Category Archives: Asian

Left-over Make-over: Thai-Style Pesto

creative pesto

Thai-style pesto

If you have never eaten homemade pesto, you may not be a fan.  Most of us are familiar with the generic, food supplier provided pesto sauces served in restaurants or in pre-made meals at the store.  They all taste the same.

Homemade pesto is unique, flavorful and varies from batch to batch. Pesto changes from region to region in Italy and Italian expats often switch out traditional ingredients for local products to ensure their pesto is fresh.  I have been making pestos since my college days at UCSC, when I discovered the wonderful Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market and was able to purchase flower bouquet size bunches of basil in over 6 varieties for under $3.oo per bunch.

You don’t need to use pine nuts, basil or Pecorino cheese to make a delicious pesto. My pesto changes with the seasons and sometimes crosses continents. Last week, Neri wanted pasta, but I really didn’t feel like cooking Italian. This pesto was a perfect compromise between both our desires for dinner that evening.

A recent trip to Laguna Hills Farmers Market provided me with more shiso (perilla) leaves than I needed for my Japanese dishes that week.  I also had fresh cilantro and mint leaves and 1/2 of an avocado from lunch in the refrigerator.  Early that day I was craving those “Thai” style toasted cashews, coated with lemon grass, chilies, sugar, salt and other spices–which is the inspiration for this pesto recipe.  You can vary the amounts of herbs and flavorings to suit your taste. The ingredients marked optional can be omitted if you do not have them available and will allow you to use the leftover pesto in a greater number of dishes.

  • 1  cup red and green shiso leaves (or all of one type) * If you don’t have shiso leaves use Thai or lemon basil*
  • 3/4 c cilantro (including stems)
  • 1/2 c mint leaves
  • 1 c toasted cashews (toast your own raw, unsalted cashews for the best flavor)
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1/2 tsp to 1 T crushed dried chilies or single origin chili powder (do not use the chili powder with other spices)
  • 2 to 3 green onions
  • 1/4 c  to 1/2 c olive oil, coconut oil (melted) or nut oil
  • 1 tsp brown or date sugar
  • 1/2 in piece of lemon grass (inner bottom portion of the stalk) optional
  • 1/4 c grated coconut (packaged unsweetened) optional
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt to taste

Using a food processor, pulse the cashews, garlic, dried chilies, coconut and lemon grass until finely chopped. Add herbs and green onions, pulsing until coarsely chopped. Add lime juice and slowly drizzle in oil with food processor running. Stop and scrape down the sides with a spatula as needed. Once mixture is smooth, add salt, pulse to mix and taste.  The pesto should have a fresh green flavor with the sweet and salty bite of Thai food. Adjust ingredients as needed.

We used this pesto on pasta, tofu and stir-fried vegetables.  It would also be a wonderful addition to steamed baby potatoes or spread on a banh mi sandwich.

Keep reading throughout the summer for more creative pesto ideas including the best ingredients for the more traditional pesto variations.  The type of olive and quality of your extra virgin olive oil is just as important as the freshness of your basil.

Confession time: The photos I took of the original meal became corrupted and had to be deleted. The featured picture is a quick snap shot of the small amount (of the same pesto) left in the refrigerator. It was much brighter and colorful the first 3 days.

Sesame Buckwheat Noodles— warm or cold, always exquisite and substantial

After a particularly stressful day at work I felt that Neri deserved a big bowl of noodles. Neri loves noodles and could eat them every day of the week if I would let him. Italian dishes dominated our plates earlier in the week and I needed to switch things up.  We still had oyster mushrooms, baby bok choy and red Chinese long beans in the refrigerator from a Farmers’ Market earlier in the week. Time to be creative to avoid wasting any food.

Chinese or Japanese for dinner, I couldn’t decide, so I went with my favorite fusion dish…Sesame Buckwheat Noodles.

I often combine my love of Japanese and Chinese cooking into this one dish that can have endless variations depending on what is in season and currently in my pantry. The basics ingredients that never change are the soba noodles, sesame paste , shichimi togarashi and/or gomasio, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar and either vinegar, mirin or lemon juice–depending on my mood.

Several regions in China have variations of sesame noodle dishes, often made with a wheat noodles such as Dan Dan Mien or Ji Mah Mien.  In Japan, soba or buckwheat noodles are eaten hot or cold served with a broth-like soya (sauce) for dipping and often topped with goma or sesame seeds. Thicker sesame sauces are also used in Japanese cooking for topping vegetables or casserole dishes. My dish is a combination of aspects from both traditions that is easy to make at home and great in hot or cold weather.

NERI’S FAVORITE SESAME NOODLES

Serves 4-6

  • 3 or 4 servings of soba noodles—1 small package or 3 or 4 bundles from a large package
  • 2 to 3 cups of Red Chinese Long Beans cut into 2 in pieces
  • 5 scallions diced
  • 2 T of sesame paste (tahini raw or toasted)
  • 1 T of almond or peanut butter
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 1 T mirin
  • 1 T sugar or honey
  • 2 tsp grated or finely chopped young ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 T to 3 T of finely chopped shiso or lemon-basil
  • 1 T to 2 T shichimi togarashi -also known as Seven Spice Pepper
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1/4c 1/3 c of pasta water

Optional Toppings:  sauteed oyster mushrooms, sauteed bok choy, pressed-flavored tofu), green onions, grated daikon, sesame seeds, gomasio or pickled vegetables.

  1. Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil noodles and parboil red beans.
  2. Rinse and cut vegetables–beans, ginger, garlic, herbs, green onions.
  3. In a large glass bowl add sesame paste, almond butter, soy, mirin, sugar, ginger, garlic and sesame oil.
  4. When water begins to boil, add red beans and gently cook for 5 minutes. Test for tenderness at 3 minutes and cook until fork tender.
  5. Strain beans from water and rinse with cold water. Don’t dump out the water.
  6. Place soba noodles in the boiling water and cook following suggested cooking time on package–time varies depending on buckwheat/wheat ratio and whether they or dry or fresh.
  7. Take 1/4 c of hot water from the pot and whisk with sauce ingredients in your glass bowl.
  8. If sauce is too thick, slowly whisk in more hot water, 1 tablespoon at a time. It should be slightly thinner than honey. Add shichimi togarashi and taste mixture and add additional amounts of ingredients to suit personal preference for sweet, salty and spicy.
  9. Add beans to the sauce, toss gently.  Add herbs and scallions to the mixture.
  10. When the noodles are ready, strain and rinse slightly with cool water.
  11. Toss noodles into bean mixture and sprinkle on additional shichimi togarashi, goma or other toppings.
  12. Serve warm as a one dish meal or with suggested optional toppings.

Great the next day as a cold noodle dish. Allow to sit at room temperature 15 minutes after removing from the refrigerator.

Do Chua–Vietnamese Pickled Daikon Radish and Carrots

Do Chua Jar #1 and Jar# 2

Do Chua are the sweet, slightly sour, crunchy daikon and carrots pickles you find in Vietnamese restaurants. If you still don’t recognize the pickles from the pictures–do you remember the last time you had a Bánh mì?

I have been consuming these delicious tangy, sweet and sour pickles for almost two decades, always wanting more after finishing the small portion on my plate.  Finally, I decided to make a batch and found out how fast and simple they are to prepare at home.  Neri loves these pickles–one of his favorite daily snacks.  Two 1 quart jars last about a month (for two people who really love pickles).  I have now added these to my regular food prep schedule along with homemade granola, yogurt, hummus and salad dressings.

Added bonus– these are low-salt pickles and make a healthy low-calorie snack.  Experimentation is “a-must” after your first batch!  The pictures below may not contain the most traditional versions of these pickles, but they are delicious and maintain that trademark sweet, tangy-sour flavor and refreshing crunch.

Jar #1 is a traditional batch of Do Chua with a twist—garlic and dried chilies.

Jar # 1

Jar # 2 uses the same pickling juice with the addition of green daikon seed pods.  The pods are slightly spicier than daikon radishes but just as delicious.  The pods are also great on salads—egg salad, mesclun, Asian-style salads…use your imagination.  Where do you obtain these crunchy sharp bites of flavor?  Farmers Markets or your own garden if you let a few radishes go to seed.  Remember to collect the pods while they are still green—don’t eat the brown dried pods.

Jar #2 with Green Daikon Seed Pods

I have never seen green daikon seed pods sold anywhere outside the Farmers’ Market.  If you know of another local source, please feel free to share in the comment section below.

Recipe for a packed 1 quart jar:

I have included a basic recipe for Do Chua.  This is my own version after tinkering with several recipes on-line and in cookbooks. Try the first batch without any variations and then experiment to suit your own taste.  This recipe is slightly sweet, so if you want really sweet pickles you may need to add an additional 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of sugar.

[ Additional water or vinegar may also be needed to completely dissolve the extra sugar]

  • 3 cups of julienned daikon and carrots—peel both vegetables and cut into 1/8 inch matchstick—use more carrots or daikon according to taste
  • 1 tsp of salt–add 2 or 3 more if you want a saltier pickle–but not really necessary.
  • 2 tsp sugar (plus 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar for the brine)
  • 1 1/4  to 2 cups of vinegar–use more vinegar if increasing sugar  (white distilled or rice vinegar—okay one type or to mix )
  • 1 cup of lukewarm water

1. Peel carrots and daikon. Cut into long or short matchsticks—your choice. Place in a large bowl, add 1 tsp salt and 2 tsp of sugar.  Mix salt and sugar into the vegetables with your hands, gently pressing the vegetables to force out excess water. Let the vegetables sit for 4 to 5 minutes and allow the sugar and salt to draw out excess water. When the vegetables soften so you can bend the matchstick to touch both ends together you are ready for the next step. Check both the carrots and daikon matchsticks.

2. Place the carrot/daikon mixture into a quart jar or similar container.  It is okay to gently press down on the vegetables and wiggle the jar to make everything fit.

3. Brine: using the same bowl—pour in the vinegar, warm water and sugar.  Mix until dissolved. A whisk is a good tool to use.

4. Ladle the brine into the jar, covering the vegetables. Marinate for at least 1 hour if you plan on eating them the same day. The pickles keep well for 3-6 weeks and the flavor will decline after the 3rd to 4th week.

Taste best if you let the pickles sit in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

STORAGE: You must store these pickles in the refrigerator.  They are NOT shelf stable.  Although the pickles are likely safe after 5 weeks, the flavor will decline and the vegetables will lose their crispness.  Remember if in doubt, throw it out!

NOTE: The garlic/chili version should sit for at least 24-48 hours to allow the garlic and chili to imbue the pickles with their flavor.

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