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

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Improvising Thai Cucumber Relish

The Thais call a cucumber relish dressed lightly with salt, sugar, vinegar, and fish sauce ajard. It is a refreshing side dish intended to be served as an accompaniment for spicy stew or curry, or with fried foods. Ajard acts as a balancer to offset these dishes’ hearty and buttery flavors.
Although the true recipe for Thai ajard uses one kind of cucumber, I like to make mine by mixing different varieties of cucumber. This adds a surprising texture and taste to this simple recipe. I learned the principle of improvisation from older Thai cooks who make up their version of ajard by adding all sorts of seasonal vegetables including water chestnuts, lotus roots, radishes, shallots, young ginger or young garlic. Some would spice it up with chilies, coriander, fresh turmeric, as well as several kinds of mints and basil. For a truly over-the-top ajard, crushed roasted peanuts, crispy shallots and crispy garlic are added.
Cucumber is at its best now in farmer’s markets. The peel is deep forest green and the inside translucent whitish meat is crispy and slightly sweet. Instead of the big and fat overgrown seeds, the center is filled with delicate, light green tiny immature seeds.
Pickling cucumber and lemon cucumber are just beginning their brief season. Both are very special treats. You don’t have to use pickling cucumbers for making pickles. In fact, these smaller cucumbers remind me of the variety we have back in Thailand. I think the texture of these gherkins is crisper than the regular cucumber and thus they make very good salad additions.
I especially love lemon cucumber for its delicate, crunchy and slightly tangy taste. When I see it in the market, as I did this past Sunday, I hoarded as many as I could pack in my shopping basket. What I can’t use for salads or in making a cool cucumber soup, I’ll give to friends.
Cucumber is one of the best summer vegetables. It is a diuretic, filled with Vitamins C and A, fiber and potassium, keeping you hydrated and your blood pressure down. It is cooling and soothes and refreshes you, especially on a very hot summer days. Peeled skins and seeds can be blended and used to revitalize the skin after a full day in the sun. I don’t even bother with the blending part. As I prepare the cucumbers for relish, I pile the peels and skins in one corner of my sink. After all the prep work it done, I just squish and slather them over my arms, hands, face and neck. I know I look like the devil, but after a nice shower my skin feels like a million dollars!

Cucumber Relish
Makes 2 to 3 servings

¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar or agave syrup
1½ tablespoons distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon fish sauce (omit for vegetarian)
Mix all ingredients together until salt and sugar are dissolved. Set aside.

2 cups peeled, seeded and thinly sliced on diagonal varieties of cucumber

Mix the cucumber with the dressing and set aside for 10 minutes, serve.

Add at least 3 to 4 of the following ingredients into your cucumber dressing. Taste for balance. Otherwise, make another batch of dressing and add to your version of cucumber relish.

• 2 to 3 Tabasco chilies, coarsely chopped
• 1 to 2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
• 1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
• 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro
• 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped mint
• 1 to 2 radishes, slivered
• 1 to 2 strawberries, thinly sliced (or your choice of tangy fruits)
• 1/3 cup jicama slivers
• 1 tablespoon dry-roasted chopped peanuts or other kinds of nuts
• 1 tablespoon crispy shallot
• 1 tablespoon crispy garlic

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer Offerings at Saffron

I am rallying the customers at my restaurant, Saffron, to join me on a crusade of healthful eating, a journey I have been on personally for many years.
Following the practice of Thai philosophy of health that encourages us to eat seasonally and locally grown produce (all in my new book, The Elements of Life, A Contemporary Guide to Thai Recipes and Traditions for Healthier Living, published by John Wiley and Sons, due in October, 2009); I have created two new salads that are more fitting for our mild and temperate summer climate here in San Diego. One is an irresistible strawberry, watermelon and chicken salad. Another is a beautiful salad of greens, fresh corn, cherry tomatoes, radishes and steamed salmon marinated in Thai aromatic herbs. Both follow the Thai culinary formula that mixes and matches contrasting tastes, flavors and aromas to create a perfect balanced dish. They are light, delicious and healthful.
In addition, in order to appease customers who are addicted to the hot ginger tea we serve during fall and winter months, we are offering home-made ginger-ale for the summer months. It is equally addictive, refreshing and cooling.
Here are recipes for our summer specials at Saffron.

Strawberry, Watermelon and Chicken Salad
Makes 2 servings
4 to 5 large strawberries, thinly sliced across to make 1 cup
1 cup thinly sliced matchsticks watermelon
1 cup shredded cooked chicken breast
¼ cup Citrus Dressing (see below)
6 to 7 mint leaves, slivered
¼ cup roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds

Put the strawberries, watermelon and chicken breast in a mixing bowl. Toss gently before adding the dressing. Toss again and add the mint. Toss once more. Transfer to a platter and garnish with pumpkin seeds. Serve.

Salad Greens, Corn, Cherry Tomatoes, Radishes and Steamed Salmon Salad
Makes 2 servings
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 fresh lemongrass, outer hard part and green leaves removed, minced
Zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ pound salmon filet without skin and bone
Two 12" x 12" fresh banana leaves*
1 to 2 toothpicks
1 ½ cups arugula or other bitter greens**
1 ear of corn, grilled and kernels removed
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 to 3 radishes, thinly sliced
¼ cup Citrus Dressing (see below)
Put the salt and ginger in a mortar and pound to puree with a pestle. Add the lemongrass and pound to puree. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Mix to combine.
Put the salmon on a bowl and add the marinade. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Put one banana leaf on top of another. Put the salmon in the center and wrap as if you are wrapping a present. Secure with a toothpick or two. Steam over medium high heat for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove to cool.
Place the rest of ingredients except for the dressing in a mixing bowl. Toss gently to combine. Add all but a tablespoon of dressing. Toss again and transfer to a plate. Remove the salmon from the banana leaves and place it on top of the salad greens. Drizzle the remaining dressing over and serve.

* Substitute fresh banana leaf with aluminum foil lined with fresh corn husks
** Arugula with its intense spicy kick is best. However, you can substitute it with varieties of bitter salad greens that are presently in season.

Citrus Dressing
Makes ¼ cup
¼ teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 to 2 Thai chili, finely minced
1 teaspoon fish sauce (omit for vegetarian and increase salt for balance)
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1 tablespoon lime juice
3 tablespoons sour orange juice
Combine all the ingredients in a jar or bottle with a tight lid. Secure tightly with a lid and shake well to combine.

Home-made Ginger-ale
There are two ways of making home-made ginger-ale. The first is made from fresh ginger. It has a natural and lighter flavor. The second is from instant granulated ginger/honey intended for making ginger tea. It is quicker and simpler to make with a more robust and intense flavor ginger-ale. I use a brand called Goldwily that can be purchased in Asian supermarkets.

Ginger-ale made with fresh ginger
Makes one 8 oz. serving
3tablespoons finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons hot water
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
2teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup club soda
½ cup ice cubes
1 to 2 mint leaves
Put the ginger and hot water in a blender and blend to puree. Strain the juice through a fine mesh strainer and save the ginger pulp for other use. Add the agave syrup to the ginger juice and mix. Add the lemon juice and stir to mix. Transfer into a glass and add the club soda. Stir and mix well. Add the ice cubes. Stir before adding the mint leaves. Stir once more. Enjoy!

Ginger-ale made with instant granulated ginger/honey
Makes one 8 oz. serving
2 ½ teaspoons granulated ginger/sugar pellets
1 tablespoon hot water
2 teaspoons agave syrup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup club soda
½ cup ice cubes
1 to 2 mint leaves
Combine the instant granulated ginger/sugar pellets with hot water in a small mixing bowl. Mix to dissolve. Add the agave syrup and mix well. Add the lemon juice. Stir to mix. Transfer to a glass. Add the club soda and stir to mix. Add ice cubes and stir once more. Add the mint leaves. Stir and enjoy.

Here's a link to a video of my appearance on KUSI this morning, July 6th, 2009, making the Salmon Salad and Home-Made Ginger Ale:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stir-Fried Thai Eggplant with Chicken

Here is a link to an article about Thai eggplant that I wrote for the Bangkok Post, a popular English-language newspaper read throughout Thailand:
Here is a link to the recipe for Stir-Fried Eggplant with Chicken: