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Feeling Saucy: Peanut Satay

23 Oct

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Peanut sauce is most commonly considered a feature of Southeast Asian cuisines, though it is also found in China and even the Middle East, in varying forms.  It can be cooked with chicken or shrimp, incorporated in noodle dishes, or used as a dipping sauce for vegetables or crackers.  Peanuts and peanut butter can serve as an excellent snack, due to their protein-rich, appetite-suppressing qualities, even in small amounts.  My favorite variation is a rich, creamy sauce with hints of lime and cilantro.  Though I’ve used standard peanut butter, there is no additional sugar or sweetener needed, and the coconut milk gives an excellent base to blend the flavors together.  If you choose to go with an all-natural peanut butter or grind your own peanuts instead, you will likely need to add a dab of brown sugar or syrup in some form, to finish the job.


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Ingredients
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
2 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp red pepper flakes
1 cup peanut butter
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sriracha hot sauce
4 tbsp lime juice
1/2 cup water

Heat the coconut milk to a low simmer in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan (a Korean-style stone pot worked excellently, for me) over medium heat.  Add cilantro, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, and red pepper flakes.  Mix well. Once the spice mixture has come back to a gentle simmer, turn the heat down to low and add peanut butter, soy sauce, sriracha, and lime.  Stir until the peanut butter has ‘melted’ into the liquid, but be careful not to burn.  You may need to turn the heat off for short periods, if your pan is too thin.  When you add the water, the mixture in the pan will turn whitish and creamy, but thicken once again fairly quickly.  Stir well to blend all ingredients together.

Refrigerate before serving as a dip, salad dressing, or sandwich spread.  Note that the chili oils will separate easily and float to the top, so stir (or shake) before using.  Satay sauce can also be used to stir fry with chicken or seafood, but ensure the meat is nearly cooked before adding it, because the peanut sauce may burn and stick if the heat is too high.

Makes about 2 and 1/2 cups of sauce.

Feeling Saucy: Mole Poblano

8 Oct

Growing up in the agricultural belt of the Pacific Northwest, the sheer scope and popularity of Mexican cuisine was so pervasive that it wasn’t until I moved to New York for school that I realized there were places where people actually believed Taco Bell qualified as food, let alone ‘Mexican’ food.  As a child, I didn’t take advantage of this in the same way I might, now–I couldn’t tolerate the taste of cilantro, picked at things I couldn’t recognize, and generally stuck to beef burritos and enchiladas without fail.  Nevertheless, my mother used to faithfully order chicken mole whenever it was available, while I turned up my nose and couldn’t fathom eating any sauce so unconventional.  Years later, I found myself craving it now and then, with only hazy memories of the dish to go on, and in Korea, I’m sure you can imagine it became even harder to procure.

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Mole sauce (pronounced ‘mol-LEH’), in its native Mexico, refers to a wide range of thick, richly-flavored sauces, all of which are based upon varying blends of chili peppers thrown together with nuts and other spices.  Legend has it that mole was invented more or less by accident, when a group of poor nuns found that an important visitor would be arriving, and needed something to feed him.  Chili peppers, day-old bread, nuts, spices, and a little chocolate were sacrificed to the cause, along with an old turkey, and a quintessential fusion dish was born.  Ingredients indigenous to Mexico, such as chili pepper, tomatoes, squash seeds, and chocolate may be cooked alongside Mediterranean almonds and raisins, African sesame, and even Asian spices such as anise and cinnamon.  Despite being based on dried pepper, the sauce is not hot-spicy, but features a rich, slow depth of taste that can be disconcerting to those used to milder flavors.

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Dalkkalbi

25 May

A uniquely Korean food that I’m always a little surprised hasn’t caught on more, internationally, is 닭갈비 (dalk-kalbi).  In Seoul, dalkkalbi restaurants are everywhere. dalkkalbi001
You come in as a group, sit down around a table with a built-in hotplate, and the server brings your chicken to cook in front of you while you wait.  At heart, it’s just spicy chicken stir-fry.  External trappings may include 떡 (ddeok, or rice cake), potato, sweet potato, an assortment of vegetables, mushrooms, glass noodles, shredded cheese, or even a round of fried rice at the end.  Either way, I’ve never met a foreigner who tried it and didn’t like it.

I’ve been telling myself I was going to whip up a batch at home for months, now, but between the move, training for a new job, and general new-home issues, I didn’t find time until today.  I used an excellent recipe, which I really didn’t stray too far from.  The curry powder was kind of a surprise addition, but I tried it and it really works. Anyway, I’m exceptionally pleased with how this batch came out.  Now I’ve just got to figure out what to do with all the leftovers!

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Chinese Cola Chicken

11 Feb

chinesecolachicken001So there I was, reading the student newspaper with my class, when an article on weird foods popped up. One of the foods mentioned therein happened to be Pepsi-chicken flavored potato chips, which are apparently a thing in China. Which is apparently because cola chicken is a popular dish, in some parts of China. Pepsi chicken.  It didn’t sound like a very intuitive combination, but the more I thought about it, the more I actually wanted to try it. I mean, I’d heard of using cola in barbecue sauce, and I’d heard of using it to marinate/tenderize meat. Why not?

So I did.

This was admittedly a complete and utter experiment, based tenuously off of this recipe, and there are a number of things I would do differently if I made it a second time. For instance, googling the appropriate handling of cardamom pods before putting them into a dish, not after. All in all, though, I think it turned out pretty good. It’s sweet, a bit spicy, and has a definite gingery kick. It would be great over a little steamed rice.

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TGIF

8 Feb

Today was a scattered sort of day. I’ve had a new recipe in mind to try out, but no chance to give it a fair shot until the weekend, so today I ended up revisiting two previous recipes to restock my freezer and burn off excess energy, chickpea falafel and rum double chocolate microwave brownies (made with kahlua instead of rum, this time).

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tgif002Sunday happens to be 설날 (Seollal, or Lunar New Year), and a major holiday here. Three day weekends are awesome, right?

Check back for a sweet-and-spicy chicken stir fry, sometime in the next couple of days.  Happy Year of the Snake, everyone!

Out with the Old (a.k.a. getting laser eye surgery in Seoul)

4 Jan

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It’s been a really intense few months!  First there was my birthday, and some fixated attention on scale numbers that were inching closer and closer to my goal.  Then there was a sinus infection. And periodic checks to make sure the world wasn’t ending. And holiday parties, and holiday cheese platters, and holiday punch.  Then there was LASEK, and being unable to read anything smaller than font size 36 for a few days, if I could open my eyes at all.

Nevertheless, here I am, with my fancy new cyborg eyes (courtesy of Dream Eye Center in Myeongdong, here in Seoul: 02-779-7888).

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I’ve only had the protective post-surgical lenses out for a day and a half, now, so my vision is still not at 100%, but at least the pain is gone.  Let’s just say cooking was still easier than reading this post as I type it.  I’m hoping the last of the fuzziness clears up pretty soon, and I am looking forward to steadily-improving distance vision.  Even with some blurriness now, it’s better than it was pre-surgery without my glasses, and yesterday/today were supposed to be some of the worst in terms of visual clarity and my eyes arbitrarily deciding to go in and out of focus.

(Update as of March 30: My vision is now better than 20/20 and holding pretty steady!  The pain went away after the first few days, and my eyes got tired pretty easily for a week or two, but it didn’t slow me down for long. Definitely pleased with my vision now, and enjoying the freedom to not worry about glasses fogging up all the time.  I definitely recommend the procedure, if you’re on the fence about it, and the clinic I went to was very professional and well-organized, with staff and doctors who spoke great English and could answer my questions.)

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Chickpea Falafel

19 Sep

It’s been an eventful few days!  Yesterday alone, my cable internet quit working, my computer was threatening issues with the motherboard, and my phone seemed determined to thwart me at every turn.  Whatever ill-fated star was passing over the realm of electronics yesterday, however, seems to have gone on its way today.  I’m hoping.  Anyway, I’m back, and I’ve even found the time to share a new recipe.  (Though I’ve also discovered that if I continue to cook at the rate I started, I rapidly overreach the limited confines of my fridge and freezer.  The woes of cooking for one person.)

At any rate, I’ve been on a quest for foods that can be made in batches and prepared in advance for use in lunches or dinners during the week, when I have less spare time and a diet to keep in mind.  I’ve been craving falafel for a couple of weeks, and only whetted my appetite when I ate some last weekend, so I figured it was time to bite the bullet and experiment with recipes until I found something that worked.  My chickpeas were soaking, of course, when the internet and then my computer decided to take a vacation, leaving me with a lot of free time, a few sketchily-remembered details from the recipes I’d glanced at, and a heap of frustration.

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