Thai Fried Egg Salad

Inside one of Chiang Mai's many excellent food markets

Vendor selling sai krok (sausage) in Chiang Mai

Coffee beans from Thailand at  Akha Ama cafe in Chiang Mai

At the counter of a small coffee shop in the center of Chiang Mai, Thailand, a gangly redheaded westerner sat perched on a tall stool. With him, a guy I recognized from the back of the Bangkok Lonely Planet travel guide. As I sipped my well-made latte, I realized I was gawking Andy Ricker, the owner-chef of Pok Pok restaurant and its brethren, in Portland, OR, and New York City.

I couldn’t be further from Chiang Mai now, and I imagine even Mr. Ricker has gone back to his stateside life, but this recipe comes from the Pok Pok cookbook, which Dan and I received as a gift over the holidays we’d been so eager to escape from in Asia. And this salad is a bit of an escape itself — all that bright, sweet, spicy flavor on our breakfast table while a snowstorm bears down on the northeast yet again.

Worshippers entering the temple at Doi Suthep

Kitties wall-walking in Chiang Mai

Thai Fried Egg Salad

Thai Fried Egg Salad (Yam Khai Dao)

Adapted slightly from Pok Pok, by Andy Ricker

I almost never cook eggs in vegetable oil, preferring butter first, or shallot oil second. If you do any other southeast asian cooking, shallot oil is a good one to have around. (Just cook some thinly-sliced shallots in oil until golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels, reserving the oil and the shallots for other purposes.) And I can’t bear to eat eggs without pepper, so a little white pepper sneaks into this recipe as I’ve rewritten it. For the salad, instead of lettuce I used pea sprouts, since we had some on hand.

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup vegetable oil, preferably shallot oil, or butter
  • ground white pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice, preferably from key limes, or a mixture of regular lime juice with Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons palm sugar simple syrup, recipe follows
  • 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 small Thai green chiles, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup pea sprouts
  • 1/4 cup yellow onion, thinly sliced with the grain
  • 1/4 cup carrot, julienned
  • 1/4 cup chinese celery leaves and stems, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves and stems, coarsely chopped
  1. Heat a wok or your favorite egg pan over high heat and add the oil or butter. Once the oil is very hot, add the eggs. You’re going for a crispy fried egg — the oil will sputter and the whites will put on a great bubbly show. When the edges of the whites are crisp and deep golden brown, flip the egg. Cook until the bottom is golden and the yolk is firm but not yet chalky. Transfer the eggs to paper towels to drain, sprinkle with ground white pepper, then quarter them through the yolks. Rinse and wipe out the pan and let it cool.
  2. Combine the lime juice, simple syrup, fish sauce, garlic, and chiles in the clean pan and heat until just warm. Combine the pea shoots, onion, carrot, celery, cilantro, and eggs in a bowl, and pour the warm dressing over. Toss very lightly to coat and serve immediately.

Palm Sugar Simple Syrup

This is easily doubled or tripled, and works very well in cocktails.

  • 2 1/2 ounces palm sugar, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water

Combine the sugar and water in a very small pot and heat over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Let cool and transfer to an airtight container. Keeps in the refrigerator for two weeks.

What is Worth, or What to Do with Turnips

hakurei turnips

“I’ll take them once,” she said. “And then never again.”

It was the first CSA distribution of the season, and I was wrist deep in bug-bitten mustard greens, while she leaned over the hakurei turnips, listlessly picking through them. I gestured at them with an elbow.

“Those are some of my favorite spring vegetables.”

The rain came down in gray sheets outside the barn.

And they are, those crisp, sweet, tender white turnips, the first of the season, the agricultural greeters of spring. I love them. I began to tell her what I’d been doing with them, the ones I’d picked up from the farmers’ market weeks in a row, and another farm member leaned in to listen.

What I said was barely a recipe, something I’d not given much thought to the few times I’d made it over the last month. It struck me how little that’s mine I deem worthwhile — how little I understand the value of something until it leaves the quiet, tight orbit of my own mind.

One of the CSA members traded me her rhubarb for this simple recipe. You can have it for free.

Butter Braised Turnips

Young hakurei turnips are juicy enough to braise themselves — as they cook, they release water. All you need is a little butter and salt. I haven’t tried it, but olive oil would probably work okay, too. I like to leave about an inch of the greens on top. (You can make pesto with the greens, or cook them with some garlic and chile flakes.)

  • Tender young hakurei turnips, halved or quartered if large, any amount
  • A generous knob of butter
  • Salt

Place the turnips and butter in a small pot, replace the lid, and cook over medium-low heat until the turnips are just tender, about 10 minutes. Salt to taste and serve immediately. Perfect with roast chicken.

A Confused, Circular Wander

chervil

Dan came home from work yesterday with this tangle of chervil, a small amount of some mass of the herb an unknown coworker had left in the office kitchen, a freebie.

I have long wanted to grow chervil, inexplicably, perhaps, because I don’t quite love its anise-like flavor, and wouldn’t really know what I would do with it except maybe tuck some of its fronds into a salad. It is beautiful, and I guess that’s as good a reason as any to want to grow something. This morning, Dan chopped it and sprinkled it over some orange-yolked eggs he’d scrambled. We still have much, much more.

Recently my days have been a bit of a confused, circular wander with no aim, no milestones. But I am glad to be in a world where kind, anonymous people leave great heaps of chervil for others to enjoy.

Malaysian Pickled Cucumber and Carrot

Malaysian Pickled Cucumber and Carrot with Turmeric

Can we talk?

I just want to say — this winter has been brutal. It’s all I can do to drag my corpse out of bed every morning. I don’t know if this New England winter is worse than the last few I’ve lived through, or if last year’s jaunt to Southeast Asia has forever ruined me. For those of you lucky enough to find yourselves in warmer climes, you should know that winter in New England lasts about six months. It doesn’t just seem that way — it’s true. From late October through March — and some of April, even — the skies are low and gray, the trees black and leafless, the ground damp and icy (or at least cold), the windows leaking precious heat like a sieve. It is truly unpleasant. Unless you like to ski, or snowboard, or snowshoe, or one of those other baffling, going-outside-in-sub-freezing sports — and if you do, the above won’t resonate, I suppose. (What is wrong with those people?)

Winterphobes need some coping mechanisms, and one of mine is food from other places, places that are tropical, warm, and sunshiny. Places that liberally dose their food with heat, and bright, mouth-tingling flavor — chiles, ginger, garlic, tamarind, coconut, lime. I give myself a locavorish break in winter, and shop ruthlessly in the Asian grocery store. If, like me, you’re suffering through an interminable New England winter, I encourage you to do the same.

Malaysian Pickled Cucumber and Carrot Recipe

(Acar Kuning)

This colorful, stunningly bright pickle is from James Oseland’s terrific Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. In an era rife with full-page, full-color, low depth of field food photography, this friendly, minimally designed, conversational book is a breath of fresh air. (Dan and I both have a bone to pick with the type choice for the recipes, though — no fractions!) In any case, Oseland’s tone is delightfully persnickety, and he walks the reader through recipes with care, perfuming them with tales from his long love affair with the region.

Shallots here are Asian shallots, the tiny, infuriating-to-peel ones. Sorry. And I was unable to find candlenuts even in my normally pretty well-stocked Asian grocery, and subbed macadamias instead. Oseland says to eat these pickles within 5 days, but ours held up for weeks. They are terrific with rice, eggs, and fish.

The recipe is long, but outside of all the chopping it’s pretty easy. A small food processor is very helpful.

  • 4 or 5 small Kirby cucumbers (14 ounces or 400 grams total), unpeeled, stemmed, and cut into matchsticks about 2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide
  • 2 medium carrots (about 7 ounces or 200 grams), peeled and cut into matchsticks about 2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide
  • 3 shallots (about 2 1/2 ounces or 70 grams), thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 or 2 fresh Holland chiles, or other fresh long, red chiles, such as Fresno or cayenne, stemmed and sliced on the diagonal about 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the flavoring paste:

  • 4 shallots (about 3 ounces or 85 grams), coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 3 candlenuts or unsalted macadamia nuts
  • 1 piece fresh ginger, 2 inches long, peeled and thinly sliced against the grain
  • 1 piece turmeric, 2 inches long, peeled and coarsely chopped or 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 2 to 8 small dried red chiles such as arbor, stemmed and coarsely chopped
  • 5 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 4 tablespoons palm, cider, or rice vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  1. Place the cucumbers, carrots, shallots, and chiles into a nonreactive bowl and sprinkle salt over them. Massage the salt into the vegetables, then cover the bowl and set it aside for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring every half hour or so.
  2. Meanwhile, make the flavoring paste. Put the shallots, garlic, candlenuts, ginger, turmeric, and chiles in a small food processor and pulse until they’re the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes. (Alternately, pound in a large mortar and pestle.) If the paste won’t puree properly, you can add up to two tablespoons of water, a teaspoon at a time, and scrape down the sides of the processor.
  3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (but not smoking), add the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop, take the pan off the burner and let it cool a bit. You may also want to cover the pan, as the seeds have a tendency to fly off as they pop. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and return the pan to heat. Add the ground paste and sauté — it should sizzle a little, not fry aggressively. Stir to prevent scorching, cooking until the shallots soften and the ginger and garlic become fragrant, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the vinegar and sugar and stir. Raise the heat a bit and bring the liquid to a simmer. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves and everything is well-combined. Set aside.
  4. Taste the vegetables after they’ve been curing for at least 1 1/2 hours — they should be pleasantly salty with still a bit of crunch. If they’re too salty, immerse them in cold water, massaging to remove brine. (You may need to do this a couple of times.) Either way, drain, pressing gently to remove brine, and pat dry on a kitchen towel.
  5. Add the vegetables to the cooled flavoring paste and stir well.
  6. Transfer the pickle to a serving dish and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Or, store in an airtight jar in the fridge.

Shallot Chile Paste

Sweet and spicy

In his headnote to this recipe, Charles Phan, owner and chef of The Slanted Door, in San Francisco, doesn’t mention exactly which chile pastes this homemade version “runs circles around,” but the implication is clear — in this household, at least. Store-bought chile-garlic sauce will be fighting for its space on the refrigerator door from now on.

This stuff is so, so good. The shallots make it rich and almost jammy, and the Sichuan peppercorns lend a subtle numbing bite. It tastes great stirred into fried rice, slathered across eggs, tossed into stir-fries, smeared over toast, or swirled into noodle soup — anywhere you might use a different, far inferior, hot sauce or chile paste.

You can find the Sichuan peppercorns and ground bean paste at most Asian groceries, or online.

Feelin' hot hot hot?

Shallot Chile Paste Recipe

Adapted very slightly from Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan

  • 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup finely minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1/3 cup ground bean paste
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  1. Grind the peppercorns coarsely in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder — I use an old Krups coffee grinder when I don’t want an arm workout — and set aside.
  2. Set a small saucepan over medium heat and add the oil. (Yes it is a lot of oil. You will enjoy this oil, I promise.) Add the shallots cook, stirring, for about 6 minutes, or until the shallots are golden. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes longer, until both shallots and garlic are lightly browned and toasty. Not burned!
  3. Stir in the red pepper flakes, paprika, and peppercorns, mixing well. Add the bean paste, wine, sugar, and soy sauce, and mix. Cook, stirring all the while, for another minute. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Use it right away, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 months.