Spicy Green Mango

--Living and eating with a dash of whimsy and a sprinkling of spice--

  • I'm a budding food-tographer turned blogger who's insanely passionate about food..real food...the kind that sprouts from the earth and you have to wash it to eat it. Yes, hearty real food. I live to eat and I eat to live and am loving every bit of it! If you're here, then I suppose we share the same passion! Enjoy!

Posted by Spicy Green Mango 12 comments

There are some fruits that even my undiscriminating palate will think twice before diving into and devouring.  For me, this fruit is no question the once-feared, but now happily revered, Dragon Fruit (also known around the world as the pitaya).  I first saw this little magenta-colored bearded fruit lining the street stalls of the local vendors in Honolulu's Chinatown and was immediately scared off by its beasty appearance and name.  Really? Dragon Fruit? My initial thoughts went something like this:

Hmm..what ugly little beasts.  How can anything good possibly come from a fruit named after a dragon?  And how in the heck do you eat them?

I brushed them off and hastened toward my the rows of mangos and papayas calling my name.

Fast forward a few years later and my friend re-introduces me to Dragon Fruit b/c her mom grows a tree of them in her Southern CA backyard. I'm not sure if it's because I can't seem to muster up the courage to refuse any food that's offered to me or b/c I really wanted to give the bearded dragon another chance to win my heart, but either way, I tasted them and guess what? I actually like them. (Now, if only I could convince my hubby and parents to join me--but, they beg to differ and still hold fast to my initial thoughts of the fruit).

For those of you who are unaccustomed to DF and are going to live your culinary adventures vicariously through my blog, then here's what I THINK they taste like.  Imagine biting into the flesh of a kiwi fruit but tasting a jicama.  Peppered with what what resembles tiny black sesame seeds floating in a sea of whiteness and  enveloped by the most beautiful magenta skin, the dragon fruit is not to be dismissed. The skin is inedible, so don't go chomping down on it, but all that white stuff is fair game for your chompers.  It's crisp and refreshing and also reminds me of the consistency of a watermelon b/c as part of the cactus family, the fruit retains a lot of juiciness in order to survive hotter climates.

So, as I was enjoying my time with my newfound friend, my hubby got hungry and whipped up a spicy stir fry dish of morning glory and pork belly (or as my parents would call it: 3-layered pork--meat, fat & skin).  Being the food-tographer that I am, how could I possibly resist a prime opportunity for a photo?  I couldn't.  So, here you go! And I loved how the place mat is the same lovely color as my dragon fruit.  My good friend, Julia (whose birthday we just celebrated), got the mat as a gift for me from Vietnam. I'm so excited it's making its debut on my blog. Enjoy!!

Morning Glory & Pork Belly Stir Fry Recipe

1 lb or 1 strip of pork belly (the butchers usually sell them in strips, so this would be ideal), sliced into 1/2 inch strips
1 handful of morning glory aka water spinach (look for the On(g) Choy sign in your Asian grocery store), washed & cut into 3 inch lengths
2 garlic cloves, crushed & minced

1 tbs of chili oil w/soy protein (for those who love the heat)
1 tbs of canola or extra virgin olive oil
Dash of black pepper
2 tbs oyster sauce (I'm highly partial to the premiuml Lee Kum Kee brand b/c it imparts such a wonderful flavor--although any brand will suffice)
1 tbs fish sauce (I absolute love the Flying Lion Brand "Phu Quoc" fish sauce).

NOTE on the Fish Sauce: I provided the link to Amazon and it's priced at a whopping $7.99. But if you visit your Asian grocer, the price will range from 2.99-3.50, so you can take you pick as to where to acquire it. This fish sauce is by far the best and I tend to use this brand in nearly everything I cook ever since my college days when I found that ALL of my Vietnamese buddies had a stash of this brand in their kitchens. 

How-To: Quick & Easy, but DELISH!
Heat the oil in the pan under a medium flame. As the oil is heating, add the minced garlic and watch carefully.  Before the garlic browns completely, pile in the pork belly and season with the fish & oyster sauce & drizzle in the chili oil.  Add the black pepper and give the pork a quick toss to coat the meat. 

The best stir fried pork belly is one with a crispy skin on the pork, so do not stir the meat anymore.  Allow the pork to cook and brown and watch as the skin becomes nice and crispy. This should take about 3-4 minutes per side. Once the pork is cooked, toss in the morning glory and give it a quick stir fry for about 1-2 minutes and your dish is done! Do not overcook the morning glory or else it will become soggy and lifeless--make sure it's tender to the bite and still green.

The sauciness of this dish will come from the water in the stems of the morning glory b/c this vegetable is grown in a watery environment, which allows it to grow quite long.  My mother says that back in Laos, this dish was possibly the most lowliest food among commoners b/c it's pretty much considered a weed and takes very little to cultivate as it naturally thrives in the Mekong waterways.  Nevertheless, she loved it and we grew up eating this regularly in our home.  Given its humble orgins, morning glory is simply delicious and I love how the simplest ingredients impart the best memories of my childhood surrounded by food and a wonderful mom who nourished my love for all things that go into my belly.

Posted by Spicy Green Mango 13 comments

When I found out that Foodbuzz had selected my entry to be among 24 of their featured publishers across the world to showcase my love for grubbing on the season's freshest catch, I was beyond enthralled.  Aside from the fact that this post would become one of my top favorites, it was truly an opportunity for me to pay tribute to (quite possibly) my most treasured gem of the sea: oysters, baby!

With the climate just ripe for slurping and burping and the abundance of fresh, spring produce making its way to our farmer's markets, nothing is better than shucking away to our heart's delight. I'm talking about the fresh little suckers nestled on the tip of the pristine waters of Tomales Bay, just 10 miles from San Francisco and a short drive from the Point Reyes Station.  Founded by a trio of marine biologists, the Hog Island Oyster Company is famous for their succulent Sweetwater oysters that taste just like it sounds.

Here's a glimmer at the menu created exclusively for the Bash:

Starting off with...
1. Farm fresh and into my mouth Pt. Reyes Sweetwater Oysters sprinkled with backyard meyer lemons and tabasco sauce
2. Korean-style BBQ with lemongrass/ginger marinated chicken wings & ribs
3. Grilled steak lettuce wraps with baby red & green bib lettuce & frisee w/a drizzle of spicy chili garlic sauce
3. Farmer's market veggie kabobs: button mushrooms, zucchini, colorful bell peppers

And Some Sweet Nibbles
4. Sweet, ripe and oh-so-darn delicious strawberries served up in wooden pint baskets
5. Meyer lemon & French vanilla bean creme brulee featuring organic Straus family cream
6. And a special surprise tres leches cake for J's Birthday...O-MA-GAWD!

All guests were instructed to secure an additional compartment for their bellies. Luckily, all of them did just that (and judging from the fact that there was next to nothing left over, I think some even bought spares).
And are you ready for more?

Juicy ribs grilled to the optimal level of deliciousness.  Plus, I was so infatuated with my friend, Jen's, dress pattern that I decided she should place a plate of ribs on her lap, a golden mango in her palm and Okui Farms strawberries in the cup of her hand.  Jen was more than delighted to grant my wishes as long I gave her oyster slurping breaks in between takes of my food styling. I happily obliged and limited her breaks to 5 minutes.  Hey, who says I don't treat my models well? 

Love me some freshly-squeezed blood orange juiciness.

I would like to thank my wonderfully talented hand models: Lisa, Jen & Elaine for lending me their lovely lady fingers b/c my own chubby little sausages for fingers surely would not do my food any justice :).

...and another special shout-out to my girls, Julia and Elaine's, amazing Korean lettuce wraps with grilled pork belly & onions resting on a bed of sesame leaves (oh, I wish I had gotten a shot of the adorable leaf  but I was so consumed by the goodness) topped with fresh slices of garlic, jalapeno peppers and a sesame oil dressing (and I topped mine with more chilis..hehe!). Thanks J & E!!!

Oh, and my girl Jennaaay also brought me dragon fruit and I'm going to save those for a special session of its own b/c it's too gorgeous to not do so.  

We also celebrated a birthday of my girl, Julia.  Happy Birthday, sweetie!!! Such a superstar, you are to have 2 cakes to choose from!

And doesn't J.J. look lovely with her adorable hat and golden ranuncula tucked in her hair? And the way the light bounces off her soft tendrils? I thought so :)

So, it just occurred to me that many of the my fabulous bash-goers have names starting with the letter "J." Thanks guys (and gals) for sharing in an amazing experience of oysters, sunshine, BBQ and great laughter.  So, until next time, slurp on! 

In the words of J.J:  'Positivity of the Day:
Celebrating with awesome friends & family AND being dazzled by all the compliments of passersby and neighboring oyster eaters who consistently commented on our food styling and decor for our bash. 

And of course, many heartfelt thanks to my hubby who lugged my butt all the way to/from Point Reyes while playing the part of grill master for the bash and my sis for being my sous chef/creative guru for the event. Couldn't have pulled all this off w/o you guys. And lastly, THANK YOU FOODBUZZ for allowing me the opportunity to pour my heart into what I love most!!!

Posted by Spicy Green Mango 14 comments

This past weekend, my family celebrated our Lao New Year.  As with ALL celebrations in my household, home-cooked food was the star of the evening.  As a symbolic gesture of prosperity, my mom made her famous Lao beef salad, otherwise known as larb (also spelled & pronounced laab and rhymes with the automaker Saab, get it?)  Should the country of Laos have a national dish, larb would definitely be the one b/c by definition, larb means good fortune, so oftentimes, you may hear of it referred to as the 'good fortune salad.' 

There's many variations on this dish and you can certainly prepare it with minced chicken, pork, fish or even rare steak, but my mom chose grilled beef this time around.  And since I will jump at any opportunity to take my tastebuds out for a joy ride, this dish ranks among my favorite and immediately stirs up images of piping hot sticky rice cooked in traditional bamboo steamers ready to take a dip in a savory salad of minced beef loaded with the tanginess of lime, spiciness of red Thai bird chilis, freshness of mint/cilantro/kaffir lime leaves and nuttiness of toasted rice powder.  Oh, and did I mention that larb is also best eaten with your personal tongs (and by that, I'm talking about your itty bitty fingers, folks).  Use the ball of sticky rice to scoop it up in one mouthful and trust me, your host/esses will be so impressed with you, your odds of getting invited back for another home-cooked meal will have increased substantially.  Well, okay--it would definitely be the case in my house, but hey, I'm also quite easy to impress. 

So, let's get 'grubbin!

Lao Beef {Larb} Salad Recipe:
Feeds 4-5 adults with inflatable bellies or 1 of me..haha! J/K. But really, if you're going to make larb, you better invite some friends, food bloggers, co-workers or the dorky guy in the next cubicle over b/c it's no fun eating alone.   

1-1/2 pounds lean beef steak or sirloin (extra lean is even better)

1 teaspoon salt
2 tbs toasted sticky rice powder
5-8 sprigs of cilantro, coarsely chopped (and 3 more sprigs reserved for garnish)
1/4 cup of bean sprouts (for garnish)
2 green onions, finely chopped
5-8 sprigs of mint, coarsely chopped (and 3 more sprigs reserved for garnish)
5 kaffir limes leaves, finely chopped or minced
5-8 sprigs of Vietnamese coriander
2 slices of galanga, minced
1/2 stalks lemongrass, outer peel removed, trimmed, and minced
2-6 Thai bird chili peppers, thinly sliced (remember, you control the heat intensity)
1 tsp of red pepper, dried & crushed
2-4 tbs fish sauce (measure according to taste)
1 large lime, juiced

And if you're feeling adventurous and authentic, add in:
1-2 tbs of fermented fish sauce (padek sauce or Laotian ambrosia in my home :)
1/4 cup of beef tripe, cooked & thinly sliced

Cooking the Beef:
1.Grill beef for 6-7 minutes on medium heat/flame OR until it is medium to almost well-done. Transfer meat to a cutting board and and let rest for about 5-10 minutes to seal in the juices.  Never cut into meat right after you cook it b/c you'll lose all the natural juices.
2. Thinly slice the beef, making sure you're against the grain
3. Finely chop or mince the beef and then...

Mixing the Larb:
4. Add in the toasted rice powder, herbs and spices, crushed dried red pepper,{fermented} fish sauce and lime juice.
5. Toss the salad and season well according to your personal taste.  Experiment with adding more (or less) of any ingredient to accomodate your tastebuds.  Remember, the flavor combo you're seeking is: spicy/tangy/salty/YUMMERS!

Of course with any culinary creations, you want to feast with your eyes first, so top your salad with fresh cilantro, mint and bean sprouts.

The dish is best eaten with a cheesy smile alongside other foodies, warm sticky rice, green Thai eggplants, crispy cucumbers, lettuce and/or Chinese long green beans.

And some images from Lao New Year at the temple.  

Posted by Spicy Green Mango 7 comments

I think the title of this post provides a pretty accurate formula for my happiness today.  My good friend (who is one fabulous photographer and to whom I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for being the catalyst to launching my food-tography adventures) returned from a recent business trip to Turkey and what better way to welcome her back to the States than over great food and picture snapping.

I love it when the two of us hang out and we whip out our DSLRs and go trigger crazy. The waiters and busboys were so kind to wait until we finished snapping and eating before bringing us our next dish.  We met at Zocalo--a contemporary Mexican-style restaurant whose decor is definitely worth writing home about--and enjoyed a wonderful 3-course steal of a meal for $20.  Yes, you read right.  Twenty smackers for beef flautas, pork chops, chicken tostadas and churros con vanilla helado (ice cream!).  Warm and crunchy on the outside with just the perfect amount of cinnamon sugar and a gooey layer of decadence inside, the churros were devoured with our plate of vanilla ice cream.  It's hard to imagine that we actually took time out to snap the pictures you see, but so's the life of foodie photographers--how could I possibly not share it with you, right?

P.S. And their service is exceptional--not to mention their blackberry margarita made with 100% blue agave nectar so you can definitely taste the difference.  Okay, I'm drooling again. Must stop writing!

Oh, and just in case the collage image is too miniscule for you see, here's my shot of dessert.

Posted by Spicy Green Mango 16 comments

I'm back and recovering from an AMAZING day of pigging out at the 2010 Pebble Food & Wine Festival.  One word: AWESOME!  A couple of weeks ago as a Featured Publisher, I won two tickets to attend thanks to Foodbuzz and have since been secretly carving an extra compartment in my tummy to make room for my eating extravaganza.

Did it work? Heck yeah!
Was I stuffed? More than you can possibly imagine!

Let's recap, shall we? 

I could barely contain my excitement as I stumbled out of bed and peeked into the outside world only to be met with a gloomy overcast that made the quiet tapping of a light drizzle slightly audible on my window panes.  But rain or shine, I wasn't going to let the weather dampen my mood, much less my appetite.  As my hubby and I drove the 3 hours towards Pebble Beach amidst the bucolic landscape of lush, rolling hills dotted with what I later realized were sheep (except without my glasses, they resembled more of the pale brown caps of button mushrooms) and fields of fresh, seaside artichokes, I couldn't help but roll down my window to breathe in the salty crispness of the ocean air.

By the time we arrived at the event, the rain was already pounding the pavement.  We hurried inside and were instantly greeted by a smiling volunteer who handed us our keepsake PBFW wine glasses.  We started off by taking a walking tour of the entire venue and scouting out the different stations.  Is it hard to believe that our very first stop was at the swanky Belvedere Vodka booth where the pretty bartenders were concocting the most delectable fruity cocktails of the evening.  Just the right amount of pucker, sweetness and vodka dressed up with fresh sprigs of mint and muddled fruit.  Wanna take a glimpse of their bar menu?

--Pink Grapefruit Yuzu Sour (with hand-squeezed lemon & yuzu juice, egg whites and a touch of honey)
--Belvedere Black Raspberry Julep (muddled on the spot with raspberries)
--Citrus Gimlet (with lime juice spiked with simple syrup)
--My Favorite:  Belvedere Orange Nam Som Kun (w/fresh OJ, lemongrass, chili, mint and lime & mandarin juices)

And let's not forget the amazing food and even more amazing chefs who created them!  My highlight for the evening was getting Food Network's Iron Chef Morimoto & Chef Michael Chiarello to sign my Foodbuzz apron!  So jazzed and big THANKS to fellow Foodbuzz feature publishers/bloggers,The Ravenous Couple, for giving me a heads up on the apron & Morimoto..much love your way!

But note to my readers: If you want them to sign anything, they are more than happy to do so....BUT if you want to chit chat, that's another story.  These guys are so busy running around, it's pretty nuts.  Oh, but I did score tickets to Cochon 555 for tweeting (@foodbuzz) Morimoto's dish of steamed pork dumplings w/fresh cucumbers and scallions eventhough by the time I got to their booth, the only thing they had left were the empty bamboo steamers!  Oh wells, I got to rub elbows with Morimoto and the hubby was even more thrilled than I was :)

In my dazed state of epicurean euphoria, I graciously accepted a plate of what I initially thought was a duck confit. Little did I realize that I had just gobbled down a tender, juicy piece of...dare I say, goat? Yep, it was so funny b/c I was approached by a man who asked me if I knew what I had just eaten?  When he told me it was goat meat, I was pleasantly suprised.  Wait. Not gamey. Melts in my mouth goat meat? I later found out that the kind gentleman was actually the very talented Executive Chef/Partner Mark Sullivan (pictured in upper left of collage, below) of Spruce Restaurant (SF).  He was so nice and even took the time to sign my Foodbuzz apron :) Thank you!  Next time you're in SF, be sure to check them out and try their Marin Sun Farms goat confit with turmeric dates & carrots. 

Among many other culinary masterpieces, here's some that I tried and enjoyed:

1. Pan-seared baby lamb chop popsicles w/micro greens.  My FIRST taste of lamb that wasn't gamey.  This is a definite winner in my book.  (US FoodService, SF)

2. Artichokes "A' la Grecque" with cured meyer lemon and aged jack cheese &Tide Pool in-a-cupwith abalone, crab, urchin roe, shellfish consommè, sea water & seaweed (Lodge at Pebble Beach)

3. Spicy Crab & Nantucket Bay Scallop ceviche with rangpur lime, hearts of palm and fresh olive oil (Marinus at Bernardus Lodge)

4. Peanut Butter Crunch, milk chocolate bavarian, salted caramel cream (Pastry Chef Anastasia Simpson of the Inn at Spanish Bay, Pebble Beach, CA)

5. Smokey Paprika Rubbed Grilled Octopus Spiedini with Olive Oil, Braised Marble Potato, Pickled Onion and Salsa Verde (Chef Michael Chiarello of Bottega, Napa Valley)

6. Smoked Braised Pork Belly, Garnet Yams and Port-Blackberry Reduction with Fresh Origins Micro Celery (Chef Mark Ayers of Pacific's Edge, Carmel, CA)

My personal favorite dish:
Northern Vietnamese-style halibut with vermicelli, fresh dill, scallion, peanut and a pineapple-anchovy sauce from a fellow Southeast Asian, Executive Chef/Owner Charles Phan (Slanted Door, SF)

--Tender morsels of pearly halibut pan-seared to perfection with aromatic dill fronds nestled on a bed of rice vermicelli...yum and yummer!  I love how they cook them in small batches and plated them right from the stovetop. 

My personal favorite wine:
Hartwell Vineyard's 2008 Estate Sauvignon Blanc.  The darling grand-daughter of this Napa Valley family vineyard, Jennelle (pictured below), was such a sweetheart to us and even managed to insist that we take home a complimentary bottle of her wine.  Clean and crisp with subtle notes of mango, passion fruit, grapefruit and vanilla. I know this wine would have been the perfect complement to a grilled chicken or seafood dish.  I say would have been b/c the hubby enjoyed his fair share of the bottle right when we got home.  Oh well..this is just another reason to visit this family operated winery the next time I'm in Napa. 

Posted by Spicy Green Mango 2 comments

Khao Soi Noodles (in Lao: ເຂົ້າສອຍ, in Thai: ข้าวซอย). 

This is perhaps the dish that made me realize that my hubby was (and is) the real deal.  I figured that any man who would feed me like this for all the days of my life was probably a keeper.  Before we met, I had never even heard of this dish and quite aptly so b/c khao soi ( pronounced 'cow-soy' and which literally means 'sliced rice' in Lao) is traditionally a noodle soup that is prominent among homes and street-side vendors in Northern Laos and Thailand.  I've read that in Thailand, the broth is curry-based and is usually topped with crunchy fried egg noodles, but I have yet to try that version.  In our house, we make the Lao version that's been adapted to fit our palate and however our moods dictate. 

It's been raining these past few days and I suppose it's right what they say about April showers bringing May flowers because that's all Mother Nature has been dealing to us in Northern California.  What better way to celebrate the rain than bury my head over a steamy bowl of khao soi and slurp away to my heart's delight.  With some beef neck bones and pork ribs, I cooked up a broth flavored with kaffir lime leaves, ginger and celery.  I love the aroma of fresh herbs simmering away in my stock pot on a cold, gloomy day.  It's these little moments that make me feel right at home. 

And of course, khao soi would not be complete without its topping: a rich, creamy layer of ground pork that's been flavored with freshly chopped tomatoes, ginger and none other than the infamous fermented soy beans.  Oh, I know what you're thinking.  Soy beans I like, but fermented? What the heck? Spicy, what is up with you and these stinky ingredients?  Haha!  Well, you may say stinky, but I say...damn GOOD, that's what!

And quite frankly, if I may be the first to point out:  Aren't the best foods also some of the stinkiest? In the Western world, I believe this title would have to go to all the smelly cheeses (yes, all my lovers of formage) that we know and adore so much.  Stinky, but highly addictive, right? Well, the same can be said for the foods of Southeast Asia.  The stinkier, the better!   And in all honesty, I don't even smell the fermented soy beans once it's simmering with the other ingredients. And when it's all said and done & you're busy diving into this bowl of goodness, the soy beans do a wonderful job of imparting a nutty flavor to the dish and this is just one of the many reasons why I love it! Top it off with some spicy chili peppers, a squeeze of a juicy slice of lime and sprinkle with some basil, cilantro, green onions and crisp bean sprouts and I can (almost) guarantee that you'll forget it's even raining in the first place. 

Recipe to follow soon! I promise!

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