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PAN-ASIAN NOODLE SOUP

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PAN-ASIAN NOODLE SOUP

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It might be hard to believe, oh children of today, but there was a time in California and many other modern places with electricity and running water (bottled water was not yet invented) and telephones (landlines only) where your choice of Asian food was Chinese or Chinese, and by that I mean chow mein or chop suey, which the American diner poured soy sauce over lavishly. (I am loathe to admit we called soy sauce “bug juice.”) If you were really living it up you could also get Chinese BBQ ribs and egg foo yong and sweet and sour pork. A few very avant garde restaurants offered rumaki, though I have never known anyone to actually order it. I was a picky child so when we went to one of the three or four Chinese restaurants in town, I stayed safe with a hot roast beef sandwich.

Then sometime in the late 1960s or early 70s woks became the rage. It was impressed upon we aspiring Chinese chefs that the wok absolutely had to be made of carbon steel, seasoned properly with heat and oil, and used frequently in order to keep up the seasoning else it would rust. It was also absolutely essential that one had the right shovel (a shovel-shaped spatula with a long handle) and that the wok had to have a round bottom, or it was not authentic and your food would likewise be not authentic. This was at a time when electric stoves were pretty standard in most kitchens; round bottomed woks rolled and tilted dangerously on the flat burner.

Also, we had to learn to chop vegetables properly, preferably with a Chinese cleaver, or they wouldn’t cook correctly.  Something about cut-half-roll-cut on an angle. (See above about not authentic.)

We bought Chinese cookbooks that listed a new-to-us array of ingredients that were likewise absolutely essential to Chinese cooking, almost none of which were available in circa-1970 Safeway and Albertsons.  The standard supermarket soy sauce was La Choy (who had a catchy television commercial with a jingle, “La Choy makes Chinese food *swing* American!”). Bamboo shoots and water chestnuts were available in cans; people bought one of each and displayed them to show off their culinary chops. (You didn’t have to actually use them; just owning the cans was enough.) Tofu was  starting to become available but viewed with suspicion.  Garlic was available but ginger less so. It took a drive to a larger city to find sesame oil, five-spice powder,  oyster sauce, rice sticks, and bok choy. (This was before the internet.)

Even around 1980 I remember being served stir-fry dishes in Chinese restaurants that included crinkle-cut frozen French fries and gherkins.  It was indeed a strange time in America.

It took Americans a long time to relax and learn to make Chinese food; from there we segued into Thai and Korean and Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian (which, I have been assured by a Lao woman, are pretty similar), Japanese and Asian fusion. I don’t know just when the tide turned and we started appreciating and making decent Asian dishes, but even small-town grocers stock hoisin sauce and cilantro now.

We have a copy of Lucky Peach Presents 101 Asian Recipes which has a less structured approach to cooking and a what-the-hell punky approach to authenticity, while not ceding anything to white bread America. It’s been helpful in loosening up and having fun while making really good tasting Asian food. I used to have a carbon steel wok but I have no idea where it is now. I use either a cast iron frying pan or a nonstick Ikea flat-bottomed wok.

I bet you thought I would never get around to the recipe, right? This started as something else and became this. But it could become something else yet again if the cook made it so. Lots of possible variations. Much of it can be made ahead. Don’t be discouraged by the long list of ingredients – it’s really simple to make.

Note: This is clearly full of meat, but I suspect a vegetarian version could be made with the spices and some miso.

ASIAN NOODLE SOUP 

The Meat Part:

  • 3 lbs pork shoulder or pork butt, beef chuck roast, beef 7-bone roast, country-style spare ribs, chicken thighs, or a whole chicken

Broth:

  • 1 head garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 fat slice onion
  • 2 quarts water (include some low-sodium broth if it’s on hand)
  • 1/2 cup low-salt soy sauce or tamari (I use Aloha soy sauce and/or San-J Tamari, both low-salt)
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce (I use Squid brand, available in Asian markets)
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, Demarara sugar, turbinado sugar, or golden brown sugar (optional)
  • 2/3 cup Shaoxing rice wine, mirin, sake, or sherry (a generous splash of Madeira would not go amiss here as well)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, about 3″ long
  • 2 star anise
  • t teaspoon whole cloves
  • 4-5 whole cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds or anise seeds
  • 10-12 whole peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1″ piece of ginger root, sliced
  • 1-4 dried hot peppers (optional)

Greens:

  • 1 large bunch collards, kale, spinach, or other sturdy greens, hard stems removed, greens sliced thinly (roll them up like a cigar and then slice across)

Optional Vegetables:

  • shredded vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, daikon – about 1/4 cup of each
  • sliced mushrooms – 2 or more, depending on your fondness for mushrooms
  • snow peas – 1/4 pound ought to do it
  • green beans, cut into 2″ lengths -like the snow peas, about 1/4 pound

Noodles:

  • 8 – 16 ounces rice noodles, glass noodles, rice sticks, or other noodles, cooked according to package directions (I used the rice vermicelli pictured above, 14 ounces)

Optional Garnishes:

  • chopped green onions
  • chopped cilantro
  • chili-garlic sauce (Huy Fong Foods makes one version, much more garlicky than Sriracha) or sambal oelek
  • finely shredded cabbage
  • a raw egg yolk for the hardcore

Directions:

Brown the meat in a little oil, flipping as necessary to brown all sides.  When the meat is almost brown enough, add the onion slice and let it get good and brown on both sides. Toss in the garlic to lightly brown for a few minutes, then the spices to lightly bloom in the oil.

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Clockwise from top: star anise, whole cloves, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, whole peppercorns, cinnamon sticks

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Pour in all liquid ingredients and scrape up any lovely browned bits from the bottom, bring to a boil, then lower heat and cover.

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Let simmer until meat is falling-apart tender – about 1 1/2 hours for chicken thighs, 2 hours for country-style ribs or a whole chicken, 3 hours for pork butt, pork shoulder, or beef chuck/7-bone roast. Remove meat from pot and let cool, then remove bones/skin/fat and shred meat. (This can all be done ahead and put in the refrigerator for another day.)

Taste the broth and adjust seasoning – I like this on the sweet side so I usually add more brown sugar, but this is subjective. (My husband doesn’t like it sweet so for him I  keep it at 1/4 cup. Or skip the sugar altogether.) Strain broth and discard solids. Skim fat from broth (this is easier if made ahead and chilled). Reheat broth, add the thinly sliced greens, and cook until tender – could be 20 to 40 minutes for collards, 20 minutes for kale, almost instantly for spinach. When greens are almost tender, add any other vegetables.

Cook noodles separately, then add to broth with greens along with shredded meat. When soup is heated through, serve with optional garnishes.

Makes a lot.

 

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THAI DUMPLING SOUP

THAI DUMPLING SOUP

Just a few days before Christmas and I am feeling like someone who has been living pretty high on the hog, I’m telling you. It’s been cold and rainy so we’ve been having large breakfasts – French toast, hash browns, ham scrambles, pancakes, etc. Not all at once, mind you, but still, a lot of breakfast every day.  While there are lots of fresh vegetables and fruit in the house, there’s also a lot of cheese and sour cream and cookies and pie. We’ve gone out to eat a few times, which is luxurious and delicious but also accumulative.

There’s been a bag of Trader Joe’s Pork Potstickers in the freezer just waiting for an opportunity to be used.  I thought a nice filling soup would be good on a rainy, chilly night, and not quite as indulgent as what we’ve been eating.

To make this vegan or gluten free, substitute frozen dumplings that are labeled as such, or skip the dumplings and substitute silken tofu (added with the spinach at the end of cooking just long enough to heat through). Also check the labels on Thai red curry paste, or make your own (there are many such recipes on the internet). I used Thai Kitchen brand.

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This can be prepped ahead for fast assembly. Cut up the vegetables to be sauteed and keep them in the refrigerator, wrapped up. Also prepare the spinach and herbs, and keep them the same way.  The veggies will stay good in the fridge a couple of days. When you’re ready to make the soup, the majority of the work is already done.

THAI DUMPLING SOUP

  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (red or green, or some of each) or a pepper with some heat like an Anaheim or Pasilla, minced
  • 1 sweet potato or yam, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk
  • 1 package  (about 12 ounces to 1 pound) frozen Asian-style dumplings or potstickers
  • 1 small bunch spinach, washed and torn into small pieces (substitute other tender greens like beet greens, bok choy, Swiss chard, etc.)
  • low-sodium soy sauce, tamari, or fish sauce (optional)
  • chili-garlic sauce, sambal oelek, or Sriracha (optional)
  • 3 or 4 green onions, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup washed cilantro leaves (optional)
  • a few fresh basil leaves (optional)
  • the juice of one fresh lime

Combine oil, garlic, onion, peppers, and sweet potato in four-quart kettle over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften a bit, 5 minutes or so. Stir in red curry paste and cook another few minutes. Then add the broth, water, and coconut milk and heat, stirring occasionally.

When the sweet potatoes are almost tender, add the frozen dumplings. Stir to separate them if necessary, then let them cook another ten minutes. Don’t let it boil – the dumplings will fall apart. Taste the broth and season with chile-garlic paste, soy, tamari, or fish sauce if needed.

When the dumplings are done, add the spinach, green onions, and herbs; simmer until spinach is just cooked (maybe another 1 – 2 minutes). Squeeze in the juice from half a fresh lime and taste; add the juice from the other half if the soup needs it for a nice balance.

Serve in large bowls with additional garnishes of sliced lime, green onions, cilantro, basil, soy or fish sauce, and chile-garlic paste.

 

 

 

 

KIMCHI TO THE RESCUE

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KIMCHI TO THE RESCUE

There are people who are frightened by kimchi. It’s too… too much. Too fermented, too cabbage-y, too hot, too salty. It’s like the inside of a subway car in July. It explodes when you open the jar (much like a subway car).

This is not for them.

But if you’re feeling puny, overwrought, in dire straits, in need of restorative potions, this might cure what ails you. I originally found the recipe on Epicurious and of course made some changes, partly because I could not find the gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) required. I made do with what I had. I used King brand kimchi, available in every supermarket here (it would be even better if you get some real kimchi from a Korean store, but it will cost more).

This isn’t for sissies, kittens, Lawrence Welk fans, or the fearful. If you have to have chop suey and sweet & sour pork at Chinese restaurants, if you’re the girl in the horror movie who is running from the monster and sprains her ankle – open a can of Cream of WTF instead.

HOT KIMCHI AND TOFU SOUP

  • 1 16-ounce package soft tofu, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 14-ounce jar cabbage kimchi, drained (reserve the scary orange liquid)
  • 2 tablespoons chile-garlic paste or Sriracha or sambal oelek
  • 4-6 green onions, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tablespoon  sesame oil

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, reduce heat, and carefully add the tofu.

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Under the best of circumstances, tofu doesn’t look too exciting.

Let simmer about 4 minutes, then drain and set aside. (The original recipe said to remove the tofu to a “medium” bowl and you can certainly do that if you don’t mind washing an extra “medium” bowl.)

Open the kimchi carefully – it is still fermenting, which is why the jar lid may be bulging.

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Drain the orange liquid off the kimchi and save it.

Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large saucepan and add the drained kimchi plus the 2 tablespoons of whatever hot chile paste you have. If you can get the gochujang, more power to you, but don’t obsess over it if you can’t.

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Saute the kimchi and chili paste over medium-high heat until it starts to brown. (This may smell pungent, in which case open a window.) Then add the kimchi liquid and 6 cups water, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer.

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Let simmer about 35-45 minutes until the kimchi cabbage gets tender.

Then add the green onions, soy sauce, and tofu.

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Let this simmer very gently for 25 minutes to allow the tofu to absorb the flavors.

Stir in the sesame oil; season (if necessary, though I don’t think it will be) with salt and pepper.

You can serve as is.

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Or you can add an egg yolk, to cook very lightly by the heat of the broth, and some toasted sesame seeds. To toast sesame seeds:

Put sesame seeds in a dry frying pan over medium heat. Shake and/or stir the seeds very frequently.

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When the seeds are lightly browned, remove them from the pan right away; otherwise they will continue to brown and burn by residual heat.

If you wanted some more body to this, some rice noodles (the silken type used in pho) would be a good addition, or some shrimp tossed in the last five minutes of simmering. Some fresh basil leaves – especially Thai basil – or mint leaves or cilantro would be nice shredded and used as garnish, though that might just be window dressing and not really required.

 

ASIAN CHICKEN LETTUCE WRAP SAUCE

Sometimes you need to pull a rabbit out of your hat. On occasion you find that what you pulled out actually was more like a weasel or a marmot, but now and then it does turn out to be a rabbit, just as you’d hoped.

I’m preparing food for a cocktail party, which has to be all finger foods. I thought Asian chicken lettuce wraps would be good, never mind that I have never made them before. The filling part is easy enough – diced chicken, water chestnuts, peanuts, cilantro, scallions – but the dressing was another story. You can buy all kinds of bottled dressings and some of them taste okay, but it’s fun to mix your own. If you have a well-stocked pantry with Asian ingredients, it’s fast and easy.

Here is what I came up with. This started with a recipe for Vietnamese Chicken and Mint Salad from Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson, and took off from there.

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SAUCE FOR ASIAN LETTUCE WRAPS

  • 2 small red Jalapenos, minced
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 Tablespoon nam pla
  • 2 Tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
  • 1 teaspoon black bean garlic sauce
  • 1 star anise

Combine all ingredients. Store in refrigerator. Remove star anise before using. Toss with diced chicken or shrimp for Asian lettuce wraps or as a salad dressing.

Notes:

Use chili flakes, Sriracha, cayenne, or other hot peppers in place of the Jalapenos.

Nam pla (fish sauce) is available in Asian markets or well-stocked supermarkets. If necessary you can substitute soy sauce or tamari.

Black bean garlic sauce is available in Asian markets or well-stocked supermarkets. Leave it out if you can’t find it.

Thai sweet chili sauce is available in Asian markets, supermarkets, and Trader Joe’s. It is a thick sweet-spicy sauce that has a couple of million uses.

FAST THAI SOUP

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It started out cool this morning, then went to warm. Then it started to rain, the wind swirled around, and gradually I got cold. I wanted soup. Specifically hot and sour soup, but I am due to go grocery shopping and was out of just about everything required. What to do?

This was my fast alternative, which I am sipping as I write. It requires canned coconut milk.

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I’ll tell you right now, this is not diet food. It looks like this in the can:

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One-third cup has 10 mg saturated fat – that’s 49% of a daily allowance. An insane amount. There’s a “lite” version, but I really don’t like it, so here we are. Actually, I can’t think of much that is healthy about this soup except for the garlic, ginger, and cilantro; the sodium count is off the charts along with the saturated fat. But it’s fast and tasty and warming. Obviously if you had things like tofu, shrimp, baby corn, and so on, throw those in too, but this is the basic. This can easily be made vegan by skipping meat-based broth and the nam pla.

FAST THAI SOUP

  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk (shake can well before opening)
  • 3 cups broth (chicken, mushroom, vegetable, pork, or Tom Yom)
  • soy sauce
  • nam pla (fish sauce)
  • Sriracha or chile-garlic paste
  • black vinegar
  • chopped cilantro
  • chopped green onions

Saute garlic and ginger together in 1 teaspoon vegetable oil for one minute. Pour in coconut milk and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and season to taste with remaining ingredients.

HOT AND SOUR SOUP AT HOME

The best hot and sour soup I ever had was, weirdly, in Paris. It’s been years since I had loads of time to wander around the side streets so things may be different now, but in the early 80s it was very common to see certain restaurants place a large cutout of Mickey Mouse or Foghorn Leghorn or some similar figure out on the sidewalk with their menu taped on the front. I thought it was pretty odd at the time but I have come to think  of it as charmingly French. Anyway, the hot and sour soup was fantastic and blisteringly hot; I have no idea now where the restaurant was other than somewhere on the Left Bank in the Luxembourg arrondissement or nearby. It’s probably long gone.

I usually get won ton soup in Chinese restaurants now because that’s what my husband likes, but if I am on my own, it’s hot and sour all the way. I found a recipe that I adapted a little bit and discovered it’s easy to make at home.  I found this at the Grocery Outlet the other day and it’s great in hot and sour. It’s already fairly sour.

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But regular chicken or vegetable stock works fine. Homemade broth would rock this soup.

I also used some spicy pork sausage so I didn’t need to use as much Sriracha, but again, this is optional.

HOT AND SOUR SOUP

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 pound (8 ounces) ground pork, ground turkey, or ground chicken
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger root
  • 4 chopped green onions (scallions)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock or Tom Yum soup base
  • 1 pound firm tofu, cut in 1/2″ cubes
  • 5 thinly sliced mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon nam pla (fish sauce)
  • Sriracha to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • rice vinegar to taste
  • 2 large eggs, beaten

Heat the oil in a saucepan large enough to hold all the ingredients. Add the garlic, ginger, and green onions.006

Then add the ground pork. Break it up with a fork as best you can, and cook & stir about 1 minute. Don’t try to cook the pork thoroughly just yet; it will finish cooking as the broth simmers.

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Add the broth, sugar, tofu, mushrooms, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat quickly, simmer and taste. If you used the Tom Yum soup base, you won’t need to add much rice vinegar. If you used regular broth, add up to 2/3 cup rice vinegar. Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper and 1/2 to 1 tablespoons Sriracha. Keep tasting as you add until soup is just right for you.

Pour the beaten eggs into the soup and whisk until they form strands.

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Garnish with sesame oil, chopped cilantro, and chopped green onions. A squeeze of lime would be nice if you want an extra flavor and tartness.

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For a vegetarian or vegan version, use vegetable broth and omit the meat and eggs. Use soy sauce instead of fish sauce. Rehydrate 1 ounce wood ear mushrooms and slice thinly; add with the other mushrooms.

Store leftovers in the refrigerator. The soup may look a little different after being chilled but it will reheat and taste fine.

CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES

We were in San Francisco’s Chinatown a couple of weeks ago and made our usual stop at Eastern Bakery for a bag of almond cookies. I’ve bought other sweets there over numerous visits and I have a hard time wrapping my tastebuds around them, but then Chinese cuisine isn’t really known for its desserts.

But I have a wonderful cookbook, California the Beautiful Cookbook by John Phillip Carroll, which includes a recipe for almond cookies. I remember my mother making them years ago and I thought they were pretty good. Not exactly like the ones Eastern Bakery turns out which are drier and crumblier, these are more like a smooth shortbread. They’re easy to make.

The original recipe asks you to top the cookies with sesame seeds before baking. I don’t see sesame seeds as being necessary on an almond cookie, but that’s subject to taste.

CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2/3 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
whole almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream softened butter and powdered sugar together. Add egg yolk and almond extract and cream again, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary.
Toss together flour, salt, and baking powder. Add flour to butter mixture and beat in until all is combined and there are no flour pockets.
Roll out tablespoons of dough into balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet about 1 1/2″ apart. Give each cookie a mash with your fist to flatten it slightly, then top with a whole almond.

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Bake at 375 about 15 minutes until edges are browned.

If you feel sesame seeds would be a good addition, beat the leftover egg white with a tablespoon of water. Brush each flattened cookie with the egg white, then dip in sesame seeds and top with almond; bake as directed.

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