I took a trip to our local Asian market this week, which means one thing—we’re getting spicy up in the Webber house.
I grew up eating plenty of ethnic foods, so it’s no surprise that I love them. Always have. But when I got pregnant, and for the year following Emmett’s birth, I couldn’t really stomach much Asian food whatsoever. I gave away all of our ingredients, because even seeing them in the pantry made me feel kind of nauseated and mournful for the loss of my palate. Recently, though, I’ve been craving them like, well, a pregnant woman.
Which I’m NOT.
Unfortunately, most of the time I’m craving greasy takeout from various Asian restaurants. I can’t eat it, because none of the meat is humanely sourced, so I sit in my house crying tears of hot and sour soup and wishing as hard as I can for a really tasty, inexpensive, organic Chinese restaurant that delivers to open up near my house. Guess what hasn’t happened? Guess what won’t ever happen? Until we move to Boulder…
^^When I wrote that, I thought I was joking. Then I googled “humane meat Chinese food Boulder” and found out that there is more than one offering. Seriously? I’m boggled by the unfairness of it all.^^
The nub and gist is that I’ve actually gotten pretty good at throwing together “takeout” at home, provided I have the right ingredients. None of it is even knocking at the door of authentic, but takeout isn’t either, so I’m not going to quibble. I can promise you that it tastes really, really good.
I’d like to teach you how to do this too, since I know how much you kids like your greasy takeout food. So over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to run a series called “Asian takeout for white people.” I’ll teach you how to make a dish (or two) from each of the major takeout cultures, as well as maybe a wee bit about flavor profiles and ingredient sourcing. My hope is that you’ll take away from this the ability to feed yourself, even when you’re kind of hungover or sick, for little money and with little effort.
*I know some of the members of the blogosphere cook much more authentic Thai/Japanese/Vietnamese/Chinese/Whatever food. I think that’s awesome. But for our purposes, I’m simply looking to recreate the flavors and textures that you expect when you make that phone call, hoping for cardboard boxes and styrofoam containers of comfort from your local strip mall restaurant. Can we agree on that?*
The first step in all of this is going to be locating an Asian grocery store near you. I live in a small town full of pretty much only white people, and there’s one within 15 minutes of my house. When I lived in Texas, there was one within 7 minutes of my house. I assure you, there is one near enough to you that you can go stock up every few months without having to drive cross-country. And they’re CHEAP. Absurdly so. Cans of coconut milk for 99 cents. Bulbs of garlic for 10 cents. Lemongrass for pennies. Just go, and plan to spend some time because almost everything is written in characters that are not part of our 26 letter alphabet. Also, it smells bad. But you should still totally go. Are you with me?
Last night I made the world’s simplest Thai soup, since Chris is still sick and also I really like Thai soups. It looks like a LOT of ingredients, but it’s the simplest thing ever, the ingredients are cheap and readily available at Asian market, and they pretty much all last in the fridge for months, so a single grocery trip every once in a blue moon should do you just fine.
I’d been defrosting a pack of free-range chicken wings ($3 at WhoFo) because on any given day I crave buffalo wings between 2 and 30 times. Wings also happen to make the best stock, if you don’t have any carcasses frozen. They’re inexpensive and rich in cartilage, so they give stock the kind of body that you want and can’t get from a box or can.
1 T olive oil
2 lbs chicken wings
1″ nub of fresh ginger, quartered
2″ nub of fresh lemongrass, split
6 fresh curry leaves
6 fresh kaffir lime leaves
1 onion, small dice
4 cloves garlic, smashed
3 Thai chiles, chopped (more if you dig spice)
2″ lump of palm sugar
handful of cilantro
1 can coconut milk
1 splash soy sauce or fish sauce
2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
10 button mushrooms, washed, stemmed, and thinly sliced
1 sprig thai basil
2/3 C uncooked basmati rice, well-rinsed in cold water
-In a stockpot, heat olive oil over high heat, and add chicken wings. Sear heavily on both sides.
|See the sear? BE the sear.|
-Add ginger, lemongrass, garlic, 1/2 of onion, chiles, sugar, cilantro, curry and kaffir leaves, and stir until fragrant
-Fill stockpot 2/3 full with water, and simmer for about 90 minutes, or until the stock is reduced by half. Strain through a fine mesh strainer.
-Put the stock back in the pot and bring back to a light boil. Add salt to taste.
-Add carrots and rice and cook until just tender.
|Just tender does NOT equal mush. The grains should have a bit of chew and be individual and pretty|
-Meanwhile, tear the meat off of the chicken wings from making the stock and set aside.
-Add mushrooms and meat and simmer another few minutes. Turn off the heat and add coconut milk and soy sauce or fish sauce. Taste for salt again.
-Simmer for just a minute or two to combine flavors (don’t boil!), skim off any yellow chicken fat from the top, then serve with garnishes of fresh Thai basil, cilantro, and more diced chiles for those who can handle it. Sprinkle with the juice of a lime wedge right before eating.
|Not pretty to look at, but very pretty to smell and even prettier to taste. GLORY.|
It doesn’t photograph well, but it’s perfectly balanced and rich. The coconut milk is sweet and fruity, and the heat from the chiles comes through beautifully. Your house will smell absolutely amazing, and this is plenty of soup for either a family of 4 or a family of 2 with lunch the next day.
Vegan: Omit chicken, use vegetable stock, and add diced pumpkin or butternut squash for body
Lazy: Use boxed chicken stock, stir fry some Thai Kitchen brand red curry paste with olive oil, then add stock and complete with veggies and coconut milk.
Low-cal: Use boxed chicken stock, and lite coconut milk (this won’t taste as good)
Low-carb: Don’t use rice or palm sugar, add extra meat and veggies
See what I mean? The possibilities are endless, and because you’ve got the singing combination of lemongrass, ginger, chiles, coconut, and basil, you’re going to end up with a very tasty, Thai-inspired soup that leaves you feeling like you just ate at a great Thai restaurant, only for next to no money, and without having to put pants on and leave your house.
That’s right. NO PANTS. And the warm bowl of soup will keep your lap warm, even without the thick, fleecy luxury of your eatin’ sweats.
I ate it while watching House, which was doubly awesome because the food was just excellent, and I don’t care how old and moldy Hugh Laurie is, I still sort of have a crush on him because a) British, b) sarcastic, and c) brilliant doctor.