Minced Pork with Fiery Chilies and Fresh Herbs

Round white bowl with white rice, minced pork, chili sauce, and fresh herbs.

I’m totally enamoured with the combination of cooling mint and scorching chili heat that so often pops up in Southeast Asian food. Admittedly, I seem to have an affinity for anything that guarantees a fiery finish but the addition of fresh mint turns the wonderful into the sublime. If I had my way, I’d eat food like this constantly in the summer, although I’m usually not so cruelly forced to make my own version; eating out at Vietnamese restaurants is risky business with a peanut allergy. Because of this risk factor, my versions of traditional restaurants are often bastardized versions of a bastardized version. That is to say, completely inauthentic. This version of Vietnamese pork larb is a joke of a recipe if you’ve tried the original, but let’s just say I had the original loosely floating around in my mind when I first made this. I also don’t usually serve it in lettuce wraps, but on a bed of jasmine rice which I put in my rice cooker before I begin making this recipe. The nice thing about this recipe, if you’re cooking for only one or two people, is that it makes some very handy leftovers for future use. I’ve even gone a step further down the bastardization chain and made a version of Southeast Asian-inspired soft tacos with shredded cabbage, pickled red onions and shredded carrots, Greek yogurt, and heaping handfuls of fresh mint, basil, and cilantro. I also use up leftovers for bright little lunches to tide me over until I can get outside in the sun (or rain, which in some ways I love even more). Whether I make this for dinner and it gets eaten immediately or I pack it up for lunch, I always add several more heaping spoonfuls of Sambal Oelek, although it’s entirely up to you how much extra heat you’d like to add (if any).

minced pork with fiery chilies and fresh herbs:

1 lb. minced pork

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

3 Tbsp. soy sauce

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

1-2 tsp. fish sauce

2 Tbsp. Sambal Oelek

Freshly cracked pepper

1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar

Juice of 1-3 fresh limes (use 1 if you’re lucky enough to use a juicy lime, use 3 if they’re duds – or just use bottled lime juice)

3 or more bird’s eye chilies, sliced thinly with the seeds

1-2 bunches of scallions, white and green parts sliced thinly

Lots of roughly chopped fresh mint, cilantro, and Thai basil (regular works just as well)

  1. In a large skillet heat up the vegetable oil over medium heat and add the ground pork or chicken. Break it up a little bit with a spatula and add the soy sauce, garlic, fish sauce, Sambal Oelek, lots of freshly cracked pepper, brown sugar, lime juice, chilies, and scallions.
  2. Allow the meat to cook, stirring occasionally. Let the liquid evaporate almost completely until you have a small amount of sticky and very flavourful sauce left and the meat is fragrant.
  3. Serve over steamed rice or in lettuce wraps, topped with heaping amounts of fresh herbs and extra Sambal Oelek.

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Gosh, I have such a soft spot for 4AD Records! And Ultra Vivid Scene! And Kim Deal! Luckily for me, they’re all together in this happy little song. I’m going through my annual summer obsession with The Breeders, Belly,Lush, and Throwing Muses – I feel right at home in my flower print button up sun dresses and Ultra Vivid Scene playing while I cook and dance around the kitchen.

Ultra Vivid Scene – Special One

Watermelon, Feta and Mint Salad

This past weekend I saw people walking around in winter coats and toques; I live a ten minute walk from this pool and I haven’t even entertained the thought of going for a swim since it opened in May- in short, this has been one freezing cold summer so far. Maybe it’s because I lived right under the Golden Horseshoe but I haven’t even come close to buying the same amount of local produce here in Vancouver than I would be in London right now (then again, London doesn’t have that pool.) The green is so absolutely emerald against the red onions turned deep fuschia after a lime bath, the olives and salty feta tasting that much more piquant in contrast to the sublime crunch of the watermelon. A simpler way to say all that would be that this salad embodies an ideal summer – trips to the beach, swimming in a neighbourhood pool, outdoor parties, etc. Make sure that the watermelon is very cold when you serve this, the other ingredients can be at room temperature. This recipe was originally from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer cookbook (my favourite cook book of all time I think, as far as visual presentation and readability goes.)

watermelon, feta and mint salad:

Juice of 4 limes

1 medium red onion, sliced into thin half-moons

1 mini watermelon, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 bunch of mint, roughly chopped

1 generous cup of crumbled feta, I use cow’s milk feta but you might like goat or sheep’s milk feta

1/2 cup of black olives, left whole or sliced

3 Tbsp. light tasting olive oil

Black pepper

1. Combine the red onions and lime juice in a small bowl, allow them to marinate anywhere from 1 to 5 hours.

2. Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl or on a platter. Gently toss to combine and let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.

This is a song that I listen to when I’m cooking alone in the apartment; I think it’s perfect in a lot of ways and I like to listen to it without any interruption. A year ago I was terrified about moving, walking constantly around my neighbourhood and trying to absorb everything I could to bring with me across the country. I listened to this song a lot when I walked and when I was just alone at home thinking. So in its own way this song is a summer song for me because it left me grounded when I needed comfort and now a year later I’m listening to it in my kitchen here, really close to pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted in a summer.

Animal Collective – Banshee Beat

Simple Greek(ish) Chicken and Vegetables with a Minty Feta Sauce

I call this simple because you can make all of it on one baking sheet (plus  a blender for the sauce), there is minimal and completely imprecise chopping involved, and there is no marinating beforehand (although you certainly could if you are feeling particularly organized the day before.) This recipe is adapted from a chicken kebab recipe found in Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, an extremely practical and pretty cookbook that I received from my cousin Emily at last year’s not-so-secret Santa family gift exchange. Being what seems eternally without a grill and momentarily out of kebab skewers I left the chicken thigh pieces whole and only roughly chopped up the vegetables. The neighbourhood produce stand was selling tiny sweet peppers for a great price, they look stunning left whole and roasted with the red onions and zucchini, but you could very easily use cut up regular sized sweet peppers, eggplant, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, or broccoli. The minty feta sauce can be assembled in less than five minutes and tastes divine smothered all over the chicken and vegetables. If you have leftovers try the sauce in a pita with falafel, over lamb, as a crudité dip, in a tomato sandwich – it even makes a unique and delicious salad dressing when thinned with some extra red wine vinegar. For nights when you don’t feel like leaving the house due to hockey riots I cannot recommend simplicity and good taste strongly enough, both assets this recipe carries in spades.

simple greek(ish) chicken and vegetables:

4-6 chicken thighs, bone-in with skin

1 zucchini, cut haphazardly into manageable chunks

1 red onion, cut the same as the zucchini

1 large bunch of miniature sweet peppers

1 Tbsp. dried oregano

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and cover a large baking sheet with with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

2. In a large mixing bowl combine the oil, vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper. Add the vegetables all at once and stir to coat with the dressing. Using your hands, scoop the vegetables onto the baking sheet in a single layer. Using the remaining oil and vinegar mixture dredge each chicken thigh before nestling in amongst the vibrant vegetables. Drizzle any leftover dressing over the whole baking sheet.

3. Bake uncovered for about half an hour, give or take a few minutes depending on the size of the chicken thighs. Fifteen minutes into the cooking time make sure to flip the vegetables so they don’t get burned on one side. After a half an hour turn your oven to broil and allow everything to crisp up for about five minutes (be careful here, always keep an eye on the chicken and vegetables as they will brown quickly.) Serve with a minty feta sauce.

minty feta sauce:

1 single serving container of plain yogurt, full or low fat is fine

3 oz. mild feta, I used cow’s milk

1 cup of fresh mint

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1. Put everything in a blender or food processor and blitz until smooth and creamy.

I listen to Richard Hawley a lot when I’m by myself or when it’s late at night (like right now at 4:00 AM), I couldn’t tell you precisely how his music enriches time spent alone but it does in a way that makes you feel cemented to your immediate state of mind, like the outside world stops existing momentarily. I love to dreamily cook and listen to the album “Late Night Final”, I can make myself a cup of tea afterwards and sit on my balcony in the sort-of sun and read some PG Wodehouse. As I said, it’s incredibly late as I finish this entry but Hawley’s music makes me feel well-insulated instead of abnormal when I need to get things accomplished at odd hours of the night. His music is an effortless combination of  sad, simple, and romantic; this is from my favourite album but I honestly think that they’re all equal in sincerity and beauty.

Richard Hawley – Can You Hear the Rain, Love?