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.

Cranberry, Cauliflower and Peas Pulao

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Hello everyone,

Yes, it has been an awfully long time since I have been away. Thank you to those who have missed me, checked on me and encouraged me to come back. It means a lot and thank you for being there! I have missed sharing my thoughts and recipes on this platform.

I am looking forward to sharing some of the food that I have been eating and cooking. Let’s start with rice dish – a staple in my house.

Did I ever mention my dislike for raisins? I am not, I mean, really NOT fond of raisins. No, not even a bit. On the other hand, little V, who, by the way, is not that little any more, can survive on raisins alone. That is, if he had his way 🙂 He can have as many raisins as he can get his hands on.

I was cooking a quick + less effort lunch for us one week day when I thought of adding raisins in the pulao (pilaf) to please him. But to my surprise, he suggested dried cranberries instead. I immediately jumped with joy and happily took his suggestion. His love for cranberries comes a close second to raisins. So, there you go! We had a win-win situation.

When my rice was soaking and I had some time to think, I just happened to glance on the bottles of sunflower and pumpkin seeds which were kept on the kitchen counter and I normally add to oats for breakfast. I thought – why not?! So there we go, at the end of it, we had a beautiful and crunchy twist to the usual Pulao. I roasted them in a little bit of ghee together with half of the dried cranberries and added them as a garnish. It gave the Pulao a whole new dimension!

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For a printable recipe, click here. 

Serves: 2
Cooking time: 15 minutes + 5 minutes resting time
Preparation time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

Rice: ½ cup
Dried bay leaves: 1-2
Cloves: 4
Cumin seeds: ¼ tsp
Whole black pepper: 8 nos.
Star anise: 1
Cauliflower: 8-10 medium and evenly sized florets
Peas: ½ cup frozen or fresh (I used frozen)
Cranberries: 15 pcs approx. (adjust to your liking)
Sunflower seeds & Pumpkin seeds: In equal amounts ¼ cup in all
Cashew nuts: about 6 pcs, roughly broken in twoCinnamon stick: 1 thin stick
Ghee: ½ tsp for the rice and another ½ tsp for frying the garnish
Salt to taste
Boiling water: 1and ¼ cups

Method :

Rinse the rice with water at least twice. Soak the rice for 15 mins. At the end of 15 mins, set it aside to drain for 10 mins using a strainer. Put about 2-3 cups of water to boil which we will need later.

Final CPWhile my rice was soaking, I soaked 1/2 a cup of frozen peas in water for at least 10 mins.

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Now that the peas were taken care of, I quickly went on to cut / break cauliflower into about 8-10 pcs of of medium sized florets. I also roughly chopped the cashew nuts in halves. When these were done, I put my garam masalas aside to make sure I had everything ready when the pot went on!

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I heated half a tsp of ghee in a pot in which I was going to make the pulao. I added the cumin seeds and all the whole garam masalas.

At this point, I lowered the heat to make sure they don’t burn. When the garam masalas start to emit a nice aroma and before they burn, I added the cashew nuts and half of the cranberries. Make sure you stir it continuously and keep the heat to low. It’s really easy to burn them at this stage. When they get a nice color (1-2 mins on low heat), it’s time to add in the vegetables.

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Add the peas and the cauliflower florets with the heat on medium. Fry for another minute. Next, add the rice and mix it without breaking it to make sure the rice is coated with every bit of ghee there is in the pot.

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Now carefully add 1 and ¼ cup of the boiling water and salt. Gently mix and taste for salt. A pulao is never too salty, so go easy on the amount of salt you add. Quickly lower the heat to the lowest mark, cover with a tight lid to not allow any or minimum steam to escape during this process. Set your timer for 11 minutes.

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Meanwhile, heat a little ghee in a small frying pan. Have your sunflower seeds + pumpkin seeds + remaining dried cranberries ready by your side.

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As soon as the ghee melts, add these beauties and fry them on low heat until the seeds get a nice warm golden color. The cranberries just swell up a little and they look absolutely gorgeous.

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At the end of 11 minutes, turn off the heat from the pot of Pulao. Now, I know if you are like me, you’ll just want to open the lid to see what happened in there, but hold back for just  5 mins more.

Open the lid when it’s rested. Your Pulao is waiting to be garnished and served.

Garnish with the cranberry, pumpkin and sunflower seeds we fried earlier and serve immediately. This can be eaten as part of an elaborate meal with a spicy curry. It’s really that simple and you can include it very easily to make any regular weekday meal a little more exciting. Have it with some achaar (pickle) and yogurt / raita.

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Notes:
– Add the cashew nuts as a garnish and fry it together with the cranberries and seeds instead of adding it in the beginning. That helps to add more crunch.
– Now if you are like little V, you could have this entire dish with raisins in place of cranberries.
– In it’s simplest form, you can make the cauliflower and peas pulao without any cashewnuts, cranberries, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. Follow the same instructions but skip these ingredients.

Destination: Bangkok [Vegetarian Thai fried rice or Khao Pad Chae]

August 1996, New Delhi.

I had left Delhi under very chaotic circumstances. No, Delhi did not get more chaotic, but my life on that day most certainly was! The courier company had screwed up my package with the air tickets. Apparently, they had sent it to Bombay! My dad was in Bangkok at that time and I was to fly to Bangkok at midnight. I could see the world conspiring against me.. It would be meaningless to take the next flight as I was flying just a day before my Uni entrance exams. I retired into my room after a very stressful day of angry phone calls and a never ending wait…

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I woke up rubbing my eyes.. Some one was banging on the door! It’s only 10:30 pm for heaven’s sake! Let me sleep, I mumbled..

I opened the door somewhat pissed off. It was my uncle. He had just returned from work. The tickets had arrived! But, it was 10:30 pm. I hadn’t even packed! I was leaving the country!  This can’t be happening!!

In the next 10 minutes, my mother dumped my essentials into a bag and we were on the road. It was a good 30 minutes drive to the airport. I went in to the check-in counter while the rest of my family waited outside the airport. It was closed. I pleaded, I almost cried. It had worked in the past. And, it did, again! A staff came back, opened the counter for me. Before I knew, I was through immigration!

My family was waiting outside the airport not knowing whether I am flying or not.. And I was running inside the airport with no sense of what was going on. I was going where I was meant to go, worried that my family must be waiting outside. In those days, we didn’t have mobile phones. I was desperate to send a message across to my family, that I am flying off.. and a hug.. and a good bye.. In all the rush, I saw an airline staff just before boarding the flight. There was something about her which made me trust her.. or may be I did not have any other option. I asked her if she could page my uncle to let him know that I am flying off. She agreed. I came to know the next day that she did:)

That evening, as the flight took off, I was sad. I was leaving my country for a long long time without saying good bye to my family and close friends…

I was out of the airport in Bangkok, all alone, expecting to see my Dad. But, there was no one. Not for the next 10 minutes. Not for the next 30 minutes. I decided to call him using a public telephone. And suddenly it hit me! I had no money!!! Nothing at all. Not even a coin to make a phone call. In all the mad rush of last night, everyone forgot about money! I asked someone for help, all in sign language. This stranger gave me a coin and told me how to use the phone, all in gestures. I could not have asked for more!!

Thanks to the time difference and chaos, my Dad wasn’t aware that I had eventually boarded the flight last night! In the next 30 minutes, my Dad arrived and I was on the way to my new home…

And now.. for today’s recipe. This one is my mom’s favorite! She is a vegetarian and one that loves all her veges nice and crunchy! If you love your veges, you’ve gotta try this out!

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

String Beans: 2 to 3
Carrot: 1/3 of a medium sized carrot
Capsicum: 1/4th of a big capsicum
Cabbage: roughly 5 to 6 leaves
Thai / Chinese green leaves: 4 to 5 leaves. I used Xiao Ban Cye (you can use any other locally available greens)
Thai Garlic (or any other garlic) – 6pcs if using small Thai garlic. 3 if using the bigger garlic
Thai Chillies: 2 red and 2 green (tone this down if you don’t like it extra spicy)
Lime leaves: 3
A Bowl of cold pre-cooked rice
1/2 medium sized Onion (optional)
Vegetarian oyster sauce – 1 tbsp
Light Soya sauce – 1 tbsp
Oil – 1 1/2 tbsp
Wok
Sliced cucumber for garnishing
2 chopped chillies with 3 to 4 tbsp light soya sauce (in case the 4 chillies were not enough like they weren’t for me!)

How I did it:

Cut the long beans, capsicum and carrot into 2″ long pieces. Carrots should be cut into thin and long pieces. Roughly cut the cabbage and green leaves into big chunky leafy pieces. Pound the garlic and chillies together in a mortar and pestle.

In order to make fried rice, as far as possible, use left over rice from the fridge. When freshly cooked rice is used, it does not turn out the same way as freshly cooked rice tends to stick together into lumps.

Heat a wok. Once hot, add the oil. When it gets smoky, add the pounded garlic and chilli mix into the oil. Stir fry for 30 seconds. If using onions, add sliced onions at this point. Let it turn translucent. Next, add the carrots and beans. Continue to stir on high heat. Reduce heat for 1 min to let the beans and carrot cook.

Now add the cabbage, green leaves, capsicum and the torn kaffir lime leaves. Increase heat to high. Add the soya sauce. The smoke adds a nice flavor to this dish. It is important to stir this continuously to avoid the veges from getting burnt. This may take 30 seconds to a minute.

Once the veges are crunchy and cooked, add the bowl of cold rice, basil leaves and vegetarian oyster sauce. Stir continuously and on high heat. Check for salt and add more soya / vegetarian oyster sauce, if needed. Combine all the ingredients (on high heat). This may take up to 1 minute depending on the heat.

Serve with sliced cucumber and chopped chillies with soya sauce. The vegetables lose their crunchiness if kept cooked for long. So enjoy it immediately after cooking! 🙂