All posts filed under: Asia

Khu cầu Đá Bạc Thủy Nguyên. Photo by Hoàng Việt.

About the food of Vietnam

The first time I had Vietnamese food I was fourteen, living in Paris. Turns out, great Vietnamese restaurants can be found all over the city. I remember one thing only about those early forays into Vietnamese culture: crispy, deep-fried rolls and a platter of mint and lettuce. You wrap the rolls in a handful of mint and lettuce, then dip it into nuoc mam (a sweet and spicy fish sauce mixture). I still dream about that flavor. Fresh, fried, crunchy, and sour. Unfortunately, everywhere I look for this dish, people shrug.  Vietnamese restaurants shake their heads “sorry, we don’t do that. people don’t want that here.” But, I do! If I could figure out what this roll preparation is called, I would find a recipe and make it every time I get the hankering for it. But, alas, I have no idea; my time in Paris was nearly twenty years ago. This mystery reveals something I’d later learn is typical of all Vietnamese food: the prevalence of fresh herbs. Take pho, for example, a breakfast …

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Monday Meal Review: Uzbekistan

Stirring, stirring, stirring. Uzbekistan requires no stirring. Just a layering of this vegetable, then that… a stuffed quince and few chopped nuts. But no stirring. Definitely nothing of the sort. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to just wait? To wait and do nothing? To wait and trust that everything will come out okay, no burning, no overcooking, no drying out? How hard it is to not stir the pot? With just three weeks until our big event at Philbrook and two months until the end of our Global Table Adventure, this message feels particularly apropos. I feel like there should be something I should be doing. But sometimes we just need to wait, and savor the results when the time comes. THIS WEEK’s FOOD Harvest Stew | Dimlama  [Recipe] What I loved most about this dish: The key to dimlama is browning the onion and meat, so it’s no coincidence that the resulting brown gravy is also my favorite part of the stew. The hint of cumin and cilantro gives the dish the characteristic Uzbek edge, making it …

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Honey & Pistachio Stuffed Quince

Say “Quince” to an Uzbek lady, and you just might see her flush with delight. Though they aren’t eaten raw, baked quince are soft and tender, like a pear.  The taste is mild, something like an apple, but with traces of pear, too. Uzbekistan is the third greatest producer of quince, after Turkey and China. They include the fruit in plov, stir it into preserves, and they bake it up with honey, and sometimes even stuff it nuts… as we’re doing today. How to choose a quince: – look for white fuzzies on the stem end, which indicate freshness – a ripe quince is yellow, although slightly green fruit can be used for this recipe – it can be bumpy and odd-shaped, but there should be no scarring or other markings. Serves 4-6 Ingredients: 2-3 quince (or 3 large apples) 1/2 cup pistachios 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (or substitute more pistachios) 1/2 tsp cinnamon honey, to taste (1-2 Tbsp per person) For the baking dish: 1 cup water 2-3 slices lemon Method: Let’s go to …

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Harvest Stew | Dimlama

If it were up to me, every gardener would know about Dimlama, the Uzbek one-pot answer to harvest-time (no canning required). While every Uzbek family makes it a little differently, potatoes, carrots, peppers, and tomatoes are standard fare, as is a hearty sprinkling of whole cumin seeds. The key to dimlama rests in the layering. First of all, lamb is browned, then onions are added in the mix. One they submit to browning, the remaining vegetables are layered (and, once they’re added, you never stir the pot!). The final layer is always cabbage, which helps seal in the moisture. When the vegetables release their juices, they drip down to the bottom of the pan and deglaze all those nummy browned bits. The result? A luscious brown gravy worthy of being sopped up by a nice piece of Central Asian Yogurt Naan. Serves 6 Ingredients: 1/2-1 lb cubed lamb or beef 1 large onion, sliced in quarter moons 5 small yellow potatoes cut in half 2-3 large carrots, peeled & sliced 2 red peppers, sliced in strips 2 …

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Menu: Uzbekistan

“Don’t choose a house—choose neighbors. Don’t choose a path—choose traveling companions.” Uzbek Proverb This week we’re going to Uzbekistan via stovetop travel and the timing couldn’t be better: September is harvest time. Right on cue, my tomato plants recently produced dozens of cherry tomatoes. The look like bright like jewels against the green landscape. In Uzbekistan, when it’s harvest time, the people gather up their bountiful produce and make Dimlama. Then they follow it up with stuffed apples or quince.  Delicious. Both recipes and the meal review will be posted throughout the week.  Lamb & Vegetable Pot | Dimlama  [Recipe] Enjoy the garden’s bounty with this layered pot of tender lamb, potato, onion, carrot, pepper, cabbage, and more, seasoned with cumin and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro. Honey & Pistachio Stuffed Quince [Recipe] An easy combination of honey, cinnamon, pistachios, walnuts, and roasted quince. Great with a (non-traditional) scoop of ice cream. For those looking for a simpler option, try just adding honey and cinnamon to the quince. Also, apples may be substituted for the quince. …

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Newlyweds in Uzbekistan. Photo by Dalbera.

About the Food of Uzbekistan

Upon our friends,  Our strength depends. Uzbek Proverb Before this adventure, it often took a personal connection to help me tune into another part of the world, and such was the case with Uzbekistan.  I never gave much thought to the long central Asian country, until college, when I became friends with a girl named Marina. She moved to the states from Uzbekistan when she was a girl. We jogged together, 3 miles a day, 6 days a week. We never ran so hard that we couldn’t talk. And boy did we ever talk. She stood with me at my wedding in 2008, along with my sister and my friend Becky. Speaking of weddings, here’s a photo of an Uzbek bride I found… look at her dress! Amazing. (As are the other women’s dresses!) Marina tells me Plov is the most traditional Uzbek food – the giant, communal pot of rice cooked with lamb and a few vegetables, rather like the Plov Recipe we tried for Turkmenistan. Unlike the plov we made for Tajikistan, however, Uzbek …

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Monday Meal Review: Turkmenistan

Our week cooking Turkmenistan was all about the bubble… bubbling Watermelon Jam, bubbling Central Asia Tea, and bubbles on the forehead. It was the bubbles on the forehead that really made me smile. In Turkmenistan, tapping your tea bubbles, then tapping your forehead is said to bring good fortune. This little ritual definitely falls in the realm of superstition. I felt a little silly doing it. At first, I couldn’t figure out why. The awkwardness wasn’t really about getting my forehead wet, although that certainly played into it. And it wasn’t about having to demonstrate to my skeptical family, although their giggles definitely made me feel extra silly. Here they are.. tap, tap. And then I realized what it was. The superstition felt weird because I haven’t been following any superstitions of my own lately. When I was in high school, I’d say “If I get this trash in the basket, then I’ll have an awesome day.” When I was in college, I’d say, “If I tap my pencil three times, I’ll pass the test.” …

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How to throw a Central Asian Tea Party

  The best kind of party is a tea party. Even better? A themed tea party. This week we’re exploring the Central Asian Tea Party. As I read through many descriptions of teas in Turkmenistan (this week’s Global Table) and her neighboring countries, I realized there are just FIVE basic things you need for a Central Asian Tea Party. Anything else is icing on the proverbial cake. 1.  Green or Black Tea.  In Central Asia, people drink two main kinds of tea, green or black. Green tea is typically sipped in order to relax, while black tea is enjoyed for an energetic boost. Both are called “Chai,” which simply means tea. When serving, the tea should be poured from very high up into each glass… do this at least three times. This aerates the tea and makes tiny bubbles (more on this in a moment). 2. Fun superstitions Much of the fun of any global tea party is learning the superstitions that go with them. Here are two from Central Asia. a) If you can tap the …

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Watermelon Jam

Imagine living in a place that has a National Holiday called “Melon Day.”  You could be surrounded by more than 400 kinds of melon, including some 50 varieties of watermelon.* The cool, sweet flesh would fill your belly and spirit. Eating it would definitely make you smile. And spreading it on bread? Even better. If any of this appeals to you, you might want to consider moving to Turkmenistan. These lovely people have celebrated Melon Day since 1994, and they don’t plan to stop eating the sweetness anytime soon. When I read in The World Cookbook for Students that Watermelon Jam is a thing in Turkmenistan (particularly when served on toast with tea), I knew we had to try it. I made a nice batch of jam from half a regular watermelon. Tastes like jarred sunshine. What a great gift to share with friends and family! Perhaps with a spot of tea… NOTE: I used Pamona’s Universal Pectin because it allows me to add less sugar to the mix (just 2 cups). I found Pamona’s at Whole Foods, though …

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Menu: Turkmenistan

“Whatever you put in your pot comes to your spoon.” Turkmen Proverb We’re in the middle of summer. The sidewalk’s sizzling, but anyone from Turkmenistan can tell you; that’s no reason to turn off the kettle. This week we’re celebrating summer in true Turkmen Style. First, with a spirited watermelon jam, inspired by the 200 varieties of melon that grow in Turkmenistan. Second, with a central Asian tea party – a fun way to gather with family and friends. *Both recipes and the meal review will be posted throughout the week.   Watermelon Jam [Recipe] Boil up some watermelon, sugar, and lemon juice. Add a bit of pectin. Voila! The perfect Turkmen-inspired gift for someone you love. A yummy (and unusual) addition to any summer brunch. Central Asian Tea Party [Recipe] Invite a few friends over to experience a Central Asian Tea Party.  We’ll share seven ways to make the tea party as authentic and fun as possible. P.S. If you’re looking for something more savory, check out our recipes linked in our About the Food of Turkmenistan post.

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The Darvasa gas crater in Turkmenistan. Photo by Tormod Sandtorv.

About the food of Turkmenistan

There’s no way to dance around it… In Turkmenistan, you can come face to face with the “gates of hell”… The only catch? Darvasa is no supernatural place. This “hell” is manmade. Way back in 1971 this crater was formed while drilling for natural gas. There was a collapse and, to prevent the escape of fumes, some people decided they should … set the gas on fire. (Had I been around, I would have definitely been against throwing a match* in a giant pit of natural gas… am I alone in this?) Geologists claimed the fire would burn off in a few days. More than forty years later, here we are. The gas still burning, burning, burning. (Something about this feels like a Jim Morrison lyric.) Darvasa is now a major attraction, with tour guides flicking cigarette butts around the place, laughing over flare ups. Sounds like the beginning of a sci fi movie. This week, we’re skirting past the “gates of hell” and diving into the fresh summer bounty of Turkmenistan. Sure, this puppet shaped …

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Monday Meal Review: Thailand

It took a Green Papaya Salad from Thailand to make me think about the rhythms of my life. Rat-tat-tat-tat…. Rat-tat-tat…. Rat-tat.. Rat… Rat… Tat-tat… Thwap. As I pounded the garlic and chili peppers into a paste, feeling both awkward and unskilled, I began to ask myself some questions… Namely, how is it that something as simple as pounding food can be so hard for me, yet be so easy for another person – like… oh, say… someone from Thailand? I understand that Thai people learn how to use mortars and pestles at a young age… but … still… the question popped up. And then things got really existential.  I’m not sure if it was a full moon, or the barometric pressure, but I got much, much deeper. As in, I began to compare myself to a mortar and pestle. I asked: “Am I moving smoothly through my life, making smart choices, or am I a mess of starts and stops, pounding the pavement hard for a while, then resting for too long before picking up the pace again?” You see, I’ve heard rumors wives …

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