Friday, May 4, 2012

My Thai

I grew up eating Asian food. Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, you name it, I had it.  My mother always claims that she is half Puerto Rican and half Chinese and will drop everything for an extra-large, extra spicy, jumbo fried rice from her favorite take-out restaurant, Mayflower, in Chicago. 

I don't often cook Asian dishes, but when I do, I reunite with something that was a persistent part of my childhood. I learned to use chopsticks at the age of 8. One of my little sisters did when she was about 4. I remember crunching on fried thai vermicelli eggrolls, sipping egg drop soup, licking my fingers after finishing sweet and savory glazed chicken wings at Great Seas restaurant down the street. I remember eagerly picking off pieces of chicken satay from the stick, and I remember the day our favorite Thai restaurant closed down after decades of business. I remember the first time I tasted Korean kimchi, just one bright vegetable among numerous tiny bowls of spinach, carrots, and other appetizers as we celebrated my mother's graduation from college. I remember the white, overflowing cartons, the swirls of oil left at the edges of empty plates,  the scramble to get the refrigerator in hopes of maybe, just maybe, savoring the last morsels of last night's dinner. 

So when I create in the kitchen and I have the privilege of creating Asian dishes, I do it with pride, with anticipation.  I break out the chop sticks, dipping bowls, dipping sauces, the serving plates, the wok, the hot pepers, oils, and just sink into nostalgia. I'l never forget the first time I molded japanese dumplings or the first time I mixed thai tea. 

I won't soon forget what I made this night and yesterday's either. What do you get when you have on hand thinly sliced beef, juicy, sweet bell peppers, emerald green beans, and a handful of skinny thai peppers? Beef with String Beans (and you thought it was going to be something complicated). And for tonight, heady, spicy, ginger chicken. 

Beef With String Beans
Ginger Chicken

Beef With String Beans
~Serves 4~
2 T oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb thinly sliced beef (milanesa style)
3 T fish sauce
1t soy sauce
1 T sugar (or a nice sprinkle with the fingers)
1 orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 t ground white pepper
1 lb (2 cups) string beans, rinsed, ends trimmed and beans cut into one-inch pieces
3 Thai peppers, rinsed and thinly sliced (keep seeds for lots of heat, remove for no heat)

Heat large skillet or pan over medium-high heat (6 on my stove). Add oil and garlic. Saute garlic for about 30 seconds, stirring rapidly.

Add beef, saute until done, approximately 7-8 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook until green beans are tender, approximately 10-12 minutes.
Serve with steamed jasmine rice and dumplings (try Tai Pei chicken dumplings in your supermarket's frozen food aisle--super easy and delish. Add a little chili oil to the dipping sauce included in the bag).

Ginger Chicken 
~Serves 4~
2 T oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T fish sauce
1 T oyster sauce
1 T sugar (or a nice sprinkle with the fingers)
Pinch ground white pepper
1/8 cup slivered, peeled ginger root
1/8 cup each sliced red pepper, sliced yellow pepper, onions

Heat large skillet or pan over medium-high heat (6 on my stove). Add oil, chicken, and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir fry for about 3 minutes more.

Serve with Japanese Cucumber Salad:

Japanese Cucumber Salad
~Serves 4~
3 medium cucumbers
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1t sugar
1/4 t salt
2 T toasted sesame seeds (heat small skillet over med heat, add seeds and toast, stirring frequently, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Should be nice and golden brown). 

Peel cucumbers lengthwise so that beautiful, wide ribbons are formed. Scrape seeds off, if so desired.
Combine vinegar, salt, sugar in small bowl, whisking to dissolve. Add cucumbers and sesame seeds and toss.

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