Easy Asian Tuna Salad: A Simple Keeper

A few months ago, I pledged on this blog that I’d be better about writing my own recipes down.

Sure, I’ve proven that I’m pretty adept at writing others’ recipes down. But when it comes to my own, dishes that I whip up with ingredients yanked willy-nilly from the fridge often don’t get reproduced for a simple reason: By the time the meal’s over, I’ve already forgotten what exactly it was that I did. (I’m still mourning the delicious tender beef in Sichuan peppercorn-soy sauce stew that I threw together recently and have no idea how to replicate.)

And so here’s another installment — for a dish so easy I actually think blogging about it is pretty silly. But hey, a pledge is a pledge. So if you want to learn about the Asian-inflected tuna salad I make at home, read on …

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Sri Pra Phai: A Thai Pilgrimage

Just because I’ve written a book that touches on Singaporean food, people tend to assume I am an expert on all cuisines Southeast Asian.

In New York, this means I sometimes get asked: Have you been to Sri Pra Phai?

There’s always a look of disbelief when I say, Well, no.

Understandably so, perhaps. Not only have New Yorkers been raving about the cheap Thai place all over Chowhound and Yelp for years — but New Yorker magazine has also weighed in with a review sprinkled with words like “revelatory” and “superb.”

Recently, I decided enough was enough. Time to fix this once and for all. And so when my trusty food guide, Chef Simpson suggested heading to Queens for a Sri Pra Phai fix one evening, I was only too happy to oblige …

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Pork Giniling: A Home-Spun Fix

One thing invariably happens when I find myself wading through illness — yes, it’s a cliche, but visions of the home cooking of my girlhood start invading my few conscious thoughts.

My mother’s watercress soup, the fish congees she would set out for breakfast, even her turmeric fried chicken wings, inappropriate as they are for the bedridden — these all start to haunt me.

So when I found myself mired in a rather sad state recently, it was no surprise that all I suddenly could think about was a dish of pork slices and potatoes — sometimes with peas tossed in — swimming in a sweet and tangy tomato gravy.

Like many of the dishes I grew up with, I had taken this one for granted and never observed its execution. How it had come to be or what it was called, I had never known — it simply appeared about once a week, part of the regular rotation at Chateau Tan.

In my dismal state, I latched onto this dish as something I simply had to have. I believed it would cure me. And after some browsing, I finally learned its name — a Filipino staple called pork giniling …

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Lotus Blue: Durian Season

Summer in New York can be a difficult time for me — not because of the stifling heat or the endless streams of tourists who claim my city.

Rather, it’s the height of durian season — a time that I looked forward to when I was growing up in Southeast Asia. It’s when this “King of Fruit” (as it’s called in Asia) is at its peak — roadside stalls selling it are impossible to miss at this time in Singapore. In New York, however, the fruit can still be hard to come by.

What is durian? If you’d ever been within a 100 meters of one, you’d know. This fruit, unopened, looks like a spiky medieval weapon the size of a football — and it’s the shade of Incredible Hulk, no less. The more noticeable thing about it, however, is its scent, which is so pungent that it’s banned on public transportation in Singapore. I’ve seen the smell of durian described by some as akin to burnt tires or feces — lovers of the stuff, though, think that’s, well, c***.

In Singapore, bakeries and restaurants put durian in many things — cream puffs, dessert sandwiches, cakes and puddings. Because of its smell, I’ve only seen it in a U.S. restaurant once — at Jean-George Vongerichten’s Spice Market in New York City.

So when I spied durian puffs on the menu while out with the insatiable Gael Greene recently, I knew I had to order it …

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Chicken Satay: BBQ, Singapore Style

Among the things I miss the most about my native Singapore is one simple activity: Sitting by the beach on a steamy summer evening and looking out at the water as I reach for stick after greasy stick of freshly grilled satay.

The satay expeditions of my girlhood were frequent — few things beat the smoky smells of chicken, beef and mutton marinated in a potent cocktail of lemongrass, garlic, galangal, and turmeric getting barbecued in open-air food stalls, after all.

And my family, being hyper competitive as it is, always made a sport of it. Dad would order satay by the dozens and the race would begin to see whose pile of sticks, stripped of meat, would be the largest at the end. (You would think my father, being the oldest and the only male, would always win. Well, not in this cutthroat family, he didn’t.)

So when my Let’s Lunch crew decided on BBQ for our monthly virtual lunch date, satay seemed a must. I’ve only made it a few times in New York — never in Singapore, where it’s so easy to find and cheap (30 to 50 cents Singapore per stick, or 23 to 40 cents U.S.) that it makes little sense to go to the trouble of making it.

But I had just made it recently — at a little dinner one night at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program

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Mee Pok Ta: This One’s For Dad

People often ask me what’s the first thing I have to eat when I step off the plane in Singapore.

It’s impossible to say because the answer really is, everything.

Right up there, though, is mee pok ta (also known as ta mee pok), a dish comprising al dente tagliatelle-like egg noodles tossed in a spicy aioli together with fishballs, sliced fishcakes, minced pork and crispy cubes of fried pork lard.

The dish has special meaning for me — in Singapore, my father and I love nothing more than to get in the car first thing in the morning and drive over to our favorite mee pok place nearby for breakfast. There, as each fiery bite of noodles sinks in, we’ll slowly wake up.

So when my international Let’s Lunch group of bloggers suggested posting a Father’s Day-inspired dish for June, mee pok came to mind. I had never attempted to make it before — it’s so inexpensive (about U.S. $1.50 or $2 a bowl) and easily found in Singapore, no one needs to bother.

In New York City, however, it’s an entirely different matter. So with a bag of fresh noodles from New York Chinatown in hand, I decided to give it my best shot …

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Pok Pok NY: Thai, By Way of Portland

The thing I adore about traveling is discovering a terrific restaurant — a place with dishes so delicious that just the memory of them, even months later, gets you instantly salivating.

Of course, the downside to this is your immense sadness over the fact that you won’t be able to sample those flavors until you travel back there again.

Which is why I just about had a fit when I heard that Portland, Ore., chef Andy Ricker was opening Pok Pok NY in Brooklyn.

Now, I had the great fortune of dining at Pok Pok in Portland not once but twice last year thanks to my book travels — Ricker’s Thai and Southeast Asian noodle dishes tantalized; his intensely flavorful crispy fried chicken wings were seared in my memory. Each time I left I found myself wishing he had a branch in New York.

And then, a few weeks ago, it happened …

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Goan Pork Curry Tacos: Crossing Two Cultures

It could be said that I have never looked forward to a cookbook launch more than I have  “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking with a French Accent.”

No, it isn’t the fact that it’s the very first book I’ve ever blurbed. (“A charming tale of moving to Paris for love—and staying for food. Ellise Pierce’s delicious accounts of weaving together Texas and French cuisines will leave you hungry. But what truly satisfies are the lovely stories that bind them all together.” — Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family)

Or the fact that I’m mentioned in it. (Hello, page 189!)

Rather, it’s that in the close to three years in which I’ve been cooking along with Ellise over at Cowgirl Chef in our monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter lunchdate, I’ve been thinking: Why isn’t this woman writing a cookbook?

I’ve salivated over her black pepper strawberry scones, sundried tomato pesto palmiers and far more, thinking all of these need to be compiled in a book somewhere. Well, that time has come — Ellise’s cookbook hits bookstores May 15 and I couldn’t be happier for her.

To celebrate the occasion, the Let’s Lunchers decided on a virtual toast. In honor of Ellise’s blending of Texas and French cuisines, we’re each offering up a dish that melds two cultures. (Extra points if one of the two cuisines has roots in Texas or France.)

And so I’m thrilled to present: Goan pork curry tacos …

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Singapore Day: Blood, Eggs and Noodles

If I’ve been a little silent, it’s because I’ve run off and joined the police.

Alright, you got me. The last time I inspected a knife that seriously was when I was trying to hack my way through a brisket and wondering if it needed sharpening.

What you’re seeing above is one of my favorite mystery writers S.J. Rozan and me getting a close look at a faux crime scene set up by the Singapore police force at Singapore Day in Brooklyn a few weekends ago.

The day-long festival, which first came to New York City in 2007, is a day-long celebration of all things Singapore — the government there flies in actors, singers and even recruiters with jobs in hand.

All of this is fine and good — but what we really came for that day? Food — glorious hawker dishes from only the best little stalls you’ll find in Singapore …

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