Monday, October 27, 2008

Thai-Chinese Mixed Vegetables and Cashews with Oyster Sauce

It's been a while since I've added to the blog. My excuses include the wait for Anna to have her baby and Christina over in Athens a lot, catering and special cooking as a fill-in in Athens, the time to make up the Atlanta work, plus simply a heavy day-job schedule of late. I have not experimented with cooking much recently, so I dug an old standard out of my teaching repertoire. Besides, it was time for something Asian, since that is so much of what I actually cook for family.

This Chinese-origin dish is a very typical, as well as visually attractive, accompaniment to a curry in a Thai dinner. It often contains shrimp, peeled but with the tails left on for appearance. In the recipe here, I include roasted cashews rather than shrimp. Although authentic, cashews are the less common feature in a dish like this. (See Thai curry recipes in my blog postings of 8/12/06 and 1/25/08.)

In Thai cooking, unlike in Chinese cooking, the sauce for a stir-fried dish is not usually thickened. And typically fish sauce is the salt (and seasoning) source rather than soy sauce. In both cuisines, boiled (or 'steamed') unsalted white rice is the base with which the dish is served. (See method for Asian rice cooking in the blog posting of 1/26/08.) Americans think of rice or other starches in the meal as the accompaniment to a meat or vegetable dish. In East and Southeast Asian conceptualization, rice is the central part of the meal, and the other dishes are the 'with-rice' elements. In Thai, Chinese, and Malay-Indonesian, the verb 'to eat' is actually 'to eat rice,' no matter what you actually consume.

This dish serves six. And while it's a side dish for a dinner, it can be lunch or supper if accompanied by rice.

Thai-Chinese Mixed Vegetables and Cashews with Oyster Sauce Tim

1 medium-large carrot
1 stalk (medium sized) broccoli
6 medium large leaves of nappa cabbage (or substitute savoy cabbage)
8 medium-large mushrooms
1/2 cup (1/8 pound) snow peas
2 cloves garlic
1/4 inch fresh ginger
2 scallions (green onions)
2 tablespoons oil (not olive)
1 tablespoon Chinese oyster sauce (available at Asian groceries)
2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce (available at Asian groceries), or to taste -- the substitute is soy sauce
Salt to taste
1/4 cup roasted cashews, unsalted preferred

Prepare and stack the vegetables up in individual piles before cooking. Peel carrot and slice it 1/8-inch thick on the diagonal to make long oval pieces. Trim and discard the bottom 1/2 inch off the broccoli stem and peel the remaining stem. Cut the broccoli into flowerets of roughly equal size, including a length of stem. Rinse the nappa leaves in water and drain. Cut the bottom inch of stem off the leaves. Cut leaves into roughly three-inch square pieces. Trim off the tips of the mushrooms and slice the mushrooms 1/4-inch thick. Cut or break the tips off the snow peas and pull off the strings that run along their edges. Crush the garlic, peel, and mince them. Slice the ginger paper-thin, stack up and shred finely. Slice the scallions on a diagonal 1/4-inch thick. Measure the seasoning sauces into a small bowl.

In a wok or large frying pan heat 1 cup of water with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Add the sliced carrots and broccoli pieces and boil, stirring and turning frequently, until just crisp-tender (bite a piece to test) and bright in color, about 1 to 1-1/2 minutes. Lift the vegetables out with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl. Save the cooking water for later in the recipe. Rinse out the wok or frying pan and reheat. Add the oil, garlic, and ginger, and stir and fry over medium-high heat until fragrant and translucent but not browned, about 20 seconds. Add the mushrooms and stir and fry briefly to coat the vegetables with oil. Then add 1/4 cup of water drained from the carrots and broccoli and stir and fry just until liquid boils. Add the nappa plus snow peas, and stir and cook 1/2 minute. Add a little more of the vegetable water, if the pan is drying out. Add the par-cooked carrots and broccoli, the oyster sauce, and fish sauce. Stir and fry just until fully hot. Stir in the scallions, and remove from the heat. Taste the sauce and a small piece of vegetable and add salt if needed to be very slightly salty (the vegetables will absorb more salt, and the dish will be served with unsalted rice). Stir in the cashews.

Serve on a platter, piled up slightly in the middle.

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