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Since probably the mid 80’s, Thai cuisine has seen an explosion of popularity, likely due to a booming post-war tourism industry in Southeast Asia. As all popular things do, Thai cuisine was quickly adopted as the trendy go-to cuisine in America, built to excess, and generally ruined. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good dish of Pad Thai as much as the next person might. But a vast difference can be found from one pad thai to another. Generally, when seeking out foreign cuisines, look for recipes that aren’t written in english.

Thailand is host to a litany of amazing dishes exemplifying the core four flavors of their cuisine: sweet, sour, salty, and spicy. One thing that people don’t necessarily think about, however (maybe I can’t speak for you, but I’ve really never considered it), is what breakfast looks like in this part of the world. Rice and noodles are all well and good, but when it comes to the most important meal of the day I’ll usually reach for something a bit more familiar.

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Pa Thong Ko are a Thai version of a traditional Chinese-style cruller. Crispy on the outside, light and airy on the inside; They’re almost more similar to the fried bread dough you’d get from a dirty cart at the county fair. Served with coconut jam (which is really a custard), you can see the influence from French colonialism, much the same way that the Banh Mi came about in Vietnam.

According to Thai tradition, the traditional X shaped fritters represent two inseparable lovers, always seen together. In stark contrast, Chinese tradition recounts a tale of two evil men who were put to death in boiling oil.

Pa Thong Ko, adapted from SheSimmers
makes 10-12 fritters

  • Bread Flour*, 260g
  • Active Dry Yeast, 2g
  • Baker’s Ammonia, 2g
  • Alum Powder, 1/2 teaspoon
  • Kosher Salt, 8g
  • Granulated Sugar, 14g
  • Warm Water, 170g (3/4 cup)
  • Vegetable Oil, 1 tablespoon, plus more as needed
  • Baking Powder, 4g

Combine all ingredients except baking powder in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on medium speed for 8 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and lightly coat top of dough with oil. Cover with a towel and allow to rise 4-5 hours. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and lightly dust flour over dough. Sprinkle baking powder over dough. Fold and knead about 4 times. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut to desired shapes.
In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat 4-5 inches of vegetable oil to 350F. Fry dough until deep brown and crispy, 1-2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil

*Yes, you can use All-Purpose flour

Sangkhaya (Coconut Jam/Custard)
makes just over 1 cup

  • Egg Yolk, large, 4 each
  • Palm Sugar, 3 tablespoons
  • Granulated Sugar, 5 tablespoons
  • Coconut Milk, full-fat, 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
  • Dried Pandan Leaf**, about 1/4 cup
  • Kosher Salt, 1/8 teaspoon

Combine egg yolks and sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk vigorously until thick and creamy. Meanwhile, heat coconut milk, pandan and salt in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. While whisking, add 1/3 of the hot coconut milk to the egg yolk mixture. Continue whisking until full incorporated. While whisking, add egg mixture to remaining coconut milk. Continue cooking over medium heat, whisking very frequently, until sauce is thick, about 5-8 minutes. Once thick, immediately remove from heat, transfer sauce to a bowl or other container and refrigerate until cooled completely.

**If you can’t find pandan or don’t want to buy it, substitute 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

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As hard as it can be at times, we all know that we should probably eat healthier than we do. Through the myriad of excuses, it’s too expensive, I don’t have time, I don’t like XYZ vegetable, it seems that there’s always something to stop us from eating a more balanced, nutritious diet. But, if you put a little bit of thought and planning into your meals, watching what you eat can actually pretty easy, if not objectively enjoyable. However, even the most strong-willed among us can have their weak spots, and can’t resist the allure of foods that we know are bad for us. The foods that are just too tempting to pass up, caloric content be damned. I’m talking, of course, about deep fried foods.

Deep fried foods have made their appearances in cultures and cuisines across the world, usually to some pretty tasty results. However, as the undisputed king of the fryolator, America stands in a league of it’s own. Fried foods have cemented themselves in American cuisine coast to coast and have developed an almost eerie, cult-like following. The show Food Paradise on the Travel Channel as an episode in 4 of it’s 5 seasons dedicated solely the best battered and breaded offerings in the country, not to mention Deep Fried Masters on Destination America. where contestants actually compete in different categories of fried foods. It’s pretty astounding. Whether or not we’ve gone too far with this obsession may be up for debate, but it’s certainly here to stay. Nowhere is this staying power more apparent than in another iconic, if not somewhat confusing, staple of American culture: the Chinese Buffet.

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Down the long lines of heat lamps and sneeze guards, you’ll encounter a plethora of fried foods. My favorite, Crab Rangoon, stands out as probably the least Chinese dish in a selection of already-not-very-Chinese dishes. China isn’t exactly known for its expansive dairy culture, and cream cheese would be nearly unheard of. So a dish consisting mostly of cream cheese has to be mostly, if not entirely, an American invention. Origins aside, the addictive appeal of this dish can’t be denied. Essentially, it’s just three ingredients: Crab (usually imitation crab sticks made from Pollock), cream cheese, and wonton wrappers. I suped up my version with lump crab meat, which I sauteed with some garlic and scallions,  before mixing it with cream cheese. I think this is were I took a slight misstep. I did about 50/50 crab and cream cheese, which ended up being much more crab-y than the rangoon you’d get in the restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, it was still really tasty, but it didn’t quite have the same effect as getting them from your favorite take-out place. I’ve adjusted the recipe below to be a bit more heavy on the cream cheese.

Crab Rangoon

makes about 50 pieces

  • Canola Oil, 2 tablespoons, plus enough for frying
  • Crab Meat, 8 ounces
  • Garlic, minced, 3 cloves
  • Scallion, thinly sliced, 1 bunch
  • Cream cheese, 16 ounces
  • Wonton wrappers, 1 package

In a large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil to medium high heat. Cook crab, garlic and scallions together until scallions are softened, about 3 minutes. While crab is cooking, beat cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment until soft. Add crab mixture to cream cheese and continue mixing until fully incorporated. Heat 5-6 inches of canola oil to 350F in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot. Fill wonton wrappers with cream cheese mixture, securing edges to seal shut. Fry until golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with salt as soon as they come out of the oil.

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In the past decade or so, we’ve seen a major boom in the emergence of Asian cuisines here in the states. Thai and Vietnamese has been clear victors of this expansion, but our hearts, minds and palates become increasingly diverse, other cuisines of the region have begun to make a name for themselves and cement their place in the American melting pot. But as we continue to grow our culinary landscape, one country remains as elusive as it does in nearly every other aspect.

Known for it’s near-comical backwardness, North Korea remains yet to be seen as a force to be reckoned with, culinarily or otherwise. But aside from their  detachment from the modern world and their charismatic, folk hero-esque leadership, what can actually be said for the food of North Korea? For a country ravaged by famine not 20 years ago, they’re actually not doing too bad for themselves. From what little information is available on the web, it seems that the cuisine of North Korea is much the same as it is in their southern counterpart, if not a bit more institutional. When the government controls what kind of haircut you’re allow to have, you can certain that they’re keeping on eye on what kind of foods you can eat and prepare for yourself. Staples are what you’d probably expect: Noodle dishes, simple soups, roasted fish. As much of a stereotype as it may be, dog meat (often referred to as “sweet meat”) is a delicacy akin to foie gras or caviar, only eaten on special occasions a few times a year, and usually by those with some money to throw around. The capital city of Pyongyang has a surprisingly active street food scene. with the classics you’d expect such as fried meats and breads, accompanied with a plethora of pickled and preserved vegetables. One of the most common and most beloved of these street foods is Naengmyeon.

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Traditional buckwheat noodles are served in a cold, hearty broth of mushroom and seaweed, seasoned with sugar and vinegar, and accompanied with any variety of toppings. Common add-ins include kimchi, of course, but also other preserved vegetables and fruits such as cucumber and Asian pear. Eggs, either boiled, pickled or both are less common, but every version I could find a recipe for include a big dollop of spicy mustard paste. The contrast of the cold noodles and broth with spicy kimchi and mustard can be a bit jarring at first, but the more I ate of it the more it seemed to work really nicely. If nothing else, the dish was overall really refreshing and was great to slurp on while the temperature outside continues to beat down on us. And according to a now-defunct North Korean recipe site, that’s the actual intention of the dish, being described as “beneficial for the human body”.

With any hope, we’ll live to see North Korea open up a bit to the rest of the world and get some more insight into their foods and culture. But for now, I guess we’ll be resigned to surprisingly accurate depictions in Seth Rogen movies.

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Doesn’t it feel like no matter what you do for work., and however many hours you work, money is always tight? Rent, utilities, loans, bills, gas, maybe some groceries, and you’re lucky if you have enough left over to get a cup of coffee in the morning. I’m slowly beginning to bring myself out of a cycle I’ve been in the past year or so where I get a paycheck and then it’s immediately spent paying past due bills. But even with money being tight, eating well is important. Heading for the Golden Arches when you’re short on cash may seem like a good idea at the time, but poor eating habits have been linked to increased problems with depression and countless other health issues. The word cheap is normally associated with quick, lower quality foodstuffs, but at the halfway point of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge, we’ve set out to prove that you can save your wallet and also not eat like shit.

When it comes to cheap meals, I think it really comes down to two major aspects: Being able to utilize what you’be already got on hand in your fridge and pantry, and wise shopping. With that in mind, I set out to the grocery with a crisp $10 bill as my entire budget to feed two people. Last week, I had noticed the fish counter had some nice looking fish heads and I got the itch to make some curry. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I’m not really sure which), when I went back to pick up ingredients they were sold out for the week. Offhandedly, my friend mentioned that I should just get instant ramen since it’, with it’s long standing status as the cheapest of the cheap foods. At first I laughed it off, but after thinking about it for a bit it really didn’t seem like that bad of an idea. With a little ingenuity, it’s actually pretty easy to supe up your instant noodles into something somewhat respectable.

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Total spent: $8.69. Not too shabby. To level up your ramen, you have to look at each component and how you can make it better.

The Noodles: Obviously the most important part of the dish. If you’re starting the instant ramen packs, there really isn’t much you can do to save face here. They are what they are. Treating it like you would regular past goes a long way though: Cook in boiling, well-salted water until just tender, then drain thoroughly and rinse in cold water.

The Broth: Probably the only other crucial aspect of a good ramen bowl. At my work, we actually do really good ramen on Tuesday nights and spend days making a traditional dashi that’ll blow you out of the water. But, working with instant ramen you don’t quite get that luxury.

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Luckily Maruchan has a pretty good variety of flavors at this point, and when they’re three-for-a-dollar, it’s easy to mix and match to suit your tastes. I picked pork, mushroom, and roast beef for this one, but there’s lots to pick from. I feel like shrimp ,vegetable, and spicy chili might be really good too. With the flavor packets in hand, I mixed them in a pot of boiling water, and added in some thin sliced onion and good helping of white miso that I had in my fridge. Simmered for about 20 minutes, the flavors come together pretty nicely, and you don’t quite get the crazy  salt bomb you’d expect from the instant packets.

The Add-In: Noodles and broth are all you really need, but what makes ramen great is all the stuff you can put in it. Traditional toppings include meats, vegetables, herbs, and eggs. I picked up some pork ribs that were on sale and slow cooked them with soy sauce, sriracha, ginger and a little miso. I also grabbed a pack of stir fry veggies from the freezer section, some fresh cilantro, and a lime to give it some nice acid.

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I was actually surprised at how great this came out. The noodles were a bit limp and soft, but that was kind of to be expected. But as far as everything else goes, I would say it’s very nearly comparable to restaurant quality ramen that I’ve had in the past, and at $2.90 a portion, I really cant complain. I think that, ultimately, the best part about a dish like this is that you can really build it however you like. I really enjoy recipes that aren’t actually recipes, that’ll give you a bit more freedom to explore what you want to cook. Super tasty, and incredibly filling; I’m going to have to keep this in mind for the coming months when I’ve got some serious expenses to save up for.

Oh, and with the buck and changI had left over from shopping, I managed to get myself a nice drink

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Super classy, I know.

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Happy New Year! I hope everyone (and by that I mean the 4 or 5 of you that actually read this) had an excellent holiday season and that your hangovers were at least somewhat manageable. Aside from Christmas and New Year’s, I had my birthday last month and got the greatest gift in the galaxy:  STAR WARS. I could probably go on for a LONG time about how amazing the movie was, but that’s a story for another day.

As I’ve mentioned a few times on here, the past year has been kind of a hurricane for me.But luckily, through a lot of determination and the support of some seriously great friends, things have been on the serious upswing. I’ve finally been getting the ambition to cook (and write, obviously) back, and I figured there wouldn’t be any better way to kick off 2016 than by announcing my triumphant return to Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge! The first challenge of the year is Soup, so let’s get right into it!

Comedian Kyle Kinane once described Pho as “As Vietnamese soup that answers the question “what happens when a former child soldier pours hot rainwater over fish nightmares? It’s delicious and I can’t stop eating it, that’s what happens” More specifically, Pho is a traditional street food in many parts of Vietnam, which boils down (pun absolutely intended) to 3 essential elements.

The Noodles

As with nearly everything in this part of the world, everything is made fresh, from scratch, by hand. The traditional noodles for Pho are ultra-thin rice noodles made daily in small street-side shops and kitchens. Unfortunately, I don’t really have the capability for making that kind of noodle at home. But luckily, even the run-of-the mill supermarkets in the area have a pretty decently stocked Asian grocery section.

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See? It even says Pho right on the package!

The Broth

Traditionally, Pho broth is made from beef or sometimes fish. However, with Southeast Asia being a hotbed for chefs to pull inspiration from, it’s not uncommon in other parts of the world to see chicken or even pork used for the broth. Heavily seasoned with onions, garlic, and chilies, I think the real secret comes from toasted spices like cinnamon, star anise and fennel. Not normally flavors you would associate with a noodle dish (at least I didn’t), but they create a lot of depth in the broth.

The Garnish

Quick Pork Pho

It Vietnamese cuisine, it’s common to serve lots of herbs and fresh vegetables to accompany basically everything. The most common toppings for Pho include fresh cilantro or mint, mung bean sprouts, scallion, and occasionally peanuts for some crunch. Meat or tofu is also a staple, with the most traditional being very thinly sliced rare or raw beef. A lot of Americanized iterations will include an egg in one form or another, but from what I’ve read it’s strictly a Western invention. A quick squeeze of lime helps to balance the intense richness from the broth.

I made this for breakfast, and with the cold of winter finally setting it, it was just what I needed to start the day. As with most things, Pho benefits from lots of forethought and long, slow cooking. However, with a little bit of know-how, you can achieve and rich, hearty soup in just a little bit of time.

Quick Pork Pho

  • Vegetable
  • Onion, medium, thinly sliced, 1 each
  • Garlic, crushed, 2 cloves
  • Chili Pepper*, thinly sliced, 1 each
  • Cinnamon Stick, 1 each
  • Star Anise, 1 each
  • Fennel Seed, 1 teaspoon
  • Chicken Stock, 1 16oz can
  • Pork Cutlet, 1 or 2 each
  • Kosher Salt & Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • Rice Noodles, as needed
  • Garnishes:
    • Fresh Cilantro Leaves
    • Scallion, thinly sliced
    • Roasted Peanuts
    • Bean Sprouts
    • Lime Wedges

Heat oil over medium heat in a cast-iron skillet. Cook the onion, garlic, and chili pepper until lightly browned. Add cinnamon, star anise and fennel seed and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer**. Keep warm.

Cook rice noodles according to package instructions.

Heat a cast-iron skillet to medium-high heat. Season pork cutlets with salt and pepper. Cook until done, about 2 minutes on each side. Let stand for 5 minutes, then slice thinly.

To Assemble: Place rice noodles into a bowl. Strain the broth through a mesh strainer over the noodles. Garnish with pork, bean sprouts, cilantro, peanuts, and lime***.

*Use a chili that suits your level of heat tolerance. I used Thai Bird chilies, but jalapenos or even habaneros would work perfectly as well.

**I actually did this the night before, and added the stock to the hot pan, transferred it to another container and let it steep in the fridge overnight, which worked out really well.

***Most Vietnamese restaurants will offer hoisin sauce, fish sauce, and Sriracha at the table, for you to season your dishes as you see fit. However, it’s generally thought that if you have a well-made broth, well-seasoned meat, and good garnishes, it’s really unnecessary to add anything to Pho.

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When I was a kid, probably no more than 5 or 6 years old, the first thing I ever learned how to cook was a nice loaf of homemade bread. As I’m told the story goes, I kept pestering my dad to make bread and he finally snapped and said “If you want some, why don’t you just make it yourself!” and then I pestered him into teaching me how to make it. Since then, I’ve always loved bread and it’s associated relatives. In fact, when applying for culinary school, I almost chose baking over culinary solely to learn to bake bread. Sadly, the 31st week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge was not bread baking, but a close second: breading and dredging! Plainly and simply, breading is the process of coating a food with a dry, grain-based coating to achieve a crispy exterior when cooked. This contrasts with battering, which involves a liquid coating.

My research for this week lead me to an interesting idea: Pork Rinds. Most people are familiar with the traditional fried chicken, dredged in flour and dunked in hot oil, but these days the internet is rife with outlandish crusts such Cap’n Crunch or Cheetos, so why not pork rinds? The foamy, cardboard-esqe puffs you can get for a dollar a bag at the kwik-e-mart provide a great texture, similar to panko breadcrumbs, when ground down, although paling in comparison to real deal fried pig skins. The idea intrigued me, but I knew I would never open another bag of pork rinds, so I set out on making my own, and breading something with them.

tonkatsu

I figured if I was using pork rinds as the breading, why not bread pork? I came across a few recipes for fried pork, but my favorite had to be Tonkatsu Donburi, a Japanese dish of fried pork cutlets, served over rice and vegetables with eggs. I’ve been trying to eat more veggies, and also I’ve been pining for sous-vide poached eggs again, so I had to go for it. As I’ve mentioned more than a few times, the local grocery store usually has a really good selection of offals, including pig skin. Unfortunately, they happened to be out of skin this week, so I was left looking for alternatives. The best choice was ears, since they have a nice flat area of skin that could cook up really easily. Let me be the first to tell you that skinning pig ears is much less fun than it sounds. After skinning the ears, they dried in the oven for a few hours, then fried in oil until puffed up and crispy. Since I didn’t have the amount of rinds I really needed to bread the pork completely, I went with about 50% panko to 50% skins. It didn’t come out as porky as I was expecting, but it was definitely a nice subtle difference to just a regular breading. The whole dish came together really nicely, especially topped with a nice runny egg. I got called in to work right after I had started cooking, so it ended up being a late-night dinner, but as with most Asian foods, it always tastes awesome after a long day and a few drinks.

Tonkatsu Donburi – Fried Pork Cutlets over rice with Eggs

makes about 4 portions

  • Pork skin, about 1 lb*
  • All-Purpose Flour, as needed
  • Eggs, beaten, 3 each
  • Panko Bread crumbs, as needed
  • Pork cutlets, 4 each
  • Sugar, 1 tablespoon
  • Dashi, 1 tablespoon
  • Soy Sauce, 1/4 cup
  • White Rice, cooked, as needed
  • Assorted Vegetables, cooked as needed
  • Eggs, 4 each**

Preheat oven to 200F. Trim all fat and meat from pork skin. Trim to large squares. Place skins on a wire rack and dry in the oven for 3 hours, or until completely dry. Heat a heavy-bottomed pot with about 5 inches of oil to 350F. Fry dried skins until puffed and crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel. Process fried skins in a food processor until they reach the texture of coarse bread crumbs. Combine skins with panko to reach 2 cups total volume. Heat oven to 450F. Set up a standard breading procedure with flour, egg, and bread crumb mixture. Bread pork cutlets, and place onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Lightly coat breaded pork with oil, then bake at 450F until fully cooked, about 20 minutes. While pork is cooking, combine sugar, dashi and soy sauce. Cook rice and desired vegetables. Remove pork from oven and cut into strips. Serve pork over rice and vegetables, with egg cooked to your liking. Top with soy sauce mixture.

*You can use the pork rinds out of a bag to the same effect, but I prefer not to.

**I prefer poached eggs, but if you like scrambled, a more traditional preparation is to scramble your pork and vegetables in with the eggs, then serve that over the rice and top with sauce.

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Colloquially, the term caramelization is used to refer to the browning of food; The “bake until golden brown and delicious” you’ll find littered on every third page of every cookbook written between 1974 and the present. Technically speaking, however, caramelization is only browning due to the cooking of sugars, as opposed to the browning of amino acids (proteins) like searings a steak or roasting a chicken, which is known as The Maillard Reaction. As wikipedia puts it, caramelization is a “complex, poorly understood process” . But anybody familiar to desserts or candy making will tell you that browning sugar creates a rich, nutty flavor that pairs well with nearly everything. It’s time to break out Grandad’s old candy jar for the 19th week of Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge!

Most people are familiar with the standard uses of caramel for sweet applications: butterscotch, creme brulee or flan, or even topped on your favorite sundae. However, caramelized sugar can take on a totally contrasting flavor when used in savory applications. Caramelized, and in some cases burnt, sugar can bring out natural flavors of meat and fish and add a subtle roasted flavor without the longer cooking process. A perfect example of this idea is in the traditional Vietnamese dish Thit Heo Kho Trung.

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Thit Heo Kho Trung is a simple dish of pork, braised in caramel and coconut water and normally served with hard-boiled eggs. At the local Thai market, they sell these vacuum packages of pork and raw eggs and it always confused me as to what you could actually do with that, but now I think it may be for some kind of dish related to this. To make the caramel, sugar is combined with a little bit of water to moisten it, then cooked on high heat until it reaches a deep brown color. Adding pork, onions and garlic into the caramel begins to flavor the base and render fat out of the pork (similar to the way you may finish a caramel sauce with butter or cream). The main braising liquid consists of coconut water with a little fish sauce for that extra kick of umami that Asian cuisine is known for. The pork gets simmered until tender, then served up over rice, noodles, or just by itself. My original intention was to braise some bok choy in with the pork, but it slipped my mind at the grocery store and I ended up throwing some kale in. Hard boiled eggs are the traditional accompaniment to the pork, getting a quick simmer in the braising liquid to pick up some of the color and flavor of the caramel and pork. This dish wasn’t as sweet as I expected, but still had a rich caramel flavor; subtly enough to complement the other ingredients, but strong enough to let you know that it’s there. While an unusual combination, the hard boiled eggs made a very nice addition to the whole meal. Thit Heo Kho Trung is definitely going to be added to my dinner roster for my future day(s) off: Simple enough to make for one person but impressive enough to make for company, it could just as easily be made in a single morning (like I did) or thrown in a crock pot to cook overnight.

I would like to dedicate this post to the memory of my dear friend Mariah Woodward, who passed away in 2012 from chronic illness. Today would have been her 23rd birthday. Rest easy, Mariah.

Thit Heo Kho Trung, Vietnamese Caramel-Braised Por

makes about 2 servings

  • Granulated Sugar, 1/2 cup
  • Water, 1/2 cup
  • Pork shoulder, cut into 1″-2″ chunks, about 1 pound
  • Onion, thinly sliced, 1 each
  • Garlic, minced or crushed, 2 cloves
  • Coconut Water, about 16 fluid ounces
  • Fish Sauce, to taste
  • Kale, Bok Choy, or other vegetables, about 2 cups (optional)
  • Eggs, hard boiled, peeled, 2 each

In a medium sauce pot, combine sugar and water. Cook over medium-high heat until sugar becomes a deep brown color, about 7 minutes. Add pork, onion and garlic, stirring to coat with caramel. Add coconut water and fish sauce and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat until pork is tender, about 1 hour. 15 minutes before the pork is done, add vegetables (if using) and eggs, mixing to coat evenly with braising liquid. Serve hot over rice, noodles, or by itself.

 

 

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