Amid the longest days of winter — indeed, amid days that feel darker than usual — it seems more important than ever to gather with the people we love to eat something good once a day, to find comfort in food and recipes through passed generations. Perhaps no one understands this better than Patricia Tanumihardja, who collected the wisdom and recipes of dozens of grannies for her book, The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook. Today, Pat shares her quick cooking tips and a beautiful recipe for Thai basil pork (or turkey, or chicken, etc).
Pat lives in Seattle with her son, Isaac (he loves the satay of his Oma, or grandma), where she balances her writing career with life as a mom and military wife. “We moved back to Seattle so that we could be closer to family while my husband is deployed to Afghanistan,” she says. “In this photo (above) are my parents, my sister-in-law, nephews, sister and brother-in-law. My brother is taking the photo. My mom is the queen of the kitchen. I owe my cooking genes and skills to her.”
On life as a single mom:
It can be a little hectic, especially since my husband is away! I’m rushing to put dinner on the table by 6 or 6:30 p.m. with a little munchkin hanging off my leg. Unlike my college days when I would sometimes eat cereal and milk for dinner, I tend to be a little more conscious about what I put on the dinner table these days because of my son.
Her pantry and fridge wouldn’t be complete without:
–Anchovies, garlic and lemons with pasta.
–Eggs are great for omelets, pasta Carbonara, and egg salad sandwiches.
–Crushed tomatoes for pastas, rice and soup.
–Frozen peas and carrots for instant veggies. To make boxed mac-and-cheese a more “balanced” meal (I buy an organic brand under the delusion they’re tastier and healthier), I mix frozen peas into it.
–Shrimp makes for a quick cooking protein that goes with rice, pasta and noodles.
–Bacon injects flavor into just about any dish!
–And sometimes we have frozen pizza.
On her favorite kitchen appliance:
I utilize my oven a lot! I marinate meats the day (or several days) before and when I come home I pop the meat in the oven. While that’s cooking, I’ll make the side dishes. And I usually have a little time to relax with my toddler before dinner.
On making dinner appear, presto change-oh:
Save the roast meat from above and use it in other dishes the rest of the week. Do prep work on the weekends. Peel and cut carrots, cut broccoli into florets, etc. and bag them. Then you can pull them out during the week and save time. Somehow, if I rummage hard enough in the fridge I can almost always find some leftovers that I can cobble together to make a meal. Of course, I always do the sniff test.
Thai basil pork
From Pat Tanumihardja
Serves 4 to 6 as part of a family-style meal
Note from Ann: I loved this dish, so bright and fragrant with the flavors of Southeast Asia. I took a tip from Pat and used ground chicken to make this dish a little lighter. And — full confession — instead of fish sauce, I used the juice of a fresh lime. “Ground pork is usually paired with holy basil,” Pat says. “However, Thai sweet basil is much easier to find in Asian markets in America and makes a worthy stand-in. If all else fails, substitute with any basil or a mixture of basil and mint for a bright, refreshing flavor. If you can’t find Thai chilies, substitute with 4 to 6 serranos or jalapeños, cut into large slivers.”
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 1/2 cups packed fresh holy basil or Thai basil leaves
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 small shallots (or 1/2 small onion), cut into thin slices (1/2 cup)
6 red Thai chilies, cut into rounds (or to taste)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Dash white pepper or freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Preheat a 14-inch wok or 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in oil to coat the bottom of the wok and heat for 10 to 15 seconds until oil thins out and starts to shimmer. Stir in garlic and shallots. Stir 15 to 20 seconds, until garlic is light golden and fragrant.
Add pork, breaking it up with the edge of your spatula. Stir-fry until meat has just lost its blush, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium. Throw in chilies. Sprinkle oyster, fish and soy sauces and sugar, and toss to mix well. Add basil and stir until leaves are wilted and pork is cooked through, about half to 1 minute. Don’t overcook the pork.
Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with pepper. Serve hot with steamed rice.
Pat’s beautiful blog is a trove of information on Asian cooking — including many other quick recipes (check out her fried rice and shrimp in black bean sauce) — while her book, The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook, would make a lovely holiday gift.
(Non-food photos courtesy of Pat Tanumihardja.)