Last weekend I went with a friend to Hua Nam Grocery in Uptown, where I bought some lovely pak choi, Vietnamese spinach, tofu, and this wicked insane chili paste with garlic she turned me on to and is awesome in a stir-fry. How do I know this? Because I immediately went home and made a lovely stir-fry with all of my goodies. There's not much new to add on that, I used the same method I always use and posted about here.
The only purchase with which I was not thrilled was the Vietnamese spinach. It looked rich and green in the shop and I thought it was just a sturdier version of regular spinach. I am glad I looked it up when I got home, though, because I discovered that it isn't really related to spinach at all. It's actually basella alba and when cooked up has a mild flavor and a mucilagenous texture. Mucilagenous equals slimy, which equals "ick" in my book.
You wouldn't think from looking at it that it would be slimy, would you? Well, you would be wrong. Forewarned, I used it sparingly, and I ended up picking those little bits out of my stir-fry. It might be good for me, but what good is it if I can't eat it?
On Tuesday, my friend brought me a lovely package she put together from some of the things she had bought. I now had some gai lan, which I had used before and like a lot, a couple of stalks of lemongrass, which I have been wanting to try for a long time, and a generous handful of fresh thai chilies, red and green.
What to do with all of this extra bounty? The next day I made another stir-fry that combined my leftover pak choi with the gai lan. I did not feel like making up my usual sauce, so I simply heated the wok, added the oil, added the vegetables, let them cook for a few minutes, then poured in a little chicken stock (to which I added about half a teaspoon - that's how hot it is - of the chili paste with garlic), a dash of soy sauce, and squeezed in the juice from a clementine. When the liquid was hot I added a tablespoon of water mixed with a tablespoon of cornstarch, and as that was thickening everything up I threw in a handful of toasted walnuts.
It was delicious, and took no time at all to prepare, which is a really good thing. I love making stir-fries, but they can often be a bit of a production with all the prep work that is required, since you need to have everything ready before you start. I still plan to do that, but it's nice to know that I don't have to; I can be much more casual and still have a delicious end result.
Now back to the coconut chicken soup. I had used the gai lan my friend brought me, but I still had the lemongrass and the chilies. I remembered that I had some diced chicken breast meat in the freezer from my last roast chicken, and I had a recently-purchased can of coconut milk in the pantry. I decided to improvise a version of Tom Kha Gai. I've eaten it in enough Thai restaurants that I figured I should be able to come up with something close.
And I was most pleased with this first attempt. It's darker than it should be because the only broth I had in the freezer was one last jar of my slow cooker vegetable stock (there's chicken stock simmering on the stove as I write this post, however, so I will soon be flush with fluid). I don't remember what was in there that made it so dark, but it added flavor to the mix as well, so I'm not complaining too much.
As with my spur-of-the-moment stir-fry of the other night, I am so pleased that I am getting to the point where I can create a meal from what I have on hand. I would have loved to add some lime juice and cilantro at the end, but I didn't have either, so I passed on those. And as good as that would have made it, it's quite nice without them.
Home Cookin Chapter: My RecipesCOCONUT CHICKEN SOUPmakes 3 generous servings
3 Tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, halved (into 2 quarters) and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
3 cloves minced garlic
2-3 (less or more depending on your heat tolerance) Thai bird chilies, chopped fine
2 stalks lemongrass, well-bruised with the flat of your knife and cut into 3-inch long pieces
3 cups broth
1 cup water
1 cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar (or to taste)
1 zucchini, sliced
meat from to cooked chicken breasts, cut into 1" pieces
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 bunch greens, roughly chopped
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute for 1 minute, then add garlic, ginger and chilies. Cook until onions just start to turn translucent. Add lemongrass, broth, water, coconut milk, fish sauce, soy sauce and brown sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the zucchini and the chicken to the soup.
In large skillet heat remaining tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add sesame seeds and cook for a minute or 2, until the seeds start to turn brown. Add greens and cook until they are wilted. Remove from heat and add to the soup. Cook 1 or 2 minutes more, remove from heat, and serve.
Exported from Home Cookin 5.9 (www.mountain-software.com)