Recipe Makeover: Shrimp with Turmeric and Kaffir Lime Leaves

My Kaffir Lime tree (best xmas present ever) has gotten a little leggy, so it was time to prune it back. So what can I do with a few leaves on a weeknight?  I feel like making a curry or tom yam soup, so I hit the Google. I have some frozen shrimp, and some about-to-bolt lettuce in the garden, so what could I do for a light meal with what I had?

I came up with two recipes: One from Ming Tsai which sounded simple but perhaps not very adventurous, and one from a spice company that added a couple more flavors in that sounded like they’d work together well. I then kicked it up a little bit (neither recipe used fish sauce? no garlic?), making the flavors closer to tom som (green papaya salad). This made a nice light meal for two, with a little left over for lunch.

Sorry, no photos today — we ate it too quickly.

Recipe: Shrimp with Turmeric and Kaffir Lime Leaves

12 oz (340g) frozen shrimp, thawed, peeled, deveined
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1/2 to 1 jalapeno chile, sliced into rings
2 full (double) kaffir lime leaves, center vein removed and shredded
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric
a few grinds of black pepper
juice of 2 limes
1 Tbs fish sauce

3 cups leaf lettuce, cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/3 cup scallions, sliced into fine rings
juice of 1.5 limes
2 Tbs (30ml) olive oil
large pinch of sugar
pinch of salt and a few more grinds of pepper
2 full (double) kaffir lime leaves, center vein removed and minced

  1. Combine the shrimp, onion, chile, shredded leaves, turmeric, pepper, the juice of two limes and fish sauce in a nonreactive bowl and marinate for ten minutes.
  2. While the shrimp marinate, prepare the salad using the rest of the ingredients.  Toss to mix flavors
  3. Heat a large nonstick pan on medium-high heat with the oil
  4. Drain and discard any liquid from the marinading bowl, and add everything but the shrimp to the hot pan, stir fry until the onions have softened just a bit (a minute or so)
  5. Add the shrimp and continue to stir fry until they are opaque
  6. Remove from heat
  7. Distribute the salad on plates, top with the cooked shrimp/onion/chile


greens and cheese empanadas

Happy Cinco de Mayo – Empañadas Two Ways

We hosted an early Cinco de Mayo party at our house last night with three other couples: guacamole, flan, tamales and chiles rellenos were brought, and we made (another) flan and empañadas. I made two fillings — a traditional picadillo made from beef, and a greens and cheese one — the latter mainly because we have a vegetarian in our dinner group, but they came out very tasty.

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Recipe: Chorizo-stuffed Mushrooms

This is just a quick post for a friend, who requested the recipe for the stuffed mushrooms I brought to a dinner party over the weekend.

Sorry, no pictures. I hadn’t thought these were going to be anything special, just slapped them together.

Chorizo-Stuffed Mushrooms

20 large crimini or white mushrooms, about 2-3″ (5-8cm) across
6 oz (175 g) chorizo
3 oz (85 g) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 small onion, diced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 oz (55 g) chopped canned green chiles
salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup (225 ml) chopped cilantro
6 Tbs (90 ml) bread crumbs
4 Tbs (60 ml) grated cotija cheese (you could probably substitute parmesan)
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) half-sharp paprika (or a little cayenne and regular paprika)
3 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup (120ml) white wine

  1. Preheat oven to 350F/175C. Line a sheet pan with foil or parchment
  2. Wash your mushrooms.
  3. Remove the stems and dice the stems finely.
    I added four rehydrated shiitake mushrooms that were in my fridge, but there’s way more filling here than you can stuff into these mushrooms, so feel free to leave that out.
  4. Place the mushrooms gill side down on the baking sheet, and bake for about 15 minutes, or until they’ve wrinkled somewhat and let out a fair amount of liquid.
    This is a good time to dice and grate ‘n’ stuff
  5. Remove the mushroom caps from the pan and allow to cool — don’t discard the liquid that the mushrooms gave off. They’ll be about 2/3 the original size.
  6. In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium-high.
  7. Add the mushrooms, onions and  garlic, and a half-teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it seems to have stopped shrinking and the onions are soft.  Add the chiles, the liquid from the pre-cooked caps and the wine, and continue cooking until absorbed/evaporated
  8. Remove mushroom mixture from the heat and allow to cool. (At this point I realized I had way too much filling, but soldiered on)
  9. Add cilantro, cheddar cheese and lime juice, salt and pepper to taste and mix to combine
  10. In the same pan, cook the chorizo on medium heat until fat is rendered and it’s crisped up, making sure to break it up into small pieces as it cooks. (This could have been done with the veg, but I prepared a few of the mushrooms without the chorizo for a vegetarian in our dinner group). 
  11. Allow the chorizo to cool, drain as much fat as possible, and add the chorizo to the vegetable mixture.
  12. Put the mushroom caps face up on the now-cooled pan, and fill with the stuffing, mounding it rather high.  (This will only use about 2/3 of the stuffing. Deal with it.  It’s good in an omelet or quesadilla)
  13. In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, cotija cheese and paprika. Melt the butter and stir it into the breadcrumb mixture to make sort of a streusel paste.
  14. Carefully spread the streusel on top of the stuffed mushroom.
  15. The mushrooms can be refrigerated at this point until just before serving.
  16. Bake for about 15 minutes at 350, until the tops are golden brown
Indian Stir-Fried Eggplant

Bachelor Chow Honors Class: Indian Stir-Fried Eggplant

Sue’s out for the evening again (my turn on Thursday… she’ll probably get no more imaginative than French Toast).

I had a couple eggplants I’d bought before the Iron Chef pot luck, to have in case the chosen ingredient was more Mediterranean. It’s not her favorite as a main course, so I’m more than happy to work with it again.  I thought about doing the Bulgur salad again, but kt’s too soon to repeat myself.

Strong candidates were eggplant parmesan, or something Indian. I really didn’t want to fry (I will lose some weight one of these months)… even a lot of the Indian dishes used things like half-cups of oil, coconut milk, etc.  But I found one recipe that looked light, spicy, and relatively quick.  This is a great weeknight meal that takes less time to cook than it does to make rice (especially the brown jasmine rice I put up in the rice cooker). I haven’t seen an Indian cookbook specify cooking anything in a microwave before, 1000 Indian Recipes by Neelam Baira surprised me here.

It certainly was spicy: one measly Serrano chile being stir fried and the air in the kitchen was very hard to breathe.

It would have been vegan if I didn’t dollop on some greek yogurt… which served nicely to tone down the chile.

Recipe: Indian Stir-Fried Eggplant

adapted from 1000 Indian Recipes by Naleem Baira

serves 2

1 large (1lb / 440g) eggplant
1/2 tsp (2.5ml) salt
2 tsp (10ml) oil
1/2 tsp (2.5ml) cumin seed
1/4 tsp (1.25ml) cracked black pepper
1 Serrano chile, chopped fine
about 1/3 cup (80ml) finely diced red onion
2 small cloves garlic, chopped fine
1.5 tsp (7.5ml) finely chopped fresh ginger
about 1/2 cup (120 ml) (around 10) chopped grape tomatoes
1.5 tsp (7.5ml) ground coriander
a large pinch turmeric
1/4 cup (60ml) chopped cilantro
To serve: brown jasmine rice, greek yogurt, a pinch of garam masala

  1. Cut the eggplant into bite-sized pieces (I cut it in eights lengthwise, then 1/2″ slices)
  2. Place eggplant in a microwave-safe baking dish, sprinkle with salt, cover, and microwave on high for 4 minutes.
    microwaved eggplant
  3. While your rice is cooking, prepare the rest of the mise en place, read a magazine… (brown rice takes too long to cook)
  4. In a wok, heat the oil on high. Turn on your vent hood, by all that is holy.
  5. Add the pepper and cumin seeds, stir until fragrant (3o seconds at most)
  6. Immediately add the onions, garlic, ginger and chile. (this is when it will get hard to breathe)
  7. Turn the heat down to medium, stir fry the aromatics until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. If the heat is too high and it’s drying out, add a little water.
  8. Add the coriander and turmeric, stir, then add tomatoes, stir for one minute
    with tomatoes
  9. Add the eggplant and cilantro and about 1/4 cup (120ml) water, stir for about 5 minutes until everything is soft.
    with eggplant
  10. Serve atop rice, with a sprinkle of garam masala and a dollop of yogurt. And a drink.
    Indian Stir-Fried Eggplant


chermoula eggplant with bulgur

Bachelor Chow Honors Class – Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgur

It’s bachelor night again – the missus is at a professional meeting, and I had previously stocked the fridge with a couple eggplant: not sure what I’d do, but pretty sure I wasn’t going Chinese.  I was thinking miso with some fresh shiitakes, but I saw some chickpeas in the fridge, which made me think of looking at the Jerusalem cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi.  The Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgur looked too good not to make (although there was an eggplant soup I’m going to have to try too), and I was only short a couple ingredients: preserved lemons and fresh mint.

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Spicy Curried Mussels

Bachelor Chow Honors Class – Spicy Curried Mussels

Sunday night was bachelor night – Sue was meeting some friends, so I’d be on my own, which means I can eat things she doesn’t like. So wandering the local market, I debated fish, squid, clams (thinking about clams with miso for a future edition of Bachelor Chow Honors Class)… and settled on mussels.  I probably should have picked up another leek — I thought I had two left, but only had one, and had enough mussels in a two-pound bag to overeat for dinner and lunch today.

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Shrimp DeJonghe with Beagle

True love means no restaurants on Valentine’s Day

For many years now, we’ve decided not to fight crowds for “special” (read overpriced and overdramatic) Valentine’s Day menus, and made dinner at home.  Which is why we had Steak ‘n’ Shake the night before.

Often the Valentine’s Day dinner will be lamb chops (Costco’s loin chops the shape of the Great Pyramid of Cheops are a frequent feature)… this year I said, “Wow, it’s been a long time since we’ve had Shrimp DeJonghe.” The point is that it’s a lot more romantic to serve each other.

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Begin the Tagine – A Slow (Cooker) Dance

Monday night, I had an urge to make a tagine – the sweet warm spices, long cooked to make a relief to this endless Chicago winter. I didn’t have time to prep it before the workday ended, so it got put off to Tuesday.

There’s something amazing about the profile of sweet spices that appears in Persian and Moroccan cuisine (with a few similar dishes in the Indian and Middle Eastern kitchens). Fruits, cinnamon… and meat?  In the words of Anthony Bourdain, “Yes, Please!”

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The Dish

Pantry Raid Empañadas

It started with a pot of gold. Vegetable oil. After last weekend’s dinner party, we had a pot of oil that had been used to fry some sesame seed-covered, chocolate-filled glutinous rice flour doughnuts (From Ching-He Huang’s China Modern). Not wanting to dispose of it, a couple tablespoons had been used over the next few days for whatever cooking was done, but it’s still about four cups of oil.

We’re trying to eat sensibly this season, and so deep frying isn’t the first thing on our minds.  But as the week wore on, we kept seeing the darn pot and wondered what we could do with it.

“Empañadas!” I suggested.  Sue thought that was a stellar idea, then suggested baking them (healthier that way). So no help for the oil crisis, but a delicious dinner with really very little effort.

The crust came from one of our all-time most reliable cookbooks, Nicole Routhier’s Cooking Under WrapsIts doughs, wrappers, and fillings have been all delicious successes, and we’d made empañadas from her recipe before, as the crust comes out golden brown and delicious, and is easy to work with and not the least bit fragile.  The filling was a grab bag from the fridge, freezer and pantry: Ground beef we’d portioned out as hamburgers from the freezer, the last of some Manzanilla olives and a jalla-yo (no pain in the jalapeños from the supermarket) from the fridge, some slightly shrivelled grape tomatoes from the counter, the dregs of a bottle of wine, spices, and it’s dinner.  Many picadillo recipes call for raisins, but as Alton Brown says, “Raisins are always optional.” Six empañadas made a hearty dinner on a cold winter’s day.

The Dish

Pantry Raid Empañadas

Crust (Adapted and halved from Nicole Routhier)

Makes 6, 6″ pastries, feeds two hungry people or six appetizer portions.

1 Cup (100g) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp (2.5g) sugar
1/4 tsp (1.25g) salt
2 Tbs (25g) cold shortening
2 Tbs (25g) cold unsalted butter
1 beaten egg, divided in half
2 Tbs (28ml) ice water

  1. Combine all ingredients except the water  and egg in a food processor.
  2. Pulse until just combined.
  3. Combine half an egg with the water, add to the processor with the motor running, until it just comes together
  4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes


(filling is generous, there were some leftovers)

10 oz (280g) ground beef
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs (28ml) olive oil
1/2 cup (100g) finely diced tomatoes (I used some grape tomatoes that had sat on the counter too long)
1/2 cup (100g) green olives with pimento, chopped
1 jalapeño chile, seeds removed and minced
Large pinch of ground allspice
1/2 tsp (2g) cumin
2 tsp (10ml) ground ancho chile
1/2 tsp cayenne or other hot chile powder (I used sun-dried XXX-hot Chimayo chile from Potrero Trading Post — truly awesome stuff)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (120ml) red wine (can use white, or stock, or water)

  1. Heat a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add olive oil, allow to heat up.
  2. Add onion, and a pinch of salt. Allow to sweat (not brown)
  3. Add garlic, chile and beef. Turn heat up to medium, and stir to make sure the meat is all browned, about three minutes.
  4. Add the ground spices and salt and allow to mix into the meat.
  5. Add the olives and tomatoes, and wine
  6. Partially cover the pan and turn heat to low, allow the flavors to mix and the tomatoes to break down, about 15 minutes.
  7. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before filling pastries
    Picadillo filling


  1. Preheat oven to 375F /190C.
  2. Put parchment paper on a cookie sheet
  3. Divide dough into six portions
    Rolling dough
  4. Roll each portion into a disc about 5-8″ across, depending on how thick you like the crust (thinner will be more fragile)
  5. Spoon about a third of a cup (70-90ml) of meat mixture onto one half of the dough, keeping well away from the edges
    add filling
  6. Pull the dough over the top of the meat, and pinch the edges to seal
  7. Brush the dough with the other half of the egg
    crimp edges, brush with egg
  8. Bake until golden brown and delicious, about 16 minutes in a convection oven, probably more like 20 or so in a standard oven
  9. Serve with sour cream (we used greek yogurt), salsa, optionally guacamole, chopped cilantro and/or guacamole

And yes, that pot of oil is still sitting on the counter.

That’s not Kung Pao! (but this is)

I really want to memorize the following Chinese phrase:

Zhè bùshì gōng bǎo jī dīng. Nǐ de zǔxiān huì gǎndào xiūchǐ.
(That’s not Kung Pao Chicken. Your ancestors would be ashamed.)

The number of times I have ordered Kung Pao chicken in a Chinese restaurant and not received it is, sadly, far too often. My first exposure to it, and Sichuan cooking, was a place called Mandarin Village in Northbrook, IL, in the mid 1970s (but long since gone). My favorites there were Kung Pao Chicken, and Beef with White Onion.  The latter was a sesame-oil-rich dish with sweet sauteed onions, really very basic.  And the Kung Pao? It was also oily, and spicy, garlicky, with a hint of sweet and a hint of vinegar. Chicken. Peanuts. Scallions.  That’s it.

Only a couple places in Chicagoland are capable of it, and since they make so many other great Sichuan dishes, I don’t tend to order it (Lao Sze Chuan in Chicago’s Chinatown and elsewhere, and Asian Bistro in Arlington Heights). Everyone else makes the following errors, that basically boil down to “any old stir fry, with peanuts and chiles added.”

  • Vegetables by the dozens. Mushrooms, peapods, onion, bell pepper, carrot, bean sprouts, broccoli and that dreaded celery.  I can tolerate (and even like) some bell pepper and other crunchy veg, but this should be all about the chicken.
  • Slices of bland chicken breast. Nope. It should be precise cubes of thigh. It needs to taste of poultry.
  • Bland bland bland. Partly because all those veg are in there, and lousy chicken, but mainly because there’s not enough garlic and ginger, too little chile, and no vinegar. This shouldn’t be a mouth-searing spicy dish, but it should be pleasantly hot.
  • Glop. Too much cornstarch. This shouldn’t be a typical Chinese brown sauce.

So, I make it at home, using Fuschia Dunlops version, with a couple changes. The first time I made it from her book, Land of Plenty it was a revelation: This is the flavor I’ve been missing for about 30 years. I make this regularly, adding a bit of veg to fill it out and add more crunch — a separate green vegetable would be the right way, but this makes it a little easier for weeknight dinner.

Kung Pao Chicken

Serves 2 or 3. Adapted from Fuschia Dunlop.


About 3/4 lb (340g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs (breast permissible, but not as good)
3 cloves of garlic, chopped, and an equal amount of ginger
5 spring onions
4 tbs oil, divided
1/2 cup (50g or so) bell pepper, diced to 1/2″ (1.5cm)
1/2 cup (50g or so) carrot, cut into 1/2″ (1.5cm) cubes
about 10 chiles de arbol (if you can find Facing Heaven chiles, drop me a note)
2/3 cup (75g) roasted peanuts
½ tsp (2.5g) salt
2 tsp (10ml) soy sauce
1 tsp (5ml) Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry, but get the wine)
1½ tsp (7.5g) potato flour or a little more than that in cornstarch
1 tbsp (15ml) water
3 tsp (45g) sugar
¾ tsp (4g) potato flour, or a little more than that in cornstarch
2 tsp (10ml) soy sauce
3 tsp (15ml) Chinkiang vinegar — THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE
1 tsp (5ml) sesame oil
1 tbsp (15ml) water


  1. Trim any large pieces of fat from the chicken, then place it in the freezer in a single layer, for a half-hour to an hour to make slicing easier.
  2. Remove the stems from the chiles, and break into 1-2″ pieces, trying to keep as few of the seeds as possible
  3. Remove the whiskers from the scallions, and cut 1/2″ rounds, only into the areas where it’s still a solid round (I go a bit past the pure white, but not much).
  4. Place in a small bowl with the chopped garlic and ginger. You don’t want pressed garlic or grated ginger here, but chop into small pieces.
  5. Slice about half of the remaining greens parts of the scallions into very thin rings — about 1/4 cup (60ml) is plenty.
  6. Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a measuring cup.  Add the starch last, sprinkling while you stir vigorously, or you’ll get potato-starch dumplings.
    I keep meaning to try this with the starch left out, to see if I get the oily texture of Mandarin Village, but I never remember when I’m reading from Dunlop’s book.
  7. Remove the chicken from the freezer and dice into 1/2″ (1.5cm) pieces, trying to keep everything the same size.
  8. Place chicken in a bowl. Add the marinade ingredients and toss to mix. Allow to sit while the rest of the preparation is done
  9. Heat a wok on high heat for at least a minute. Add two tablespoons of oil, and allow it to heat up for 15 seconds or so. 
  10. Add the carrots and peppers, and stir-fry until they’re tender but still crisp. Remove to a serving dish.
  11. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, allow to get back to temperature.
  12. Add the chiles and allow to toast for about 15 seconds.  You can remove these to the serving dish to avoid scorching.
  13. Add the chicken and marinade, and spread in the wok.  Don’t stir too much initially, you want a little searing.  Turn them after about a half-minute, then stir fry until just opaque.
  14. Add the garlic, ginger and scallion disks, stir fry for a half minute
    This is another of the essential steps: cook the garlic and ginger at the start, like most stir-fries, and their flavor is mellowed out by the time the chicken is done. This keeps the garlic and ginger flavors strong.
  15. Pour the vegetables and peppers back into the wok and add the sauce (stirring first to distribute the starch), stir fry until it thickens
  16. Add the peanuts and scallion greens and serve

Note: Dunlop calls for Sichuan Peppercorns to be toasted with the chiles. I’m not fond of their texture (Sue feels even more strongly about that), and it’s not a big part of the flavor here.  You can add them, or a sprinkle of Sichuan Peppercorn Oil.

I just made a double batch of this last weekend for a party and thankfully had leftovers which I discovered in the fridge today… but I never got around to taking a picture when it was fresh and hot.