However you call it, congee or rice porridge, don’t ever call it gruel! Just like tofu, I think there’s a bit of a misconception on what congee is here in America. A staple for breakfast and lunch in most Asian countries, congee is rice and water (or broth) cooked down into a thick porridge. This might not be the most exciting sounding dish if you never had it before, but the great thing about congee is it’s a base to add almost anything you want. You can make it vegetarian – Chopped Romain Lettuce Congee, Mix Mushroom Congee, Kale Congee. You can add meat – Chicken and Ginger Congee, Roast Turkey Congee (this is one of my favorite ways to use leftover Thanksgiving turkey), Offal Congee, Salted Pork with Salty Egg Congee. You can also add seafood – Abalone Congee, Fish Fillet Congee, Mixed Seafood Congee. There’s even congee hot pot! One of my favorite congee is Watercress Congee. It’s my go-to food when I want something light after one to many heavy overindulgent meals. This is a seafood version of it.
To cook a perfect pot of congee, it’s all about knowing the right water to rice ratio. Everyone does it slightly different. Jook, Cantonese congee, typically has a higher water to rice ratio than okayu, Japanese congee. Jook is also cooked with long grain rice while okayu consist of short grain rice. While jook is cooked mainly with water, congee in most Southeast Asian countries, like Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines, use broth or a combination of broth and water. Cooking time also varies – jook takes at least an hour while okayu takes usually half an hour.
This Salmon and Watercress Congee is sort of a hybrid version of jook and okayu combine. Unlike jook, instead of long grain rice I’m using short grain rice, which is what okayu is cooked with. Short grain rice tends to be stickier than long grain rice because of its high level of amylopectin starch. If you want to learn more about the different types of rice starches, Linda Larsen’s Rice Science article is a good read. Unlike okayu, I’m using a higher water to rice ratio and the cooking time is longer, just like jook. One thing I love about okayu is how creamy and silky it is. Because of its high level of amylopectin, short grain rice takes on a velvety texture after it’s cooked for a long period of time. So after a few trials and errors, this is my go-to congee ratio – 12:1. 12 parts water, 1 part short grain rice.
Salmon and Watercress Congee
1/2 cup short grain rice, washed
6 cups water
10 oz salmon fillet, skinless
3 oz watercress, roughly chopped
10 slices of ginger, about 1 inch by 1 inch, julienne
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp shaoxing wine
Cut skinless salmon fillets evenly into one inch cubes about half inch thick. Place in a large bowl and add the olive oil, salt, white pepper, shaoxing wine, and a third of the julienne ginger. Mix well and set aside in the fridge.
In a large pot, add the water and the washed rice. Cover the pot with a lid and bring it to a boil. This should take about 10 minutes. When it starts boiling, turn it down to a simmer and cover the pot. 15 minutes later, stir the rice making sure it’s not sticking to the bottom. Cover the pot again and stir the rice one more time 15 minutes after the first stir. Cover the pot one last time and simmer for 30 minutes. When the congee is done, it should look creamy and silky.
Take the salmon out from the fridge, turn the flame to medium high and add it to the congee. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes until the salmon is done.
Add the watercress, stir, turn off the flame, and season the congee with salt to taste.
Serve the congee in bowls with the remaining julienne ginger on top and lightly drizzled with sesame oil.
Growing up in the east coast, winter does not feel like winter until there is snow on the ground and I can see my breath in the air. After a warm first week of December, it looked like my chances of bringing out the snow boots this season were pretty low. I didn’t want to relive the blizzard of ’96 — snow days are just not the same after a certain age when thoughts of snowball fights are replaced with how are you ever going to dig your car out — all I wanted was a dust of it. Just enough snow for my dog to pounce around in, but not enough to hold my car hostage in its spot for the rest of the week.
Well, you know the old saying “be careful what you wish for”? Mother nature must of heard my rants about spring in winter and gave me what I wanted — plus more. There were a few days of snow that quickly melted and then there was rain a few days before Christmas, but right on New Year’s Eve, polar vortex arrived. It brought along fun things like single and negative degree temperatures, the power to turn everything into popsicles, pipes bursting like fireworks, and snow-snow-snow plus ice-ice-ice. Hibernating at home on days like these are perfect for two things — do absolutely nothing or non-stop cooking. Since this post exist, of course I picked the latter.
Homemade wontons are one of the most convenient foods to keep around. They freeze well, quick to cook, and for me they are the perfect winter late night snacks. 2am and don’t know what to eat? Wonton soup to my rescue. The classic Cantonese Hong Kong style wontons are usually filled with shrimp, pork, and yellow chives. As for the broth or soup that it’s served in, the ingredients varies. Restaurants who are serious about their wonton soups have their own blend of ingredients for the broth. Usually it’s a mix of both chicken and pork bones, but other ingredients such as dried shrimp, dried cuttlefish, and/or dried flounder are also added to give the broth a hint of seafood flavor. Growing up my dad frequently made the classic wontons on his days off from work, but just like spring rolls and dumplings, one of the best things about wontons are you can fill them with almost anything you want. Shrimp with bamboo shoots are one of my favorite fillings and so is pork with napa cabbage.
These Shrimp and Kale Wontons are nothing like the classic. Instead of serving it in broth, they are tossed with sautéed cremini mushrooms and a Spicy Kale Pesto Sauce. Leftover pesto can be stored in the freezer for about 2 months. If you want to store the pesto longer, omit the cheese from the recipe and add it in when you are using the pesto. I like to freeze pesto in snack size zip lock bags. They defrost fast and perfect for a quick lunch or dinner. This pesto is also great toss with spaghetti and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice right before plating.
Not in the mood for pesto and prefer a hot bowl of broth instead with your wontons? Bring a pot of water to boil, cook the wontons, and set it aside in a bowl. Next, warm up your favorite chicken broth and add in scallions, chives, and/or napa cabbage. When the broth is hot, pour it on top of the wontons, and serve with a drizzle of sesame oil on top.
Shrimp and Kale Wontons with Spicy Kale Pesto Sauce
SHRIMP AND KALE WONTONS (makes about 40 wontons)
1 lb shrimp
2 oz kale, any variety
1/2 tsp table salt
1 tsp sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp shaoxing wine
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 pack Hong Kong style wonton wrappers
Cut kale into thin strips and place in a bowl. Add the salt and using your hands mix and massage it with the kale. Mix for 2 minutes until the kale is wilted and there is a little kale juice in the bowl. Set aside.
Deshell and devein the shrimp. Rinse under cold water and pat dry. Make sure each shrimp is very dry before using it for the filling. Place the shrimp in a food processor.
Time to add the kale. With your hands, squeeze as much of the kale juice out of the kale. Place the squeezed kale into the food processor with the shrimp.
In the food processor, add sesame oil, minced garlic, shaoxing wine, white pepper, soy sauce, sugar, and cornstarch. Pulse 4 times. Open the lid and mix the mixture with a wooden spoon or chopstick. Close the lid and pulse another 4 times. Take the mixture out and place in a bowl. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
After the mixture is chilled, it’s time to wrap the wontons.
Things you’ll need:
1) A small bowl filled with water. The water is used to seal the wontons.
2) A butter knife to scoop the filling out. If you don’t have a butter knife, you can use a chopstick or the handle on a fork or spoon. You want something that is flat.
3) Hong Kong style wonton wrappers.
4) A large plate with a sheet of wax paper sprinkled with flour on top. This prevents the wontons from sticking to the plate.
Place about 2 teaspoon of the filling in the middle of the wrapper. Dip your finger and line two sides of the wrapper with water. Seal the wontons and lay them flat on the plate with wax paper.
To cook the wontons, bring a pot of water to boil. Add the wontons. Do not overcrowd the pot with too many of them. Stir the wontons making sure they are not sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Fresh wontons – Wontons that are wrapped the same day should take about 3 to 4 minutes to cook after you place them in the pot and the water comes back to a simmer.
Frozen wontons – Should take about 5 to 6 minutes to cook after you place them in the pot and the water comes back to a simmer. Frozen wontons do not need to be defrosted before cooking.
When the wontons are done, use a straining ladle to carefully strain the wontons and place in a bowl.
If you are using the wontons for wonton soup, sprinkle with chopped scallions, a drizzle of sesame oil, and pour the broth on top of the wontons. If you are serving it with the Spicy Kale Pesto Sauce, see below.
SPICY KALE PESTO SAUCE (makes 2 cups)
For the pesto:
8 oz kale, any variety, chopped
1 cup walnut, about 3 oz, toasted
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic
1 tblsp plus 1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp table salt
3/4 cup olive oil
For the sauce (serves 4 as an appetizer):
20 cooked wontons
2 tblsp kale pesto
8 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp nam prik pao, Thai chili jam
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
chives, chopped (optional)
la-yu, Japanese chili oil (optional)
In a food processor, add the kale, walnut, grated parmesan (omit the cheese if you are planning to freeze the pesto and add it in when you’re using the it), and garlic. Pulse until everything is finely chopped. Add in the lemon juice, salt, and olive oil. Pulse until everything is mixed. Taste for seasoning. If you need to add more olive oil, start with 1 tblsp.
Pesto storage tips:
Pesto will store in the fridge for 2 weeks. Make sure it is covered in olive oil and tightly sealed. To freeze pesto, divide it into individual servings. Remember to omit the grated parmesan when making the pesto and just add it in when you are defrosting it. Snack size zip lock bags and ice cube trays are good ways to store pesto in the freezer.
To make the spicy kale pesto sauce and to complete the dish, first divide 20 cooked wontons in 4 serving bowls. In a pan, sautéed sliced cremini mushrooms with a little bit of olive oil. When the mushrooms are golden brown, add add 2 tablespoons of the kale pesto, nam prik pao, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Mix until everything is combined.
Spoon the pesto sauce on to each bowl of wontons. Gently mix the wontons with the sauce. If desired, drizzle with la-yu and topped with chop chives. Served right away.
Serves 4 as an appetizer.
What is better than a kale shopping spree? Ok, I am pretty sure there are a lot of other things better than kale on sale, but last week I got a little crazy and wild and bought six bunches of kale during Whole Foods National Kale Day celebration. $1 a bunch for organic kale! I just could not resist. Then I got home, and like all shopping sprees, I stared at my purchases and realized I might have went overboard. So much kale. What to do?
I started to make a list. Stir fried kale with garlic and ginger with a splash of soy sauce and sake. Miso soup with kale and enoki. Beef and kale with oyster sauce. Potato, tomato, and kale curry. The list went on. One of the great things about kale is that it is a sturdy leafy vegetable. It is perfect in stir fry dishes and in soups and stews. Different varieties of kale will taste slightly different, but most varieties have a great earthy taste. Plus, and this might be the best part, they last at least a week in the fridge when stored properly. Just keep it loosely in a bag and unwashed until ready to use.
The choices with what to do with kale seem endless, so be prepare to see a few kale recipe posts in the upcoming weeks! First up is Kale, Seaweed, and Shiitake Fried Rice. The earthy taste of kale, combined with the slight saltiness and sea taste of seaweed, makes this dish a perfect side for seafood or meat entrees. Serve it along with poached chicken, kalbi (Korean BBQ ribs), or even with a sunny side up egg on top. Of course it is great on its own too!
Kale, Seaweed, and Shiitake Fried Rice
3 cups overnight cooked jasmine rice, 1½ cups uncooked jasmine rice makes 3 cups
2 cups chopped curly kale, about 3 big leaves
8 dried shiitake mushroom, rehydrated in water and sliced
2 tblsp fueru wakame, dried seaweed flakes
1 tblsp aonori ko, seaweed flakes
1 scallion, chop
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp soy sauce
FOR THE RICE. Overnight cooked rice is preferred for making fried rice. The grains are firmer, the moisture is less, and this makes the rice easier to stir fry. If you don’t have overnight cooked rice, you can use fresh cooked rice. Once the rice is cooked, spread the rice evenly on a flat surface (a large flat bowl or a cookie sheet) to cool. Let the rice cool for at least an hour. The longer it cools, the better and easier it is to stir fry.
FOR THE SHIITAKE MUSHROOM. The easiest way to rehydrate dried shiitake mushrooms is to soak them in water overnight. You can also rehydrate them the day you need it. In a saucepan bring 3 cups of water to boil. Turn the flame off and add the dried shiitake mushrooms. Cover the saucepan with a lid. The shiitakes will rehydrate in about an hour. After the mushrooms are rehydrated (overnight or the day of), rinse them, squeeze the excess water out, and pat dry. They are now ready to be slice.
In a small bowl, add 2 tblsp of fueru wakame (dried seaweed flakes) and fill the bowl halfway with cold water. To clean the seaweed, use your fingers and rub the dried seaweed flakes together for 10 seconds. Drain all the water out. The seaweed flakes do not need to be fully rehydrated, so do not worry if some of the flakes are still dried. Set the bowl of seaweed aside.
Heat 1 tsp of oil in a wok or large skillet. When the oil is hot, add the sliced mushrooms. Stir fry the mushrooms for 3 to 4 minutes until they start to brown a little. Turn the flame half way down and add 2 tsp of soy sauce and a pinch of table salt. Continue stir frying the mushrooms for one more minute and set aside.
In the same wok or large skillet, heat 1 tsp of oil. When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and chopped kale. Add ¼ tsp of table salt and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Stir fry the kale for about one to two minutes until it starts to wilt.
Add 2 tsp of oil and the cooked rice. Stir fry to combine the rice and kale. Add ¼ tsp of white pepper and ½ tsp of salt. Continue to stir fry the rice until the rice is warmed thoroughly. If your rice starts to stick to your wok or skillet, add ½ tsp of oil.
Add the cooked shiitake mushrooms, chopped scallion, and the bowl of seaweed (fueru wakame). Stir fry for one more minute until all the ingredients are combined.
Turn the flame off. Add in the aonori ko (seaweed flakes). Combine everything together. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main entree.
One of my favorite dish to order at my local Vietnamese restaurant is bun thit nuong (vermicelli with grilled pork). It seems that in most Vietnamese restaurants, at least half a side of a menu features the different variations of the dish. There is a vegetarian version, you can have it with grilled beef, shrimp, chicken, and even Vietnamese spring rolls. It is served along with nuoc cham, a fish sauce based dipping sauce that is sweet, sour, sometimes spicy, and highly addictive.
This popular vermicelli dish is refreshing, and as you can tell from the different variations, it is also versatile. For my version I wanted to include one of my favorite produce this time of the year – sweet, ripe, summer tomatoes. Charring both the tomatoes and the romaine lettuce adds a nice smokey flavor. The spicy garlicky fish sauce based dressing brightens and adds a kick to the dish. Shrimp was my protein, but you can add grilled chicken, pork, beef, and even portobello mushrooms instead.
One thing to keep in mind if you are planning to char your tomatoes and lettuce indoor is that it creates A LOT OF SMOKE. A LOT OF IT! So remember to turn on your exhaust fan to high and maybe even open a few windows. If you have an outdoor area and a portable burner, char it outside. That is what I did and I am happy I did. Of course you can also char on an outdoor grill as well.
Vermicelli Noodle Salad with Charred Tomatoes, Romaine Lettuce, and Shrimp
FISH SAUCE DRESSING (makes 2 cups)
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
3 tblsp lime juice, fresh squeezed, about 1.5 to 2 limes
1 head of garlic
3 bird’s eye chili pepper (Thai chili pepper)
Deseed the bird’s eye chili pepper or leave the seeds in if you want the dressing to be extra spicy. Finely mince the garlic and bird’s eye chili together. Set aside.
In a large glass bowl, add the sugar and hot water. Stir until the sugar is dissolve. Add the minced garlic and chili pepper, cold water, fish sauce, and lime juice. Mix well. Chill the dressing for at least 30 minutes. Dressing can be made overnight.
VERMICELLI NOODLE SALAD
1/2 lb medium shrimp (31/35 count size), 16 shrimps
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 lb Vietnamese vermicelli noodle (bun giang tay)
6 plum tomatoes
4 whole romaine lettuce
1/4 whole red onion
1 bunch mint
1 bunch Thai basil
1 bunch perilla leaves
1 bunch cilantro
Deshell and devein the shrimps. Rinse under cold water and pat dry. Place shrimps in a glass bowl and add fish sauce, olive oil, sugar, and black pepper. Mix well and marinate for 30 minutes.
In a large pot of water, cook the vermicelli noodles. Strain the noodles in a colander and rinse well with cold water. Drain and set aside.
Hand tear or roughly chop the mint, Thai basil, perilla leaves, and cilantro. Set the herb mixture aside.
Thinly slice the red onion. Set aside.
Slice the plum tomatoes and whole romaine lettuce length wise. Drizzle the cut side with olive oil. Set aside.
Heat a large cast iron skillet or griddle until it is very hot and smokey. Place the tomatoes cut side down. Cook until cut side is charred. About 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside on a plate.
Wait until skillet is hot again. Place the romaine lettuce cut side down. Cook until cut side is slightly charred. About 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside on a plate.
Cook the shrimp on the same skillet. About 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Set aside.
Divide the noodles into 4 servings. Place noodles in large individual serving bowls.
Chop the charred lettuce into bite size pieces. One half whole lettuce per serving. Slice the charred tomatoes lengthwise. Chop into bite size pieces. Three half plum tomatoes per serving. Place lettuce and tomatoes on top of noodles.
Add the shrimp (four shrimps per serving), sliced onions, and herb mixture on top of the noodles as well.
Place fish sauce dressing in four small bowls. Half a cup of dressing in each bowl. Serve noodles and dressing side by side. Pour dressing on noodles before eating. Mix and enjoy.
Grilled corn on the cob, the one food that almost everyone wants to eat at barbecues but afraid to. It’s messy and kernels can get stuck in between your teeth, but it’s so good. I wish I could tell you this recipe will solve that problem, but it doesn’t. If anything, it makes corn eating more messy. It’s worth it though. Soy sauce and butter is one of my favorite flavor combination. Besides corn, this sauce is also perfect drizzled on grilled or roasted new potatoes.
Grilled Corn with Butter, Soy Sauce and Aonori Ko (dried seaweed flakes)
4 ears of corn with husk
2 tblsp butter
1 tsp soy sauce
2 scallions, chopped
aonori ko (dried seaweed flakes)
Remove as much of the corn’s silk as possible while keeping the husk on. Soak corn in a large bowl of water for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare the grill.
In a microwave safe glass bowl, melt the butter in 30 second intervals, checking in between. When the butter is melted, add the soy sauce. Mix well. Add one chopped scallion and 1/4 tsp of dried seaweed flakes into the butter and soy sauce mixture. Stir and set aside.
A package of aonori ko (dried seaweed flakes), found in most Japanese or Korean supermarkets.
Remove the corn from the water, shake dry, and place on the grill. Turn occasionally until the husk are charred on all sides. Grill for 15 to 20 minutes.
When the corn are done, place on a plate and carefully pull back the husk with a towel. Spoon or brush on the butter and soy sauce mixture all over the corn. Sprinkle with remaining chopped scallion and dried seaweed flakes. Serve hot.
Everyone has their own list of pantry/fridge essentials. If you frequently cook Asian food, your pantry is probably always stock with soy sauce, rice vinegar, rice wine, and sesame oil. Now, add this to your pantry if you don’t already have it – Bull Head Barbecue Sauce. Made with dried shrimp, brill fish, chili, garlic, shallot, and sesame, this is not your typical American barbecue sauce. Known as “sa cha jiang” or “sa cha” sauce, Bull Head is the go-to brand for it. During the winter months, also known as hot pot season in my family, we easily go through two 26oz cans of the sauce. If you’re new to the sauce, don’t worry, it also comes in a smaller can. For hot pot, it’s served as a dipping sauce and is used to flavor the soup base as well. It’s also great in stir-fried dishes, especially ones with beef or lamb.
It’s hard to describe the taste of “sa cha” sauce. It’s not too salty or spicy at all (unless you buy the spicy version), and there really isn’t another sauce that taste similar. It is just good and this recipe, Pan Fried Bull Head Chicken Wings, is the first of many recipes I want to develop to showcase this essential Asian pantry ingredient.
Pan Fried Bull Head Chicken Wings
2 lbs chicken wings
4 tblsp Bull Head Barbecue Sauce
5 slices of ginger, about 2 inches wide
2 tblsp sake
2 tblsp soy sauce
2 tblsp fish sauce
2 heads of peeled whole garlic cloves
2 or 3 steams of Thai basil, hand torned
1 large red onion, thick lengthwise slices
2 or more Thai pepper, diced [optional]
In a bowl large enough to hold the chicken wings, combine Bull Head Barbecue Sauce, ginger slices, sake, soy sauce, fish sauce, and whole garlic cloves. Mix well and add the chicken wings in. Marinate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Take chicken wings out of the refrigerator 15 minutes before cooking.
In a large non-stick skillet, heat up 2 tsp of oil on medium heat. As the pan is heating, remove as many of the whole garlic cloves from the marinated chicken wings and place in the pan. Add sliced onions. Season with salt. Cook until onion is done but still a little firm. Set aside.
In the same pan, heat up 2 tsp of oil. When pan is hot, add the chicken wings. Cook in batches. Cook drummettes first and then the mid sections. Cook with the pan lid tilted on the pan to prevent oil splashing out. Pan fried for about 5 to 7 minutes of each side depending on the size of the chicken wings. Set aside.
When all the chickens are pan fried, rinse the pan with water and wipe dry. Heat up the pan and add the onion. Cook for 1 minute until the onions are warm. Add the chicken wings, Thai pepper, and Thai basil. When the Thai basil begins to wilt, remove everything from the pan and the dish is complete.
Served with white rice. Serves 6 to 8.