Pat Tanumihardja’s husband grew up without fresh vegetables.
Wow, how his vegetal-quality-of-life has changed.
After growing up eating canned vegetables, the first stunner came when his then-girlfriend made him grilled asparagus with salt and pepper.
“He just went crazy!" she remembers. "He couldn’t believe how tasty vegetables can be.”
This week vegetables get tastier for the rest of us.
As I report with this week's Edible Complex column, "A cookbook inspired by the Pacific Grove Farmers Market," come Tuesday, March 28, her second cookbook hits Bookworks in P.G. and Amazon.com.
Farm to Table Asian Secrets: Vegan & Vegetarian Full-Flavored Recipes for Every Season follows The Asian Grandma’s Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens.
So here comes the sweet soy and black pepper cauliflower, the Burmese-style pumpkin and parsnip curry, the egg flower soup with english peas and sweet corn.
Despite the at-times-lengthy recipe titles, Farm to Table Asian Secrets features many dishes that can be made in under 30 minutes.
Better yet, it simplifies things for iffy home chefs like me. I never thought I could do crunchy, stylish, fresh, interesting pan-Asian fare so easily.
Tanumuhardja says she got the inspiration to go seasonal/vegetarian from managing Pacific Grove Farmers Market.
“At your local farmers market you can easily find vegetables like bok choy and napa cabbage," she says. "You don’t need to go specifically to the Asian market.”
From there it was a matter of weaving together dynamic dishes (and a guide to maximizing the seasons' respective strengths) like sticky rice siu mai dumplings and everyday pad Thai, "without," she adds, "blood, sweat and tears.”
Tanumijardja’s favorite recipes from her cookbook are Kung Pao potatoes and mushu vegetable “burritos.”
Three of Tanumihardja’s most irresistible recipes include, but are certainly not limited to, the three that appear here, with her introductory notes:
Rainbow Chard Korean Pancake with Soy and Green Onion Dipping Sauce
In this hearty Korean staple, rice flour adds texture for crispy edges while leaving the middle slightly chewy. But even if you omit it, the pancakes will still be tasty. Aim for consistency that’s between crepe batter and American pancake batter. The batter should coat the back of a spoon and drip down in a thick stream. Admittedly, I’ve never been good at flipping pancakes and omelets, so I sometimes divide the batter into smaller portions and make smaller pancakes.
PREP TIME: 15 MINUTES + COOLING TIME
COOK TIME: 30 MINUTES
MAKES: 4 SERVINGS (2 LARGE PANCAKES)
1 ¼ cup (150g) all-purpose flour
⅓ cup (150g) rice flour
1 ½ cups (375 ml) water
8 oz (250 g) rainbow chard
5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
½ cup (75g) sliced yellow onion
Fine sea salt
Soy & Green Onion Dipping Sauce (see below)
Mix the all-purpose and rice flours together with the water in a large mixing bowl.
Gently tear or cut the chard leaves from the center ribs. Chop the ribs into ½-in (1.5-cm) pieces. Stack the leaves lengthwise into cigars, then cut crosswise into ½-in (1.5-cm) ribbons. Keep ribs and leaves separate. You’ll have about one cup ribs and 3 cups packed leaves.
Swirl 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add the onion and chard ribs. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, until the onions turn translucent. Add the ribs and continue to stir for another 2 to three minutes. Stir in the leaves and a pinch of salt, then cook until they wilt, another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Fold the chard and onions into the batter.
Wipe out the skillet and heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat for 30 seconds. Pour half the batter into the skillet, tilting and swirling so the batter forms an even layer. The pancake should be about ¼-in (0.5-cm) thick. Cook, shaking the skillet occasionally, until the bottom is golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Lift up one edge and pour in 1 more tablespoon oil, then flip the pancake carefully and press down with a spatula to flatten it and ensure it cooks thoroughly.
Cook until the pancake is golden brown on the bottom and the edges are crisp, another 1 to 2 minutes. Turn and press down on the pancake 2 to 3 more times until the pancake is cooked through.
Transfer the pancake to a serving platter and keep warm in a 200 degree F 100 degree C) oven. Repeat with the remaining batter.
To serve, cut each pancake into 8 slices and serve with Soy and Green Onion Dipping Sauce.
Soy and Green Onion Dipping Sauce
This sauce keeps for at least 3 days in the refrigerator, up to 1 week if you leave the green onions out just before serving. Extra sauce? Dip fried tofu into it or toss with fresh greens.
MAKES: 1 1/2 CUPS (375 ML)
¼ cup (60 ml) soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 ½ tablespoons sesame oil
1 ½ tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
2 teaspoons coarse chili pepper flakes or chili paste
2 green onions (scallions), green and white parts, chopped
Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Curried Vegetable Turnovers
Growing up in Singapore, I loved to eat these savory turnovers, locally called curry puffs. They were (and still are) sold everywhere from school canteens to snack shops across the island. One family even built a food empire on chicken curry puffs! Traditional turnovers are encased in short-crust pastry and deep-fried. But I prefer this baked puff-pastry version (especially if I’m making them).
PREP TIME: 30 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 30 MINUTES
MAKES 4 TO 6 SERVINGS (12 TURNOVERS)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped shallots or red onion
2 teaspoons yellow curry powder
8 oz (250 g) yellow potatoes, peeled and chopped into ¼-in (5-mm) dice
⅓ cup diced carrot
¼ cup (60 g) diced red bell pepper
⅓ cup (85 ml) water
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
One 1-lb (500 g) box puff pastry (preferably all-butter), defrosted according to package directions
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon milk
Swirl the oil into a large wok or skillet and set over medium high heat until simmering hot. Fry the garlic and shallots until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the Yellow Curry Powder and fry until fragrant and the shallots are well coated, another 1 minute or so.
Add the potatoes, carrots and bell peppers and mix well. Pour in the water and season with the salt, sugar and black pepper. Stir to combine, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Stir occasionally, adding more water if the vegetables start sticking to the bottom of the pan. Taste and adjust seasonings if you desire, then set aside to cool.
When the filling is completely cool, start assembling the turnovers.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (250 degrees C). Prepare your work station: Line a baking sheet with parchment; mix the egg and milk together in a small bowl; dust your work surface with flour.
Work with one pastry sheet at a time. Roll out the dough to make a 10 x 10 in (25 x 25-cm) square, ⅛-in (3-mm) thick. Use a small bowl to cut out four circles about 4 to 5 inches (10 or 12 cm) in diameter. Gather the scraps into a ball, re-roll and cut out 2 more circles. Repeat with the second pastry sheet.
Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle, leaving a ½-inch (1.5-cm) border around the edges. Brush the edge of the border with the egg mixture and fold the pastry over the filling to make a half moon. Press along the edge with fork tines to seal and place the turnover on the baking sheet.
Brush the top of each turnover with the egg mixture. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Wait at least 5 minutes before serving.
Cambodian Sweet Soy Noodles with Pickles
There’s a tiny hole-in-the-wall Cambodian restaurant in Seattle’s International District called Phnom Penh that I’ve been going to since my college days. One of my favorite dishes is called “Battambang Noodles,” named after the major city in Northwest Cambodia. Phnom Penh jazzes up this simple dried noodle dish with a melange of flavors: Sweet soy sauce, salty preserved radish and sour cucumber pickles. And except for the brininess of the ground dried shrimp, I believe my version is a close approximation.
PREP TIME: 20 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 5 MINUTES
MAKES: 5 SERVINGS
1 lb (500 g) fresh or 8 oz (250 g) dried thin rice noodles
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
Sweet Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoons coconut palm sugar or 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons dark brown sugar
½ cup (75 g) assorted pickles (celery, fennel, cucumber)
8 oz (250 g) Broiled Tofu, store-bought or homemade, cut into bite size pieces
2 cups (200 g) bean sprouts, blanched for 30 seconds to 1 minute
4 large hard-boiled eggs, chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons preserved radish, soaked, drained and chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons microwaved crispy garlic bits
¼ cup (30 g) crushed roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons chopped green onion (scallion) green parts only
1 cup (25 g) assorted herbs, plucked off their stems (Thai or Italian basil, cilantro, parsley)
1 large lime, quartered
Chili paste such as sambal oelek
To make the Sweet Soy Sauce, combine the soy sauce ,water and palm sugar in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium for 1 minute, then stir until the sugar dissolves.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. If using fresh noodles, dip them in the boiling water for about 1 minute (or prepare according to package directions.) stir to loosen and unravel the strands. (If using dried noodles, submerge them in the boiling water and turn off the heat. When noodles are completely limp, test for doneness. They should be cooked through but still al dente, 6 to 8 minutes. Pay attention, because they’ll turn mushy if overcooked.) Drain and rinse noodles under cold running water. Drain again in a colander over the sink to dry off the noodles as much as possible.
Swirl the oil into a large wok or skillet and set over medium heat until shimmering hot. Swish the garlic around in the oil until golden to flavor the oil, 4 to five minutes. Remove and discard.
Toss the cooked noodles in the oil for a few seconds, then pour the Sweet Soy Sauce over the noodles and toss until well coated. Sprinkle the salt and mix well. Remove the noodles from the heat and divide among 4 large bowls.
To serve, top each bowl of noodles with a fourth of the pickles, tofu, bean sprouts, egg (if using), preserved radish (if using), Microwaved Crispy Garlic Bits and peanuts. Serve immediately with garnish alongside in small dishes.
Microwaved Crispy Garlic Bits
Fried garlic is usually prepared on the stove, but using the microwave is far more convenient when making the small quantities normally used in the home kitchen. You can also buy fried garlic in round canister is at an Asian market, but you'll miss out on the flavorful garlic oil.
PREP TIME: 4 minutes
COOK TIME: 1 minute
MAKES: 2 TABLESPOONS
2 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
Place the garlic in a small microwavable bowl that is large enough to prevent overflow. Add just enough oil to cover the garlic. Microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes, checking every 30 seconds to see if it's done. Remove the garlic when it's light brown, as it will continue to cook in the hot oil after taking out of the microwave. The bits should be golden brown when cool. Drain the garlic in a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl, reserving the garlic oil for another use. Store the garlic bits in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days.