Tag Archives: cilantro

Ground lamb curry & FOO Asian Street Food

There’s nothing like the thrill of an Asian food find for an eater like me. Especially when the food is found in Victoria.  In the rain.  On Yelp. When we least expected it.

FOO Asian Street Food (769 Yates Street) is not a fancy place. Like many of its Vancouver Island brethren, this funky hole-in-the-wall demands lining up before you can order and snag a seat. At FOO the seating is slim:  no more than a dozen stools line the perimeter of the order/waiting area.

Emma and I dashed in from out of the rain and were instantly slammed (in a pleasant, food-lover’s-way) by the smell of the place. The air was thick with stir-fried oil, Thai basil, chillies, toasted seaweed and Jasmine rice. FOO’S menu, along with daily specials, were in big print on the blackboard. Reading it was veritable candy to my Asian-cuisine-starved eyes:  curries, noodles, stir-fries, dahls, sweet and sour soups,  and crazy specials like poutine with Szechuan peppercorn gravy or fries done up Togarishi-style with spicy house furikake and fermented chili mayo.

Better still, the woman at the cash taking our order was mean. She had an edgy, crowded city attitude that delights masochistic and hungry metropolitans like me.

We ordered hot fried bread and chutney to whet our appetites along with two local brews: a can of Fat Tug (Driftwood IPA) and a tall bottle of Hoyt Pilsner. IMG_1897

Because our stools were squished near the cash counter, I leaned over, smiled senior-sweetly and asked the Cash Lady if the fried bread contained chickpea flour.

She could barely contain her disgust.

“Chickpea flour?!” she scoffed.  “We’d never do that, ever.” Then she guffawed.

Okay, maybe I should have guessed turmeric.  I know they secretly tuck something into these professionally deep-fried triangles of golden-hued, super moist bread.  Each bite took the edge off our hunger.

Next up, seared morsels of rare, albacore tuna were spread out like a deck of cards over a tangle of cold soba noodles and cucumber ribbons bathed in a sesame-miso vinaigrette.  Pad Thai was ratcheted up a notch with charred scallions instead of plain old green onions.  But it was the Curried Noodle Stir-Fry that stole my foodie heart, with morsels of cha siu bbq pork, succulent shrimp and truly al dente Shanghai noodles. IMG_1900

I lied. It was the Sweet and Sour Pork Belly with tamarind glaze served with spicy green beans that stole all our hearts. Each one of these pork mouthfuls had us groaning, its flavourful fat such a yummy counterpoint to the salty pork.img_1895.jpg

Just below the blackboards manning the open kitchen, two young chefs in black T-shirts slammed, shook, tossed and sautéed non-stop. Working eight unrelenting gas burners on super high, each like a blow-torch, these guys have no time for comments or questions from Plebeians like sweet, little old me. I watched them ladle in sauces, drop in handfuls of noodles, sprinkle fistfuls of shrimp, pork or tofu and slide steaming contents into one big white bowl after another.  It was an endless stream of expert deliciousness overseen by the Cash Lady managing both the line-up and take-out call ins.

“You can pick up in an hour,” she told one caller, “Want it sooner? Try McDonalds.”

Luckily, we experienced no wait. We were at the front of the line both visits and food arrived swiftly.  After the first FOO visit, we started plotting our return, despite the more than hour drive into Victoria over a mountain pass, no less.

It was the Ground Lamb Curry’s fault. I didn’t tell you, dear reader, about its rich and layered meat sauce, redolent with a dozen spices and so superbly satisfying. The blackboard advertised it as “Indian spiced lamb” but it was so much more than those three words.  I swear those line cooks had pulled every flavour out of their toolboxes to create this glistening, gravy infused lamb creation, sweetly offset with green peas, lying on a soft white bed of basmati.IMG_1904

There were four of us all fighting over the Ground Lamb Curry on our second visit. It was a magical flavour equation that I had to recreate in my kitchen.

As every cook will attest, ingredients are 90 per cent of a recipe’s success. I jumped on two packages of frozen, farm-raised ground lamb from the Yesteryear stall at the Duncan Farmers’ Market.  Later, I pounced on fresh, very unwrinkled turmeric root at The Community Farm Store, also in Duncan. My spice drawer had recently been supplemented by a happy, inaugural stroll through Sabzi Mandi Supermarket in Nanaimo. The finishing green garnish would be a handful of mint from the burgeoning mass under our willow tree and another, from a clump of cilantro in the raised beds. (Miraculously, cilantro (fresh coriander) self-seeds here on the island.)

And because I am so humble, I attest that the only difference between my Ground Lamb Curry and Foo’s is me.  I am the final 10 per cent of this recipe’s success.

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Herd Road Ground Lamb Curry with Peas and Mint

This is the same and different from Foo Asian Street Food’s ground lamb curry.

2 cooking onions, quartered

6 garlic cloves

2 inches ginger

2 inches turmeric

Peel and chop onion, garlic, ginger and turmeric.  Whirl into a paste in a food processor, adding ¼ – ½  cup water.

In large frying pan, heat  two tablespoons oil and saute onion paste until golden, about 3 minutes.

In a small mortar and pestle, crush:

1 hot dried pepper

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

½ tsp fennel seeds

½ tsp black peppercorns

1 ½ tsp coarse sea salt

Add to onion mixture and saute 1-2 minutes.

Add:

4 tbsp tomato paste

½ cup coconut milk

Bring to a boil and simmer gently for a few minutes.

Add

2 lbs ground lamb

3 tsp garam masala

Cook on medium heat until lamb is brown.  Add 1 1/2 cups water.  Cover and simmer on extreme low for 20 minutes

Add:

1 ½ cups frozen peas

2-4 small fresh green hot peppers

2 tsp anardhana (dried pomegranate) * optional

1 tbsp lemon juice

¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves

¼ cup chopped fresh coriander

Simmer until peas are tender.  Serve on steamed basmati rice.

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All about eggs

It wasn’t until I was 18 and had declared myself a vegetarian that I learned to love eggs. They were cheap and they were easy. Besides, my mother had gifted me a handy little omelette pan with a Teflon surface and a hinge down the middle. With a little butter, a bowlful of beaten eggs and some grated cheddar, I became a master omelette maker.  You couldn’t really screw up.  I’d cook both sides of the pan until the eggs set, grab the handle and flip right over left to create a covered semi-circle pan with a perfect omelette hidden inside. Voila!

Once I moved to a real omelette pan, without the help of my hinged pan crutch, I discovered the complexity of omelette making. It was the fillings and my overwhelming greed for them, that was my ruin. The more onions, bacon, sausage, veggies and cheese I piled inside, the harder it became to make The Flip.

IMG_2092Truth be told, my problem was the eggs.  I really didn’t like them plain. If I’d practiced with a bowlful of very frothy, very beaten eggs, and had let them slide into a buttery, perfectly heated cast iron pan, they might have had a chance. They just needed time and singularity, so their eggy selves could focus on setting rather than accommodating all those interlopers.

But no.  I wasn’t liking that.

So I moved on to the frittata, which requires no flip and invites a lot of flavour pairings. Tomatoes, basil and goat cheese. Onions, potatoes and gruyere.  Spinach and feta.  Chorizo, sage and fingerling potatoes. The list is endless.  But still, we’re talking eggs which are either perfectly cooked or instantly ruined. The time between the two is a millisecond. I’ve made many a loaded frittata enwrapped in dry, rubbery, unappealing eggs. Ick.

IMG_2088So I moved over to poaching. Again, I was saved by a gizmo.  This time it was my grandmother Nonnie’s poaching pan, a lovely deep, copper bottom saucepan fitted with a rack in which four egg saucers nestle inside.  One fills the pan with water, covers with the egg rack and follows with a lid. Once the water comes to a boil, the hot little saucers are ready to be buttered and loaded with a freshly cracked egg.

Sensible cooks turn off the heat to manage this feat, but I preferred to dab a bit of butter inside each poaching, steaming cup, pick it up and swirl. I’d burnt my fingers doing this for serial years, swearing profuse profanities, believing all short order cookers made similar sacrifices.

egg shot_1_EDIT

Credit: Nick Nausbaum

Then a plumber set me straight.

He had just repaired a toilet upstairs and was passing through my kitchen during a particularly raucous swearing and poaching event. He shook his head and asked,  “You don’t like to use a fork, huh?”

I shot him such a mean look of incomprehension, I’m not sure why he bothered… but he did.

“Here’s how ya do it,” he said, taking a fork and placing the middle two tines into the slot above each flat lifting surface. Woa, the fork became a handle. This mechanical feature had eluded me my entire poaching career with this pan!

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Credit: Nick Nausbaum

“I like my  yolks well done,” he said as he waved the hot poaching cup perilously close   to my face.

I, too, used to like my yolks dry and thoroughly cooked, encased by a jiggly, gelatinous white. But real egg lovers like their yolks runny, seduced by that golden, buttery elixir as it spreads over toast, rice or potatoes.

Thus, the hash.  Nick told me about his recipe the other day. It’s a hearty start to the day and makes great leftovers.  Besides, the pan is loaded with everything but eggs until the last five minutes.  Nick’s Hash needs a big, oven-safe skillet to take on all the ingredients. It must include potatoes to get dubbed a hash and doesn’t have to rely on sausage, bacon or ham. Plus, it stars black beans which call out for other southwest flavours like hot peppers, cilantro and even avocado.

Best of all, the egg cooking portion is a no-brainer. Make room in this hash for eggs by making little wells that can contain their roundness but are forgiving if it’s a bad break.  The eggs will commence cooking the minute they nestle into their wells but they will all come to the finish line at the same time thanks to your preheated oven. Just three to five minutes at 400 F promotes even egg cooking as the cheese bubbles up and turns golden brown.  Because it’s not all about the eggs, is it?

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Nick's Hash

It’s always a challenge to cook eggs for a crowd. Here’s a filling take on brunch that’s easy to assemble and finish in the oven. Sliced avocados are nice on the side.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 roasted Yukon gold organic potatoes, skins on, chopped

1 jalapeno, chopped

10 grape tomatoes, quartered

½ tsp each ground roasted cumin, smoked paprika

1 cup grated Monterey Jack or Cheddar

2 cups black beans

4-6 eggs

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh coriander, finely chopped

Avocado, sliced or cubed

Preheat oven 400 F.

In a cast iron or oven-safe skillet heat oil, sauté onions, bell pepper, potatoes, jalapeno, cumin and smoked paprika for 5 min. or until potatoes are browned. Add tomatoes and sauté until the tomato juices release. Turn off heat. Distribute  cheese and black beans evenly over the surface. With a spoon, create a well for eggs and crack them in. Bake in oven for 5 minutes or until eggs have set.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve garnished with fresh coriander and sliced avocado.

Thai soup heaven

chiang mai noodle soup

It wasn’t until I went to the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai that I appreciated how a single soup can make a destination live forever in your memory. I was in my twenties, backpacking across Southeast Asia with my travelling buddy Anna. We had escaped Bangkok’s sauna bath heat and planned to make Chiang Mai just a quick layover – until we dipped our spoons into the creamy, golden contents of a certain noodle soup.

I swooned. Anna did, too.

Thai Basil

Thai basil

Then we quickly rallied our reinforcements, digging in with chopsticks now, pulling out a tangle of soft, pliable noodles bathed in coconut milk and spiked with a litany of flavours. We slurped and gobbled, one part spoon, two parts chopsticks, making a crazy mess of ourselves, crowded around a makeshift stall, sitting on wobbly stools perched on a dirt floor.

Like everyone around us, we were immersed in our soup, digging out deep licorice Thai basil notes, spiked by the fire of bird’s eye chillies. To our right and left, slurpers stopped only to reach for a lime wedge, giving their soup a slight spritz. We followed suit and could taste fish sauce undertones lift up new, indecipherably delicious flavours.

Limes, basil, green onions and fresh coriander sold in Thai fresh market.

Limes, basil, green onions and fresh coriander sold in Thai fresh market.

It was chicken noodle soup unlike anything we’d encountered from Campbell’s. Every morsel had such a cacophony of flavor. Did someone turn up the volume control on our tastebuds?

***

Here is my rendition. You can prepare everything in advance for this soup, except the noodles- then it’s a breeze to serve as a quick dinner or lunch.

Coconut milk and curry paste

Purchase a 525 ml can of coconut milk- it’s just the right size for this recipe. Be sure to buy my favourite brands of Aroy-D coconut milk and Maesri curry paste, pictured above.

 

Chiang Mai Noodle Soup

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp chopped garlic

1 sweet red pepper, diced

1/2 cup coconut cream

3 tbsp red curry paste

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 lbs. boneless chicken breast, thinly sliced

1 3/4 cup coconut milk

3 1/2 cups chicken stock

15 basil leaves

2-3 chopped bird’s eye chillies

3 tbsp fish sauce

2 tsp sambal oelek chili sauce

1 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

3 tbsp lime juice

1/2 lb Chinese egg noodles

1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander

4 green onions, chopped

In a large pot on medium-high, heat the oil. Add garlic and stir-fry 30 seconds or until golden. Add diced red pepper and stir-fry 2-3 minutes or until tender. Transfer to a plate and reserve.

Open the can of coconut milk and gently spoon off half a cup of the thick cream on top. Using the same pot, warm the coconut cream at medium-high, whisk in curry paste and turmeric and continue to whisk until coconut cream starts to separate slightly and glisten with oil. Add chicken and stir-fry 1-2 minutes or until chicken is browned and covered with paste. Add reserved red pepper and garlic, remaining contents of coconut milk can, chicken stock, basil, chillies, fish sauce, sambal oelek, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes or JUST until chicken is cooked through. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, boil egg noodles for 2 minutes or until just tender. Drain.

Place one-sixth of the noodles in each bowl and ladle over with hot soup. Garnish with coriander and green onions.