Thursday, October 6, 2011

Where is Panasia?

I have been watching The Kimchi Chronicles. As you can guess, it takes place in Korea and is about Korean cuisine. I only have a couple of experiences with Korean cuisine:  bibimbap in a restaurant and Julie's mom's cooking and, well, that's a couple and that's it. 

Kimchi, for the uninitiated, is a spicy, fermented cabbage - a distant cousin of sauerkraut - pictured above. It is stinky and can age for years; these two attributes combine to mean that households make and keep their kimchi outside

Needless to say, this show gave me serious cravings for Asian fare, so I devoted a week to creating Asian meals. First was bibimbap, which is pretty simple, as it turns out. I think a lot of Asian cooking is simple, but requires so much prep that when you finish your meal the kitchen is cluttered with the biggest pile of dishes and bowls and pans ever. Josh hates it when I cook Asian for this reason, since he is usually on cleanup. I do firmly believe in and practice Clean As You Go, but, as you may know, things happen so quickly in Asian cooking that there isn't really time to pre-clean. 
finished bibimbap
Anyway. Bibimbap consists of vegetables, beef, rice, kimchi, and an egg. Then you flavor with the Korean spicy sauce called gochujong. Easy. I chose lu choy, carrots, zucchini, shiitakes, enokis, and bean sprouts for my veggies and blanched them. Well, I cooked the shiitakes in some oil. For the beef, I bought Beef for Sukiyaki and marinated it for about 6 hours. It is sliced so thin that it took a couple minutes to cook. I found good kimchi that didn't have MSG or food coloring or other crap - you would be amazed at the number of items with crap in them. Why is there food coloring in sushi? Aspartame in pickled ginger? I then baked brown rice, but needed to innovate to get a more authentic bowl of bibimbap. You see, the dish should be served in a clay pot so that you get two things: (1) some caramelized rice stuck to the bottom (socarrat, for paella eaters), and (2) a degree of heat so high that all you do is crack the egg on top and mix it in to cook it! So, in order to approximate this, I busted out my cast iron skillet. 
Truth be told, I fear my cast iron skillet. But, there are three culinary objectives I am trying to achieve: (1) drink more sparkling wine, (2) eat more interesting cheeses, and (3) use my cast iron skillet. I fear the CIS because you don't wash it. Ever. That's weird. 

You'll be happy to note that my experiment worked and I got crusty rice for my bibimbap. I did have to fry the egg in a pan, however. 

For my next trick, pad thai with real tamarind paste! I have made pad thai before, but I used ketchup to get that sweet and tangy flavor found in this dish. All I have to say is praise be to men who opened Uwajimaya. You need kimchi? No prob. Gochujong? Yup. Tamarind paste made from a pod that grows on a tree that lives nowhere near here? Yup, got that too. Oh, and lots of Spam to boot. 
tamarind paste

Pad Thai is another very simple dish. It consists of rice noodles and bean sprouts, with a protein of choice and a flavorful sauce. I was surprised that the method was to pour quite a bit of sauce over the noodles and let everything cook in it. I added vegetables, cabbage and carrots and zukes, because that's what I do.
So my pad thai with a side Thai beef salad was awesome. My Thai beef salad beats the pants off of any you can get in a restaurant. Again, I used the cast iron to get my beef just so. The tomatoes are from my garden, but you don't need them. The recipe calls for cucumber, but I didn't get one and you don't need it. As long as you have lettuce, beef, herbs, red onion, and the sauce, that's all you need. 

We have mint growing in our yard, and that's half of the herbage there. I planted the herb thinking it could spread around a lilac tree in one corner of our front yard. he he, funny ... mint doesn't like to be contained. Underground runners. I think that, by definition, plants that run underground are from Hell. 

My last dishes, which I will not wax lyrical about, even though I should because they kicked ass, were  Hanoi soup with marinated pork and vegetable lo mein. All I will say is that the broth is flavored with star anise! What?! Delightful, that's what.
I was also going to make laksa, an Indonesian dish, but a combination of events led me to postpone it. I have made it before - it has squid, scallops, shrimp, fishballs (which have nothing to do with fish anatomy, per se), and sometimes chicken or tofu or beef in a thick broth with noodles. I will be making it this week because I have squid in the freezer and lemongrass in the fridge to use. Not to mention fresh Chinese noodles, which also are hard to find without food coloring and weird chemical ingredients! What the?