Friday, April 20, 2018

Hot Fire Morning Glory Thai-Style...

My latest obsession-- Thai red bird eye chillies 🌶🌶! After having a handful left over from my Vietnamese cuisine cooking class, I have been inspired to cook other Southeast Asian dishes-- namely Thai!! Hot-fire morning glory (or ong choy), a popular stir-fried green vegetable side is so super easy, and absolutely fragrantly delicious wok-tossed with ground bean sauce, garlic and of course spicy chopped chillies🔥. More recipes to come from my family night's Thai meal... #myeyesonredbirdeyechillies

Morning glory is labelled as ong choy in Asian supermarkets. You can get the large bunch in light or dark green... I don't notice any difference between their natural flavours. Ubiquitously used in Southeast Asian cooking, these tall stem long leafy greens are chopped in several parts and stir-fried in shrimp paste, fermented beancurd or other spices. 

For this particular Thai version, the ground bean sauce imparts earthy, savoury and slightly sweet flavours to the dish. Such an amazing blend of aromas and tastes alongside garlic and chillies of course.

Hot Fire Morning Glory (adapted by Vatch's Thai Street Food)

2 Tbsp. oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2-4 small fresh red chillies, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. ground bean sauce
225 g morning glory (ong choy), roughly cut into 2-inch lengths
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce

Heat the oil in a wok or skillet. Add the garlic and chillies and fry until the garlic is golden brown. Add the bean sauce and sugar, stir-fry quickly, and then add the morning glory, stirring once. Pour in the chicken broth and simmer gently until the stems start to soften but stay slightly tender-crisp.

Season with the soy sauce, stir once and place into a serving dish. Enjoy hot.

Blurry focus lol! But look at the garlic sizzle :)

The intermingling of aromatic bean sauce and ingredients in the air is incredible!

Do not overcook or the stems will lose its slight crisp!

So deelish, we had this two nights in a row back by popular demand by my boys :D.

Stay tuned for the rest of my Thai dinner which included Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Lemongrass Shrimp Soup) and Pad Thai made with more piquant love from chillies!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Vietnamese Cooking with Fresh Asian Herbs...

I love Asian cuisines, and Vietnamese food has always had a place in my heart. Not only are the favourite people in my world Vietnamese (hubby, family, best friend, close friends...), but it was the memories of my travels to the beautiful country that etched it deep within--

My husband is from Sóc Trăng, a province in the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam. We were lucky to go visit his family in 2004. While in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital we were delighted by a range of sumptuous, exotic foods, and equally seduced by the chaotic pulse and bustle of everyday life into the steamy nights with bright lights. Other than the amazing and elaborate meals we had at the family table, the best eating experiences were had by hitting the streets. Before sunrise, produce markets swell with people. Women were seen stoking kitchen fires and filling flat baskets with tin steamers and arranging soup or fresh spring roll ingredients; these baskets were then hung on both ends of bamboo poles and hoisted upon their shoulders as they hustle their goods to the flood of passersby. Others set up shop with a simple table, cooking ingredients and equipment surround, serving their offerings to hungry customers who would crowd around make-shift plastic tables to eat. The floating markets on small boats and the electric night markets add to the Vietnamese gastronomical charm.

The symphony on the streets were alluring in itself from the crack of dawn to the day fading into evening-- the buzz of vehicles, the voices of children and busy commuters, families of five riding on one motorbike, steady-handed bicycle drivers toting live animal cargo, trucks, cars, all zipping, weaving and honking their way down overcrowded no-lane boulevards. The frenetic energy and chaos, and the impromptu seeking of food all day all night in the form of savoury, sweet, spicy, soft or crunchy is right there in the streets of Vietnam.

And so, it was my immense pleasure to introduce some of these seductive flavours, aromas and ingredients to the lovely moms in my weekly culinary program at Fraser Mustard with a highlight on fragrant delightful Asian herbs! Fresh, bountiful cilantro, chives, rau ram (Vietnamese cilantro), mint, and Thai basil made their aromatic ways into shrimp salad rice rolls and shredded chicken and herbs salad! It was a party for all our senses along with the accents of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, lime and bird's eye chili peppers!

Our Community Kitchen's collective effort in producing this beautiful spread!

This bamboo farmer's hat doubled up as a herb basket :D

Vietnamese fresh shrimp rice rolls (and with pork) is a great way to welcome spring with its chock full of fresh herbs to get back in the mood of fresh lighter eating at the table.

Vietnamese Shrimp Salad Rolls
Makes about 12 rolls

Shrimps, frozen and thawed
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 tsp. minced lemongrass, frozen and thawed, or freshly chopped (white part only)
Cucumber, cut into thin matchsticks
Beansprouts, washed
Green leafy lettuce, washed
Herbs- mint, Thai basil, cilantro, chives, washed and leaves removed from stems
½ pkg. (375 g) vermicelli, cooked according to package, drained
2 Tbsp. oil
1 green onions, chopped
1 Tbsp. Fried shallots
Medium rice papers

Peel thawed shrimps into a bowl and add 1 tsp. table salt. Mix thoroughly and let rest for five minutes. This will draw out the impurities. Rinse and drain well. Bring water to a boil in a pot; add two kaffir lime leaves, 1 tsp. minced lemongrass and 1 tsp. salt. Add shrimps and cook until opaque about two minutes. Remove and let cool.

Heat oil to hot; add chopped green onions and fried onions. Then sauté for 30 seconds. Add the vermicelli and stir until noodles are coated for two minutes. Remove onto serving plate.

Dipping Sauces:
Peanut-Hoisin Sauce: Mix 2 Tbsp. peanut butter and 1 Tbsp. hoisin sauce. Mix 1 Tbsp. water to smooth and thin out.

Seasoned Fish Dipping Sauce (Nước mắm cham) (Makes 3/4 cup):
Dissolve 1/4 cup granulated sugar in 1/3 cup boiling water; Mix in 2 Tbsp. fish sauce and 2-3 Tbsp. white vinegar and leave to cool; To season, add 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped and Vietnamese chili sauce to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For step-by-steps, see my complete recipe Post.

Prepare to Wrap: Have a shallow bowl of warm water nearby. Dip the rice paper by horizontally sliding the rice paper into the water and rotate so the entire paper has been quickly soaked. Place onto a large plate, or layer in dividers stacked.

Place a piece of leaf lettuce onto the lower half of the wet rice paper to anchor the rest of the ingredients. Layer with vermicelli, bean sprouts, cucumber and then mixed herbs. Fold up the bottom to cover the filling, fold over the sides to cover ends of filling, roll up then add some chives (6-inch pieces) along the inner roll before placing shrimps on upper part of rice paper; roll over to seal. TIP: Work quickly so the rice paper does not stick to the plate as it can easily tear. Do not over stuff or it will burst!

Personalizing rolls with a little bit of this, a little bit of that...

This gorgeous dish boasts a bouquet of fragrant fresh herbs, a crunchy texture and spicy tangy taste. It's like layers of flavour sensations for your taste buds.

Vietnamese-Style Shredded Chicken and Fresh Herbs Salad
Makes 6 servings

2 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cooked and finely shredded
1 small cucumber, cut into thin sticks
1/2 small jicama, peeled and cut into thin sticks (see my Vietnamese Chicken Jicama Salad)
7 chives, whites removed and cut into 1-inch sticks
1/3 cup chopped mint leaves
1/3 cup chopped Thai basil leaves
1/3 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 cup bean sprouts

2 tbsp. sugar
3/4 cup warm water
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup fish sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 red bird’s eye chillies, minced

Combine chicken, cucumber, herbs and bean sprouts. Mix sauce together. Use ½ to toss with salad and serve remaining at the table. Top with chopped peanuts if desired.

TIP: Shred cooked chicken meat easily with your fingers when it is cooled.

Chicken and herbs getting ready for an avalanche of Wham, Bam, Boom!

The fantastic thing is that these moms took leftover ingredients and herbs home, and some even replicated the recipes for their family!! That's what makes what I do so rewarding-- the sharing forward. Like this beautifully-wrapped shredded chicken and herbs salad rolls by mom Athira! She tells me her family loved them! YAY! :D

Photo Credit: Athira

More awesomeness! Sharing a recent TDSB Community Services Blog Post about our Community Kitchen activities-- from our very first class on dumpling-making :D

Dumplings 101

Friday, April 13, 2018

Revel In Russian Food...

Exploring different cultural supermarkets is my favourite pastime, especially if I can browse through each aisle leisurely, without interruption and no where fast to go. I was in the neighbourhood of East European store Yummy Market specializing in Russian foods, and I knew immediately I am having them over for dinner :D. Recently, I discovered a bunch of delicious Romanian specialties and I want to make exploring new cuisines and trying new foods with my family a regular thing.

Russian cuisine derives its varied character from the vast and multi-cultural expanse of the country and is a collection of the different cooking traditions of the Russian people. Zakouski (little Russian dishes) is popular and can be served hot or cold, elaborate or simple. They can be served to guests any time of day, usually with an ice-cold glass of vodka. Classic dishes include pies, perogies, salads, pickled vegetables, smoked fish, caviar and blini (thin pancakes), and most of all, herrings, in a sour cream or a salad with potatoes. This kind of small dishes and tapas entertainment is my kind of party, however for this particular weeknight evening meal, it was a medley of sorts from Yummys fresh bakery, deli counter, freezer and hot table.

My happy place at any European market-- the vast and mouthwatering deli counter!

Those are super slim and extra long pepperettes. Must try next time...

I always had a thing for pate (I use to develop them so I have an internal pate radar).

My fave goes to duck or goose foie gras... pate block or fresh lobe- pan-seared.

The prepared food section was varied and appetizing! From salads, pan-fried items...

to hot table favourites like rice, potatoes, cabbage rolls and stuffed peppers.

Smoked fish is uber popular... so many kinds from whole smoked to pickled to layered mousse.

Beluga is the largest and rarest of all the Sturgeons. The flavour can only be described as a perfect balance of salt and butter undertones. The fish harvested for caviar can reach up to 2,000 pounds (900 kg). The eggs themselves are the largest among the Sturgeon family, and range in colour from dark gray (almost black) to light gray. It is also known to be the best tasting caviar in the world.

At this visit, I picked up a variety of sausages, Siberian pork and beef pierogies, boiled then pan-fried in olive oil, served with sour cream or mayo, pan-fried potatoes with mushrooms and dill, BBQ chicken legs, chicken schnitzel and bread pretzels dipped in German mustard. Must eat with full sour pickles!!! Oh, and I HaPpiLY discovered another cabbage roll other than my favourite Polish-kind that I like-- Golubtsy stuffed with mixed meat, veg and rice in tomato sauce.

Traditional Russian salami, Hungarian sausages and this beautiful mahogany cherrywood smoked pork sausage, perfectly served dipped in German medium-hot mustard.

On a previous occasion from Yummy's, as an inspiration for Sunday brunch, I picked up some Atlantic smoked salmon and gravlax, a sesame bread ring, a selection of sausages- three kinds: Ukrainian, Debrecyna BBQ and Goralska, pickled herring with onions, a jar of black mullet and herring caviar (it's no sturgeon caviar but...) served with sourdough rye crisp bread.

The pickled herring was nicely pickled, slightly creamy and tasted great with onions.

Loaded gravlax open-faced sesame seed bagel.

I heard Russian dark chocolate is really good and gave these two brands a try. I cracked open the Arok C brand with 56% cocoa- very smooth, medium chocolate richness but a tad too sweet. So many chocolate varieties and confections lining the shelves at the store. You must see the massive spread for yourself.

Expand your taste horizons by shopping at other cultural grocery stores and gain a new appreciation of foods from all around the world!  Oh and while you're at it-- dive deeper in the culture by listening to their music, watching films with subtitles, attending public community events and festivals, take a walk through their neighbourhoods or trying your hands in their arts and crafts... Happy exploring and discovery!

Girl's Day Out-- Painting popular Russian Matryoshka nesting dolls.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Creative Ways With Sushi Rice Japanese-Style...

Everyone knows sushi rolls but did you know there are a myriad of ways to serve Japanese sushi rice -- each distinctive and mouth-watering in its own presentation? Another morning session over at Fraser Mustard, moms and I delivered four different ideas all inspired by the humble seasoned vinegared rice-- a little sweet, a little salty, a little tangy and a whole lotta deelish with a whole lotta fixin's! The main feature were the construction of onigiri rice balls and from there we branched out to vegetarian maki rolls, poke bowl, and DIY sushi wraps

Vegetarian Maki Rolls and A Poke Bowl

We often think it's the combination of flavours and textures in fillings and toppings that makes or breaks sushi, but in fact, it's the foundation that is the essence to greatness-- the vinegared rice! (go ahead and ask any real sushi chef-- it's all about the rice).

Cooling and seasoning cooked short-grain rice. See here on how-to.

Demoing how to mould and shape onigiri rice balls.

In Japan, you can get onigiri filled with anything from grilled salmon, to natto (fermented soy beans) to premium ingredients such as uni (sea urchin) or snow crab... my favourite ones are simply filled with umeboshi (a salted plum preserve). We can get a small variety of onigiri in Toronto mostly in Korean stores, usually filled with tuna mayo, grilled beef or kimchi and they are a welcomed snack any time of day- at least my day. It is very simple to make at home and the best part is that you can fill it with whatever your heart desires.

Rice balls are filled and wrapped with a strip of nori seaweed.

You can buy nori sheet wraps covered in plastic that are designed to separate from the rice
until you are ready to eat which makes it super convenient to pack and take on the go!

Ready, Set, Go...

These ladies are so awesome... such nimble fingers and expert shaping!

Nice and Compact! Ready to Eat!

Next on the agenda, maki rolls, poke bowl and DIY sushi wraps...

Canned tuna mixed with mayo and egg crepes were the protein.

First it was maki sushi-style burritos trend-setting the eatery scene, and now it's all the same fresh makings in a poke bowl pronounced "POH-keh". Healthy, delicious and customizable,  this dish is a favourite for native Hawaiians and has been around for centuries. While it may look complicated it really is super simple. Pick up fresh ingredients, do a little prep, cook the rice and you're set to have your own fun make-your-own poke bowl. The key is to top with a variety of textures for crisp and crunch-- such as alfalfa sprouts and wasabi green peas.

Poke bowl with a medley of colour, flavours and textures!

DIY Sushi Wraps! So much fun for the family and an exciting kind of buffet-style meal to entertain guests with by personalizing rolls with seaweed nori sheets with favourite fixins'... a colourful array of vegetables and protein, especially seafood! You don't need to worry about raw fish if you prefer to leave that to the experts at sushi restaurants, when you've got cooked eel, crab meat and shrimps at your disposal.

Like building your own sushi tacos with nori sheets instead of corn shells!

Constructing a little something something...

Discussing where to buy ingredients and enjoying some of this and some of that...

I can't tell you how much I love cooking with these ladies week after week...

Vietnam Cuisine is up next-- making the most of those wonderful exotic fresh and fragrant herbs!