Virtual kitchen: daydreams of SALSA!

I’m ashamed to say I haven’t taken a single cooking class while we’ve been in South America. Shocking but true! 😦 Not to say that I haven’t been enjoying the food. Especially since we arrived in Bolivia/Peru.

Bolivia’s simple but hearty quinoa based soups were consistently delightful and satisfying. And I’m really getting into Peru’s collection of colorful, beguiling salsas!

While I haven’t been taking classes, I HAVE been asking questions at our favorite restaurants. I’ve never been able to get the most clear recipes however, so I’ve been supplementing my requests with some internet research, and all of it’s been making my mouth water for the day that I have my own kitchen again and get to experiment till I get the flavor combinations for some of the lovely condiments we’ve encountered during our South American journeys the way I want them.

So I’m putting together a recipe collection here so I’ll easily remember what I want to try, next chance I get. 🙂 Apologies for the long post, but it’ll help me to have everything in one place. 🙂 Maybe some day I’ll spruce it up with pictures of the recipes I get around to trying. 🙂

Chimichurri – Argentina

From Wikipedia: Chimichurri is a sauce used for grilled meat. The origin of the name of the sauce is unclear. There are various stories explaining the name… The Argentine gourmet Miguel Brascó claims that the word chimichurri originated when the British were captured after the British invasions of the Río de la Plata. The prisoners asked for condiment for their food mixing English, aboriginal and Spanish words. According to this story, che-mi-curry stands for “che mi salsa” (give me condiment) or “give me curry”. The word then corrupted to chimichurri.Another theory for the name of the sauce comes from the Basque settlers that arrived in Argentina as early as the 19th century. According to this theory, the name of the sauce comes from the Basque term tximitxurri, loosely translated as “a mixture of several things in no particular order.

There are green versions and red versions chimichurri – the red includes all the same ingredients as the green but adds tomato and or red bell pepper. The flavors are lovely and I’d be happy to put it on plenty of things – not just meat. 🙂

Here’s a recipe I found on simplyrecipes.com:

INGREDIENTS

1 cup firmly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, trimmed of thick stems
– 3-4 garlic cloves
– 2 Tbsps fresh oregano leaves (can sub 2 teaspoons dried oregano)
– 1/2 cup olive oil
– 2 Tbsp red or white wine vinegar
– 1 teaspoon sea salt
– 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

METHOD
1 Finely chop the parsley, fresh oregano, and garlic (or process in a food processor several pulses). Place in a small bowl.
2 Stir in the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Adjust seasonings.
Serve immediately or refrigerate. If chilled, return to room temperature before serving. Can keep for a day or two.
Yield: Serves 4.

Green Aji/Huacatay Salsa – Peru

Oh my gosh these elusive Peruvian sauces!

The green goodness that is served with bread as a starter in Peruvian joints in the US and has been showing up on randomly unpredictable culinary occasions during our time here in Peru seems to be the stuff of legend.

Online searches have proved absolutely futile in terms of pinning down an official and definitive recipe. There seem to be as many variations to the recipe as there are entries online; I can’t even settle on the most proper and official name. Suffice to say this topping is as delicious as it is addictive.

A key component appears to be haucatay, a Peruvian herb that seems near impossible to get fresh outside of South America (thus speaks the interwebs anyhow) – cooks on other continents make do with pre-packaged pastes when they’re lucky and mint/cilantro/a combination of the two when they’re not. More info here and here.

I found one afficianado’s advice on yelp:

each person has its own way of making it.

aji amarillo paste
huacatay paste
chopped green onions
lime juice
salt
bit of oil

puree on a blender

some others make it with

mayo, queso fresco, milk, cilantro…

i suggest you get creative.
enjoy

Seems to me like a good place to start (although I have also heard tell of a version involving peanuts!!! Seriously yum!). Here are some more intriguing recipes I’ve found online (have I mentioned I am so excited for when I have a kitchen again some day???):

http://southamericanfood.about.com/od/saladssidedishes/r/Peruvian-Huacatay-Salsa-Aji-De-Huacatay.htm
http://www.robertaskitchen.com/2008/01/06/salsa-verde-peruvian-green-sauce/
http://veganfeastkitchen.blogspot.com/2009/09/move-over-ketchup-and-salsa-peruvian.html

Salsa Picante – Peru

I had an awesome version of this just tonight at a restaurant here in Nazca (La Encantada in case you’re interested). Our friendly waitress told me it was made of the infamous aji amarillo (yellow chile pepper), onion, garlic, and milk blended together. Further research on the internet has yielded other recipes of course – see the collection below. The jury will have to wait till I get home and can try to rediscover the lovely, deep, sweet, fiery flavors of the pepper in my own homemade experiments before I can say what the best recipe might be.

http://www.fiery-foods.com/recipesearch/salsa-picante-de-peru-peruvian-hot-salsa
http://www.pepperfool.com/recipes/salsa/salsa_picante2.html

Tallarines Verdes: Green Noodles with Spinach Pesto – Peru

I stumbled across this recipe during my extensive internet searching. While this dish/sauce is not one that I was looking for, it makes me think of two meals from our two favorite restaurants in Cusco, so I want to make sure I give it a try when I can.

1) Green’s is a lovely organic restaurant that I got hooked on. Their garden salad comes with a great basil vinaigrette that I really loved. All the goodness of basil without heading towards the heaviness/garlic overload (not that that’s a bad thing! 😉 of pesto. Reading the ingredients for the sauce in this dish, I wonder if they used something like this recipe for their dressing.

2) Roma Mia was the delightful Italian restaurant – run by a proper, passionate Roman Italian – that absolutely charmed us. Our last meal there I had spaghetti pesto; it was served with beans a potatoes as in this recipe – which was a first for me.

The recipe is from about.com. Here it is:

YIELDServes 4-6.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound pasta (spaghetti, fettuccine, or linguine)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large bunch washed spinach (about 3 cups leaves. packed)
  • 1 cup basil leaves, washed
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup queso fresco cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION:

  1. Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until soft and fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. While onions are cooking, add spinach and basil leaves to a blender with the milk and process (working in batches if necessary) until smooth.
  3. Add cooked onions and garlic to the blender with the cheese and process, adding a little more milk if necessary, until you have a smooth mixture.
  4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  5. Melt butter in the skillet that cooked the onions. Pour sauce from blender into the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes, until sauce is heated through and smooth. Keep sauce warm.
  6. Add pasta to the boiling water and cook according to directions. Drain well and toss pasta with the sauce. Serve warm.

The next recipes have nothing to do with South American cuisine. When we got to Arequipa, we were ready for some international fare. We loved the french-style creperie, subtly named Crepisimo, and I was in heaven finding some decent hummus and falafel at Fez (or Istanbul – there were two signs on the door so I’m not sure what the official name was. 😉 ). Sticking with the salsa theme, here are some sauces both restaurants got me excited about:

Crepisimo’s tasty french-style vinagrette

I normally don’t go for sauces with mayonnaise in them, but this one was delish! Our sweet waitress was kind enough to ask the kitchen for the ingredients, but as for measurments, I’ll have to experiment when I can. Some pointers – the finished product was thoroughly emulsified, light tan in color, and somewhat thick and creamy.

INGREDIENTS:

Mayonaise
Mustard
Balsamic vinegar
Salt
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Plain yogurt

PREPARATION:
Mix all ingredients well.

Yogurt/garlic goodness inspired by Fez

My salad at Fez came with a small pot of a seemingly simple yogurt sauce that exploded with insanely awesome garlic intensity about a second and a half after the first taste. Our waiter here was less communicative; he said the ingredients were yogurt and garlic but wouldn’t divulge any kitchen secrets beyond that.

Yogurt and garlic sauce in Middle Eastern cooking has less of a mystique to it than Peruvian green sauce although until that meal I’d managed to forget about it and how darn good it is given how rare it’s been to find that sort of food in South America.

Below is one simple recipe I found on about.com that could serve as a good base. The sauce I had at Fez though was completely smooth, so I think I might try nixing everything in a blender rather than having pieces of minced garlic floating about.

During my search I also found an intriguing recipe for vegan mayonaise that goes heavy on the garlic. I am NOT a fan of traditional mayo but I am a fiend for garlic, so this is definitely on my list of recipes to try.

http://www.tasteofbeirut.com/2011/09/lebanese-vegan-mayo/

Yogurt and garlic sauce

INGREDIENTS:

  • 16 oz. plain cold yogurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • salt to taste

PREPARATION:

In a small mixing bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Mix well. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
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Food on my mind… (Or, how to make yogurt)

My last post made me realize that I haven’t done a recipe post in ages and ages. So I’m sneaking one in here. I actually meant to share this recipe while I was still at home in the States, since that’s when I was trying it out, but better late than never I guess. 😉

While we were staying with my dear friend Ritu and her family in Delhi, we got treated each and every day to hands down the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten.

Paneer, Dal, Spinach, Beans, Okra, Chapati and Yogurt - all home make and all seriously yum!

Bengali sweets - dangerously delicious!

Every meal was a total smorgasbord, with exciting new dishes involving different vegetables or combinations of spices or interesting sauces to try – not to mention all the different, amazing items picked up from Bengali Sweets for dessert.

Anyhow, while the spectrum of curries and legumes and veggies varied from day to day, there were a few staples that were always on the table. In addition to fragrant rice and piping hot, freshly made chapatis, there was homemade yogurt.

Reeshma, one of the maids, made a fresh batch of this yogurt every single day. I watched her and learned the steps and not only was it dead easy to make, it was totally delicious – light yet creamy, with just the right amount of tangy-ness. Roman and I tried yogurt all over India after that but we never found anything that could match Reeshma’s. I didn’t think to ask how long she’d been using the same culture to make yogurt for the house but I bet it’s been around for ages!

Having been dreaming of Reeshma’s yogurt ever since leaving India, I was excited to have access to a kitchen while we were at my parents’ place, and to try making yogurt myself. It IS incredibly easy. Although I don’t have the instinct for it like Reeshma did, who knew when the milk was ready to take of the heat just by looking at it. I tried doing that, attempting to remember how hot the milk in India felt all those months ago when I was shadowing Reeshma in the kitchen and all I ended up with was a pot full of room-temperature milk the next day.

But with the help of a cooking thermometer, I was able to brew up a perfectly firm batch of yogurt every time. Mine was never quite as good as Reeshma’s, but it got better as my culture matured and as I experimented with different types of milk and fermentation time, and in my opinion, it was definitely better than the store-bought stuff. So, without further ado, here’s how easy it is to make your own yogurt:

Ingredients/equipment:
 – 1 quart (about 1 liter) milk – skim, whole, whatever, it doesn’t matter
– 2 – 4 tablespoons starter – any plain, unsweetened yogurt that has live cultures. I used Stoneyfield Farm the first time and my own yogurt subsequently and both worked fine
– A pot to heat the milk in
– A bowl that is big enough to fit the pot so you can cool down the milk
– A clean, oven-safe bowl with lid for the yogurt to ferment in
– A cooking thermometer
– Tap water and ice
– An oven you can use for at least 7 hours.

Instructions: 

  1. Preheat your oven to between 100 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit. (38 – 48 degrees Celsius). Once it’s reached the desired temperature, turn the oven off.
  2. Set out your starter to let it warm up while you’re preparing your milk.
  3. Prepare a bowl with a small amount of water (not too much or it will spill over the sides later when you put the pot in it; I know this from experience 😉 and a generous bunch of ice cubes; set to the side.
  4. Pour 1 quart of milk into your pot. Place the thermometer into the milk and heat over high heat.
  5. Watch the temperature; once it reaches 185 degrees Fahrenheit (85 Celsius), at which point the milk will start to froth, remove it from the heat and place it into the ice bath.
  6. Keep it in the ice bath until it cools to around 110 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius)
  7. Pour the milk into your bowl, cover and place in the warmed oven.
  8. Leave the yogurt in for as many hours as you can – I usually had it in for at least 7 hours. I’ve read that if you let it ferment longer that you’ll get thicker yogurt so you can play around and see what works for you.
  9. After enough time has passed, check in the oven and discover that magically, yogurt has appeared! 😀 I usually prepared the milk before I went to bed and let it sit in the oven overnight, so it was ready in time to go with Roman’s granola at breakfast. 🙂

I’ve been doing some more research online and looking at different recipes; I read one that said it’s also possible to get a thicker yogurt by keeping the milk at 185 degrees for longer (up to a half hour, one particular recipe suggested) – something for me to try when I have access to a proper kitchen again. 🙂

Back to China – and to cooking

I’m going to ease back into where I left off in our travels with a post about food. For anyone who has (understandably!) lost track, that takes us back to Yangshuo, the town in Guangxi Province, China, where we took our survival Chinese course.

I had my sights set on taking at least one cooking class in China, but we somehow we were always moving around so much or too busy and sadly it never worked out.

But while we were in Yangshuo – the longest by far that we stayed in any one place in China – we ended up becoming regulars at a few spots in town and I did get the chance to snoop around the kitchen of our favorite restaurant on afternoon.

Trying new and exciting food is part and parcel of the travel experience and there’s seemingly always an excuse to indulge on something special, fancy, exotic, or rich. As wonderful as that is though, when you travel as long as we have, sometimes all you crave is something simple and down to earth.

We were really happy to find straightforward, down-to-earth food on the menu at Kelly’s Cafe. Lots of different veggies on offer made me a very happy girl, and the simple stir-fry techniques she cooked with let the fresh ingredients shine.

I enjoyed the cooking so much that I asked the restaurant’s owner if she’d show me how things were prepared. She was totally sweet and welcoming and let me squeeze into their miniscule little kitchen (seriously, this thing was about the size of my closet here in the States) to watch over the chef’s shoulder as they prepared some of my and Roman’s favorites.

It wasn’t a cooking class per se, but I did learn just how easy good stir fried vegetables can be to make. She explained that often times the difference between what people make at home and what you get at the restaurant comes down to the cooking temperature. What made her food so tasty was that it was cooked very quickly over the highest flame; home cooks tend to shy away from high heat. Also key is the type of soy sauce used.

Since I’ve arrived back in the States I’ve been gorging myself on my mom’s fantastic cooking and since it’s also been the holidays she’s been pulling out all the stops. I’ve eaten a ton more meat and other heavier foods than I usually do, and I’m definitely feeling ready for some lighter fare. I’ve been craving veggies and have started playing around with the cooking techniques Kelly demonstrated for me in Yangshuo. I still need to go shopping to find some proper soy sauce but so far I’ve been really happy with my creations.

The following aren’t full recipes but rather provide an overview of how Kelly’s put together our favorite dishes. Preparation of each dish doesn’t vary that much. If the prep work (chopping and cooking of noodles/rice) is done beforehand, which of course was the case at the restaurant, and the wok is hot enough, then each dish takes next to no time to cook.

As I said, I was just watching over the cook’s shoulder – measurements are approximate only; I would definitely recommend adjusting things to taste!

Pumpkin (nán guā)

Start with a hot wok.

Add vegetable oil – probably about 1.5 tablespoons.

Add sliced garlic, maybe one clove worth.

Cook briefly, then add (2 cups?) of cubed pumpkin (squash would do as well).

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Add salt (1/2 – 1 tsp to taste) and a small dash of sugar.

Add water to the wok (1/4 – ½ cup – enough to keep the pumpkin from getting burnt) and cover; let cook for five minutes or until the pumpkin is soft.

Remove from heat and garnish with freshly cut chives.

Lotus root (ǒu)

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Start with a hot wok.

Add vegetable oil – probably about 1.5 tablespoons.

Add sliced garlic, maybe one clove worth.

Add the slices of lotus root (somewhat similar in taste and texture to water chestnut).

Add a bit of chopped chili pepper (seeds removed) – vary the amount depending on how hot you like it.

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Add water to the wok (1/4 – ½) and cover; let cook for 3 – 5. The lotus roots should still remain crunchy.

Remove lid, mix in soy sauce to taste.

Remove from heat and garnish with scallion cut into 2-inch-long thin strips.

Friend noodles (chǎo miàn)

Noodles should be pre-cooked along with thinly cut strips of carrot.

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Have prepared finely chopped onions and greens – i.e., chard, bok choy, etc. and a handful of bean sprouts

Start with a hot wok.

Add vegetable oil – probably about 1.5 tablespoons.

Add sliced garlic, maybe one clove worth.

Add the onions, greens and sprouts.

Add the noodles (with carrot) and soy sauce.

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Cook for a few minutes, stirring as necessary.

Serve hot.

Fried rice

Rice should be pre-cooked.

Have prepared finely chopped red onions and greens – i.e., chard, bok choy, etc. and carrot

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Start with a hot wok.

Add vegetable oil – probably about 1 tablespoon.

Add sliced garlic, maybe one clove worth.

Add the onions, greens and carrots.

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Add the rice and soy sauce.

Cook for a few minutes, stirring as necessary.

Serve hot.

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Our feast!

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Friendly Kelly and the delicious pumpkin (nán guā) I love so much

Cambodian cookery part two

Here’s the recipe for the second dish I made at my cooking course today. I hope I remember all the steps correctly! 🙂

Fish amok seems to be the signature dish in Khmer cooking. It’s a curry dish and not too distant from the flavors of Thai yellow curry.

Amok is distinguished from your typical Thai curry by a milder, slightly different flavor mix and the presence of the tasty, bitter “Amok” leaf – which I’d never heard of before today (although I kept wondering what that lovely dark green addition to the dish was every time we had it). It’s also quite easy to make. Having the right, fresh ingredients and a mortar and pestle help but are not mandatory. 🙂

Freshwater fish is the traditional meat used in the dish but we’ve seen it with all sorts of meats and in vegetarian form as well. The version I made today was with chicken and oyster mushroom but you can experiment with any combination of meat/veggies/mushroom/tofu as you iike. 🙂

Chicken Amok

Ingredients

For the curry paste:
One good-sized section of shallot
Two garlic cloves
One stalk finger root
Also known as Chinese Ginger, scientific name is Boesenbergia. Young ginger can be substituted if necessary
About four inches young turmeric root
Three stalks fresh lemongrass

For the curry:
Three amok leaves
It took some poking around on the web to find out more about this ingredient. It’s also knowns as Nhor, the scientific name is morindacitrifolia. It’s not something I’ve ever noticed for sale in the west, but of course I wouldn’t have known to look for it. Can be substituted with kale or Chinese broccoli.
Three oyster mushrooms
¼ a white onion
1 chicken breast
1 – 1 ½ cups coconut milk
1 – 2 tablespoons fish sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ – ½ dried chilli, more if you like it hotter

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Amok leaf for sale in the market

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Also at the market – the freshwater fish typically used in Amok here in Cambodia

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Pre-prepared ingredients waiting for me 🙂

Directions

  • Start by thinly slicing the onion and and removing the stems from the oyster mushroom and ripping them into small chunks.
  • Slice the amok leaf into very thin strips. First fold in half and score along the middle to remove the thick stem, then roll the leaf for easier cutting.

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  • Slice the chicken breast into small to medium-sized chunks. Set all these ingredients aside.
  • Next all the ingredients for the curry paste have to be finely chopped. Remove the skin of the finger root and turmeric before chopping. Only use the bottom third of the lemongrass, slicing rings as fine as possible. Keep the ingredients separate as you chop them.

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Before

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After

  • Place the lemongrass, finger root and turmeric into the mortar and pound into a paste.
  • Add the shallot and garlic and continue to pound until a relatively fine paste is produced.

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Garlic and shallot added to the paste

  • Heat half the coconut milk on medium-high heat. Once it is fully boiling, add the onion and curry paste. Alow to cook, stirring as needed, until most of the liquid has boiled off.

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  • Add ¼ – ½ cup of water, followed by the chicken, mushroom and amok leaf.

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  • Once the curry has come to a boil again, add the fish sauce and sugar, mixing well.
  • Once the liquid has mostly boiled off again, add the other portion of coconut milk and thinly sliced dried chilli.
  • Taste and adjust as needed. Once you’re happy with the flavor, serve with steamed rice.

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Cambodian cookery

As I mentioned, we’re currently in Siem Reap. Poor Roman is laid up with a cold and the weather is currently pretty wet, so no temple visits for us… yet! In the mean time though I took a cooking course (if only Roman was well enough to share the result with me – am totally stuffed! I wonder how many calories blogging burns? 😉 ) here in town at Le Tigre de Papier.

I still have to post about our time in Battambang, but I want to write up the recipes before I forget them. 😉

It’s low season in Cambodia, so I had the class all to myself. 🙂 My teacher, Saveoun, was really sweet and easygoing. She took me to the market first to take a look at ingredients (everything for the course was already provided at the restaurant) and treated me to some banana and sweet potato soaked in palm sugar and topped with shredded coconut – as if I needed more food, but it was yummy so I’m not complaining! 😉

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Friendly Saveoun

On the menu: Papaya Salad, the Cambodian staple Amok (traditionally it’s made with fish but I went for chicken this time) and Mango with Sticky Rice. The dessert had nothing on the Mango Sticky Rice I experienced in Thailand, but the other two dishes turned out great. Here’s how we made the salad. The amok recipe will follow in the next post. 🙂

Please note that measurements are approximations only!

Papaya Salad

Ingredients
¼ green papaya
½ a carrot
2 snake beans (substituting with green beans should be possible too)
1 tomato (I made mine without. 🙂 )
small bunch “sweet” (also known as “Thai”) basil
a few stalks of Khmer or normal coriander
two limes
2 tablespoons shrimp paste (I am guessing fish or oyster sauce would also do the trick if you can’t find shrimp paste?)
two cloves garlic
½ tablespoon dried chicken stock
½ tablespoon sugar
½ cup toasted peanuts
1 – 2 tablespoon chilli sauce
ketchup (optional – I left it out and I think it tasted great without)

Finding ingredients at the market

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Snake beans

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Green papaya

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Pictured center – Khmer coriander

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Ingredients already ready to go at the restaurant

Directions

  • Start by de-seeding and peeling the papaya and carrot. Shred both into thin strips (we did this with a nifty peeler). Mix together and set aside.

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  • Cut the beans into 1 inch segments, coarsely chop the coriander and remove the basil leaves from the stem, splitting any that are too large. Set aside. (If you are including tomato, dice half the tomato at this point)

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  • If you have a large mortar and pestle, crush the garlic in it (I am guessing/hoping that pressing garlic into a large bowl will produce similar results. 🙂 ). Add the stock powder and sugar and mix with the pestle.

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  • Add the beans and crush them lightly with the pestle. Add the papaya and carrot and crushed peanut. (And tomato if you are including it) Mix with the pestle.

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  • Add the juice of one lime, the shrimp paste and chilli sauce. At this point it’s easier to mix with a fork and spoon. Mix thoroughly, tasting and adding ingredients as needed to get to your preferred level of salty/sweet/sour – or, in my case – peanutty. 🙂

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  • Place on a plate decorated with leaves, garnish with sliced lime and tomato (and extra peanuts if you are me!) and enjoy.

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Food notes from Cambodia

While the beer and coffee I’ve had so far can’t compete with the deliciousness that is Beerlao and Lao coffee, we have had some pretty great food since arriving in Cambodia.

Recently I’ve been really enjoying the international fare that’s available in Phnom Penh, but for this post I want to keep it local. 🙂

Divine dining in Kratie

Halfway through our stay in Kratie, we discovered the restaurant at Balcony Guesthouse. If we’d found it earlier I am pretty sure we would have had every meal there!

They had western and other Asian food on offer, but I only tried their Khmer dishes. I can confidently say that every single thing I ate there was absolutely awesome. Quality ingredients and amazing flavors. I was in heaven!!

The first meal I had there had me in raptures. It was something called chaa kh’nay. With a base of succulent local river fish, the dish involved tons of tender fried ginger plus lots of garlic and spring onions – some of my most favorite flavors.

We had time enough in Kratie that I could try a couple of other dishes there, but the chaa kh’nay was my definite favorite and I was lucky enough that Pheak, one of the really friendly guys working there, invited me into the kitchen and translated for me as his sister, the cook, explained the ingredients and steps. The recipe follows below. I haven’t had a chance to test it out yet but I plan to do so as soon as I can get my hands on a kitchen! 🙂

Pheak mentioned they are planning on offering cooking classes. If you happen to be traveling in Kratie, I would definitely check it out! We ended up at another hotel, but were able to peak into some of the rooms as we went upstairs for dinner/breakfast and it seems like a cute, clean place. The open, 2nd storey restaurant has nice river views and is a lovely place to enjoy a fantastic meal.

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Bor bor, a simple but satisfying rice porridge that is a traditional breakfast in Cambodia (with regional versions to be found across much of Asia)

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Chay Seang Y – Cambodian herbal wine that is allegedly a cure all. Enhances kidneys, increases appetite (like I need that…), good against hyperthermia, urinary tract infections, lumbago and “does not cause any headache after consuming.” Tasted pretty much as healthy as it sounds.

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Chaa g’dao, chicken stir fried with fresh basil, lemon grass and chili. Was just the right amount of heat for me, with lovely, subtle flavors. Really tasty.

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The incredibly delicious Chaa kh’nay. Am drooling just looking at the photo. Seriously.

Chaa kh’nay

Ingredients

Lots of fresh ginger (as young as possible), probably about 5 inches worth, maybe even more.
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
Mild freshwater fish, cubed
Vegetable oil (my guess is 1 or 2 tablespoons?)
Fish sauce and oyster sauce (again a guess, 1 tablespoon each?)
A pinch of sugar
A pinch of salt
One green onion for garnish

Directions

Finely chop fresh ginger into thin strips. Pre-heat a pan on medium heat, then add oil and ginger. Cook until the ginger starts to brown, then remove the ginger from the heat.

In the same pan, add the fish and fry until brown. Then add the chopped garlic and ginger until (in the words of the cook) “It smells good.” The garlic in my dish was also nicely golden, if that’s a helpful indication.

At that point, add the fish and oyster sauce and a bit of sugar and salt to taste.

Remove from heat, garnish with green onion and serve with steamed rice.

Fruit!

There are loads of street vendors in Phnom Penh, selling everything from steamed snails to waffles to freshly fried noodles to massive green coconuts. There’s plenty of seasonal fruit for sale and I love the colorful carts loaded with all sorts of delicious things. Even after 10 months on the road I am still discovering new fruits and vegetables.

Today I picked up a bag full of snacks from a lady with a cart on our street. A kilo of fruit for around one US dollar. I ate a bunch while we were walking around; these were left overs long enough to be photographed. The lighting was no good so it’s not a great picture but there was no way they were going to last until sun up. 😉

From left to right, mangosteen (which just keeps getting even more delicious every time I try it. Must be peak season right now.), custard apple, which I got hooked on at Ritu’s in Delhi but which I haven’t seen for sale until Cambodia and rambuten, kind of like lychee’s punk rock cousin.

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Thai Island Dream: Part 5 (Ko Lipe)

Time line 4

Our final stop in our Thai island dream was Ko Lipe, an island in Satun province not too far from the Malaysian border. We were reluctant to leave our idyllic spot at Ko Lanta, but were curious enough about what Lonely Planet was calling the “Deep South”, so we got up early, slurped down a last delicious coffee and got driven by the lovely Mango House manager to the dock at the other side of the island.

The speed boat we boarded cut along mangroves and through bright waters, making stops along the way to pick up more tourists who would wade with their luggage from the beach to the boat. Once the ship was full up, we stopped at a larger island and boarded a ferry. A journey of a few hours brought us to a floating dock off the waters of Ko Lipe, where we and our luggage were loaded into long tail taxis.

Another spectacular beach landing erased any regrets I had about leaving Ko Lanta. The sand was nearly white, the water was crystal clear – I could see coral and fish as I peered over the edge of the long tail boat! – and it felt wonderfully refreshing as we hopped overboard and walked onto the beach. I couldn’t wait to get my bathing suit on and go for a swim!

Luckily for us Ko Lipe is tiny, and it took no time to walk to our hotel and get settled.

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Long tail boat like the one that brought us on shore

The island and the hotel

Ko Lipe is more “Thailand Pavilion at Disney’s Epcot Center” than authentic Thai village. Unlike Ko Lanta, it seems to exist only for tourism. There’s not much we discovered in the way of culture or places like restaurants that were geared towards locals rather than tourists and the vibe was accordingly different.

That doesn’t stop the island and its beaches from being beautiful, and we really loved the immersion in nature we experienced there, but we were also grateful to be there after the high season. It was clear from the number of hotels and restaurants that the island could accommodate a LOT more visitors than we saw. We were told that during peak season the place is just packed with Europeans – especially Swedes for some reason.

The island has a main “walking street” – a sandy pedestrian path that links the two main beaches and is lined with roti stands (a Thai version of crepes), bars, restaurants, tour operators and convenience stores. Most hotels and bungalows tend to be located on the beaches.

We ended up at a spot that was a bit out of the way (which meant just a short walk to the main drag) at a hotel called The Reef. While it didn’t have the charm and beauty of Mango House, still, it was perfectly clean and modern and we really liked it.

The real highlight was the cats living at the hotel. The place had a lovely open lounge at the front, with low tables and pretty cushions set out on the wood floor. The staff had two teeny tiny little kittens that hung out there during opening hours, toddling between guests legs and getting their little kitten claws stuck on the cloth as they climbed up the pillows. SO cute. There was another cat, young but no longer a kitten, who also lived there and seemed to feel pretty displaced by the little fuzzball siblings. She was also way adorable and took a liking to us and was always trying to sneak into our room for some extra attention. Cute fest! 🙂

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Our room at The Reef

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Cutey cat

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Half of cutey cat’s competition, Fuzzball 1

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Fuzzball 1 close up

Lipe eats

We soon found some favorites for food on the island. Everything we ever ate at the Sunrise Beach Restaurant was delicious – we kept coming back for the curries and especially the fried fish with tons of garlic and green onion. Yum!

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Konlay Thaifood on the “walking street” was a bit hit or miss – maybe different chefs for different days? – but the service was really friendly and good and I did have one of the best Pad Thais of our entire time in Thailand there.
I was also excited to find lemongrass salad on their menu. This was something I was introduced to while staying in Ban Krud and I absolutely loved it, but hadn’t found it again since. Any lemon grass I’ve bought in the West is always tough and woody, great to add flavor to a dish but never something I would have considered eating. The lemongrass used in the salads I had was young and tender with a really delicate flavor. The light dressing and chopped onion compliment the flavor perfectly and it makes for a light, addictive salad. I don’t know exactly what was in the different ones I had in Thailand, but this recipe I found online sounds about right, although no version I ate had pork in it and sometimes it had finely chopped lemongrass and cabbage mixed together: http://www.thaifoodplus.com/Thai/Recipes/Salad/Lemongrass_Spicy_Salad_Cooking.php

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I broke down and tried a roti for breakfast one day. Thank God it was towards the end of our stay or else I would have been in trouble. 😉 A thin, crispy/chewy crepe filled with peanut butter and bananas and drenched in condensed milk. Disgustingly heavy and sweet and filling and too much and OH SO DELICIOUS. 🙂

Feeding my obsession

One of the biggest highlights of the trip so far has been the food. I’ve loved Indian food for years, but eating the authentic stuff on home turf has taken this love affair to a higher level! Roman and I are concerned that we’ll never be able to eat Indian food in the west again without being bitterly disappointed. 🙂 To stave off this fear, I am endeavoring to learn what I can about Indian cookery while we are still here.

Yesterday, I took a cooking class at the hotel K One One. It was an into class and not as hands on as I would have liked, but the teacher, Lalit, was lovely as were my fellow classmates (a sweet Aussie couple), and the food was really tasty. 🙂 Here’s what we made.

Recipes

These include the measurements in the recipe print out. Lalit was casual in his technique and generous with his measurements, especially when it came to oil, onion, ginger and garlic. The dishes were delish, but personally I’ll probably use slightly less chili and salt than he added when I make them (when ever I have a kitchen again! 😉 ) – experimentation is probably advisable for all these recipes. 🙂

Dal Makhani A creamy lentil dal

Ingredients
Black lentils (soaked)    200 grams
Sunflower or mustard oil    2 tbsp
Medium to finely chopped or paste of the following:
Onion    2 tbsp
Ginger    1/2 tsp
Garlic    1/2 tsp
Tomato puree or paste    100 grams
Cream    100 grams
Roasted cumin seed powder    1/2 tsp
Coriander powder    1/2 tsp
Red chili powder    1/4 to 1/2 tsp, depending on heat preference
Salt    1 tsp
Butter    2 tbsp
Fresh chopped coriander for garnish

Preparation
Add oil in a pressure cooker and once hot, add onion, ginger and garlic and fry for a few minutes until they begin to brown. Then add the coriander, cumin and chili powders, salt and tomato puree and let it cook for a few minutes. The sauce will be ready for the next step when the oil begins to separate from the rest of the ingredients.
At that point, add the lentils and about the same volume of water and cook on high in the pressure cooker for about 40 minutes. (Can be cooked in a normal pan as well but will take longer).
Once done, stir in the butter and cream. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.

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Browning the garlic, ginger and onion

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Fresh spices, generously administered 🙂

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Ready to be pressure cooked

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Butter and cream before mixing – not necessarily the healthiest Indian dish I’ve had 😉

Roasted eggplant
Ingredients
Oil (sunflower or mustard)    3 tbsp
1 medium eggplant
2 medium tomatoes chopped
2 medium onions chopped
Medium to finely chopped or paste of the following:
Ginger    1 tbsp
Garlic    1/2 tsp
Red chili powder   1/2 tsp
Coriander powder    1/2 tsp
Cumin seed 1/2 tsp
Salt to taste
Fresh chopped coriander for garnish

Preparation
**Lalit used a totally novel method to roast the eggplant: cooking it directly on the gas range. Using this technique, it took probably about a quarter of an hour, maybe a bit longer, to roast. He said this gives the eggplant a smokey flavor. More conventional roasting in an oven is also fine if preferred.**
Smear the eggplant with a light layer of oil and pierce the skin with a sharp knife on all sides. Roast the eggplant on a medium flame. Cook both halves until they become soft, then continue rotating every few minutes so that it can cook evenly, until skin is very dark and insides very soft.
Once done, remove from the flame, run under cold water and the remove the skin. Mash the flesh and set aside.
Heat oil in a wok. Once hot, add the cumin seeds and cook for one minute. Next, add onion, ginger and garlic and fry till golden brown. Next, add the tomato, red chili powder, coriander powder and salt. Cook until the tomatoes are soft.
Add the mashed eggplant and stir and continue to fry the ingredients for 5 to 7 minutes on medium heat. Remove from heat, garnish with fresh coriander and serve.

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Cooking the eggplant directly on the flame

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After roasting

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Frying all the ingredients together

Simple Pakoras Battered, fried, spicy goodness

**I have had other pakoras with mixed vegetable filling. This was a more simple version, with straight spinach leaves and pieces of paneer prepared in the batter. The batter and prep method can be used with any sort of filling. The simple ones we used were yummy, especially the fresh spinach.**

Ingredients
Gram (chickpea) flour   250 grams
Salt    1/2 tsp
Carom seeds 1/2 tsp
Garlic (paste or finely chopped)    1 tbsp
Red chili powder    1/4 tsp
Cooking oil    2 or 3 cups – enough to cover the pakoras as they cook
Chat masala (a special sour spice mixture for sale in Indian markets) 2 tbsp

Preparation
Heat the oil in the wok.
Make the batter with gram flour by adding a little water and all the spices. The consistency should be thick enough to cover the vegetables with a coat.
Dip the vegetables and paneer in the batter and deep fry them until golden brown. Remove the pakoras from the oil when done and sprinkle with chat masala. Serve hot.

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Coating paneer in the batter

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Frying the pakoras

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Finished pakoras – yum

We also made Roti and Parantha… The finished meal was delicious! 🙂

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Our teacher Lalit