Phad Gai Kra-prao (Thai Stir-fried chicken with basil)

I’ve been cooking and tweaking this dish for probably 8 or 9 years now, and if you follow these directions, this will turn out better than what you can order in 90% of Thai restaurants in the US.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • Jasmine Rice
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 8 Serrano Chilies, chopped
  • Fresh Galangal – peeled and finely chopped, about 3 tbsp worth
  • 1 large Yellow Onion, sliced.
  • 1 pound Thai Eggplant (About a dozen eggplants), quartered
  • 1 large Red Bell Pepper, sliced
  • 2 medium Zucchinis (or Summer Squash), sliced
  • 1 pound boneless skinless Chicken breast, sliced into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp Canola Oil
  • 6 tbsp Fish Sauce (Three Crabs Brand is my favorite)
  • 1.5 tbsp Sweet Dark Soy Sauce (This is soy, mixed with molasses, and has a thick consistency)
  • 1.5 tbsp White Vinegar
  • 1-2 tbsp pure Palm Sugar
  • 1 tbsp fresh (or canned) green peppercorns
  • 1 bunch Thai or Holy Basil

Preparation

Start the jasmine rice, so it’s ready when the stir fry finishes.

Chop the galangal, garlic and serranos.  Pound with a mortar and pestle until crushed – this will help release the flavor and soften the galangal.

Combine the fish sauce, sweet soy, vinegar, and palm sugar, and set aside.

Rinse the brine from the canned peppercorns, and set aside.

Cooking

Heat a wok or pan over high heat.  You will keep high heat for the duration of your cooking.  Add the canola oil, when it beings to glisten, add the onion.  Stir for 45 seconds and and galangal, garlic, and chili mixture.  Stir for another 30 seconds, and add the eggplant.  Cook the eggplant for a minute or two, until the sides start to darken on some of them.

Add the chicken, and stir fry for a minute, and then add the zuchini and bell pepper.  Stir fry for 30 more seconds, and then add the sauce mixture (fish, soy, vinegar, sugar).  Continue cooking over high heat for another minute or two, until the chicken is cooked.

Turn off the heat, add the thai basil leaves (the more the merrier) and the peppercorns.  Stir in the basil leaves until wilted, and serve.

Notes on ingredients

Galangal – This is a thai cousin of traditional ginger.  You can find it at any halfway decent asian market, and some high end grocery stores (New Seasons in Portland carries it).  It has a much more intense pepper flavor than normal ginger, and will take this recipe from good to amazing.  If you can’t find fresh galangal, substitute normal ginger.  But please, do your taste buds a favor and get some galangal.  You can freeze what you don’t use.

Thai Eggplant – These are green and round, and don’t look very similar to normal eggplants.  You’ll have to find these at an asian market.  If you can’t get these, get small indian eggplants, and if you can’t get those, you probably live in the South, and you should just give up and go to Cracker Barrel instead.

Fish Sauce – Don’t use the bullshit brand from Whole Foods.  Well, you can, and it’ll turn out fine, but realize that you’re getting ripped off.   Go to an asian market, buy three crabs brand, and refrigerate it.  It should have a light caramel color.  If it starts turning black, it’s oxidized (this happens within a month or so after opening), and it’s going to taste like ass.

Sweet Dark Soy Sauce – You have to go to an asian market to find this.  And even then, it’s hard, because there are only two brands of this stuff among 300 different soy sauces.  It should be thick, and the ingredients should list either sugar or molasses.  If you can’t find this, use normal soy sauce.

Pure Palm Sugar – Comes in a little 12 ounce plastic tub, and is sold at any asian market.  It’s solid sugar, with some syrup on top.  Absolutely delicious.  This will dry out within a few months, so use it quick.  Alternately, use brown sugar.

Green Peppercorns – These are unripened peppercorns.  If you’re really lucky, you’ll find them still on the vine at an asian market.  Otherwise, you can buy them canned, and they’re still delicious, but make sure to rinse with water to remove the brine.  These things are the cat’s meow, and like galangal, take this dish to the next level.  Gai kra-prao without green peppercorns is like pizza without freshly grated parmesan.

Thai Basil – This is less sweet than normal basil, and has a licorice or anise flavor.  You can use normal basil if you can’t find any Thai Basil, but your dish will be much, much better with the real thing.

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Wild Mushroom (Chanterelle) Risotto Recipe

While the California drought has made for some great January t-shirt days, it’s also made for a lousy mushroom season.  Whole Foods, my closest good sized grocery store normally has Chanterelles or Hedgehog mushrooms this time of year, but they’ve had nothing but Oysters and other cultivatable mushrooms this winter.  When I can get my hands on some nice meaty Chanterelles though, my favorite way to prepare them is in a Risotto.

You don’t need mushrooms for risotto.  They’re equally delicious with asparagus, peas and sausage, or just about any other combination that you can think of (but keep it simple).

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups Short grain Italian Rice, such as Arborio
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Butter (optional)
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1 Quart Chicken stock
  • Wild Mushrooms (Chanterelles or Hedgehogs are both delicious)
  • Lots of freshly grated Parmesiano Reggiano
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions

Heat the stock on the back burner in a heavy pot until boiling, then reduce to a simmer.

In the meantime, chop the onion, and sautee in Olive Oil until soft.  You may also add a bit of butter for a richer flavor.  Add the rice, and cook for a couple of minutes on medium-high heat until coated in oil.  Add the white wine, stir the rice, and let sit until the white wine has evaporated.

Now, start adding the chicken stock, one ladle at a time.  Add a ladle, stir the rice, and then wait until the chicken stock has evaporated.  Add the next ladle, and repeat.  It should take 17 minutes for the Risotto to be fully cooked, but taste along the way.

After about 12 minutes, add the chopped mushrooms (and continue the process of ladling the stock).

Add as much parmesan as you want, the more the better (and the higher quality parmesan, the better!).

Braised Greens (Kale and Collards) with Bacon

Read this blog enough and you’ll know I’m a huge fan of winter greens.  This recipe uses both Kale and Collard Greens, although you could use just one, or try mustard greens instead.

Kale and Collards are known as Cruciferous vegetables, meaning they are members of the Brassica family.  Other Brassicas include Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbage.  These vegetables have great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and are loaded with Vitamins and Minerals.  They’ve also been linked to reductions in numerous cancers.  Simply put, incorporate Brassicas into your diet on a regular basis, and you’re going to live a long time.

More nutrition info courtesy of WHFoods.

Braising greens is absolutely delicious, and pretty straight forward.  This recipe will take about 40 minutes to cook (winter greens cook slowly), but only a few minutes to prep.

Ingredients

  • 1 Bunch Kale, de-stemmed and chopped into 1-2″ pieces
  • 1 Bunch Collard Greens, de-stemmed and chopped into 1.5 – 2″ pieces
  • 3 slices of applewood smoked bacon
  • 1 Onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 Cup Chicken Broth
  • 1 Cup water
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Directions

Cook the bacon in a Dutch Oven until it begins to crisp.  Remove bacon and place on paper towels to soak up grease.  Pour all the bacon drippings out of the pan except for 1-2tbsp.  Add the onion and sautee until it becomes soft and translucent. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute.  Add the greens, 1tbsp of Olive Oil, Salt, and stir for a few minutes until the greens are coated in oil.  Chop and return the bacon.  Add the water, chicken broth, and cover for 30 minutes on medium-low heat.

After about 30 minutes, the greens will be soft and edible.  Remove the lid and bring to high heat.  As the remaining liquid begins to evaporate, add 2 tsp of Apple cider vinegar (or balsamic).  Cook until liquid has evaporated.

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

I don’t think it gets much better than this when it comes to Butternut Squash Soup.  Easy to make, and dairy free which is great for Vegans or those with Dairy allergies.

Courtesy of the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/20/health/nutrition/20recipehealth.html?em

Sauteed Chard Recipe

Chard is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat, and done properly, one of the most delicious.  It is a leafy green in the same family as Spinach and Beets, and it chock full of Vitamins, Iron, and other minerals.  If vegetables were graded on nutrients, Chard would be valedictorian (nutrition info).

Unlike heavy greens such as Kale and Collard Greens, the stalks of Chard are quite edible.  The only caveat is that they take longer to cook than the leaves, so make sure you sautee them for 5 minutes before adding the leaves.

Chard is available year round, and here in California grows great in the winter.  I almost always receive it in my winter Capay Valley box, and am quite thankful for that.

The best way I’ve found to prepare chard is to sautee it in some extra virgin olive oil with onion and garlic, and toss it with some red pepper flakes at the end.

Ingredients

  • Chard, chopped in 1.5″ pieces, with the stems chopped and set aside
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced or pounded with a pestle
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Red Pepper Flakes

Directions

Heat some olive oil in a skillet, and add the onion and Chard stalks.  Sautee for 5 minutes, until the onion become soft and the chard stalks start becoming tender.

Add the chard leaves and sautee for a few minutes.  When the leaves begin to soften, add the garlic, and continue sauteeing for 3-4 more minutes, until the chard becomes soft and tender.

Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, a dash of salt (Chard is naturally salty, so be careful not to overdo it) and pepper.

Black Bean and Corn Salsa Recipe

This makes a great snack or light dinner, and is chock full of fiber, protein and Vitamin C – very healthy.  I’ve only made it during the summer when fresh corn is available.  Feel fry to try with frozen corn, but it won’t be as good.

Ingredients

  • 2 ears of Corn
  • 1 Lime
  • 1 Can of Black Beans
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper
  • Cilantro
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Jalapeno (Optional)
  • Corn Tortilla chips

Cut the corn off of the ears, and add to a bowl with drained Black Beans, juice of one lime, diced red bell pepper, chopped cilantro and salt and pepper to taste.  To give it some kick, add a bit of Jalapeno.

Serve with Corn Tortilla chips.

Ceviche Recipe

Ceviche is basically Salsa with fish “cooked” in lime juice, and is delicious. Since you are using raw fish, this is not the time to skimp with $2/lb halibut from Chinatown.  I always buy my fish from a reputable fishmonger (ok, whole foods), since I don’t want to take any chances.

Ceviche is very easy to make, but you do need to let the fish sit in the lime juice for 3 hours, so make sure you have plenty of time set aside.

I usually use red snapper or a rockfish, though the last time I made it was with Halibut, which was delicious.  If halibut is on sale and similarly priced to snapper, get that, but if it’s much more expensive, it’s not really worth the extra money in my opinion.  Red Snapper is still delicious.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh white fish such as Red Snapper
  • 6 Limes
  • 1 Orange
  • 1 small Red Onion
  • 1 large, fresh tomato
  • 1 Jalapeno Pepper
  • Cilantro

Directions

Make sure no bones are present in the Fish, and dice into 1cm chunks.  Put fish chunks in a bowl, and squeeze fresh lime juice over until all the fish is submerged in lime.  Place in the refridgerator for 2.5 hours.

After the fish has cooked in the lime juice, it will become opaque and firm.  At this point, chop the red onion, jalapeno and dice the tomato and add that to the bowl.  Squeeze fresh orange juice into the bowl, and add freshly chopped cilantro.

Put the bowl Ceviche back in the fridge, and let sit for another 30-60 minutes.  The longer you wait, the better flavor it will have.

I usually eat like salsa, with corn tortilla chips.