Saturday, June 12, 2010

Back from Europe, Now Exploring Asia

Wake up! Wake up!

While in Europe for 11 weeks, this little blog as been on sabbatical too. It's time to wake it up!

We had some spectacular meals while traveling. Some disappointments. And some that got us adequately fed to keep going from day to day. We discovered that it was tough to pick the memorable meals -- sometimes they just came out of nowhere and surprised us. Like the braised pork knuckle in the beer joint in Regensburg. Or the rotisserie rabbit from the chicken man in Ansouis. Or that dried out gnocchi that I discovered could be pan fried.

DSC06307But it wasn't till we hit northern Europe that we found meal after meal of reliably great food. Like this one from a fabulous Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam. Unlike the France and Italy, which seem mired in the past, where you were hard-pressed to find any food other than French or Italian, the Dutch have embraced a wide variety of cultures, and their food has benefited from this. Even in the restaurants that were not primarily Asian or middle-eastern we found a sense of adventure and experimentation that led to fun, tasty meals, prepared by fun, energetic chefs.

I do prefer the bold, knock-your-socks-off flavors that come from Asia and the Middle East over the more subtle flavors of Europe. They take hold of your palate, shake it around, and don't let go. Yum.

Before we left, I discovered the HMart, a relatively new Asian grocery mega store in Burlington, MA. Every aisle is jam-packed with tasty goodies. And I don't know what to do with most of it. An opportunity!

Eleanor and I took our first visit since "the trip" a couple of days ago, and she was pretty good about keeping me for over-buying, saying several times, "Dad...remember, we've got to eat that stuff before it goes bad". Point taken.

My problem in the past with the HMart has been that I don't know what to do with anything. But then I don't remember what the possibilities are when I'm home preparing for the NEXT visit, so I'm never prepared. So this time, I snapped pictures of the stuff that intrigued me, and that I needed to learn more about. And I bought a book on Amazon, still to come, called, Asian Ingredients: A Guide to the Foodstuffs of China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, which promises to help me figure some of this stuff out. Here's some of the stuff I've got my eye on...a SMALL sample. Greens galore. Tubers and roots and fruits and greens. Greens.
A visit to the HMart

And the prices were very reasonable.

And fish. I'm very excited about trying out the fish. They have a spectacular fish counter with LOTS of fish, that mostly looks very fresh, which they will dress for you any way you want. Next time, I'll be prepared. I founds some good recipes in a book that Susan had on the shelf.

In the meantime, I had a lot of greens on my hands -- something called Yu Choy, which looked like a cross between spinach and mustard greens and bok choy. And Shanghai bok choy, which was smaller than regular bok choy, but bigger than baby bok choy. And some hen-of-the woods mushrooms. And a new tamari sauce. So I prepared what to me has been my go-to Chinese food preparation, which I haven't done much of in years:
  •  Marinate thinly sliced meat (in this case, frozen chicken thighs from Trader Joes) in a mixture of a few tablespoons of soy sauce and dry sherry, some splashes of rice wine vinegar, and a teaspoon or so of corn starch.  
  • Prep all the veggies in advance, minced garlic, bit-sized pieces of scallion, and the chopped greens.
  • Stir fry the scallions, then the garlic for 20 seconds or so, then add in the greens, and when the greens are a little wilted and bright green, pull them out of the wok and set aside.
  • Stir fry the chicken in a some oil and garlic in batches, until just done.
  • Add back in the veggies, turn the heat down, and add a sauce made of the same soy/sherry/vinegar/corn starch mixture as the marinade, till heated through and shiny.
  • At the very end, stir in a couple of teaspoons of crab paste.  Secret ingredient.
  • Serve over rice (in this case, brown rice).

Anyway.  There's a project a-brewing to experiment my way through the HMart.  It may take a decade or two, but I think I'm up to it.  Stay tuned!

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