Lip Singe Challenge

I am not usually a fan of spicy foods, but I do make exceptions. One of them is green papaya salad, which I will order whenever I see it on a menu at a Thai restaurant. Green papaya salad is one of the reasons I keep coming back to the Lowell Folk Festival, although the last time we were there it was too spicy for me. Our friend Dan ended up eating it. He’s spent years in Southeast Asia and didn’t think it was spicy. He was less prepared for two straight hours of whining from Beatrix about a balloon, which somehow didn’t phase us! Amazing what you get used to.

20200315_163523

I haven’t posted a green papaya salad in large part because green papaya can be hard to come by, and I try to post things with accessible ingredients. But as luck would have it, there is a pounded green papaya salad recipe in Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook Cravings, which I borrowed from the library during my prep-athon last week, and she includes an adaptation that substitutes green beans for papaya. And I had just panic-bought two pounds of green beans on the same trip!

I’ve actually modified this recipe down to the lowest level of spicy. That also makes it a pantry recipe for me, because I have dried hot peppers from the Winter CSA; just use a pinch of red chili flakes if you don’t. You need an entire lime for this one, and you must eat it with rice to calm your face down. If fish sauce isn’t your thing, this recipe is not for you. But, boy, are you missing out. 

It works best if you have a mortar and pestle for the pounding, but if you don’t, Teigen suggests using a muddler. I ended up splitting the difference, using a pestle in a metal bowl once all the green beans were added in. 

I flippin’ love this recipe so much. Thank you, Chrissy Teigen. If you don’t have green beans or a green papaya, it’ll also work with shredded cucumber. 

Pounded Thai Green Bean Salad from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings

Ingredients 

1 lime, halved

1 dried red chile pepper

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons palm, raw or light brown sugar

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 pound green beans

3 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts (optional)

Rice, for serving 

Special Equipment

Large mortar and pestle (or you can fake it; see recipe) 

Directions 

Cut one-half of the lime into small wedges and place in a large mortar along with the dried chile, garlic and sugar. Crush with the pestle until the chile is mashed and bruised but not totally pulverized and the sugar is dissolved. Add the tomatoes and pound a few times to bruise the tomates. (You can also accomplish this with a plain old bowl and a round-ended cocktail muddler. Or you can chop the garlic first and just mix and mash everything in a mixing bowl. Squeeze the juice from the remaining  lime half (about 1 tablespoon) into the mortar and stir in the fish sauce. 

Trim and cut the green beans into 2-inch lengths. You should have about 4 cups of beans. 

Add the green beans to the mortar and mash and toss lightly. Divide the salad among bowls. If desired, top with peanuts. Serve with rice. 

 

I Didn’t Share

Of all the things I gained during my pregnancy – I mean besides 65 lbs. – the strangest of all was an appreciation for Thai food. Most people like Thai food, at least in my circles, but I have never cared for it. I tried to like it, really I did, but the flavors never meshed for me. Something about the sweet and salty, and the spice – especially the spice – didn’t work for me. Love Vietnamese food, but Thai food, not so much. But then I became pregnant, and it was as if a switch was flipped.

Chopsticks

My enjoyment of Thai food became so strong that this year I used a birthday Barnes and Noble gift card to buy Pok Pok by Andy Ricker. Ricker spent years in Thailand learning the cuisine and now has a burgeoning Thai restaurant empire in Portland, Oregon, and New York. He won the James Beard Award Best Chef in the Northwest in 2011. This guy knows his Thai.

So when a handful of kind-of-sad-looking Japanese eggplant came in the CSA a few weeks back, I grabbed Ricker’s cookbook and set out to make grilled eggplant salad. Although the recipe strongly suggested a charcoal grill, I used my oven’s broiler to blacken them. As I assembled the salad, I remembered that my friend Caitlyn, also living in Portland, also a Thai-o-phile, taught me all about this salad when she visited last summer. She even went so far as to find a video of some famous Thai chef making this recipe. “Just skip the step with the shrimp,” she said to me. So I did. And so can you.

A few things about this recipe: Apparently there are dozens of types of eggplants out there, and Caitlyn taught me that small green eggplants are traditionally used in this recipe. That wasn’t an option in my CSA, but the recipe turned out fine. I skipped the fried garlic, only because it called for using thirty cloves and, well, I didn’t have that many in my kitchen. I used the option of red onions rather than shallots because that, along with the chiles and cilantro, came in the CSA. I’m still a wimp about a ton of spice, so even though the recipe calls for 2 chiles, I think I used half of one. I had palm sugar in the house because I found a bag of it in the Gourmet Foods section at TJ Maxx, or maybe it was Home Goods. (One of those two; definitely check out that section if you have the chance. That’s where I’ve found whole vanilla beans for a buck or two.) If you don’t have palm sugar in the house, I think brown sugar will be a decent substitute. I broiled the eggplant one day but only had a chance to make the rest of the salad the following day. I simply heated the pieces of eggplant in a skillet on the stovetop.

I loved this salad. Not sure how many it is supposed to serve, but it served me, and me alone. Rich didn’t even know this salad existed until he edited this post.

Yam Makheua Yao (Grilled Eggplant Salad) from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker

Ingredients

12 ounces long Asian eggplants (2 or 3), preferably green

1 egg, at room temperature

1 ½ Tablespoons lime juice

1 ½ Tablespoons Naam Cheuam Naam Taan Piip (Palm sugar simple syrup – recipe to follow)

1 Tablespoon Thai fish sauce

2 grams fresh Thai chiles, preferably green, thinly sliced (or to taste)

14 grams peeled small shallots, preferably Asian, or very small red onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced with the grain (about 2 Tablespoons)

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro (thin stems and leaves), lightly packed

Directions

Clean, peel and cut the eggplants

Cook the eggplants either on the grill (highly recommended) or in the oven.

  • On the grill: Prepare a charcoal grill and ignite the coals. Once the coals have begun to turn gray but are still flaming, grill the eggplants directly on the coals, turning frequently, until the skin has almost completely blackened and the flesh is very soft (it should meet with almost no resistance when you poke it with a sharp knife), about 4 minutes. The goal is to fully char the skin before the flesh gets mushy.
  • In the Oven: Preheat the boiler to high and position a rack as close as you can to the heat source. Put the eggplants on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil (or, even better, on a wire rack on the baking tray) and broil, turning them over once, until the skin has blistered and mostly blackened and the flesh is very soft (it should meet with almost no resistance when you poke it with a sharp knife) but not mushy, about 6 to 12 minutes total, depending on the size of the eggplants and the distance from the heat source.

Let the eggplants cool for 10 minutes or so. This will make them easier to peel and allow the flesh to firm up slightly. Use your fingers to peel off the skin (don’t go crazy removing every last bit), trying your best to keep the flesh intact. Do not run the eggplant under water. Cut the eggplant crosswise (on the diagonal, if you’re feeling fancy) into 2-inch slices and arrange them on a serving plate.

Cook the Egg: Prepare a bowl of ice water. Bring a small pot of water to a full boil, gently add the whole egg, and cook for 10 minutes. Your goal is a fully cooked egg whose yolk hasn’t become dry and powdery. Transfer the egg to the ice water and once the egg is cool to the touch, peel and coarsely chop the white and yolk into small pieces.

Assemble the Salad: Combine the lime juice, simple syrup, fish sauce, and chiles in a small saucepan or wok, set it over medium heat, and heat the mixture just until it’s warm to the touch, 15 seconds or so. Pour the warm mixture over the eggplant. Sprinkle on the egg, shallot, and finally, cilantro.

Naam Cheuam Naam Taan Piip – Palm Sugar Simple Syrup

Ingredients

2 ½ ounces palm sugar, coarsely chopped

¼ cup plus 1 Tablespoon water

Directions

Combine the sugar and the water in a very small pot or pan. Set it over medium heat and cook, stirring and breaking up the sugar as it softens, just until the sugar has completely dissolved. If the water begins to bubble before the sugar has completely dissolved, turn off the heat and let it finish dissolving in the hot liquid.

Let it cool before storing. The syrup keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

 

Champagne Wishes and Fish Sauce Dreams

A few weeks ago, I had a quick procedure. Not a big deal, not even worth getting into the details here, but they did need to sedate me. I was a little groggy afterwards, and I was given the instructions not to drive, go to work or operate heavy machinery for the rest of the day. But when Rich brought me home from the hospital, I grabbed a canvas grocery bag from the backseat and started wobbling my way to the market around the corner.

“Um, what are you doing, dear?” Rich asked.

“I have some stuff I need to pick up,” I replied.

“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, given your condition.”

“Oh, I’m fine. It’s 500 yards from our house, and I promise to use the crosswalks. There’s no heavy machinery involved.”

Rich soon realized this was a battle he would not be able to win, even though his opponent could barely stand up. He watched me steady myself to the end of the street, green sweatpants and all, and turn the corner.

I had had Vietnamese noodles on my mind for the past few weeks, and the chalush (an uncontrollable hankering) was one that not even a minor sedative would keep me from. The secret to Vietnamese noodles is fish sauce, which can be found in Asian markets, and more often than not, in the Asian aisle of most decent grocery stores. It’s usually made of anchovies, and is a bit akin to garum, the stinky fish sauce the Romans doused nearly everything they ate with. Hey, I said the blog is “mostly” vegetarian, cut me some slack.

And the noodles were perfect. They were exactly what I had hoped for. Looking back, I probably should have stayed out of the kitchen that afternoon, and not used the stove or a large chef’s knife. When I tasted the sauce, I thought it was too citrusy, so I stumbled around the kitchen adding a splash of mirin and a dash of soy. Of course, after a few minutes of fussing, I realized I hadn’t actually added the fish sauce; it had been measured and waiting next to the bowl. Oops. But I did succeed in the end, and somehow I managed to photograph it as well.

When Rich returned home from work that night, I greeted him with an offer of the noodles spiked with fish sauce. “Oh,” he said, “so you did end up making them.” “Huh?” I asked. “Oh, you don’t remember? When you came to after the anesthesia, you were mumbling noodles with fish sauce.”

Vietnamese Noodles aka Thai Noodles slightly adapted from Myers + Chang Thai Ginger Chicken Salad, minus the chicken salad, from Bon Appetit September 2011

Ingredients

1 Thai chili, sliced thin

Juice of ½ lime

2 Tablespoon mirin

2 Tablespoon rice vinegar

¼ cup fish sauce

¼ cup sugar

2 teaspoon. ginger, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

12 oz. rice stick noodles

4 oz. cubed tofu

4 springs cilantro, stems included, chopped

Directions

Put a large pot of salted water onto boil.

Whisk first 8 ingredients in a small bowl until sugar dissolves. Set dressing aside.

When the water boils, cook noodles until tender, but still firm to the bite, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain; put in large bowl.

Add cubed tofu to the noodles, pour the dressing, toss to coat, then sprinkle with the chopped cilantro.