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Thai Peanut Sauce

8 Feb

thai peanut sauce

I’ve long been enamored of Thai food, and that’s probably no surprise since it’s right up my alley in many ways – strong, bold flavors with no fear of spice, often filled with fresh vegetables and herbs, and, of course, delicious salty-sweet combinations. This sauce is a perfect example. It’s packed with flavor from a generous helping of Thai red curry paste, and the savory richness of peanut butter is well-balanced by sugar. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s also ridiculously simple to make and addictively tasty. The sauce can be thinned out with extra vinegar for a salad dressing, or used as is for dipping raw veggies. But, of course, it’s most amazing in its traditional use, alongside Thai satay (I’ll be posting a recipe for Thai chicken satay next week). The recipe makes quite a lot – enough for you to try it in a variety of applications, so long as you can resist eating up spoonfuls plain.

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Nam Pla Prik

28 Jan

nam pla prik

I’ve heard nam pla prik (also sometimes called prik nam pla) referred to as the “salt and pepper” of Thai food. Only instead of salt, it’s fermented fish, and instead of black peppercorns, it’s extra spicy Thai bird’s eye chiles. For garlic-lovers like myself, some slices of raw garlic are added to the mix. And a little sugar helps balance the fish sauce (although it can be safely left out, too). Something so simple really shouldn’t be as addictive as the resulting sauce is. The key is, of course, the main ingredient – fish sauce (the “nam pla” in nam pla prik). I know, I know, it sounds weird and smells weirder, but I’ve come to love this pungent sauce made from fermented, salted fish that’s crucially important to Thai cuisine (and other Southeast Asian cuisines as well). Like salt, it brings out the flavor of whatever it’s added to, but it also adds complex umami (savory) notes. The bird’s eye chiles (which can be replaced with jalapenos for a milder version) give the sauce a kick – and (like all hot peppers) have great health benefits, including the ability to speed up your metabolism and high levels of vitamin C. Along with being a natural pairing to Thai dishes, nam pla prik is amazing over rice (or quinoa), eggs, or even just fresh vegetables.

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Balsamic Pickled Cherries

24 Dec

balsamic pickled cherries

Cherries are in season here in South America, and while I’ve been enjoying eating them out of hand (and using them in place of strawberries in my strawberry bourbon lemonade), I wanted to get a little more creative. I’m a big fan of pickled fruit (like peaches), since I find the natural sweetness of fruit is well-complemented by the tartness of vinegar. This recipe caught my eye – although I’d never seen anything pickled with balsamic vinegar before, cherries and balsamic seemed like a perfect match. The result was everything I’d hoped for. An amazing blend of sweet and tart, these cherries are amazing on salads and sandwiches, and I think they’d also make a great addition to a cheese plate. The added benefit to this recipe is the cherry-infused balsamic vinegar – great for salad dressings or drizzling anywhere you’d use balsamic.

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Ginger Mint Simple Syrup

14 Nov

ginger mint simple syrup

I love basics like this recipe. An infused simple syrup is a great building block that’s great to have in your refrigerator because even though it’s trivial to throw together, it makes it easy to add a gourmet touch. Suddenly, it’s no problem to make ginger mint lemonade or ginger mint iced tea. Or you can pour a little bit over a fruit salad to take dessert to the next level. And, of course, it’s the perfect addition to mixed drinks, a great foil for whiskey, gin, rum, tequila, or whatever your favorite spirit might be.

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Mushroom Ragu

5 Nov

mushroom ragu

First, for those of you who follow this blog, let me apologize for not posting on Friday – I’ve been recovering from a cold and subsisting mainly on tea (with ginger and honey, yum), and I haven’t had a chance to re-build my backlog of posts for such times yet. But I’m back in the swing of things now and have been cooking up some great new recipes for this week. Let’s start with this mushroom ragu. I was craving a bowl of pasta with meat sauce, but wanted to eat something a little healthier instead. While I usually try not to create “imitations” of other foods (though I’ve been known to do so before), I figured what I was really craving was something with a lot of umami (as meat sauce typically has) and something nice and filling (as pasta is). So I cooked up this sauce, with the meatiness of cremini mushrooms standing in for the usual ground beef, while the liquid they release serves as the base for the sauce. It’s thickened up with tomato paste and minced black olives, then given a flavor boost from red wine, for a savory sauce that would be great on pasta in place of your usual sauce. I wanted an extra nutritional boost, so I actually served this on top of white beans which worked quite well. I think it would also be a great sauce on top of chicken or roasted vegetables.

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Anchovy Chimichurri

12 Sep

anchovy chimichurri

Today, I have an exciting announcement. I’m moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina! While I’m certainly going to be sad to leave my hometown of DC, it was time for a little change of scenery. Last week was my last one at my full-time job (yes, I do more than just write this blog), and a week from now, I’ll be on a plane heading to South America. I’m looking forward to new culinary experiences (in between learning Spanish and taking online classes towards my masters) and have big plans for improving and expanding this very blog, so the next year or so should be an exciting time!

In honor of the occasion, here’s a recipe for the classic Argentinean sauce, chimichurri. A pureed combination of herbs and spices, chimichurri is usually used to top grilled meats in traditional Argentinean asado (barbecue). But, although I’ve shown it over a pan seared rib eye here (made with this Alton Brown recipe, by the by), it’s also well-matched to roasted or grilled vegetables or as a spread on sandwiches. Of course, in my usual way, I couldn’t just make a typical chimichurri recipe. So this one has a twist – the inclusion of anchovies. The flavor isn’t overtly fishy, but the anchovies provide extra umami for an intensely savory and rich version of this sauce. Of course, any anchovy haters (probably the group I’m least likely to convert on here) can feel free to simply omit the anchovies.

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Harissa

29 Aug

harissa

This recipe for harissa, a Tunisian chile sauce, is seriously spicy. Okay, I’ll admit, my spice tolerance is not quite unbeatable, but it’s pretty high, certainly higher than most people I’ve met. I lap up the spiciest Indian and Thai curries like nobody’s business, toss chili peppers in everything, and liberally sprinkle my food with hot sauce. I’ve never once used gloves when chopping hot peppers. Jalapenos (barely spicy to my palate!), bird’s eye chiles, habaneros, I’ve practically rubbed them all over my hands with no ill effect (okay, the occasional burning eye, admittedly).

Well, that all changed when chopping up the rehydrated chiles for this particular recipe. Despite washing my hands after doing so, I was soon struck by an intense and slowly worsening burning on the sensitive skin between my fingers – repeated washings, lime juice, and painkillers provided only momentary relief. In the end, I was left to wait for that solver of most problems – time. By the next day, my hands were (mostly) back to normal. But consider yourself warned. The resulting spice paste, however, is amazing. Perfect in small doses as a meat rub, on sandwiches, stirred into soups, or even added to salads. For those less spice inclined, cut back on (or omit) the arbol chiles, and use more guajillos and anchos instead. And I’ll certainly be wearing gloves the next time I make this.

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Avocado Salsa Verde

24 Aug

avocado salsa verde

I love making my own condiments; many, like this salsa verde, are quite easy to whip up, yet still manage to be much more flavorful than their store-bought cousins. Here, all you have to do is a little chopping and a little blending, and suddenly you have something perfect for topping tacos or dipping chips. The avocado is a great twist, too, adding extra creaminess and richness. And, one of my favorite parts of making these sort of things myself, you can easily adjust everything to your taste with minimal extra effort – adding extra jalapenos here, for instance, if you like things spicy, or omitting the jalapeno altogether for a mild take.

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Pomegranate Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

19 Dec

pomegranate bourbon barbecue sauce

This barbecue sauce is not traditional or regional (no North Carolina, Kansas City, Memphis, or Texas sauce here); it’s my personal interpretation on what a really tasty barbecue sauce should be. Smoky, spicy, a little vinegary, and a little fruity. Bourbon adds extra smokiness and bite, while playing alongside the tart and sweet flavors of pomegranate molasses. This barbecue sauce is simple to make, and I love having it around to mix into beans, top scrambled eggs, and coat chicken or pork (especially the amazing (and easy) slow cooker pulled pork I’ll be posting the recipe for on Wednesday). This recipe can also be easily adjusted to your taste; feel free to play around with ingredient quantities to arrive on your personal favorite barbecue sauce.

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Roasted Tomato Salsa

10 Oct

Roasted Tomato Salsa

It may already be October, but my garden is still producing some last tomatoes, so I used them to make this delicious roasted tomato salsa. Popping the tomatoes (and some of the other components) in the oven adds a nice sweetness to the salsa, and I included both jalapeno and chipotle peppers to give this salsa a good spicy kick. The great thing is how truly easy this salsa is – give some veggies a rough chop, toss them in the oven, and then blend with a few other ingredients. I love having salsa around for adding to sandwiches, putting in burritos or tacos, or having with my eggs in the morning.

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