Thai Basil Chicken

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One of my favouritest people, A,  loves Thai food. And is a pretty talented home cook himself. This Thai Basil Chicken is inspired by a delicious meal he made for me. Here it is, pictured below. It was a wonderfully balanced plate: basil chicken (top left), sticky rice, and a divine beef salad (bottom right). The chicken had sweet notes of basil offset by fiery bird’s eye chillies; and the beef salad was spicy and had the tanginess of generous amounts of lime juice. A. knows his way around the staples of Thai cuisine, and knew not to overdo the fish sauce. It was fun watching him cook, and I’ve been wanting to recreate the meal he made me ever since.

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Though my mother makes thai food often, I am yet to build a relationship with fish sauce and oyster sauce and rice vinegar and lemon grass and galangal…but here goes! This is my third try at making this dish, and I think we have a winner. I consulted the amazing Thai food blog SheSimmers for this version. Instead of the ground meat that the traditional recipe calls for Leela suggests chopping up boneless chicken. I liked the texture much better.

The first couple of times I made it I got the cooking technique wrong. Rather than a braise, this is more a quick stir-fry. High heat, a dash of this and that, and onto a plate ready to go. Though not as good as A’s :), and no match for the overused, deliciously coated wok of a street stall, this version has the delicious taste of charred onions and garlic deglazed with fish and soy sauce. I had to scrape the pan for the juicy bits.

A fringe benefit of this foray was the opportunity to visit our local Asian grocery store. Though I stepped in only for a couple of things, I had a fun time looking through the isle of five hundred billion different kinds of noodles, dehydrated mushrooms, and the bric a brac of stainless steal and cheap porcelain plates, soup spoons and dishes. I couldn’t resist buying a box of bamboo chopsticks.

The recipe below is based on several recipes. Leela at SheSimmers tells us that it’s not Pad Ka-Phrao (Thai Basil Chicken) if we use sweet basil leaves, as I have done. She says that authentic Pad Ka Phrao is made with holy basil, which you can identify by its jagged edges. She also calls for oyster sauce and two kinds of soy sauces. After trying out different combinations, I found that this simplified version gets great, tasty results. And I’m no purist.

Thai Basil Chicken
(serves 2)

Ingredients 

4 Bird’s Eye Chillies + 1/2 Onion, chopped + 2 cloves garlic, slicedIMG_0794

+ 1/2 Cup Thai Basil, chopped

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+ 1/2 tbsp Fish Sauce (Three Crabs Brand- the best according to Kylie Kwong)

+ 1 tsp Soy Sauce

+ 3 boneless chicken thighs, chopped

1. On medium heat, fry onions, garlic and chillies together till the onions are caramelized and the mixture forms a paste.

2. Turn the heat up a bit and deglaze the pan (and mixture) with the fish and soy sauces.

3. Add the chopped, boneless chicken pieces and stir fry on hight heat, until cooked through (about 15 minutes). It’s important to chop the chicken into small pieces so they cook through quickly. Add small amounts of water if the pan begins to burn. I held off on the water and stirred the mixture well. I think the charred onion bits are delicious!

4. Turn the heat off and add the torn pieces of basil into the pan. Let wilt.

5. Serve immediately over rice.

Kofta Curry

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Today I had an intense craving for Kofta Curry. My mother makes a mean version. And in my imagination it is even more delicious in the dampness of the monsoon. It was 30 degrees C today and then we had some unexpected, beautiful, warm afternoon rain.  It felt like I was home in Bombay.

Yesterday, I received Yotam Ottolenghi’s and Sami Tamimi’s amazing cookbook Jerusalem in the mail. I’ve been eyeing it ever since it was published this past october. I can’t wait to start cooking from it. Their book showcases the incredible diversity of Jerusalem cuisine: did you know Uzbek Jews make a ‘plov’ so reminiscent of an Indian pulao? One note that shines through is the use of fresh herbs. The recipes are all about greens–parsley, coriander, mint, dill. Yotam Ottolenghi owns several restaurants in London, including Nopi, a high-end restaurant in London. The recipes, which he develops with friend and collaborator Tamimi, have classic middle eastern flavors. But they also have flare–they are stylish and interesting. It struck me today that so much of the freshness of their approach comes from an emphasis on fresh herbs.

I decided to use a similar approach for a classic Indian Kofta curry, substituting fresh coriander leaves for the ground coriander seed that is usually called for in most curries. I did add a dash of ground turmuric (great for memory) and a dash of cumin and cayenne. But the emphasis is on the beef, coriander, and lemon.

I didn’t have red onions on hand so I substituted spring onions, which only added to the brightness of the curry.

This curry has delicate, mild flavors and a wonderful earthiness from the fresh coriander leaves and stem.

Recipe
Serves 2

Ingredients
1/2 pound ground beef
1 bunch green onions or scallions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh coriander (leaves and stem) roughly chopped+ 1 tbsp chopped coriander for garnish
1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or kashmiri chilly powder
2 plum tomatos
1 cup water

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1. In a bowl, combine 1/4 of the chopped scallions, 1/2 cup of coriander and ground beef. Add the juice of half a lemon and mix well.

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2. Form into meatballs.IMG_0783

3. On high heat, sear the meatballs on all sides for two minutes to seal the juices. Set aside.IMG_0782

4. In the same pan, add the remaining scallions and garlic and saute for five minutes, until translucent on a medium flame. Add the turmeric, cumin, cayenne and 1 cup of chopped coriander. Saute for 3 minutes.

5. Add the tomatos and 1 cup of water. Mix well.

6. Then return meatballs to the pan. Adjust for salt.

7. Bring to a boil. Then turn the flame down, partially cover and cook for 30 minutes until the curry comes together.

8. Garnish with coriander.

9. Serve over rice with a cucumber raita.

Ales for Outlaws

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Ales for Outlaws is the motto of the Lonerider Brewery (LRB) in Raleigh, North Carolina. Who ever writes copy for them is just a genius. There’s no two ways about it. LRB distinguishes its philosophy with lines like “Lonerider wears an air of mystery the way others wear cheap cologne.” They have a new IPA called Cowboy in Black.

I’ll be honest. Beer is really not my thing. During the summer or at the beach, it’s the only thing I want. But in a palette-suspended way. My finger’s are crossed and I’m hoping for inoffensive.

Recently, I had drinks with some beer enthusiasts. You know, the kind of crowd where the hoppier the better. I was won over by the adjectives. Beyond the hop, there’s a world of empirical experience to be had. There are notes of chocolate to pick out, and citrusy hues to identify. Beers can be malty, biscuity and autumnal. A beer can be juniper-like or grassy. And if it’s from a brewery like LRB, it can be called Shot Gun Betty.

Like LRB, Raleigh-Durham has a crop of micro-breweries that offer an excellent range for the beginner’s palette. They’re unpretentious affairs. And they’re perfect for Durham, summer weekends with friends.

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We tried a bunch of local favourites: Shotgun Betty, a Hefeweizen (pictured in the poster below); Peacemaker, a Pale Ale; Sweet Josie, a Brown Ale; True Britt, an English Style Ale; and the brewer’s choice, a Weizenbock. My favourite is a saison called the Preacher. It is light and lively like a wheat beer, but it has a spicy kick. Though I probably wouldn’t order the Sweet Josie–it’s much too bitter for me–it has a burst of fantastic flavor, with notes of chocolate.

Thanks to my friend J., for her excellent company and fabulous beer imagination!

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IMG_0727The Hideout,  Raleigh, NC