Peanut and Rice Porridge

peanut and rice porridgeOn my continued quest for savory, comforting breakfast meals, I came across this wonderful recipe for Peanut and Rice Porridge (or Khao Poon Tua Lin) in the beautifully researched Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid.

An equal combination of boiled peanuts and cooked rice ( I used a brown rice mix), blended together with a bit of peanut oil, soy sauce, and salt, then topped with braised greens and other textural condiments, this porridge overwhelmed me with flavor and texture, and it kept me going strong through a long day. I chose to top my porridge with braised spinach, fried tofu, crunchy toasted chickpeas, fried shallots, fresh coriander, chili oil, and a bit of chili sambal, but you could make your porridge much simpler. The flavor of the peanuts and rice, even alone, is wonderful comfort food.

This isn’t a quick dish – I had to boil the peanuts for about an hour to soften them, but instead of adding raw rice to the cooked peanut water, I saved some time and cooked the rice and prepared the condiments while the peanuts boiled. This porridge lasts nicely for a few mornings or afternoons: just add a bit of water and stir well to loosen the porridge before heating.


KimChi Soup

Y’all, it is nasty outside in Philadelphia. It was cold all weekend, and then icy, and now it’s raining and grey and almost everyone is in not the best of moods. Maybe you, too, need a spicy Korean soup to cheer you up?

I made this kimchi soup based on a recipe from Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” Kimche and tofu soup. A few changes – I used firm tofu that I had previously frozen instead of soft tofu, and I added a raw egg to the boiling soup after I put it in the bowl. Just make sure the soup is boiling when it goes in, and dunk that egg down into the broth, or spoon the broth over the egg so that it’s not RAW raw when the soup cools down enough for you to eat it. I also added a little leftover brown rice instead of cooking rice in the broth, and upped the kimchi since I didn’t have any spinach in the house. . Simple, spicy, delicious.

Tofu and King Oyster Mushrooms

I made a giant trip to H-Mart to stock-up on huge bottles (soy sauce, sweet soy, rice vinegar, sesame oil, olive oil, canola oil, chili) and of course came home with bags of vegetables. Oh H-Mart – you are so cheap, and you have such a selection, you lure me in every time. Trying to make the best use of the firm tofu in the fridge (I bought a 5 lb. container), bok choi and king oyster mushrooms that were blessedly on sale, I adapted this recipe into the meal above. I’m never adverse to adapting recipes – keeping what I like, tossing what I don’t, and always adding more garlic, ginger and spice. But it also makes plenty of sense to exchange vegetables you already have in the fridge (like my bok choi) for others (the carrots and broccoli called for in the recipe).

Tofu marinated in lemongrass and chili, pre-fried, and added at the last minute to fried king mushrooms, bok choi and a light coconut and chili oil broth. Served over left-over brown rice, with plenty of just blanched green onions. Delicious

Han Dynasty, or, a spice lover finally makes it to “handynasty”

Considering my deep and abiding love for spice, it’s amazing that it took me so long to make it to Han Dynasty, colloquially known as “handynasty.” I think it’s Old City location (versus Chinatown) threw me off, but when I went out of my way to make it in the door, bottle of crisp white wine in hand, I was not disappointed.

Many people are scared of the hot hot heat that is Schezuan, but don’t be afraid – Han has coded each menu item with a spice number. I have a pretty solid spice tolerance, but really, the “10” here didn’t kill me at all – just made me want more. This sultry dish was a “dry pot,” a metal bowl of vegetables and meat (sadly, the cooks refuse to substitute tofu) in hot chili oil with plenty of fresh chilis over a flame. In theory, the flame “dries out” the dish before it reaches your table. We didn’t find that to be the case, but it didn’t affect the deliciousness of the dish.

I had the pickled tofu which, coming in at a 5, made me concerned that it would be too tame. I asked our waiter to kick-up the spice quotient, and it came just perfect. On a side note, if you avoid pools delicious oil in your food, this is not the dish, or even the place for you. The oil helps to bring out the heat and flavor of the dried chilies, and is entirely necessary. That doesn’t mean that you need to drink the leftover pool at the bottom of your bowl.

After hearing so much praise about the Dan Dan noodles, I gave them a go and they were good – a spicy sort of cold sesame noodle, and definitely enough to share between two. The angels did not sing, but these noodles are certainly a step-up from a sesame noodles appetizer. With the addition of my companion’s chicken dumpling soup (which he deemed fantastic) we ended up taking piles of food home. It’s only fair to mention, at this point, that the prices are more than reasonable, and BYOB sweetens the deal.

I must, in good faith, warn you that the service was totally bizarre service. Different people were constantly arriving at the table to take our order (which one was our server? I don’t know) deliver or take things away, and check on our meal. Like, every 5 minutes. I was seated by an employee and then told by a different employees that my previous conversation didn’t count because employee #1 “doesn’t speak any English.” The food came out blazing fast – they’re just trying to get people in and out of the door. So YOU have to carefully pace your meal. Order one appetizer, then another, then wait away, then order your dinner. And try to ignore the distracted waitstaff and chefs fighting (and throwing dishes) in the kitchen.

Han Dynasty on Urbanspoon

King Soup, Vientiane

I can sing the praises of Vientiane’s affordable, delicious, vegetarian-friendly Laotian cuisine all the day long. I have never had a dish at this neighborhood BYOB that I didn’t like, and often I love whatever I ordered so much that I get in a rut, and can only order that exact same thing for months (sometimes years). So it’s a big deal when I break the mold and order something different. But this King Soup caught me eye – it was exactly what I wanted on a cool and rainy night. A coconut milk curry base with noodles, fried tofu, plenty of chilis and all the toppings of a traditional Pho. Perfect. Of course, I’ve had it twice again since I took this photo!

Su Xing House Vegetarian Chinese

Tucked away on Sansom Street in Center City, Su Xing offers a huge menu of all vegetarian Chinese food. The prices are more than reasonable (and even cheaper at lunch), the portions huge, and the staff polite and helpful. I stopped in on an early evening between the Opera and few hours at work to enjoy a nice meal and read the paper. I started with the hot and sour soup, which I am rarely able to resist. Su Xing‘s hot and sour is likely different than others you have tried. It’s not at all viscous or gloppy, and the heat comes towards the end of the bite, bright and sharp.

It can be difficult for me to make decisions when I have so many options – I’m just not used to an all-vegetarian menu – but can usually narrow it down by one of two ways. 1. Is it spicy? 2. Does it have mushrooms? If I can’t have both, I have to decide which I want more that day. Spicy usually wins out, as it did this day. I ordered the spicy garlic eggplant with tofu with brown rice. The sauce was almost delicate, yet still had kick and plenty of garlic. I ate just over half and then packed the rest up for a great lunch later in the week.

Su Xing House on Urbanspoon

Mr. Lee’s Lemongrass Braised Long Beans, tofu with shallots, garlic & sweet soy

I picked up some long beans at H-Mart last weekend, and I knew that I needed to use them soon. They certainly aren’t in season, and can get slimy fast. So I trimmed the ends and cut them into 1.5 inches pieces, and pulled out my trusty “Cradle of Flavor” by James Oseland – a great cookbook and general information source about the cooking of the spice islands. I had some new lemongrass, too, so I made Mr. Lee’s longbeans. Like almost all Indonesian cooking, this recipe starts with a samble – a sauce made from shallots, chilis, sugar, and other ingredients based on the recipe. The samble is fried first, to release its flavor, and then the beans are added. I tend to make my sambals “rustic” and don’t worry too much about how smooth they are, which results in a “chunkier” appearance after cooking.

The tofu was a bit of a disaster, maybe because I picked up the firm tofu instead of the extra-firm, or because I initially had the heat too high, but I kind of destroyed it, visually. But fried with garlic, shallots, sweet soy sauce and a dash of salt, the flavor was just fine.