Since my first cardboard box of Lemonheads (slipped to me by my grandmother when my natural-foods-pushing parents weren’t looking), I’ve been hooked on sweet and sour. Give me a package of Fun Dip or some Haribo Gummi Grapefruit Slices over a piece of chocolate cake any day. And my dad’s deep love of peanut butter (all natural, stirring required, of course) introduced me to the notion of sweet and salty at an early age. It took me a little longer to find my way to spicy food but, once I did, it was with the zeal of a convert.
When I first discovered Thai food, it was a revelation. You mean I can have salty, sweet, sour and spicy all at once? In college, my stepdad’s brother Daniel took me to South Berkeley’s famed Thai Buddhist Temple brunch. Daniel being Daniel and me being a religious scholar, we somehow got to eat inside with the monks. This was my first introduction to Thai food cooked for Thai people–and it was HOT. I was seated somewhere in the middle of three long tables arranged in a horseshoe, flanked by serene men in saffron robes. I did my best to smile sweetly while tears and worse poured down my face. And still I loved it.
At the beginning I was satisfied with just about any Thai food but, over the years, I’ve become more discriminating. While I still love that unique flavor bomb (did I mention umami?), I find that many places dish up gloppy, sickly sweet sauce, overly starchy noodles, and way too much low-grade cooking oil for my stomach to properly process.
And so I save myself for those special Thai meals when the ingredients are fresh and each dish is like a symphony where you can pick out and appreciate the individual components but the whole is somehow greater.
In the meantime, I’ve figured out that I can make a reasonable facsimile of Thai food at home using whatever protein, vegetables and herbs I have on hand. The key is in the condiments. The shelves on my refrigerator door always contain fish sauce, soy sauce, Sriracha, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil–all of which will last pretty much forever. A few weeks back, I deployed these ingredients to whip up a Thai Beef Salad and Quick-Pickled Kohlrabi.
Yesterday was my first day off in two weeks. Sheer exhaustion and a badly sprained ankle compelled me to stay home. Luckily, I had plenty of CSA bounty with which to feed myself. For breakfast I had scrambled eggs and tomatoes lightly dressed with salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a little fresh basil. Lunch was the aforementioned Plum and Ricotta Salata Salad. By dinner time, I was ready to tackle the eggplant, green beans, onions, Thai red chilies and more of that basil.
This year, my CSA struck up a partnership with Lewis Waite Farm. One can order their pork and beef à la carte along with chicken and dairy products from neighboring farms. Overwhelmed by the choices, I opted for a monthly Carnivore Share. I’ve been trying to eat more meat and have made a commitment to focus on meat that is good for me and good for the planet. My freezer is starting to fill up as, even with dinner guests, four pounds is a lot of meat for me to go through in a month. But I imagine the stash will be quite welcome come winter.
I’m having fun toying with new cuts. Earlier this week, I cooked the lamb rib chops pictured above and ate them over an arugula and tomato salad. Last night, with my friend Louis on his way over, I was ready to tackle the eye round beef from my previous month’s share. While I was unfamiliar with eye round, I could tell by eyeballing it that this was a lean cut probably best suited for stewing or braising. But there was only half a pound of it, which didn’t seem worth a slow and low cook. I decided to try to tenderize it by slicing it thinly against the grain, cooking it quickly at high heat, and using a marinade with a good bit of acid. The resulting dish was so good that, sadly, there were no leftovers to pick at this morning.
Thai Beef with Eggplant
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil leaves
- juice of 1 lime
- 1 Thai red chili, seeded and thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons canola/vegetable oil
- 1 large Japanese or other long skinny eggplant, cut into discs
- 8 ounces eye round beef, sliced thinly against the grain
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- Combine 3 tablespoons of the soy sauce along with the fish sauce, sugar, rice wine vinegar, Sriracha, basil, lime juice, and half of the ginger, garlic and chili in a small bowl.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. You want it hot enough that a drop of water sizzles but not so hot that the oil is smoking. Add half of your eggplant, cook until lightly browned, flip and then cook until the other side is also browned. (They may seem a bit firm, but should soften up as they slowly steam.) Place the cooked eggplant in a shallow bowl and drizzle half of the marinade over the top.
- Repeat Step 2 with the remaining eggplant slices, taking care to shift them to the bottom of the shallow bowl so that they get a chance to soak up the marinade and soften.
- Turn the heat up to medium and add your last tablespoon of oil. Then add the remaining ginger, garlic and chili. When these are fragrant but not yet browning, add the beef and cook for three minutes or so, stirring or flipping as needed, until you don’t see any red. Add the remaining tablespoon of soy sauce. Toss the eggplant with its sauce into the pan and stir to combine.
- Empty the contents of the pan into a serving bowl and drizzle with the remaining marinade.
I served this with brown Jasmine rice and some green beans that I had sautéed with onion, garlic, ginger and the other half of the chili pepper. Off of the heat, these were dressed with a sauce made from peanut butter, sesame oil, Sriracha, and soy sauce. Fresh basil leaves went over the top.
This meal paired wonderfully with a Vinho Verde. Afterwards, we retired to the couch with a bottle of Prosecco, an ice pack, and a Barbara Stanwyck film. Louis was snoring within 30 minutes.