Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Burmese turmeric lentil and bean thread noodle soup

It is now almost the end of February, also know as the time for second-year medical students start to develop paranoia and stress-induced hemorrhoid for the incoming national licensing exam in May. This year, unfortunately, I am one of them. That is the reason why I have been very MIA on blog and Instagram these days (Good excuse, right?).

Even with my notoriety for being lazy, I feel the pressure to start studying. So, last month, I started studying with a friend, mostly because I see him as someone who won’t grab my throat at after studying 10 hours a day, or vice versa. Yes, we freaking study 10 hours a day, and it is disgusting. But the good thing is I notice that I actually start to feel smart; when I am in a clinic these days, I can actually understand the words that used to sound too Martian. I feel that I am stepping into that doctor-y snobbish club, and part of me weirdly enjoys it.


Normally, I don’t apologize for my recipes for requiring one to spend time in the kitchen, partly because I personally don’t want to write the cooking as if it is a painful process, whose sole purpose is to produce food to satisfy hunger. I like decompressing and getting creative in the kitchen – it is a safe place, where my mistakes will not harm anyone. But, sadly, with a desire to do well on the upcoming exam, I have started rediscovering Burmese recipes that require only a minimal effort from my part, but still yields the snuggling comfort of home. (I have tried to recreate some Burmese recipes in an express way. However, there is no denying that I am lazy, and finding the original recipes that takes a flash to make just sounds more appealing to me at the moment).



This turmeric red-lentil and bean thread soup is one of those comfort foods.  Every time I eat lentils, I feel like I am doing something good for my body, but the only downside about lentils is they are extremely tough, and can require unethical amount of time to cook. It is not hard, but on weekdays, waiting for a pot of soup is just not on my urgent to-do list. In contrast, slim red lentils cook extremely fast- with some preparation, I can make the pleasantly unfamiliar soup in about 15 minutes. This soup really celebrates turmeric and ginger even before hipsters in SF know how to spell them. With every slurp, I feel warm and rejuvenating essence of the spices, as evident by my runny nose and sweaty foreheads. Furthermore, the glass noodles (which, by the way, are made from the starch of mung beans, making them gluten-free) work really well in this dish because rather than competing texturally with red lentils, these smooth clear strands really complement the grainy texture of the lentils. For me, drinking this soup is like eating donut holes – I cannot just have one serving. So, I usually make two servings, and eat all in one sitting. I was never a person with self-control, and I refuse to start beating myself over a bowl of soup now.

Traditionally, it is supposed to be served as a side dish, along side with rice and a curry dish. However, for me, swigging a big bowl one mouthful after another while watching my lectures sounds like the only right thing to do at the moment.






Ingredients

Half an inch of ginger (smashed)
2 cloves of garlic (smashed)
4 tablespoons of red lentils (soaked for at least one hour – See the notes below)
100g of glass noodle , also called bean thread (soaked for at least one hour – See the notes below)
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 tablespoons of oil
¼ cup of chopped onions
6 cups of chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Directions

Soak the lentils and glass noodles in water for at least one hour. I usually soak mine the night before so I can make a quick meal whenever I feel the need to eat something.

Heat up the oil in a medium-sized pot, add in onion, garlic and ginger in a medium heat, and cook until onion bits start to soften (about 5 minutes).

Add turmeric powder, and stir to dissolve those golden specks into the oil. I absolutely love the pungent aroma permeates when warm spices hit the hot oil. Then, pour in the chicken stock, and crank up the heat on high and let the soup comes to a rolling boil.

Plunge in red lentil discs and touted glass noodles. Bring the soup to a boil, and let it simmer for 10 minutes, or until the noodle strands gone slippery and the lentils go almost mushy. Squirt in fish sauce, and season the soup accordingly. However, I want to suggest that you put pepper for this dish (I recommend ½ teaspoon) because the soup is all about celebrating the unconventional non-chili heat. Pepper really amplifies the back-throat warmth you get from the ginger.

Garnish with fried onions or garlic pieces, if they happen to be in your pantry. If not, just dive in and slurp while it is piping hot.


Notes


If you forgot to soak the lentils or the glass noodles, the only way to rectify is to increase the cooking time.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Gaw-bi-thoke - classic burmese cabbage cole slaw

Ok, back in January, Huffington post released an article, casting a long-over due spotlight on Burmese salads. My face brimmed up, as if I am Amy Shumer with a class of Chardonnay.  Yes, the world domination is here – Burmese food goes mainstream now.

Back in Myanmar, our family eat salads as a part of our daily meals along with curries, rice and soup, rather than as a bowl of self-deprived and monotonous leafage as a promise to achieve a better health. In fact, the salad culture is quite popular in Yangon, a bustling city of Myanmar where I grew up in. My fondest memory of Burmese salads was eating with my second eldest aunt at a roadside salad bar, draped in sun-bleached vinyl blue sheets to get shelter from the unforgiving tropical urban heat. (I used the word “bar” specifically because the experience actually felt like I was at a crowded bar at a club, where I have to use sign languages and yell to get some attention. There were usually one or two “salad masters” at the salad bar, with ten people shouting simultaneously on their orders.)  



We would sit on the flimsy little plastic stools, so stained beyond the point of recognition for the original color. Being a plump kid, I should have known that the scenario of these chairs breaking under my gluteus, while I was munching, was imminent. After the day did finally happen, I practically adopted a ritual to test out the supportability of these chairs by sitting-halfway as if I were a master of levitation in Chinese martial arts movies. My aunt, despite a lot heavier than me, trust the luck and sit whenever she lays her eyes on, yet nothing happened to her. Well, life has taught me a different lesson to me than my aunt – luck fails – paranoia ensues.



I know Burmese salads are good eats, but my love for them gets amplified only after I moved to the United States. It has less to do with nostalgia, and more to do with the fact that I honestly think Burmese salads are just…well...better.  Ok, before I defend myself from making this statement, allow me to explain what a Burmese salad is. A typical bowl of Burmese salad minimally has to have one main vegetable, broken peanuts, shallot-infused oil with bronzed fried shallot pieces, powdery chickpea flour, grainy dried shrimp powder, pungent fish sauce and lime. Then, you toss together with hands briskly enough to give vegetables to go from tensed to massaged, yet patiently enough to coat each shred with the dressing (In fact, in Burmese, salads are also called lat-thoke, which literally means “mixed with hands”).

The addition of chick pea flour and dried shrimp powder to the salad is the probably the best kept secret for Burmese salads. They serve as umami-packed glue that literally brings all the components together, giving you intense savoriness every bite. Furthermore, they add a layer of textural complexity to the dish. You have crispness from the vegetables, crunch from the broken nuts, contrasted by almost pasty dressing.  Burmese salads are quintessential examples of the cliché – how everything jives together to create something larger than themselves. Finally, I enjoy the free-spirit of Burmese salads – you can add, substract or substitute almost anything. The world is your oyster.



I have been making this salad at least one a week, and order it religiously whenever I happen to be at a Burmese restaurant in the United States, where the chairs are stronger, and the roof is metal. A boy can finally savor his bowl of happiness without any fear of falling. That’s quite a blessing!



Serves: 3-4 people
Ingredients
  • 0.75 lbs. of shredded cabbage (organic preferable)
  • 2 tbsps. of toasted chickpea flour (see the notes below)
  • 2 tbsps. of fish sauce
  • 2 tbsps. of dried shrimp powder (see the notes below)
  • 2 tbsps. of shallot-infused oil (with shallot pieces and all)
  • 6 tbsps. of peanuts 
  • 1 cup of chopped cilantro
  • 1 lime (or more if you like more sour)
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions for shallot-infused oil

This is the quickest way to make shallot-infused oil. Although this is definitely not authentic, it indeed tastes like home to me.

Heat up one cup of olive oil (NOT extra virgin) under medium heat. When the oil becomes hot-ish (Not smoking), pour in one cup of fried onions (I used Trader Joe’s brand). Reduce heat to low, and let the fried pieces bubble away in the hot oil for about 10 min. Let it cool in a separate bowl, and store in an airtight jar. It should last for a month.

Directions for the salad

This recipe is the most basic Burmese salad. You can add or substitute with anything you desire or your fridge has. I try to get the best green or red cabbage I can find, since I am eating it raw. Shred the cabbage finely with a sharp knife, making sure that the shreds are about 2 inches long.

Using mortal and pestle, break down the peanut into smaller pieces. You don’t have to grind them to the ground. What you want is an uneven mess of varying sizes for a maximal textural contrast. In away, we are ordered to be messy, and let’s savor that.

In a largest bowl you can find, combine everything and toss with hands until everything is thoroughly combined. Taste, and add more salt or lime according to your taste. The dish can be made up to one day in advance, and in fact, the flavor develops even better that way.

Notes

Almost all asian supermarkets should have dried shrimp. They usually come in package, and I grind myself with food processor. 

Chickpea flour can be found in any specialty food stores, such as Wholesfood. Toast gently under medium heat for 5 min before using to accentuate the nuttiness.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

4-ingredient non-churn ginger ice-cream

Dessert is tricky when throwing dinner parties in California, especially after New Year, when people decided to go to all sorts of diets, including but not limited to all-protein diet, nothing-but-carbs diet, no-exercise-just-drink-water diet, mid-Florida-bikini-diet, South-Texas-cowboy and so on and forth. For me, dessert is sort of like the ex that you still have feelings for. We all kind of wish that the person is not there, but wag our tails vehemently when he/she finally appears. Don’t get me wrong – I am all about rewarding myself with something sweet after tirelessly finishing a heavy meal. But, I am never a big fan of a tooth-achingly sweet dessert that will make me full to a point of utter regret. I have done this before and it was not fun.

I believe everything in life is all balance, and one-dimensional Mr. sweet-all-the-time will bore me in two bites. What I want in my ideal dessert is a sharp contrast of sweet with other strong and exciting flavors. This is exactly what this non-churn ginger ice cream delivers – the cold and sugary cream is balanced out well with warm and spicy ginger. When you take a spoonful, you are initially focused on the satisfying sweet and cool sensation, immediately followed by citrusy spiciness from the ginger at the back of the mouth. Eating this ginger ice-cream sort of feels like sucking on reversed sour-patch kids, except that in this case, I can first appreciate tamed sweetness, before savoring a tad-bit-more dangerous spicy warmth.

If I can slurp on a bowl full of ginger ice cream on my couch while watching 30 Rock, I say my life cannot be any more perfect. Drama and exes - optional.



Ingredients
  • 1 ¼ cups of heavy cream
  • ½ of 14-ounce can of condensed milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons of grated ginger (make sure to read the instructions below)
  • ¼ cup of ginger tea syrup (I use Haioreum brand)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of ginger powder
     Makes about 1 Quart

Directions

Whisk the heavy cream until the white peaks softly stay upright on the cream surface. Please do not over whip the cream - what you want is a soft cradling mountain rather than a hard unyielding white fat pile.If you are whisking by hand yet you have a strong aversion towards any physical labor like me, whisk on top of cold water to speed up the process.

Fold in the condensed milk gently with a spatula. Pour in the ginger tea syrup, ginger powder and grated ginger, and whisk again lightly until everything is combined. 

Note on ginger: I like to skin my ginger using a teaspoon, and freeze it before grating it. You will not only find the process a lot less cumbersome, but also be rewarded with spicy snow rather than fibrous wet mush. I recommend a minimum of one tablespoon, but if you are a daredevil and like to put more, please do not let me stop you.


Pour the smooth cream into a 4-cup (or 950 ml) glass Tupperware, and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight. I like to eat mine with even more drizzle of ginger tea syrup. The good thing about this recipe is that you don’t have to leave the ice-cream out to soften before serving.