This week, Jonah and I were itching for happy hour. The sun was shining, and we both had finished up a day’s work by 5 o’clock. Because we both have a passion for any kind of Asian food, we decided to go to Fish Sauce, a little Vietnamese restaurant on a quiet corner in NW Portland. We had been once before a long time ago, and quite enjoyed ourselves. So I met Jonah there, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they have a lovely patio where we could sit outside.
First we ordered drinks: Jonah started with an IPA, while I went the cocktail route with the Bangkok Dangerous, made with rye, thai tea, lemon, and demerera sugar. Because we were so hungry, we immediately ordered the crispy pork roll, which was fairly standard Vietnamese fare.
After that we ordered some grilled mussels, topped with coconut milk, toasted coconut, and peanuts, which were pretty unique and very good. We also ordered the grilled romaine with dressing and grilled tofu. I liked this dish – it was crunchy and refreshing – but I do wish there had been a little more dressing. Next up were some fantastic chicken wings (which were eaten so quickly that I couldn’t nab a picture). They were crispy and not drenched in sauce, while still being a little bit sticky and sweet.
After those small plates, we were still a little hungry so we decided to order the Bún, a big bowl of vermicelli noodles with lettuce, cucumber, pickled daikon and carrots, mint, topped with a crispy roll, grilled shrimp, grilled beef, and of course there was a little bowl of sauce to pour over the whole dish. This dish was light, sweet, crunchy, and fresh, and is one of our favorite things to order since our trip to Vietnam last year.
The service at Fish Sauce was extremely friendly, and I love both the patio and the long communal table inside. This place feels like a great combination of a neighborhood spot, a best kept secret, and a tasty hip Portland restaurant.
A couple of weeks ago, my roommates had a problem. I had gone with them to the climbing gym, and on our way home, we decided to stop at the store to get some food for lunch. We were thinking about what we already had in the house that we could use, and they started talking about how they had too much lettuce. See, they’re more spinach eaters (in salads and scrambles and such) than lettuce eaters, and so had a head of lettuce that they didn’t particularly want to eat or know what to do with. I had an idea: Thai larb.
This Thai larb, a chicken dish with lettuce wraps, immediately popped into my head. I quickly looked up a couple recipes on my phone, and grabbed the ingredients at the store. It was a warm day, and this bright, tart, crunchy dish was perfect. Plus, they were impressed that I made lettuce into something so delectable.
Today it was 85 degrees in Portland, and tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter. In fact, it’s supposed to be beautiful (and hot) until Saturday. My suggestion? Make this Thai larb: it’s so refreshing on a hot day. I’d serve it with maybe a green papaya salad and rice (sticky rice if you can swing it).
Thai Larb with Lettuce Wraps
1/3 cup lime juice
1 Tbl fish sauce
2 Tbl light brown sugar
1/2 tsp Sriracha
2 lbs skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into roughly 1-inch pieces
1 large shallot, chopped
1 stalk lemongrass , thinly sliced (see this article for instructions on prepping your lemongrass)
1-2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 red chile, jalapeño, or thai chile, depending on your desired spice level
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp kosher salt
3 Tbl vegetable oil
1 head romaine or iceberg lettuce, rinsed
Cilantro for garnish (optional)
To make the dressing, stir all of the ingredients in a bowl until well combined. Set aside.
In a food processor, combine the chicken, shallot, lemongrass, garlic, chile pepper, fish sauce, and salt. Add 1 Tbl of oil, and pulse until the chicken is finely chopped, or how you would imagine ground chicken would look. In a large nonstick pan, heat the remaining 2 Tbl of oil over medium-high heat. Once the pan and oil is hot, add the chicken mixture and cook, breaking up into smaller pieces with your wooden spoon, until the chicken starts to turn golden brown and is cooked through.
To eat your larb, spoon some chicken onto a lettuce leaf, and top with the dressing and a little cilantro if you like. Be sure to eat over a plate – I can guarantee there will be dripping.
When I was getting ready to make this Asian pulled pork, I knew I wanted to write about it. I didn’t intend to write about it so soon – I knew I had a few posts to be written, the pictures sitting in their appropriate folders on my desktop – but things changed.
As I was putting all of these ingredients together on Monday, the kitchen already started to smell good. The fragrance of the lemongrass and ginger, combined with the rice vinegar and soy sauce, had begun to permeate the kitchen, and when my friend Elsa stopped by while I was making the pickles, she asked, “What smells so good?” as soon as she opened the door. When I left for work a few hours later, the slow cooker was on, the pickles were in the fridge, and mostly I just couldn’t wait to get home and eat the stuff.
After work, I had a message from my mom, asking me to call her. My phone was nearly dead (a morning on the phone with various auto insurance agents will do that to you), so I decided to wait till I could get home and plug my phone in to call. I opened the front door, and I was surrounded by this smell. The Asian flavors swirling around, making my stomach grumble. And then I looked at Jonah, sitting at the kitchen table, and he asked me, “Have you called your mom?” No. “Herby died,” he said.
I immediately called my mom, who was on the other line with my Nana, and said she’d call me back shortly. Herby, or Poppa Herb, is my grandfather. Herby had been sick for a long long time, and I had known for a while that his time was coming to a close. We all knew. And yet, as I said to Jonah moments after he told me, knowing it’s coming doesn’t seem to make it any less sad. Herby suffered for a long time, and so did Nana, really. He was unwell and hard to care for, and he was very ready to go. So after some tears, we couldn’t do much but continue to get dinner ready. The lid came off the slow cooker, and the scrumptious aroma wafted into the air, perfuming our meal. Before we actually sat down to eat, I got to talk to my mom, who let me know that one of the last meals Herb enjoyed was 5 (count them, 5) slices of her french toast. Thank goodness he ate well until the end. And then we ate.
As I started to think about writing this post, I haven’t been able to think about this dish without thinking of Poppa. And while the association could be sad, it really isn’t. It makes me a little more thoughtful, but mostly happy. Happy that I got to have this wonderful extra grandfather, who loved me like I was his own flesh and blood, who believed in me, who used to do little funny dances around the kitchen, who wore all those silly sweatshirts we made for him when we were little, and who made it possible for my family to see each other every year on the Oregon coast. And while I certainly don’t want this recipe to make you sad, I do hope that this post can make you think a little bit more about doing and eating the things we enjoy, and who we enjoy them with.
Slow Cooker Asian Pulled Pork Tacos
Note: You’ll see in my pictures that I minced up the lemongrass with the garlic, ginger, and jalapeño, as recommended in the Garden Betty recipe. I would suggest cutting it into coins or large chunks instead – the stalks were too hard for my food processor, and so I ended up with some sharp/pokey pieces of lemongrass amongst the meat.
2 inch piece of ginger
5 large cloves of garlic, or 6 smaller cloves
2 stalks of lemongrass
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 1/2 Tbl fish sauce
2 1/2 lbs pork shoulder roast
4-5 large portobello mushrooms (optional, but recommended)
Quick Pickled Daikon and Carrots
2 large carrots
1-2 large daikon
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar plus 1/2 cup
3/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup lukewarm water
Small corn tortillas
Slices of jalapeño (if you like heat)
Sauces: sweet chili sauce, Sriracha, plum sauce…
To prepare the meat, mince the garlic, ginger, jalapeño, and lemongrass (I did mine in the food processor; see note). Combine those four ingredients, as well as the brown sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and fish sauce in a small pot over low heat. Cook until the brown sugar is dissolved, then pour into your slow cooker. Place the pork shoulder in the sauce, turning to coat, and then cook for 8-14 hours (I did mine for 8… but it definitely could’ve been softer and more fall-apart-tender, so I suggest going for longer). If you are opting to use the portobello mushrooms (which you really should), cut them into large slices and add them to the slow cooker 4 hours before the meat is done.
Quick Pickled Daikon and Carrots
Once the meat is nestled in the slow cooker, ready for the long haul, you can prepare your pickles. Peel and julienne the daikon and carrots, and put them in a bowl. Sprinkle them with the salt and 2 tsp of sugar, and then gently massage/knead them for 3 minutes. When the daikon is very bendy, and a little pool of water has collected at the bottom of the bowl, rinse the vegetables in cold water, and pat or press them dry with paper towels. Put them into a jar (or jars, depending on how big your jars are and how big your carrots and daikon were). Now make the brine by combining the 1/2 cup sugar, rice vinegar, white vinegar, and lukewarm water in a bowl and stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the brine over the vegetables in the jar, and allow to sit for at least 1 hour. In a jar, these will last for about 4 weeks in the fridge.
When the meat is cooked, remove the strings, and pull it apart with two forks. Leave the slow cooker on warm while you warm you tortillas, slice your cucumbers and jalapeño, and pick your cilantro. Then, enjoy!
P.S. The meat and sauce and toppings make great leftovers when heaped atop a bowl of fresh rice or soba noodles.
Phew! We just got back yesterday from a relaxing, sun-soaked week in Mexico. We were there celebrating my birthday and my sister’s birthday with my mom and her boyfriend. It was so much fun, and there were food adventures to be had! Post coming soon about that.
This Weekend Finds is starting to lean towards the holiday season. I don’t know if you know, but this year Thanksgiving falls on the second night of Channukah, for the first time ever, and the only time for the next 75,000 years. My family, being a little eccentric, is going full steam ahead for “Thanksgivukkah,” so the holiday has been on the brain lately. Here are some things we’re thinking of:
1. Rosemary Wreath Place Cards
I’m super into these mini wreaths, made of rosemary, so you know they’ll smell delicious. Head over to Spoon Fork Bacon for the (not that hard) tutorial!
2. Butternut Squash Latkes
My mom wanted to make traditional latkes and put cranberry sauce on top (which, I guess, is still a possibility), but I always like making new latke variations. This seems like the perfect year to try these butternut squash and sage latkes.
3. Squash Soup with a twist
Moving away from the holiday theme, this soup from Molly Wizenberg over at Orangette looks wonderful. I love squash soup, but I love even more that this one has some unusual ingredients for a squash soup: fish sauce and sriracha anyone? I can’t wait to try making it.
4. Drinking with your eyes
This is an entertaining article about the design of wine labels. Not that it helps terribly much – I still probably won’t know what to pick up when I go to the store – but it’s interesting to learn about what all goes into the design, and the tools label designers use.
5. Cocktails in a slowcooker
This idea to put your mulled wine or spiced cider in a slow cooker instead of a pot on the stove is brilliant. Having a bunch of people (who’ve been drinking) gathered around the stove where there is fire has always made me nervous, and this seems like a great alternative, and a way to get people out of the kitchen and into other rooms.