Monday, February 1, 2010

OMG a Recipe: Asian Invasion

Being a person of the Asian persuasion, aside from being able to make bad jokes like that, one's notion of comfort foods can be a little different from the usual meat n' potatoes variety. After months of buttery holiday dishes, I start to crave the familiar spicy/sweet/sour triple-header of Asian flavors. Usually I end up going on a sodium-addled miso soup binge for two weeks, but this time, the Wasabi Prime kitchen turned towards a Thai-inspired direction, making a variety of peanut sauce stir-fry dishes using leftover meat and vegetables, and trying my hand at a pot of tom yum gai, a coconut chicken soup.

Putting the "yum" in tom yum gai - Photo by Wasabi Prime

One of the reasons I particularly enjoy Thai food is the mix of strong ingredients -- there's no messing about with this cuisine; be prepared to run wild in Flavor Country. Without knowing exactly what to cook, as long as I have some basics like fresh garlic, ginger, cilantro, limes, soy sauce, coconut milk, and fish sauce, it's relatively easy to throw something Thai-inspired together. A crisper drawer of broccoli, root vegetables like carrots and parsnips, and a pantry always stocked with onions was a good vegetable base for a stir-fry. We still had a large hunk of roasted pork tenderloin leftover from the holidays, and since its seasoning was mild, it could be sliced thin and thrown into a different cuisine without any flavor funk. To accompany the stir-fry dishes, a simple tofu pad thai was made using the remainder of a leftover store-bought sauce by Por Kwan  that I get at Uwajimaya, and then a pot of the tom yum soup. For a week, we had a combination of about four different dishes where a lot of the same flavors and ingredients were used.

When Pad Thai Met Stir Fry - Photos by Wasabi Prime

From the wide range of vegetables and leftover meat, two leftover stir-fry dishes were created for separate meals, using a similar sauce. For one stir-fry, it was a spicy and sour sauce cooked with root vegetables and the leftover pork. For the second stir-fry, it was long strips of broccoli, peanuts, and leftover pork tossed with a spicy peanut sauce. I added ingredients like tofu and water chestnuts between the two stir-fry dishes, but really, this is an "anything goes" way of cooking, and you can make whatever mixture of vegetables and meat you prefer.

The base of this flexible sauce is as follows:

1/4 cup chicken, beef broth or water
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
Juice from 1/2 of a lime, about a tablespoon's worth
1/2 teaspoon/barely a splash of fish sauce
1 tsp finely-chopped ginger
1 tsp finely-chopped garlic
1 tsp sriracha -- more if you like it extra-spicy

Behind Door Number 1: Spicy/Sour - Photo by Wasabi Prime

For a spicy, sour sauce, add an extra teaspoon of rice wine vinegar and pour over a mixture of sizzling vegetables and meat in a wok or pan. Make a slurry of corn starch to thicken, and serve with fresh bean sprouts, chopped cilantro, and sesame seeds.

Behind Door Number 2: Spicy/Creamy - Photo by Wasabi Prime

For a creamy peanut sauce, add a 1/2 cup of unsweetened peanut butter to the base sauce, microwave to soften, so the peanut butter can incorporate with the wet ingredients, and pour over the cooking vegetables and meat in the wok or pan. The peanut butter will act like a thickener and keep the sauce from being too watery. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and cilantro before serving.

Making up a pot of tom yum gai is a more flavorful alternative to chicken noodle soup on a cold day. I happened to have made a recent pot of chicken broth, so this pot of tom yum gai had that little extra bit of homemade love, along with chicken bits scraped off the simmered bones. The combination of creamy coconut milk and the savory, sour broth both warms the belly and is an especially nice kick if you're struggling through a head cold. I would never claim that this is the ultimate traditional way of making tom yum gai; this recipe was put together based on seeing what others have done and making adjustments for a soup designed for weeknight cooking.

Tom Yum Gai (making it the Wasabi Prime weeknight way)
(6-8 main servings or 10-12 side servings)

For the soup:
48 oz chicken broth (homemade if you got it, but store-bought is fine)
2 cans of 13.5 oz coconut milk
4 tblsp fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 1 1/2 limes' worth)
3 tblsp fish sauce
2 lemongrass stalks, split/crushed
1 tsp fresh ginger root, finely grated

Soup ingredients:
14 oz of firm tofu, drained and cut into small cubes
2 cups cleaned/quartered button mushrooms
1 cup shredded precooked chicken
8 oz canned sliced bamboo shoots
2 whole serrano chiles, thinly sliced (optional if you want extra spice)
Chopped cilantro

Bring the chicken stock, coconut milk and fish sauce to a simmer in a large pot. Add the ginger, lemongrass and lime juice once soup is simmering. Stir to combine ingredients and taste soup periodically to see if it needs more fish sauce to deepen flavor. Can fish out the lemongrass stalks or leave in to continue flavoring the soup -- just don't eat it! Add the solid ingredients -- tofu, chicken, bamboo and mushrooms. These just need to simmer with the soup for a few minutes, to get to temperature. Add the chiles and the cilantro last, right before serving, so they keep their color and fresh flavor.

Gettin' freshy-fresh with Thai-inspired dishes - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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  1. Everything looks good. Thai food is such a mixture of different flavors like you've described. All the flavors are there in one dish. You created some flexible recipes for us to use and your new dishes from leftovers are superb. Can I knock at your door and have dinner with you? :)

  2. All I can say is that I adore Asian flavors... and that your post is making me extremely hungry! Your pictures are stunning and the recipes easy and flexible. Well done!

  3. Even though I am not of Asian persuasion these flavor combinations are what I always seem to crave when I need comfort food. Great job showing the versatility of these ingredients.

  4. As usual, everything looks divine. Especially that soup...I've been eating tons of soup recently, especially ramen and udon--this would be a good shift.

  5. Hey Wasabi,
    Nice yummy dishes here. Love all your photos. Just the the first dish you made is more like Tom Kha Gai than Tom Yum Gai. I know it's confusing. They are quite similar.

    Tom Kha gai is made with coconut milk and galanga (blue ginger) root and lemon grass. Tom yum normally made with stock or water. Some will add condensed milk or cream to make it taste smoother. In addition to galanga root and lemon grass, we also add some Kaffir lime leaves in Tom Yum too.

  6. Oh, my, I'm drooling all over my laptop now. :P
    Now, after I've decided to go back to Asia later this year, blog posts with yummy food in Asia keeps coming. How can I wait till Sept?!

  7. I love Thai food! We actually had take-out last night (I used my Get-Out-of-Cooking card). I've been on a withdrawal since I left California a year ago. Back in LA we had an abundance of authentic Thai cuisine. Still on a hunt for a true gem here in Manhattan.

    I can't wait to try out these recipes!

  8. Thank you for this post! I cannot wait to make the pork and broccoli with peanut sauce. I spent two weeks in Thailand in December, and it was pretty much the most fun I've ever had. I ate some awesome food there, which made things even better. These recipes will remind me of my awesome vacation.

    Maybe next time, you can make mango and sticky rice for dessert with your yummy Thai creations. Drool.


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