Elements Of Life: Important Information Update!

My newest book,The Elements of Life comes with a wheel that helps you determine your home element(s). Unfortunately, there are mistakes printed on the back of the wheel. Until the publisher can correct them, these are the right dates:
March 8, 1998
March 17, 2003
March 6, 2004

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jungle Cooking

On 4/30/09 the Bangkok Post, an English language daily newspaper, published an article I wrote titled "Jungle Cooking". The article describes activities at the cooking school I co-founded at the Prem Tinsulanonda Center for International Education in Mae Rim, Chiang Mai province, in northern Thailand. For further information about the school and its programs, write me at su.mei@att.net and mention "Cooking School" in the subject line.

Here is a link to the Bangkok Post article: http://www.bangkokpost.com/life/family/15932/jungle-cooking

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

XETV Channel 6 Appearance by Su-Mei Yu

I recently appeared on XETV Channel 6 here in San Diego. Here is a link to that interview (which is preceded by a very brief commercial):

Monday, April 13, 2009

Round Two with Lak and Chad

(See my blog entry for March 26th, 2009 for "Round One")

The combination of 28% alcohol Thai moonshine and our nine course dinner of wild greens, shoots, blooms and grubs definitely had a euphoric effect on my friends, Lak and Chat. As we polished off the rest of the bottle, they insisted on a repeat performance the very next night. Except this time, they wanted to do all the cooking and free me to watch them prep and cook, and to catch their action on my camera.
As our reverie continued late into the night, our conversation also rounded its way back to foods, peppered with far-out experiences and buried longings. A wife of my friend’s estate manager, Aoy suddenly recalled something she tasted over a year ago. She didn’t know the name, but her memory of its heavenly taste was as vivid as if she had just tasted it. From her description, I guessed it to be a Pavlova. She asked if I could make it for her.
Surprisingly, the 28% moonshine left no damaging effect on my person the next day. In fact I felt great as I Googled for the pitfalls of making a Pavlova in a humid climate. Aoy had promised to buy the eggs and all baking equipment including an electric hand-held mixer. I was to shop for the rest of the ingredients.
Late in the afternoon, I showed up at my friend, Khun Mom Tri’s kitchen. Lak , adorned with his colorful apron , was hard at work pounding the marinade for a fish dish. Chat was singing by the stove while stirring sliced pork, fat, innards and other unidentifiable parts once belonging to a pig together with some very powerful spices in a wok. Lak began to hum along with Chat. Both men were very content despite the fact that the fumes from the chilies had permeated the entire kitchen, making it almost impossible to breathe without choking and coughing. I escaped to make the Pavlova in another kitchen next door.
While my beautiful meringue baked in the oven, I returned to watch the men. Lak started to pack a fresh bamboo culm with mustard greens and Chinese celery, sandwiching them with pieces of marinated fish, lemongrass, Thai basil leaves and pandanus leaves. He mixed what remained of the marinade with a couple of ladles of chicken broth, spooned it into the culm and tapped it several times on the table to settle the content inside. He then sealed the top by stuffing in fresh banana leaves and handed the culm to Chat to grill. At dinner, Lak would uncork the banana leaves and empty the perfectly cooked fish into a bowl, perfuming the kitchen with the aroma of crushed, warmed herbs and spices. It was one of the best tasting fish dishes I have ever eaten.

There was a bowl of a very green algae-like substance on the kitchen table. Lak said it was his favorite and he wanted to cook for me as a surprise. He had gotten up early that morning to go into the woods where he harvested the fresh-water meal from the pond. This strange green dense mass from the pond is actually a perennial herb. It is highly nutritious, packed with calcium, prosperous and iron. Lak sautéed it in a wok with some oil, garlic, minced pork and seasonings. The heat muted the brightness of the herb to mossy green. It tasted like cream of wheat, smooth, silken and surprisingly comforting.

Lak also made a soup with chicken and long skinny pods called ma room. After it is cooked, it is eaten the same way as artichoke leaves. First you split open the pod and then slither the inner tender section through your teeth. Oddly, it also tastes a bit like artichoke.
Lak’s wife Fon made the meanest and tastiest som tum. While the boisterous men talked and laughed while cooking, Fon quietly pounded shredded raw papaya and cherry tomatoes in a mortar adding a bit of fermented fish paste, garlic, salt, loads of chilies and lime juice. The other guests (except for me) knew about her som tum and eagerly took spoonfuls of it before helping themselves to any of the other dishes on the table. They would wolf it down followed with a pinch of kneaded sticky rice, making whistling sounds while at the same time taking and expelling several deep breaths to dispel the potent burning taste from the chilies. My friend's estate manager Moo went after a plate of bloody red raw buffalo beef salad. Lak made it just for him after we had all sat down for dinner. While his wife, Aoy, ate half of my “perfect” Pavlova after our dinner, Moo was very happy drinking glass after glass of ice cold Singha beer, munching on the bloody spicy meat, and giggling nonstop to whatever was said by any of us. I think it was the blood that had activated his laughing machine!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dominic's Pad See Ewe

Pad See Ewe
Pad=stir-fry, See Ewe=soy sauce

I was just leaving after shopping at Whole Foods when one of my customers stopped me to shower me and my restaurant, Saffron, with compliments. We got to talking about cooking and the young man, Dominic, told me how he loves Thai food and wanted in the worst way to learn how to make green curry. Somehow I sort of suspected that perhaps he should start learning something a bit simpler.
Dominic’s girlfriend, Nina was with him. One of her favorite noodle dishes is pad see ewe. “Why don’t you learn how to make it?” she said. Dominic responded by saying there is nothing to it, just noodles, soy sauce and egg. We’ll see, I thought to myself, as I invited Dominic to come and cook with me.
A couple of days later, Dominic showed up at my office, where I do have a kitchen. I went through the ingredients of pad see ewe and how to prep them, starting with how to smash garlic clove in order to mince it. I showed him how to separate the fresh noodle strands into ribbons from the neatly cut stacked rows. I taught him how to peel off the hard tough outer layers of both Chinese and regular broccoli and then slice them diagonally into thin pieces. We lined up the ingredients in a tray in the order in which they would be cooked and took them outside to where I have a propane cooker. Dominic thought cooking outdoors was unbelievably cool.
Standing beside him, I told Dominic that once he started, he had to work fast. In about five minutes, he learned how to stir-fry and how to make his first plate of pad see ewe. Afterwards, he ate every bit of his cooking, leaving his plate clean, and proclaimed it to be the best pad see ewe he had ever tasted. When he told me he was going to make it the next day for Nina, I sent him home with the rest of the noodles and Chinese broccoli. He can’t wait for our lesson on green curry.

Makes one serving

1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/3 cup thinly sliced chicken or pork
1 cup tightly packed fresh wide rice noodles, strands separated
2 to 3 tablespoons water
½ cup thinly sliced in diagonal Chinese broccoli or regular broccoli, put the stems and leaves separately on the plate
Mixture of 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce and1 teaspoon regular soy sauce
1 egg
Several shakes white pepper powder
1 tablespoon crispy shallot*
Chili in vinegar (see below)

Heat a non-stick skillet over high heat. Add ½ tablespoon cooking oil and wait for 20 seconds before adding the garlic. Stir-fry until golden and then add the noodles. Stir to mix and add a bit of water at a time until the noodles have softened and turned somewhat translucent. Keep stirring, and then add the broccoli stems and stir-fry until the color brightens. Add the leaves and stir-fry until they turn limp. Add the soy sauce. Continue to stir-fry. When the broccoli is tender but crunchy, push the noodle mixture to one side of the skillet and add the remaining ½ tablespoon of oil. Crack the egg over the oil and scramble. When the egg is almost cooked, push the noodle mixture over it and stir to mix well. Transfer to a plate, shake some white pepper powder over the noodles and garnish with crispy shallots. Serve immediately with Chili in vinegar.

Chili in Vinegar:
Makes about ½ cup

3 to 4 Serrano chilies, thinly sliced across
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup rice or distilled vinegar

Put all ingredients together in a container with lid. Close tightly and shake to mix. Let sit for about ½ hour before using it, or refrigerate. It will keep for several weeks.

Pad See Ewe is slightly sweetened by dark soy sauce which has molasses. A bit of chili in vinegar balances the flavor.

* Crispy shallots can be purchased in Asian markets, or make your own by checking out my recipe in Cracking the Coconut.

Thai Hot & Sour Fish Soup for El Pescador

El Pescador is the best seafood market in San Diego. It’s where I have been buying fresh fish since it first opened decades ago, long before Sean, the owner, started to make sandwiches and soups for take-out. The tiny shop now has several tables where people can also dine-in.
Sean hired young surfer dudes to clean and dress the fish, cook and take orders from customers. I got to talking with a couple of them one day about adding something new and snazzy to their menu such as Thai hot and sour soup. After all, they have plenty of fish bones for the broth. As for the rest of ingredients for Thai hot and sour fish soup, well, that’s where I came in.
I invaded the shop one day at noon with my herbs and spices. The young men were flabbergasted because they never thought I would actually show up to teach them how to cook it. We retrieved some fish bones and got to work. Once the broth was cooking, I left instructions with them for what to do next. Several hours later, I called to check on the soup. The young man who answered the phone said that is was “absolutely phenomenal!”

Makes about 6 cups

1 tablespoon cooking oil
4 dried red chilies (more if you like it super hot)
1 pound fish bones
6 cups water
7 cloves garlic, peeled
5 to 6 cloves shallots, peeled
12 to 15 slices galangal
4 to 5 stalks lemongrass, sliced on diagonal
12 kaffir lime leaves, hand crushed
5 to 6 fresh Thai chilies, slightly pounded (more if you like it super hot)
1 cup cilantro stems
1 ½ tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup fish sauce
Heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Wait for a minute then add the dried chilies. Stir-fry until the chilies turn black. Add the fish bones and water. When the water comes to a boil, add the rest of the ingredients. When it comes to a boil, lower the heat to low and let the broth cook for at least ½ hour. Taste for spiciness and saltiness. Adjust accordingly. Strain and discard the solids.

Hot and sour soup:
1 serving:
Bring about 1 ½ cups of broth to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and add ¼ cup thinly sliced mushrooms. When the mushrooms soften, add ½ cup sliced fish. Stir to mix. When the fish is cooked, turn off the heat.

Put about 1 tablespoon or more of fresh lime juice in a serving bowl. Add 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves. Ladle and pour the fish and broth into the bowl, mix and serve.

Have extra fish sauce, lime and chilies for guests to doctor up their soup. This should be served with rice.