ต้มข่าไก่ (Tom Kha Gai) is a popular coconut milk based soup in Thailand and Laos, and one of my favorite Thai dishes. The Lao version uses dill instead of cilantro (coriander), which makes an interesting difference. I stuck with cilantro (coriander) for this recipe. The combination of savory, spicy and sour is just perfect. It uses ingredients that may be difficult to find in some places, so I have included substitutions in the recipe below. Once you have the ingredients it is unbelievably simple to make!
Hi everyone. Just wanted to give an update on my constantly evolving photographical endeavors. I have been researching, website building, and preparing to launch a local business to offer food photography services to restaurants , cookbook publishers, and caterers. I still need a few things (mainly lighting equipment) before I start trying to attract clients. In the meantime, check out the website @ www.mediumrarephotography.com I learned a ton making this website, and it took many hours, but it is finally presentable.
I always love visiting the family in Santa Barbara, and I always try to cook up one meal for us all to share. For this visit, I decided to visit the new seafood purveyor in town, where the scallops caught my eye. Wanting to put an East -Asian spin on the dish, I picked up some edamame, which I absolutely love, and often eat as a snack at home.
I have never marinated scallops and though this would be the perfect time to try it out! I used a mixture of soy, ginger, rice wine vinegar, and sugar, my go to Japanese flavor combo. I only marinated for about 3 hours as the scallops easily absorb liquid. I made an emulsified butter sauce with the same mixture for the edamame, which was outstanding!
I also pickled some beets and carrots to cut through the salty richness of the scallops and beans. The end result was fantastic and everyone raved about the edamame! Find the recipe below, and if you can’t get (or afford!) fresh scallops, this would work well with anything from chicken to beef.
Bone Marrow can be a very polarizing dish. Some people will drool at the mere mention, and others are repulsed at even the suggestion. While it is not something I get the chance to enjoy often, I definitely fall into the first category. Seeing how bone marrow is rather hard to come by if one doesn’t have a good butcher in town, I decided for the latest family get together to do a veggie-centric (though decidedly NOT vegetarian) representation of bone marrow.
The dish centers around daikon, cut into small cylinders and hollowed to resemble a cut of bone. These were then soaked in bacon fat and baked to al dente. I used pureed beets cooked with white wine vinegar and rendered beef fat for the (marrow) filling. This lent the richness and fatty mouthfeel of real marrow, while maintaining a fresh pop from the beets and tangy vinegar.
I can’t recall how the idea came to me , but there are a number of similar recipes floating around the net. This one however is my own creation, and resulted in a really colorful and eye-popping presentation. Find the recipe below, and try it out for your next dinner party. The animal products CAN be omitted, but where’s the fun in that?
Faux Bone Marrow
A veggie-centric, but not entirely vegetarian representation.
Add cubed beef fat to a small, deep pot. Cook over low heat until rendered and light brown (30-40 minutes)
Cut the daikon into 3-4 inch cylinders and hollow out the middles with an apple corer (a paring knife will work too). Rub with bacon fat until well covered, season with salt and pepper. Put in a preheated 425 degree oven for 25 minutes.
Cube the beets and add the vinegar, cream and sugar to a pot, add water to just cover. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until tender with a fork. Season with salt and pepper. Blend well and keep warm for service.
Check the daikon, it should retain some firmness, while developing some delicious browning on the edges. When done, sprinkle outside with parsley.
Combine the rendered beef fat with the beet puree.
Spoon and swipe puree onto small appetizer plates. Place daikon cylinders on top, and pipe or spoon in the puree.
Kathmandu had been, for lack of better words, a life affirming experience. Opening the door to the taxi, departing the Suwal Mansion was a difficult decision. I felt so grounded, I truly did not want to leave.
The airport was predictably chaotic. And the line for immigration was both snakelike in length and snalelike in pace. An hour later I finally made it through immigration and security. I had to run to catch the bus which had thankfully waited for me on the tarmac. I boarded the plane and did the usual routine of showing my boarding pass to the stewardess. I gave her an inquisitive stare when she pointed me to the first, big, cushy chair on the plane. A second look at my boarding pass confirmed I was in fact seat 1A. Many fellow travelers will be aware of the fabled “upgrade”, much discussed, but rarely experienced. Not only had I been upgraded to business class, but I also had the window seat facing the Himalayas on one of the most stunningly gorgeous flights in the world. What had I done right to deserve this?
So many people think Kathmandu is way up in the mountains, which it’s not. Here’s a good shot to show perspective.
The view was indescribable.
I was acutely aware that India was going to be more chaotic, more dirty, and more frustrating than Kathmandu. I had formulated a rough plan for destinations, but hardly had a set itenerary. I had booked a hotel in new Delhi, without doing much research, aside from a glance at tripadvisor. I would soon learn that this was to be a rather terrible decision.Pahar Ganj, by the quick skimming I had done on the internet, was referred to as the “backpacker area” of New Delhi. I was soon to learn that the term “backpacker area’ held two completely different meanings between Southeast Asia and India. The street was a psychedelic maelstrom of rickshaws, neon, and burnt out hippies sipping tea in darkened alleyways.
My hotel was central to this madness. I stepped out of the taxi, as he helped me with my bag from the trunk. I reached for my wallet… “No! don’t show any money here! We must go inside the hotel first.” The words “Welcome to India” were all too apparent in my mind. My time in Delhi was interspersed with frustration, boredom, and thankfully one night of enjoyment. I had reconnected with an old classmate from Le Cordon Bleu Bangkok who was a Delhi native. Arjun and I were not particularly close when studying in Bangkok, but our mutual love for food, along with his hospitality, and willingness to show me another side of Delhi made for a great night.
After a walk through a park, we headed for a few drinks, and discussed the gastronomic options of the evening. I had read about a famous reataraunt, Karim’s, which was located near the oldest mosque in India.
We parked in a makeshift parking lot, “fly by night parking” as Arjun referred to it. The restaraunt was a few blocks down the road, and we were soon immersed into a street scene which seemed right out of Pakistan. Aside the largest mosque in India was an Imam bellowing political rhetoric relating to the upcoming elections. If nothing else, i knew this was going to be an extremely authentic meal.
Karim’s was celebrating it’s hundredth year in business, and as we walked in the dimly lit hallway,
Note Karim’s Great Grandson, top left.
the first thing we saw was Karim’s great grandson overseeing the preparation of an array of various curries in large silver cauldrons.
Scenes like this let you know you’re in for a truly special meal.
Karim’s serves strictly Halal food, and the clientele, hundreds of people on any given night, are predominately strict Muslims. The cover of the menu was a picture from Time magazine, which named Karim’s as one of the best restaraunts in Asia.
You can read all about it if you click for fullsize.
The menu itself only consisted of 3 simple pages, which in my opinion is always a good sign, as any restaraunt that tries to create too many dishes, often fails in upholding quality. One item that immediately stuck out from the menu was Goat Brain Curry. I jokingly suggested it to Arjun, who said he was a big fan. We ordered a huge array of meats, breads, kababs and of course goat brains. Up until this point I had been quite careful about what I had been eating in India, but considering this restaraunt had been in business over 100 years, I was pretty confident that I would be safe.
From Bottom: Mutton curry, Goat Brain curry, and Chicken Biryani.
The curry itself did not differ in appearnce from any other. The oily orange-brown sauce covered up the real treats within. With the confidence instilled in me by the beer earlier that evening, I scooped a spoonful onto my chapati (indian flat bread) and lifted the previously semi-conscious matter into my mouth…. I had no idea what to expect, aside from the vaguely disconcerting description of “creaminess” which I had previously read about…. I say this without any boastfulness that accompanies eating exotic foods, GOAT BRAIN IS DELICIOUS! I put aside any mental (hehe) associations, and just savored the texture and flavor. I’ve since been trying to find a worthy comparison to relate the texture to. The best I can come up with is…. a mixture between Foie Gras and Ricotta Cheese…. I am so sorry as I know this will not contribute to many of my readers partaking in brain curry in the future. All I can confidently say is, if you are in Delhi, please do not pass up the opportunity to visit Karim’s, and if you are even the least bit adventurous, go for the brain curry. Live a little
Thali, literally translated in Nepalese in Hindi as “plate”, is a platter of various dishes in small bowls which varies from region to region in South Asia. The platter almost always centers on rice, dahl (lentils), and a starchy bread which is dependent upon the restaurant or region. Other than that, the dishes can be a wide range of curries, veggies, meats, and sweet components such as yoghurt with honey.
This particular Thali was ordered on the lakeside of Pokhara, and consisted of freshly caught fish curry, dahl, curried potatoes, mango achar (fermented pickled mango… blargh), rice, sweet fresh yoghurt and papadam, which is a flat crispy bread made with gram flour and regional spices. I am continually amazed at the cheapness of amazing food here. This was a nice restaurant on the lake, and all this food was about US $3….. haha heaven!
According to my Nepali friend this was “OK” Thali. I thought it was amazing!
Any trip to Thailand would be remiss without having at least one plate of Som Dtum. Som Dtum literally translated means “pounded sour” with the word “dtum” being onomatopoeia for the sound created by the mortar and pestle when the dish is being prepared. As with many of the world’s greatest dishes, Som Dtum began as a peasant food, which used the limited range of ingredients available in the region. Thailand is world renowned for utilizing very intense and contrasting flavors, and Som Dtum encompasses nearly all these flavors into a concentrated salad that is absolutely bursting with flavor. There are as many versions of Som Dtum as their are villages in Thailand, and some can be far too strong for the typical western palate. These more “fragrant” versions use ingredients such as fermented crab (Bpu Kem) and fermented fish paste (Pla Ra). These ingredients are an extremely acquired taste, one I am definitely yet to acquire. The most popular version amongs foreign travelers is Som Dtum Tai, and will be the focus here. Som Dtum is traditionally eaten with glutinous rice (sticky rice) which is eaten by hand and used to soak up the liquids that come from the salad. Another popular accompaniment is Gai Yang, which is Thailand’s answer to barbecued chicken. I chose to buy some fresh mackerel from the local street market and deep fry it to accompany my plate. What follows is a recipe for Som Dtum Tai. Some ingredients may be rather difficult to acquire depending where you are. Green papayas in particular are quite uncommon, and can be substituted by green mango, or even cucumber.
As much as I would be able to say about the beauty and absolute aesthetic perfection of the seafood available here, I think just a small description will do these pictures justice. Again, the most striking thing about this market was the complete lack of any smell of fish!
Well I did my best the first morning by arriving at the Tsukiji Fish Market at 5 AM to be in line for the first-come-first-served admission to the tuna auctions. Unfortunately it was all booked out, and you have to get there before 3:30 am to reserve a spot! That’s just not going to happen being there are no trains running at that hour. Instead I chose to go today and browse the open market at a more reasonable hour.
I arrived at 9 am, and found the place absolutely packed. Oh yeah, it’s Saturday… A bit discouraged, but I carried on. I made my way through the crowds at the main entrance and instantly knew I was going to like this place…
Like a kid in a candy store
To be honest I almost shed a tear when I saw this shop.
The employees were super friendly and spoke some English, so I asked them to recommend me a “Santoku”, which is a type of knife around 7 to 8 inches, with a very slight bevel to the blade. It is, in my opinion the most versatile knife in the kitchen. I browsed a number of extremely expensive hand forged knives (one cost nearly $1800!), but being on a budget I settled for a nice carbon steel model which was only about $100. The employees took great care in wrapping it in 5 layers of newspaper, cardboard and bubble wrap, and told me very explicitly “Check-in luggage! Check-in luggage!” haha, thanks guys!
“This is my knife, there are many like it, but this one is mine”
Leaving the knife shop with a beaming smile on my face, I entered into the cramped and bustling corridors of the market. It was an assault on the senses, but the one thing I did not smell whatsoever was fish. Yeah this place is fresh!
The first shop to catch my eye was selling Tamagoyaki (卵焼き), which is a sort of fried egg on speed.
It’s made by folding dozens of paper thin layers of fried egg over one another to create a sort of egg cake. It is typically flavored with sugar and rice vinegar. Every version I have tried before has been way too sweet, but this…. this was amazing! super tender and a perfect balance of sweet and acid from the vinegar.
I continued to politely shuffle and shove my way through the packed crowds in the narrow alleyways. I was offered a sample of some strange form of seaweed I had never seen before. I’m pretty sure it’s rude to refuse anything offered to you in Japan, but that doesn’t matter as I was going to eat it anyway. It was interesting, and very hard to describe, squidlike in texture with a melting finish, sounds horrible, but I assure you it was amazing. I ended up buying some dried seaweed as a gift for friends in Thailand. Thai people can’t get enough of the stuff!
I wanted to try every one of them!
I turned a corner and saw this huge decapitated tuna head on display, and a master butcher doing his dance. Unfortunately he had already filleted the majority of the meat from the carcass, so I didn’t get to observe the true handiwork.
“Waddur Youuu lookin at?”
I was getting hungry after sampling all these new and amazing foods. Of course I was planning on eating sushi here, it’s the freshest sushi in the world! All I needed was a promising looking restaurant. To be honest I had no idea what I was doing, so I did what any confused tourist would do, I looked at the pictures!
If you click and zoom to full size you can read the menu (100 yen=$1)
I was ushered in and blasted by the Sushi chefs yelling “Irasshaimase” or “Welcome” in unison. It was so loud I was actually shocked and just stood there for a minute before bowing half-assedly and going to my seat, pretty sure they’re used to that haha! I opened the menu and was relieved to see English, I was also relieved to see the prices were not astronomical. I browsed the menu and spent a good amount of time observing the chefs in action. The deftness with which they form the sushi is amazing. here’s a short video I took to give you an idea.
Knowing this was going to be a once in a lifetime event, I ordered one of the most expensive sushi platters.
Grand total $45. I apologize for the terrible photo, the lighting was strange.
From left to right top row: Uni (sea urchin roe), Salmon Roe, Tamagoyaki, Tiger Prawn, Unagi (grilled eel with sweet soy)
Bottom row: Maguro (lean tuna), Otoro (fatty tuna, the best!), Toro (medium fatty tuna), Squid, Clam (I think?), and Mackerel.
I’ll just leave this one to the imagination, because I’ll never accurately describe the relish with which I consumed these recently alive fish. I’m pretty sure my knees were trembling. I walked out in a sort of blissful haze, not quite able to make sense of the commotion surrounding me.
Everything after that lacked a certain luster, and I decided I had seen enough for the morning. I needed some decompression time, so I headed back to my favorite little coffin in the sky.