Asian food is hard to cover in a few hours. So many countries, so many foods. We had reports on Eastern China, known for stinky tofu, congee and red cooking, Vietnam, with its French, Chinese, and Indian influences, Southern India, which unlike Northern India, does not focus on spicy foods. Japan, China, Singapore, Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia were also presented. We discussed the common elements among the Asian countries which include unusual spices and herbs which are not only used to season foods but thought to have medicinal purposes. Current research is confirming the health benefits of ingredients used in Asian foods–ginger, cumin, turmeric, peppers, are all thought to improve or prevent certain diseases. Rice was common in all the countries we discussed as well.
Our assignment for the evening was to prepare dishes we were assigned by table and to create a stir fry inspired by the country we studies. In my case I studied Singapore. Singapore was a mystery to me until I remembered the Anthony Bourdain episode I watched several months ago. I had recorded that episode because I was interested in a dish called Hainanese Chicken Rice, and I did make it once time. It is one of the national dishes of Singapore and involves cooking the chicken in simmering water, plunging it into ice water briefly to separate the skin from the meat. The chicken is served with spicy chili dipping sauce and dark soy accompanied by rice which was cooked in the chicken broth. Very good dish. I found out a lot more about Singpore including the various influences from Indonesia and India. Another dish I’ve had but never thought much about the origin of, was Nasi Goreng. Nasi goreng is a rice dish with a very spicy kick from the red pepper and also includes ginger, turmeric and tamarind paste.
The assigned dishes for our table included: Cold sesame noodles (China), Tom Yum Pa (Laos),
Samosas (India) and we could participate in a sushi station set up by Chef Kurima if we had time.
I made the noodles, Martha did the samosas, and Stephanie made the soup. For my individual stir fry I made a version of Nasi Goreng with cabbage, tofu, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, tamarind paste, ginger, soy sauce and hot pepper. It was very spicy and tasty, good enough that I will definitely make it again. My sesame noodles were simple but flavorful. I made two types–one with a peanut butter based sauce and the other with a tahini based sauce. Both were good but I preferred the peanut butter base for the texture more than the taste. The tahini based sauce would quickly thicken up whereas the other stayed perfect.
Other dishes made by classmates included: Singapore noodles (my personal favorite–rice noodles with shrimp and chicken, curry, basil and many other spices), various meat filled dumplings, incuding Japanese gyoza, pho bo from Vietnam, green curry, vegetable pancakes from Korea to name a few. Our recipe packet included several other recipes, one of which was for okonomiyaki, savory Japanese pancakes. I would have loved to be assigned that dish. In Japan there are restaurants which have nothing but okonomiyaki and you sit at a table with a griddle set in the middle where you cook the pancake with various vegetables and meats. It’s served with a sweet and savory soy sauce and of all things, mayonnaise. Sounds weird but so good. I’ve made this at home but it never tastes like it did in Japan.
My sesame noodle dish was easy to prepare so I had time to help Martha with the samosas. I rolled the dough out for 24 dumplings and it reminded me of the time I made homemade pot stickers (not very good–too thick dough). I also had a few minutes to try out the sushi station. It was so much fun to roll a couple maki rolls and make a couple hand rolls. I hope we can have more time to experiment with sushi later.
At the end we all sampled the 11 assigned dishes and the 11 individual stir frys. Imagine being faced with 22 dishes on a buffet at 10:00 PM and trying to decide what to eat. Sad thing is I wasn’t hungry since we had been treated to a delicious meal earlier in the evening–pork roast, tabouli and some lentils. I did try a few things, some delicious, some strange and a few very strange. I definitely plan to learn how to make more foods from the Asian countries, particularly India, Indonesia, and Thailand.