Monday, January 24, 2011

Kale & White Bean Soup

I was in Boston last week and caught a miserable sinus infection. Usually when I am sick, I am not hungry which is a double-whammy bummer. But not this time...I am actually hungry! Last night, I managed to drag myself 4 blocks down the store to pick up some white kidney beans and a bunch of black kale. The kale is packed with nutrients and I knew a soup would soothe my throat. This recipe from epicurious hit the spot and made for a good leftover lunch this afternoon.

Kale & White Bean Soup
1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 cups chicken broth
2 qt water
1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf (not California)
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 lb smoked sausage such as kielbasa (optional), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
8 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1 lb kale (preferably lacinato), stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped

Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.

Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and rosemary and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.

While soup is simmering, brown sausage (if using) in batches in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, turning, then transfer to paper towels to drain.

Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in kale, sausage, and remaining quart water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Markets in Vietnam

These chickens were alive and stacked on top of one another ready for purchase. Yes, these are snakes. They make local 'hooch' with rice wine and dead snakes. It takes about 7 months to ferment. We tried a shot of this and it will put hair on your chest.

Selection of fresh fish and squid.

Studying up on candy, powders and spices.

Market in Saigon. Tiger beer in hand after a delicious lunch at the counter behind me.

Market in the Mekong Delta. Our guide is teaching me about Vietnamese ingredients such as Pomelo.

Typical meat stand in the market.

Wide selection of local rice.

I really wanted to bring back a suitcase of these chilies.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Vietnamese Crepes (Banh Xeo)

On the very first beach day of our honeymoon in Hoi An, we ordered some Banh Xeo, which literally translates to 'sizzling cake'. Essentially, these are crepes stuffed with pork and shrimp and are usually eaten for breakfast or lunch and served with peanut sauce. I wish I had a picture of Drew's face after he had his first bite. This was easily his favorite dish of the trip.

These crepes are made out of rice flour (you can find Thai rice flour pretty easily in stores or specialty stores), water, turmeric powder and coconut milk. As I mentioned, they are stuffed with shredded fatty pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts and then pan fried. They can become habit forming so consider yourself warned.

Banh Xeo

makes 2 crepes

1 cup rice flour (Thai version)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
pinch of salt
vegetable oil for frying

4 ounces small shrimp
4 ounces sliced roast pork
4 scallions, sliced
2 cups bean sprouts

leafy lettuce leaves
Mint, Thai or Vietnamese basil and cilantro

In a bowl mix the rice flour, water, turmeric and salt.

Heat a little oil in a 10 inch non-stick pan and cook the pork and shrimp. When cooked through, add the scallions. Add a little more oil, you may need a tablespoon or two to make the crepe very crisp and chewy. Pour in 1/2 cup batter on top of the fillings and tilt the pan to spread the batter into a crepe. Top with bean sprouts and cook for several minutes until the bottom of the crepe is beginning to turn brown and very crunchy. Fold the crepe in half and drain on paper towels. Serve with lettuce and herbs and peanut sauce.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sweet Tamarind Crab (cua rang me)

Thanks to a good friend and a Tony Bourdain episode, Drew and I had one of the best meals of our lives at Thi Nhan in Hoi An, Vietnam. Sweet Tamarind Crab is relativity easy to make but it's the freshness of the crab that makes the dish. Thi Nhan is just steps away from the beach and each morning the fish market is flooded with fresh crab.

It's a messy meal but so incredibly worth it. They serve the crabs with a mixture of lemon juice with a TON of sea salt and ground pepper. Sounds a little overwhelming? It is when you taste it on its own but with the crab it is DY-NO-MITE. If we had stayed an extra day in Hoi An we would have eaten there twice - without question.

Sweet Tamarind Crab (cua rang me)
Makes 8 servings
6 whole fresh crabs
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 kaffir lime leaves (optional), torn in half
2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce (or fish sauce)
2 tablespoons palm sugar (or granulated sugar)
2 teaspoons fresh ginger (see tips)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves
2 teaspoons white pepper, freshly ground
juice of 3 limes, + extra for serving

Clean the crabs, brush and rinse thoroughly. Separate the 2 main claws from each crab. Set aside.

Remove and discard the abdominal flaps (the triangle-shaped tail). Lift and separate the back-fin with the rest of the claws by placing a large tablespoon at the bottom of the crab. Remove and discard the "lungs" (also known as Devil's fingers; they have a spongy texture); they're inedible. Gather the liquid, crab "butter" and corals from the inside of the crabs in a bowl. Discard the main shells.

Using a cleaver, cut the back-fins in half and slightly crack the claws. Gather the pieces of crab in a large mixing bowl. Add the garlic powder, salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Toss well. Marinate for at least 15 minutes.

In the same bowl containing the crab liquid, combine the kaffir lime leaves (if used), 1 teaspoon of ginger, sugar, soy sauce (or fish sauce) and tamarind paste.

Slightly bruise the basil leaves and coarsely chop them.

In a wok, heat the oil. Add the shallots and ginger and cook until slightly golden and fragrant. Add the garlic. As soon as the garlic is lightly browned, add the crab pieces. Jiggle the wok to make sure the crab does not stick to the bottom of the wok and is totally coated with oil. Add the tamarind mixture. Constantly toss the crab to ensure each piece is coated with the sauce. As soon as all the liquid is evaporated, add the chili garlic sauce. Toss for 30 seconds and add ½ to one cup of water and about 2 tablespoons of basil leaves. Cover and cook for about 8-10 minutes, stirring often. The crab meat should be white and opaque and the liquid should be evaporated as well. Do not over-cook the crab; otherwise the meat will be dry! Un-cover and add the remaining basil leaves and the lemon juice. Toss the crab and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Adjust the seasoning. Season with more salt (if necessary) and pepper; it should balance the sour taste of the tamarind paste and the sweetness from the palm sugar and shallots. Remove and discard the kaffir lime leaves.

Transfer to a large platter. Serve with little dipping bowls filled with lime juice, chili salt (or regular salt) and pepper.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Year's Resolution: Blog More

I hate New Year's Resolutions. We've seen it all before. In fact, I saw it in my yoga studio yesterday - a packed class. The weeks will roll by and soon it will be the middle of February and it will be me and the same 15 people at the 6:30pm class as usual. New Year's resolutions are a great idea but tend to lose momentum after a few weeks. Let's not kid ourselves.

I just got back from a 3-week honeymoon in Vietnam. In fact, in the last 2 1/2 months, I have spent over a month in Asia. This means I've had a lot of train, plane and automobile time to reflect on 2010 and the year that it's been for Drew and me.

This year, my New Year's resolution is to blog more. I mean it. I'm done being selfish. In the last 8 months, I've planned a wedding, got married, got a new job, went on my honeymoon and time flew by. My heart breaks every time a friend or loyal reader asks me over email or on the phone, 'where have you been?!?' I've been a slacker blogger for sure.

Well, fear not. This year is going to be big (even more so if Blogger gives me access back to my account and I am not posting under Drew's publishing privileges!) so expect more. Get excited.

Happy 2011. Eat, drink and be merry.