
1 diced zucchini
1/2 c cold water
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp mild curry powder
2 Tbsp honey
1 clove of garlic, crushed and minced

Melt butter over medium high heat and brown chicken, crumbling it with a spoon. Add the vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally for about ten minutes or until vegetables are tender. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, curry powder, and water until blended and stir into the skillet. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally for about five minutes or until the curry sauce thickens. Stir in the honey and serve over rice. This recipe can be pureed for younger toddlers.

What I liked about this recipe: That McKenna likes it.
What I disliked about this recipe: That McKenna won't eat it reheated now. When she was younger, I used to make this and freeze the leftovers in ice cube trays and she was fine with it, but now, forget it.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: I love the whisk.
Tastiness factor: It is good. It's a little too mild for adults for the spiciness factor in my opinion, but it is not bad and you can add a little hot sauce to spice it up if you like your Indian food spicy.

Erica's Tips: Make sure that you don't give this recipe to babies under a year old due to the honey. Also, if you are buying curry for this recipe, make SURE you get yellow curry powder and not red curry powder or you will have a very upset kid on your hands. The red is just too spicy for toddlers, even though the color is beautiful. (This didn't happen to me, but I have heard that red curry is very spicy period, and if adults find it too hot, well....I would hate to give it to a little one.)

More Asian recipes to come...these are very fun and challenging dishes for sure.


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