Cooking in the backyard: Thai style Tuna Fried Rice

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Thailand, a country full of little family-owned café’s. These little café’s are usually set in a comforting, home-style environment. Here you’ll experience what I call ‘cooking in the backyard’. It is also how a lot of traditional homes are designed with a wet kitchen in the backyard. You’ll often see the young school going teenager lending a helping hand to his or her parents. During rush hour, the kids even help with the cooking. It’s inspiring to see these young chefs cook with such exuberating confidence.

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I stand there watching, as the man on my side of the counter passes a white slip over to the Cook. The Cook, a lady probably in her late 40s, has a very pleasant disposition. She smiles at me as she gently heats up the wok while taking a quick glance at the white slip of paper. She’s probably done it a thousand times over and over again. She looks like she could do this with her eyes closed.

As the wok heats up, she takes some garlic and chillies and gently pounds them using a mortar and pestle. The mortar and pestle is always by her side. She is extremely organised with each ingredient placed less than an arms distance away, just where it should be. She always has a big icebox next to her where all the chilled meat is kept. She opens it just a bit, takes out the required portion of the meat and closes it again until the next order comes in.

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An artist in her own right, she knows how to play with her tools – the mortar and pestle, the wok, the ladle and the fire. She uses the fish sauce, sugar, soya sauce, pepper and other herbs and spices to tell her story. She fires up the wok, turning and tossing the ingredients, adding them one after the other, all in good time, adjusting the heat as she deems appropriate. Within minutes, she creates food that is a treat to all your senses. A modest melamine plate in basic white, with or without patterns is placed right next to her. She plates her food and places a few slices of cucumber and a slice of lime, all in such an artistic manner.

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As the plate makes its journey from the wok to my table, my eyes see the color coordination including the Thai green chillies and the freshness of the lime. As it is placed in front of me, I get the smoky aroma that creates a suspense that I want to unfold, almost immediately. As I take the first bite, I know it has touched all my senses and a memory has just been formed.

 As the lady moves on to the next white slip where the orders are scribbled, a quick rinse and a scrub is all it takes to have her Wok ready to create the same brilliance all over again for the next waiting customer.

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Here is my version of a Thai style Tuna Fried Rice, a dish I had for many lunches during the years that I lived in Thailand.

For the printed recipe, click here.

Serves: 3

Ingredients:

Pre-cooked and cooled Thai Rice (preferably cooked the night before): 2 ½ cups
Red Onion: 1 Cup finely chopped
Thai Green chillies: 4-5, chopped fine (This makes it very spicy, adjust to your own tolerance)
Garlic, lightly pounded: 3 cloves
Olive Oil: 1 tbsp
Canned Tuna flakes in EVOO (use any other similar variety): 150 gms, oil drained.
Spring onions (Scallions), finely chopped (green parts): ¼ cup
Fish sauce: 1 Tbsp
Dark soya sauce: 1 tsp
Worcestershire sauce: 2 tsp
Black Pepper powder (coarsely powdered): ¼ tsp (or adjust to taste)
Salt: a pinch

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How I did it:

  1. The rice needs to be precooked and cold. This is important to ensure the grains of rice are separate and not lumpy when making the fried rice. When cooking the rice for fried rice, put a little less water than you would do normally.
  2. Heat a wok. When the wok is hot, add oil to it.
  3. Add the lightly pounded garlic. Reduce the fire and let the garlic cook for a few seconds without getting burnt. Add the chopped onions and green chillies. Let it soften while stirring continuously. Onions will change colour to a beautiful pink. Approx 3 mins on low heat.
  4. When the onions turn pink, add the cold and precooked rice and a tiny pinch of salt and increase the heat to high. Using the back of a ladle/spatula, push the rice towards the centre of the wok, removing any lumps while mixing it with the onions.
  5. Now add the tuna followed by all the sauces and the black pepper powder. Bring it together on high heat.
  6. Add the chopped spring onions. Give it one last good stir and serve it immediately with some sliced cucumbers and wedges of lime.

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Notes:

–        Fish sauce is quite salty. I would suggest that you add half the quantity of fish sauce first and adjust the taste as per your liking.
–        In my opinion, a fried rice cannot have the same texture and taste if it’s cooked with freshly cooked or hot rice. Therefore, try to cook the rice at least a few hours in advance.
–        If you don’t have spring onions, replace it with some finely chopped fresh coriander leaves or cilantro. That little bit of green is essential to provide a little freshness to this simple fried rice.
–        I had to cook for my 4 year old son, so I added the green chillies right in the end. If not, I would have added them together with the onions, or lightly pound them together with the garlic in the very beginning. Go ahead and do whatever suits your situation. If you are making this for kids, omit the green chillies.

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Crispy Salmon with Garlic Coriander sauce

Crispy Salmon with Garlic Coriander Sauce
Crispy Salmon with Garlic Coriander Sauce

There are 2 kinds of people in this world: Those that love Salmon. And those that don’t. That’s probably true of most things, but I couldn’t come up with a better opening line. So, there you go!

I happen to be the former and so is little V. I hereby declare my eternal love for Salmon. R, on the other hand, doesn’t quite get what the fuss is all about! But we [V and I] find a way to work around it. We just make him eat it. 😉 And he does.

We especially love the crisp skin of the Salmon. The skin absorbs a bit more salt than the rest of the fish and that makes it even more desirable. When there’s Salmon on the dinner table, all else doesn’t quite matter, does it? 🙂

I have made this countless number of times for V and it’s quick and easy to make. If you are a Salmon lover like me, I won’t need to sell the recipe to you because you will probably love it anyway 🙂

In it’s simplest form, all you need is some crushed garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil marinade with the salmon. Pan fry (with minimal oil) and you are done. In this version, I added a slight variant – fresh coriander leaves or cilantro. If you have a particular dislike for coriander, feel free to omit the coriander leaves.

We usually have this Crispy Salmon for dinner on a weeknight when I don’t want to spend too much time cooking. This goes well with a simple vegetable pasta or just plain rice and stir fried vegetables.

To print the recipe, click here.

Crispy Salmon with garlic coriander sauce

Serves: 2
Total time taken: Under 30 minutes
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 7-8 minutes

Ingredients:
Salmon fillet with skin on (about 250 gms)
Garlic cloves: 1-2 (adjust to taste)
Fresh coriander leaves – a bunch. Discard the roots.
Black pepper powder: a tiny pinch
Juice of ¼ of a lemon
Zest of ½ a lemon
Olive oil: 1 tbsp
Sea salt: to taste

How I did it:

1. Squeeze the lemon juice and zest on the salmon fillet. Sprinkle sea salt to taste. Put a little less than required as we will also season the sauce.

2. Prepare a quick blend of the garlic, coriander leaves including stalk but not the roots, a tsp of olive oil and sea salt.

Preparing the garlic-coriander sauce.
Preparing the garlic-coriander sauce.

3. Rub the prepared coriander, garlic sauce (the marinade) on the salmon. Sprinkle a dash of black pepper powder. Let the Salmon marinate for about 15 minutes.

Rub the Marinade on the salmon.
Rub the Marinade on the salmon.

4. Heat a pan. Add the remaining olive oil (2 tsp). Make sure the the oil is hot before placing the salmon fillet in it. This step is important to prevent the fish from breaking and disintegrating.

5. Place the salmon fillet, skin down first. Reduce flame to lowest. Cover and let it cook for 5 minutes.

Heat a pan. Add olive oil and place the marinated Salmon, skin down. Cover & let it cook for 5 minutes.
Heat a pan. Add olive oil and place the marinated Salmon, skin down. Cover & let it cook for 5 minutes.

6. After 5 minutes, turn the salmon for another minute. Do not cook on this side for long as the salmon will start to overcook.

Turn the Salmon over and cook for another minute.
Turn the Salmon over and cook for another minute.

7. Serve w lemon wedges.

Crispy Salmon with Garlic Coriander Sauce
Crispy Salmon with Garlic Coriander Sauce

Happy Mother’s Day and Seabass Curry with Mustard and Tomatoes

Family reunions are a very special event and one that I always look forward to. And when we reunite, a sense of dé·jà vu sets in. No matter how old I grow, I become that little girl that my parents nurtured. I feel like I am ready to take on the world and pursue my dreams, knowing that if something goes wrong, I will always have their unconditional love and support to get me through it all.

That is perhaps the reason why the most secure place in this world is still in that warm and affectionate embrace of my Mother.

Many a times we have disagreed and quite vocally so.
She is a bad listener, I often complain.
Yet, she is my best friend. A soul mate.
She hears without listening. She speaks without speaking.
Her eyes tell a story. The story of her life.
A life of sacrifice. A life of giving.
A strong woman in the inside and so fragile outside.

I can never forget an incident from the time I was thirteen.

I waited outside my school for hours but Ma didn’t show up. Upset and angry, I mentally rehearsed the conversation I planned on having with her when we meet. Instead, my Uncle appeared. We were headed in a different direction. When I enquired about Ma, he quietly whispered ‘She is in the hospital’. My heart sank.

She had met with a very serious accident. The image of her lying on the hospital bed with one leg completely covered in plaster and tubes all around her haunts me to this day. She was in immense pain. She looked at me and all she said was “Don’t cry, I am fine. Remember to have your dinner. I will be home in 3 days.”

At one point, the doctors wanted to amputate her legs. She refused. She demanded to be transferred to another hospital. Thanks to the doctors, her will power and fighting spirit, she averted the amputation. For her family. And most importantly, for her children.

After a painful 3 months in the hospital, she finally returned home.

Like a baby, she had to learn to stand and walk all over again. At times she would break down saying she will never be able to stand on her feet. And the next moment, she would get up fumbling but trying harder than ever before.

Many months later, she walked. Slowly but surely. And she hasn’t stopped since.

It’s Mother’s day on the 13th of May. I dedicate this post to my Mom, who means the world to me and my family.

Today’s recipe is a family fish curry which was handed down from my grand-ma but every woman in our family has her own version of it. This is my Mom’s.

Seabass Curry with Mustard and Tomatoes

Serves: 6-8 (depending on your appetite 😉

To print the recipe, click here.

For frying the Fish:
Seabass: 1 kg cut in slices (Traditionally, Rohu is used to make this curry). I had about 8 pieces excluding the fish head. head. (Alternatively, you could use Rohu)
Mustard powder: 2 tablespoons
Garlic paste: 1 1/2 tsp
Turmeric: ½ tsp
Whole wheat flour (aata): 1 ½ tbsp
Salt: to taste
Mustard oil: 2 tbsp, for frying

For the curry:
Black mustard seeds (rai): ½ tsp
Dry red chillies: 2
Tomatoes: 1 big, ground to a paste. ½ a tomato chopped finely.
Garlic Paste: 1 ½ tsp
Turmeric: ¼ tsp
Red Chilli powder: ¼ tsp
Mustard powder: 4 tbsp
Chopped tomato: 1 small
Green chillies: 2
Warm Water: 3 1/2 cups
Salt

1.     Take ¼ cup warm water to mix together 6 tbsp of mustard powder (2 for frying the fish and 4 for the curry). Leave aside for 5 mins.
2.     Rub 1/3 of this mustard paste along with garlic paste, turmeric, flour and salt (see ingredients under ‘for frying the fish’. Let it rest for 15 mins.
3.     Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a flat nonstick frying pan. Once the oil starts smoking, remove from heat. Let it cool for 30 seconds. Then add the fish pieces frying it on medium heat until it turns slightly brownish. The fish pieces will also cook in the curry later so do not overcook the fish.

4.     In a non-stick kadhai / deep bottomed pan, add 1 tbsp mustard oil. Once the oil starts smoking, let it cool off a bit before adding the black mustard seeds (rai) and the dry red chillies. (Note: I added the dry red chillies but took it out once it was done before moving to the next step as I was also making it for my little one. If not, leave the dry red chillies in and continue to the next step).
5.     Add garlic paste. Fry for a minute on low heat.
6.     Add tomato paste, turmeric, red chilli powder and salt. Fry on low-medium heat until the tomatoes are fully cooked and form one mass. (about 7-8 mins).
7.     Add the remaining mustard paste. Cook for about 2 mins. Do not overcook the mustard as it can turn bitter.
8.     Add 3 ½ cups of warm water. Bring it to a boil. Let the curry boil on low-medium heat, covered, for another 7-8 mins. Adjust salt if necessary.
9.     Gently slide in the fish pieces and the chopped tomatoes into the curry from the sides. The curry is supposed to be of thin consistency. Adjust water to your liking but always add hot water to make sure the cooking process doesn’t slow down.

10.  Continue cooking uncovered on low heat for 5 mins before turning it off. (I added the dry roasted red chillies at this point).
11.  Let it rest for about 10 mins before serving. This step will make sure that the fish pieces absorb the curry.
12.  Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

Notes:

  • I cooked this with ‘Sunrise’ mustard powder. It is quick and hassle free. The only downside is that it isn’t so easily available. I usually stock it up when I go back home. You can use other commercially available Mustard powders. If you have a powerful grinder, you can use that to make fresh mustard paste. Soak 3 tablespoon of yellow mustard seeds + 3 tablespoons of black mustard seeds for 30 mins in warm water. Add the mustard seeds, 2 green chillies and salt and grind to a paste.  Do not grind for too long as it can make the mustard paste bitter.
  • Back home, this is usually made with Rohu. I prefer to make this curry with Seabass as fresh Seabass is easily available here. It has less bones and tastes great!