Tag Archives: cilantro

Saying Goodbye to Summer: Vietnamese Beef Salad

Summer in DC has all the components of a passionate but ultimately doomed relationship.  Think about it… it starts suddenly, with very little warm up & quickly overwhelms you with its intense heat. Instead of working you spend hours staring blankly at your computer screen, reliving in your mind the wild moments from the night before, and fantasizing about what the weekend will bring. You play hooky from work to drink sangrias on a patio, picnic in a park, or drive out to the countryside for a long weekend getaway… and maybe for a moment you believe it will go on forever.

But you know how this story goes. Things cool off faster than you were expecting. As the heat dissipates the flirty dresses, lacy under-things & satin camisoles are all banished to the back of the closet. Come November, you’ll be stressing year-end deadlines in an oversized sweater designed to hide the five extra pounds you’ve packed on since summer’s abrupt end.

But just as no relationship worth remembering ends without a final steamy tryst, one day before the first frost you will inevitably wake up to a day that feels just as hot as it did in mid-July. It’ll only last a few hours, but it’s enough to make you momentarily slip back into the dreamy haze.

This is a recipe for that day.

Topped with savory beef & drizzled with a spicy lime and fish sauce vinaigrette, this dish is the opposite of a dull everyday lunch salad. Purple perilla brings an herbaceous complexity, while mint further brightens the crisp lettuce, slippery noodles, peppery radishes & sweet onions. You can easily throw this salad together in 15 minutes, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the final warm moments of summer.

So kick off your shoes, pour yourself a tall glass of icy plum wine, close your eyes, and begin the pleasurable task of deciding which summer memories are worthy of a permanent spot on that racy highlight reel of yours.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
Vinaigrette
1 garlic clove, finely minced
3 red chilies, sliced (Vietnamese or Thai chilies if you have them)
2 Tbs. lime juice
2 Tbs. fish sauce
1 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. water
3 Tbs. oil

Salad:
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. fish sauce
1 tsp. rice vinegar
½ tsp. sugar
1 lb. skirt steak
1 pack rice noodles (or about 4 oz. per serving)
1 head butter lettuce
¼ red onion, thinly sliced
3 radishes, thinly sliced
Mint leaves
Cilantro leaves
Perilla (look for Shiso or Tia To at your Asian grocery store)
Crushed peanuts (optional)

  • To make the vinaigrette mix the first 6 ingredients together in a bowl or small container. Stirring well with a small whisk, incorporate the oil. * If you prefer, you can substitute the oil in the dressing for water. But if you do it’s better to turn the dressing into a dipping sauce as it tends to make the salad watery.
  • Mix the soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar and sugar in shallow bowl. Add the skirt steak. Cover and let the steak marinate while you prep the rest of the salad.
  • Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Salt generously. When the water comes to a boil add the rice noodles and follow the cooking direction on the back of the packet. (Typically, rice noodles take about 5 minutes).
  • Once cooked rinse and drain the noodles well.
  • Wash, dry and tear the lettuce. Slice the red onion and radishes.
  • Place a skillet over high heat. Add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Remove the skirt steak from the marinade, tapping lightly to remove any excess liquid. When the oil begins to lightly smoke add the skirt steak.
  • Sear on high for 1 minute, turn the heat down to medium and sear another minute. Flip and repeat on the other side. The thickness of a skirt steak varies slightly but overall it tends to be a rather thin cut of beef. Cooking time will be roughly 2 minutes per side for medium rare.
  • When you reach the desired doneness remove the steak from the heat and set it aside to rest a couple minutes before slicing.
  • You can present this salad anyway you like but I like to set out individual servings. Divide the lettuce between two plates. Add the rice noodles, red onions, radishes and herbs to your liking. Drizzle with spicy vinaigrette.
  • Slice the skirt steak thinly, against the grain. Fan the steak over the salad. Top with crushed peanuts and extra chilies from the dressing.
Advertisements

The Palettes of TCKs: Sibling #4 Requests Chicken Wings

Sibling number four is my very beautiful sister Janai. In addition to the usual identity crises associated with TCKs Janai has had the added complication of having a foreign name. In Chinese her name (pronounced jen-ai or ren-ai) means “true love” but unfortunately, in Japanese ja-nai means “am not” or “is not”. Thus Janai spent many years of her life reluctantly being called by her second name, Clare. Guess what my darling husband jokingly said to her when they met in Taiwan? “Clare? That’s a fat girl’s name.” Thank you John Hughes and The Breakfast Club!

However the shy girl grew up into a sassy lady who often renders men speechless when she extends a manicured hand and introduces herself, often repeating her exotic name several times for the bumbling gentlemen that can’t seem to get it right.

Janai sent me the following response to my comfort food inquiry, “Remember how we used to bake all those chicken wings?? Made our own marinade with soy sauce, mustard, ketchup, and any spice we could find? That’s what I crave…basic yet delicious…it’s what I remember as ‘home’.”

Ah, I remember those chicken wings well. They were the frequent stars of our dinner table because wings were cheap and the sauce was composed of just about every spice in the cupboard, and every condiment in the refrigerator door.

We’ve been making chicken wings in my family for years, but my relationship with them wasn’t always amicable. In Japan we would cook the wings in a skillet on the stove since we only had a very small oven (most Asian kitchens aren’t outfitted with large ovens; toaster ovens are usually used for baking at home instead). Just about everything in our kitchen was stainless steel and our cooking utensils were metal, which was great for cleaning. But when the pilot light in the stove shorted (and it did, ALL THE TIME), you got a free lesson in electrostatics. Question: What happens when you happen to touch the stove with metal tongs while your other hand is resting on the metal counter? Answer: The electrical currents have a play date in your body! To this day my body tenses in preparation for a jolt whenever I smell soy sauce and sugar caramelizing.

But we left that house, and eventually Japan. Somewhere along the way we found ourselves in a bigger kitchen, and we transferred the wings from the skillet to the oven. Nowadays I bake the wings first with just a little salt, pepper, lime juice and oil, (you could add other spices like Chinese five spice or chili powder) and then glaze the wings with the sauce right before I throw them under the broiler. With this method the meat is nicely seasoned and the sweet-salty sauce gets deliciously charred and sticky under the intense broiler heat.

Hopefully your kitchen is in compliance with safety codes, so making these simple Asian wings won’t leave you permanently traumatized.

Ingredients:
1 lb. chicken wings
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. white pepper
½ tsp. lime juice
1 Tbs. neutral oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, minced
1 half medium sized onion, diced
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup water
1 Tbs. ketchup
1 tsp. mustard
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. Sriracha

  • Mix the first 5 ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside to allow the chicken to marinate and temper (come up to room temperature)
  • Preheat the oven to 400°. When oven reaches desired temperature place the chicken wings on a sheet pan and into the oven for 10 minutes
  • While the wings are baking sweat the onions, garlic and ginger in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  • Combine the soy sauce, water, ketchup, mustard, sugar and Sriracha together in a bowl. Mix well.
  • Once the onions are translucent (about 5 minutes) add the liquid mixture to the saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Strain. Pour the strained liquid into a large bowl.
  • Add the semi cooked chicken wings to the sauce and toss to coat. Return the chicken wings to the sheet pan and place them under the broiler (turned to high) for a couple of minutes. Remove and flip the wings. Return to the broiler and sear the other side of the wings (1-2 minutes).
  • Remove when you have the color and caramelization you want.

Can be served as is….

Or with a sprinkling of chopped cilantro…

Cilantro and extra Sriracha…

Or with a dusting of shiso furikake—shiso, the popular Japanese herb (also called beefsteak plant), flavored rice seasoning… salty, tart and slightly floral.

Strawberry Ice and Parsley Maki: Tips for Minimizing Produce Waste

Like everyone these days I’m making an effort to be “green”. I take shorter showers, drive a fuel-efficient car, hold my thermostat at 76° instead of 72° and eat less red meat. My latest focus is kitchen waste, particularly food that gets thrown away before ever seeing a cutting board or pot.

Unfortunately, my refrigerator often reflects my total lack of self-control when it comes to the mesmerizing grocery store produce aisles and farmers market displays. The lower shelf houses clamshell containers full of wilted salad greens with browning edges. My vegetable drawer often looks like a science project where I aim to depict the various stages of decay. Below thin plastic bags of yellowing greens lay various dehydrating fruit; the flesh deflating under the skin resembles a breast implant due for a fresh saline injection.

Menu planning definitely helps, but it’s tricky if—like me—you fluctuate between extreme cravings and complete indecision. To deal with this I buy ingredients for just three or four meals. This way if I get a crazy craving that I can’t shake, it becomes one of our dinners out and I push the planned meal to the next night.

However, this doesn’t always get at the main problem, which is the ridiculously short shelf life of my produce. Below are some tips I’ve been employing to combat this issue.

Wash and place fruit like strawberries, cherries and grapes in bowls in the center shelves of your fridge. This way when you pop open that door looking for a nibble you’ve got easy access to several healthy options. They won’t be forgotten in a back corner of the nether drawer.

Chances are you never walk into your kitchen eager to break down a melon or softening mangoes. So, take a few minutes to cut them up as soon as you bring them home, and keep them in containers for a snack or light breakfast.

You can extend the life of parsley and cilantro by employing a little sushi technique. Remove the elastic or wire twist securing the stems as well as any bad or yellowing leaves. Wash, and shake well to dry. (Remember if your herbs are wet it will be impossible to get a feathery chiffonade or fine mince, so wash them before storing). Lay the sprigs out on a couple of paper towels. Roll them up carefully like you would if you were making a maki roll. Store the roll in the plastic bag you purchased the herbs in.

But being socially responsible need not only be about extra kitchen prep, scratchy toilet paper and choking back blocks of flavorless beige soy products. Saving produce from a landfill can offer tangible satisfaction by using this trick I picked up in Beijing last year.

Since tracking down ice cubes in China yields basically the same success rate as Googling Tiananmen Square Incident, an enterprising friend began turning surplus strawberries into ice. Simply remove the tops and store them in ziplock bags in the freezer. When you’re ready for a cocktail, pop a few in a glass, top with gin and tonic (or your liquid of choice). Suddenly you have a visually stunning and delightfully refreshing reward for your efforts.



Pan Roasted Chicken Breasts with Scallion, Ginger and Cilantro Sauce

I was seventeen when I first started teaching English in Taiwan. I began with the preschool-kindergarten age group. Work started at 8am and consisted of me jumping around the room singing songs like The Itsy Bitsy Spider and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. There were the occasional wet pants, (always the kids’) and the daily tears (not always the kids’).

By noon I was ready for a large meal and a quiet corner. One of my favorite workday lunches was the local staple, duck rice. I’d bike over to this little roadside stall where 50 NT dollars (a little less than two bucks) would get you half a roasted duck chopped up and set on a mound of rice. It came with a couple little containers of gingery, scallion goodness to be slathered over the moist meat and crispy skin. I’d regularly scarf this down and gather my wits before heading back to school to do my best rendition of Little Bunny Foo Foo.

It wasn’t too long before I moved on to teaching high school and business level English. Thanks in part to make-up and the ability to skillfully dodge questions about my age. The job and pay may have improved but duck rice remained a lunch favorite.

Below is my version of the dish, with a couple tweaks. First, I add cilantro to the ginger and scallion sauce. The fresh herbal punch brings another layer of flavor and brightens the sauce. Second, I use chicken breast instead of duck. This is simply because I don’t have the time or the necessary tools (air compressor, fan, wok) to properly roast a whole duck. It’s also friendlier to those (…let’s call them Westerners) who don’t enjoy picking around the bones.

The scallion, ginger and cilantro sauce is great with just about anything—roasts, noodles and stir-fry dishes. If covered well it’ll keep in the fridge for a couple days. Although, it tastes best 15-20 minutes after you make it.

Sometimes I’ll throw this together for my husband’s lunch since it’s simple to make and reheats fairly well. Occasionally I fret that I’m setting the feminist movement back a couple decades by sending my hubby off in the morning with a packed lunch. So in an effort to quell my ridiculous guilt I even out the score by making him sing a verse from Little Bunny Foo Foo in exchange.

Ingredients:
2 chicken breasts (skin on)
salt
white pepper
¾ cup scallion, minced
1 Tbs. ginger, minced
¼ cup cilantro, minced
2 tsp. rice vinegar
½ tsp. soy sauce
2½ tsp. neutral oil such as vegetable or grapeseed oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
¼ tsp. salt 

  • Heat the oven to 400°
  • Generously season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and a little white pepper. Set aside and allow the meat to temper (come relatively close to room temperature).
  • Cut the scallions down the middle, halving them lengthwise. Slice in half again so that you end up with four long strips. Finely slice the scallion, both white and green parts.
  • Finely mince the peeled ginger. If you have a microplane you can use it instead of stressing about perfect knife work.
  • Mix the scallions, ginger & the last 6 ingredients together in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
  • Heat a skillet and about 1 tablespoon of oil over high heat. Once you begin to see little wisps of white smoke add the chicken breasts, skin side down. Sear for 2 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium high. Continue to cook for another minute. Flip the breasts and sear the other side for 2 minutes.
  • Place the skillet and chicken into the oven and finish cooking through, about 8 minutes. Remove when breasts feel firm to the touch or internal temperature reads 165°.
  • Allow chicken to rest a few minutes before slicing. Serve chicken over rice and top with scallion, ginger and cilantro sauce.