When I moved away from home, my mom sent along nicely typed lists of simple meal ideas and grocery items to stock the kitchen with: lentils, canned tomatoes, frozen peas, chicken stock. Still, I ate mostly Tuna Helper, scrambled eggs, pasta with canned sauce, and pesto sandwiches (oh yeah and chocolate croissants...).
On my dad's side, any member of the family, male or female, including my younger cousins, could make a perfect pot roast for a large family dinner. I, however, am still not totally sure what a pot roast is. (Is it beef? That you bake in a pot?). I somehow didn't get the chef genes, and my family's all-American traditional Sunday dinners, while lovely, are foreign and mysterious to me.
You could say I'm a late bloomer when it comes to cooking. It wasn't until I got to know Isaac that I started really learning about food. On Maui, I watched his mom and uncles bustle around the kitchen, pulling out jars of home-pickled okra, wrapping pork and fish in ti leaves to make lau lau, stirring eggplant or wild ferns in a sizzling wok. In our apartment, I watched Isaac mimic those fluid movements, saw his confidence as he handled a cleaver and swirled oil around a frying pan and tossed seasonings into dishes without measuring or looking at instructions.
Because of Isaac, my repertoire leans heavily on the Asian side. One of the first things I learned from him was how to make stews. I discovered how easy they are, how hard to mess up. I branched out from boneless, skinless chicken breasts and braved bones, thighs, fatty porks--the things that provide the flavor for a broth. A good Asian stew is a staple for us, even during the summer months, and I wanted to share these two that we make quite frequently.
1/2 pound high-quality, thick-cut bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces
half an onion
4 cups chopped kimchi (the cabbage kind)
1 package firm tofu, cut into one-inch cubes
2 green onions
2 tablespoons sesame oil
In a large pot, saute bacon and onion until the bacon is a consistency that you like (I like it browned but still a tiny bit flabby). Add kimchi and enough water to submerge all the ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. Uncover and add tofu and green onion; simmer for another 5 or 10 minutes, until the tofu takes on the flavor of the broth. Add sesame oil at the end. Serve over rice.
1 lb bone-in ham hock
an onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
a few 1/2 inch chunks fresh ginger
a large can of diced tomatoes
3 bay leaves
1/2 bag frozen lima beans
1 bag frozen okra (cut or whole)
2 or 3 Asian eggplants
(other good veggie options include zucchini, squash, green beans, and--if you're feeling really Filipino and can find some of it--bitter melon)
Heat a little oil in a large dutch oven or pot, add the entire ham hock, and douse it with a couple sloshes of fish sauce to season and salt. Saute until browned. Remove pork and set aside.
Add more oil to the same pot and saute onion, garlic, and ginger until onion gets translucent. Put the pork back into the pot and add tomatoes. Fill the pot with water until all the ingredients are covered. Add bay leaves, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until pork pulls apart, about 1-2 hours (it will be a dark pink in color even when cooked).
Before pork is finished, add vegetables in intervals. When 45 minutes are left, add lima beans. When 30 minutes are left, add eggplant and okra.
Serve over rice. Note that the way we make it, there are bones and fat left even at the end, and this is how we eat it. If that's not your preference, you could experiment with different cuts of pork or substitute shrimp or chicken (though you'd lose some flavor that way). I just pick out the weird bits and give them to Isaac. :)