grub club IV

by isaac black

This Sunday I made dinner for myself and seven friends. We ate outside on a covered patio until it got too cold, then we went indoors just before it started raining. Due to the nature of my dinner, I didn’t really get to eat with people, and people were left waiting on food. It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t terrible. Going to try to avoid these kinds of meals in the future.

That being said… everyone liked it, and I thought it was a good spring meal. I wanted a lot of fresh ingredients, but the common thread ended up being birds eye chili, which is present in every course. Here’s what I made:

Stir-fried oyster mushrooms

These are really flavorful. I served them with a little bit of rice over arugula with an orange slice. I left it up to people what they chose to do with all those elements, but no one squeezed the orange onto the mushrooms like I expected. It’s a lot of flavors that I think are all interesting, but not everyone may agree.

12 c. very roughly chopped oyster mushrooms

12 small cloves garlic

1 birds eye chili

2 1/2 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp black rice cooking wine

1/2 tbsp vegetarian fish sauce (optional)

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp loosely packed chopped cilantro

1 tbsp or so sesame seeds

Sautee the garlic and chili in the sesame oil. Depending on the heat of the chili, using just one with this quantity of mushrooms will result in only mild to medium spiciness. Sample the chili and make a judgment call on what spiciness you want. As the oil is infusing with the garlic and chili, rinse and chop the mushrooms. Deglaze the pan with the wine, fake fish sauce, and soy. Add the mushrooms and cook until the sauce reduces to a kind of syrupy texture. This took about 30 or 40 minutes for me, though if you want to speed this up, you could leave out the fish sauce and 1 tbsp of the wine. Oyster mushrooms are sturdy enough that they can handle this kind of cook time and not turn to mush. When the sauce has cooked down and the flavor is to your liking, mix in the cilantro and sesame seeds.

Bánh xèo

Bánh xèo is a kind of pancake or crepe made from rice flour and coconut milk and filled, typically with shrimp and pork. I made a vegetarian one filled with thai basil, cilantro, mint, carrot, daikon radish, and green onion, taken from the great cookbook Plenty. I don’t want to distribute their recipe; buy the book!

I will note that I wanted a thin pancake, but if I poured the batter too thin, it was too crispy and got ruined when I tried to flip it. I’m sure there’s an art to this sort of thing. Give it some practice.

Mango with chili-infused coconut sauce

You can now buy Philippine-style mangos in the US! This is good news. I risked despoiling the deliciousness of these mangos with my own invention, but I think it turned out well.

3.5 c. coconut milk (2 cans)

2 1/2 tbsp sugar

1 1/2 tbsp lime juice

10 birds eye chilis

pinch of salt

This is one of the first things that I started, so the chilis were infusing for a good four hours or so. Pour the milk, sugar, lime juice, and salt in a pot over low-medium heat. Bruise the chilis with the handle of a knife, or a mortar and pestle. I like to keep the chilis intact, just for presentation’s sake, so I am pretty gentle, but I try to just barely break the skin so the oils can seep out. I also like to press the chilis against the side of the pot as they’re cooking to squeeze the oil out. The result was very spicy, but I didn’t want the heat to be too mild once it was on the mango. No one complained.

Previously, I had made this with coconut cream and had the pot uncovered as the chilis infused, so I ended up with a thick cream. This time, I had the pot covered until I realized that the milk wasn’t reducing as quickly as I had hoped, so I uncovered it and turned the heat as high up as I was comfortable. Still, for 8 mango halves, I only used about a third of this, and it was not as thick as I would have liked.

UPDATE: I forgot I also made some iced rose almond milk tea. My quantities are not exact since I just winged it, but I boiled about 1 1/2 liters of water and put about half a cup of dried rose buds (from the local Asian market) in bags and teaballs. I probably could have just used cheesecloth to make it easier on myself. I used maybe 1/3 cup of honey, and let that steep for about 3 – 5 minutes, just until the rose flavor started to come out but not be too strong. Then I dropped in a tray of ice cubes and a pour of almond milk and stirred it and let it cool in the fridge. I didn’t want to serve it with ice in it. It turned out really good.