Our first Cook the Books selection for 2010 is "A Taste For Adventure" by Anik See, hosted by the wonderful Rachel at The Crispy Cook. A delectable blend of travelogue, foodie memoir and cookbook (there are close to 40 recipes throughout the book), Anik See writes of her adventures around the world on a bicycle. Journeying to Malaysia, Singapore, Patagonia, Thailand, Georgia, Turkey, Armenia, Indonesia, Argentina, Iran, Mexico and Canada, See's
descriptions of the people she meets and the incredible food she shares with them are vivid and transport the reader to the many exotic places she visits. It was a fun book to read and I particularly enjoyed her chapters on Malaysia and Singapore and Thailand, three countries I traveled to frequently for business in a previous life. Although as a business traveler primarily (with a few pleasure trips thrown in on the side), I didn't have the same type of adventures and experiences See did but we did share the pleasure of wonderful food and incredible people. For my representation of the book I chose to journey to Thailand and cook two recipes, the first Clear Turmeric Soup with Fish (Tom Kamin Pla) from my own Thailand experience, and the second, Stall-style Minced Beef Stir-fry (Neua Pad Keemao) from the book.
One of my worst and best travel experiences happened on the same trip in Thailand where a long trip full of workshops in multiple countries with a co-worker was scheduled to end in Thailand with a long weekend on the island of Phuket. The bad part, I got the WORST case of food poisoning I have ever had. I won't go into all the details ;-) but I spent a miserable week flat on my back in the hotel room assuming I was going to die in Thailand and wishing it would happen already and end my suffering. (Yes, a bit dramatic but it was pretty bad!) By Friday I was at least able to hold down the crackers and 7-up the hotel doctor was making me eat, so my co-worker and I continued with our plans to relax in Phuket and arrived that afternoon to our hotel, Mom Tri's Boathouse. The kind people at the Boathouse took very good care of us and although I went to dinner the first night planning only on continuing my bread and 7-up, the waiter talked me into lemongrass tea, jasmine rice and a simple, clear turmeric soup with fish and mushrooms, that he felt would be good for my stomach. It might sound weird that it was my choice for my first real food in days, but it was delicious and I felt much better almost instantly. We were scheduled to take the hotel's weekend cooking class and I was feeling good enough to enjoy it. The chef Tummanoon Punchun was a kick--very funny and patient and our group was made up of people from all over the world. We bonded over food and even made a version of the soup I had eaten the night before. We all got a copy of "The Boathouse Cookbook" to take with us, signed by Punchun, the author-chef.
Clear Turmeric Soup with Fish (Tom Kamin Pla)
"The Boathouse Cookbook" by Chef Tummanoon Punchun
350 g (12 oz) fish (or chicken)
4 shallots, peeled
150 g (5 oz) turmeric root, peeled and roughly chopped
12 stalks lemon grass, outer skins removed
4 Tbsp chopped galangal
4 Tbsp chopped cilantro root
6 cups chicken stock
(added 1 can straw mushrooms, rinsed and drained)
4 tsp sugar
1/2 cup Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
(added the juice of 1 lime and cilantro to garnish)
Slice the fish and set aside. In a food processor, blend together the shallots, turmeric, lemon grass, galangal and cilantro root to make a smooth paste. Heat the chicken stock, then add the herb and spice paste and bring to the boil. (Note: I simmered the herb paste in the broth for about 10 minutes, then poured it through a fine mesh strainer to remove any solids then brought it to a boil and added fish and a can of straw mushrooms). Add the chicken of fish and simmer until it is just cooked. Season with sugar and fish sauce, and serve immediately. (Note: I reduced the amount of fish sauce by 1/2, added the juice of one lime and garnished with chopped cilantro).
Notes/Results: Still delicious and although Tom Kha Gai (coconut soup with chicken) will always be my favorite Thai soup, this one brought back the good memories of the trip. A visit to the Thai store gave me everything I needed to make the soup, and it goes together easily. I did realize why I never make it though, making the paste in the food processor gives ample opportunity for getting yellow stains from the turmeric root all over. My dishwasher is hopefully removing most of them as I type this. If you make it, I recommend straining the solids from the broth before adding the fish as outlined in my notes in red on the recipe. It was fun to pull out the cookbook and my folder of notes from the class (I still have it almost 10 years later!), to make this recipe.
I wanted to try one of the Thai recipes from the book and since I love lettuce wraps, the Stall-style Minced Beef Stir-fry sounded great and easy too. I used ground bison in place of the minced beef and since I got a half head of green cabbage in my CSA box, I used wedges of it to "scoop" up the beef.
From the book: "The cart owner peers at me from under a large, conical straw hat, then, grinning, he grabs a piece of meat and places it on a chopping board so worn into concavity it could be used as a bowl. In a rapid staccato of metal on wood, he attacks the meat with two cleaver, mincing it in a matter of seconds. After he pours a bit of oil into the wok, he stirs it with a pair of chopsticks and with his other hand tosses in a constant stream of ingredients--garlic, chilis, shallots, lemongrass, chopped coriander and it's root, the minced beef. A sharp, spicy smell hits my nose and drifts around me. Deftly he adds some liquid, a bit of sugar, then lines a large plastic bowl with lettuce leaves. He spoons the beef into it and pushes it towards me, smiling, showing me how to take one of the lettuce leaves and fold it so it is sturdy enough to use as a spoon."
See says: "This is a popular late-night snack on the streets of Bangkok. Bird chilis, lemongrass, palm sugar, and rice wine are available at any Asian food market. Cilantro with its roots still attached should be easy to find there too."
Stall-style Minced Beef Stir-fry (Neua Pad Keemao)
"A Taste for Adventure" by Anik See
(Serves 4 as a snack)
2 Tbsp oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 inch fresh ginger, grated
2 bird chilis, fresh or dried, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
2 inches fresh lemongrass, chopped, or 2 Tbsp dried lemongrass
1/2 bunch cilantro, with roots, chopped
1 lb minced beef (I used bison)
1/2 cup beef stock or water
2 tsp palm sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine or sake
1 head lettuce, separated into leaves (I used cabbage instead)
Heat the oil in a large wok over high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, chilis, shallots and lemongrass and cook for 2 minutes. Add the cilantro and beef and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, breaking up the beef as you stir. Add the stock, palm sugar, soy sauce, and rice wine. Bring everything to a boil and cook for another minute. Serve in bowls with lettuce on the side for scooping.
Notes/Results: This was delicious, nicely spicy with lots of layers of flavor. It's a bit spicy and a bit sweet with a nice little tang to it and its perfect scooped up on cold cabbage leaves (or lettuce if you want to use it). With all the liquid--stock, sake, soy sauce, it is different from the dry beef in most lettuce wraps or the larb (ground meet mixture) I get at my local Thai restaurant and I think it is a great alternative. I will make this one again.
Great food for a great book--that's what Cook The Books is all about. Thanks to Rachel for picking such a fun and interesting book for this round! Rachel will be posting a round-up of all the dishes from "A Taste for Adventure" at the Cook the Books site soon. BTW--I am hosting the next book, one of my favorites and a foodie classic, "Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel. (We will be reading and posting a dish for this book by March 26th). If you want to join us and read or re-read this wonderful book, you can get all the Cook the Books details here at the CTB site.