2019 is The Year of the Pig in the Chinese Zodiac and calendar. The pig symbolizes wealth and good fortune which bodes well for the year ahead!
In China the New Year is a week long holiday where families either return home to celebrate or seize the opportunity to travel together during holiday. Tens of thousands of visitors from mainland China will be arriving here in Thailand as I write to join in the local celebrations. Here in Chiang Mai both locals and tourists alike will be flocking to Kad Luang Market, also known as Talat Worarot, to stock up on local products of every description for the coming celebrations. The market is also adjacent to one of several Chinese temples here in Chiang Mai where throngs of local celebrants will gather on the eve of the New Year to usher in a year of prosperity, happiness, and auspiciousness.
Of course food plays a big part in the Chinese New Year festivities including many traditional dishes with symbolic significance. A typical New Year’s meal “nian ye” may include as many as twelve or more dishes including spring rolls, dumplings, steamed fish, steamed chicken, assorted rice cakes, hot pots, and noodle dishes. A feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds awaits.
Having picked up freshly made long noodles, dried Chinese mushrooms, fresh mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, Hong Kong kale, fresh ginger root, an assortment of spices, herbs, shaoxing rice wine, Chinkiang black vinegar, and dried chiles in the old market this morning, a simple long noodle soup is now in the making. I’m by no means claiming authenticity here, but a long noodle soup, the long noodles being a symbol of longevity are, in spirit at least, what you might find included in a Chinese New Year’s meal. Otherwise this is a simple healthy Chinese noodle soup that you can make with a dash of longevity thrown in to enjoy anytime of the year!
Ingredients can be found in most Asian markets, in some super markets, or online. If you enjoy Asian food these staple ingredients are a must to have tucked away in your pantry.
Chinese Long Noodle Soup serves 4 to 6
- 4 skinless boneless chicken breasts, poached
- 4 ½ oz/128 g long noodles, fresh or dried
- 1 ½ quarts/ 1 ½ liters ginger flavored chicken stock
- 2 oz/57 g Chinese dried mushrooms
- 4 oz/ 113 g fresh mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 garlic clove, sliced
- 1 bunch young kale (Hong Kong kale), center ribs removed and leaves sliced
- 1 bunch Chinese cabbage or mustard greens, leaves and tender part of the stems sliced
- 1 bunch Chinese celery, leaves separated and stems sliced
- 1 or 2 whole dried red chile pods (optional)
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine (or medium dry sherry)
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce + more to taste
- ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon Chinkiang Chinese black vinegar
- sea salt
- freshly ground Sichuan pepper
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon 5 spice powder (optional)
- 1 bunch spring onions, thinly sliced
- lemon balm leaves (optional)
- Sichuan chili bean sauce (optional condiment)
- chili oil (optional condiment)
Place a saucepan half full of water on the stove top set over medium heat. Add a bay leaf, some salt, and a few peppercorns, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer a few minutes and then add the chicken breasts. Once the water comes back to a boil lower the heat to a simmer and cook the breasts for 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid, and set aside to cool undisturbed. Once completely cool, pull the chicken apart into bite size pieces and set aside.
Bring a large saucepan full of water to a rolling boil and add salt. Drop the noodles into the boiling water and using tongs toss the noodles so they do not stick together while cooking. Cook until the noodles are al dente; about 4 minutes for fresh noodles or 10 to 12 minutes for dried noodles. Drain the noodles and set aside in a bowl to use later.
Place the stock in a wide pot ( a Dutch oven is ideal) on the stove top over low heat. If using a regular stock add several slices of fresh ginger root and simmer for 30 minutes. Then remove and discard the ginger. Reduce the heat to keep the stock warm while you prepare other ingredients.
Place the dried Chinese mushrooms in a small sauce pan and add water to just cover. Bring to a low simmer and cook until the mushrooms are nicely softened. Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, thinly slice the mushrooms and set aside to use later. Pour the cooking water into the pot with the stock.
Slice the fresh mushrooms thinly. Heat a medium skillet on the stove top and add the peanut oil.Toss in the the garlic and stir until the oil is flavored with the garlic. Then remove the garlic and discard. Add the sliced fresh mushrooms and stir continuously until the mushrooms have wilted and softened. Season with a little salt and continue to saute. When just lightly colored add the reserved dried mushrooms and stir until well combined. Then add the combined mushrooms to the pot with the stock. Bring the stock to a simmer and add the sliced kale and Chinese cabbage leaves and stems, the celery leaves and stems, and the whole dried chiles if using. Add the Shaoxing rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, Chinkcang black vinegar, sea salt and ground Sichuan pepper, sugar, 5 spice powder if using, and stir until well combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning to you liking and then stir in the sliced spring onions and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the pulled poached chicken and stir into the soup and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Remove the whole dried chiles if used and discard. The soup is now ready for serving.
Place portions of the noodles in individual soup bowls and ladle the soup over the noodles. Garnish with the lemon balm leaves (if using), and serve.
Place the Sichuan chili bean sauce and the chili oil on the table (if using)
Siam red ruby sweet corn is once again showing up in the markets here in Chiang Mai. A real treat that reminds me of all the colorful native varieties of corn you find in markets all over Mexico. Yellow and blue corn are commonplace throughout the Americas these days, but there are as many as 60 colorful heirloom varieties of native Mexican corn that are still found in regional markets across the country. Unfortunately there is the looming threat of GMO conglomerates that are attempting to control seed distribution with exclusive patenting. This is a very contentious issue for farmers and consumers alike globally. Hopefully GMO conglomerates will be regulated and the patenting of seeds will be curtailed if heirloom seeds by right are to survive for future generations.
That said, having access to heirloom varieties of locally grown produce is every cooks ideal.
In this case I decided to make a simple salsa fresca that lets the crisp flavor and texture of the locally grown Siam Ruby Red sweetcorn shine while pairing beautifully with a variety of savory dishes.
Red Sweetcorn Salsa Fresca makes about 2 cups
- 2 ears red sweetcorn with husk intact (or other available variety)
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 cloves garlic, skin on
- 2 plump jalapeno chiles
- 2 vine ripe Roma tomatoes (or equal volume of ripe cherry tomatoes)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
- 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1 teaspoon pure mild red chile powder or paprika
- 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
- 1 ½ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
I like to steam the corn undisturbed in the husk for about 15 minutes. The husk encasing the corn preserves the flavor of the corn and softens the kernels just enough so that they still retain a crunch and bust with flavor when eaten.
I use a bamboo steamer, but any steaming arrangement will do. Cover and steam the corn for about 15 minutes, and then set aside to cool.
When the corn is cool enough to handle remove the husks and silk and discard. If you are using red corn you will notice some staining on your hands, but not to worry, the stains will wash off with soap and water.
With one hand holding the corn upright centered in a deep bowl, cut the kernels off the cob using a serrated knife in the other hand. The kernels tend to fly about, so the deeper the bowl the better for containing straying kernels.
Remove outer layer of the onion and cut into thick rounds. Place a dry skillet on the stove top over medium heat. Brush the onion rounds with a little oil and place in the skillet along with the garlic. Turn both the onions and the garlic and cook until the onions are nicely colored on both sides and the garlic has softened. Set aside to cool.
When the onions and garlic are cool enough to handle dice the onions. Peel off the skin of the garlic and mince, and place both in the bowl with the corn.
Trim the tops off the jalapenos and quarter them lengthwise. Remove the seeds and discard. Cut into thin strips, dice the strips, and add to the bowl with the other ingredients.
If using Roma tomatoes, cut them in half, cut out the core and discard. Slice into strips, dice, and add to the bowl with the other ingredients.
If Roma tomatoes are not vine ripe, as is likely during the winter months, use cherry tomatoes instead, which will have a sweeter fresh flavor. Simply quarter and halve the quarters.
Coarsely grind the toasted cumin seeds and add to the bowl. Add the sage and several tablespoons of lime juice and give the ingredients a good stir. Then add the red chile powder, chopped cilantro, and salt. Toss until all the ingredients are well combined.
Taste and add more salt and lime juice to taste. Finally add the olive oil and fold into the salsa.
Cover and refrigerate the salsa until ready to serve.
This salsa is ideal for tacos (as pictured), with grilled meat, fish, and poultry or as a garnish for soups, nachos, and of course with tostada chips along with your margaritas.
January always ushers in a welcome return to some semblance of normalcy after all the excesses of the holidays. Cooking everyday meals again somehow feels fresh and interesting with all kinds of new ideas floating around about how to turn ordinary meals into extraordinary meals.
Take for example the tuna casserole, a baked concoction topped with potato chips that was popularized back in the 50’s in America. The formula couldn’t be simpler. Canned tuna, a can of Campbell’s condensed mushroom soup, milk, cooked noodles, frozen peas, and grated cheese tossed into a casserole dish, topped with potato chips, and baked off in the oven. It was quick, easy, and cheap! That 50’s recipe has somehow managed to weather the test of time and has inspired endless reinterpretations along the way, including one of my own that follows.
What I propose is not the 30 minute tuna casserole of the 50’s. But with an investment of a few more ingredients and more time spent in the kitchen will produce, and I say this with complete confidence, a tuna casserole…extraordinaire. This is a tuna casserole you would be proud to serve for a dinner party.
Reinterpreting tried and true everyday recipes, especially over the long winter months, is both fun and productive. Just give your creative self free reign in the kitchen and turn those old standbys into some extraordinary meals that everyone is going to love!
Tuna Casserole…extraordinaire serves 4 to 6
As there are multiple components required I have arranged the recipe in an easy to follow step by step format.
- 1 head of broccoli, florets divided
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 F/ 220 C
Place the broccoli florets and garlic in a bowl, drizzle with the olive oil, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Toss until the ingredients are evenly coated with oil and transfer to a baking sheet in a single layer. Place in the oven and roast until the broccoli is tender and nicely colored, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- 1 jalapeno chile
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 onion, peeled and halved
Roast the jalapeno, red pepper, and the halved onion over an open flame on the stove top or grill until all are evenly charred. Transfer the jalapeno and red bell pepper to a bowl, seal with cling film, and set aside to sweat. Once cool slip off the charred skins and discard. Open both lengthwise, remove the seeds, and cut into thin strips. Reserve several strips of red pepper for garnishing, as pictured, and dice the remaining strips and set aside.
Remove the charred outer layer of the onion halves and discard. Dice the onions and set aside.
- 6 medium sized white button mushrooms (or 10 smaller shiitake), thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ cup white wine
- salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a medium size saute pan set over medium heat. Swirl in the olive oil and add the sliced mushrooms and reserved roasted diced onions. Saute until the mushrooms have wilted, given up their liquid, and are just beginning to color. Season lightly with salt and pepper and toss.
Once most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated add the wine and turn up the heat. Saute until the wine has evaporated and the mushrooms are tender and nicely colored. Set aside to cool.
Step 4: For the sauce mornay:
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 ½ cups whole milk, heated
- 2 strips lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ cup grated pecorino cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a saucepan and when bubbling add the flour. Stir continuously for about 2 minutes. Then begin slowly adding the heated milk while continuing to stir. Once all the milk has been added toss in the the lemon zest and continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Adjust the heat to a gentle boil and cook, stirring continuously as the sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the thyme and grated pecarino. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside. Remove the lemon zest before adding the sauce to the casserole.
- 1/2 cup dry macaroni noodles
- 1 tablespoon salt
Bring a pot of water to a rolling broil and add the salt. Add the noodles and stir. Boil the noodles until al dente. Strain and set the noodles aside until you are ready to assemble the casserole.
Step 6: For the bread crumb topping:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup bread crumbs or panko
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Melt the butter in a medium saute pan and when bubbling add the bread crumbs and saute until the butter is absorbed and the crumbs are lightly browned. Season with salt, toss, and Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C with the rack in the middle position.
Prepare a buttered casserole dish large enough to hold all the ingredients.
Assembling the casserole:
- 1 can of well drained tuna
- reserved red bell pepper strips for garnishing the top of the casserole as pictured
In a large bowl combine the roasted broccoli florets, the diced roasted jalapenos and bell peppers , the mushroom onion mixture, cooked noodles, and the tuna. Toss until well combined. Then add several ladles full of the sauce and toss until all the ingredients are evenly coated with the sauce.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish. Even out the contents in the dish and ladle sauce over all, jiggling the dish so the sauce fills the dish evenly to within a half inch of the top of the casserole dish. Distribute the bread crumbs evenly over the surface and garnish with the reserved red pepper strips.
Transfer the casserole to the oven. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the bread crumbs are nicely browned.
Serve straight out of the oven! A beautiful simple mixed greens salad pairs well with this casserole and rounds out the meal perfectly!
The holidays have arrived and, like myself, you are probably finalizing menus and about to dash off to the local farmers market, the grocery store, and your local delicatessen with shopping list in hand. Tis the season for home cooks to go into overdrive and, once again, manage to put a noteworthy holiday feast on the table with a certain air of relaxed aplomb.
Christmas in Buddhist Thailand is a non event other than retail of course. So every year rather than cooking a traditional western Christmas dinner I gravitate towards a meal drawn from another culture. This year I am doing a Mexican Christmas supper beginning with a Sopa de lima from the Yucatan (click here). Following that a succulent Barbacoa (click here) from central Mexico along with frijoles refritos (click here) and a spicy slaw with apples and avocados. For dessert I’ve come up with a recipe for Mexican Chocolate Lava Cookies that will be served with cinnamon ice cream drizzled with caramel sauce. Cocoa is native to Mexico and often combined with cinnamon and, yes, chile in both savoy and sweet dishes that date back to the Aztecs. The soft chocolate “lava” chunks in these cookies are a reference to the active volcanoes that dot the landscape in central Mexico, and the caramel sauce is a nod to the Spanish influence in Mexico’s evolving cuisine.
I have adapted this recipe from a recipe by Jacques Torres for his now famous chocolate chip cookies that forever changed the conversation about what the best chocolate chip cookie should be.
There may be just enough time left to add these cookies to your holiday preparations, but if not do try them first thing in the new year!
Mexican Chocolate Lava Cookies makes 24
- ½ cup pecans (or walnuts) lightly toasted
- 4 ½ ounces cake flour
- 4 ½ ounce bread flour
- 5 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
- ½ cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon pure ground red chile powder ( New Mexican)
- 1 extra large egg
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 10 ounces dark chocolate (best quality), chopped into chunky shards
- crystallized salt (Maldon)
Ideally make the cookie dough 24 hours before baking.
Preheat the oven to 325 F/ 160 C with the baking rack set in the middle position.
Spread out nuts in a single layer in a baking tray and toast them in the oven until they are fragrant, about 10 minutes. Remove the nuts from the oven, set them aside to cool, and turn off the oven. When cool break the nuts up by hand and set aside.
Combine the cake flour and bread flour in large mixing bowl and stir to combine.
Combine the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nut meg, allspice, and red chile powder in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and cream at medium high speed for 5 minutes or until the mixture is a light color and fluffy in texture.
Add the egg and mix on medium speed until the egg is completely incorporated into the dough. Add the vanilla and mix to incorporate.
Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture and mix until the flour is completely mixed into the dough.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the chocolate and nuts and, using a silicone spatula, mix until combined.
Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C with the baking rack set in the middle position. Set up 2 cooling racks.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and, using a scale divide the dough into 1 ½ ounce portions. Roll the portions into balls between the palms of your hands.
For best results, baking one tray of 6 cookies at a time will deliver the best results. Refrigerate the remaining balls of dough until you are ready to bake them.
Place 6 balls of dough on the tray with plenty of space between them. Top each ball with a light sprinkle of crystallized salt, patting the top lightly so the salt sticks to the surface. Transfer them to the oven and bake for 6 minutes. Open the oven and rotate the tray from front to back and bake another 6 minutes.
The cookies should be just slightly golden but still very soft while not looking overly moist on the middle of the top of the cookie. You do not want to over bake these cookies so their texture will remain soft, the chocolate still holding its shape, once the cookies are cool.
When done remove promptly from the oven and place the tray on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Then gently remove the cookies from the baking sheet and place them directly on a cooling rack.
Repeat the same process for the remaining cookies.
When the cookies are nearly cool you can serve them at once while still slightly warm.
Otherwise let the cookies cool completely and then store in a large cookie tin with the cookies stacked in just 2 layers.
As mentioned these cookies are ideal served with cinnamon ice cream. The caramel sauce is optional, but it does make a very special taste of Mexico.