Sunday, April 14, 2013

Get your Asian on....Gangnam style?

 I think everyone knows I have a penchant for Italian cooking, especially, authentic regional Italian...I could wax poetic for-evah.  So!  What is up with this need to go Asian?  I actually love to cook Asian almost as much as Italian.  Fact of the matter, the person I was hooked up with for 20 years didn't like it and would get supremely cranky when I tried to bring it to the dinner table so guess what happened!?  I stopped cooking Asian-style for, yes, 20 years!  Stupid, right?  RIGHT!  So I have been getting my Asian mojo back with cooking classes and various caterings.  As a result, I like to share my knowledge with my peeps so here you go...a few tips on bringing Asian flavors into your food.  First, get thee to an Asian market and spend some time wandering the aisles.  It should smell like old fish when you walk in the door and there should not be anyone who speaks English. You will see everything from the recognizable (soy sauce) to the super weird
(pig uterus, yes, I'm totally serious and no, I don't know what to do with it...yet).  Anywho, you can find almost anything for your authentic recipes and anything to help you add some Asian thang to your cooking.  I rest my case with the pig parts.
Here are my recommendations for making some small inroads into the Asian realm.
  • Fresh ginger.  If you haven't already used this, get some now!  Grated, chopped, sliced, raw or adds the essence of Asia.
  • Fish sauce.  Again, if you haven't tried it, get some now!  I know it smells IS fish sauce after all but used properly, it adds that little umami* that you can't identify in the authentic leaves you asking what is that?
  • Cilantro.  It's not just for Mexican cooking!  It is a critical herb in most Thai and Vietnamese dishes.
  • Daikon.  Also known as a Chinese radish, it is very large, kind of carrot shaped, white tuber that when pickled makes your basic Banh Mi sublime.  Pickling is easy with rice wine vinegar, white sugar and a little salt.
  • Star anise.  Looks like a star, smells like licorice and adds a complex fragrance and flavor to soups and braises.  Short ribs, especially love star anise.
I could go on and on but those are some of my favorites.  I have also included the recipe for my favorite sandwich, a meatball banh mi.  It uses most all of these ingredients and is a true expression of Vietnamese street food.  Speaking of which, Asian Street Food is one of our classes this week.  We'll be making shrimp summer rolls (the top picture) as well as Dan Dan Noodles and more...
Oh and here's the explanation of umami for those of you who have been living under a rock.
*  A savory taste.  Umami is one of the five basic tastes (yes, there were only four when I was growing up, too) with sweet, sour, bitter and salty.  Borrowed from the Japanese, umami can be translated as "pleasant savory taste" or just freaking delicious!  Examples of umami-rich foods are fish, mushrooms, tomatoes and fermented or aged products like fish sauce, soy sauce, etc.
Happy Cooking!

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Vietnamese Meatball Banh Mi Sandwich
Serves 4
¾ lb ground pork
¾ lb ground turkey
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced onion
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp sugar, divided
2 tbsp fish sauce, divided
1/3 cup coconut milk

4 baguettes, split and cut into four inch lengths
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
Sambal (garlic chili paste)
1 – 2 fresh jalapenos, thinly sliced
16 Vietnamese Meatballs, cut in half
2 cups daikon and carrot pickle (recipe follows)
2 cups loosely packed cilantro sprigs (no hard stems)

To make the meatballs:  combine garlic, onion, salt, 1 tsp sugar and 1 tbsp fish sauce and mix.  Add meats to seasonings and mix until just blended.  Do not overmix.  Form mixture into walnut to golf ball size meatballs.
In a small bowl, combine the coconut milk with the remaining sugar and fish sauce.
Preheat oven to 425°.  Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place meatballs on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.  Brush the meatballs with the coconut milk mixture and return to the oven for another 20 minutes until the meatballs are browned and the coconut milk is caramelized.
(Meatballs can be wrapped in foil and refrigerated overnight.  To reheat, place the foil-wrapped meatballs in a 425° oven for 15 minutes.)

To assemble the banh mi:  On a rimmed baking sheet, place the baguette halves, cut side up.  Brush with softened butter and toast until they begin to brown around the edges, about 5 – 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
Combine mayonnaise with sambal and spread on the baguette halves.  Cut meatballs in half and place cut side down on half of the baguettes.   Top the meatballs with the daikon and carrot pickle, followed by a few slices of fresh jalapeno, and a handful of cilantro sprigs.  Top each sandwich with the other baguette half.

 Daikon – Carrot Pickle
1 cup shredded daikon radish
1 cup shredded carrot
½ cup rice wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar

Mix vinegar and sugar until sugar is dissolved.  Add shredded daikon and carrot and toss to combine.  Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes or store in the refrigerator overnight.

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