Tag Archives: spicy

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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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 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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Pickled Red Onions

2 Jan

pickled red onions

The hardest part of moving, for me, is adapting to a new kitchen. Here, I only have a two-burner electric stove and a tiny sink (far too small for the amount of dirty dishes I produce), alongside a small square of counter space. I’m doing my best to adjust my habits, planning ahead to make sure I’ll have a burner free and being extra strict about cleaning dishes as I go. But, unlike my last place, there’s a full-sized refrigerator, so I have room again to stock up on little goodies like these pickled red onions. The onions still have a crunch to them and retain some of their characteristically strong taste, but the bite is mellowed by vinegar and sugar, with hot peppers tossed in to add a lingering kick of spiciness. They’re surprisingly addictive, and I find myself reaching for them over and over, an amazing addition to salads and sandwiches and great complement to all sorts of beans and meats. I like how versatile their simple flavor is, fitting in with a variety of cuisines – anything from Mexican (perch them atop tacos) to Indian (use as a side to balance rich curries) to Greek (sprinkle on a salad with feta). Although my favorite might just be snacking on them plain, something I can’t resist doing any time I open the refrigerator and spy them.

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Refried Black Beans

19 Dec

refried black beans

Beans might not be particularly glamorous (or easy to photograph), but they’re one of my favorite ingredients. Filling and flavorful, they’re a great base for a meal, especially if you don’t eat meat or, like me, only eat meat occasionally. (Of course, they can also be great when served with meat, too.) I’ve always been a fan of refried beans, but for some reason figured they would be time-consuming to prepare or else require vastly unhealthy quantities of fat. Not the case, though, as these refried black beans (you can use pinto beans instead, if you like) come together in about half an hour, and the fat quantity can be adjusted to your liking (from two tablespoons to keep things healthy to four tablespoons to get the most flavor). These are great for adding to wraps (burritos included, of course) or eating with some rice or quinoa. I also thought they went especially well with a side of roasted corn salsa as the sweetness and texture of the corn was great alongside the creamy richness of the beans.

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Roasted Corn Salsa

17 Dec

roasted corn salsa

Did you know the best way to keep sweet corn sweet is to store it in the refrigerator? This helps slow down the conversion of the sugars to starches. I only have a small refrigerator here (think slightly larger than one in a dorm room), so I don’t have a lot of space to dedicate to storing corn. But I can’t resisting buying some when it shows up fresh at the market (currently in season here, of course), so I had to think up a quick easy use for the cobs sitting on my refrigerator shelf. I opted for this take on a basic corn salsa, roasting the corn for extra depth of flavor. The rest of the flavors here are pretty traditional (green onion, cilantro, hot pepper, lime), though I did toast the garlic, which I find mellows it perfectly for things like this. This salsa is great as a dip, on tacos, to add a pop of color and flavor to a plate of beans, or as a side for grilled fish or meat.

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Quinoa Bibimbap

5 Dec

quinoa bibimbap

On Monday, I posted a great recipe for when you don’t have the time or energy to cook something elaborate. By contrast, here’s a complex recipe – for when you do feel like dedicating some time to the kitchen. Bibimbap is a classic Korean dish with a rice base and various vegetables as toppings. There are a lot of components here, but you can make this easier on yourself by preparing some ahead of time or omitting some. Or you can get creative and add different components using whatever you have on hand (bell peppers and zucchini, for example, are commonly used).

quinoa bibimbap

I stayed mostly traditional with the components here, with two main differences from the bibimbap you may have encountered before. For one, I omitted bulgogi (Korean barbecued beef) for a vegetarian version – you can add it back in, if you’re a meat-lover, or conversely, go a step further, and omit the fried egg and kimchi (or use a vegan kimchi) for a vegan version. For another, intead of rice, I used quinoa, mixed with chia seeds, as a substitute. Quinoa is a favorite of mine – a lot healthier than rice with a bit of a nutty flavor – and the inclusion of chia seeds helps to create a nice, sticky texture (while adding even more health benefits). Of course, using rice will also work just fine. However you customize this recipe, it’s a fun kitchen experiment and a tasty way to eat fresh veggies.

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Homemade Kimchi

19 Nov

homemade kimchi

One of my best friends in middle school was Korean, and I remember fondly much of our time spent together after school. We would take the school bus to her house, and there was always perfectly cooked rice waiting in the rice cooker, sheets of seaweed to wrap it in, and delicious homemade kimchi. At the time, I wasn’t even a fan of standard pickles, and kimchi, with its fermented odor and strangely bright red, nearly unrecognizable vegetables, seemed quite intimidating when my friend first offered it to me. But I knew it was rude to refuse, so I tried it. And somehow I was quickly taken in by the bold flavors, a mix of sour, spicy, and even a little sweet that made plain rice into a treat.

I’ve eaten a lot of kimchi since then, and these days, it’s hard for me to resist, whether it’s a side to Korean barbecue, flavoring ramen, or in an omelet. I tried my hand at making my own before, but the flavor wasn’t quite right. Now that I’m in Buenos Aires, where there seems to be a dearth of good Asian food (and certainly a dearth of spicy food), I figured it was worth another shot. I compared several recipes and techniques and tried to keep things simple but authentic with my take. The only specialty ingredients here are the Korean red chili pepper flakes (gochugaru) (which I actually carted along with me from the U.S.) and fish sauce; both shouldn’t be hard to find in an Asian market (and the gochugaru can be replaced, if necessary). As I was chopping the cabbage (feeling pleasantly surprised at having been able to find Napa cabbage at my neighborhood verduleria), I started to worry that this would make too much kimchi. And even after it reduced dramatically from the initial salting, I was still concerned. But as I packed the ready-to-ferment kimchi into its large jar, I tasted a piece, and suddenly I wondered if maybe I hadn’t made enough. The fermentation only adds more complexity and the characteristic tang to the kimchi (oh, and some great health benefits, too), and I can easily say now that I’m quite happy with this recipe. I’ve been snacking on it plain, drizzled with a little sesame oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds, and loving it.

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Thai Steak Salad

7 Nov

thai steak salad

Recently, I was craving Thai food. Not being so lucky here as I was in DC (where two of the best Thai restaurants in the city were within mere blocks of me), I made the 3-mile trek to what is supposedly one of the best Thai restaurant in Buenos Aires. I was unfortunately disappointed with the food I was served – laab gai with more onions than chicken and a red curry that simply tasted sweet rather than complex and spicy. Still yearning for some good Thai food, I turned to my own kitchen and cooked up this Thai steak salad. Surprisingly simple to make, the real key to this salad is the dressing, packed with flavor from fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, chiles, and sugar. The salad itself is extra colorful and flavorful from a mixture of different vegetables, including raw cabbage, one of my salad favorites (I used red cabbage, but any variety should work just fine). Fresh herbs, sliced scallions, and peanuts add even more variety of texture and flavor. And strips of medium-rare steak on top, of course, pull the whole thing together.

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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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