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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Cua Xào Me (Dungeness Crab Sautéed in Tamarind Sauce)

Sipping hot caramel macchiato - decaf mind you - with the screeching sounds of the espresso machine, the chitchats in the background and coffee house music playing overhead somehow provides the perfect ambiance for blogging.

A couple weeks ago, I had family friends from Portland, Oregon visiting for a couple of nights.  Interestingly, my guests are pescetarians so I had the chance to cook a few seafood dishes for them and my family to enjoy.

Dungeness crab sautéed in tamarind sauce was one of the dishes. This sweet, succulent treasure of the sea - is cooked in a delicious tamarind, chili, garlic, shallots, onion, ginger, brown sugar, fish sauce with a lovely fresh kaffir lime leaf flavor imparts a wonderful fragrance to the dish. 

Tamarind is a fruit that is popular in the food of Southeast Asia, North Africa and India. Tamarind tree produces long, curved, brown hard outer pods filled with brown seeds, surrounded by a sticky, reddish brown pulp which can be very sour and citric taste with a hint of sweetness. Here in America, at least where I live, it's hard to find the fresh sour tamarind pods but tamarind paste and concentrate tamarind are available in many Asian markets, and Latin American.

The fondest memories of my childhood come flooding back as I am blogging about tamarinds. I was under 10 years old. After school, my friends and I would walk to a small snack stand on the street nearby and treated each other snacks. Back in those days, we appreciated every little thing we had, including something as simple as tamarind. Without fail, there was an insatiable yearning, lip-smacking, mouth drooling, face cringing reaction with every little bite. The green, not-fully-riped tamarinds eaten with a mixture of salt and fresh red chili pepper paste was the best. Tamarind was one of those snacks that brought us together - eating, laughing, and creating our childhood memories.

As I grow older, I am hesitant to bite into one because of the sourness.  I can't eat sour fruits anymore.  Instead, I love to incorporate the sour and citrus fruits especially tamarinds into my recipes to brighten up the flavor and naturally enhance the color in my dishes.

Kaffir lime leaf is one of the ingredients that I used in this recipe. It may be hard to find at the market but you might find a kaffir lime tree at the nursery. In my vegetable garden, I grow both yuzu and kaffir lime trees. I was lucky enough to find them both at my local Costco. It has a distinct citrusy flavor that can't easily be substituted. If the recipe calls for kaffir lime leaves and you can't find any, skip the leaves.

This tamarind dungeness crab will make a perfect finger food for any seafood fanatic. It's not a dish for dainty dining. The real way to eat crab is with your hands, squeezing the shells, snapping them in half, slurping the crab meat out of the legs. Oh yeah, licking your fingers is a part of enjoying this meal.
RECIPE: Dungeness Crab Sauteed in Tamarind Sauce
2 live dungeness crabs, about 1 1/2 lb-2 lb each 
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic 
2-3 shallots, thinly sliced
6 kaffir leaves, bruised
1 tablespoon julienned ginger 
1 onion, cut into wedges 
a handful of Thai basil leaves 
For Sauce:
1/4 cup fish sauce 
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar 
4 tablespoons tamarind paste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce 

Preparing Crabs

To make it easy to handle crab, I put it in the sink and pour on sink hot water.  Clean the crabs (I used a toothbrush to brush the body, claws, and legs of crab) and rinse thoroughly. 

Twist off the 2 main claws from each crab. Set aside. Hold the crab upward and pull the shell away from the body.

The liquid that will come out from the inside of the shell is called crab butter. Reserve the crab butter.  Using a small spoon to scoop out the brown and corals from the inside of the crabs into a bowl. Discard the shell if you don't want to use it for presentation. 

Pull the spongy, feathery inedible gills off from both sides of the body and discard them. The mandibles are the mouth parts at the front of the crab. Break them off and discard. 

Using a cleaver, cut the crab into quarters and slightly crack the claws.

Preparing Tamarind Sauce

Place all of the sauce ingredients into a bowl, whisk together.

Cooking Crabs

In a pot, heat the oil. Add the garlic, shallots, ginger, kaffir leaves, onion and cook until slightly golden and fragrant.

Stir in the crab butter.  Add crabs and mix it well. Cook for a minute and add the tamarind mixture. Constantly toss the crab to ensure crab pieces are coated with the sauce. Cover and cook at medium-low heat for about 6 minutes, stirring often. 

 Add basil leaves, stirring well. Cook for another 2 minutes.

Adjust the seasoning if needed. It should balance the sour taste of the tamarind, and the sweetness from the brown sugar and onion. 

It's finger-lickin-good kind of food so don't be afraid to dig in. The crab sauce can be eaten with steamed rice or a loaf of French bread. Enjoy!
Eat well.  Stay healthy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Đậu Hũ Dâu Tây (Strawberry with Soft Silken Tofu in Yuzu Dressing)

Thank you everyone for your prayers, emails and messages of support and care during my absence from the blog and FB. April was a difficult month for me and my family as my dad passed away. It was difficult to be in the right mindset to blog given the circumstances. It's sad thinking of his passing, but at the same time I am happy for him, knowing that he's free from our physical limitations. The part about grieving that has helped me the most is realizing that there's life to be lived and what my husband has shared with me about resilience:

Never stop loving, never stop living
Never stop learning, never stop earning
Never stop growing, never stop giving

I want to dedicate this post to my dad. He was a vegetarian for many years until he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's that took away his memory and eventually bodily functions.

This strawberry with soft silken tofu is a delightful and healthy appetizer dish. It's seasoned with a savory yuzu citrus dressing, topped with the nutty, chili oil with crunchy garlic.  The shiso leaves that are garnished in this dish add a pleasantly mild minty, gingery taste, lending depth to the flavor. 
RECIPE: Strawberry with Soft Silken Tofu in Yuzu Dressing
Printable Recipe

1 block of soft silken tofu, available at Costco
a few fresh strawberries
shiso leaves, available at Japanese or Korean market
yuzu citrus dressing
crunchy garlic in chili oil sauce
Preparing Strawberries

Cut strawberries in any shapes you prefer.  I cut mine in heart-and flower shapes.  Set aside.

Preparing Tofu

Cut tofu in half. Cut each half into squared slices.
Preparing Shiso Leaves

It's always nice to be able to pick the shiso leaves in my vegetable garden whenever I need it for my dishes. Shiso plant is so easy to grow but it's quite expensive to buy the shiso at the market. I used to pay $2 for a bunch of about 6 leaves.  If you are interested, you can find the seeds at your local Japanese market.

Cut shiso leaves in half. Cut leaves the same size as tofu pieces.
Assembling Strawberry Tofu

Where I live is surrounded by farmers.  I can spot fruit stands, cows, horses, fresh chicken eggs signs all around.  When the strawberry season comes, my family would make a mini trip to pick up some fresh, delicious strawberries. 


Gently stack together a piece of shiso leaf between the tofu and strawberry.

Garnish tofu with crunchy garlic chili oil.

Gently pour the yuzu sauce on the bottom of the tofu.  Add a few drops of chili oil onto the sauce. 


Scoop up each piece of tofu with the strawberry and some sauce with a spoon and enjoy.

Eat well.  Stay healthy.