Category Archives: Southeast Asian

Minced Chicken Stir Fry with Lemon Basil and Eggplant

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I was at the farmers market this past weekend and came across lemon basil.  I have used Italian sweet basil and Thai holy basil but never this divine smelling citrus basil.  The produce vendor told me to use it quickly for the leaves wilt within a couple days.  I guess for a first trial it is safer to experiment around familiar Thai/Laos recipes such as larb, “minced meat mint salad” or padkrapow, “basil minced meat stir fry”.

Ingredients:

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  • 1 lb of organic minced chicken (season with 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1 tsp cooking wine, 2 tsp cornstarch)
  • 1 “brinjal” asian eggplant, thickly sliced and quartered
  • 3-4 gloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, thinly sliced
  • 1 chili, thinly sliced
  • A handful of lemon basil leaves
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar

Steps:

  1. Lightly salt the eggplant and leave at room temperature for 1 hour.  Eggplant will produce brownish bitter liquid.  Discard the liquid.
  2. Season minced chicken with 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 2 tsp cornstarch, 1 tsp cooking wine
  3. Heat wok with 2 Tbsp of oil
  4. Add chicken and spread it out to form a pancake.
  5. When the underside of the minced chicken “pancake” caramelizes and turns brown, break into pieces and continue to stir-fry
  6. Remove from wok and set aside.
  7. Heat another 2 Tbsp of oil in wok.
  8. Stir fry ginger, garlic, and lemongrass until fragrant
  9. Add eggplant
  10. Add 2 Tbsp of fish sauce and 1/2 tsp sugar
  11. Eggplant will soften and produce liquid
  12. Add chicken back into wok and stir together to combine flavors
  13. Turn off heat and add lemon basil
  14. The residual heat will cook the lemon basil
  15. Serve immediately

Cook’s Notes:

To keep the minced chicken moist use a blend of chicken breast and thigh meat.

 

Steamed Rainbow Trout with Asian Pesto Dressing

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Steamed fish is as homey as one gets in Asian home cooking.  Living in west LA I have no access to Ranch 99, a big Chinese supermarket chain known for its bubbling tanks of live fish.  There is where I play God.  I point out the fish that I want and the fishmonger swiftly scoops it out of the tank and kills it.  Here I got myself civilization and Costco.  Whole Foods and its f&*k you prices for its seafood is not an option.  And because I am cheap, like to eat whole fish and consume it in one seating, my imaginary seafood decision tree concludes that rainbow trout is my BFF, “best fish forever”

This is a good vacuum cleaner recipe to use up leftover or wilting herbs. Throw any combination of scallion, cilantro, italian parsley, garlic, tomato in a food processor and you got yourself a sauce.  For marketing purposes I am calling any finely minced vegetation combination a pesto.  Add a jalapeno or two for heat.  Dressing the fish with this pesto and searing it with really hot oil is essential to reducing the sharpness of the herbs and releasing their natural oils.

Ingredients:

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Rainbow Trout

  • 1 Rainbow Trout
  • A thumb of peeled ginger, sliced
  • 2 lemongrass stalk, bruised
  • 2-4 kaffir lime leaves

Pesto:

  • A handful of italian parsley or cilantro
  • 1/2 thumb of ginger
  • 10 cherry tomatoes or any tomato you have available
  • 1-2 gloves of garlic
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce

Steps:

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  1. Clean fish and place on a plate.
  2. “Score” or make three deep cuts across the thickest part of the flesh on each side.
  3. Stuff the ginger, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves into the cavity of the fish.
  4. Steam fish for 8 minutes.
  5. Take fish out of steamer and discard 3/4 of liquid produced.
  6. While fish is steaming, combine all pesto ingredients into a food processor and pulse till finely chopped.
  7. Pour pesto over steamed fish.
  8. Heat 4 Tbsp of any unflavored oil with a high smoking point till it is smoking.
  9. Pour hot oil over the pesto, searing the herbs.  You should hear a sizzling sound.

Cook’s Notes:

Do not worry if you do not have the harder to find herbs such as lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves.  The key is to use ginger and scallion.  The fish will taste even with just ginger and scallion.  If you do not have fish sauce use soy sauce.  Try the Ginger Cilantro Sauce because it is based on the same concept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minced Chicken Stir-Fry with Cilantro Root

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I love the texture of minced meat.  I like to buy whole organic chickens, debone them, grind up the skinless thigh and breast meat and freeze them in individual ziploc bags.  Including the thigh meat keeps the blend moist and tender.  Save the bones for making chicken soup.  The often discarded stalks/root of the Cilantro plant are actually very flavorful and used extensively in southeast asian cooking.  This recipe came about when I had no Thai holy basil but wanted to make gai pad krapow, minced chicken basil stir-fry.  There is no better dish to use cilantro root as a substitute!

Ingredients:

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  • 2 cups of minced chicken
  • 1 tsp minced ginger
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped cliantro root/stalk
  • 2 Tbsp diced red onions
  • 1 lemongrass stalk (white part ony), thinly sliced
  • 1 chili padi, thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp kecap manis (use soy sauce and sugar if unavailable)
  • 1 Tbsp calamansi lime juice (use regular lime juice if unavailable)
  • 1 Tbsp of butter

Steps:

  1. Heat butter in wok until foaming.
  2. Stir fry garlic, ginger, cilantro root, lemongrass and chili padi until fragrant.DSC00355
  3. Move the herbs towards the edge of the wok.
  4. Add minced chicken to wok, spreading it out to form a pancake. Do not touch and allow the meat to brown underneath.                                                 DSC00357
  5. Break up meat pancake into small pieces.  Add fish sauce, kecap manis, calamansi lime juice and stir-fry along with herbs until chicken is completely cooked. Toss in diced red onions at the end.                                                                       DSC00359
  6. Serve over rice and add a fried egg for extra yummy goodness.

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Sardine Puff with Tomato Onion Jam

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When I first served this at a party I had to lie and call it tuna. I kept my ears peeled for the first crunch followed by gasps of delight. Only then did I quickly confess to my little white lie. Sardines, unjustly known as bait fish, are much misunderstood. These small oily fishes belonging to the herring family are not only delicious but are also high in omega-3 acids and iron. Canned sardines are eaten throughout Southeast Asia. This recipe is my open faced take on the sardine puff, a favorite among Singaporeans.

Ingredients:

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  • 1 can of sardines in tomate sauce (Ayam Brand is recommended)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 whole onion thinly sliced
  • 1 clove of minced garlic
  • 2 tps curry power
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste (if unavailable substitute with ketchup)
  • 1 Tbsp Lingham’s sweet chili sauce
  • 2 Tbsp calamansi lime juice (if unavailable use regular lime juice)
  • 1 Tbsp of finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 sheets of puff pastry
  • 1 egg

Steps:

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  1. Empty sardines from can and reserve tomato sauce.
  2. Saute onions in butter for 5 mins. Add 1 tsp salt to sweat onions.
  3. Add curry powder and garlic. Saute garlic till fragrant.
  4. Add reserved tomato sauce, tomato paste, Lingham sweet chili sauce and calamansi lime juice.
  5. Reduce mixture to a jam like texture.
  6. Fold sardines and chopped cilantro into the mixture. Expect sardines to fall apart which is fine.
  7. Cut puff pastry into squares.
  8. Beat 1 egg and apply egg wash to puff pastry squares. Bake according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  9. Spoon sardine mixture onto each square and garnish with cilantro leaves.

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Indonesian Pork Satays

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Indonesia has the biggest muslim population in the world. The Koran forbids the consumption of pork. Yet ironically some of the most delicious pork dishes come from Indonesian Chinese restaurants and pork satays, “sate babi”, are definitely one of them. The key to this dish is using freshly ground toasted coriander seeds. Beware! This recipe is for the patient.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb of pork butt, cut into thumb size cubes
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup kecap manis
  • 1 thumb of ginger
  • 1 thumb of galangal root
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Steps:

  1. Toast coriander seeds in pan over medium flame. Swirl the seeds while toasting to prevent burning. Grind to powder in a coffee grinder or use a pestle and mortar.
  2. Repeat step 1 for cumin seeds.
  3. Place ginger, lemongrass, galangal root, a bit of water in food processor and blend until completely smooth and fibers cannot be seen.
  4. Combine all ingredients with pork in glass bowl and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge to marinate overnight.
  5. Soak bamboo skewers in water overnight to prevent them from burning on the grill.
  6. Piece together 4-5 cubes of pork using bamboo skewers. Do not cram but space pieces evenly apart to ensure pork gets cooked thoroughly.
  7. Grill over BBQ
  8. If BBQ grill is unavailable, use the oven broil function and cook for about 7 mins each side.

Sauce:

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Ingredients:

  • 4-5 gloves of minced garlic
  • 2-3 chopped fresh chili padi
  • 2 Tbsp of chopped cilantro root
  • 1 Tbsp of butter
  • 4-5 Tbsp of kecap manis
  • 3 Tbsp of water

Steps:

  1. Heat butter in sauce pan.
  2. Stir fry minced garlic, chili padi and chopped cilantro root till fragrant.
  3. Lower heat, add kecap manis and water.
  4. Cook till sauce bubbles, careful not to burn the sugars in the sauce. Turn off heat and drizzle over satays.

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Cook’s Note:

I have tried unsuccessfully to use pork butt from Whole Foods that is hormone and antibiotic free but the resulting pork was so gamey tasting that I had to switch back. This is an instance where the less we know the better. Do not use fresh garlic or onions as it may burn over the grill and turn bitter. Use garlic and onion powder instead.

Chili Ginger Sauce

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This is the tangy garlic ginger chili sauce that made Hainan Chicken Rice the super rockstar dish that it is today. Fortunately it does not need to stay monogamous and pairs well with grilled pork and beef too.

Ingredients:

  • 8 red jalapeno peppers, de-seeded
  • 1 small thumb of peeled ginger
  • 2 – 3 gloves of garlic
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp of calamansi lime juice (if unavailable use regular limes)
  • 2 Tbsp of sugarcane vinegar (if unavailable use white vinegar)
  • 1 tps sesame seed oil
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce

Steps:

  1. Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until completely smooth. Add some chicken stock or water to thin out the sauce if too thick. 
  2. Taste and adjust accordingly.

 

Hainanese Chicken

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If Singaporeans had to choose a national dish the title could easily go to Hainanese Chicken Rice. But it looks like any poached chicken topped over rice?! What makes this dish distinctively Singaporean lies in the flavoring of the rice and its accompanying chili and ginger sauce. Cooked in a delicious chicken broth flavored with ahem chicken fat, stir fried ginger, garlic, shallots and screwpine leaves, the rice alone stands out as a star. I substituted quinoa for rice because it has a lower glycemic index. Quinoa also cooks fast and absorbs the wonderful flavors of the chicken broth just as nicely. I can imagine Singaporeans crying in horror at my suggestion but give it a shot and let me know what you think.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken (preferably organic/air-chilled)
  • 2 Tbsp of kosher salt
  • 1 tsp of chinese cooking wine
  • 5 thick slices of ginger
  • 8 stalks of scallions
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass, bruised.

Steps:

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  1. Exfoliate chicken with kosher salt to clean skin and remove any gunk from its cavity. Rinse thoroughly.
  2. Rub the chicken cavity with 1 tsp of chinese cooking wine
  3. Stuff chicken cavity with ginger, scallions and lemongrass
  4. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Season boiling water with 2 Tbsp of kosher salt. The water must taste salty.
  5. Immerse chicken into pot of boiling water with breast side down. Water temperature will decrease immediately.
  6. Keep flame on high until water re-boils with chicken. Boil for about about 3-5 mins. Flip chicken over to breast side up. Cover the pot with its lid and TURN OFF FLAME.
  7. Let chicken sit in pot for 30 mins.
  8. Remove chicken from the pot and plunge it immediately into an ice bath to halt the cooking process.
  9. Once the chicken has cooled down, remove from ice bath and discard all the ingredients from its cavity.
  10. Pat dry and let it rest.
  11. Debone and slice when ready to serve. Reserve the chicken bones and stock.
  12. Optional – Mix 2 tsp of soy sauce and 1 tsp of sesame oil with 2 Tbsp of chicken stock. Spoon glaze over the sliced chicken and garnish with cilantro.
  13. Serve with Quinoa, Cilantro Ginger Sauce and Chili Sauce

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Cook’s Notes:

I have tried various brands of organic chicken and love Mary’s chicken from Whole Foods. Because it is air-chilled, water is not absorbed and the chicken retains its natural flavor and firmness. I have seen recipes where you bring the chicken to a boil starting with cold water or boil the chicken for 10-20  minutes then bring it down to a simmer. These are all attempts at meeting the key challenge which is, how to thoroughly cook the chicken breast while keeping it super juicy and tender. It is very important to have enough water in the pot to keep the water temperature constant. There must be enough water/heat to swirl around the chicken. This is the cheap Chinese version of “sous-vide” minus all the contraptions. This recipe is very technique driven. Unfortunately you will most likely undercook or overcook the chicken the first time. You will get better as you practice more.

 

Ginger Cilantro Sauce

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I created this sauce as the herbier sister to the ginger sauce, a must-have companion in eating Hainanese chicken. View it as a pesto or chimichurri but with an Asian twist. It is versatile and pairs well with roasted chicken, grilled beef and steamed fish. What a great way to use up leftover herbs!

Ingredients:

  • A handful of cilantro (use the amount that it is sold in)
  • 10 scallions (use both white and green parts)
  • Thumbs of peeled ginger
  • 2-3 gloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp of fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp of Japanese “tsuyu”, a seasoning soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp of sesame oil
  • 1 tsp of brown sugar

Steps:

  1. Remove roots from the cilantro and scallions.
  2. Rough chop cilantro, scallions, ginger and place all ingredients into food processor. Pulse 10-12 times to finely chop the herbs. Do not create a paste.
  3. Transfer herbs into a glass bowl.
  4. Heat one cup of canola oil in pot till smoking.
  5. Add fish sauce, Japanese tsuyu, sesame oil, brown sugar to the herbs.
  6. Slowly pour the searing hot canola oil over the herbs. Mix as you pour. The mixture must sizzle as the hot oil hits the herbs.

Cook’s Notes:

To develop the key flavor in this sauce it is important to sear the herbs with the hot oil. It also helps tone down the sharpness of the ginger. Do not use olive oil due to its low smoking point. “Tsuyu” is a Japanese seasoning soy sauce and often used diluted to form a soup base for udon, soba or soy noodles. If neither fish sauce nor soy sauce is available just use salt and it will taste delicious too. Play around with the herbs to develop your favorite ratio or add jalapeno for spice.