Italian Food in Eight Easy Steps

Italian food is tasty! And I’d say easy. It’s a layered architecture – you take tasty ingredients and add things that compliment the taste. Tomatoes + garlic + olive oil + grilled chicken + shredded parmesan. Yum!

This is very different from Thai where you take many things that taste neutral to terrible by themselves and combine them in a way that plays each flavor against the others to create something amazing. Coconut milk + curry paste + fish sauce + lime juice + rice. But if you go wrong it’s not just too much garlic, or too little. It’s terrible!

So, having just returned from a visit to Italy, here is my quick guide to a big chunk of Italian cooking. It applies to making food, or what to buy when going out there.

Rule #1. Ingredients. Italy is blessed with incredible ingredients. In the US you’ll have to do some shopping. Taste and explore the subtle differences. Bread, olive oil, charcuterie, cheeses… Now on to the recipes.

#1 Slice bread. Bring to table with olive oil.

#2 Slice meat. Bring to table. Voilà – salumi plate! Do try to slice appropriate to the meat, and vary the thickness within the slice for things like Jamón. Different thicknesses are different experiences.

#3 Slice cheese. Bring to table. Cheese plate!

If you are in Italy I highly recommend buying the above at the store and slicing yourselves. You’ll be stunned at the amount of salumi you can get at the grocery store for the price of one little salumi plate.

I would also say that these are the highlights of eating in Italy. Oh, and of course wine. Most restaurants, especially in the tourist zones and city centers, seem to actually subtract value in moving to the following items. You can find good places, but in my limited experience it’s easier to find great Italian food in a major US city than in a major city in Italy, just because there are so many places that are expensive yet stunningly mediocre and cater to tourists that never come back. I also think the internet ratings are skewed by travelers smitten more with their adventure than the actual food. I’m sure that this gets better out of the tourist zones and look forward to exploring on the next trip.

Anyway, moving on to adding value beyond ingredients.

#4 Caprese. Go beyond simply cutting stuff up to add a little mixing. Slice great tomatoes and real mozzarella. Intermix the slices with fresh basil leaves and/or arugula or other fresh greens. Drizzle with a little good olive oil (they can add more). Serve with bread. You can also add a little balsamic vinegar. Key word – little. And don’t add honey, sugar or get fancy!

#5 Pesto. Take a combination of pine nuts (preferably slightly toasted), shredded parmesan, garlic (preferably slightly roasted), olive oil, and herbs. Fresh basil is the classic but you can mix in others – fresh thyme, arugula, etc. Put in a food processor until it’s a rough paste that still has some character to it – not completely smooth. Experiment with proportions – you can mix, taste, edit, repeat. Or you can even omit or change the nuts, add no cheese, no garlic, whatever. Tasty herby stuff mixed. It’s not rocket science. Put on about anything, bread, pasta, chicken, or just eat it straight!

#6 Polenta. An underutilized star. It’s basically cornmeal porridge, aka grits. It can be coarse or fine. But the difference is really in the preparation. It can be made creamy with cheese in which case it’s a lot like grits ( not my favorite ). Or it can be more coarse and made into little pancakes. From there you can use the pancakes as is, or grill them which is my favorite! And then put stuff on ’em – kind of like little pizzas. Meat, sauce, cheese… Easy enough!

#7 Tomato sauce. It’s not super hard but the prepared versions are awfully good these days so I’d probably just buy it. Put on pasta as usual, grilled chicken, meatballs, grilled eggplant, vegetables, whatever!

#8 White sauce. This is harder to make well. The stuff in the store that doesn’t require refrigeration is inherently pretty bad. The fresh stuff in the gourmet section is ok. I’m not going to get into it here, but if you learn how to make a basic Bechamel sauce then you can do anything – cheeses, herbs, mushrooms… Real (dulce) Gorgonzola and mushrooms is my favorite!

Mix those together in interesting ways and you have darn near everything covered. Add some grilled meat and you have a full meal!

Cutting Stuff Up

I don’t think I’m that unique in being rather bad at delegating. I was proud of myself for finally asking Jen (I couldn’t do it) to call a plumber (when I was in Santa Cruz) to fix the clog in the sink (and not tell me). I had tried for several weeks with different approaches. Finally borrowing a friend’s plumbers snake and ramming that thing 20 feet into the pipe without successfully unblocking it. Other than that I haven’t hired anyone for any part of the house remodel. (not me, stock photo. Toolbelts are for tools)

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At our large “Wesselpalooza” campout I traditionally make dinner for everyone there. That’s ranged from 30 to 70 people. We go in on Saturday to Leavenworth to buy everything and then cook it up. One year I made individual portions of Phad Thai in a great big wok named (by the manufacturer, not me), the “King Kooker”. That was a lot of work.

Last year it was 64 people for steak and chicken kabobs and several side dishes. This was already a compromise from my original plan of Argentine Churrasco – steak on swords grilled over a fire (yes, coming next year!). I was frantically working and rather stressed out. People kept asking if they could help and I kept saying no. All I needed to do was work faster, better, and get it done. I was madly cutting up red peppers when Tracey Dayton came over and said “I see you’re cutting stuff up. Would you like me to cut stuff up?”. It was brilliant in so many ways and a lesson I still remember.

“How can I help?” is a hard question. Effectively “hey, why don’t you stop what you’re doing, sit back, take a deep breath, acknowledge that you aren’t going to succeed on your own, and instead of clearly moving forward, take the time to figure out how to clearly divide work and offer it to others”. That’s hard. With some insight and clarity, Tracey eliminated all that complication and posed a simple yes/no question. Answer: “Yes, please yes, cut this stuff up”. After that everything else unlocked and it was an easy and collaborative dinner and the usual evening of Fireball and dancing round the campfire.

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I’m writing this at the end of a 12-hour day mostly because I need to apply it, right now.

And… It’s unlikely, but you might still wonder how the pipe was still blocked? It turns out shortly after entering the wall the pipe splits. One part goes up to vent to the roof. Another goes down to the drain. I’m pretty sure my snake was slithering all over the roof rather than down in the plumbing doing the real work.

drain-waste-vent-plumbing-diagram

There’s no real insight there that I can think of. And I have no idea how you convince your plumbers snake to head up or down at a given junction with only a coiled, smelly, slippery spring to work with. But the point I guess is to step back for a moment, stop trying to push that snake into the pipe and figure out how to align the world around you with what you want to achieve. Otherwise you have to deal with a giant hairball like this.

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Tasty Curry-Based Sauce

I’m not sure exactly what this is. If you remove the onions, roasted chilies, and bell peppers, it’s basically Thai curry. You can stop then and be done. I find it’s harder to make normal, broth-like curry that’s also very rich and tasty so I like this. Add an onion, green chilies, bell peppers, and it has more substance. It’s then more of a chunky-style sauce than a bowl of curry. This serves around 4-6.

You can put this on lots of things. Last night I made it for 50 served  over cubed root vegetables – yams and white sweet potatoes. Peel them, cut them into half-inch or a little bigger pieces, rub them with a bit of oil, bake at 375 for 45 min or so on a baking tray (cover with greased foil to make life easier). Move them around now and then. For the quantity below I’d use about 4-6 people to eat. For this I make it a little sweeter.

It’s also great on fish, my favorite is halibut cheeks. Instead of rice I like to put a bed of spinach on each plate – maybe with some kale mixed in. Put some very hot sauce on that which will cook it just right by the time it’s on the table. Then fish on that, with a little more sauce. For this I add plenty of tarragon, and I would leave out the roasted chilies.

This isn’t so much a recipe as a way to make a whole bunch of good things.

In general for Thai ingredients the brands are Mae Ploy or Golden Boy. This matters a lot.

Ingredients:

  • Red Curry Paste: They vary a whole lot and most are bad. Mae Ploy is my favorite.
  • Fish Sauce: Golden Boy is good
  • Garlic – about four cloves but up to you.
  • One bunch of Cilantro
  • One 12-oz can of coconut Milk – again, Mae Ploy is good. Don’t do “Lite”
  • Cilantro
  • A good sized onion, generally I use a yellow one
  • Kaffir lime leaves if you have them. These are the magic secret smell and taste that’s almost always missing. You can do it without them and it’s still good, but.
  • Tarragon – fresh great, dried is fine. Maybe 4-6 fresh sprigs, or a tablespoon dried.
  • Basil – about the same amount as the Tarragon. Thai basil is best. Fresh is much better than dried. You can also get basil cubes which are easy and a middle ground.
  • Green chilies – Anaheim or similar. These are optional.
  • Thai chilies if you want it spicier.
  • About 3 fresh limes, you can use lime juice.
  • Bell peppers – Optional again – but good tossed in at the end.
  • Sugar. I get palm sugar which comes in little cakes but normal is ok too.
  • Some oil

For the bare minimum you could do yams, curry paste, a can of coconut milk, a little sugar, a lime or two, fish sauce, and hopefully kaffir lime leaves.

The plan:

The not-very-hot green chilies are optional but are tasty. I roast them on the BBQ Arizona-style and then peel off most of the skin. It’s a bit time consuming but you really don’t have to get it all for most chilies – taste and see if it’s ok. Then remove the stem and seeds and cut up. Do this first and add them when you add the onion to the curry if you want to include this. It’s a smoky addition that’s not right for many variations.

Bell peppers are also completely optional. Toss in one or two cut up if you want at the end.

Cut up the onion. Wash the cilantro keeping the bunch together. Shake it. Cut off the very bottom of the stems and discard. Cut the rest of the stems small (1/4″ or less) until it gets more leafy then stem. Put these in one bowl – they go in the sauce. If you’re really fancy you can cut up cilantro/coriander root, but it’s very hard to find. Then chop the rest loosely and put in another bowl (these go on top at the end). If you have fresh herbs, remove the larger part of the stem and also cut those up loosely.

Heat a little oil and lightly cook the onion and garlic. I garlic-press in the garlic but you can chop it too. Don’t burn or even brown it much, especially the garlic. It goes from tasty to bitter. This takes about 5 minutes or so. If you know you want it spicy add some chopped, with seeds, Thai chilies here. If the pan gets dry I usually add some water instead of more oil. Empty this into a bowl.

Heat a little more oil and put in about two to three tablespoons of the curry paste. Heat gently for a couple of minutes while you mash it around. You’ll smell it as it opens up.

Add a couple of spoons of the more solid part of the coconut milk (what’s on top). If you just dump it all it can separate. Mix it in. I add the cilantro stems here.

Add the rest slowly, keeping it hot while you do. If you’re new it’s good to taste it now and each time you add something to understand what each ingredient does. It doesn’t taste too good now – like curry and coconut milk as you’d expect but kind of insipid.

Add maybe two teaspoons of fish sauce, stir, and taste. This usually makes it taste worse, not better. This isn’t linear-additive, it’s a balancing act, and you just tipped the scale.

Add the juice of one lime. You can do this with a fork – cut it in half, stab it in the middle, work it back and forth as you squeeze, and then use the fork to scrape off some pulp as you hold it closed. The advantage of this way is that you get a bit of the lime pulp, but you can do it how you want.

Taste again. It probably just got worse – salty, tangy…

Sugar is the key to bringing it together. But be careful as it changes really fast from great to cloyingly sweet. Error now on the side of less sweet – the onions and other things will add depth and sweetness too. But it needs to be brought roughly in line here. The flavors from the coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce, and lime are all in tension. Sugar pulls them together. Too little and it’s all tension and dissonance. Too much and it’s boringly singular.

So add about a teaspoon and taste. It’s almost like magic how just a little sugar brings it together. If you’re adding the onion and all, or meat, it might be better to wait to add sugar until all the ingredients are added. Yeah, that’s probably the safest route.  If it ends up tasty but a little boring, try less sugar. Ok, enough with the sugar.

It’s really good to experiment here – adding some of each of the four ingredients so far to see what happens. I always edit at this point, and you’ll get better over time. I can’t find a repeatable way to do this. Sometimes it’s better than others. It’s strange how small changes make big differences. If it’s not working you can go for the peanut butter option below. In general, fish sauce and lime are the heavy-hitters in the tension area – add them both to make it more interesting.

Add the Kaffir lime leaves if you could get them. I add them whole and tell people not to eat them (which is pretty obvious). You’ll immediately smell the magic – taste it!

You can also add Thai chilies here if you want it spicier without changing the balance of flavors. Or more curry paste will also make it spicier and richer but you’ll have to adjust the other three ingredients as well.

At this point you have basic red curry. You can add some meat, veggies, or whatever, and serve it up. You can cook the meat in the curry itself, or grill it or whatever. You can also add the onion here and still have a pretty normal curry.

If you’re stopping here, one fun option is to add around a quarter cup, maybe more, of peanut butter and go for Panang style. This is always an instant crowd-pleaser. It’s also an easy out if you can’t get the thing balanced right. If it’s still not good you can add sugar. Sweet and peanut buttery is always tasty and no one really minds that you’ve left the path.

From here it leaves the beaten path of traditional Thai.

If you have dried tarragon and basil, add about around two teaspoons of each. Or maybe one of each, taste, and decide. Usually I end up with about 3 . You can use much more fresh in which case I add about half now, half at the very end with the leafy cilantro. You can use a lot. This makes it kind of french-Thai. You can also skip the herbs but keep the other stuff. Whatever you like!

Dump in everything else – onion, roasted chilies if you made them, and bell peppers. Taste some more. It’s usually fairly tame so I often add more lime juice here at the end to make it more interesting. Or pull it together with sugar.

If you’re serving in a bowl like with the root vegetables, put it all together, stir in the leafy cilantro and optionally fresh basil and tarragon, and you’re done. Or layer it on greens, or whatever you want. If you did it right you can’t really go wrong however you serve it.

Have fun!

Banana Bread

Simple and good!

2 C flour (like Bob’s Red Mill wheat from Oregon)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 C sugar (cane sugar is good)

Mix that

4 ripe bananas
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond
2 eggs
1/4 C butte

Mix that by hand but not too much – keep it lumpy.

I often take some and put it on a pizza stone – makes it thin like a biscotti!

Bake at 375

 

Cha Cha Cha’s Warm Spinach Salad

Tasty! An old favorite in SF

  • 2 bunches spinach
  • 6 bacon slices
  • 1 bunch scallions cut into ¼ inch pieces including some green tops
  • 10 white mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup dry sherry
  • ½ recipe Dijon mustard sauce. (See below)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup (4oz) grated parmesan cheese

Place washed spinach in a bowl, set aside.
Cook bacon, in small bits and save 2 tablespoons bacon grease (fat). In the same pan with the leftover grease cook the scallions and mushrooms for 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Add the sherry and reduce to half with medium heat, make sure to scrape off all the goodies from the bottom of the pan. Add the mustard sauce, parsley, cilantro, salt and pepper.
Pour this mixture over the spinach, gently toss with the parmesan cheese and bacon bits and serve immediately.

Dijon Mustard Sauce

This recipe makes a lot, you need only half or less for the salad

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2-3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat, stiring occasionally. Simmer 15-20 min. remove from heat and wisk for 1-2 min. until sauce thickens. Tast and season accordingly and set aside and keep warm.

Bengali Fish

My favorite version of several recipes combined. Still working on it.

Spice mix:

  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 green cardamom pods

Fish:

  • Around 2 pounds mahimahi, tilapia, swai, or other whitefish
  • 2 teaspoon ground turmeric – or mix of ground for color and a couple tablespoons of fresh grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons mustard oil, or vegetable oil as backup

Sauce:

  • 1/4 teaspoon Nigelia seeds, aka Kalonji. Can substitute mustard seeds – crush them a bit.
  • 5 fresh Thai chilis chopped fine, and some whole for the adventurous
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt (optional – makes it creamier)

Preparation

Cut the fish into chunks. Rub it with the turmeric and salt and set aside for 10-15 minutes.

If using non-ground spices, combine spice mix ingredients in a mortar, spice grinder, or coffee grinder and process until finely ground.

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium flame. If you are using mustard oil, let it get smokingly hot. Now put in the fish pieces and brown lightly on all sides without cooking them through.

Gently lift the fish out of the oil and put it on a plate.

Remove most of the oil from the frying pan and heat over medium-high.

When hot, put in the nigelia/mustard seeds and the onoin. Cook until brown/translucent.

Then put in the chillies, bay-leaf, and spice mix and cook for a minute.

Put in the fish and the water.

Simmer over a medium heat for a few minutes, mixing the fish with the sauce. Turn the heat to low and cook the fish for about 5 more minutes or until it is just done. If you want a more creamy dish, stir in the yogurt. I do.

Serve with rice or potatoes.

Pimp my Mac ‘n Cheese (Box Dinners Done Right part II)

Now that you know how to make box noodles, here’s how to make them into what has been called (I am not kidding), “The high point of the evening” and “The best f-n dinner I ever had”.

It’s really not that hard.

Step 1: Start with the good stuff. Anything ending in “White Cheddar” is a good bet. Annie’s rocks.

Step 2: Add more good stuff. Options include:

Bratwurst. Always a crowd-pleaser. Cook ’em on their own, slice ’em up, and mix ’em in. Best cooked over a campfire.

Broccoli. You can cook it beforehand or just let it sit in the noodle hotness for a couple of minutes.

Parmesan. Can never have too much parmesan.

Other cheese. How can you go wrong? Guyere, Gorgonzola, any G cheese really. Even goat cheese if you’re into goats.

Kale or Spinach. It’s amazing how large a pile can be hidden in a pot of otherwise tasty food. Add twice as much as you think you should and you’ll still hardly notice it.

Tomatoes. I cut them up and squish out the seeds but you do it however you like.

Green/red/orange peppers. Yum! And amazing vitamin C!

But really, anything you’ve got. I usually open the cheese drawer and the veggie drawer and just put some in there. You can add roughly 2x the veggies as you have noodles and have an incredibly healthy yet indulgent feast!

Box Noodles the Right Way – Part 1 of 2

They’re not exactly the height of cuisine, but they can be tasty and they are easy! But, most of the on-the-box recipes are lame. They have you mix the sauce mix, the cold water, an absurd amount of butter, and the noodles all together and then boil for something like an eternity of 15 minutes. Then they have some notice like “sauce may be watery but will thicken over time”. Yeah right. Just sit there for an hour or so as the sauce gets cold and thickens, and your noodles turn into baby-food-like mush. There is no way this can turn out right – the evaporation rate of the water depends on the temperature, humidity, pan used, etc. There’s no way it can be correct just as the noodles reach perfection. And putting pasta into cold water is against at least one of the ten commandments.

I’ve emailed Kraft foods and the Rice-a-Roni corporations about this but they are uncaring and uninterested in improving their products. So, as a service to all those college students and other lazy chefs out there, here is the way it’s done.

1) Boil the water. Use several times the volume of water of whatever you’re cooking so that whatever your cooking heats quickly. This is a general rule or boiling things. Also, don’t add salt even if your mom says to – you get enough as it is! Yes it raises the boiling point just a little, but it’s not necessary to achieve optimal results. There’s already plenty of sodium in that fake cheese packet anyway.

2) Put in the noodles and cook for a normal pasta amount of time – 5 to 8 minutes depending on the noodle. For best results pick one out with a spoon early and test to get it right. Error on the side of not quite done as they’re going to continue cooking quite a bit.

3) Drain the noodles. You can do this with a colander, or many more adventurous ways. Then put the noodles back in the dry pan.

5) Add a little milk. You can add some butter too if you want more fat and calories but it really isn’t even noticeable in the taste. Put the pan back on the stove.

6) Add the flavor packet and stir it up. If it’s dry, add a little more milk until it’s just right. Don’t add too much milk.

7) Eat.

So that’s your basic recipe. Much more in part II coming up!

Tom Kha Recipe

Like the other recipes, this is a merging of the best recipes I could find, along with a lot of trial and error. With the right ingredients it’s one of my favorites! Serve over rice.

  • Box of good quality chicken stock – about 4 cups
  • Coconut milk – 1 cup/can
  • A few stalks of lemongrass
  • Galangal – fresh – 20 1/4″ slices – be careful cutting!
  • Garlic -two or three cloves – I crush with a garlic press but you can chop it up fine
  • Nam Prik Pao, Chili Paste, or Curry paste -a tablespoon or two (optional and not traditional)
  • Kaffir Lime Leaves – about 10
  • Chopped green onion – white part small, green part longer chunks
  • Thai chilis – For about 3 stars I cut a few in half lengthwise and seed, and then about 3 chopped with seeds.
  • Fish sauce – about 1 tbsp (The saltiness can vary a lot across brands, so start with less always.)
  • A lime, maybe two.
  • Palm Sugar – 1 tbsp. Also fine to use regular sugar
  • Cilantro leaves – I chop a standard bunch and use most of it
  • Several cups of mushrooms – whatever you like, or a mix. Never Shitaki
  • Meat:
    • Tom Kah Gai: One to two large chicken breasts chopped into thin strips
    • Tom Kha Goong: Prawns
    • Tom Kha Talay: Mixed seafood
    • Or just make it veggie

To prepare the lemongrass, use only the bottom white part (about 6 inches) and discard the woody grass part of it including the outside of the 6-inch part. Cut it in half lengthwise. With the flat side of a cleaver or a heavy object, pound the lemongrass so it releases the flavor. Also slice the galangal. Sometimes I use a food processor for that – it’s hard and easy to cut yourself.

Put the chicken stock into a pot and bring to a boil. Add the galangal, lemongrass, half the sugar, about 1 tsp of the fish sauce, and lime leaves. Simmer for 5 minutes or a longer as you prepare the rest. I often leave it for about half an hour. For a richer taste, you can add some extra chicken stock and then boil longer to let it reduce down. I also chop up the cillantro here and add the finely chopped stem parts to this.

In a frying pan, heat a little oil and fry the chilies, garlic, curry paste (optional), and scallion, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Don’t burn it, just heat it. The curry paste is not traditional but it makes it a little richer in taste and color.  Add the fat (solid) part of the coconut milk spoon by spoon and Simmer until hot.

At this point I often remove at least most of the galangal and lemongrass from the liquid. It’s traditional to leave it in but it gets annoying picking out the inedible bits. I also squeeze the juice from the galangal with a lime press. Add the paste to the soup.

Once I added the coconut milk to the soup itself and it never combined – the fats floated on top like separated cream. I think it needs to get hot and mixed with other solids to form an emulsion before being mixed with the rest of the liquid.

Once that’s all hot, slowly add the rest of the coconut milk making sure it stays hot (and doesn’t separate). Add the meat/seafood and mushrooms and boil until just cooked. If I’m adding clams I do that here too. When you see chicken turning all white on the outside, it’s 90% done. If in doubt, slice your thickest piece. Make sure it boils before you taste it. Add more of the cillantro leaves. Then turn the heat way down and squeeze in the juice of a lime or two.

Let it simmer for at least 5 minutes, and then it’s taste test time. You still have leftover sugar, fish sauce, and limes. Those are the three you have to adjust carefully. It probably needs a little saltiness/richness so add a bit more fish sauce and retest. If you make it with seafood it will need less. Be careful with the fish sauce but also don’t be afraid – it’s key.Test for saltiness and sourness. You should get the earthy flavor of galangal, Some saltiness/fishness, sweetness from the coconut milk, and a fair bit of lime flavor, and some chilli in the background. I generally add a second or third lime here too. Keep sugar mainly for if you add too much lime or fish sauce – it’ll counteract/disguise either to some extent. Otherwise you don’t need it. You can try squeezing more juice from the galangal if it’s needed. And also add more chilis to make it spicier. Or chili paste if you want.

Serve and top with cilantro leaves. I serve with lots of rice so it’s almost a sauce.

Phad Thai Recipe

Seems so simple yet so subtle. The hardest thing I’ve made – most recipes are absurdly bad – ketchup, soy sauce… This one takes the insight and style from many different recipes. Mine’s gone from inedible to damn good. I offered to take Scout out tonight and she wanted this instead. It’s still a work in progress.

This makes two servings, multiply for more

Unlike most recipes, really don’t skip anything, it just doesn’t work.

  • about 8 oz tofu, chicken, whatever
  • 7 ounces 3mm rice noodles – a little less than half a pack
  • 2 TB oil
  • small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • about two garlic-clove size pieces of ginger
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons dried shrimp – minced
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (don’t be scared, just do it)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar – mix with a little water
  • 2 teaspoons Sriracha chili sauce – adjust for spiciness
  • some black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons tamarind paste
  • about 1/2 cup stock – chicken or veggie
  • about 1/2 cup rough chopped cilantro
  • 1 lime

Garnish:

  • 1/2 cup bean sprouts
  • 2 TB crushed peanuts
  • Some sliced scallion
  • Sliced Thai chilies

Soak the noodles in hot water for about 20 minutes
Brown the chicken or tofu
Cut 1/2 of the lime into nice slices

Heat oil and add the onion until it’s clear.
Add the garlic and cook a bit.
Add the minced ginger.
Split that in half in the pan and scramble half with the eggs, leave half as is.
Mix the chicken or tofu with the non-egg half.
Don’t have to worry about separating once the eggs are scrambled in.
Add the paprika, dried shrimp, Sriracha, tamarind, pepper, sugar. Stir it up
Turn the heat all the way up.
Add the noodles, a little stock, and stir.
It will get dry and the noodles will be too firm.
Let it brown just a bit, then add some stock and stir it around.
Repeat until it’s done – around 3 min. Noodles will be just right.
This part is an art – noodles a little browned and crispy in spots, yet moist.
Take it off the heat.
I mash the two chunks of ginger in a garlic press over it all.
Juice the lime half with a fork and scrape the pulp into it.
Add half the cilantro and stir it all up.

Serve each plate with the garnish ingredients:

A quarter cup or so of peanut butter is a crowd-pleaser when mixed in with the noodles – makes it richer and just a little peanuty. Not the real recipe but people like it, especially the kids.