Kitchen hour: quasi-Osaka Okonomiyaki

When I walked down that aisle, I beamed with pride. In my hand, a bag of okonomiyaki flour, a bag of katsuobushi, bottles of sauces and aonori. Kristen took care of the cabbage and meats. Pancake day. Osaka style. At least that was the plan. We didn’t plan on being authentic. We couldn’t. An American-born Taiwanese and a Vietnamese who haven’t lived in Japan at all are not gonna make an “authentic okonomiyaki” on first try. That’s why we chose premixed okonomiyaki flour instead of grating a nagaimo, bottled mayonnaise instead of whipping up eggs and oil ourselves. But just the thought of making our own okonomiyaki in whatever shape we want and however we want it, not having to go anywhere and regretting over soggy, over-salted mashes called okonomiyaki, generated the we-can-own-this attitude that guaranteed pride no matter what the outcome. It’s a sort of defiance after too many letdowns. Instead of mixing flour with water, we boiled roasted corn and mixed flour with corn tea. Apart from that and the avoidance of green onion (I’d add green onion if I’m making pajeon – green onion pancake, but not okonomiyaki), and impatience – pouring more [...]

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White Kimchi for amateurs and Kimchi Cabbage Salad

A week we waited. Today had the moment of truth arrived. Open the jar we did. Saw some white stuff on the top layer that initially worried us but turned out to be just bits of ground garlic. Off we scraped them anyway, and to check the pickle juice that heavy jar we tilted. Little Mom, who more than anyone I know carrots and bean sprouts and bokchoy pickled has, to me revealed that if the juice is cloudy, the smell “sour in a bad way” and the cabbage disintegrating, into the trash go the kimchi must. But clear is the juice, garlicky and sour in a good way the smell, and crunchy the cabbage. Few moments in life there are when I feel so happy that I get quiet for fear of having mistaken. This is one of those. Followed by a high five and a hug with Kristen. And yes, being someone who hardly ever cooks then succeeding at making kimchi on first try will make you speak like Yoda. On our side the Force is today. Okay, so we tried to follow Dave Chang’s recipe in Lucky Peach #2, but [...]

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Kitchen hour: Make White Baechu Kimchi

Yesterday is momentous. Here we are, making kimchi. Is that a big deal? Yes. There’s a joke that if you’re gonna get married into a Korean family you’d better learn how to make kimchi. It’s just pickled vegetables, but it has an entire nation behind its back (and a pretty proud one at that), so you can’t mess with it and expect something good to happen. So here we are, jotting down the recipe from Lucky Peach Issue 2, going to Koreana, buying a clay jar to show that we mean business. Glass jars are so… see-through? (And no, there’s no Korean wedding that I know of… for now. Maybe Kristen will shoot me an invitation to her big day next month with Park Hyunbae and now she’s just using the delicious drama Kimchi Family as an excuse, and I’m her Guinea pig. :-D) But yeah, for now, Kimchi Family is the main reason to our story. It’s a Korean food drama, and it’s delicious. Not only do they show tasty pictures of kimchi glistering and steaming under the sun beam, they make food making seem peaceful! It’s not like Food Network competition stuff where all [...]

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Mung bean porridge

Rice porridge was my enemy. In elementary years, I got a fever about once every month. Aside from feeling tired and having weird dreams when the fever got high, I didn’t really mind that, but my mom did. She was so worried she wouldn’t sleep for days, not until my temperature went back to normal. And she made sure that I ate my rice porridge. She made rice porridge with ground pork and rice porridge with fish, she added vegetable, she seasoned it perfectly, and I still hated every spoon of it. I hated the texture of rice porridge: mushy and textureless. I hated both thick porridge and watery porridge(*). Every porridge meal was a battle between Mom and me, and I always lost, which deepened my aversion to porridge even more. But there were happy days when I actually liked my fever porridge and didn’t need my mom to prod: it was mung bean porridge on those days. Actually, there’s rice in mung bean porridge, too, but the mung bean skin makes the porridge all nuttier and better. Then it’s a sweet porridge (just rice, mung bean and sugar, no meat), so that’s doubly better. [...]

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Ice cream and potato chips

– 2 scoops Dreyer’s Double Fudge Brownie ice cream – 1 scoop Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia froyo – A handful of potato chips Use the potato chips to scoop the ice cream. They may break, in which case lick your finger and get a spoon.

Bánh bèo tips from Mrs. Tự

A couple of millimeters thin, chewy, savory, bánh bèo, the waterfern-shaped appetizer, is as familiar to the Vietnamese dining tables as crab cakes to Americans. But not everyone makes it at home because it takes more time than its worth: make the rice flour batter, steam the banh, make the toppings, mix the fish sauce. In fact, I’ve had homemade bánh bèo only once, and it was at my friend’s family restaurant. That said, there are skilled and dedicated grandmas who insist on making everything from scratch for the best bánh bèo. One of them is Mrs. Tự, and Little Mom happened to see one episode of her cooking show on TV last week. So below are some tips on bánh bèo from Mrs Tự, collected from the show Nghệ Thuật Nấu Ăn Bà Tự (The Cooking Arts of Mrs Tự) on Global TV Houston. 1. Texture: The thinner bánh bèo is the better bánh bèo. Of course, resilience is a must, it should not be as chewy as a mochi, but it should have enough strength to hold itself together as the eater picks it up with chopsticks. How to make a thin but resilient [...]

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Lychee and mung bean che (Chè đậu xanh trái vải)

This dessert requires no skill in the making, but it ranks way up in the chè hierarchy, topping taro che and my own banana tapioca pudding. Beside the fact that Little Mom invented it, I always like things with lychee. Because everyone’s sweet tooth differs, it doesn’t make sense to have a fixed recipe for this simple dessert. One package of halved mung bean (with the green skin on), 1 can of whole lychee, 1 can of coconut milk, raisins, sugar and water are all there is to the pot. The mung bean need to be soaked in water overnight to soften and cook faster. The coconut milk and the syrup from the lychee can are mixed with water to cook the bean. More or less water depends on how thick you like your chè; the more liquidy chè served cold, which I prefer, is suitable as a palate cleanser after a big meal, and the thicker version is best as a midday snack. When the mixture boils and the bean becomes soft enough to dissolve in your mouth, add raisins and sugar to taste. Wait until [...]

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Central Vietnamese rice cracker roll (bánh đa cuốn thịt)

It’s the 29th of the 12th month in the lunar calendar. The last day of the Year of the Cat. The last day before Tet officially starts. But the preparation for Tet is also Tet. Having a good time is also Tet. Being home is also Tet. One of the best parts of being home is not just getting to eat a lot. It’s getting to eat a lot of food that I would never have known otherwise. This time, Little Mom introduced me to the Central Vietnamese fun of a rice cracker roll. When I first heard the name, I thought I heard it wrong: how can you make a roll out of a stiff, crunchy, airy rice cracker (which we call a bánh tráng nướng in the South, or bánh đa in the North)? Simple. You dip it into water. Just like you would with the normal dry rice papers to make gỏi cuốn or chả giò. Except in this case, you get an extra thick roll with some crunch and air in the bite, and the nuttiness of thousands of sesame seeds ingrained in every bánh đa. The filling is [...]

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Tricitronnade – Three-in-one Lemonade

The triple punch from Little Mom: orange, lemon, and salted lime. Like instant ramen and popsicles, it all started from the leftovers: half a glass of a-little-too-salty salted lime drink, half a too-sour-to-eat orange, another half glass of normal lemonade (although Little Mom’s lemonade is not quite like any other lemonade, in a good way), and an ounce of reasoning. There was no sense in keeping them separately. The combined power shines a sweet yellow of tourmaline, smells like an orchard near the harvesting season, and tastes good enough to get me all poetically cheesy. Below is Little Mom’s recipe for the salted lime. As for the recipe of this “tricitronnade”, I would imagine that the orange doesn’t have to be sour. [...]

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Black tea rice

Vietnamese Something occurred to me within the last month: I probably should learn to pair drinks with food, but I hardly drink anything beside water and soymilk. Now I would *love* to learn about the different kinds of water, but living in the city makes it a bit difficult, and soymilk can’t be paired with everything like wine (yet). Coffee, alcoholic beverage, juice? Didn’t quite catch on. So what does that leave me? Tea. A quest takes form: Mai is going to learn tea. And Mai will cook with tea, too. Because boiling water to drink tea takes some work, I might as well make it worth a meal. How much influence the ochazuke at Mifune had on me, I’m not sure, but during the two minutes of wringling my brain out for some easy way to use tea in food, the first thing that came to mind was cooking rice with tea. Now that’s the difference between my tea rice and the ochazuke: my tea rice is rice cooked with tea, and the ochazuke is rice eaten with tea, like a soup. As with everything, there’s the easy way and the [...]

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