Tag Archives: Thai Food

it’s so easy eating green {les culinettes}

In June, I had the honor of hosting les culinettes, the cooking club I’ve been participating in for the past few months. Back then- a whole month ago!- my schedule was just free enough to accommodate a dinner party, but as the weeks fly by and freelance work* and wedding planning have been ratcheting up, blogging has sadly been relegated to the back burner (non-intended food pun, I swear).
*I’ve been developing and testing recipes for holiday food the last several weeks… strange but fun!

But rather than lament my absence here, I’d prefer to reflect on what was a beautiful balmy spring eve with good friends and great food. Our theme was “green”, in honor of fresh green vegetables finally being in the markets. Seems funny to think of it now, with temps in the 90s all week, but in mid-June we were just starting to see peas, asparagus and the like. Several people did use spring vegetables in their dishes, but the menu was surprisingly diverse, with others interpreting the “green” theme more loosely.

I had gotten up at 7am that day to get the house in order; in addition to cleaning, I wanted to hang a few pictures and curtains (nothing like company to get you motivated to do things around the house… I should entertain every weekend, I’d be so productive!). I was a machine all day, with just enough time to start getting my dishes ready as the dinner hour approached. Fortunately the theme wasn’t the only thing that was loosely interpreted, as most of the ladies arrived about 45 minutes after the appointed time, giving me a welcome opportunity to chill in the kitchen with a glass of wine and prep my food a bit more leisurely.

We decided to break up the meal into courses and eat the first round outdoors- it was one of those warm evenings with the barest of breezes, that elusive weather we long for in the depths of winter’s chill and summer’s scorch. The food was sublime, in every way a worthy match for the splendid weather. For appetizers, we had pea pesto and pea hummus on crostini made by Meghan, and a gorgeous grass-green fava purée topped with feta and kalamata olives that Abigail made with favas from her garden. The favas, which we spread on Zingerman’s baguette (only the best!), had the most amazing velvety texture that I was obsessed with, and a little spicy kick.

Also served in the first half of dinner were pieces of flank steak with an uber-garlicky, emerald green chimichurri that Sarah made, and a shrimp dish in a light citrus sauce with basil and capers brought by Amy that I had to force myself to stop eating so I’d have room for the remaining two courses. She had gotten the shrimp at an Asian grocer and they were huge and tasty; their heads lent flavor to the sauce, as well as providing some mid-meal entertainment.

As it got dark, we headed inside as the mosquitoes started to make themselves known and spoil an otherwise lovely setting. Marvin had cleared off our little patio (the previous owners had seen fit to use it as storage for a large pile of logs for the fireplace), and set up a table for us as well as some string lights to lend a bit of ambiance. Thanks hon!

There was a short respite from eating while the ladies chatted in the kitchen and I prepared my dish, mussels in a simplified coconut green curry sauce. We ate those with gusto while waiting for the pasta water to boil for the final course of the evening, Molly’s homemade spinach pasta with peas and asparagus. The pasta had a wonderful chewy al dente texture and Molly shared that she uses a bit of spelt flour in her recipe (note to self for future pasta making endeavors). A salad of cucumber and avocado with lemon, probably the easiest salad in my repertoire and so refreshing in hot weather, accompanied. I put cucumber slices in our ice water, too- a nice change from the usual citrus. (And what can I say, I’m a sucker for a theme!)

Our designated dessert-maker Jess was out sick so we missed out on her green tea desserts (those in Detroit can sample her wares here though), but we were all plenty sated by the end of the meal. It being Friday, some of the ladies had worked that day and we petered out a bit earlier than our usual midnight-ish, but between the food, the company and the perfect temperatures I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Greatly anticipating our next gathering chez Abigail to fête the venerable summer tomato!

Mussels in a Quick Green Curry
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I threw this together on the fly because I had some kaffir lime leaves to use up. Technically the summer months are not supposed to be a good time for mussels, but the ones I purchased were fine. If you’re unfamiliar with purchasing, storing or cleaning mussels, this article is very helpful. This sauce could be used to simmer a pound of shrimp or scallops as well if you don’t want to wait for mussel season again. To make it a meal, just add some rice and a grated carrot or cucumber salad.

2 lbs mussels, washed and debearded
1 large shallot lobe, minced
1 medium garlic clove, minced
6-8 fresh kaffir lime leaves
½ tsp brown sugar
1 cup coconut milk
2-3 serrano peppers or similar green chiles, de-seeded and minced (more if you want it spicy)
a dash or two of fish sauce
about 1 Tbs neutral vegetable oil
a couple Tbs each chopped cilantro, basil and/or mint for garnish (cilantro is essential; the basil and mint are nice touches if you have them. If not using one of the herbs, increase the others proportionately.)

Heat the oil (enough to thinly coat the pan) in the widest and shallowest pan you have that has a lid. Add the shallot, garlic and all but 1 Tbs of the peppers and sauté over medium heat until the shallot becomes translucent. Add the coconut milk, sugar  and lime leaves. Cook at a very gentle simmer for about 20-30 minutes to infuse the flavors, stirring occasionally. If the sauce gets too thick, add a splash of water, or cover the pan to prevent further evaporation. After the sauce has cooked down, season with fish sauce to desired level of saltiness.

Raise the heat to medium high and add the cleaned mussels to the pan. Cover the pan and cook, shaking the pan a few times to allow more even cooking. The mussels are done as soon as they have all opened. (There may be a few stragglers that don’t open; these should be discarded.) Sprinkle the fresh herbs and remaining chiles on top of the dish and serve immediately in shallow bowls with some of the sauce spooned over.

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or 2-4 as a main course.

thai salad with baked tofu & peanut dressing

salad-yellow-bowl-2Ever since a certain someone got some not-so-great numbers back on his cholesterol count, we’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to “eat healthier”.  I have to confess, this is not something that I was super excited about- cooking is often a treat for me, and I want to make whatever the mood strikes me to make rather than have to put a bunch of restrictions on it.  But the truth is that I don’t cook a ton of meat as it is, let alone red meat, so my objection is more theoretical than factual.  We may have to cut back on our bread-and-cheese-with-dinner habit, but I think that can be solved by looking to more non-European recipes for inspiration.  That’s what we did the other night when I whipped up a salad that I first made a couple years ago, around the time we first started dating.  It includes classic Thai ingredients such as ginger, soy and lime to create a punchy dressing that gets drizzled over lettuce, carrots, cucumber, scallions and more.  It all gets topped off with triangles of seasoned and baked or grilled tofu.  It’s almost carb-free, if you care about that sort of thing, and the tofu fills you up so you don’t feel like you “just ate salad” for dinner.  If you want to get fancy, you can make it with grilled shrimp instead of tofu, or a combination of both.  Either way, it’s a great way to get a Thai food fix without getting greasy calorie-laden carryout (not that I don’t love that too!).

Thai Salad with Baked Tofu & Peanut Dressing

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I know the ingredient list looks long, but a lot of the ingredients for the tofu marinade and dressing are the same, and some of the salad ingredients are optional.

For the salad:
1 head romaine lettuce (2 if small), or a bagged salad mix
2 scallions
1 large carrot, peeled & grated
3-4 inches cucumber, seeds scooped out, sliced into thin half-moons
about 1/4 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
2 lime wedges
large handful cilantro leaves
optional ingredients: strips of sweet bell pepper; some very thinly sliced jalapeño (remove seeds & pith for less heat); some thinly sliced red onion; 1/2 an avocado, cubed or sliced

For the tofu:
1 1-lb block extra-firm tofu
soy sauce
all-natural peanut butter (I prefer smooth, but crunchy is fine if that’s all you have)
1 tbs freshly grated ginger
1 large clove garlic, finely minced or put through a garlic press
rice wine (mirin)
Thai or Vietnamese chili sauce (I like the kind with seeds, but you could use Sriracha)
fish sauce (Nam Pla)- (optional for vegans/vegetarians, but it does give that definitive Thai flavor)

noelle-tofu-crop-1For the dressing:
all-natural peanut butter
soy sauce
fish sauce (optional)
rice vinegar
neutral oil such as canola
juice of 1/2 a lime
about 1 tsp grated ginger
pinch of brown sugar
chili sauce (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350.  Slice the tofu into slices that are about 1 cm thick.  Lay them out on a cutting board or other work surface and blot them firmly with paper towel, getting them as dry as possible.  In a bowl, combine about 1 1/2 tbs peanut butter, 2 tbs soy sauce, 1 tsp fish sauce, the grated ginger, the garlic, 2 tbs rice wine, 1 tsp chili sauce and 1 tbs vegetable oil.  Mix until the peanut butter has dissolved into the other ingredients.  Taste and adjust if you feel it needs more heat, salt, sweetness or whatever.  (I never actually measure anything out when I make this, so I’m giving approximations.  Please adjust to your taste.  It’s hard to mess it up unless you make it WAY too salty or spicy, so just add in small increments.)  If the marinade seems too thin, you can add a little more peanut butter- this will help it cling to the tofu.  Paint this mixture on one side of the tofu and place it in a glass baking dish sauce side down; then paint the other side with the remaining marinade.  (the more in advance you do this, the more the tofu will absorb the flavors.)  Bake for 30 minutes, turn the pieces, and bake for another 20-30 minutes or until tofu starts to get a more “chewy” consistency. (If it’s summer and you have the grill going, please feel free to grill the tofu instead of baking it!) Let the tofu cool slightly and cut the pieces into triangles before putting it on the salad.  You’ll have more tofu than you need for 2 dinner salads, but you can make another batch of salad the following night like we did, or just munch on the tofu pieces as a snack the next day.

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While the tofu is baking, chop and wash the lettuce, discarding any tough outer leaves.  Grate the carrot, slice the cucumber, thinly slice the scallions on the diagonal, and prep any of the other veggies you might be using.  In a bowl large enough to hold the lettuce, make the dressing.  Again, I never measure anything, so I’ll give approximations but PLEASE use your taste buds and taste as you go, adding things a little at a time.  I start with a large-ish dollop of peanut butter and mix in 1-2 tbs oil.  When that’s incorporated, add a tbs or so of soy sauce, a few dashes of fish sauce, the lime juice, about 1 tbs rice vinegar, a pinch of brown sugar, and a little chili sauce if using.  Mix well and taste.  It should be a good balance of tart, sweet, spicy and salty.    When you’re done making the dressing, just put your lettuce in the bowl and toss to coat.  Plate the dressed lettuce and then arrange the other ingredients on top to serve.