Holiday Detox

For the first time in years it seems like I might have actually bulked up over the holidays. My rear view flashes the message that I ate a few more cookies than I made. 

In response, I just finished a week of asian-only food (with a breakfast exception, mostly because I’m not sure that hot, fishy soup is my day-breaker of choice).

As diets go, and I’m a lifelong hater, this one is pretty tempting. And I swear I feel lighter already, like I’ve shrugged off the northern-european butter yoke (or the yolk-yoke!) hanging around my shoulders.

I testify that the following menu doesn’t claim to be authentic or loyal to any single asian cuisine. Having cooked in a Chinese restaurant for a year (it’s a long story) I know chinese food pretty well, but it’s not my favorite asian cuisine. When I’m drooling over flavors I’m usually thinking more about Vietnamese food, or Thai … more about lemongrass and chili than gloppy oyster sauce.

But mostly I make it up as I go along, roping together dishes for a single meal that break rules, traverse seas and mock traditions but taste pretty awesome together.

Sadly, I broke this good thing I had going—irrevocably—by making a batch of chocolate chip cookies today. But here are a few memories from last week’s delicious detox:

clear chicken soup with rice noodles, hmong herbs and lime

I found the herbs, above, in a bundle at the all-Hmong farmer’s market in St. Paul (an amazing place …). I think there’s a variation of basil in there and vietnamese mint for sure, but as for the wider leaf with the deep serrations I have no clue. Any thoughts welcome.

vietnamese pork egg roll salad (over rice noodles, with a traditional vietnamese nuoc mam sauce)

thai “dry curry” with panang curry paste, egg plant and asian greens; steamed sticky rice; papaya salad

chicken ginger noodle (my own personal concoction: chicken, cabbage, julienned ginger, scallions, all finely shredded and stir-fried with par-boiled mung bean noodles … topped with crushed peanuts. The saucing is simple: soy, a spoonful of Chinese chili bean paste (toban djan), chicken stock and sesame oil. It’s a tonic I’ve been making for years.)

summer rolls with thin slices of leftover roast pork, cilantro, carrot, daikon, mung bean noodles and Chinese chives … with authentic hoisin sauce, made with chicken livers instead of peanut butter. (Do try! This thick, sweet brown sauce now makes sense!)

Korean short rib bul-go-ki salad 
This salad is another that figures pretty heavily in my rotation. My closest friend from cooking school made this barbecued beef for me, a traditional Korean dish, and then I turned it into a salad with a punchy lime dressing which has now become our perfect middle-of-the-week re-charging dinner.

Korean short rib bul-go-ki salad

serves 4

Barbecued Beef
2 pounds beef short ribs
3 Tablespoons sugar
4 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 turns black pepper

Dressing
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 clove garlic, grated
6 Tablespoons fresh lime juice, from 4 limes
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
3 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons soy sauce

Salad
1 package mung bean noodles (sai-fun)
1/4 head of green cabbage, thinly sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and julienned
1 cucumber, peeled and julienned
handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
1/3 cup toasted peanuts, crushed (optional)

Cut the beef off the bone and trim of silverskin and excess fat. Cut in half and then slice thinly, about 1/4-inch thick, across the grain. Place in a bowl and toss with the remaining marinade ingredients. Marinate up to 1 hour at room temperature.

Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing.

Bring a 2-quart pot of water to a boil and add the mung bean noodles. Simmer 5 minutes, or until just tender to the bite. Drain and rinse very briefly with cold water. Leave to steam until cool. They will be sticky.

To cook the beef, heat a cast-iron grill pan (or cast-iron skillet) over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles rapidly.

Transfer the beef to a paper-towel-lined plate to remove excess marinade. Grill the beef quickly on both sides until cooked through and charred in spots.

To assemble, pile a clump of noodles in the center of the plate. Top generously with cabbage, carrots, cucumbers. Lay some pieces of beef on top and drizzle with a few spoonfuls of dressing. Top with cilantro and peanuts and serve.

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