Lemongrass Grilled Pork (Thit Nuong)

Lemongrass is a perennial native of India but cultivated worldwide for its oil for medicinal, culinary, or cosmetic applications among a multitude of other uses.  The lemongrass stalk itself, though very tough, is commonly finely crushed or chopped and used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking.  I personally like it because it’s very fragrant with a refreshing lemony taste, but more delicate and subtle than citrus zests as I’m very sensitive to bitter flavors.

It pairs well with seafood, chicken and pork and is good for a variety of curries, soups, marinades, or tea recipes.  But it’s hard to find fresh lemongrass in my neighborhood grocery stores so I’ve long contemplated growing my own.  Is it wrong to fantasize about access to fresh herbs on demand?  I have an okay green thumb for ornamental plants, but a complete black thumb when it comes to gardening for food.  I have never ever succeeded in growing anything edible but since lemongrass is a grass, maybe, just maybe?

Growing lemongrass (among other herbs I frequently use) is fairly high on the list of things I would like to do (when I have the time or energy), but it had been very low on the list of priorities to-dos.  However, lately there has been a lot of news about Zika carrying mosquitoes.  I suppose these news are more scary for pregnant or planning to be pregnant women, but either way, it seems the demand for mosquito repelling plants are up, because I am seeing more and more citronella grass, lemon balm, catmint (catnip), marigolds, lavender, and garlic, just to name a few, for sale with “MOSQUITO PLANT” signs or labels (which I assume means these plants help repel mosquitoes rather than attract them).

So what does this have to do with growing lemongrass?  Lemongrass is also a top mosquito repelling plant.  So maybe growing lemongrass, now with the additional purpose of protecting my dinky-a-roo and family from nasty bites, has very good reason to move up on my priority to-dos list?

Grilled Lemongrass Pork Recipe

Adapted from one of my favorite blogs for Vietnamese cuisine The Ravenous Couple 

Ingredients

Lemongrass Pork ingredients 01

  • 1.5 lb pork butt or shoulder
  • 1/4 cup finely minced lemongrass (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp ground pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 shallots, minced
  • 3 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp thick soy sauce*
  • 3 tbsp roasted sesame

Lemongrass Pork ingredients 02

*Note thick soy sauce is a different product than regular soy sauce.  It is thick and rich and has molasses.  This was another product I had difficulty finding so there are several jars sitting my pantry.

Directions

The hardest part of this recipe might be finding all the ingredients but otherwise, it’s fairly easy and can be prepared ahead of time and frozen.  The below piece of pork butt was approximately 3 lbs and for our small family, was 6 meals worth of meat.  We ate one fresh and froze 5 for the rest of the month.

Lemongrass Pork Butt 01

Cut meat into 2 to 3 inch pieces of approximately 1/4 inch thickness.  Optional, hand tenderize the pieces.  If you have quality meat, this is totally unnecessary.

Lemongrass Pork Butt 03

Mix all ingredients except for the sesame seeds for marinade.

Lemongrass Pork ingredients 03

Marinade for at least an hour up to a day.  If freezing, I just place each meal portion into a plastic bag and then put them directly into the freezer without waiting for it to marinade.  The time it takes to freeze and defrost is sufficient for meat to marinade.

Lemongrass Pork Marinate

Grill until golden and slightly charred.  Alternatively, bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit/ 148.9 degrees Celsius until done, approximately 40 minutes.

Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve hot with vermicelli or rice. I find it best served with mild or sweeter sides as the meat can be on the saltier side.

I was pensive about posting this recipe because the only picture I have of the finished meal was actually of a flopped attempt.  I’m good with finding time to take pictures during the preparation process but always forget the finished product because by then, my attention is on making sure everyone is ready to eat while the food is still the right temperature.

The pieces pictured below were totally overcooked because I was too zealous about the hand tenderizing (there is something therapeutic with pounding with a hammer) and the pieces were thinner than ideal.  And then I did another cooking no-no, I stepped away from the grill and didn’t check on the pork until it was too late.  It still tasted okay, but was not juicy as usual.  But like my putting growing lemongrass off again and again, until news of Zika gave me additional reason to do it, I decided the same for this post, if not now, when?

Lemongrass Pork

In addition to Tom Yum soup, another recently discovered family favorite with fragrant lemongrass is Melissa’s Curry Chicken.  Thank you Melissa for the recipe!

Next time you’re grilling, will you give this recipe a try?  And if you have lemongrass growing in your yard, there might even be less uninvited pests at your BBQ.

Cheers!

with love charlie

 

Green Pork & Shrimp Dumplings

Green Pork & Shrimp Dumplings

When I discovered that my toddler, who practically sustained on air, was actually enthusiastic about eating unnaturally bright blue or green color foods, I began searching for non-dyed choices to indulge her and to hopefully get her to gain a few pounds or at least a few ounces to get her weight percentiles up from the single digits.  Cue green pork and shrimp dumplings.

She wasn’t interested in naturally blue or green foods like blueberries or broccoli but foods that are not typically blue or green like noodles, rice or dumplings.

As a result, pandan, pesto and spinach became common ingredients in our kitchen.

For St. Patrick’s Day, we decided to celebrate and join in on the festivities with two of my daughter’s current favorites: green dumplings and spinach noodles.

Green Dumplings & Spinach Noodles

No green beer for us 😉
There is no doubt in my mind that my mom is the queen of pork dumplings so I used a modified version of her recipe where all vegetables like chives and leeks are omitted with some store brought green dumpling wrappers.

Green Dumplings

There is a beautiful post here by the Flavor Bender on how to make your own green (spinach) wrappers but I took the easy way out.

Green Pork & Shrimp Dumplings

Ingredients:
1.5 lbs. ground pork
1.5 cups water
1 tsp salt
3 tsp sugar
3 tsp bouillon of choice
3 tbsp. sesame oil
white and black pepper to taste
1 lb. raw deveined shrimp
1/2 tsp salt
Dumpling wrappers

optional: herbs such as chives, leeks, cilantro or vegetables such as cabbage

Garlic Worcestershire Reduction

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
Splash of Balsamic vinegar
Splash of Garlic oil
Sesame oil

Directions:
1. Mix pork, water and salt until “sticky” so that the meat will be moist and not crumbly. My mom used a wooden spoon to manually mix the meat, but I just put it in the kitchen aid for about 3-5 minutes.

Ground Pork
2. Add seasoning (sugar, boullion, pepper and sesame oil) and mix until incorporated.

Mix Pork
3. Smash shrimp with salt to make almost a paste. My mom uses the flat side of a meat cleaver but due to my knife aversion I just crush the shrimps with my thumb and palm. Add shrimp “paste” to pork mixture and blend well.

Shrimp Paste

4. Assemble dumplings. There is a great video on YouTube by Tipsy Waltz showing 7 different ways to wrap a dumpling:

5. Cook dumplings in your preferred method (steam, boil, deep fry or pan fry).

Boiled Green Dumplings with Spinach Noodles

Boiled Green Dumplings with Spinach Noodles and Hoisin Sauce

Pan Fried Green Dumplings

Pan Fried Green Dumplings with Garlic Worcestershire Reduction

6. If using the Garlic Worcestershire Reduction Sauce, boil first three ingredients until reduced and drizzle on sesame oil then pour on dumplings or serve on side as a dipping sauce.
7. Enjoy!!

Tips:
1. So many other sauces work well with these dumplings! My daughter likes dipping her boiled dumplings into plain hoisin sauce. My mom likes her dumplings pan fried and served with a Sriracha and white sugar paste.  I prefer my pan fried dumplings drenched in a sweet and sour raw garlic and vinegar sauce (my breath stinks for days though).  What is your favorite dumpling sauce(s)?
2. My mom taught me this trick when I was still her little helper. To quickly devein shrimps, pierce the back of the shrimp with a toothpick (works better with the shell on) and then gently pull the toothpick up, perpendicular to the shrimp, pulling the entire vein out.  Growing up in a competitive household, it was always fun to see who can devein the most shrimp quickest.  It takes us about 5 seconds to devein a dozen shrimp.

Shrimp

3. Keep wrappers moist during assembly by covering with a moist towel.
4. Assembled dumplings can be kept for hours in the refrigerator if well wrapped and for a month or two if frozen so a great time saver is to go ahead and make a large batch and save some for another day.
5. Any extra meat mixture can be formed into meatballs or patties and frozen for use in other recipes.  This is partly why I omit the herbs and vegetables in the receipe- the meatballs and patties are awesome for a quick last minute meal.

 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Go to One Pot Dinner

I’ve always loved one pot dinner recipes that don’t require a lot of work and taste great.  Well, who doesn’t?  Pre-baby days, I liked recipes that were quick to make since I often got home from work late and didn’t want to eat dinner at 9pm.  Those days, we had a lot of fried rice, pasta or bbq.  Now with baby, things have changed a bit.  You may think that being on maternity leave, I have a lot of time to cook lavious meals.  Au contraire mon ami.  You see, as my babe has gotten older, it’s become more difficult to leave her alone while she’s awake.  She’s currently 10 months old and I don’t know if it’s the separation anxiety or if she’s just a momma’s girl, but she can’t seem to be without me for more than a few minutes.  Even if I put her in a playpen next to me in the kitchen, she will only last 5 to 10 minutes before wanting me to pick her up.

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(Yes, she is playing with a water bottle and a drink tray.  Please, no judgements.)

Prior to being mobile, she was content to just sit in her chair and watch me do dishes or prep dinner.  Now, she just wants to be in constant contact with me.  These days, making dinner is an all day process.  

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Most of the time, I prep the ingredients (wash and chop veggies, marinate meat, etc) during her morning nap then either cook the meal during her second nap and we have a cold or lukewarm dinner when my husband gets home from work or I wait until he gets home to look after her before I begin cooking.
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This is why I like recipes that don’t require a lot of work.  I especially like ones where you put everything together in a pot or oven and walk away.  This recipe I’m sharing today is for how to cook pork shoulder for pulled pork but we just eat it as is straight out of the oven.  It’s my husband’s new favourite dish.  He loves being welcomed home by the smell of it cooking in the oven as he walks down the driveway.  

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One pot dinner

This dish has everything you need: meat, veggies and carbs.  The meat is so tender and carrots and potato so soft  (they ought to be, it’s been in the oven for 2 hours) that even baby can eat it.  Bonus!  We usually have it with rice and a side of blanched veggies (no need to season since the meat is already so flavorful).  And if I’m really ambitious I’ll make some cheddar biscuits to dip in the sauce, but usually I’m not. 😉  Remind me to share that recipe later.

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What do you think?  Does this look good enough to give it a try?  Let me know what you think.

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What’s your go to recipe?   How do you keep your child occupied while you cook or do other things?  

One Pot Dinner (Adapted from the kitchn)

Ingredients

4 to 6 pounds boneless or bone-in pork shoulder or butt

1-3 tablespoons mixed spices (see rub recipe below)

1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil

1 yellow onion, sliced

few carrots, roughly chopped

few celery stalks, roughly chopped

few nugget potatoes, chopped in half or quarters

4 cloves garlic, smashed (optional)

1 1/2 cups liquid — chicken or vegetable broth

Rub from Food Network (makes more than you need, just store leftovers in a sealed bag or container)

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons dry mustard

1 bay leaf, crushed

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 325°F.  Place an oven rack in the lower-middle of the oven.
  2. Trim the pork: Trim off any large pieces of fat from the outside, but leave small pieces and the interior fat. If using boneless pork, cut the pork into several large fist-sized pieces. If using bone-in, leave the pork as is, on the bone.
  3. Season the pork: Sprinkle the pork with the spice mixture.  Rub the seasoning into the pork with your fingers so the meat is evenly coated on all sides.
  4. Sear the pork: Warm the oil in the Dutch oven (or frying pan) over medium-high heat. Sear the pork on all sides, working in batches as necessary so as not to crowd the pan. For more detailed step-by-step instructions, see How To Sear Meat.  Transfer pork to oven safe dish or pan after searing if not using a Dutch oven.
  5. Add the vegetables: Onions, garlic, celery, carrots, potato. Nestle them around the pork.
  6. Add the liquid: Pour the liquid over the top of the pork. The pork should be only partially submerged, with some of the pork remaining above the surface of the liquid.
  7. Bring to a simmer: Set the Dutch oven with the pork over medium-high heat and bring the liquid to a simmer.  If not using a Dutch oven, warm the liquid in the hot pan after searing the pork.
  8. Cover and transfer to the oven: Once simmering, cover the Dutch oven and transfer the whole pot to the oven.  If not using dutch oven, cover oven-safe dish or pan with aluminum foil.
  9. Cook for 2 hours or until fork tender: Let the pork cook undisturbed for 2 hours, then begin checking it every half hour. Total cooking time will be 2 to 4 hours, depending on the amount of pork and whether it’s bone-in (which takes longer to cook). The pork is done when it is fork-tender (when the meat can be easily pierced with a fork without resistance and easily falls apart with a little pressure). If you’re cooking pork on the bone, the meat should be falling off the bone. If in doubt, cook the meat another half hour; it’s almost impossible to overcook meat with this method.  Two hours is usually enough time to cook to tender.