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

Sesame Cucumber and Avocado Salad

Sometimes when I cook for myself I like to make something elaborate and time-consuming, something really special that I love to prepare and eat. And sometimes I like to make something like this sesame cucumber and avocado salad, an incredibly easy dinner and delicious dinner for one paired with some crusty bread and a cold beer. This recipe was taken from this amazing article from The New York Times that I was sent a few years ago – Mark Bittman’s 101 Simple Salads for the Season – I use this article all the time, each of the recipes are perfect as they are or as a jumping off point (and Bittman provides lots of suggestions.) This cucumber and avocado salad becomes an easy all-in-one meal if served over room temperature white rice dressed lightly with rice vinegar. The salad I made tonight contains untoasted sesame seeds based entirely on the fact that I didn’t feel like turning on my stove but feel free to toast some up if you are feeling ambitious. Finally, make sure that you use an avocado that is perfectly ripe and by that I mean firm yet still soft, the clay green colour uniform and unblemished by dark brown spots.

sesame cucumber and avocado salad:

1 avocado, cut into a medium-sized dice

2 Tbsp. of low-sodium soy sauce

2 Tbsp. of rice vinegar

1 tsp. honey or white sugar

About a tablespoon of sesame seeds (scale back or go crazy, this is only a general guide)

1.Very carefully toss the cucumber and avocado. In a small bowl combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar or honey. Drizzle over the cucumber and avocado and top with the sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Do you have music that feels really sacred to you? Music that transforms into something totally different if it’s just you listening, music that is so profoundly attached to you that it always feels like home when you put it on? Cat Power is like that for me (and Smog, but I’ll get into that another time.) As much as I appreciated and loved the women behind the Riot Grrrl movement I remember how ecstatic I was to find Cat Power, the best depressing music in the whole world. When I have the apartment to myself I will listen to Chan Marshall’s entire discography on repeat until someone comes home and snaps me out of the dreamy maudlin state I have fallen into (at this point you can usually find me lying on the floor while looking at the ceiling, attempting to gracefully drink red wine out of a coffee mug without pouring it all over myself.) This song has thunderstorm songs in it which makes it my all-time favourite song to listen to while partaking in the aforementioned lonely lady activities.

Cat Power – Say

Sesame Soy Tofu

Transitioning to a full-time work schedule after spending months daydreaming about said schedule when one is unemployed is difficult at best and absolutely exhausting at its worst. It’s not the content of my days but rather the adjustment of getting up at 7:00 in the morning and trying not to stay up past 10:00 at night. Needless to say, my weekday approach to cooking has moved from complicated to utilitarian and quick recipes such as this one provide a springboard for something memorable but very simple both in terms of preparation and ingredient selection. The tofu is simmered briefly in hot water and then kept warm until ready to serve; this might sound contrary to any other way you might have prepared tofu but as of right now it is my new favourite way to prepare it. I used asparagus the last time I made this for dinner (out of season but on sale), but you could use any vegetable or combination of that you like. Lastly, I would highly recommend you use low-sodium soy sauce in this recipe as I found the sauce too salty when I used a regular soy sauce.

sesame soy tofu

1 package of medium-soft tofu, drained and cubed

2 Tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted*

5 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce

1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

1 bunch of scallions, snipped finely with scissors halfway up the dark green part of the plant

1 tsp. of chili flakes (I like to add more if I’m the only one eating)

5 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 lb. of asparagus, ends snapped off and cut into 1-inch pieces on the diagonal

2 tsp. canola oil (I think that peanut oil would be a good choice here because of its high smoke point, but I’m allergic to peanuts so this is all based on speculation)

1 cup of jasmine rice, cooked according to package directions

1. Place the tofu in a pot with just enough water to cover and bring to a simmer; turn the heat down to low and allow to sit for as long as you need while you prepare the sauce and asparagus.

2. Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a small mixing bowl and let rest while you cook the asparagus.

3. Heat the oil over high heat and stir fry the asparagus until bright green but still crunchy.

4. Mound the rice, tofu, and asparagus on a plate and generously drizzle with the sauce. Do not let the fact that this sauce is uncooked deter you because once you’ve made it you’ll want to put it on everything.

*To toast the sesame seeds spread them evenly across a frying pan over medium-high heat and watch carefully shaking every 30 seconds or so to prevent burning. The seeds will be done after a few minutes when they begin to emit an intense sesame scent and turn golden brown.

The Psychedelic Furs are so good to play really loudly while you’re cooking and trying to reimmerse yourself back into your own brain after a long period of sustained extroversion. I think this band has a really interesting stylistic evolution: post-punk, new wave, art rock, etc., etc. – listening to music that always sounds different is an invigorating antidote to an over-abundance of sameness. Besides, I like Richard Butler’s sunglasses in this video.

The Psychedelic Furs – Until She Comes