Sunday, January 24, 2016

Snowzilla, Meet Lao Crispy Rice

I'd been meaning to post a winter biking roundup, because the weather had been quite glorious most of the early winter in Arlington, Virginia and Philadelphia - my two primary cycling locations. The Cycling Yogi and I rode the tandem to Valley Forge. I rode the Arlington loop and made up a new loop using the Rock Creek trail and Chain Bridge. I rode in the dark of early sunsets and in the cold, down to about 35 degrees. But I never got around to telling these tales. 

And then came snowzilla - which dumped something in the vicinity of two feet of snow on this hapless southern city. So what does the Biking Yogini do when she can't ride? She cooks and posts photos of her creations on Facebook. Last night's dinner led to recipe requests, so this blog is my first ever with a recipe.

But first, the backstory. A few months ago I discovered the amazingly delicious vegetarian Lao Crispy Rice Salad at Bangkok Golden, a Falls Church restaurant near my home. Chef Seng, who learned to cook in a refugee camp, was named one of the area's top chefs - a well-deserved honor. She since has opened Thip Khao in D.C., with another location soon to come. Before the snow began, the Cycling Yogi and I were stocking up on winter essentials and happened to be in the vicinity of Bangkok Golden, where I'd hoped to stop for lunch and dine on this dish: currently my favorite thing in the world to eat. Alas, they already were closed.

As the snows fell the next day, the resourceful Cycling Yogi suggested looking on the Internet for a recipe. As luck would have it - I had all necessary ingredients in the house. I only needed to modify the recipe I found to make it vegetarian - remembering what it tasted like at Bangkok Golden. I'm not about to take on Chef Seng, but - in all modesty - the version I created was quite tasty. So, below is my recipe:

Enid’s Vegetarian Lao Crispy Rice Salad

Note – this recipe is my adaptation. It uses much less oil than the traditional preparation, in which rice balls and tofu are deep-fried. But it is still very tasty and flavorful! Also – quantities are approximate, since I rarely measure.

1 cup white rice (Jasmine or medium-grain; brown would probably be fine, as well)
3T Thai red curry paste
coconut or other oil spray
½ - ¾ block of extra firm tofu
1T peanut oil (or other light vegetable oil)
1T soy sauce
1t salt
1T sugar or brown sugar
½ cup flaked coconut
1/3 cup thinly sliced shallots (could use scallions or onions)
1/3 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
½ cup chopped fresh mint
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
(also can add ½ cup chopped fresh basil)
1 t red chili flakes
1 whole lime, juiced (more if desired)
whole lettuce leaves

Cook the rice with 1 cup of water (more if using brown rice). Mix cooked rice with the curry paste. Take a large nonstick roasting pan and spray with coconut (or other) oil. Spread the rice/curry mixture in a thin layer to cover the bottom of the pan. Spray a little more oil on top. Bake in the oven at about 325 degrees until the rice is dried out and crunchy. May take about half an hour – more or less depending on oven temperature and wetness of rice. You can flip chunks of it over as it’s getting dry. When done, remove from oven and let cool.

Cut the block of tofu into four thin slices. Use a kitchen towel to squeeze out excess water. Then place the slices on a dry towel on a plate and lightly salt the top with coarse salt. Microwave for 3 minutes, flip slices, re-salt, and microwave another 2 minutes. The tofu will become drier and firmer. When they’re cool enough to handle, chop the tofu into small cubes. Heat the peanut oil in a nonstick or cast iron pan and lightly fry the cubes, tossing them about to get all surfaces fried. Set aside when done.

In a large bowl, mix together soy sauce, salt, sugar, coconut, shallots, peanuts, mint, cilantro, and chili flakes. Break the crisped rice into chunks and add to salad, along with the tofu. Squeeze lime juice over everything and mix well, adding more lime, salt, chili, sugar, or other ingredients to taste.

Serve with lettuce leaves, placing a big spoonful or two on each leaf, rolling up the salad in the lettuce leaf and eating. Add fresh hot peppers, if you really like it spicy! Enough for 4 servings as part of a larger meal, or – two hungry people might devour the whole thing as a full meal.