This recipe has you press tofu, marinate it overnight in the fridge, drain it, dredge it in cornstarch, and bake it on an unoiled cookie sheet until the outside is crisp on the inside, but still soft on the inside. The recipe is originally from Joe Yonan, but I found it on David Lebovitz’s blog. He raves about it, and it’s a different technique than I’ve used before. Normally I either pan-fry tofu, bake it submerged in a marinade, or bread it then bake it in thin slices. This recipe is something a little bit different. Read the rest of this entry »
In the 70s and 80s many vegetarian restaurants offered some kind of brown rice bowl, which consisted of some combination of borwn rice, tofu, beans, veggies, and a sauce. In NYC in Angelica Kitchen they called it the Dragon Bowl. It’s simple, hearty, co-op food—nothing fancy, but tasty and filling. So when I asked Derek to pick a recipe for dinner last night, he picked this “brown rice supper” menu from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers cookbook. Read the rest of this entry »
Tonight was a “use what’s in the fridge and be quick about it” dinner. I threw together this stirfry and Derek liked it so much that he asked me to write up what I did. I didn’t measure or time anything, so below is just a best guess. Read the rest of this entry »
I say what we’ve been cooking instead of what I’ve been cooking, because with the new baby, Derek has been doing about as much cooking as I have, if not more. In the first few months he was mostly just making old standbys, but in the last week or two we’ve finally started to branch out and try some new recipes. I don’t have time to write full blog posts about each one, so I’ll write a short blurb here for each. Read the rest of this entry »
Alma is six weeks old tomorrow, and I’m finally finding a tiny bit of time to do some cooking. Derek brought home a savoy cabbage and a bunch of scallions, and I decided to try this Cook’s Illustrated recipe, even though it calls for green cabbage not savoy cabbage. The recipe recommends soaking the cabbage briefly to reduce bitterness / sulfurous and provide extra moisture to help the cabbage steam. I wasn’t sure if the savoy cabbage needed this step, but I did it anyways. Read the rest of this entry »
I wanted to use up some brussels sprouts and cilantro, and found this recipe for a tofu, sprout stirfry on 101cookbooks. It looked interesting, and we had all the ingredients on hand, so Derek and I gave it a try for lunch yesterday. Read the rest of this entry »
I bought a large bunch of mint for this lemon mint lentil potato ragout recipe, but didn’t use it all up, and went looking for something to do with all the mint. I found this recipe in Nancie McDermott’s Real Vegetarian Thai cookbook. It looked pretty simple and called for a whole cup of mint leaves, so Derek and I made it for dinner the other night. Read the rest of this entry »
I liked the miso tahini turnip soup from 101cookbooks so much I decided to try another soup recipe from her blog, this time for “immunity soup,” built on a garlic, ginger, pepper broth. The recipe calls for white pepper but I didn’t have any, so I just used black pepper. I assumed the only difference was cosmetic, but maybe white pepper actually tastes different, because this recipe was a let down. I thought the soup would be wasabi-up-your-sinuses intense, but we found it bland, even after adding more black pepper. I really like clean, brothy soups in general, but this one was unsatisfying. It didn’t taste bad, it was just boring and a bit bland. Maybe if I’d been able to find some pea shoots they would have brought the whole dish together? I doubt it.
Derek loves broccoli, but I have surprisingly few easy broccoli recipes. My two standbys are sesame broccoli and pan-fried broccoli with garlic, but I’d love a nice easy recipe for broccoli salad. I still remember a delicious salad made from grated broccoli stems from the buffet at Whole Foods in Pittsburgh years ago. This recipe, from Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast, looked like just what I was looking for. Read the rest of this entry »
Kimdo, a local Japanese restaurant here in Saarbruecken, has a braised daikon steak dish that I really like. I thought I’d try to make something similar at home. I started out with this recipe from the Nobu Vegetarian cookbook. I didn’t make the salsa topping, but I did cook the tofu in kombu broth. I screwed up the second step, however. I was supposed to add mirin, salt, and pepper to the kombu broth, bring the liquid back to a simmer, and then let the daikon cool down in the broth. But I just added the mirin to the already cold broth, which was clearly a mistake. Also I don’t think that I cooked the daikon quite long enough. The final daikon ended up being a tad too raw tasting and underseasoned, but still pretty tasty. I definitely want to keep working on this recipe! Read the rest of this entry »
I occasionally buy napa cabbage to make this wonderful vietnamese slaw, but then I never know what to do with the leftovers. I have very few recipes that actually call for napa cabbage. This time I bought the napa to make kim chee, but the end result was the same—leftover napa cabbage languishing in the crisper drawer. I searched in my cookbooks for a new recipe to try and found this one in Real Vegetarian Thai by Nancie McDermott. It’s a really simple recipe. You just saute up the cabbage with a lot of garlic and a bit of a sweet/salty/soy sauce, and add lots of freshly ground pepper. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve never actually had hot and sour soup before, so I’m not sure what it’s supposed to taste like. But Derek has fond memories of it, so I thought I’d give this recipe from the AMA cookbook a try. Read the rest of this entry »
I needed to use up some tofu before I went out of town a few weeks ago, and I wanted to make something I could use to make sandwiches. I decided to try marinating the tofu in an Asian, gingery marinade, then baking it in the oven. I started off with the recipe for sweet ginger tofu in Peter Berley’s cookbook Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, but then I modified it a bit. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve made a number of excellent recipes from the cookbook The Vegetarian Table: France, and so last time I was at Half Price books in Austin I picked up some more books from the same series: Thailand, Japan, and Mexico. This week I finally got a chance to try two recipes from the Thailand book (by Jacki Passmore). I told Derek I wanted something relatively easy, and he picked out a recipe for cauliflower and beans in coconut and peanut sauce, and one for a tempeh stir-fry with red bell peppers. Read the rest of this entry »
This is another coconut curry with winter vegetables, but this one is from Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast, and I actually made it a few weeks before the recipe I just posted about. Unlike McDermott’s recipe, this one doesn’t call for curry paste. Instead you add the seasonings individually—garlic, jalapeno, ginger, ground coriander seeds, and turmeric. McDermott has you saute the curry paste and onion in some of the coconut milk, but Berley calls for 2 Tbs. of olive oil. Given that there’s a whole can of coconut milk in the recipe, I think I’d use McDermott’s method next time. The previous recipe called for mixed winter vegetables, but this one calls for only one large sweet potato, cut into 1-inch chunks. Berley doesn’t give a weight for the sweet potato, but he does say that once cut it’s supposed to make 4 cups. That seems like a large sweet potato! Towards the end of cooking Berley’s recipe calls for 1 small bunch of collards greens cut into strips. I can’t get collards here, so I subbed in curly kale. The final step in the recipe is to garnish the stew with cilantro and lime juice.
The soup was paired with a recipe for crispy tempeh strips. The combination sounds good but I couldn’t get myself to deep-fry tempeh. It just seems like such a waste of oil!
Neither Derek nor I cared for this dish very much. There wasn’t anything wrong with it per se—it just tasted underseasoned. And unfortunately the kale wasn’t a good substitute for the collards. I guess kale just doesn’t go with these southeast Asian flavors. Although we didn’t like the dish that much, we had a guest over for dinner who quite enjoyed it. He said he doesn’t normally like coconut curries, but this one was excellent!
Back in Pittsburgh I used to make this recipe several times each winter. This dish has all four essential Thai tastes: sweet, salty, spicy, and sour. It tastes just like the curry you’d get in a restaurant, except the addition of vegetable broth results in a lighter dish that’s less overwhelmingly rich. The crunchy cashews make a nice textural contrast to the silky broth and creamy-soft vegetables. Based on a recipe from Nancie McDermott’s Real Vegetarian Thai. Read the rest of this entry »
Derek’s student Scott is always raving about Phở, a vietnamese noodle soup. Since it’s never vegetarian, I’ve never really tried the real thing. Wikipedia says that one of the techniques that distinguishes it from other Asian noodle soups is that charred onions are added to the broth for color and flavor. It also says that the broth is typically made with charred ginger and spices including cinnamon, star anise, black cardamom, coriander seed, fennel seed, and cloves. The soup is also typically served with lots of fresh garnishes, including scallions, white onions, cilantro, Thai basil, fresh Thai chili peppers, lemon or lime wedges, and bean sprouts. Some people also add hoisin sauce or chili sauce. Although traditional Pho is not vegetarian, I found a recipe for it in the Vietnamese Fusion book (by Chat Mingkwan) I borrowed from my mom, and I also found a recipe in a Vegetarian Resource Group article on vegetarian travel in Vietnam. Oddly, though, the recipe in the Vietnamese Fusion book didn’t include any dried spices in the broth–just ginger and charred shallots. So I made a mix of the two recipes. My soup came out okay, but the broth needed a lot more spice. Read the rest of this entry »
When I was in Austin visiting my family I spotted a new cookbook on my mom’s shelf: Vietnamese Fusion Vegetarian Cuisine by Chat Mingkwan. I’ve always wanted to learn how to make Vietnamese food, so I asked if I could borrow it. My mom had already flagged the recipe for Vietnamese Coleslaw, and so I decided to start there. Read the rest of this entry »
Adzuki beans (also called aduki beans) are the small red beans often used in sweet dishes in China, Korea, and Asia. They’re relatives of mung beans, urad dal (which is not actually a lentil), and black eyed peas. But adzukis (in my opinion) are cuter than all their close cousins. I don’t have many recipes that call for adzukis, perhaps partly because I can’t get them here in Germany. I brought some back with me from the U.S. last time I was there though, and decided to use the rest of them to try this savory, Asian-flavored adzuki bean recipe from Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Kitchen.
We’ve been eating the green curry I made last weekend all week. First we ate it on roasted veggies, then I improvised a green curry with chard and tofu. It came out okay but not great, so I decided to actually follow a recipe the next time! This recipe for green curry with zucchini and bamboo shoots from Nancie McDermott’s Real Vegetarian Thai. Read the rest of this entry »
I was making roasted veggies for dinner tonight, and Derek asked me to make some Thai curry paste to go along with them. Amazingly, I actually happened to have all the ingredients on hand. I used to make Thai curry paste all the time back in grad school, but I haven’t made it much (if at all) since coming to Germany. But now that it’s snowy and cold in Saarbruecken, the intense heat of a curry paste sounded very appealing.
The recipe I made tonight is a green curry from Nancie McDermott’s Real Vegetarian Thai. It’s one of five different curry recipes in her book. All of them are fiery and very fresh tasting–a great accompaniment to the sweetness in roasted carrots and parsnips. Traditional Thai curry paste includes shrimp paste, but McDermott’s vegetarian version is not missing a thing: it’s fresh, complex, and intensely spicy. Read the rest of this entry »
I pulled out the Rancho La Puerta cookbook (by Bill Wavrin) this week and started looking for a new recipe to try. Many of the recipes call for ingredients I can’t get here in Germany. I did, however, find one recipe with “German” ingredients that intrigued me. The recipe is titled bok choy, fennel, and spinach, but it also calls for four leeks, a chile, star anise, garlic, ginger, and fresh rosemary. The flavors are pretty typical Asian flavors except for the rosemary, which seems odd here. Read the rest of this entry »
This is another recipe from the cookbook Buddha’s Table by Chat Mingkwan. I bought mint and cilantro for a recipe, but then forgot which recipe I had bought them for. I was trying to figure out what to do with the herbs and decided to make a deconstructed Vietnamese spring (summer?) roll salad. But at the last minute I saw this recipe for a minced tofu salad, which calls for mint and cilantro, and decided to try it instead. Read the rest of this entry »
My brother gave me the cookbook Buddha’s Table by Chat Mingkwan a few years ago. I immediately started paging through the book, and left it open on my kitchen table. The next day as soon as I starting looking at the recipes the pages started falling out. I suspected that the special “layflat binding” was to blame, but when I called the publisher they assured me that they’ve been using this binding for a long time and have had no trouble with it. They said they’d send me another copy. They did, but two days after I received it (and before I’d made even a single recipe) the pages started falling out! I figured it wasn’t worth trying to get a third copy.
Although lots of the recipes looked good, I never did get around to trying them. Many of the recipes call for “vegetarian or mushroom stir-fry sauce” or other pre-made sauces, which kind of turned me off. First, I don’t tend to have them on hand. Second, those sauces are pretty much junk. Thus, whenever I wanted to make something Thai I always ended up using Nancie McDermott’s Thai cookbook instead. But last week I was determined to finally try the cookbook out. I bought some vegetarian stir fry sauce at the local Asian shop. I figured if I liked the recipe with the stir fry sauce I could always try to figure out how to make up a similar sauce on my own.
I love paht thai, but I rarely order it in restaurants anymore because I’m always disappointed by the oily, bland mockery they serve. Restaurant pad thai is invariably insufficiently sour, and often too sweet. Proper pad thai requires a careful balance of sweet, salty, and sour, as well as warm heat and a strong peanut flavor–two other features that are often lacking in restaurant versions of this popular dish. Traditionally, pad thai is made with salty dried shrimp and fermented fish sauce. Nancie McDermott, in her book Real Vegetarian Thai, suggests that vegetarians substitute Asian bean sauce (dao jiow), a pungent condiment made from salted, fermented soybeans. She says that either the “brown bean sauce” or “yellow bean sauce” will work fine. McDermott’s excellent cookbook includes a recipe for vegetarian phat thai that is superb, if decadent. If you’re going to eat pad thai, and don’t have any excellent Thai restaurants around, I strongly suggest making it yourself rather than settling for another mediocre mockery. Here’s Nancie’s recipe, with a few adjustments to reduce the oil content and speed up the process just a little. Read the rest of this entry »
Last night I was emptying out my fridge in preparation for my upcoming trip to Scotland, and I was trying to figure out what to do with about 1/3 cup of leftover chipotle salsa. Good salsa is rare around here, so I didn’t want to just toss it. But good salsa doesn’t seem to last that long, and I was pretty sure it would be moldy by the time I got back from my trip. The salsa was a quite thick, cooked-style salsa, and visually it reminded me a little of a Thai chile sauce. Derek was making sesame noodles with broccoli and cucumber for dinner, so I decided to make a stirfry with the salsa and what I found in the fridge: 4 ounces of tempeh, 2 small zucchinis, and a big bag of green beans. I made a stir-fry sauce out of the chipotle salsa, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and a spoonful of maple syrup. It was really tasty! It didn’t really taste fusion–the Mexican flavors in the salsa faded away in comparison to the Asian kick from the soy sauce. But everyone seemed to like it a lot, and it was an easy way to make a tasty stir fry sauce.
I used a still-oily non-stick skillet to crisp up the tempeh and green beans. (I julienned the tempeh first.) Then when the tempeh and green beans started to brown I poured in the stir-fry sauce, which I had watered down so that the tempeh would have some liquid to cook in. I added the zucchini, which I had cut into thin planks, and covered to cook everything through. When the green beans were tender-crisp I took off the lid and led the sauce cook down until it was more of a glaze. I sprinkled the dish with fresh cilantro before serving. Delicious. I’d definitely make this “recipe” again.
I threw together this dish for lunch today, with various things I scrounged from the fridge. I didn’t measure, so all amounts are a guess. This recipe is similar to one I posted last year for green beans, red peppers, and tofu in a Thai chili paste, but its less fiery, and the addition of pasta and nutritional yeast and sesame seeds makes it taste a bit more co-op pan-Asian and a bit less Thai.
- 2? Tbs. toasted sesame seeds
- 2-4? tsp. oil
- small onion
- 1/4 – 1/3 pounds very firm tofu
- nutritional yeast
- black pepper
- 2 scallions
- about 3 cups of green beans
- 1/4? cup white wine
- 1? Tbs. soy sauce
- 1/4? cup water
- 1/2-1? tsp. Thai red curry paste
- 2 cups of cooked, chunky, whole wheat pasta
- 1/2 cucumber (with peel), cut into 1-inch chunks
- a small handful of mint and a small handful of basil, torn into small pieces
- Wash and snap green beans. Slice the onion into rings. Cube the tofu into 1-inch cubes.
- In a medium pan (I used a 3 quart slope-sided pan), toast the sesame seeds over medium-high heat. When the seeds start to brown and smell fragrant, pour them onto a large plate or bowl.
- In the same pan, add enough oil just to lightly coat the bottom. Heat the oil on medium-high until hot, then add the tofu and onion rings in a single layer. Sprinkle on salt and nutritional yeast, and let cook until the bottom has browned. Meanwhile, chop up a few scallions. Use a metal spatula to scrape up the tofu and stir it around so another side gets browned. When the tofu is brown enough for your taste, add the chopped scallions and sprinkle on more yeast and some black pepper. Fry briefly just to wilt the scallions, then remove the tofu and onions to the plate with the sesame seeds. Use your metal spatula to try to scrape up any cooked on tofu bits, but you won’t be able to get them all. That’s okay.
- Keep the pan on medium-high and add a little more oil to the now-empty pan, and when the oil is hot add the green beans. Stir-fry the beans briefly, until all the beans are slightly browned. Then add the Thai red curry paste and the cooked pasta. Stir to distribute. Add a little white wine, soy sauce, and water to deglaze the pan. Immediately cover the pan and let the green beans steam for a few minutes, until they’re just tender crisp. Meanwhile, cut up the cucumber and tear the herbs. Remove the lid and cook on high until almost all of the liquid has evaporated, and all that’s left is a bit of glistening glaze. Remove the pan from the heat, throw in the tofu and onions and sesame from the plate, the cucumber, and the torn mint and basil leaves. Stir to coat everything with the glaze.
- Serve immediately.
This dish made a very satisfying lunch for two. The basil was essential I thought. The mint and basil combo was good, but if you just have basil that would work as well. (Thai basil would be especially good.) The onion added a little depth and sweetness, and the little bit of curry paste added a nice bit of spice. I also liked the earthiness that the sesame seeds added. It might seem odd to add cucumber to a cooked dish like this, but it adds a moistness and crunch that is a nice contrast to the cooked green beans and soft tofu. If you don’t have cucumbers, radishes or halved cherry tomatoes might also work well. If I make this again, the only thing I might add is a little garlic when I add the green onions.
I wouldn’t make this recipe with white pasta. It really needs something more hearty. If you don’t have whole wheat pasta, then maybe just serve it over brown rice or another whole grain. If you don’t have curry paste probably any chili paste or even dried chili flakes would be fine. If you don’t have white wine then maybe use a little mirin or rice wine vinegar to add a bit of acid. If you don’t have a very firm tofu, you might want to press some water out of your tofu. The lack of moisture in the tofu really helps it to brown well. Otherwise you’ll need to cook the tofu at a lower temperature and allow more time to cook all the water out, so that the tofu can brown.
I removed the tofu and onion from the pan before adding the green beans because I thought that if I didn’t the pan would be too crowded, and the green beans wouldn’t brown, and the tofu and onions would become soggy when I steamed the green beans.
Derek said this dish was delicious. The vegetables were nice and crisp, the onions added a nice depth of flavor, and the tofu was excellent. It was the essence of simple, ingredient-oriented cuisine. “If only I could get this sort of thing at a restaurant in Saarbruecken,” he lamented. Rating: A-.
This version of Tom Kha Gai is vegetarian, and very light on the coconut milk. Derek objected to calling it Tom Kha Gai (because it doesn’t have enough coconut milk), but I think it’s close enough. If you want a more authentic version of this traditional Thai soup, simply reduce the water and increase the amount of coconut milk.
In a 3- to 4-quart saucepan combine and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 15 minutes:
- 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- 5 cups water
- 1/2 bouillon cube
- 15 quarter-sized slices fresh unpeeled ginger (about 30 grams)
- 10 peppercorns
- 10 wild lime leaves or wide strips of lime zest from one lime
- 1 ounce of fresh lemongrass stalks, smashed with a heavy pestle, and cut into pieces that fit in your pan
Strain the soup, or use tongs to remove the flotsam. Return the broth to the pan. Add and cook for another 5 minutes longer:
- 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- 8 oz firm tofu, cut into bite-sized squares
- 6 oz fresh, small button mushrooms, quartered (about 1 1/4 cups)
- instead of mushrooms, I sometimes add ribbons of a fresh green, often bok choy.
- 2 tsp. soy sauce
- 1/4? tsp. salt (it despends on how salty your bouillon cube and soy sauce are)
- 1/2? tsp. brown sugar (maybe 1 tsp.)
Remove the pan from the heat and add:
- juice of 1 lime (about 2? Tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice, to taste)
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise (optional)
- slices of hot red chilis (optional)
- bean sprouts (optional)
Serve hot. Makes 4 large bowls or 6 small bowls.
This is currently my favorite way to eat Thai roasted chili paste. This recipe from Real Vegetarian Thai by Nancie McDermott is simple and satisfying. For more color, use half yellow squash, but add it slightly before the zucchini as it’s slower to cook. Alternatively, throw in a handful of halved cherry tomatoes when you add the tofu.
- 10 – 14 ounces medium-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 tsp. – 3 Tbs. vegetable oil
- 1 Tbs. coarsely chopped garlic (4 to 6 cloves)
- 1 large onion (about 10? ounces), cut lengthwise into thick strips
- 3 medium or 2 large zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch rounds (about 1.5 pounds?)
- 3 Tbs. roasted chili paste
- 1/4 cup vegetable stock
- 2 tsp. soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp salt (omit or reduce if your vegetable stock is salted)
- Heat a wok or a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the garlic and onion and cook until shiny, fragrant, and softened, about 1 minute. Add the zucchini and cook, tossing occasionally, until shiny, tender, and a brilliant green, about 2 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the chili paste, vegetable stock, soy sauce, and salt. Toss well. Add the tofu and cook, giving it an occasional gentle toss, until it is heated through and evenly coated with the sauce, about 1 minute. Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot or warm.
This is a tasty summertime recipe that’s very quick to make (if you already have the chili paste made). Just put on your rice a little while before you start prepping, and by the time it’s done dinner will be ready.
- 2 tsp. vegetable oil
- 1 medium red onion, cut into thin rings
- large bag of green beans (1 pound?), stemmed and long beans broken in half, washed, and dried well
- 1 Tbs. palm sugar or brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 – 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 3/4 pound medium-firm tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 Tbs. coarsely chopped garlic (4 to 6 cloves, optional)
- 2 Tbs. thai roasted chili paste
- 1 Tbs. water
- 1/2 cup loosely packed Thai basil, ribboned
- Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed 9-inch skillet over high heat. When hot, add the red onion, stirring frequently until just beginning to soften, about 2 minutes.
- Add the green beans, keeping the heat on high. Next add the sugar and salt, and mix well. Stir constantly, until the green beans start to brown and shrivel up a tad, about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic, red bell pepper, the tofu, the chili paste, and the water, and gently stir to combine. Cover, turn heat to medium-low, and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, until the red pepper is shiny and beginning to wilt.
- Sprinkle with the ribboned basil, and serve immediately, with brown rice.
Serves 3-4 as a one-dish meal, with brown rice.
The green beans will be slightly shriveled and brown with this recipe–adding the salt and sugar early on helps draw out the moisture, and carmelizes the sugar. To make them even more like the green beans served in a Chinese restaurant, I want to try either pre-salting them, or roasting them in the oven briefly before stir-frying them.
The Thai basil is really essential: it adds add a fresh bright floral note on top of the tangy explosive sauce. If you can’t find Thai basil perhaps try substituting regular basil or mint.
Cutting the tofu into very large cubes helps keep them from breaking up too much, and adds visual appeal. Make sure to use a Chinese-style tofu that’s firm but not too firm. Many of the brands available in organic stores in Montreal and Germany were hard as a rock, and sour, and would be awful in this dish. If the tofu doesn’t taste good raw, leave it out.
If your sauce is really fiery, you’ll want to serve this with a refreshing beverage, like tamarind juice or iced tea or ginger lemonade.
Derek Rating: A-
A few years ago I made the Roasted Chili Paste (Nahm prik pao) from Nancie McDermott’s cookbook Real Vegetarian Thai. We used it in a recipe with butternut squash and spinach, and everyone enjoyed it. For some reason, however, I never made it again, until this summer. I gave my mom my big Kitchenaid spice grinder with the washable bowl, since it won’t work in Germany, but she didn’t know what to do with it, since she already had a normal coffee grinder. I suggested she make Thai roasted chili paste in it, and she wanted me to show her how, so we cracked open her pristine copy of Real Vegetarian Thai, and made half a batch of Roasted Chili Paste. After tasting it and discovering how utterly delicious it is, we felt foolish for only making half a batch!
Here is my recipe for 1.5 batches of thai chili paste:
- 3/4 cup loosely packed small dried red chilies such as chilies de arbol or chiles japones (about 48), stemmed, halved crosswise (about 3/4 ounce)
- almost a cup of unpeeled shallots, cut lengthwise into chunks, about 4.5 ounces
- generous 1/3 cup unpeeled garlic cloves (12 to 15 large cloves), about 2 3/4 ounces
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil (my mom uses 3/8 cup, and the original recipe calls for 3/4 cup)
- 1/4 cup palm sugar or brown sugar
- 1/4 cup tamarind liquid
- 1.5 Tbs. soy sauce
- 1.5 tsp. salt
- Measure out the chilies, shallots, and garlic, and cut the shallots as specified.
- In a wok or heavy skillet, dry-fry the chilies over medium-low heat until they darken and become fragrant and brittle, 3 to 5 minutes. Shake the pan and stir frequently as they roast. Remove from the heat and transfer to a plate to cool.
- Increase the heat to medium and dry-fry the shallots and garlic, turning them occasionally, until they are softened, wilted, and blistered, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to the plate to cool.
- Stem the chilies and shake out and discard most (but not all) of the seeds. Add to a mini processor or spice grinder, and pulse twice. Trim the shallots and garlic, discarding the peel and root ends. Combine the garlic, shallots, and chilies in a mini processor, blender, or spice grinder, and pulse to a coarse paste, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. Add 1/4 cup of the vegetable oil and grind to a fairly smooth paste.
- Pour the remaining 1/4 cup oil into the wok or skillet. Place over medium heat until a bit of the paste added to the pan sizzles at once, about 1 minute. Add the ground chili paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until the paste gradually darkens and releases a rich fragrance, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.
- When the paste is cool, add the sugar, tamarind, soy sauce, and salt and mix well. The paste will be quite oily, and must be stirred before each use. Transfer to a jar, cap tightly, and refrigerate for up to 1 month. Use at room temperature in recipes or as a condiment.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups (if using 1/2 cup oil), or maybe just a bit less.
I love this versatile sauce, as did my mom, and Derek. It’s spicy, sweet, salty, and just a tad sour from the tamarind. Make a big batch and keep it in the fridge, and you’ll be glad. It’s quite a bit of work, but it lasts in the fridge for a month. With this sauce it’s super easy to whip up a quick Thai weeknight dinner, that tastes like something you’d get at a Thai restaurant. My mom and I used it in a dish with zucchini and tofu, which we scarfed down. Derek and I made a green bean, tofu, and red pepper version which was almost as delicious. The original recipe I tried was a vitamin packed butternut squash and spinach hot pot. I’ll post the recipes separately.
If you have a thai mortar and pestle you can make the paste the traditional way, adding oil little by little to grind the sauce to a fine paste.
You can buy Nahm prik pao in an Asian grocery store, but it will ususally contain fish sauce and dried shrimp.
Open a window and turn on the stove fan if you can while frying and seeding the chilies–otherwise your whole house will be spicy and everyone will be coughing all day.
This version gives a rich, tangy chili-tamarind paste softened by the brown sugar. For a more pure, fiery version skip step 6.
How to make tamarind “liquid”: To get the required tamarind paste, soak 1/2 cup of tamarind pulp/seeds (the kind that comes in a hard brick) in 1 cup warm water for 30 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to break it up a bit, then use a wooden spoon to push the pulp through a fine mesh sieve, getting out as much tamarind paste as possible. You’ll have extra tamarind paste leftover–store it in the freezer. It won’t freeze, but will stay soft and ready to use at a moment’s notice in any Thai or Indian dish, or as a substitute for lemon juice. Pour boiling water over the remaining seeds and stringy paste, and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain it and use it for a nice cooling Thai beverage–tamarind juice/tea. Add a bit of honey or maple syrup if it’s too sour for you.
The first time I made this with my mom I was religious about getting out all the seeds, and the final paste was delicious, but totally without heat. The next time I was less conscientious, and the paste was appropriately fiery. Derek ate a few Tablespoons of it and then sat around in a numb daze after dinner.
The original recipe yields a very oily sauce, and then all the recipes that call for it have you cook the vegetables in more oil, which results in very tasty but overly greasy dishes. So I reduced the oil a bit the second time I made it, and although the final dishes were still oily, they weren’t unpleasantly greasy.
Try to choose peppers that aren’t too tiny, as the tiny ones are really hard to seed.
I was initially hesitant because the recipe seems to call for a lot of salt, but you only use a few Tbs. of this sauce in a whole dish, so it doesn’t end up being too salty. Really.
Rating: A- (soon to become an A?)
Derek Rating: A
Update May 2010: I accidentally seeded my chilies before dry frying them. I wonder what effect that will have? I also used olive oil as the oil. I followed the original recipe in the cookbook except I was a tad short on shallots and I used 5.5 Tbs. oil rather than 8. I wanted to use less but it took 4 Tbs. before the mini processor would blend the mixture. I probably could have left out adding the extra oil in the pan, but I wasn’t sure so I added 1.5 Tbs. just to be on the safe side.
I’m quite terrible at making stir-fries: I always go overboard and try to include too many different vegetables and flavors, and I end up with a mushy, overcooked, bland mess. I went searching for some vegetables for dinner at the local grocery store in Saarbruecken last week, and the only thing that looked remotely fresh was the napa cabbage. So I bought the cabbage and some ginger and scallions and whole wheat pasta and figured I’d make a quick stir-fry for dinner. I wanted tofu as well but couldn’t find any, so bought eggs instead.
I started boiling water for about 1/2 pound of whole wheat pasta.
Meanwhile, I chopped up garlic, ginger, scallions, and the napa cabbage. I worked with what I had in the house and made a simple stir-fry sauce with some water, soy sauce, and honey.
After the pasta went into the boiling water, I started the stir-fry. I fried up two eggs in a stainless steel skillet with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, then cut the fried egg into strips with a pair of kitchen shears, and set the egg aside. In the same pan I sauteed some garlic and ginger with a little olive oil and chili flakes, then added the chopped napa cabbage. When the white, crunchy part of the cabbage just started to get soft, I removed from the heat and tossed in the cooked pasta, the scallions, the egg strips, and the sauce.
The stir-fry definitely turned out better than previous attempts. The napa stayed crunchy, the ginger flavor was strong but not overpowering, the egg provided a savory element, and the scallions and pepper flakes provided just a hint of heat.
I made a raw spinach pasta sauce for dinner the other night, but overestimated the amount of spinach I’d need. I used the extra blended up spinach to make this thai-inspired soup. I didn’t measure any of the ingredients so this is more of an idea than a recipe per se
- fresh spinach, cleaned, large stems removed, blended raw with water til its smooth
- coconut milk
- ginger (I put mine through a garlic press)
- garlic, pressed
- finely minced lemongrass (I used a store-bought almost-paste, that left no stringy bits in the soup)
- soy sauce
- ground coriander
- ground cumin
- something spicy, perhaps a fresh green chili with the seeds
The soup came out rich, but very tasty. I used a little of the coconut milk to saute the ginger and garlic, then I added more lemongrass and a few spoonfuls of spinach, with the lemongrass, soy sauce, and dry spices. When all the flavors were developed I added the fresh spinach and brought it carefully up to temperature. If it gets too hot or cooks too long you’ll lose that bright green color. I left mine sitting on the stove for a while and it turned a bit more brownish rather than the original bright green, but was still tasty. The ginger and lemongrass and coconut milk were the strongest flavors. If I had kaffir lime leaves, I would have added a few of those as well.
This is a simple dish that is truly more than the sum of its parts. The ingredient list is very short, but the combination of flavors is perfect, and the dish takes only 5 minutes to prepare.
Break broccoli into florets, and slice the stem along the bias. Steam until just tender-crisp. While the broccoli steams, mix together sesame oil and soy sauce. Toss the sauce over the broccoli, sprinkle copiously with fresh toasted sesame seeds, and serve immediately.
I don’t have amounts, as I generally just eyeball it, but I will try to measure next time I make it. Be careful not to overcook the broccoli; it goes from done to overdone in a very short time. I often bring my pot to a boil, then off the heat and let the broccoli sit covered for about 5 minutes, and find that the broccoli is done perfectly, and there is less risk of overdoing it.
Spring rolls are delicious, healthy, fresh, kid-friendly, and most importantly, a perfect spring-time antidote to winter-induced “vegetarian mush syndrome.” It’s amazing how quickly spring rolls can be made. If I restrain myself, and prepare only a few items for fillings, I can have dinner on my plate in under 15 minutes. (Of course, depending on how many fillings you make it could take hours!) Spring rolls are versatile as well. Although they’re typically served as appetizers, I generally use them as a main course. Please don’t restrict yourself to traditional fillings. The few combinations below stick mostly to an east asian theme, but I imagine Indian, Ethiopian, and even Mexican fillings could be delicious. Think outside the wrapper.
If anyone has any creative filling ideas to share, please post a comment below.
Update Dec 24, 2007
I decided to make some vegetable soup for dinner, and started sauteing a leek and 8 ounces of mushrooms in a little olive oil. It looked so good, however, I was hesitant to dilute it by adding more veggies and making soup. So I added a little white wine and some butter, along with salt and pepper (sort of like Kaya’s white wine french style medley. It was delicious, but a little rich and strong tasting to eat by itself. Derek suggested serving it over pasta, but the veggies were done and I didn’t really want to wait 20 minutes for water to heat and pasta to cook. When eyeing the pasta, however, I spied my spring roll wrappers, and the solution was obvious. The leeks and mushrooms made delicious, if somewhat sloppy, spring rolls. The filling was enough for 4 large, quite filling rolls. Two made a tasty dinner, with a little raw tofu with yeast and soy sauce on the side. I think this combo would also make a nice winter appetizer, perhaps with just a touch of something fresh, maybe scallions. Next time, however, I’d cook the liquid down more so that the spring rolls don’t drip (ooze?) quite so much.
Originally posted May 9, 2006
Today I decided to try an allergy-free spring roll version for dinner. I made four large spring rolls:
- 1/8 cabbage, shredded, raw
- 1/8 cabbage, briefly sauteed in veg. broth
- 3 shiitake mushrooms and 5 crimini mushrooms, sauteed in veg. broth
- 1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds
- 1 scallion
- 8 sprigs watercress
- 1 radish, julienned
- 1/3 avocado
The spring rolls turned out great. They were big and satisfying, with great flavor. I was worried about not having a soy- or peanut-based dipping sauce, but turns out they had enough flavor on their own. The essential ingredients for the flavor were 1) the sesame seeds 2) the shiitake mushrooms 3) the avocado 4) salt. It’s essential to salt the cooked mushrooms and cabbage well if you’re not using a dipping sauce. The other ingredients added crunch but less flavor. The only addition I didn’t like was the watercress, since it’s kind of stringy and is hard to bite through. They might be fine without the stems, and chopped, however.
These rolls are extremely low calorie, if I can believe the stats on the spring roll wrapper package~only 30 calories per wrapper!
A tip for serving: if you’re going to have people roll then own, then give them separate little bowls for any sauces you serve. Otherwise the sauce get’s all over their plate and makes a mess when they try to make their spring rolls.
Note added May 25th: I made spring rolls for Derek and his parents and served it with the carrot ginger dressing, and everyone enjoyed that. When Katrina came over we made a peanut sauce from my co-op days. I thought the peanut sauce was delicious, but that it did overpower the spring rolls a bit. I couldn’t really taste the filling as well. Also, the peanut sauce did not go with avocado I though. Also, this time I couldn’t taste the sesame seeds as well, but this might be because I didn’t toast them enough. They need to really get dark I think.
As written here, this isn’t a very spring-like recipe, but if you use spring carrots, baby green onions, fresh sprouts, spring mushrooms, and delicate spring greens you can make lovely spring rolls, truly deserving of the name. Also, they will be extremely fast to prepare. If you’re serving mostly cold or lighter fillings, then try starting your meal with a bowl of hot soup, like sweet and sour or tom yum or miso.