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Volume 41 Issue 7 • June 23-29, 2011
now in our 41th season

Asian Inspirations

by Jenn Farmer - Chef and Food Fancier

The other night I was ravenous.  I was having a friend over for dinner, and I had no idea what I was going to cook.  Surprisingly I got inspiration for that evenings meal from a tale I read to my son.   The story is one of my favorites.  I remember my father reading it to me as a kid and I could not stop looking at the vivid illustrations.  It is called Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like (Williams & Mayer, 1976).  The setting is ancient China, when wild horsemen were notorious for invading cities, causing a great deal of destruction and mayhem.  In an effort to save their town, the Mandarin and all his top officials, pray for a dragon to come help.  Since everyone had their own impression of what a dragon looks like, no one believes the dragon when he comes to help out.  The only person who gives the dragon respect is a lowly street sweeper.  He gives him kind words, and shares his only food and drink with the dragon.  The street sweeper’s kindness saves the entire city.  It is funny, beautifully illustrated and has some really good morals.  As I read the clever book, I began to crave Asian cuisine.  I thought of Dragon well tea instead of dragons, and steaming bowls of rice, noodles, and vegetables.  Thoughts of ginger and scallions filled my mind.  Finally I had an idea, and more importantly, the ingredients to pull it off.  Dinner suddenly was inspired, and felt a lot less like a chore after an already long day. 

The grill was hot, so I rubbed some country style pork ribs (bone in) with garlic, ginger, black pepper, and a touch of oil.  I put them on a moderately high grill, and cooked them to medium (pink and juicy in the center).  I proceeded to slather them with Thai bbqing sauce, and let them go for just a few minutes more.  I like my pork cooked medium to medium well, though I have been known to eat it medium rare occasionally.  Many cooks fear serving and eating pork that is cooked less than well done.  With modern freezing capabilities, pork is much safer to eat than in the past, since trichinosis is killed by the extreme cold temperatures.  In fact most chefs consider medium rare/ medium the norm for serving pork in restaurants today.   If you don’t feel comfortable cooking pork less than well-done, I suggest substituting beef, or lamb chops.  In fact, duck would pair nicely with the sauce.

The side dishes were equally impressive.  The soba noodles with peanut pesto, and fresh herbs were very good, and worth the minimal effort to make.  To round out the meal we had a crisp vegetable salad which was a nice contrast to the spicy Thai barbeque sauce, and the great with the pasta dish, and the flavorful pasta salad. 

Thai Barbeque Grill Sauce

  • One half tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 cup Vidalia or sweet onion, medium diced
  • 2 Tablespoons ginger, minced
  • 1 cup mandarin orange or tangerine juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 lemon, freshly squeezed
  • 1 lime, freshly squeezed
  • One and a half teaspoons chili garlic sauce
  • One quarter cup honey
  • One half cup tomato juice
  • One cup plum or apricot sauce
  • One half cup hoisin sauce
  • One half cup rice wine vinegar
  • One half cup tamari
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • One bunch cilantro chopped
  • One stalk lemongrass, chopped
  • One half teaspoon, chili powder
  • Pinch salt and fresh black pepper
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons strong black coffee (optional)

Sauté the onion in the sesame oil on low heat until lightly browned.  Add ginger and cook for about 6 minutes over low/medium heat.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Cook for about 20 min., strain.  Then reduce for about 15 more minutes.  Cool, and refrigerate, until ready to use.  Yields a little over 2 and half cups.  This sauce is delicious on Beef, pork, duck, lamb, or salmon.

Peanut Pesto with Asian Style Noodles

  • 1 cup unsalted roasted peanuts (cashews or walnuts can be substituted)
  • One half cup lite sodium soy sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons hot sauce ( I like sriracha or Tabasco for this recipe)
  • One quarter cup honey
  • One half cup of water
  • 3-4 garlic cloves minced
  • One third cup roasted sesame oil
  • One pound buckwheat soba or other Asian noodle
  • One half cup scallions thinly sliced
  • One quarter cup cilantro, lightly chopped
  • One tablespoon mint, chiffonade

Boil a big pot of salted water for the pasta.  Meanwhile, pulse the peanuts in a food processor, or blender until they are finely chopped.  Slowly add the soy sauce, hot sauce, honey, water, and garlic.  Continue to blend or pulse, until relatively smooth.  Add sesame oil slowly to make an emulsion, stop and scrape sides frequently. 

Cook the noodles according to package instructions.  Toss the warm noodles with the nut pesto, and garnish with the fresh scallions, cilantro and mint.  Serve with extra garlic chili sauce if you enjoy more heat.  Add steamed broccoli, carrots, peppers and snow peas for a nice variation.  Serves 4-6

Crunchy Asian Salad

  • One cup carrots, grated or julienned
  • One cup cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 sprigs cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • One half of a lemon juiced

Lightly toss together with all remaining ingredients and enjoy. 

It would be a shame to forget my favorite part of the evening. As the sun sank over the horizon, when we ate juicy, sticky, sweet pineapple slices.  To accompany the tropical fruit I made a refreshing adult beverage from chilled sake and green tea.  The citrus vodka, gave the martinis an aroma reminiscent of orange blossoms.  The tea and sake made me think of misty green mountains and ancient drawings of playful or fierce dragons in the clouds.  It was a great ending to a very hectic and uninspired day.   

Sake-tini

  • 2 ounces green tea, brewed strongly, and chilled
  • 6 ounces cold sake
  • 2 ounces orange or lemon vodka
  • 2 teaspoons honey or simple syrup
  • Twist of orange or tangerine

Shake all the ingredients in a chilled martini shaker; drink as a martini or over a little ice.  Garnish with a twist and enjoy.  I have also made this with jasmine tea, it is quite delicious.   Makes 2 drinks

 

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