Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ma Liaison Asiatique (My Asian Affair)

Lent started two weeks ago yet my resolve to abstain from meat is still as strong as ever. I’ve gotten over the first week of torment where a whiff of meat made me drool and my tummy would emit sounds you would think a monster lived inside me. I can also open my freezer and not flinch at the fact that I have over 15 lbs of meat (pork chops, roasting chickens and Italian sausages) in my freezer. To counter that, I do have an equal amount of frozen seafood (tilapia, catfish and salmon) that I allow myself to eat.

I’m not one to usually give up meat for lent or anything else for that matter. I grew up abstaining from meat on Fridays for Lent since my Mom bought and cooked the food for us so she made sure we had fish every Fridays. We usually had fish anyways because my Dad has certain allergies tied up with meat so it was not such a big change for us. However, this year is probably the first time I’m doing this consciously and I’m now considering this change on a more permanent basis. Don’t get me wrong, if I see a big chunk of steak meat further down the road and I get the craving, I won’t even hesitate to go for it. It will be more of a treat for me though than a daily dietary regimen.

To complicate things even more, one of my friends has recently become gluten free and sugar free. There were additional restrictions because of lent that also included dairy, eggs and fish (being Russian Orthodox) so to create something with so much restriction really requires a new level of imagination or insanity where you are tempted to just serve them with raw carrots to gnaw on.  But what kind of friend would I be if I did that? Hmm, let’s just leave that one for me to fantasize about.

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
I finally managed to group together a number of dishes inspired by Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines making use of shrimp for my two Orthodox friends and fish for the non-orthodox ones for appetizers, starters and the main courses. When it came to dessert, I gave up on the idea of making a sugar, dairy and egg free dessert. Fresh fruits will have to do. For those who had no restriction, Dave Lebovitz’s Devil’s Food Cake was the dessert of choice.  

Sushi Rolls

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
I’ve made a lot of sushi rolls since I moved to the US back in 1997. I have had it before back home when we go to this Japanese fast food joint Tokyo Tokyo. My favorite item to order then was Pork Tonkatsu which loosely translated means Japanese fried pork. Every now and then, we will order a Japanese roll but being on a tight budget, we usually opted for our favorite saver meals. During one of the Friends of the Library summer sale at Gainesville, FL as a graduate student, I was able to purchase a book for the shocking price of 50c on how to make traditional Japanese sushi. Since then, I’ve made my own sushi rolls. We made the very American California and Philadelphia roll this weekend along with a vegetarian option which is a beefed up version of the traditional cucumber roll (Kappamaki) with the addition of steeped carrots and shitake mushrooms. We also made shrimp and white fin tuna nigiri-zushi. Man, the white fin tuna cost an arm and a leg here in Bozeman. Anyways, I’ll post the recipe on how to make sushi rice and the rest, you can figure out by going through the internet or you can ask me if you have the patience to wait for a response from me. 

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
Japanese Sushi Rice (adapted)*

3 1/3 cups sushi rice (short grained)
4 cups water
5 tbsp rice vinegar
5 tbsp white sugar
4 tsp salt

1. Wash the rice in cold 
    water until the wash 
    drains out clear. This  
    takes about 4 to 5 washings. Do not soak the rice. 
2. Decant the final wash and add the 4 cups of water. At this point, 
    I veer away from the traditional way of cooking the rice. I just 
    make it how I usually cook my rice. If you have a rice cooker, use it. 
    The rice has to come out perfectly steamed and not al dente. It has to
    be fully cooked without any trace of crunch.
3. Transfer the rice to a glass bowl and with a wooden spoon add the  
    vinegar, sugar and salt. Mix well. Traditionally, they fan the rice 
    while continuously mixing it to cool it off. This is too much work
    for me so I do it occasionally but if I’m in a hurry, I do this step in
    front of an electric fan or my A/C fan.    
Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
4. Now is the time to 
    have fun. Make your 
    own sushi roll. To 
    make nigiri-zushi take 
    about a tablespoon of
    rice and with damp 
    hands, shape the rice 
    into elongated domed 
    shaped rice balls. Dab 
    a smidge of wasabi 
    and top with your 
    choice of topping. Do 
    warn your guests that  
    wasabi is present in the nigiri unless you take delight in watching
    their nostrils emit smoke. 

*Ōmae, Kinjirō; Tachibana, Yuzuru. The Book of Sushi, Kodansha International Ltd., Tokyo: 1988

Vietnamese Rolls

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I’ve had this in Asian restaurants before in various incarnations and I barely remember ordering this in a Vetnamese restaurant we went too while staying at a friend’s house in Maryland in 2004. I do know we ordered Pho which is easily a favorite communal dish best ordered when eating out with good friends. Not really sure why I keep making this though other than it being a healthy version to fried spring rolls.

4 oz rice noodles
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
Basil leaves (Thai Basil if you can find them)
Shrimp (peeled, deveined, and cooked in salted water until pink and cooled)
Spring onions
Rice wrapper

1. In a pot of boiling water, add the rice noodles and cook until the
    noodles are al dente. Do not overcook the noodles or they will turn
    into mush. Drain into a colander and shock with cold water to
    stop the cooking process.
2. To prep the rest of the ingredients, peel the cucumber and slice into 
    thin strips about 4 inches long. If you can get hold of an English  
    cucumber, all the better since you don’t have to deseed them.
    Cut the green onions the same length of the cucumber. Use the 
    green stalks, not the stems. Fillet the shrimps into halves.
3. Mix the vinegar, soy and fish sauces and toss into the noodles. Toss  
    well to ensure that the noodles are well seasoned.
4. To assemble, soak a rice wrapper in hot water until soft. Lay it flat on 
    a cutting board and layer the filling about two inches away from the  
    end closest to you starting with two to three basil leaves, then 
    a handful of the flavored noodles, a handful of the cucumber, a strip
    of green onion and two pieces of shrimp.
5. To make the roll, take the end closest to you and fold over the filling. 
    Take the sides and fold them in and roll forward towards the other 
    end away from you. Make sure that you keep it tight. It should self  
    seal itself. Do the same for the rest until you are satisfied with
    the amount of rolls on hand. Most of the ingredients have no set
    amount as it all depends on how much you want of each filling in your 
    roll. Stick with the noodle and sauce ratio though. Also, soak the rice 
    wrapper as you need it. They tend to fall apart when soaked for too
6. Keep in the fridge covered with a wet cloth or cling wrap them 
    tight. This keeps the rolls from drying out. Let it rest for about 
    5 minutes before serving. Serve with the peanut sauce.

Peanut Sauce Dip

1 tbsp sugar
1 cup + 2 tbsp water
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp peanut butter
¼ cup peanuts, chopped finely

1. Mix the water, sugar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce and salt in a small pot
    and simmer over low heat.
2. Dissolve the corn starch in the 2 tbsp water and add to the simmering
    sauce. Stir well to avoid clumps.
3. When the mixture has thickened, remove from heat and add the 
    peanut butter. Check for taste and adjust accordingly. It should be
    salty sweet.
4. Serve warm topped with the chopped peanuts.

Pan-fried Salmon Cooked Vietnamese Style

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
This recipe was shared to me by a friend who now refuses to speak to me. Let’s just leave it at that. I hope she does not disapprove of my posting this recipe. The recipe is very simple and very tasty. You must have a tolerance for fish sauce though as this pretty much makes the dish very distinct in a very good way. As in almost every Asian recipe, the measurements are always to taste. I’ll try to give an approximation of the amounts that I used to make the dish. You can adjust accordingly to suit your taste.

4 Salmon steaks or 6 – 2 oz salmon fillet
2 onions, sliced in half then sliced finely
6 tomatoes, chopped coarsely
2 cloves of garlic
¼ cup fish sauce (Phuk Quoc)
¼ cup water (add more water to thin out the sauce if too salty)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Sea salt
Black pepper

1. Sauté the garlic in the oil until fragrant. Add the onions and ¼ tsp of 
    salt. Cover the pan and caramelize the onions over medium high  
    heat for about 10 minutes. Check every now and then to make sure 
    that the onions are not burning but turning into a golden brown color.
2. Once the onions are caramelized, layer the salmon on top of the  
    onions and season it with a small amount of salt and a couple turns of 
    black pepper. Add the water, sugar and the fish sauce and layer the 
    tomatoes on top of the salmon and cover. Cook until the salmon has 
    turned opaque without being overcooked. Check for flavor and
    add water to adjust for saltiness. Fish sauces vary in salt content 
    so you need to check for saltiness. You can also pre-mix the water
    and the fish sauce before adding to the pan to make sureyou are not
    oversalting the dish.
3. Serve over steamed white rice and top with a fresh sprig of cilantro. 
    The cilantro is not just a garnish, it adds a certain complexity to the 
    the flavor when eaten together with the dish so be generous with  
    your cilantro topping 

Copyright 2011 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
I made another dish based on Chinese stir fry dishes common in Chinese restaurants back home. I tried to give this version a Vietnamese touch but I’m not really sure whether this can be considered authentic or not (my guess is not!). Authentic or not, it came out great but being an experimental dish, the things I added are usually lost not in translation but in the moment. I get into a frenzy where my mind whirs with spices and sauces I could possibly add and forget about it once the craziness has subsided. Only then do I regret not writing down what I did. Sorry folks, this will be for show only. 

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