Bites & Starters
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.
Sweet, sour, salty, spicy, crispy, sticky, tender succulent, and aromatic….
These Thai baby back ribs explode with all the elements that make Thai food so popular the world over.
Tamarind? The tamarind tree originates from Africa, but now found across the tropics including South and Southeast Asia. India is now the largest producer of tamarind. Tamarind is used in many Thai dishes and available fresh or in paste form. Here in Thailand tamarind is available in fresh clusters of pods or in blocks of the sticky contents of the pods that include the seeds. The flesh and seeds from the pods are boiled until vary soft. The seeds are then removed and sticky flesh is passed through a fine mesh strainer. The resulting tamarind paste has a unique tart, sweet, and slightly fruity flavor.
The methods used for this recipe are adapted for the home kitchen. Some of the ingredients may be somewhat unfamiliar, but most can be found in Asian markets or in the Asian foods section of you local supermarket.
Keep in mind that cooking is always an adventure! Discovering new and unfamiliar ingredients and flavors are all part of the fun and open up new windows of possibilities. Tamarind is a subtle flavor enhancer you will find yourself using again and again when cooking Thai or other Asian dishes.
Thai Tamarind Baby Back Pork Ribs Serves 4 to 6
- 1 kilo/ 2.2 pounds baby back pork ribs
Separate the ribs and remove the silver skin membrane from the underside of each rib using a very sharp knife. Rinse the ribs and pat dry with paper towels, and transfer the ribs to a bowl.
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon back peppercorns
- 1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
Place all the rub ingredients in a spice mill and pulse until finely ground.
Then sprinkle the seasoning rub over the ribs. Using your hands, rub the seasonings evenly over all the ribs. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside.
Basting sauce: makes 1 ½ cups
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 2 inch knob ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 medium size shallot, finely minced
- 1 bunch of coriander, leaves and roots chopped
- ¼ cup light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon dark sweet soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 4 tablespoons tamarind paste (available at Asian markets)
- 3 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons rum or brandy
- ½ teaspoon red Thai chile powder, or ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- 1 tablespoon cold pressed peanut oil
- 6 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen (optional)
Using a mini processor or mortar and pestle, combine the grated garlic, grated ginger, minced shallot, and coriander leaves and roots and pulse or grind into a coarse paste.
Transfer the paste to a non reactive bowl. Add the soy sauce, sweet dark soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind paste, palm sugar (or light brown sugar), rum or brandy, Thai chile powder, and the peanut oil and mix until well combined.
Select a rectangular baking pan and fit the pan with a shallow baking rack. Lightly oil the bottom of the pan as well as the rack.
Preheat the oven to 325 f/170 c
Place the seasoned ribs on the rack, bone side down and flesh side upward in a single layer, tucking the kaffir lime leaves here and there between ribs. Pour about an inch of water into the baking pan, generously brush the ribs with the basting sauce, seal the pan tightly with foil, and transfer to the preheated oven.
Total cooking time will be about 1 ½ to 2 hours. At 20 minute intervals brush the ribs with more basting sauce. Add water to the bottom of the pan if needed, re-seal the pan, and return the pan to the oven front to back to insure even cooking.
After 1 hour check the meat for tenderness. The finished meat should be very soft, but just short of falling off the bone. So continue checking and roasting the meat until tender as described.
Once the meat is sufficiently tender you want to raise the heat to 400 F/ 200 c.
Remove the foil and brush the ribs generously with more basting sauce. Pour the remaining basting sauce into the bottom of the pan and add more water as needed. Move the oven rack to the upper position, return the ribs to the oven uncovered and cook until the tops of the ribs are deeply colored, sizzling, and crisp on the top surface.
Promptly remove the pan from the oven and, using tongs, transfer the ribs to a platter and cover lightly with foil. Remove the roasting rack and skim the fat off the surface of the pan juices and pour the pan juices through a fine mesh strainer into a saucepan.
Place the saucepan over medium flame, bring to a boil, and if the juices are looking very thin boil until reduced to the consistency of a thin sauce.
Alternatively, mix a couple of teaspoons of corn starch mixed with an equal part of cold water, and stir it into the simmering pan juices while stirring until the sauce thickens to a thin sauce.
- 3 tablespoons tamarind paste
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced green onion
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced coriander leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red hot chile flakes
Place all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir. Chill until ready to serve.
Serve the ribs on individual plates or on a large platter. Drizzle some pan juices over the ribs and, if serving on individual plates, add a small pool of pan sauce to each plate, or place a bowl of pan juices on the table.
Serve with a bowl of the tamarind dipping sauce and Thai jasmine rice as pictured.
This post came about serendipitously via a friend’s request for a recipe for Pork Loin with Whiskey Caramelized Onions on Baguette that Antoni Porowski prepared on Queer Eye‘s reboot on Netflix series 1; episode 5. Antoni is the Fab 5’s food and wine expert who breezes through some easy food preparations for the novice cook faced with entertaining at home. There are no recipes mentioned nor much attention to “how to” procedures. This has stirred up some speculation about Antoni’s actual cooking acumen, but he has a captivated legion of fans, a cookbook coming out in 2019, and says he’s opening his own restaurant in New York. You can’t argue with success!
I’m always up for a cooking challenge, so I read some comments about this particular dish from the series and put together the recipes for the required components. I decided to include a honey mustard sage vinaigrette that was not featured in the series, but adds a much needed taste bite to bring the whole concept to life.
As pictured, tender thinly sliced fennel scented pork tenderloin is layered on toasted slices of ciabatta smeared with a sage honey mustard vinaigrette. Topping the pork loin are deeply caramelized onions that, while not quite as easy as Antoni’s appeared to be, were well worth the extra effort. All said and done, my friend’s hunch turned out to be a perfect addition to a lively mid summer supper buffet.
Pork Tenderloin with Whiskey Caramelized Onions on Ciabatta serves 10
For the pork tenderloin:
- 3 pork tenderloins, silvery skin removed
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, lightly toasted
- 1 tablespoon flaked sea salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c
Place the fennel seeds, peppercorns, and salt in a spice grinder and grind until powdery.
Pat the tenderloins dry with paper towels. Place on a tray and rub each tenderloin all over with the seasoning rub.
Place an oven proof a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat on the stove top. Add the oil and when hot add the pork loins and brown on all sides.
Then transfer the browned tenderloins to the oven and roast for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, loosely cover the pan with foil and set aside to cool.
When you are ready to serve, thinly slice the pork into medallions.
While the pork is roasting you can prepare the Whiskey Caramelized Onions.
- 4 large yellow onions, skin removed, halved, and cut into thin slices
- 1 medium red onion, skin removed, halved, and cut into thin slices
- 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 tablespoons whiskey
- 1 teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Swirl the melting butter into the oil and than add the yellow and red onions, salt, and pepper. Stir until evenly distributed and continue to saute, frequently turning the onions, until they are soft and have turned a deep caramel color. Timing will vary, but about 10 to 15 minutes should do it. Then stir in the sugar and add the whiskey.
Continue to cook until the whiskey has evaporated and the onions have a moist lacquered like sheen. Transfer to a container and set aside to cool.
Sage Honey Mustard Vinaigrette: makes 1 cup
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon dried crushed sage leaves
- 3 small garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 7 tablespoons olive oil
Place the mustard, mustard powder, turmeric, sage, garlic ¾ teaspoon salt, pepper, honey, cider vinegar, and balsamic vinegar in a small food processor and whir until the ingredients are combined. Then with the motor running add the oil in a slow steady stream until the vinaigrette is thick and smooth. Taste and add salt if needed and whir until completely mixed into the vinaigrette.
Transfer to a jar, cover with lid, and refrigerate.
- 4 to 5 ciabatta cut into ¼ inch slices lengthwise and toasted in the oven until just lightly browned around the edges.
Smear a thin layer of the vinaigrette on each slice of toasted ciabatta. Top the ciabatta with sliced medallions of the pork tenderloin and add clusters of caramelized onions on top of each slice. Add a small dabs of the vinaigrette atop of the onions and serve.