Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Monthly micro-batch: tom kha sorbet

One of my favorite Thai dishes is tom kha soup. I adore the combination of spices that bring sweet, sour, and spicy into stark relief. By adding more coconut and sugar, I was able to create a bright sorbet that both surprises and delights.


  • kaffir lime leaves, sliced

  • 2 inches lemongrass stalk, sliced

  • 3 slices galangal

  • 2-3 Thai chilis, sliced

  • 1 lime, juiced

  • 1 mature coconut (or use a can of coconut milk)

  • 1/4 C sugar


Step One

If you're making your coconut milk, start by cracking open the coconut by hitting it with a hammer. Note that there is water in the center that will escape when cracked.

Step Two

Score the coconut meat and then pry it out in chunks with a butter knife. My oyster shucking knife was perfect for this. You can also grate out the coconut meat with a coconut scraper.

Step Three

Rinse the meat and place in the blender. Fill the blender with about a 1/2 C of fresh water and process.

Step Four

Strain the milk from the meat, squeezing to remove as much milk as possible. You can toast the meat as there will be a lot left.

Step Five

Put the kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, and Thai chilis in a pan with 1/2 C water and bring to a boil. Continue to boil for 10 minutes and then turn off the heat. Stir in the sugar, cover, and allow to steep for at least 30 minutes.

Step Six

Strain off the spices and stir in 1 1/2 C of the coconut milk, making sure to get as much of the coconut cream as possible. Process in an ice cream maker till frozen and smooth. Serve with fresh tropical fruit, such as mango.

Effort: Medium (Hard if you make the coconut milk)
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Yield: 2 C

Friday, March 25, 2011

Larb tau-hu tor

After making soy milk, I ended up with a lot of spent beans, okara. There are lots of uses for okara, from feeding them to farm animals to making veggie patties out of them. Perhaps inspired from my recent trip to Thailand, I thought their texture would be great for making a vegetarian version of my favorite Thai dish, larb gai. Like tofu, okara (or roughly translated into Thai, tau-hu tor) doesn't have much of a taste and picks up all the bright and spicy flavors in the larb dressing. Unlike tofu, okara, with all the fibrous parts of the beans, has a bit more texture to it. While it contains about a third of the protein that you'd find in tofu, the improved texture and the fact that I'm eating something that I would have thrown away makes it a win-win for me.


  • 2 C okara (or substitute ground up tofu or chicken)

  • 2 T cooking oil

  • 2 T soy sauce (or substitute fish sauce)

  • 1 spring onion, chopped

  • 1 T galangal, minced (or ginger)

  • 1 t lemongrass, minced

  • 3 Thai chilis, minced (use more or less to your taste)

  • 2 T cilantro, chopped

  • 3 T mint, chopped

  • 1 lime, juiced

  • 1 t sesame seed oil

  • 2 T toasted rice powder

  • 6 romaine heart leaves


Step One

Cut up all the vegetables, except for the mint. Chop the mint immediately before serving so that it doesn't brown too much.

Step Two

Heat the cooking oil in a pan over medium flame. Add the okara and stir. Let it cook without stirring for about 5 minutes, then stir. Do this a few times to brown some of the okara. This will help give it a bit of textural dimension. Add the soy sauce and thoroughly mix in. Continue to do the stir, sit, stir for about 10 - 15 more minutes.

Step Three

Meanwhile, to make the dressing, mix the lime juice and sesame seed oil.

Step Four

Add the vegetables to the lime-oil and mix thoroughly. Now is the time to chop the mint.

Step Five

Add the hot okara, mint, and toasted rice powder to the dressing and mix. Serve over lettuce leaves. I really like using romaine hearts because they're strong enough to hold up to filling with the larb.

Effort: Medium
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 2 servings

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tastecation: Koh Phra Thong

I just returned from a fabulous two week tastecation with two friends in Thailand. Realizing the potentially positive power of our tourist dollars, when we traveled to the beautiful beaches in the Southern peninsula of the country, we opted to stay at the ecotourism resort, Golden Buddha Beach Resort. Did the custom made vegetarian Thai food taste better because we knew it was locally sourced and helped to employ local villagers? Maybe a little.

It didn't hurt that we were on a beautiful island, barely touched by development. As I took my cold showers in the outdoor bathroom, I was surrounded by a plethora of gorgeous plants and animals such as mischievous macaques, Oriental Pied Hornbills (seen above), Streak-breasted Woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and a vast assortment of lizards and geckos.

In addition to the resort and local villagers, the island also houses a turtle conservation group (Naucrates) and an ecotourism dive shop (Blue Guru). While both are run entirely by non-Thais (farangs), their contributions are to the global conservation effort and the local Thai communities. Many of the volunteers and interns for both groups live among and interact with villagers in the post-tsunami built Baan Lions village so care deeply about the environment and the people who live in it.

Commercial fishing delivers a one-two punch to the local area. First, Dave, a member of the Naucrates' crew, told me that it is likely having a negative impact on the turtle population due to the heavy use of purse seines and trawlers. These boats turn the clear horizon (seen below) into what looks like an interstate highway when they turn on their squid-luring lights.

Second, commercial fishing boats, which often bring in cheaper labor from other countries, overfish the areas making it much harder for local fishermen who practice traditional and more environmentally sustainable fishing techniques.

The dive experts at Blue Guru have a number of education and conservation programs, but one of their most interesting is the working with local Thai educating them about the value of ecotourism and the environment. As a part of this effort, they've taught the twins Tam and Thoom to dive, giving these 19-year-old fishermen a different view of and appreciation for the waters they've known all their lives.

Images from

We did two days of diving with Blue Guru and the twins. The second day, the dive masters took us to a new dive spot that they'd discovered through the twins. We got to watch them tap into the fisherman community as they asked another fisherman to help them find the spot. When we got there, this spot was rich with fish and untouched coral - I've never had a better dive. This is an amazingly reciprocal relationship in which the dive masters teach the twins about the fragility of the ecosystems in the sea (something they understand anecdotally through declining fishing hauls) and the twins share their vast knowledge of the area with the dive masters.

This rewarding and relaxing experience served to remind me of the interconnectedness between the communities of people who grow, harvest, and hunt the food we each and the precariousness of the entire system.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fresh soy milk

A tall glass of soybeans is not super tasty. But with just a little bit of work, you can have your own soy milk.

  • 1 C dry soybeans
  • Fresh water
  • Salt, sugar, vanilla (optional, to taste)
Place dried soybeans in a foodsafe, nonreactive container. Leave enough room for the beans to expand to at least twice their volume. Cover with water and allow to soak for about 12 hours. Check the water level periodically and add more water if needed.

Thoroughly drain the beans and rinse.

You'll notice that the beans have doubled in size and the husks have started to come loose. No need to pick out the husks, you'll strain them off later.

Transfer the beans to the blender. Cover with fresh water plus 2 C more. Blend to smooth, on high for one minute. Do this step in batches if you plan to make more than a pint of soy milk.

Pour into a large pot and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Make sure to use a large pot because it's likely to boil pretty high. Turn down the heat and boil for 20 minutes.

Strain through cheesecloth and squeeze out every last drop. Try it out - you'll definitely taste the soy and maybe a bit of bitterness. Add sugar, salt, and vanilla to taste. I used about 1/2 t vanilla and 1 t sugar. Feel free to add other flavors, like chocolate, cinnamon, or orange zest.

Place in a container and refrigerate. Use within a few days or freeze to use later.

Save the solids. They're called okara and can be used in other recipes. It still contains 17% of the soy's original protein.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fresh sauerkraut

Right before leaving for vacation, I saw some fresh cabbage at the farmers' market and figured it would be smart to make a batch of sauerkraut. Now it's ready, just in time for St. Patrick's day. This is so easy to make, you'll wonder why you ever bought it at the store.


  • One small green cabbage (about 3lbs)
  • 2T salt
  • Fresh water

Cut the cabbage in half and remove the core. Thinly slice the cabbage. If you have a shredder, use that, if not, simply cut with a knife.

When you've got it all shredded/sliced, place in a non-reactive bowl and mix in the salt. Stir thoroughly with a wooden spoon for about 5 minutes and then let rest for a half hour.

After the salted cabbage has rested, start to knead it to help release the juices in the cabbage. Continue to do this till you've got as much water out as possible. The fresher the cabbage, the more juice it will have/release.

Once finished kneading, put into a sterile, food-safe container. I used a quart glass jar, but you can use plastic. Add water to cover the cabbage. Make sure that none of the cabbage pieces float to the top. Cover with the lid or push down the cabbage with a plate or plastic bag filled with water.

Let the cabbage ferment for about 3 - 4 weeks. Check it occasionally and add more water if the level starts to get low. This didn't happen to me, but if the water starts to grow stuff on it, just skim it off and continue. After you've let it ferment, eat it immediately, store it in the fridge, freeze it, or can it for future use.