Archives for posts with tag: Thai flavors
painting shows bowl of chicken-coconut soup with Asian condiments

Chicken-Coconut Soup. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

The weather swings from mackerel skies to overcast, from sun to rain. The farm box remains remarkably constant in content: spring onions, leeks, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, tangerines. Today we got cilantro and asparagus as well. My mother has been under the weather for days, following a diet of toast, toast and toast. What can I possibly make for dinner?

I settle on an old favorite, a spin on Thai chicken-coconut soup with plenty of winter vegetables: carrots, cabbage, spinach and leeks.

I begin by making coconut milk. I measure two cups of unsweetened coconut into the blender while I heat 2 and 1/2 cups of skim milk on the stove. (The richness of the milk does not matter: we are using it to extract the coconut flavor from the coconut — I’ve used everything from whole milk to skim and water in a pinch). Blend the warmed milk and the dry coconut for a minute or two and then strain out the coconut. Throw that same coconut back in the blender with two cups of warm water and make a second batch, straining the coconut out. Now you may throw the coconut meat out, or compost it: all of the flavor has gone into the bowl of thick and thin coconut milk.

I heat two pints of homemade chicken stock on the stove and add the coconut milk and most of a boned and skinned chicken that we roasted earlier in the week. I add 1 Tbsp. fish sauce and the juice of one lime and about 1/2 tsp of chili paste with garlic. I let the meat simmer in the broth while I cut up two root ends of lemongrass and slice about 1 Tbsp of frozen fresh ginger into thick coins. Leaving the lemongrass and ginger large means we will be able to spot them in the soup. I add a bowl of leek rings that I cleaned and cut a couple of days ago.

Mom slices carrots into irregular pieces — like making carrot sticks — and washes spinach leaves. I wash and chop the roots of today’s cilantro and add them to the simmering pot. I slice cabbage thinly.

Then we go upstairs and watch an episode of “The Rockford Files.”

When we return to the kitchen, Mom turns up the pot to high and adds the carrots. In three minutes the carrots are almost cooked and I turn the burner down to medium and add the cabbage. Oops. I have underestimated the volume of the soup, so instead of cooking spinach in the soup we put spinach leaves in our bowls and ladle the hot soup on top of them, turning off the soup pot. I garnish my bowl with fresh cilantro. There is plenty of soup for future meals: we will reheat it and add fresh spinach and cilantro to our bowls again.

Food Notes: As you can see, this is not a precise recipe. The basics include a blend of chicken broth and coconut milk and the classic Thai seasonings of ginger or galangal, lemongrass, fish sauce, and chilies. You can vary the amounts of fish sauce, lime juice, chili paste, lemongrass and ginger to taste. If you like your soup sweet, you can add brown sugar. You can make it with canned coconut milk, either regular or light, which is what I do when I am not out of canned coconut milk. Tonight’s version was mild, rather than spicy, to accommodate Mom’s indisposition, but you can amp it up with loads of chili paste or fresh chilies. You can make it traditional Thai style with no vegetables at all. You can add rice noodles or rice. You can use leeks, spring onions, or scallions. You can include sweet potatoes or broccoli, as long as you do not cook them too long in the soup. If you like crunchy broccoli, you might want to put it in your bowl and pour the soup over it like we did with the spinach: by the time you get to the bottom of your bowl the broccoli will be nicely cooked. This is a nice soup to eat when you have a cold or when you are trying to tempt someone with a low appetite: packing it full of vegetables adds vitamins and minerals to the broth.

Painting Notes: The quickest of paintings to meet a deadline.

painting depicts Canary melon, limes, chile paste, peanuts and fish sauce

Canary Melon Salad 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil, Sharyn Dimmick

Those of you who know me well know I am iffy about melons: I like watermelon and ripe honeydew, but I O.D’d on orange melons sometime after childhood. When I get a new melon, it is not necessarily a day of rejoicing. Wednesday’s CSA brought a rather large and spectacularly yellow Canary melon. I had never tasted one before. To make matters worse, my mother does not eat melons of any description, except for a token piece of watermelon on the hottest of days.

I got a sneak peek at the melon on Saturday morning at the Farmers’ Market because they were giving pieces away at the Riverdog Farm stand. It was very sweet, floral or perfumy, complex and not orange: it was a melon I could eat.

In the schizophrenic weather of Northern California October I am cooking posole in the morning for a hot lunch and wishing I had gone swimming by mid-afternoon. After thinking about it for six days I knew what I was going to do with the ripe melon: I would fix it Thai-style with chile paste and fresh lime juice and some fish sauce and eat it on a bed of arugula, also featured  in the farm box.

As I sliced and seeded the melon, I tasted it again. It was really sweet. After I cubed each slice into a bowl, trying for bite-sized pieces, there was a lot of juice in the bottom.

I took another bowl, added a dollop of chile paste from my trusty jar, squeezed a lime into that and  added a touch of fish sauce. I tasted the dressing. Pretty good. I combined the dressing with the melon and tasted it again. Hmm. Could it use more lime? Try again to be sure. At this point I was standing at the cutting board tasting rapidly. Yes, It could use more lime. I cut another and squeezed in half of it. “More,” the melon said, “More.”

I ended up using two limes’ worth of juice in the salad. And I tossed in two packets of honey-roasted peanuts leftover from my last Southwest Airlines flight. I ate every bit of this in my large salad bowl and drank all of the juice from the bowl and am happy to say that I have enough melon and arugula left to make another batch for lunch tomorrow (or the next time it turns hot).

Canary Melon Salad with Arugula, Lime and Chile Paste

Slice and seed 1 Canary melon. Cut it into bite-sized chunks.

Wash and dry enough arugula to give each eater a portion of salad.

Make a dressing of a dollop of chile paste (up to 1 Tbsp if you like heat. 1/4 tsp if you are wary of chilies), plus the juice of 2 limes and a splash of fish sauce. (It helps if you taste the dressing with a piece of melon and a leaf of arugula to know what you are getting).

Toss arugula with dressing and remove arugula to individual salad plates or bowls or a family-style platter. Pour remaining dressing over melon and toss. Pile melon on top of arugula. Garnish with whole or chopped peanuts to taste.

Food notes: I meant to garnish this with Thai basil and/or mint as well, but I never made it out to the yard to pick any. But if you have more discipline than I do by all means add either herb. I might like this with cooked shrimp or prawns, too, or even grilled beef, or coins of sausage.

Painting Note: I was uploading the painting and realized I forgot to paint the arugula. Oh well. Artistic license.

Next Week’s Treat: Next week “The Kale Chronicles” will feature a guest post by painter Suzanne Edminster who will share with you her recipe for poached pears with goat cheese.

painting depicts ingredients for pasta with peanut sauce

Thai Pasta with Peanut Sauce 8″x8″ gouache on paper Sharyn Dimmick

The other day I started to think about what I had in common with kale:

1) I am not always sweet — sometimes I am quite bitter.

2) I am not to everybody’s taste: a little of me can go a long way.

3) I am rough around the edges

4) I am somewhat green.

5) I am tough.

Some people like kale in its raw state. Others like it lightly steamed or sauteed in minimalist preparations. For me to enjoy kale, it requires tender care and the presence of other ingredients that I like. Kale will never make the top of my favorite foods list, so I often resort to what I call camouflage cooking, a technique known to mothers everywhere, where you bury a vegetable in so many other flavors that it no longer calls attention to itself. You still get the nutritional value of the mean green vegetable which is very good for you: what you eliminate is what my Dad called “that nasty vitamin taste.”

Two weeks ago I met my friend Cathy at the Farmers’ Market in Berkeley and we began to discuss kale. She told me that she cooks it in a little oil with a little water and throws in walnuts and raisins at the end of the cooking. The raisins sweeten the kale, ameliorating the bitterness and the walnuts add richness and give the bitterness a different edge: it is like forgoing outright cruelty and making use of well-placed sarcasm instead.

Another way to camouflage kale is to turn up the heat: I have chopped kale leaves finely, after removing the ribs and stems, and thrown them into posole — hominy cooked with chiles or salsa, in chicken broth or pork stock, seasoned with lime. Canned Foods Grocery Outlet, Food Maxx and Mexican groceries sell posole in number ten cans: I usually open one, decant half of it into a big jar for the freezer, and throw the other half in a pot. I like to make posole with about half a jar of green salsa (maybe twelve ounces), a pint of chicken stock and the juice of one lime. If I want a sweeter flavor, I add chopped sundried tomatoes to it. The longer you cook the posole the better the kale blends with the other ingredients, melting into harmonious flavor.

The big guns of camouflage cooking with kale are peanut sauce and coconut milk. If you like peanut sauce, you know you can eat it on anything because what you will taste is peanut sauce. I make an instant peanut sauce that I eat on pasta in the following manner:

Put your pasta water on to boil. I like to use short pastas because they catch the peanut sauce (penne, fusilli, farfalle, — also known as twisties and butterflies). I usually use wheat pasta, but you can go authentic and use rice noodles if you want. Get out the bowl in which you plan to eat your pasta. Put into that bowl between two and three tablespoons of peanut butter (Please use natural peanut butter without added shortening). Squeeze one lime into the peanut butter. Add something hot — my favorite addition is Chinese chili paste with garlic, a teaspoon if you like heat, a quarter to an eighth teaspoon for just a hint. Get down your fish sauce or tamari and add a tablespoon. You now have hot, sour, peanut-y and salty. Add some brown sugar: start with a teaspoon and trade up — this will be a matter of taste and opinion about how much sugar you want to consume. We like it sweet. If you want it even sweeter, add some coconut milk from a can — a few tablespoons should be sufficient. To get it right for you, you will have to stir and taste the raw sauce. It isn’t going to hurt you — just don’t eat it all in the tasting phase or you may have to start over.

Before it is time to drain the pasta, I have usually had enough time to julienne some carrots and/or radishes, chop some broccoli or green beans or cucumber. Carrots, radishes and cucumber go directly into your bowl with the peanut sauce. Broccoli or green beans go into the pasta water for the last minute of cooking, after which you drain the pasta and vegetable and add it directly to your pasta bowl. Garnish with basil, Thai basil, cilantro, or chopped fresh mint. Toss madly.

I developed this recipe when I lived and cooked alone. It is an ideal one-person pasta. If I make it for two, I generally stir up two individual bowls of sauce. If I want to make a lot, I start with a big serving bowl rather than individual bowls, use larger amounts of sauce ingredients and might pop it in the microwave for a minute to make sure the peanut butter softens. If you like, make extra: it reheats well if you leave out the cucumber, or it can be eaten cold.

Thai Pasta with Peanut Sauce:

Boil water for one serving of pasta

While water comes to a boil, stir together in pasta bowl:

2 Tbsp peanut butter

1 Tbsp fish sauce

Juice of 1 lime

1 tsp chili paste with garlic

1 Tbsp brown sugar (or more or less to taste)

Julienne 1 carrot and/or three radishes. Chop some cucumber if you want. Add vegetables to bowl of sauce. By now, your pasta water should be ready. Start cooking pasta.

Cut up some broccoli or green beans. Add to pasta water in last minute of cooking.

Drain pasta and vegetables and add to sauce in bowl. Garnish with basil, Thai basil, cilantro or fresh mint. Stir it thoroughly with your fork. Enjoy.

Painting Note: For information about “Thai Pasta with Peanut Sauce” or any other original painting, please contact me here.