Pay attention, dudes: the secret to capturing someone’s heart lies in their belly. Who wouldn’t like a man who knows his way in the kitchen?
One of Rob’s cooking specialties has always been pad thai. One of my favourite meals at restaurants has always been pad thai, but only if done right. Not tomatoey, certainly not filled with ketchup, and to be honest, I never understood why pad thai recipes in the raw community were made from nut butters (certainly a delicious coleslaw, though).
When we first were dating, I brought Rob to a restaurant, raving about their “authentic” pad thai. Only after I sat down and both of us received our orders of pad thai, did I worry Rob would find it below his high expectations. Thank goodness, he loved it, his recipe is a dead knock-off AND he loves making it!
Robbie-style cooking is usually a lot more low-key than mine, especially after he has made the dish a few times. Reading his original recipe leaves a bit to the imagination, but we have also modified it throughout the years. For me, he now omits the egg and swaps Bragg’s for the soy sauce/fish sauce. For the longest time, I tried to find a substitute for the rice noodles. I’ve tried quinoa and zucchini noodles, both with ok results. However, my preferred version is with kelp noodles which hold up well to the tangy sauce.
What doesn’t change is the strong emphasis on tamarind. I’ve talked about tamarind before, but it is worth highlighting again. It truly makes pad thai sing. For those who love sweet-sour as much as I do, tamarind also falls into the love category. Rob likes to remind me that fresh tamarind pods look like poo, but you can’t tell by looking at the pulp or concentrate. There are a few ways to buy tamarind. The blocks of tamarind pulp are cheap ($1) but you need to soak and strain it before you use it. Rob and I have converted to using tamarind concentrate ($2-3), though, since it is easier to use and more consistent in its taste.
Rob learned how to make pad thai in a cooking class while travelling in Thailand and his second tip for glorious pad thai, after using tamarind of course, is to make sure you cook each meal to order. It works well for customization of spice levels, but the flavours are spot-on, too. The problem is how to do this for a big group. We will prep all the ingredients at the same time, customizing each meal as we go. If the group is big, we don’t usually eat at the same time, but it is perfect for 2.
Do you have a signature dish for special occasions? Any favourite recipes for tamarind? We also really like tamarind lentils.
I know you raised an eyebrow when I posted the recipe for Banana Naan. Bread flour, what?!
I had been eyeing Sarah’s Mulligatawny Soup ever since she posted it in January. My Mom told me not to stress about the meals, so I scoped out recipes that I could make with the produce I already had (we happened to be fortunate that cauliflower was on sale for $1/head for our pakoras). Almost everything else had been squirreled away in my freezer, or living without a purpose in my fridge (I was looking at half a celeriac and half a kabocha squash!). While Sarah also provided the recipe for the Celeriac and Pumpkin Curry, they don’t taste remotely similar.
Mulligatawny is a British Indian curry-flavoured soup and literally means “pepper water”. However, recipes seem to be so varied that anything goes. Tess‘ version of mulligatawny is primarily red lentils, lemon and cilantro, whereas this is a creamy, tomato-spiked vegetable curry-soup brightened with tamarind. The leftovers were definitely more of a curry consistency.
Preparing a huge batch of soup in advance is a great way to relieve the stressful prep before a large meal. However, I didn’t fully appreciate how much soup I would be making. Sarah suggested it would serve a crowd, and she didn’t lie. We definitely already had enough food to feed an army along with the pakoras, 2 other curries [Malai Koftas, and a Spinach Chana Dal curry], a couscous pilaf salad and dessert. Oh, and we bought naan, too. Those recipes are still forthcoming, no worries!
Why did we make such a feast? 1) To make sure there was something for everyone to enjoy; and 2) No cooking required for the rest of the weekend since we’d be eating the leftovers.
Rob likes to have dinner themes for his birthday parties. Last year, it was Japanese.
We had planned on going Ethiopian this year, as it is the theme of our current neighbourhood. However, we changed our minds at the last minute because I wasn’t in the mood to cook up 5 different cooked dishes.
While I can dream up menus for days on end, they involve vegan dishes. Rob knew that some of our guests might balk at the lack of meat, so he offered to make a Southwestern Pulled Brisket in the slow cooker. With his meal chosen, I crafted the remainder of the menu with it in mind.
Therefore, this year it was a hodge podge of Southern US and Mexican dishes, foreshadowing our next, next move to Texas in 2013. My (not so) discerning palate can’t tell the difference between Texan and Carolina BBQ styles, but I can tell you how delicious everything turned out.
I was initially hesitant, but Rob encouraged me to try my hand at jackfruit carnitas. We had all the fixings for great tacos for the brisket, so why not have another filling, too?
I eventually settled on a recipe for Carolina BBQ-inspired pulled “pork” from Jessica.
Jackfruit is a fruit from Southeast Asia. Rob tells me it tastes like bubble gum. While the ripe fruit is sweet, you can buy canned young jackfruit in brine, which is quite flavourless. It has been used as a meat substitute due to its texture. After being cooked, it pulls apart into stringy bits akin to pulled pork and beef brisket.
While Rob’s brisket took 8 hours in the slow cooker, my BBQ jackfruit pulled “pork” took an hour, tops.
They key of the recipe is the spice blend, and here we used a plethora of spices to capture a Southern BBQ flavour: sweet smoked paprika, Aleppo chili flakes, mustard, tomato and red pepper pastes, tamarind and vinegar for some tang and sweetness from the maple syrup (yes, that’s 4/8 of my favourite ingredients in one sauce!). Such a glorious BBQ flavour with a bit of a kick. Chile heads, again, feel free to use the suggested cayenne, but I though it was plenty spicy without it. Dry frying brought out the flavours from the dry spices, then a slow simmer expanded the saucy flavours. Baking it firmed up the jackfruit so that it was more akin to pork.
As the jackfruit bakes, or if you are more inclined to make the brisket (it had rave, rave reviews, btw, and Rob loved its sheer simplicity to prepare), make some pickled red onions. I know many people shun fresh red onions, and a quick marinade in vinegar with some salt and sugar can really bring out their flavour. We used the recipe suggested by Deb.
Both the brisket and BBQ jackfruit pulled pork was served with an assortment of toppings – shredded Romaine, chopped tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, sliced cabbage, avocado and the pickled red onions. While we had roti and pitas for guests, I opted to make wraps with Romaine lettuce leaves. The jackfruit was so flavourful that you didn’t need so much per wrap. While Rob’s 3 lbs of beef brisket easily fed 10 people, my 20 oz of jackfruit served more like 2-4 people, depending on how many toppings you added.