Saturday, 19 July 2014

Southeast Asian Cookbook Challenge

One of the best parts about travelling is trying the new and interesting foods in other places.  I love to try the "local" specialities.  I've experienced some really amazing foods in my travels, so much so that it would be difficult to pick a favourite country for eating.  Italy was probably one of my favourites - in 3 weeks I can tell you that we had only 3 meals that were not amazing.  The rest was simply over the top.

My other favourite place to eat was South-east Asia, particularly Thailand.  I travelled to Thailand, Malaysia and Laos when I did my "world tour" with Throckmorton & my friend Mya in 1997-8.  The food in Thailand was incredibly fresh & flavourful.  In Laos it could be a bit hit & miss, but there were some interesting options for the adventurous eater (mostly involving unidentifiable meat products.)  The food was so spicy & they were not afraid to put a full measure of spice in to the "Farangi's" (their word for foreigner) meal.  This was the opposite to India, where the food was also great, but I suspect was often toned down for us.

I vividly remember one night eating Som Tum at a market on the Thai-Malaysian border.  Mya and I had travelled down there with our friend Shiela to renew of Thai visas.  All you needed to do was cross the border to get a 30 day renewal, so we went to Malaysia for the night.  By this time we had all become accustomed to the spice & took some pride in how hot we could handle.  Som Tum is Green Papaya Salad, which is widely available at markets & street vendors.  It's prepared fresh & served in a bag with a side of glutinous rice.  All three of us ordered ours "hot" and the vendor happily obliged.  I'm sure he was laughing as we sat there with sweat pouring down our face, tears in our eyes and smoke coming out of our ears, smiling & too proud to admit we'd finally gone a step too far!

In Thailand we did a cooking class in Chang Mai.  We went to the market with our class to buy the food & then we cooked and ate all day.  It was probably one of my top ten fullest days ever.  As in, full stomach.  It was worth it though, and to this day, I can still make a pretty mean Thai Curry (if I do say so myself!)

Cookbook Challenge # 23: Neu Naam Tok (Isaan Steak Salad) from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker

Pok Pok is a fabulous Thai restaurant in Portland, where my sister and her husband live.  It has a casual & slightly hectic atmosphere - sort of like Thailand!  When we were visiting a few years ago we had Steak Salad, which didn't sound like much on the menu, but holy doodle was it good.  Derek devoured it & got another order!

When my sister got me this book for Christmas, I knew I had to try to re-create the magic!

Special basket & pot for preparing sticky rice

Glutinous or "sticky" rice is often served with grilled food and salads.  It is cooked in this awesome basket & then served in cute little baskets (I didn't bring any home, which I still regret to this day!)  It is very sticky and amazingly fragrant.  You smush it into little balls & eat it with your fingers.  Delish.

Red curry with Chicken
I made a curry to go with the salad.  I usually make it from memory, but I decided to use this book for guidance.  (More on this book below!)  Their method was pretty much the same as what  I was taught in Chang Mai & it tasted authentic.  The secret is to separate the thick coconut milk from the thin.  The other secret is lime leaves.

Neither the sticky rice nor the steak salad were very photogenic.  Luckily they tasted great... you can see!

Cookbook Challenge # 24: Som Tum from Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid

My mom gave me this book in 2000.  This and its predecessor "The Seduction of Rice" by the same authors, are the first cookbooks that I remember that were more than just cookbooks.  When I look at the classics - the Joy of Cooking, Best of Bridge etc - you basically have a recipe with a  brief description.  Then authors started telling little stories, such as: "I got this recipe from my good friend so & so who runs a fab restaurant in Timbuktu."  Now it seems that most books have gorgeous pictures of more than just the food, & page-long stories about who/when/what inspired the author.   For the most part I enjoy it, though sometimes I'm irritated that I have to read all about someone's college roommate and the cafe they loved the time they were lost on a road trip before I can get a sense of the food I'm about to make.

This book is a cookbook, a travelogue, and history & cultural lesson all rolled into one.  And the photos are absolutely stunning.  The food & stories featured are from Southeast Asia & remind me of my travels there.

I've been wanting to make Som Tum (Green Papaya Salad) for a while, but it's not easy to find a lot of the ingredients in Squamish.  I've got no shortage of recipes for it - both of the books above have versions.  In fact, the Pok Pok book has a picture of Som Tum on its cover.

I was in Victoria last week & it was easy to find the ingredients.  My mom had the book, so I took a stab at it.  I learned by perusing the net & the book that if you cannot find cooking/green papaya you can also use green beans, yard beans or even apple.

I was able to find green papaya in Chinatown & here's what it looked like:

Som Tum, Grilled Chicken & sticky rice

I made grilled chicken with sweet & spicy dipping sauce to go with it.  It's from the same book, is super easy & very very tasty!

Mom enjoying her meal on the deck

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