Cold Weather Cooking

Hello people! It has taken me longer than planned to blog, but finally, a Saturday arrived where I’m not drowning in job applications or students papers. Hooray!

Since I last wrote, fall became winter, and daylight savings arrived, rudely shortening the days. I’m still getting used to the darkness at 5 pm, which is making me want to eat dinner at 5:30, crawl into bed at 7, and watch Chopped or Gilmore Girls (I’m in a very easy, no-brainer phase of Netflix-watching at the moment. Blame it on the aforementioned job apps).  In addition to bringing out my geriatric tendencies, the colder weather also makes me want warm, soupy, curried things even more than usual, so expect a few recipes in that genre soon.

Finally, today, we make use of the homemade curry paste calmly chilling in your fridge. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten your hard work in making that paste from scratch, and here’s a warm and spicy reward. As always, with a curry, there is a degree of flexibility with the ingredients. Although this is a tried and tested recipe, there will be some variation depending on your own palette, the particular ingredients you use, and the whimsy of the gods. So, taste as you go!  However, I do recommend sticking to the 1 tbsp. of red curry paste since its very, very spicy. You can always add more if you like to clear your sinuses when you eat (no judgment). At this level, the dish certainty still has heat, but is not going to burn your mouth. If things get too spicy, add some more palm sugar, fish sauce, and a bit more water.

Don’t feel obliged to use the same vegetables that I did: simply use whatever you have in the fridge. Green beans, broccoli, tofu, butternut squash, shrimp, or chicken are all fine substitutes. Just remember that you do want a nice spectrum of colors, since the curry itself will be a light gray color and does not scream “DELICIOUS.”

PS–I also want to showcase the wonderful form of palm sugar I found at the Asian grocery store.  Usually, palm sugar comes in a solid chunk and is sometimes hard to scrape out (plus there is a waxy layer on top that you have to remove), I have found these pellets to be extremely useful and user-friendly.  I used one of these nifty capsules for the curry (minor drawback to these is that they are not so great for salad dressings in which you need palm sugar).

palmsugar

prettyveggies
Pick pretty veggies!

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thaicurry

THAI VEGETABLE CURRY

(Modified from Durham Spirit Company’s “Thai Summer Vegetable Curry.”)

Prep time: 40 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients

1 stalk lemongrass, chopped (peel off the outer layers and bang the stalk across its spine before chopping).

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 knob galangal, roughly chopped

1 tbsp. red curry paste

33 oz. or 1 l. coconut milk (approximately 3 cans)

½ cup warm water

4 tbsp. fish sauce

2 tbsp. palm sugar

½ purple eggplant, cubed

½ yellow squash, cubed

½ zucchini, cubed

½ red bell pepper, cut into 2” pieces

¼ cup Thai basil, chopped

Squeeze of lemon

  1. Heat a wok on medium-high heat. In the dry wok (no oil), add the garlic, lemongrass and galangal and sauté for a minute. Add the curry paste and sauté until the curry paste changes color and becomes dark brown.
  2. Pour in the coconut milk, and turn the heat down to medium. Add the fish sauce, water, and palm sugar and bring to a simmer.
  3. Add the eggplant and simmer for 15 minutes, until soft. (This is a good time to put your rice to boil in a separate pot.)
  4. Once eggplant has softened, add yellow squash, zucchini, and red bell pepper and simmer for 5-7 minutes.
  5. Add the Thai basil and a squeeze of lemon. Turn off heat and serve with white or brown rice.

A Hoisin Feast for a Chilly Night

I love hoisin sauce, and this dish is an homage to hoisin.  This soupy bowl of goodness is so satisfying, and its a great thing to make when you are feeling slightly under the weather—like me tonight—when the prospect of pho, my go-to in times of illness, might not be within reach.  Its also perfect on a slightly chilly night, or a day, like today, when the skies drizzled feebly and nonstop.

I had the good fortune of taking a trip to the Asian grocery store (Li Ming) this past weekend and was able to pick up some of my favorite ingredients, including black dried mushrooms and pressed tofu.

dried mushrooms
I love that the brand of mushrooms is “gorgeous memory”

tofu

I know it doesn’t look like much now, but mushrooms and tofu are not the most attractive raw ingredients…

soaking mushrooms
Mushrooms in their soaking liquid

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TOFU AND MUSHROOMS IN HOISIN SAUCE

(Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

Prep and cooking time: 40 minutes

Serves: 2 (with leftovers)

Ingredients

2 dozen dried Chinese black mushrooms

1 block firm tofu, drained and pressed to remove any excess water or 1 block pressed tofu

3 tbsp. sesame oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

8 oz., white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

Salt

Mushroom-soaking water

¼ cup rice wine vinegar

4 heaping tbsp. hoisin sauce

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 small tomato, chopped

3 scallions, chopped at a diagonal

  1. Put water on to boil. Once its boiled, pour it over the dried mushrooms, cover and soak for about twenty minutes.
  2. In the meantime, drain the water from the tofu and press with paper towels to remove any excess water. Cut the tofu into cubes and fry in 1 tbsp. sesame oil in a sauté pan. You want to sear both sides of the tofu, so that the texture is firm with a crunchy crust. (You can skip this step if you have pressed tofu).
  3. Heat a wok or deep pan, add 1 tbsp. sesame oil and swirl it around the sides. When it’s hot, add the garlic and stir fry for about thirty seconds, until fragrant. Add the white and dried mushrooms (save the water) and ½ tsp. of salt and stir fry for two minutes, until the mushrooms soften.
  4. Add the mushroom water and bring to a simmer. Once it’s simmering, add the vinegar, hoisin sauce, sesame oil (1 tbsp.), and soy sauce. Add the tofu cubes, stir everything together, and let simmer for five minutes.
  5. Add the chopped tomato, simmer for another minute, and turn off the heat.
  6. Garnish with scallions and serve with brown or white rice, or on its own.