Tom Kha Gai (Thai Galangal and Chicken Soup) with Oyster Mushrooms

tomkhagai_Galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, coriander root, chilli, lime juice… In this famous soup Thai flagship ingredients’s flavours are perfectly recognisable, one by one, creating a recurrent mixture of sour, salty and hot flavours, embellished with a typical sharp aroma. This dish perfectly illustrates the elegance and sophistication of Thai cuisine one might not necessarily see throughout years of eating sloppily prepared curries, served in so many restaurants in Europe (and maybe elsewhere too).

“Tom kha gai” means roughly a dish with galangal (tom kha) and chicken (gai) and this soup does contain a particularly high dose of galangal root, which slightly dominates it. I have followed here the recipe from David Thompson’s Thai Food (a most extraordinary cookery book I recommend to every Thai food lover) and as the author suggested, apart from the chicken, I added also some delicate-tasting mushrooms (oyster mushrooms proved perfect). (In the meantime I made a test with cultivated button mushrooms (aka “cremini”, when they are brown) and their taste was too strong).

I tried to make this dish as close to the original as possible, but I won’t pretend it is (mainly due to what I did with coconut milk and cream). I have cut down the coconut milk amounts and skipped the coconut cream, replacing both liquids with more chicken stock. The original version was just too fatty and rich for me. (In fact I do this very often in Thaï dishes, just like I cut down on cream and fat in Western cuisine). I have also added more chicken meat and more mushrooms in order to make it a very filling one-course meal, easily served with rice or bread; not to mention the amounts adapted to a dish for two. I encourage you to check the extraordinary David Thompson’s Thai Food for the original recipe.

TIPS: This dish is a good way to test if you are able to cook certain genuine Thai dishes… because its ingredients appear in almost every curry (and I assume curries are what most Thai food lovers try to make at home first). In short, if you can find fresh (or at worst frozen) lemongrass, kafir lime leaves, galangal root and coriander roots, then you are almost ready to buy David Thompson’s book without being utterly frustrated (there are some other products, such as fresh peppercorns, Thai basil, holy basil, grachai, kaffir lime zest… but these aren’t used as often as former ingredients). From my experience, the smallest damage through freezing is done to kaffir lime leaves and coriander roots. Lemongrass and galangal become mushy and the galangal’s taste changes, but it’s still better than using dried versions.

Coriander roots are particularly difficult to get for some people, but I have recently read on a forum a fantastic trick: buying a potted plant in a gardening shop! Of course, if you are able to grow your own herbs on a balcony, windowsill or in a garden, finding roots should no longer be a problem. You can also ask a farmers’ market vendor to bring you next time coriander with roots or only roots (I’m sure many would happily give them for free).

If you use frozen kaffir lime leaves (I can find them here only frozen), double the amount because they are less aromatic (in general, if using frozen vegetables in Thai dishes, I increase their amounts).

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

400 ml chicken stock

250 ml coconut milk

1 big chicken breast (skinned)

250 g oyster mushrooms, tough stalks removed (or other delicately flavoured mushrooms)

7 thin slices of fresh galangal

pinch of salt

1/2 flat teaspoon palm sugar

1 big thick stalk lemongrass or two thin stalks (whole, only the tough end trimmed)

2 small Asian red shallots (I have used 1 medium European shallot)

1 big coriander root

2 red bird’s-eye-chillies + 2-3 more for the final serving stage

2 kaffir lime leaves (if you have frozen lime leaves, see the TIPS)

2 tablespoons fish sauce (or more)

1 tablespoon lime juice (or more)

coriander leaves

Pour the stock and the coconut cream into a pan.

Bring to the boil.

In the meantime wash the mushrooms and tear them into bite-sized pieces.

Slice very finely the chicken breast and sprinkle with salt (do not add too much salt).

Put aside.

Place the shallots, the lemongrass stalk, the coriander root and the bird’s-eye-chillies in a mortar and bruise them with a pestle. You can also do it, placing them on a cutting board and using an ice “pestle” for cocktails (this is what I did) or any other heavy object.

Put aside 2-3 chillies for the final serving stage.

Place the remaining bruised vegetables into the boiling stock, adding salt, palm sugar, galangal and lime leaves.

Let it simmer for about ten minutes.

Add the mushrooms and after 5 minutes, the finely sliced chicken breast.

Continue simmering until the mushrooms and the chicken are done.

Mix the lime juice, the fish sauce, the additional bird’s-eye-chillies and the coriander leaves in an empty serving bowl. Pour the soup over it, stir well, adjust the taste – the author says it should taste rich, salty, sour and hot, though if you have “thinned” the stock, as I did it won’t taste very rich – and serve.

I prefer dividing the sauce, the juice, etc. into individual bowls and then putting the fish sauce and a piece of lime on the table, so that I can still adjust the taste.

Homemade Dried Powdered Garlic

driedgIt’s not really a recipe, but an idea; such an obvious one, I still wonder why I hadn’t had it many years ago. One day I started to season pork for roasting and realised I had run out of powdered garlic, the obligatory ingredient for this roast in my house. This is when I thought about making it on my own. I started by slicing some garlic very finely and ended up with powdered dried garlic ready in hardly twof hours! This homemade version was so superior by its aroma and flavours, I haven’t  even looked at commercial dried garlic since then. I have realised none of my friends prepares this condiment at home and I am convinced everyone should do it, so this is how this simple tip landed on my blog.

If you never use powdered garlic or if you think it’s inferior to its fresh version, think again. First of all, many people digest fresh garlic very badly while the dried version usually doesn’t harm them. Secondly, and this is the way I use it, it’s perfect for all the preparations where raw garlic would burn or wouldn’t cook enough, such as Pork Roast or Curried Chicken Cold Cuts. Moreover, dried garlic is one of the most frequent ingredients of seasoning mixes, used as rubs to marinate meat. Last but not least, apart from recreating a homemade version of commercial dried garlic, this is also an excellent way to use up wilted, half-dead garlic cloves.

Drying fruits and vegetables on your own is an excellent way to enrich your pantry and also to save forgotten produce from the bin, often discovering completely new surprising flavours or textures, so if you are not tempted by dried garlic, here are some other ideas you might like:

Korean Dried Radish in Spicy Sauce

Korean Dried Radish in Spicy Sauce

Home-Dried Apples

Home-Dried Apples

Dried Vegetable Stock Mix

Dried Vegetable Stock Mix

Japanese Dried and Pickled Daikon

Japanese Dried and Pickled Daikon

TIPS: Closed in a jar this dried garlic keeps practically forever, but of course its aroma weakens with time. I haven’t noticed any changes during a month though. The yield depends on the garlic’s water content (the drier and the older it is, the higher the yield of course though moist fresh garlic has a stronger aroma).

Preparation: several hours (depends on the season and on the drying method)

Ingredients: peeled garlic cloves

Slice the garlic finely (I do it with a mandolin) or chop it very finely, but preferably do not mix it into a paste (you can use a small baby food mixer).

Spread on baking paper and choose one of the following methods:

1) the quickest: place the baking sheet in the oven put at its lowest temperature; the garlic should be ready in two-three hours (it has to be completely dry and tough)

2)if you have radiators or a source of heat close to which you can place the baking sheet, place the garlic there and depending on the heating temperature, you will obtain completely dry garlic bits in several hours

3) the slowest: place the baking sheet in a warm place in the kitchen and leave it to dry (it might take  24 hours or more)

4) if you are reading this post during summer: place the baking sheet in direct sunlight, on a windowsill or outside (if you are not afraid of animals eating it).

Once the garlic slices or bits are completely dried (no longer soft), mix them in a coffee or spice grinder. (You can also do it in a mortar).

Store in a closed jar for eternity.

 

 

Korean Kimchi Stew with Canned Tuna and Tofu

tunastewpNot so long ago putting canned tuna into a soup would have never crossed my mind. Yet, together with “scary” tofu and matured, very sour kimchi, it creates one of the most delicious and quickest soups I know. No wonder I now make it sometimes twice a week!

I first heard about this kimchi stew from my friend C.. I must say the first time I read “tuna”, I understood raw fish and found it very surprising its canned version was involved, but my friend was so enthusiastic, I decided to try it as soon as possible. The result has exceeded all my expectations (which, given my friend’s sophisticated taste, were quite high already…). The flavours are so complex, you will find it difficult to believe there is no stock and chilli flakes as the only – moreover optional – seasoning. The canned tuna brings something “meaty” but also slightly fishy (in the positive sense of the word), while the tofu mellows all the flavours and becomes – at least in my opinion – an obligatory ingredient. In short, the mixture of ingredients is just perfect.

If you have never tasted kimchi (김치), it is a Korean preparation of seasoned fermented vegetables, the most popular being Napa (Chinese) cabbage and daikon (white long radish). Apart from the fiery kimchi there is also a mild, chilli-free version, which is however less popular. Kimchi has a very powerful smell, but once you taste it and love it, the smell will never be associated with anything unpleasant (my fellow cheese fans, think here about smelly matured cheese!). It is spicy, hot, sour and, like most fermented vegetable preparations, very healthy. High in fiber, low in calories and fat, it is packed with vitamin C (thanks to the fermentation) and carotene. It also contains several other vitamins, helps digestion, is said to prevent certain cancers… In short: it’s wonder food. Its importance in the Korean cuisine cannot be compared to anything in any European food culture I know.

Kimchi is not only eaten as a side dish, but also – especially at the mature, “older” stage  – put into warm dishes, for example fried rice or… soups. If you have only “young” kimchi, you can also prepare this soup, but older, very sour and strong kimchi will definitely be better here. I have been making kimchi for several years now and – since I prepare the “lazy”, easier version – I consider it one of the easiest things in the world. I no longer weigh or count the ingredients, adding them at random and the result is always delicious, the best flavours being obtained with very fresh and firm vegetables. Here you can see my adventures with Kkakdugi 깍두기, or Cubed Radish Kimchi and Mak Kimchi, or Easy Chinese Cabbage Kimchi)

Going back to the stew, or “kimchi jjigae/chigae”, its traditional version is made with pork and tofu, but of course canned tuna is a perfect emergency, last minute substitution and suits so well this dish, for now I am not tempted yet to try it with pork. Among the numerous sources for this popular recipe I chose the infallible Food and Cooking of Korea by Young Jin Song, one of my best buys among cookery books. I have skipped the shiitake mushrooms and adapted the amounts to a dish for one, so I encourage you to check this fantastic book for the original version. As my own – maybe also crazy – touch, I have sprinkled the bowlful of soup with raw red chilli slices for a fresh additional hot kick. I also like a splash (about one teaspoon per person) of toasted sesame oil added just before serving.

TIPS:

I have chosen to use water here, but the author gives also vegetable stock as an alternative. In my opinion kimchi is so rich with flavours, no stock is necessary, but feel free to substitute with good quality stock, if you have it.

Whether you add chilli flakes or not depends on how hot your kimchi is and of course on your preferences. Apart from the heat, chilli flakes add a beautiful hue and more taste too, so if you like fiery dishes, don’t skip them.

Preparation: about 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves 1):

half a can of tuna (about 60g, drained; I prefer by far the white albacore tuna, but any canned tuna is ok)

1 small garlic clove, chopped

1 teaspoon oil (sesame oil is the best here)

250 ml (about 1 cup) loosely packed, matured Chinese cabbage kimchi, cut into bite-sized pieces + some kimchi juice (I have added about 50 ml)

about 50-60 g (about 1.8-2 oz) firm tofu

Korean medium-hot chilli flakes (skip them if your kimchi is very hot or if you don’t like very hot dishes)

300 ml/ about 10 fl oz water

chopped green onion

(fresh red chilli to garnish, sesame oil)

Drain the tuna and cut up into several pieces (don’t shred it).

Stir-fry the tuna and garlic in sesame oil for 30 seconds.

Add the kimchi (and chilli flakes, if using) and stir-fry it for one more minute.

Add the water, the tofu and simmer the stew for 10-15 minutes.

Sprinkle with green onions and serve. (You may also sprinkle it with fresh red chilli slices and with a splash of sesame oil).

Serve either with bread or steamed rice.

Korean Dried Radish in Spicy Sauce (무말랭이무침)

radishkIn my previous post I have scared or disgusted some of you with black pudding, so now how about seasoned worms? Seriously, this is the first thing I thought while browsing through my photographs… I hope you will believe me these are not animals, but a seriously addictive, utterly delicious dried radish dish, laced in typically Korean hot and sweet sauce.

As you might remember, I am a regular pickler and, in general, a big food preserving enthusiast. Obviously, summer and autumn are the busiest seasons for this activity, but winter is the perfect time to dry fruits and vegetables. You put or hang them close to a source of heat (or leave in a hardly warm oven) and you obtain a homemade delicious product, often saving wrinkled, dying produce from the bin. I have been drying apples, pears and mushrooms for years, preparing my own dry mixture of vegetables for chicken stock… but without Hiroyuki’s blog I would have never even considered doing the same with daikon. I am glad I did because Pickled Dried Daikon (Harihari zuke) proved so delicious, I make sure I always have some dried radish. Now I have another, this time Korean, reason to dry more daikon!

Since I am particularly fond of the chewy and slightly crunchy texture of rehydrated dried radish, I was thrilled to discover a new way to prepare it. The result is so addictive, I feel like having it for every single meal of the day (including breakfast). Hot and sweet flavours with a garlicky kick, combined with the unique texture of dried daikon create one of the best side dishes or vegetable snacks I have ever tasted. If you also appreciate chewiness in food, as well as a mixture of sweet & hot flavours, you will not be disappointed. This dish alone is worth preparing your own dried radish.

I have found this recipe at the wonderful Maangchi’s blog, highly recommended to all those who already know and “practice” Korean cuisine or those who are simply intrigued by it. Maangchi’s delicious and foolproof recipes are also filmed, so you can choose the form you prefer. This radish treat (Mumallaengi-muchim 무말랭이무침) is one of many Maangchi’s banchan (Korean side dishes), which are quite versatile and can also be served with other Asian dishes or as drink snacks. As Maangchi suggests, since it’s quick to prepare and has some of kimchi ingredients, you can serve it instead of kimchi, if you have run out of it. I simply have it with everything… Steam some rice, put a fried egg on top, add some of this radish and you obtain a fantastic meal!

I have slightly modified Maangchi’s recipe, mainly adjusting the balance of sweet & hot flavours to my own preferences. I have also soaked the radish a bit longer because mine was horribly dry. I have changed the amounts, adapting them to my stock of dried radish. Check Maangchi’s original recipe here.

TIPS:

Click here to see how to dry radish and how to prepare the Japanese radish pickles.

If you buy dried daikon, soak it in water 7-8 minutes, just like Maangchi advises. If you have dried it on your own, soak it, tasting every ten minutes until the texture is soft enough to be eaten. (It took me 30 minutes to obtain an edible degree of softness). In general, I advise tasting the radish strips every now and then until you like the texture (some people prefer chewier food, some softer).

Preparation: 20-30 minutes

Ingredients (yields approximatively a 250 ml jar):

2 big handfuls of dried radish strips

1 teaspoon oil

2 tablespoons Korean chilli powder (or other medium hot chilli powder) or more

2 tablespoons delicately flavoured honey, such as acacia (or sweet syrup, such as corn or agave or, as Maangchi suggests, rice syrup)

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 green onion, chopped (I didn’t have green onion and used chives instead)

1 big garlic clove, grated or crushed 

Soak the radish in a bowl of cold water.

Maangchi advises 7-8 minutes only, but she uses bought dried radish, which is maybe not so dry…

Mine was particularly tough, so I soaked it for 20 minutes, until it was possible to eat.

(Check the TIPS above).

In the meantime in another big bowl combine all the sauce ingredients.

Taste the sauce and adjust the heat, the saltiness or the sweetness to your preferences.

The sauce should be most of all sweet and hot, and a bit salty.

Drain well the radish on a sieve and squeeze well.

Heat the oil in a pan. Stir-fry the radish for one minute.

Combine with the sauce.

Serve immediately or refrigerate and keep for many weeks in a closed jar.

 

 

Filo Rolls with Black Pudding

filobpAs you might have noticed, I have a soft spot for filo… I have been experimenting constantly with this delicate Greek pastry, especially with roll-shaped snacks, which are easy, quick and deliciously crisp. Meat-filled rolls are already a staple, especially for my office lunches, so when one day I bought some black pudding, I thought I’d try combining it with filo and obviously rolls where what first came to my mind. I have combined my soft, delicate French pudding with buckwheat and spices and obtained what I believe to be a fabulous treat for all the black pudding lovers.

For those who have never tasted black pudding (aka “blood sausage”), it is a sausage containing blood which is actually the only recurrent ingredient. The shape, the binding agent, the spices or the casing depend on countries, regions or even on particular butchers. In France, where I buy my black pudding (the Swiss ones have always been disappointingly bland), onions and fat (and sometimes bread crumbs) act as “binders”, but some regions (for example Bordeaux region) use rice, which is also popular in certain Spanish regions and in Hungary. British black pudding contains oatmeal, while barley and buckwheat are Polish kaszanka’s fillers. Not to mention various spices, herbs or offal cuts used to fill the casings. My favourite ones are the two last ones because of their thick “sausagey” texture which enables me to fry them till crunchy and most of all the bold seasonings.

Since I usually have access only to soft “moussy” French black pudding, I always combine it with cooked buckwheat, which makes the rolls somehow less fatty, adds nice nutty flavours and a more pleasant texture (for me at least). If you don’t like buckwheat or cannot find it, barley or rice are a good substitute. These rolls are an excellent snack or a full meal, if served with a salad. I also love them as a snack, served with pickled chilli. They are excellent with sweet and hot sauces.

If you look for other ideas to use black pudding, you might likes one of these:

Upside-Down Tart with Black Pudding

Upside-Down Tart with Black Pudding

Black Pudding and Gochujang Toast

Black Pudding and Gochujang Toast

Baked Wonton Dumplings with Black Pudding

Baked Dumplings with Black Pudding

TIPS: If you use Polish or British black pudding or any other thick black pudding, you don’t need to add any rice or buckwheat.

Chilli powder is of course not obligatory. Add whatever spices you wish.

Cooking buckwheat is not easy, so if you choose it as a filler but don’t have experience with it, check the tips here.

Preparation: about 30-40 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2 as the main course, with a salad):

6 sheets of filo/phyllo pastry

200 g (about 7 oz) black pudding, without casing + about 6 heaped tablespoons of cooked buckwheat or rice or barley or 350 g (about 12 oz) black pudding with a thick texture (already containing oats, rice, buckwheat or barley)

chilli pepper (I have added 1 flat tablespoon of medium hot Korean chilli flakes)

black pepper, salt

1 tablespoon of oil

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Combine the black pudding filling with the grains and spices.

Spread one filo sheet on a big chopping board.

Place horizontally, about 2,5 cm/1 in. from the filo sheet’s shorter edge which is closest to you, a portion of black pudding mixture.

Roll tightly but delicately, starting from the edge which is closest to you, folding the two lateral edges into the roll (I have folded here about 3 cm/about 1,2 in on each side).

Proceed in the same way with the remaining rolls.

Brush the top of the rolls with a tiny amount of oil, place on a baking tray or baking paper and bake in the oven until golden (about 20-30 minutes in mine). Watch them often as they tend to burn quite quickly.

Serve either with a salad as the main course or as a snack, with pickles and a hot and sweet sauce or yogurt/sour cream mixed with gochujang. I have also sprinkled it with the Japanese spicy seasoning (shichimi togarashi).