Thai Stir-Fried Cabbage

30 Jan

thai stir-fried cabbage

I’m back in Buenos Aires now, getting settled into a new place. The apartment is twice as big as the last two we’ve stayed in – still a studio apartment, but now there’s a couch! And the kitchen is much nicer, with a lovely gas stove and oven, a full-sized refrigerator, and ample counter space. It’s hard, though, to ramp back up with cooking, but I’ve learned to start off with simple dishes. Luckily, we’re near a great market with lots of fruit and vegetables vendors. And of course, I’m still carting spices around with me and (embarrassingly) some sauces, too… Asian sauces in particular (soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce) can be hard to find and expensive, so it made sense to take them to/from Montevideo (I think).

Anyway, on my first trip to the market, I just grabbed a couple of basic vegetables, including one of my favorites – cabbage. Not a lot of people are enthusiastic about cabbage, I know, but I love it. In salads, soups, or stir fries like this. When I came across this Thai recipe, I knew it couldn’t go wrong, but I wasn’t prepared for how flavorful such a simple dish could be. It could easily be a side dish to a Thai curry or a little midday snack, but served over rice (or quinoa, as I did) with chopped fresh vegetables (like the cucumber and tomatoes shown here) and, of course, nam pla prik on hand to add to taste, it makes for a surprisingly satisfying meal.

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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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Argentine Cappuccino with Dulce de Leche

25 Jan

argentine cappuccino with dulce de leche

I was at a cafe in Buenos Aires for merienda (an afternoon snack, usually consisting of coffee and pastries) a few weeks back when I spotted a drink the cafe called a “capuchino porteño.” Porteño is an adjective used for the natives here (literally meaning of/from the port, referring to Buenos Aires being a port city), and once I read the description of this cappuccino, I knew I had to order it. The key ingredient, unsurprising given its great popularity here, was dulce de leche. The drink was right up my alley, since I prefer my coffee drinks sweet and milky. When I found that our apartment in Uruguay (another dulce de leche loving country, by the by) included an espresso machine, I was determined to recreate this drink. It’s not a traditional cappuccino, although it does have the usual base of espresso and steamed milk; this is more of a dessert than anything, and in the Argentine style of desserts, it’s quite sweet. Dulce de leche is drizzled down the side of the glass and whipped into some cream on the top (this recipes makes extra dulce de leche whipped cream, but I’m sure you’ll find a use for it), and a sprinkle of cinnamon (cocoa powder would also work well) is a great complement to the caramel flavor.

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Chana Masala

23 Jan

chana masala

Despite the lengthy ingredient list, this North Indian chickpea stew comes together quickly and easily. It’s more of a tart curry, rather than some of the creamy ones with lots of warming spices (cinnamon, cloves, etc). Here, acidic tomatoes, tart amchoor powder, and citric lemon juice are strong components, alongside a hefty quantity of spices, of course. But it still manages to feel balanced, especially when served over rice (or quinoa, as I served it). I added cauliflower florets to my version (I think that actually makes this gobi chana masala), which I think are great alongside the creamy chickpeas. A sprinkle of cilantro at the end proved surprisingly crucial in rounding out the flavors (I wouldn’t omit it), and a little yogurt on top helps to quench the heat of hot peppers and ground cayenne pepper. I also topped mine with pickled red onions and thought their crispness was a great complementary texture. This curry, by the way, only improves with a couple of days in the refrigerator, so don’t hesitate to make this large batch even if you’re only cooking for one or two.

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Basic Chickpeas

21 Jan

basic chickpeas

Yes, yes, another dried bean recipe… this one’s actually even simpler than my past basic beans. But chickpeas (which also spend time under the pseudonym garbanzo beans) are an especially easy bean to cook up. They’re extra creamy when cooked from dried and don’t even need a whole lot of aromatics – I only added a hefty amount of garlic and some olive oil to my pot. Although in the past I’ve refrained from adding salt to beans before they’re cooked, due to various rumors about it negatively impacting the texture, I’ve now changed my stance. While I still don’t add salt during the cooking process, I’ve started soaking my dried beans in salted water overnight, which I’ve found adds extra flavor to the finished beans and even seems to ultimately improve the texture. And since I’m talking about general tips for cooking beans, it’s good to know that while aromatics (such as onion, garlic, fresh herbs, and spices) will only improve your beans, anything acidic (like citrus, tomatoes, or vinegar) needs to be added after the beans have softened or else they’ll stay hard for hours on end. Of course, no matter what, cooking up dried beans does require some patience, since I’ve yet to cook up a pot of beans in under two hours, even after overnight soaking. But there’s so little work involved that it really just means experiencing the comforting, savory aroma filling your kitchen while occasionally sneaking a taste to check the texture.

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Frozen Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bites

18 Jan

frozen peanut butter chocolate banana bites

Frozen bananas used to be a staple in my refrigerator for making “milkshakes” since their frozen consistency closely mimics that of ice cream. But now that I’m traveling and sadly without any method of blending, I’ve had to give up those tasty desserts. When a couple bananas were on the verge of being overripe recently, though, I cut them in slices and froze them without thinking about it. The frozen banana slices were good even eaten up plain, but I wanted something that was a bit more of a treat. So, with thoughts about my banana breakfast roll in the back of my head, I mixed up some peanut butter and honey (plus a little water to thin it out) and dipped them in that. And then, because peanut butter always calls out for some chocolate, I dipped them in a little melted chocolate, too. Dark chocolate is always my preference – here, I used a chocolate with 85% cocoa content that was too dark for eating out of hand but worked well with the creaminess of the banana and richness of the peanut butter. The result is decadent enough to satisfy an ice cream craving, while still being a healthy option. I like them in bite-sized form like this, but you can also cut the bananas in half and put them on a popsicle stick for something more closely resembling an ice cream bar.

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Cilantro Lime Quinoa

16 Jan

cilantro lime quinoa

While I’m still a big proponent of one pot meals, I often feel like I need to round out my repertoire of sides. It can be hard though, since I try not to eat too much rice, bread, or potatoes, foods with notoriously low nutrition values. I love using quinoa in place of rice though, since it’s great for soaking up flavors, but healthier and, in my opinion, tastier. This quinoa is just perfect for serving alongside Mexican food – simple, but tasty with the herbaceous and tart flavors of cilantro and lime a great match to the subtle nuttiness of the quinoa. It can really help complete a meal with grilled fish or meat or with black or pinto beans and is a wonderful base for a burrito (or burrito bowl).

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Basic Pinto Beans

14 Jan

basic pinto beans

I’ve most likely waxed lyrical on here about chipotle peppers before, but I don’t think I’ve ever truly appreciated them quite so much as when I saw them on a grocery store shelf for the first time in months. It’s been much easier to find some ingredients here in Montevideo than in Buenos Aires, despite it being a smaller city – I’m not positive on why, but I suspect it’s most likely because of the strict regulations and high taxes on imports into Argentina. Whatever the reason, I finally had my hands on a can of smoky chipotle peppers in spicy adobo sauce, and I knew I had to make good use of them. With my recent love of cooking up dried beans, it made sense to use these wonderful peppers as the flavor backbone for a pot of pinto beans. And they did not disappoint, imbuing each creamy bean with smoke and spice.

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Warm Kale, White Bean, and Anchovy Salad

11 Jan

warm kale, white bean, and anchovy salad

It’s weird what foods you miss being away from home. I knew that I’d miss peanut butter and good quality dark chocolate, both difficult to find around here (or expensive once you do find them). But I’d never guessed that I’d start craving kale. It was nowhere to be found in Buenos Aires, and I’ve been really hoping to make a raw kale salad. When I came across some at an organic store here in Montevideo, I was really excited – I know, I know, this is kale we’re talking about, but there’s nothing like satisfying a craving! Sadly, it was too tough to eat raw. So instead I decided to cook it minimally with some white beans and a whole lot of garlic and anchovies. With the addition of almonds, raisins, parmesan, and pickled roasted peppers, this warm salad more than satisfied my craving for chewy, hearty kale. The anchovy flavor is reminiscent of a good Caesar salad, but the kale and white beans make this a lot healthier.

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Pickled Roasted Peppers

9 Jan

pickled roasted peppers

I think I’ve mentioned that food in general is surprisingly expensive here in Montevideo. The prices are nearly what I encountered back in DC – except now I don’t have a full time job. So I haven’t been eating out a whole lot here, since there aren’t really options like the $10/dozen empanadas back in Buenos Aires. Instead, I’ve turned back to sandwiches – once you have a couple basic ingredients on hand, they take mere minutes to put together, and having great condiments like these pickled roasted peppers on hand make them truly amazing. I’ve pickled raw bell peppers, and I’ve roasted them, but I’d never thought to combine the two before. This is an interesting mix, since the natural sweetness of the bell pepper, concentrated and enhanced by the roasting, plays well with the tartness of vinegar. It’s surprisingly mellow for a pickle, actually, but I think pickle lovers will definitely appreciate swapping these in for the traditional roasted bell peppers on their sandwiches (and salads).

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