When the hot season, April- June, arrives in Thailand the last thing you want to do is spend much time in the kitchen. With temperatures tipping 40 c/ 104 f daily it is really HOT!
Being a hot country year round Thai cuisine has a unique hot weather appropriateness. Flash cooking fresh ingredients tossed together with assertive flavors and fiery spicy heat is what makes Thai cuisine so universally popular. The capsacin from fiery hot chiles stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain that instantly produces a sense of euphoria, while breaking into a sweat from the heat of chiles has a pleasant cooling effect as well. No wonder everyone loves Thai food!
The recipe that follows is a reinterpretation of a popular Thai stir fry dish; Kra Pao Moo (click here for recipe) . I have upped the ante in this recipe using a Thai rum marinated pork loin and included chayote to the stir fry that adds a fresh crisp element to the final dish.
Chayote originates from Central Mexico and widely used throughout Central and south America. Chayote was introduced to the old world during the Columbian exchange. From there it was transported through trade routes throughout Asia. Chayote is a member of the gourd family, and favored for its crisp texture and plentiful nutrients. The entire plant is eatable and often included in stir fried dishes throughout Asia. Seek it out! Widely available in Latin and Asian markets in North America as well.
Thai Stir Fry with Rum Marinated Pork Loin and Chayote serves 4
To avoid the heat of the day during the hot season I like to marinate the pork in the morning and refrigerate it for the rest of the day. Prep all the other ingredients in the morning as well and refrigerate. That way the stir frying can be done very quickly in the evening without breaking a sweat!
- 1 inch knob fresh ginger, peeled, thinly sliced, and diced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced and diced
- 3 tablespoons minced shallots
- 3 kaffir/ makrut lime leaves
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1/3 cup Thai Sang Som rum (or other dark rum)
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 pound pork loin, silvery membrane removed and cut into 3 pieces
- cold water to cover
Select a non reactive bowl just large enough to hold the pork loin and other ingredients. Place all the ingredients except the pork and water into the bowl and stir to combine. Then add the pork loin and, using your hands, massage the pork with the mixture until covered. Then add just enough water to cover all. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 8 hours.
- marinated pork tenderloin, thinly sliced into medallions across the grain
- 2-4 teaspoons oil
1 onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, quartered, seeds and membrane removed, thinly sliced and halved
- 2 chayote, peeled, halved, pit removed, sliced lengthwise and cut into bite size pieces
- 1 or 2 jalapeno chiles, quartered, seeds and membrane removed, cut into thin strips and diced
- 1-3 Thai red chiles, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds removed and very thinly sliced and then diced
- reserved marinade
- ½ cup fresh Thai sweet basil leaves
- 1-2 tablespoons oyster sauce or to taste
- stock or water
- additional fish sauce to taste
- fresh lime wedges
A steel Chinese wok is ideal for stir frying food very quickly over intense heat. For more information on cooking with a wok (click here)
Heat your wok over a gas burner or charcoal fire and add the oil. Swirl the pan to coat the surface and promptly add the pork medallions and stack them all the way up the sides of the wok. Sear briefly and then turn the pork and continue searing. Once lightly browned promptly remove the pork from the wok and set aside. Total cooking time 2 to 3 minutes max. Reserve the marinade to use later.
Add a little more oil to the wok and add the onions, garlic, and red bell peppers. Toss and stir fry until softened and lightly colored. Then add the chayote and toss to combine. Stir fry for a couple of minutes and then add the jalapenos and Thai red chiles and toss until combined. Then add the reserved marinade and cook for a couple minutes. Taste the chayote. Ideally you want the chayote to retain a refreshing crispness that will compliment the otherwise deeply flavorful stir fry.
Add the basil leaves and toss to combine. Taste the broth and add additional oyster sauce and fish sauce to taste. If the broth has reduced quite a bit you can add a little stock or water.
Finally add the reserved pork and toss until just heated.
Just before serving squeeze some lime juice into the stir fry, toss, and you are ready to serve.
Serve with Thai Jasmine rice or, my favorite, Thai Jasmine brown rice. Have a bowl of lime wedges set out on the table as well.
Buttermilk marinated chicken is an old classic from the American south which,to be honest, I’d mostly forgotten about. That is until I discovered Simin Nosrat’s Buttermilk Roasted Chicken which I’ve been making almost weekly since her wonderful cookbook Salt Fat Acid Heat landed on my kitchen table. Honestly, this is a cookbook you just can’t put down. The book is as much about the joy of eating as it is about cooking. Simin’s infectious enthusiasm for food and her enlightening insights on how to cook and what to expect are gonna inspire great things happening in your own kitchen.
If you have not had a chance to see Simin’s four part TV series Salt Fat Acid Heat do be sure to do so. It is a visual feast that’s going to energizes your inner cook.
The recipe that follows is adapted slightly in that I like to divide the chicken into four parts which eliminates carving once the chicken is roasted. I’ve also included the option of adding fresh herbs to the buttermilk marinade. Otherwise the recipe is as it appears in the book. This is a roasted chicken you can count on to deliver a deeply browned crispy skin and juicy tender meat time and time again.
Buttermilk-Marinated Roast Chicken serves 4
- 3 ½ -to 4 pound chicken
- kosher or flaky sea salt
- 2 cups buttermilk
- sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme (optional)
Remove the backbone and divide the chicken into four pieces. Generously season the chicken with salt and set aside for 30 minutes.
Pour the buttermilk into a non-reactive bowl just large enough to hold the chicken and the marinade. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and the herbs if using and stir to dissolve the salt.
Brush off excess salt from the chicken and place the chicken in the marinade. Turn the chicken several times. Seal with cling film and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator an hour before roasting.
Preheat the oven to 425 f/220 c with the rack set in the center position.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and shake off excess marinade. Place the chicken in a cast iron skillet or shallow roasting pan. Tuck sprigs of fresh herbs between the chicken pieces if using.
Slide the pan all the way to the back of the oven with the legs pointed toward the rear left corner of the oven and breast pieces pointing towards the center of the oven and roast for 20 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 400 f/ 200 c and continue roasting for 10 minutes. Then shift the pan so the legs are facing the back right corner of the oven.
Continue roasting for another 25 to 30 minutes until the chicken is well browned all over and the juices run clear when you insert a knife down to the bone between the leg and the thigh.
When the chicken is done remove the pan from the oven, lightly cover with foil, and let the chicken rest 10 minute before serving.
Note: If you don’t have buttermilk substitute plain yogurt.
Papadzules are the Yucatan’s extraordinarily delicious and irresistible breakfast enchiladas. Freshly made corn tortillas are dipped into a toasted pumpkin seed sauce and filled with hard cooked eggs and finished with additional sauce and a Yucatecan spicy salsa de jitomate! The nuanced flavors of the Yucatan’s pre-Colombian Mayan cuisine will all be revealed within the very first bite.
There are several components and perhaps some unfamiliar ingredients used for this recipe, but the preparations will allow you time to immerse yourself in the flavors and techniques that make the food of the Yucatan so unique. I find working away in the kitchen is a perfect time to let your thoughts wander and savor the journey as well as ending up with a meal that has a story of its own to tell.
There are a couple of ingredients that are Yucatan specific that may be hard to find, but I have included alternatives that reflect the intended flavor.
Epazote is especially popular with cooks in the Yucatan. It is a wild herb with a slightly astringent resinous flavor that is best used fresh, although dried is perfectly acceptable. It is an acquired taste, but pairs well when cooked with beans as well as soups and stews. Available fresh in some Latin markets or dried online. It is also easy to grow if you become a fan. An alternative flavor combination is provided in the recipe.
The Yucatan is the largest exporter of Habanero chiles in the world. The Habanero is a relatively small chile but packs a wallop of heat, so
beware! That said, the slightly sweet fruity flavor of this chile counterbalances the heat just a bit. Available fresh as well as dried, although they can be hard to find. A reasonable substitute would be several small fresh red Thai chiles.
For authenticity I have referenced Diana Kennedy’s recipe for Papazules from her wonderful book The Cuisines of Mexico first published in 1972.
Papadzules serves 4
Have on hand:
- Freshly made corn tortillas (or packaged)
- 4 hard cooked eggs
Yucatecan Salsa de Jitomate
- 4 plump vine ripe tomatoes
- 1 onion
- ½ head garlic
- 1 red Habanero chile, or 4 medium size fresh Thai red chiles
- 1 teaspoon of salt or more to taste
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
This salsa can be made well in advance and stored in the refrigerator for several days.
Preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c
Brush the whole tomatoes, onion, garlic. and the small red chiles (if substituting for the Habanero chile) with oil and place on the grill, or stove top grill, and roast until the skin is evenly charred on all sides. Then transfer the tomatoes, onion, and garlic to a baking tray and place in the preheated oven for about 1 hour. Remove the garlic after about 30 minutes and set aside to cool.
Place the charred chiles in a small bowl and seal with clingfilm and set aside to sweat.
When the tomatoes and onion are fully roasted and quite soft remove from the oven and set aside to cool. When they are cool remove the charred skin from the tomatoes, cut in half and remove the seeds and cores. Transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl and crush them using your hands. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins and add them to the tomatoes.
Remove the outer skin of the onion, chop the onion finely and add it to the tomatoes.
Finally remove the charred skin from the small chiles, slit open lengthwise, and remove all the seeds. Then dice the chiles and add them to the tomatoes.
If you are using a fresh Habanero chile I would suggest using gloves to avoid a lingering burning sensation on your fingers from the capsaicin residue. Open the Habanero chile and remove the seeds, finely mince the chile, and add it to the bowl of the tomatoes.
Smash the tomatoes, garlic onions and chiles together to release all the juices. Then place a large skillet over medium high heat and add the peanut oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add the tomato salsa mixture and fry for about 5 to 10 minutes or until the salsa juices have reduced and the salsa has thickened. Season with salt to taste and set aside to cool. You can then store the salsa in a lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Broth for the pumpkin seed sauce
- 2 ½ cups water
- 2 large sprigs fresh epazote
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
If epazote sprigs are not available substitute:
- 3 sprigs flat leaf parsley
- 2 sprigs fresh oregano
- ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
- coriander root
Place the water in a saucepan along with the epazote, including the stems, and the salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. If epazote is not available add the parsley, oregano, fennel seeds, coriander root, and salt to the water and simmer for 15 minutes.
Allow the broth to cool. Then strain the broth and set aside to use later.
Toasted Pumpkin Sauce
- 6 oz/ 170g unsalted green pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted and finely ground
Place the pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet set over medium heat. Keep the seeds in motion so they toast evenly without loosing their green color. Once the seeds begin to pop keep turning the seeds until they are evenly toasted. Promptly transfer the seeds to a tray to cool.
When the seeds are completely cool transfer them to a spice grinder and grind into a flour like powder. You will have to do this in batches and be sure to shake the grinder so the seeds are evenly ground. Place all the ground seeds in a wide shallow dish.
Then sprinkle about ¼ cup of the both over the ground seeds. Using a silicone spatula mound the damp seed mixture together until it binds together in a mound on one side of the dish. Prop the dish up on one side so it is slightly inclined with with mound of damp seeds on the elevated side of the dish.
Begin compressing the seed mixture with the spatula and you will see pumpkin seed oil appearing and flowing to the lower side of the dish. Diana Kennedy explains in her recipe that the oil is then used to decorate the Papadzules just before serving. This step is entirely up to you. The collected oil will be about 2 tablespoons. If you don’t want to bother with this step just mound the seed paste together and transfer it to a small saucepan.
Add some of the broth to the saucepan and stir it into the seed mixture until the mixture is quite fluid. Place the saucepan over medium low heat and stir continuously while the sauce heats up, without actually boiling, and begins to thicken. At this point it is important to stir continuously as the sauce will otherwise stick to the bottom of the pan and scorch.
Once the sauce is slightly thick you can blend the sauce with a hand held blender until the sauce is very smooth, adjusting the consistency by adding additional broth as needed. Ideally the sauce should resemble thick cream.
The best way to hold the sauce until you are ready to assemble the Papazules is to transfer the sauce to a stainless mixing bowl set over a pot of nearly simmering water; a ban marie kind of arrangement. This will keep the sauce from curdling as it tends to do if it is held over direct heat. Keep the remaining broth on hand to stir into the sauce if it begins to dry out or curdle.
Assembling the Papadzules for serving. Traditionally Papadzules are served warm rather than hot.
Gather all the components together for easy assembly. Be sure the sauce is warm and slide a tortilla through the sauce to coat. Do this quickly as you do not want the tortilla to get soggy. Promptly place the tortilla on a plate, scatter the chopped egg over the inner surface, and roll the tortilla to encase the chopped egg filling.
Place 2 filled tortillas on a plate for each serving. Spoon additional pumpkin seed sauce over the filled tortillas, and then spoon the salsa diagonally over the sauced Papadzules. Garnish with fresh epazote leaves if available, or with fresh oregano leaves as pictured.
Buen proveche !
Other recipes from the Yucatan you may want to try:
Pollo Pibil (click here)
Cochinita Pibil (click here)
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!