Thai It, You’ll Like It

Despite growing up so close to the hustle and bustle of New York City, I spent the majority of my formative years in the safety of small towns. These modest, insular neighborhoods are the perfect place to foster a care-free childhood, complete with tight-knit communities, safe neighborhoods, and sleepy streets that go quiet at 9 PM, even on a Saturday. Many cherished memories were made around the babbling brook a short walk from my home, collecting the Queen Anne’s lace that grew in abundance on either side of the stream. Although I’d consider myself more of a city slicker these days, I wouldn’t change those early years for the world. There’s no better place to develop a sense of identity, since there are fewer distractions or outside forces telling you what to be. What small towns are not so great for is cultivating a finely tuned palate. For the first dozen years of my life, I can easily count the number of world cuisines that had passed my lips on just one hand. Oh, but wait, do hot dogs count as a particular national specialty of any sort? Shamefully, my final count could end up being far less.

Thai food was entirely foreign to me, in every sense, pretty much right up until the prior year. It’s not the most rare or exotic culinary find, as globalism has brought so many worldly edibles closer to home than ever, but solid examples of these flavors had eluded me in sleepy coastal Connecticut. Only when I went to Hawaii did I find the immersive experience that I was craving. The landscape is ripe with stellar, dare I say, authentic offerings from just about every part of the world, with particularly strong offerings from Asian countries. It was there that I found Opal Thai, and my hunger for the cuisine has never been greater.

Nothing that I could fabricate at home would reach anywhere near those gustatory heights, but hunger drives one to gamble a bit in the kitchen. Som Tum, otherwise known as green papaya salad, is easily my favorite way to begin a meal. Served chilled, the tender yet crisp strands of unripe papaya are cooling, yet still popping with bursts of heat from abundant flecks of chili peppers. Brightly acidic, tangy, and slightly salty, with just a touch of sweetness to take the edge off, every component must be in perfect balance to achieve a successful, harmonious dish. The most challenging part of the composition is preparing vegan fish sauce, but once you make up a single batch of the funky stuff, it will last in your fridge for ages, facilitating almost instant salad satisfaction.

Of course, the key ingredient, green papaya, eluded me in my limited hometown grocery stores, which is why I took a page from the ever-popular zucchini noodles that proliferate as summer brings an abundance of the green squashes. They don’t stay crisp as long as papaya, so just make sure you leave them undressed until the minute you’re ready to serve. It may not be the genuine article, but it transports me to a delicious new world of flavor with every single bite.

Yield: Makes 2 – 4 Servings

Thai-Style Zucchini Ribbon Salad (Based on Som Tum)

Thai-Style Zucchini Ribbon Salad (Based on Som Tum)

Inspired by Thai papaya salad, this version uses zucchini that's chilled, tender yet crisp, cooling but still popping with bursts of heat from abundant flecks of chili peppers. Brightly acidic, tangy, and slightly salty, with just a touch of sweetness to take the edge off, every component must be in perfect balance to achieve a successful, harmonious dish.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/4 Cup Lime Juice
  • 2 Tablespoons Coconut Sugar, or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegan Fish Sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon Soy Sauce
  • 1 Clove Garlic, Minced
  • 3 – 4 Ounces (A Big Handful) Skinny Green Beans, Lightly Blanched
  • 2 Medium Zucchini, Spiralized or Julienned
  • 1/2 Cup Halved Grape or Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1/2 – 1 Red Thai Chile, Thinly Sliced
  • Handful Skinny Chives or Scallions, Thinly Sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons Roasted and Salted Peanuts, Coarsely Chopped

Instructions

  1. This dish comes together very quickly, so prep all of your vegetables first and you’ll zip right through the rest of the preparation. For the dressing, whisk together the lime juice, coconut sugar, vegan fish sauce, soy sauce, and garlic. It will seem like a lot of liquid, but don’t worry, that’s exactly what you want! This isn’t like a traditional salad dressing; it should soak into the noodles a bit, and you will have a bit of a pool at the bottom when it’s in proper proportion.
  2. In a medium bowl, place the green beans, zucchini ribbons, and tomatoes. Pour the dressing on top and toss to coat. Add in the chili, just a little bit at a time, until it’s spicy enough for your personal tastes. Give it one more good toss to mix everything around and evenly distribute the ingredients before transferring everything to a serving dish. Top with a generous handful of sliced chives and chopped peanuts.
  3. Don’t waste time chit-chatting; Eat immediately!

Notes

In a pinch, coconut aminos can be used instead of the vegan fish sauce.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 145Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 806mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 6gSugar: 18gProtein: 6g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.

When Food Bites Back

Eggplant, my dear, you are one cruel mistress. I’ve professed my love to you time and again, but nothing will tame your harsh bite; the most delicate preparations or careful peeling does little to lessen the fire. I’ve come to realize that it’s honestly not you, eggplant darling, but me. The burning sensation that inflames my whole mouth, throat, and stomach, comparable to an intense and wide-spread heartburn, is the sign of an intolerance.

Given the prevalence of food allergies, and allergies in general, I’ve been incredibly lucky. I can eat my gluten with gusto, and relish my peanut butter-smeared apple slices, unlike many Americans these days. Complaining about something so mild as a slight discomfort when eating eggplant feels incredibly petty in comparison. It’s nothing life-threatening, does no permanent damage, but only removes a beloved vegetable from my diet. Admitting that though still stings a bit, too. Sometimes the pain will be worth it, and I’ll dive into that plate of spicy, garlicky, and meltingly tender Chinese eggplant anyway, but now that I’ve given it a name and told the internet about it, I may not be able to do so as easily anymore.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, once the brief mourning period passed I set to work devising ways to work around that purple nightshade. Closely linked in my mind, for their mild flesh and similar squash lineage, zucchini has now started vying for the title of “most popular vegetable” in my fridge these days.


Dishes provided by Steelite

Baba ganoush was my first introduction to eggplant, before I even knew what was in the mellow, smoky dip, and is still a top pick. Given that the squash would be mostly ground up, it seemed like a good test to see how my new zucchini friends would fare, replacing that original love. Anticipating from the get-go that nothing would ever replace those eggplant, or even come close, I was startled at my first taste. The simple addition of smoked salt helped to pick up the deeper, woodsier notes that the delicate flesh couldn’t replicate alone, and it made all the difference. With a flavor far closer that I could have hoped to come to the original inspiration, this mild but wonderfully savory, lightly roasted taste sensation gives me hope for life without eggplants.

I’ll admit to secretly holding out hope that the intolerance is just a passing phase, but until there’s actual evidence of that, I think I’ll get along just fine with my glorious, green zucchinis instead.

Yield: Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Cups

Zuke-anoush (Zucchini Baba Ganoush)

Zuke-anoush (Zucchini Baba Ganoush)

For anyone avoiding nightshades, this eggplant-free take on baba ganoush is for you. Lightly roasted zucchini is blended with smoked salt and tahini for an incredibly accurate take on the original inspiration.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Pounds Zucchini (About 2 Large or 3 Medium)
  • 6 – 8 Garlic Cloves, Separated From the Head but Not Peeled
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil, Plus Additional to Garnish
  • Pinch [Table] Salt and Black Pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons Sesame Tahini
  • 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Fine Grain Smoked Salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Slice the zucchini into 1/4-inch thick rounds, and toss them in the oil, salt and pepper until evenly coated. Lay them out in one even layer, with no pieces overlapping, on your prepared baking sheet. Place the whole cloves of garlic grouped in the center of the sheet so that they don’t burn. Roast for 30 minutes, until the zucchini are nicely browned. Let cool.
  3. Once the vegetables have come to room temperature, peel the garlic cloves, and toss them into your food processor along with the roasted zucchini. Add in the tahini, lemon juice, cumin, and smoked salt. Pulse to combine, until you create a rough and chunky sort of paste. You don’t want it to be smooth, so err on the side of less processed if you’re not certain. It should only take about 5 – 10 one-second pulses, depending on your machine.
  4. Transfer the finished dip into an air-tight container, and ideally let it cure in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight before serving. It’s delicious eaten immediately, but the flavors do meld and improve with a bit of time. Serve with an additional drizzle of olive oil over the top, if desired.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

16

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 37Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 13mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 1g

Simply Stuffed

Quick, batten down the hatches, the relatives are coming! Swarming in from all corners of the country, they’ll begin their descent any day now, preying upon well-meaning hosts and hostesses, depositing themselves on couches and easy chairs, leaving all manner of clothing and garbage strewn about; it may seem like a tornado hit the house, not just sweet auntie and uncle, plus their rambunctious kids of course. We don’t have much time to chat, because the attack could come at any time, so just lay low for as long as possible and follow my advice: Have food. Lots and lots of food.

As long as you keep feeding them, they shouldn’t become too destructive or agitated, and they may even stay out of the kitchen long enough for you to prepare The Festive Meal. Finger food is best, as silverware may get lost in the struggle, and of course, quick and easy is the name of the game here. That’s why I’m recommending these stuffed zucchini.

Although an unlikely choice, these simple veggie rounds are surprisingly satisfying, filled with a hearty mixture of nuts and beans, plus aromatic herbs and spices. They could just as happily make themselves at home on a dinner plate, as a side or even an entree, thanks to their protein-rich stuffing. Best of all, they’re delicious both warm and cold, and can be prepared in advance, so you can focus on more important things when the family is around. Like preventing little cousin Billy from destroying your antique glass vase.

Good luck, solider. Arm yourself well!

Yield: Serves 8 – 10 as Appetizers; 4 – 5 as a Side; 1 – 2 as a Main

Stuffed Zucchini Bites

Stuffed Zucchini Bites

Humble Zucchini rounds are filled with a hearty mixture of nuts and beans, plus aromatic herbs and spices. They could just as happily make themselves at home on a dinner plate, as a side or even an entree, thanks to their protein-rich stuffing. Best of all, they’re delicious both warm and cold, and can be prepared in advance.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 Medium Zucchinis
  • 5 Tablespoon Olive Oil, Divided
  • 1/2 Large Red Onion, Finely Chopped
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Parsley
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • Pinch Dried Thyme
  • 1 Cup Chopped Walnuts, Toasted
  • 2/3 Cup Cooked Canellini Beans
  • 1/2 Cup Almond Meal
  • 1 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
  • Salt and Pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and line two baking sheets with aluminum foil, parchment paper, or silicone baking mats.
  2. Slice off the tops and bottoms of your zucchinis, and then cut them into 1 1/2-inch long segments. Stand each segment up on one of the cut sides, and use a melon baller to remove the center flesh, being careful not to dig all the way through the bottom. Reserve the flesh of two zucchinis for this recipe; the other two can go into a stir fry or something else. Arrange the hollowed-out zucchini pieces on your prepared sheets so that they’re ready to go. Set aside.
  3. Set a medium sauté pan over moderate heat, and add in 1 tablespoon of the oil. Once hot, introduce the chopped onion to the pan, and reduce the heat slightly so that it softens and becomes translucent, but doesn’t brown. After about 4 minutes, add in the garlic, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally. After another 5 – 6 minutes, incorporate the parsley, cumin, and thyme, plus the reserved flesh of two zucchinis, and cook for just 3 – 4 more minutes until the zucchini pieces are lightly browned. Remove the pan from the heat.
  4. Transfer the contents of the sauté pan into your food processor or blender, along with the remaining oil, walnuts, beans, almond meal, and soy sauce. Pulse until the mixture is mostly blended, but still slightly chunky, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Give the stuffing a taste, and add salt and pepper as you see fit.
  5. Spoon the stuffing into your prepared zucchini segments, and really mound it up on top; You should have plenty of stuffing, so don’t hold back. If it turns out that you still have extra when it’s all said and done, you can also just serve it along side chips as a dip, or use it later as a sandwich spread.
  6. Give the zucchinis a light spritz all over with olive oil cooking spray, and bake for 20 – 30 minutes, until the stuffing is browned and the zucchinis are fork-tender.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

10

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 205Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 179mgCarbohydrates: 10gFiber: 3gSugar: 4gProtein: 5g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.