Corn Cakes with Sweet and Tart Relish

Corn CakesThere are many different versions of this classic Thai appetizer out there, this one just happens to be the one that we cook at our house.  They may not look like much, but these corn cakes are absolutely fantastic.  Frying at a high heat brings out the pungent flavors of the curry paste that, along with the bread crumbs and a little corn starch, binds the vegetables together.  Despite being deep fried, the corn and beans retain just a little bit of crunch and the kaffir lime leaves provide a fragrant citrus bite…. 

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Red Curry Peanut Sauce

Red Curry Peanut SauceThere are few things that do not taste better with this sauce on them.  It is quite spicy and will induce a little bit of sweat while you are eating it, but it is generally not unpleasantly hot.  This is the classic peanut sauce to serve with Chicken Sateh.  It is richly flavored and would be overly sweet if it weren’t for the tamarind, which adds a fantastic tart flavor that pulls it back from the brink.

DSC_0001There are a couple of things worth noting about this recipe.  There is not much complicated about the technique here, but the ingredients that you use matter.  If you don’t do much Thai cooking, you may not be familiar with the concept of curry paste.  When you say the work “curry” in teh context of Thai cooking, this is the stuff that you are talking about.  Rather than the yellow powder that you buy in a jar, curry paste is a complex blend of chilies, garlic, shallots, lemon grass, galangal, lime leaves/rind, and other spices.  Fortunately, it comes in a plastic tub so you don’t have to make it yourself.  Mae Ploy is the brand I use and it is available in most asian grocery stores.  If you can’t find it, drop me a line and I can explain how to make it from scratch…. 

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Spiced Habanero Pepper Sauce

Habenero Pepper SauceI have an unbalanced relationship with habanero chilis.  I love the flavor, but they are simply way  too hot for me to deal with let alone subject anyone else too.  The problem is that they really are unique in their flavor and pretty hard to live without in the types of dishes that call for them, primarily dishes from the Caribbean and West Africa.  The solution that I have adopted in dealing with these orange bundles of flaming flavor is to build a sauce that gets the flavor I want, and then use that in my cooking.

This sauce is one such example, although it contains a lot more flavors than just habanero.  Here, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg provide a backdrop for the heat contributed by the crushed black pepper and the habanero.  A little bit of rum and the tartness of cider vinegar finish off the flavor profile.  In making this, I use pickled habaneros because, frankly, fresh ones frighten me.  I think next time I make it, I will give the fresh ones a shot.  When adding the chilies, simply adjust the number used to the upper limit of your heat tolerance.  You want the sauce to be pretty hot and the heat from the habanero will settle down a little with time, so be a little more adventurous than you feel is prudent.  Oh, make sure to be careful in handling the chilies.  In fact, don’t handle them at all.  They really are insanely hot and the juice, once it gets on your hands can play havoc with eyes and other sensitive areas.  Remember, safety first…. 

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Pear Lime Salsa

Pear Lime SalsaThis is not what you typically think of when you think of salsa.  But let’s face it, there is more to life than salsa made from tomatoes, onions, and chilies…or there better be.  This salsa blends the crisp sweetness of pear with the the relatively mild heat of poblano chilies and the rich flavor of the shallots.  To this you add some tartness from the lime juice to provide balance.  The end result is a salsa that is really superb for chicken and pork dishes.  We used it to top some jerked pork burritos just the other day and the result was lovely.  

I really like this salsa quite a bit, as it provides a really well balanced alternative to some of the more aggressive flavor profiles that I tend to use.  It’s cooler, fruit-based nature lends itself well to grilled meats and barbecue dishes that become more common during the summer months.  Its also nice to have around when you are entertaining a group of folks that finds blistering heat offensive.  Oh…it doesn’t keep long, so gobble it up.  Preferably within a couple of days.… 

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Lamb and Pork Kefta with Cilantro Dressing

DSC_0046Most people like meatballs.  In fact, I was at Barnes and Noble the other day and found a book devoted entirely to the subject of cooking tasty meatballs of different types.  While I recognize the role of the meatball in providing another way to get meat into someone’s mouth, I don’t believe that you should subject someone to bland food.  Because of the this, the meatballs that I tend to make are a variant on kefta; a spiced ground meat mixture.  Although it is common to see kefta threaded onto skewers and grilled, simmering them in a broth is a good way to cook them as well and leaves the meat nice and moist.  For our meal, we served them over some couscous and with a side of Zucchini and Artichoke Hearts with Charmoula.

There are probably as many different spicing schemes for kefta as there are cooks.  I tend to favor cumin, coriander, and onion as the primary flavors in mine, with the white pepper providing a little bit of heat.  This dish is a little unusual for me in its lack of chili, which I tend to put in most food.  For the meat, I like the taste of lamb, but find that it can be a bit dry if used by itself.  Adding some ground pork really helps out by providing some fat…. 

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