Lo Mein to Laksa
Thai Spices of Chanukah
by Allaya Fleischer
As many of you know (especially
if you are from, or have family
or friends in the United States),
this Chanukah is a rather
historical one, where both Thanksgiving
and Chanukah overlap. The first time
this happened was in November of
1888, very shortly after Abraham Lincoln
declared Thanksgiving a national holiday,
and once again in 1899. Since Franklin
Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving back a
week, thinking it would better stimulate
the economic conditions of the country,
this phenomenon happened once more
in 1918, and never again until now. This
year, 2013, Thanksgiving will fall on the
second night of Chanukah. An occasion
such as this won't be seen again until
November of 2070.
For many residents of the U.S., the
idea of "Thanksgivukah," took to the
social media outlets like wildfire. The
culinary possibilities, after all, left many
drooling where they stood. Turkey?
Latkes? Cranberry sauce? Sufganiot?
Pumpkin pie? The excitement on Twitter
is palpable. Except for me, for, I have a
confession: I hate turkey.
As a native of South East Asia, I tried
really hard to like turkey. I ate it faithfully
every year, to show my solidarity to my
new homeland. I watched it roasting,
turning a beautiful shade of caramel
brown. Every year, my hopes lifted.
Every year, I choked down bite after
stinky, gamy bite of this foul bird (Yes,
pun intended). Over the many years that
I have now lived in the United States,
turkey proponent after turkey proponent
eagerly sought me out, thinking I needed
to only taste theirs, and my aversion to
turkey would be a thing of the past. "But,
I'm sure they didn't make it like I do. I
have a secret." They all had secrets.
Brines similar to witches' brews, paper
bags, marinades, special sauce, smoke
houses. All promised to be the cure to
the run-of-the-mill turkey. Admittedly,
some were better than others, but I,
too had a secret: I'd rather be smoking,
brining, saucing, or marinating a brisket.
A sausage. A chicken. Anything. I kept
my mouth shut. Far be it from me, a
sweet Thai woman to be opinionated.
After I got married, I decided to take things
into my own hands for Thanksgiving. I
generally don't serve turkey. My guests
are confused, but overall, they're okay
with it. When I do serve turkey, I curry or
spice the living daylights out of it, hoping
against all hope, it will transform into
something else. Sometimes, it does,
but I can't help thinking at times, how
much better it would have been, had it
been a chicken. Many people ask me
about my Thanksgivukah menu, as the
day approaches. It's become a standard
greeting these days in the foodie
community. I proudly announce that, yet
again, I will not be roasting a turkey.
But, if you're anything like me, turkey's
no exception; anything can benefit from
spice and curry. So ditch the turkey and
add Asian flavor to your holidays this
year. Here are two Thai-inspired twists
on otherwise "traditional" Chanukah
foods, sure to zest your holidays up a bit.
Mee Krob, As I Remember It
(About 4 Snack-Sized Portions)
- 1 “bail” thin rice vermicelli noodles
- 1 cup (approximately) vegetable oil, for deep frying
(there will be plenty of leftover oil)
- 2 tablespoons tamarind paste (or unseasoned rice vinegar)
- 1/4 cup palm sugar or brown sugar, packed
- 2 tablespoons chili sauce, like Sambal Oleak
Make the Noodles:
Rice vermicelli, unlike their thicker counterparts, need no reconstitution prior to use – at least for our purposes. It usually comes
in large bundles, composed of several smaller “bails” inside. Since the ingredients are rice and water, Star-K, as of this writing,
approves the use of rice noodles without a hechsher.
Rice vermicelli, the noodles used in this recipe, comes in large bundles containing several smaller "bails."
We will simply fry the noodles first. This process is extremely fast, and pretty entertaining to watch. If you’d like, you can fry up
multiple bales and reserve some for other uses. They make dramatic salad toppers; just make sure you top the salad AFTER you
apply the dressing.
- In a wok over medium heat, add oil and heat until glistening. Test the temperature by tossing in a piece of rice noodle. If it
immediately sizzles and puffs up, it’s ready. While the oil is heating, fluff and separate the noodles in a large (clean) paper
grocery bag (this cuts down on pieces of rice noodle flying all over the place when they break). It’s okay to break them, so don’t
worry too much. The objective is to spread the noodles out into as much of a single layer as possible.
Stretching and "fluffing" the rice noodles before putting them into the hot oil allows them to fry more evenly.
- When oil is hot, carefully place a small quantity of the noodles into the hot oil. When they puff up, carefully turn them over, so as
to get any un-puffed noodles that might be hiding on the other side. Remove immediately from oil and drain on paper towels.
Repeat until all the noodles have been fried.
Frying rice vermicelli is very quick, and requires no rehydration of the noodles before hand.
Now Make the Syrup:
This syrup is made from tamarind, a sour fruit which can be found all over Africa, the Middle East, and throughout Asia, and
is readily available in specialty shops with a hechsher. It’s generally sold as “paste,” or “concentrate,” but you can use either
interchangeably in this recipe. If you can’t find any, unseasoned rice vinegar is an acceptable substitute.
- Pour out the oil from the wok into a heat-safe container, being careful not to splash it onto yourself. Wipe the wok clean. While
still keeping the wok over medium heat, add tamarind, sugar, and chili paste and stir to combine. When the mixture begins to
bubble, lower the heat and allow to boil for about two minutes, or until mixture becomes slightly thickened and syrupy.
- Place fried noodles into the wok, and “fold” the noodles into the syrup. This will take a few minutes, but the result should be a
more or less even distribution of the syrup coating the noodles. You will also break some noodles. Again, it’s okay, as long as
it’s not excessive.
The syrup can be made in advance, as well as the noodles, but it’s much easier to coat the noodles when the syrup is warm, so
if you decide to do this, just heat the syrup up a bit in the wok before putting the noodles in. Mee Krob is generally eaten at room
temperature, so there isn’t any rush to eat i
"Tom Yum" Latkes
- 2 stalks of lemongrass, trimmed with dead leaves removed
(alternatively, use 2 tablespoons or so of dried, powdered
- 3 shallots, quartered
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or, to suit taste
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 4-5 kefir lime leaves
- 1 teaspoon oil
- 1 handful cilantro (optional))
- 2 pounds (approximately), shredded potatoes
- 2 eggs, beaten
- lemon juice
- 8 tablespoons brown sugar
- kosher salt
- potato starch
Allaya Fleischer is a foodie and world traveler who unifies her life experiences, diverse friendships, and family history through food. Originally from Thailand, her stays and travels took her through Germany, France, England, Barbados, Nepal, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, and finally to the United States, among other places. See Allaya's blog, I Speak Food, at www.allaya.com and her companion Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ISpeakFood. You may also follow @allayaf on Twitter.
- Up to a day in advance, shred 2 pounds of potatoes. Liberally sprinkle with lemon juice and kosher salt, and toss to combine.
Place potatoes in a colander to drain. The lemon juice will prevent the potatoes from discoloring, and the salt will help remove
- Meanwhile, prepare other ingredients and prepare the sauce: Combine tamarind paste with four tablespoons of hot water and mix well, until mostly dissolved. Strain and discard the solids, if desired. In a small pot over medium heat, combine tamarind mixture with Liquid Aminos, miso, brown sugar, and paprika. Stir together until mixture begins to boil, then turn heat to low and allow sauce to simmer for about 10 minutes for flavors to combine. Adjust the sweet/sour/salty flavors by adding more sugar, salt, and/or vinegar, if needed, but this combination usually works pretty well, and is generally on the less salty side of the spectrum (you may need to adjust for this in the end). Set aside.
- Place shredded potatoes, a few handfuls at a time, into a dish cloth and
fold cloth into thirds lengthwise. Wring the cloth with potatoes inside until
you’ve extracted as much moisture as you can. Set aside in a large bowl.
Continue with remaining potato shreds. Sprinkle potatoes with kosher
salt, to taste (about a tablespoon will do it). Add beaten eggs and about
1/4 cup of potato starch. Add Tom Yum paste from food processor, and
toss to combine.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, add about 1/2 an inch of oil. When
glistening and hot, carefully add potatoes. It’s best to spread out the piles
of potatoes into uniform patties, rather than a mound. Flip latke when
browned on one side, and continue browning on the other. Remove when
desired crispness is achieved and drain on paper towels. Serve hot.
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