Tiny #Kitchen, #Culinary Mission: #PadThai

Using the previous tips for making rice noodles, the Pad Thai sauce, and prepping all the portions of the Pad Thai, we can make the full dish.

Ingredients

  • 7 oz prepared Banh Pho rice noodles
  • 1 batch Pad Thai sauce
  • 3 tbsp + 1 tsp peanut oil
  • 5 oz diced firm or extra firm tofu
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 1 tbsp chili flakes
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 oz crushed peanuts (separated into 2 oz and 1 oz parts)
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped into small segments for the base and with leaves cut in half
  • 5 oz bean sprouts (separated in to 2 equal parts)
  • Lime juice

Instructions

  1. Add 3 tbsp of the peanut oil to a wok or large pan. Heat on high until almost smoking.
  2. Add the tofu and fry for about 2 minutes or until golden brown. Make sure to stir frequently so it fries evenly. Adjust the heat if necessary now as it will affect your timings later if they are off.IMG_20140825_202709
  3. Add the garlic and fry for about 15 seconds – it should just start browning.IMG_20140825_202740
  4. Add the onion and cook for about 15 seconds – it should turn translucent.
  5. Add the chili flakes and stir quickly for about 10 seconds.IMG_20140825_202842
  6. Add the rice noodles and stir while frying 1-2 minutes, or until texture has slightly softened.IMG_20140825_203043
  7. Move everything to a side of the wok/pan and add the remaining teaspoon of peanut oil to the empty space. Add the eggs there and fry in the oil until the eggs set.IMG_20140825_203131
  8. Scramble the eggs and cut into small pieces and fold in to noodle mix.IMG_20140825_203332
  9. Add the sauce and stir, continuing to cook until the noodles are fully cooked.
  10. Add the small green onion segments, 2 oz of peanuts, and half the bean sprouts. Cook about a minute or until vegetables just start to wilt, then turn off the heat.IMG_20140825_203532
  11. Add the remaining peanuts, bean sprouts, and green onion leaves. Quickly stir for about 30 seconds.
  12. Add lime juice to taste and serve, letting people add lime, sugar, fish sauce, or chili flakes to their dish as necessary.IMG_20140825_204627

Tiny #Kitchen, #Culinary Mission: #PadThai Prep

One key to a lot of Asian street food is the ability to work quickly. Many of these street vendors are competing with others, and that competition forces recipes that are both delicious and can be made incredibly quickly. This phenomenon also explains things like why you see such high quality pizza at such relatively affordable prices in a place like New York, but less so in other parts of the world. But I digress.

For a recipe like Pad Thai where you are working with such high heat, you have to work fast, or you will very quickly overcook or burn your ingredients. One way to do that is to do all of your prep work upfront. You will often see the Thai food masters able to whip up exactly what they need mostly by look and feel, though for us mere mortals, we need to measure things out in advance to know they will come out right when working this quickly.

I like to create a system where ingredients that I will put in together are near each other so I am ready to simply pick them up and drop them in, going down a line. The order I will be cooking things in is:

  1. Frying the tofu
  2. Frying the garlic
  3. Frying the onion
  4. Frying the chili flakes
  5. Frying the noodles
  6. Frying the eggs
  7. Mixing in the sauce
  8. Mixing in some bean sprouts, some peanuts, and the chopped stalks of green onions
  9. Mixing in remaining bean sprouts, peanuts, and green onion leaves

First, prep the tofu. Try placing some weight on your tofu and placing it between paper towels. You want to start with firm tofu, and remove any moisture possible from it before frying. Once as much moisture as you can get out has been removed, cube your tofu. Pick your desired shape, remembering that the thinner you go, the crisper it will be. I like rectangles that are about 1/2 inch by 1/4 inch by 1/8 inch.

 

Next mince your garlic. I use a healthy dose of about 1/3 head of garlic, or about 5 cloves. To remove the skin easily and to make chopping easier, press the side of your knife down against the garlic first. The skin will come right off after that, and the garlic will have a more flat surface for easier cutting.IMG_20140825_194739

 

To cut the onion, take the skin off, and cut off any stem that might be on the top. All you need to do is cut thin slices in one direction from pole to pole – the onion will then fall apart into tiny slices on its own. Here is a shot of the onion on top and minced garlic below:

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Next, measure out 1 tbsp of chili flakes. I just keep it on a spoon so it is ready to go. I also crack 3 eggs in a cup so I can simply pour the cup in when necessary.

Normally to prepare the peanuts, I would put them in a food processor, or even put them in a ziplock bag and bang them with a hammer. Unfortunately these tools were not in my arsenal in the tiny kitchen – so I crushed them by hand. It is tedious, but simply apply pressure to the center of the unsalted peanut and it will crack into several pieces.

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For the green onions, begin by chopping off the white root. Then chop the stalks off below the leaves. Cut the stalks into 1/4 inch segments and set aside, then cut the leaves in half.

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This prep work is the time consuming aspect of making Pad Thai. Stay tuned for tomorrow where we put everything together, and see how having everything ready to go is so helpful!

Tiny #Kitchen, #Culinary Mission: #PadThai #Sauce

When making Pad Thai, a critical step is creating the sauce. You want to balance flavors perfectly between sweet, sour, spicy and salty. If you are like me and enjoy spicy food more than most, you will want to make sure to not go too far with the spice and add later to your liking. It is common in Thailand to have all of these flavors represented in some way as condiments so you can adjust dishes to your liking. Without further ado, here are the key players in our sauce:

The Salt: Fish SauceIMG_20140826_133633

Fish sauce derives its saltiness from the anchovies in it. It is a savory sauce that really adds to the complexity of the Pad Thai.

The Sour: Tamarind PasteIMG_20140826_133501

Tamarind paste is made from the pulp of tamarind fruit. It is an acidic fruit that adds a sweet-sour component to our sauce.

The Sweet: SugarIMG_20140826_133515

Unfortunately, the tamarind is not sweet enough to provide true balance to the sauce. For that, we need to add sugar until the balance is just right.

The Heat: Red Chili FlakesIMG_20140826_133549

The heat in this sauce comes from chili flakes. I actually don’t add these in at this stage, as I like to fry the flakes slightly in oil when making the sauce to help release their flavor. I generally only add about 1 tbsp of flakes when cooking, as that seems to be the amount other people like. Remember – you can always add more to your individual plate at the table.

Making the sauce

The key to the entire process is balance, and tasting as you go to get the proportions right. To start, measure out about 3 tbsp fish sauce, 3 tbsp tamarind, and 2 tbsp sugar. Mix well and you should have a slightly viscous sauce. Now taste, adding whichever flavor you feel is lacking in your sauce, then mix and taste again until it is balanced to your liking. You should end up with a sauce like this:

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The great thing about this process is everyone has different tastes, but you can account for them here. It also helps refine your pallet to figure out how to balance different flavors against each other, particularly in a sauce like this with so few ingredients where each provides such strong flavors.

Tiny #Kitchen, #Culinary Mission: #Thai #BanhPho #Rice #Noodles

Our next #adventurous meal is #PadThai! The biggest difficulty in making good Pad Thai is that all of the ingredients must be added to a hot cooking pan in a very short period of time, or else some ingredients will overcook. So there is a lot of preparation that must be done ahead of time, before you even turn on the stove. The preparation that will take the most time (but not effort) is the rice noodles, so we will start with that.

In case you aren’t familiar with cooking rice noodles (or rice sticks, as the packaging may call it), they are very different from your typical wheat flour pasta. Texture, taste, and shape are the more obvious distinctions, but they must also be prepared very differently. For our Pad Thai, we made sure to buy dried Banh Pho rice noodles.

Boiling water is too violent for rice noodles, which are much more delicate than other pastas.  Instead, you use lukewarm water for a longer period of time.  Fill a large bowl or pot with your noodles first, then add warm tap water until they are completely submerged.  Set it aside, because you’re going to leave it for about 40 minutes while you handle other preparation, or until the noodles feel flexible but still extra al dente. That is to say, the noodles will easily bend, but will still feel too hard to eat.   This is because the noodles will continue cooking when you fry them later, so you don’t want to fully cook them now. IMG_20140825_194435

 

At this point, you will want to quickly drain the noodles to prevent further cooking. Here is the final product:
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Tiny #Kitchen, #Culinary Mission: #Navratan #Korma

Navratan Korma is a delicacy in India representing the “Nine Jewels” (translation of “Navratan”), who were the nine courtiers of Emperor Akbar in India in the 1500s. This is why there are usually nine distinct solid ingredients in the dish, and why it has such a rich and creamy sauce (as it was designed for royalty).

For this tiny kitchen, ease is key, so I picked vegetables that did not require too much prep work. Specifically, that includes paneer, broccoli, sugar snap peas, green beans, carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms and red bell peppers. I did cheat just a bit by adding a seeded and chopped tomato garnish for a tenth ingredient. Feel free to experiment with others though – pineapple, raisins, and cauliflower are also all common.

Ingredients

  • 9 oz chopped vegetables (e.g. broccoli, peas, bell peppers, etc.)
  • 1/2 tomato
  • 4-6 oz fried paneer
  • 1 batch korma paste
  • 1 c milk
  • 1/2 tbsp cornstarch (for thickening)
  • 2-3 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 c rice (to serve with)

Instructions

  1. Seed the tomato so as to remove the liquid and gritty texture of the seeds when you cook. Cut a hole around the seeds on both sides, and scoop them out with a spoon. You can rinse the tomato in the sink to help ensure your de-seeding is thorough. Finish by dicing the tomato.IMG_20140821_213447
  2. Mix the milk and cornstarch until it dissolves completely and you are left with thick milk.
  3. Heat the oil in your pan on high until a splash of water sizzles, then reduce heat to medium.
  4. Add the paste and cook for 30-60 seconds.IMG_20140824_224307
  5. Add the veggies and mix thoroughly, then cover the pan and continue to cook for about 6 minutes.IMG_20140824_224425
  6. Uncover, then add the fried paneer and mix well. Add the milk mixture and cook until the milk reduces slightly and the vegetables are completely cooked through.IMG_20140824_225253
  7. Turn off theheat, then add the garam masala and chopped, seeded tomato. Mix well and serve with rice.IMG_20140824_225549
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Tiny #Kitchen, #Culinary Mission: #Korma #Spice #Paste

The first and most important step for making #Navratan Korma is to make the base paste, which imparts flavor to the entire dish. In several forms of Asian cooking, a good spice paste makes up the base of your dish that you then add liquid and other solid ingredients to (e.g. meat, vegetables, etc.)

One requirement for making paste is getting all of the ingredients that you have very finely minced, or in powder form. In a small kitchen with limited appliances, there is no blender or food processor, so that means you need to mince by hand, or use powdered ingredients to start with where possible. For the Korma, I used both.

The fresh ingredients I used were ginger and green chili. Why? Because fresh chili and ginger add different dimensions to your dish that you will not get from a powder, add a hint of texture to the paste, and are major components to the paste so there is a bit more bang for the buck relative to some of the other ingredients. If you are so inclined, however, you could use more fresh ingredients, and it would probably improve your paste.

The powdered ingredients used include: cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and a hint of sugar and salt. There are other more exotic ingredients you could certainly add here (I’m looking at you, hing), but again, it would be only a minor improvement over these base flavors listed.

To make enough paste for 2 people, I used half of one chili (serrano peppers work well, but adjust the specific chili to your desired heat level) and about 1/4 inch of ginger. I like it spicy, so I did not seed the chili, but if you prefer things a bit milder, here is how to do it:

  1. Roll the pepper between your hands
  2. Cut off the end of the pepper by the stem
  3. Turning the pepper with the open side down over the sink, continue rolling the pepper in between your hands until all the seeds come out

After you mince the pepper finely, you will want to peel the outside of the ginger. Without a peeler, you can use a knife to do it. Simply make very fine cuts on the outside of the ginger until all the skin has been removed. Tedious, but it works. Mince the ginger finely and throw it in a bowl with the pepper.

Next add all of the powdered ingredients. For this recipe, that means:

  • 1/2 tbsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • pinch turmeric

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Mix everything together well with a spoon. To turn your powdered mix into a paste, simply add 1 tbsp water and stir until you have an even consistency.

In case you haven’t yet – TASTE! This is a super concentrated form of what you will have later, so make sure you taste just a very tiny bit of it, but this is the time for course corrections on any ingredients if necessary.IMG_20140824_222708

Tiny #Kitchen, #Culinary Mission: #Frying #Paneer

You can be #adventurous in your cooking even with a tiny kitchen!  This week we made delicious Navratan Korma, an Indian dish originally reserved for royalty.  For this dish,we will be frying paneer, which you can get at any Indian grocery store, or even make your own if you are feeling adventurous!

First, you will want to cube your paneer. The key here is to have pieces small enough they fit in your mouth, but large enough that there will be a nice, rich interior. The smaller your cubes are, the more crunchy but less chewy they will be. Cubes of about 1/2 inch – 1 inch is a good size to aim for.

In a small kitchen, a deep fryer is probably not an option. We did a shallow fry in our pan which worked pretty well.

First, you will want to heat your oil up over medium-high heat. Peanut oil is a good choice because it has a higher smoke point than something like olive oil, and you don’t want to have to breathe in fumes that linger in your tiny space. Make sure the oil is hot before dropping in your paneer cubes so that your cheese fries in the oil, rather than soaking it up. A good test is to see if a splash of water in the oil sizzles.

When your oil is ready, drop your paneer in. Quickly stir and flip the paneer – we want to fry the pieces on all sides if possible until they are golden brown, but not take so long as to let the cheese over-soften or burn. Here is an action shot:

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Note the brown pieces – you want that texture for all the paneer.

Carefully remove the paneer from the pan and place on paper towels so any excess oil can drip off. You can use this fried paneer in many recipes – saag paneer, matar paneer, and shahi paneer are a few other favorites. Tell us if you get creative and create a fusion dish – I have had some pretty good paneer pizza, and would love to see something like a paneer stirfry on the Ethiopan bread, injera!