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Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asiaby Jeffrey Alford
Quick and Tasty Yunnanese Potatoes
This is slightly chile-hot and very, very good, either hot from the wok or at room temperature. Serve as part of a rice meal with grilled or stir-fried meat, some lightly flavored Chinese greens, and a soup. It also makes great leftovers, cold or reheated. We like the leftovers topped by lightly stir-fried greens and a fried egg. No extra seasoning needed.
2 pounds potatoes (see Note)
3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
5 Thai dried red chiles
1 cup finely chopped scallions or a mixture of scallions and chives or garlic shoots
1 teaspoon salt
Wash the potatoes well but do not peel unless the skins are very old and tough. Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water until just cooked. Drain and put back in the hot pot to dry. When cool enough to handle, slide off the skins if you wish. Coarsely chop the potatoes or break them into large bite-sized pieces.
Heat a wok over high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan, then toss in the chiles. Stir-fry briefly until they puff, about 30 seconds, then add the potatoes and stir-fry for about 3 minutes, pressing the potatoes against the hot sides of the wok to sear them. Add the chopped scallions or greens and salt and stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Turn out onto a plate and serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves 4 to 6 as part of a rice meal
Note: You can use leftover boiled potatoes for this dish. The proportions above are for about 6 cups cut-up potatoes. If you begin with less, reduce the amount of greens and chiles proportionately. And your potatoes may already be salted, so be cautious as you add salt to taste.
Baked Bass with Spicy Rub
Pa Pao--Laos, Northeast Thailand
In Laos and northeast Thailand, fish and curries are often cooked in banana leaf wrappers over a small fire. Wrapping keeps in moisture and flavor, so it lends itself perfectly to fish prepared with a marinade or with aromatics.
You don't have to have banana leaves for this dish, just aluminum foil, but if you do come across banana leaves fresh or in the freezer section at a Southeast Asian grocery store, buy a package and keep it in your freezer. Banana leaves give a pleasant scent to the food as it cooks and they're easy and fun to work with.
Two 1- to 1 1/2 pound gutted and scaled whole firm-fleshed fish (striped bass or lake trout, for example, or a saltwater fish such as snapper)
2 tablespoons Peppercorn-Coriander Root Flavor Paste (recipe follows)
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed, smashed flat with the side of a cleaver, and cut into 1-inch lengths
2 limes, cut into wedges
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, or light a grill to produce a medium heat.
Wash the fish inside and out and wipe dry. Make three shallow diagonal slashes on each side of each fish. Put some flavor paste in each slit and then smear the rest over the outside and a little on the inside of the fish. Put the chopped lemongrass inside the fish.
Place two 18-inch square pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil side by side on your work surface. If you have fresh or frozen banana leaves, use them: Lay one or more overlapping pieces of banana leaf (strip out the central rib of the leaf first) on top of each. Lay one fish on each set of wrappings, diagonally or whichever way allows a complete wrap. Wrap each fish firmly in the banana leaf, if using, and then in foil, tucking in the ends as you roll it up to seal it well.
Bake on a baking sheet in the center of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or grill on a grill rack 5 to 6 inches from the flame for 15 to 20 minutes a side. The fish should be moist and tender. Remove from the heat and place on one or two platters. Serve in the banana leaf wrapping or turned out onto the platter(s), as you please. Accompany with lime wedges and, if you wish, salt and pepper.
Serves 4 as part of a rice meal
Peppercorn-Coriander Root Flavor Paste
Here the essential flavors of the Thai repertoire all come together: black pepper (prik thai), coriander roots, and garlic, salted with a little Thai fish sauce. Use this paste as a marinade for fish, grilled chicken (see Grilled Chicken with Hot and Sweet Dipping Sauce, page 199), or pork.
Because the paste is so versatile, it's handy to have a stash of coriander roots in the freezer. Whenever you have a bunch of coriander, after you have used the leaves, chop off the roots, wash, and store them in a plastic bag in the freezer. You don't need to defrost them before using, as they can be chopped and pounded still frozen.
This recipe makes a small quantity of flavor paste, just over 2 tablespoons; double the quantities if you'd like to make more.
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
5 to 6 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped coriander roots
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce
Place the peppercorns in a mortar with the garlic and pound to a paste. Add the coriander roots and salt and pound to a paste. This will take 5 to 10 minutes; if you have a small blender or other food grinder that can produce a smooth paste, use it instead. Stir in the fish sauce.
Store in a well-sealed glass jar; this keeps for 4 days.
Makes 2 to 3 tablespoons paste
Aromatic Lemongrass Patties
There's a small evening market in Luang Prabang, just between the post office and the river. Tiny candles light the tables where vendors sit selling grilled fish, dark red salsas, sticky rice, grilled chicken, spicy curries, and piles of fresh and plain-cooked vegetables to eat with whatever foods you buy.
One of our favorite local specialties in the market is mak paen, small aromatic grilled meat patties. Luckily, we've discovered that they are almost as easy to make at home as they were to pick up at the evening market (though minus a considerable element of atmosphere . . .).
Serve these hot, or set aside on a plate to cool, then wrap well and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Use, thinly sliced, as a topping for Vietnamese Savory Crepes (page 280), or for noodles, or as an ingredient in Saigon Subs (page 287).
1/2 pound boneless reasonably lean pork (shoulder or butt, trimmed of most fat)
1/4 cup sliced shallots
1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Thinly slice the pork. Transfer to a food processor, add the shallots, lemongrass, salt, and pepper and process for about 30 seconds or until the mixture forms an even-textured ball. Turn out into a bowl. Alternatively, use a cleaver to finely chop the pork, first in one direction and then in the other, then fold the meat over on itself and chop again until smooth, discarding any fat or connective tissue. Add the shallots and lemongrass and continue mincing until the mixture is smooth, then transfer to a bowl.
Set out several plates. Working with wet hands, pick up a scant 2 tablespoons of the pork mixture and shape it into a flat patty 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Place on a plate and repeat with the remaining mixture; do not stack the patties. You'll have 7 or 8 patties.
Heat a large heavy skillet (or two smaller heavy skillets) over medium-high heat. Rub lightly with an oiled paper towel and add the patties. Lower the heat to medium and cook until golden on the first side, then turn over and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until golden and cooked through. As the patties cook, use a spatula to flatten them against the hot surface. (You can also grill or broil the patties until golden and cooked through, turning them over partway through cooking.)
Serve hot, with rice, a vegetable dish, and a salsa.
Makes 7 or 8 patties; serves 4 as part of a rice meal
Notes: A close relative of these patties, called cha heo, is made in markets in the Mekong Delta. The minced flavored meat is shaped into fairly thin strips about 2 inches long and 3/4 inch wide, then threaded onto
skewers and cooked over a grill. As the meat cooks, it's brushed with a little sweetened coconut milk, making it very succulent. To try it, before you begin grilling, warm some coconut milk and dissolve some palm sugar and a little fish sauce in it.
To make a thai-lao salad (a yam) with this aromatic flavored pork, slice the cooked patties into thin strips and place in a bowl with an equal volume of thinly sliced shallots, along with some finely chopped fresh mint and/or coarsely torn coriander leaves. If you have some leftover cooked sausages (see Index) or Vietnamese Baked Cinnamon PrtYª (page 259), or Vietnamese Grilled Pork Balls (page 252), cut them into bite-sized pieces and add to the salad. Dress with a lime juice and fish sauce dressing such as the one used for Turkey with Mint and Hot Chiles (page 202). Don't be shy about using hot chiles in the dressing, and use plenty of Aromatic Roasted Rice Powder (page 309) if you have any handy. Serve with sticky rice or jasmine rice.
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