Friday, April 22, 2011

Ahi Larb

If you've read this blog before, you are probably aware that I have a special fondness for ahi.  Good, fresh tuna is a taste that's hard to beat.  While many Americans have an aversion to raw fish and will only eat seared ahi, I especially like raw ahi.  Served as carpaccio or tartare, it makes a wonderful appetizer.  This version of larb could also be served as an appetizer or, with sticky rice, as part of a Thai meal. 

In the US, larb (or laab) is found in virtually every Thai restaurant.  Usually, larb gai--chicken larb--is what is on offer, made with cooked chicken, lime juice, fish sauce and herbs.  Other meats may also be used for larb.

My first exposure to larb was about 25 years ago when teaching some Lao students in Sacramento.  I was occasionally invited to their houses for celebrations and they always had plenty of food.  Larb was something that was always served, but very often the larb they made was with raw beef.  Although I like raw beef, my wife won't touch it, so I generally avoid beef these days.  This ahi larb is my attempt to create something like I used to have at the Lao parties.

The primary requirement for this dish is the availability of sashimi grade fresh ahi.  The lime juice "cooks" the fish, so its best to make the larb just before serving.  It is a simple, quickly prepared dish that may be served with lettuce, Belgian endive, Vietnamese sesame crackers, or sticky rice.  Increase or reduce the number of chilies to adjust the level of heat in the dish to your taste.

Ahi Larb

1/2 pound sashimi grade ahi tuna, chopped in a small dice
1-4 red Thai chiles, seeded and minced
3 small shallots, peeled and minced
2 TBS fresh lime juice
1 1/2 TBS fish sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
3 TBS minced rau ram (daun laksa)
1 TBS minced mint
black pepper, to taste
2-3 TBS roasted rice powder

In a medium bowl, mix the ahi with the other ingredients.  Press into a small bowl and invert the bowl onto a serving platter.  As an appetizer, guacamole is a nice accompaniment with sesame crackers and Belgian endive spears.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Oatmeal Streusel Ginger Berry Bars

Although my father was always a National League fan when it came to baseball, my mother adheres to Ted Williams' philosophy when it comes to freezing food.  Nothing can be frozen too long.  Roasts that were calves when Ted Williams still walked this earth reside in the back recesses of my mother's freezer, bargains that proved irresistible when the family still gathered for Sunday roasts. A bargain at today's prices will seem even more so when discovered a few years hence, shadowed with freezer burn perhaps, but still "perfectly edible."

Like my father, I am a fan of National League ball, the World Champion San Francisco Giants to be precise.  But like my mother, I tend to use the freezer like a time capsule.  There are some items that have been there for well over a year.  I believe we have some blocks of sauce for gado gado that we picked up when we were in Indonesia a half dozen years ago.  It's not that I am stocking up on bargains, but I sometimes don't get around to cooking something right away, so I shift it to the freezer.  Fortunately, we don't have a stand-alone freezer, so I am limited to what I can entomb.

I had had a bag of mixed berries from Trader Joe's in the freezer for some time.  I don't think they were as old as the bumbu gado gado, but I wouldn't testify to that under oath.  The berries seemed to have passed through several partial warming ages also, and the bag was half ice crystals when finally opened.  Still, they were perfectly edible, and featured prominently in these berry bars I made for Tjing's most recent knitting session.  

Oatmeal Streusel Ginger Berry Bars 

1 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened and cut into small pieces
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt 

1  16 oz. bag of frozen mixed berries, thawed
juice and zest from half a lemon
1 TBS fresh ginger, finely grated
2 TBS corn starch 

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

Mix the oats, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together.  Cut the butter into this mixture.  Reserve a third of this mixture.

Line a 9" x13" pan with baking parchment, leaving several inches on each side to enable you to lift it out later.  Press the bulk of the oatmeal mixture into the parchment lined pan.  Bake in the pre-heated oven for ten minutes.  Remove and allow to cool.

While the base is baking, prepare the berry filling.  In a saucepan simmer the berries,  lemon juice, zest, sugar and ginger for about eight to ten minutes.  Mix the corn starch with a little water to form a slurry.  Stir this into the berry mixture and simmer for another couple of minutes, until the mixture thickens.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Pour and spread the berry filling over the cooled base.  Sprinkle the reserved oatmeal streusel mixture atop the filling.  Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.

Lift the parchment paper out of the pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ca Ri Ga--Vietnamese Chicken Curry

Chicken curry comes in many guises.  There is jungle curry from Laos and northern Thailand that doesn't include coconut milk, red and green curries from central and southern Thailand, variations throughout Malaysia and Indonesia, other variations from India, and then there is ca ri ga, Vietnamese chicken curry.  I don't believe I've yet had a chicken curry that I haven't enjoyed, but of all of them the Vietnamese version is my favorite.  It is spicy, but not incendiary, with a nice balance of coconut milk in its base.  Served with a freshly baked baguette, it made for an especially comforting dinner on an unseasonably cool spring night.

There are many recipes for ca ri ga out there.  Although I have tried many of them, I keep coming back to this one, which I have been using for the last twenty years or so.  Its use of both curry powder and curry paste, the use of less coconut milk than some other recipes, and the frying of the potatoes before adding them to the sauce are what set this curry apart.  Like other curries and stews, this is a dish that may be even better the next day.  It also freezes well, so you may want to double the recipe. 

The recipe comes (slightly adapted) from The Foods of Vietnam by Nicole Routhier, the first Vietnamese cookbook I ever bought and still one of my favorites.

Ca Ri Ga

3 stalks fresh lemongrass, tender, lower third only, chopped
4 shallots, peeled and chopped
5 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 to 3 fresh red chile peppers, seeded and chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 TBS Madras curry paste
3 TBS Madras curry powder
3 TBS fish sauce
1 chicken, 3 to 4 pounds
2 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch thick slices
2 white-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch slices
2 bay leaves
1 large onion, cut into eighths
2 large ripe tomatoes, core, seeded and cut into eight wedges (I didn't have any tomatoes in, so left them out this time, but do think they add to the curry)
2 cups chicken stock made from backbone, neck and gizzards of the chicken
salt, to taste
2 large carrots, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 can coconut milk
2 tsp cornstarch (optional)

Cut the chicken into serving pieces, reserving the backbone, neck, and gizzards for making the stock.

In a food processor, combine the lemongrass, shallots, garlic, sugar, chilies, pepper, curry paste and powder, and fish sauce.  Process to a very fine paste.

In a pie plate or similar dish, spread the paste all over the chicken pieces .  Cover and refrigerate for an hour.

Heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the potatoes and brown on all sides. Drain the potatoes on paper towels.

Remove all but 3 tablespoons of the oil from the Dutch oven.  Scrape the paste from the chicken and reserve.  In batches to avoid crowding, add the chicken pieces to the pan and brown on all sides.  Remove the browned pieces to a clean platter.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a clay pot.  Add the paste and bay leaves to the oil . (Of course, you may choose to continue using the Dutch oven.  The advantage of using a clay pot is that it not only looks nice on the table for serving, but also retains the heat well.) Stirring to keep the paste from burning, fry for about two minutes before adding the onions.  Continue to stir and cook the onions until they are lightly browned.  Add tomatoes, and stir to coat with the paste.  Add the chicken broth and chicken pieces and bring to a boil.  Add salt to taste, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.  Add carrots and potatoes and simmer another 20 minutes.

Dissolve cornstarch in the coconut milk (or mash one of the potato pieces).  Add the coconut milk to the curry and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.  Be sure to stir during this final cooking time to prevent the curry from sticking on the bottom of the pot.

Serve in shallow bowls with rice or French bread.

I am submitting this to Delicious Vietnam #12, a monthly blogging event celebrating Vietnamese food.  Founded by Anh of A Food Lover's Journey, and Kim and Hong of Ravenous Couple, Delicious Vietnam welcomes submissions from bloggers around the world.  To learn how you might participate, click here.  The roundup for Delicious Vietnam #12 will be hosted by Anh of A Food Lover's Journey. Check out the roundup to find the details on who will be hosting Delicious Vietnam #13.