My parents aren’t natural storytellers (perhaps I should ask more often?) but every once in awhile a gem from their childhood pops up. Like this one story my mum recently told me: Ma remembers always waking up from her afternoon naps to the intoxicating aroma of freshly-baked-or-cooked something wafting in from the kitchen. To get her and her siblings to fall asleep with the least amount of fuss, Popo, her mother and my grandmother, would promise her and her siblings a treat when they woke up. The post-nap delights ranged from roti bakso (savory meat-filled buns) to kue mangkok (“cup”cakes), and all were delectable.
While Ma and my uncle and aunts wriggled restlessly in their beds anticipating what lay in wait for them when they woke up, I envision Popo (whom I only know from photos) hard at work in her tropical kitchen. As she rolled and flattened soft balls of dough, she’d occasionally wipe sweat from her brow with a hanky she stuffed into her bra strap. Taking a teaspoon in hand, she’d scoop a mixture of pork, candied winter melon, and green onions into the middle of each dough disc. Gently, she’d bring the dough edges together and wrap it up into a neat oval package as she listened for rogue sounds coming from the children’s bedroom.
When Ma and her siblings woke up in a couple of hours, the buns would be out of the oven and ready to be grabbed by little hands and devoured with squeals of delight.
All this I see in the sepia tones of my mind’s eye, imagining what my mom’s childhood was like and what Popo was like.
Inspired by this perfect anecdote, I decided to recreate this experience for my son with my own post-nap treat.
One Tuesday afternoon after Isaac goes down for his nap, I busy myself in the kitchen. I want to bake banana bread but I only had two bananas (three at first but one was so ripe it fell splat on the floor when I accidentally dropped it). Desperation incites innovation and digging around my kitchen, I discover two bright yellow mangoes, ripe and ready to eat, in my fridge.
Bananas and mangoes are both tropical, I convince myself, they’ll couple very well in a quick bread recipe!
As I prepare all the ingredients, I hear a squawk. My heart sinks, it’s been barely 30 minutes since Isaac went down! Sure enough, the little guy emerges from his room, his disheveled hair in a post-nap Mohawk. I panick for two seconds before realizing, wait, he can help me bake! All kids love to measure ingredients and mix batter don’t they?
Isaac has never really shown much interest in helping me in the kitchen and I’ve never forced him. But this time, I drag his stool into the kitchen and try and talk up the mother-and-son baking experience.
“This is going to be so much fun! You can measure the sugar, flour and butter, and mix everything together. Come help mommy in the kitchen.”
“I don’t want to. I want to watch TV!”
“But baking is so much fun! Don’t’ you want to help mommy?”
“I don’t want to! I want to watch TV!”
A few volleys back and forth ending with a promise of “Thomas the Tank Engine” later, Isaac steps up onto his stool. He starts by scooping sugar into the mixing bowl. Then he helps me add the butter and proceeds to “cream” the mixture with a wooden spoon. After two or three turns around the bowl, he declares, “I’m done!” He hops off the stool and goes off to play with his airplanes.
Nothing I can say henceforth can cajole him back into the kitchen.
Feeling dejected, I finish mixing the batter and shove the loaf pan into the oven.
As I sit down to wait for the bread to bake, I realize how silly I was for getting frustrated. Did I really expect everything to go according plan? Hah, it was definitely wishful thinking on my part.
If there’s one important lesson to take away from raising a toddler, it’s that you should always expect the unexpected. It builds character and encourages a flexible outlook on life. And sometimes results in a new favorite recipe!
Simple and straightforward, the original banana bread recipe came to me on the back of a bag of flour many years ago when I was in college. It’s been my go-to recipe ever since. Over the years, I’ve mixed it up a little: varying the ratio of white to brown sugar, using a combo of all-purpose and whole wheat flour (I add some applesauce or yogurt to moisten it up), substituting butter for shortening, etc., etc. And the sweet smelling loaf—crusted in a shiny mahogany veneer–comes out lovely every time!
Time: 10 minutes prep, 50 minutes baking
Makes: 1 loaf
3/4 cup granulated raw sugar or brown sugar (I really like Wholesome Sweeteners brand)
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs at room temperature
1-3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 very ripe honey (Altaufo) mango, peeled, seeded, chopped and mashed (about 1 cup)
2 large bananas, mashed
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan.
In a medium mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs and beat well.
Sift flour, baking powder and soda and salt and add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the mango and banana and mix until just blended. It will be lumpy but don’t fret.
Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning the loaf onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing (if you can wait!).
Help! I’ve turned into my mother!
As much as I love my mum, I’ve lived in fear that our bloodlines run so deep I was bound to inherit some of her “quirky” (yes, that’s a diplomatic term) traits sooner or later.
While I’ve managed to dodge Ma’s penchant for sucking in her breath every time the car brakes (an unfortunate habit learned over decades of being in the passenger seat while my dad is driving), or haggling with poverty-stricken market vendors in developing countries over 10 cents or some such paltry sum (seriously, my heart breaks every time I witness this injustice), like her, I am now a perpetual rice-eater.
No matter how much protein or how many potatoes I consume, if I don’t eat rice, I’m just not satisfied. Not to mention, my belly starts rumbling barely an hour later.
Growing up, hot and fluffy rice took pride of place in the center of the dinner table, forming the blank canvas of my childhood palate. Plain white rice, usually jasmine, would be embellished by a stir-fry of bok choy and garlic, and turmeric fried chicken or spicy beef curry. The next day, any leftover rice was transformed into fried rice or thick rice porridge for breakfast.
Granted this rice-eating habit has followed me into adulthood, but when days are pushing 80 or 90 degrees, the last place I want to be is in a smoldering hot kitchen.
And so began my quest for no-cook — or as close to it as one can possibly get — rice recipes.
I’ve been inspired by visits to farmers’ markets, my favorite cookbook authors, and by experimenting with creative riffs on Asian favorites. The results were spectacular: a mound of rice studded with assorted seasonal vegetables, like gems, and seasoned with my favorite vinaigrette du jour; no-cook “fried” rice using the same ingredients but in different guises — grated carrots, shredded Chinese cabbage and crumbled hard-cooked eggs tossed with rice; rice cakes dipped in wasabi dressing, and the list goes on.
In the end, I’ve discovered several “out-of-the-wok” rice recipes to add to my repertoire, often saving the day when the pool, rather than the stove, beckoned.
Thank you, Ma, I owe you for this one!
Harvest Red Rice Salad
I’ve grown to love the reddish-brown hue of Thai red rice, some grains with the bran rubbed off to reveal the white beneath. The needle-thin grains are pretty to look at and have a pleasing chewy, nutty flavor. Thai red rice is unmilled (like brown rice) and takes longer to cook than polished rice like jasmine. However, because the grains are slender, they cook more quickly than other unmilled rices and use less water. Use a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid to ensure the steam is retained in the pot during cooking. One cup raw rice yields about 3 cups cooked rice. Measurements and times vary according to rice type, so follow the package directions. Jasmine rice takes 15 to 18 minutes. Find red rice at Asian markets or specialty markets, or substitute brown rice.
Makes: 4 salad servings, or 2 light lunch servings
1 cup Thai red rice
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or water
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice (about 2 large limes or 1 lemon)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 heaping tablespoon honey
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 green onions, using green parts only, chopped
1/2 green or red bell pepper, chopped (1/2 cup)
1/4 small red onion, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Wash the rice well and drain. In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine the rice and stock. Bring to a boil over high heat and let boil for 1 minute. Stir the rice to prevent sticking. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand covered for 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, whirl the canola oil, lime juice, soy sauce and honey in a blender until smooth to make the vinaigrette.
When done, fluff the rice with a fork and combine the rice and vegetables in a large bowl. Add the vinaigrette and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the salad sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving, or refrigerate for later.
This post is part of the monthly #Let’s Lunch blogger potluck. For more Let’s Lunch “Too Hot to Cook” posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below:
Lucy’s “The Girl in a Hat Goes on a Picnic” at A Cook and Her Books.
Monica’s Peanut Salad at A Life of Spice
Lisa’s Aperol Spritz Granita at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Cheryl’s Mango-Key Lime Pie at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Linda’s Escape from San Francisco Picnic at Spicebox Travels
Have you ever been struck by an incessant food craving that just won’t go away? (No, this has nothing to do with pregnancy.) It’s kinda like an earworm (click here for more info about this wonderful new word I just learned about on NPR), a song that lodges in your head and plays over and over again.
Most often, it’s a childhood snack or comfort food you crave–mom’s mac and cheese, Twinkies (RIP), or cherry-flavored jello. And it’s always, always, always, annoying because you simply can’t shake it off until you actually indulge it.
In my case, I’ve been fantasizing about glutinous rice balls in sugar syrup (also known as tang yuan,汤圆) for the last week or so. You know, those chewy white balls made from glutinous (or sweet rice) flour, the ones that burst open with one bite, releasing a lavalike flow of sweet black sesame paste?
So when Diana Kuan (who writes the marvelous blog appetiteforchina.com) invited me to participate in her Chinese New Year potluck to celebrate her new book The Chinese Takeout Cookbook, one recipe was calling, siren-like, out to me.
I’ve seen black sesame ice cream on menus before but I’ve never tried it, let alone attempted to make it. However, Diana’s recipe is so simple that my mind was made up before you could say “black sesame.” I whipped up the ice cream base in barely 10 minutes and the ice cream machine did the rest of the work.
The four hours the ice cream had to sit in the freezer to set seemed like a toe-tapping eternity. As soon as the timer went off, I scooped some out, sat down with a bowl of cool, nutty black sesame ice cream and ate my craving away spoonful by luscious spoonful.
If you’d like to win a copy of The Chinese Takeout Cookbook, please leave a comment below telling me where and/or in what dish you’ve tried black sesame seeds (and even if you haven’t, leave a comment anyway)! I’ll select a winner at random on March 8th.
Black Sesame Ice Cream
Adapted from The Chinese Takeout Cookbook by Diana Kuan
Diana uses a light Philadelphia-style eggless base for this delicious dessert infused with a hint of vanilla and the more dramatic nutty fragrance and flavor of black sesame, which is almost akin to dark chocolate or French roast coffee. I lightened it up a little and used half-and-half instead of heavy cream for a fluffier gelato-like texture. If you can actually resist gorging, the ice cream stores well in the freezer for up to a week.
Makes: 1 quart
Time: 10 minutes, active
2 cups half-and-half, or heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/∕8 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup black sesame seeds
Ice cream maker
Combine 1 cup of the heavy cream, the sugar, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Stir in the remaining 1 cup heavy cream, the milk, and vanilla extract. Cover and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. (If you are in a hurry, skip this step).
Grind the sesame seeds in a clean spice grinder for about 5 seconds until they turn into a coarse powder. Don’t grind for too long as the seeds will turn into a paste.
Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and slowly pour in the ground black sesame. Churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the ice cream to a freezersafe container and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Now for some disclaimers: I received a copy of this book as thanks for writing a blurb for the back cover. And in participating in this potluck, I’ll be given a copy of The Chinese Takeout Cookboook to share with one lucky reader as well as be entered in a giveaway. However, I am endorsing this book because it has awesome, easy recipes that I know you, my reader, will enjoy.
The Lunar New Year celebration lasts 15 days so there’s still plenty of time to eat your fill of lucky and auspicious foods for a prosperous year ahead.
Egg rolls (also called fried spring rolls) are a favorite all year round but they’re considered an auspicious food during the new year because they resemble gold bars and thus symbolize wealth and prosperity!
If you’d like to see a demo of me rolling egg rolls as well as learn more about lucky new year foods, here’s a video of my segment on King5 TV’s New Day Northwest (click on the still below and you’ll be taken to the video):
Here’s my recipe, enjoy!
Fried Egg Rolls (蛋卷)
I’ve adapted this lumpia (Filipino egg rolls) recipe from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook. I used carrots because in Mandarin, orange carrots are called hong luo bo (红萝卜), i.e. “red carrots,” and red symbolizes good fortune, while the yellow carrots are close enough to a golden hue and gold symbolizes wealth. Chinese chives are known as jiu cai (韭菜) which sounds like “forever vegetable,” and who doesn’t want a long life? Feel free to add or subtract whatever ingredients you’d like. Ground pork, glass noodles, cabbage, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, etc., are all great ingredients to add to the mix. The filling can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Makes: about 25 egg rolls
Time: 1-1/2 hours
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 tablespoon)
3 medium orange and yellow carrots, shredded (1-1/2 cups)
1 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped green beans
1 stalk Chinese chives, finely chopped
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
1 package egg roll wrappers (usually 25 wrappers, click here for my favorite brand)
1 egg white, beaten, or water for sealing
3 cups (or as needed) vegetable oil for deep-frying
Sweet and Sour Sauce (recipe follows)
To make the filling, place the chicken in a medium saucepan and fill with water until the chicken is submerged by about an inch. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water starts to boil, turn off the heat and cover. Let the chicken stand for 15 minutes. Test by cutting into a piece: it should not be pink. Let cool and shred the meat along the grain into tiny shards with your fingers, or chop into a confetti-sized dice. Reserve the stock for another use or discard.
In a small skillet, heat the 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is soft and light golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken, carrots, and green beans, and stir to mix. Add the soy sauce, remaining salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper (or to taste) and mix thoroughly. Add the Chinese chives and stir and cook until the mixture is heated through.
Allow the filling to cool completely.
To assemble the egg rolls, carefully peel one wrapper from the stack (cover the remaining wrappers with a damp cloth to keep them moist). Lay the wrapper on a dry work surface with one corner pointing toward you.) Place 2 tablespoons of filling just below the center line of the wrapper parallel to your body. Shape it into a mound 1 by 3 inches, leaving about 2½ inches on either side. Fold the corner closest to you over the filling and tuck it under snugly. Roll once, then fold the left and right sides in to form an envelope. Continue to roll the filling tightly into a fat tube until you reach the end of the wrapper. Before you reach the end, dab some egg white or water along the top edge to seal the egg roll. The egg roll should measure 4 to 5 inches in length and 1 to 1½ inches in diameter. Place on a plate or tray and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line a plate with paper towels. In a large wok, heavy skillet, or Dutch oven, heat the 3 cups oil over high heat until it reaches 350 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer.
Reduce the heat to medium-high. Using tongs, gently lower the egg rolls into the oil one by one; fry in a batch of 5 or 6 until both sides are evenly golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the egg rolls with a slotted spoon, shaking off excess oil, and drain on paper towels. Keep warm in the oven.
Bring the oil temperature back to 350 degrees F before frying the next batch. Repeat with the remaining egg rolls. Serve immediately with sweet and sour sauce.
Sweet and Sour Sauce
3 tablespoons rice or distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water to form a slurry
In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar, sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce to a boil over medium heat. Stir the cornstarch slurry and add to the pan, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Pour into a small bowl and serve with the egg rolls.
Some egg roll making tips (don’t heed at your own risk!):
- Keep your egg roll wrappers frozen and defrost in the refrigerator for an hour or two, or on the counter for 3o minutes.
- If your wrappers dry out, cover with a damp towel and microwave on medium for 10 seconds. They should soften up but work quickly before they dry out again and keep covered with a damp towel!
- Allow your filling to cool completely before wrapping your egg rolls. A warm filling may cause your wrapper to soften and tear, and your egg roll to fall apart.
- Don’t overfill your wrapper or #3 will happen.
- Make sure your oil is at the optimum temp before you start frying. Otherwise your egg rolls will come out soggy instead of crisp.
- When frying, don’t overcrowd your pan, otherwise #5 will happen.
- You can freeze unfried or fried egg rolls. Lay them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze them for about an hour. Then transfer them to a ziptop bag and freeze for up to three months.
- When ready to eat, deep-fry the frozen egg rolls (don’t defrost) for 2 to 3 minutes (pre-fried) or 5 to 7 minutes (unfried).
- To warm up fried egg rolls (that have been refrigerated or kept at room temp), preheat your oven to 325 degrees F and heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until crisp.
Here are some other dishes to help usher in a happy and prosperous new year:
“At least half the grains you eat should come from whole grain sources.” I’ve heard this mantra so many times it’s beginning to play in my head like a broken record.
I find it hard enough to abide by that myself all the time but convincing a toddler that chewy whole-wheat bread with grainy bits is tastier than pillow-soft white bread is an even harder sell.
True, it’s best to introduce your kids to whole grains sooner rather than later. Then they’ll think it’s just, well, normal, and grow up assuming that whole-wheat bread is yummy, and white bread is yucky (yeah, right!).
First things first, don’t assume your kids won’t like whole grains. I just leaped right into it, and I was lucky to get tipped off with some great ideas for one of the world’s most popular staple food, rice.
My most serendipitous discovery so far has been Korean jabgok-bap (mixed grain rice). The bag I found at an Asian market comprised barley, millet, sweet brown rice, brown rice, black rice (which gives the rice a pretty purple color when cooked), and white rice.
The ingredients in jabgok-bap can vary from five to 20 different grains to include legumes like kidney beans, black-eyed peas, soy beans, mung beans, split peas, etc., and even oats, amaranth, and sorghum. Rice is not indigenous to Korea and was very expensive when it first arrived. Hence, it was mixed with other grains to “stretch” the rice.
Don’t you just love how this frugal necessity can stealthily add vitamins, nutrients, fiber, and flavor to your diet?
I was talking to a Korean friend the other day and she told me that she makes her own rice “mix,” ensuring she adds plenty of whole grains like brown rice and millet to the combination. She says her three children love it!
Like any concerned parent, I want my son to eat–and enjoy–whole grains so I decided to try it out on him.
I went to the bulk section of my grocery store and picked out an assortment of grains for my custom-blend. I chose white jasmine rice (which my son already loves), brown rice, sweet brown rice, wild rice, red rice, pearl barley, steel cut oats, millet, and black rice.
I’ve been mixing and matching the grains and so far so good. My son gobbles it up without any fuss, not realizing he is now the poster boy for the USDA dietary guidelines!
Depending on your family’s tastes, feel free to use whatever grains you desire and mix them in any proportion. This is a great way to introduce your kids to brown rice and the very en vogue farro, buckwheat, and quinoa. Whole grains have a chewier texture and nuttier flavor that may not be as pleasing to them, so start off with less and use a greater proportion of the more palatable white rice or even orzo pasta. As time goes by, adjust the proportions. Keep experimenting until you find the right mix that your family loves.
1/4 cup (or more) of any of the following grains and legumes (Culinate.com has a fabulous guide):
Sweet brown rice
Steel cut oats
This is not really a recipe. Rather, it’s more a set of guidelines.
Mix all the grains in an airtight canister. Scoop out however much mixed-grain rice you’d like to cook. Wash and drain. If you have time, soak the grains for 30 minutes so they will cook faster. If not, just proceed to add the grains to your pot and add the required amount of water.
Since different grains require different amounts of water and varying lengths of time to cook, you’ll have to experiment to get mixed-grain rice done to your taste. I suggest starting with the ratio and time recommended for the longest cooking grain in your mix using your choice of method. For example, I cook my mixed-grain rice in the rice cooker with the 1:2 grain-to-water ratio recommend for brown rice. My appliance magically flips the switch when the rice is done.
However, you can cook the grains in a pressure cooker (30 minutes for brown rice) and on the stove top (45 minutes for brown rice) as well.
Or follow the guidelines here.
You may want to cook the grains in large quantities and freeze the leftovers in zip-top bags. Just microwave for 2 to 3 minutes on high to thaw. It tastes as good as freshly-cooked.
Use the mixed-grain rice to make rice salads, pilafs or just serve it with any dish you’d eat with white rice.