Sayur Lodeh (Malay Vegetable Stew): Firing Things Up

IMG_6337It’s been a harrowing weather week here in New York City — especially for those of us who were spawned in the tropics.

With temperatures in the teens and 20s (and windchill dipping well below zero occasionally), this Singaporean transplant has never been more miserable. But with each gash of wind battering my cheeks, the thing that’s kept me going is one thought: Something hot and soupy — preferably with a little spicy kick to it.

Soup noodles are always terrific, but stews — now that’s a meal that has some heft for these climes. What to make? A surprising choice, actually, for anyone who’s read “A Tiger in the Kitchen” or this blog and knows what a carnivore I am.

But if you’ve ever tasted sayur lodeh (pronounced sy-yer loh-day), a heady Malay vegetable curry that’s fiery with a tinge of sweetness, you’ll know why it came to mind when my intrepid Let’s Lunch crew decided to whip up some stews for our January virtual lunch date …

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Egg-Drop Broccoli in Ginger-Miso Gravy: A Giant's Feast

Anyone who has eaten with me understands that I generally view vegetables the same way one would dentist appointments or exercise — they’re a necessary evil.

This has long held true, and is something that has exasperated my mother since I was a child. Back then, once it was clear that threats and bribery had absolutely no power in persuading me to eat any greens, my mother wisely appealed to a different side of me: The one that (perhaps not so) secretly enjoys the idea of a good conquest.

Think of broccoli as a little tree, she said.

And so, at the dinner table, I began to imagine myself as a giant, ripping out whole trees from the ground and snarfing down clumps of leaves, then branches, before finally devouring their trunks. Destruction, obliteration — all adrenaline-pumping stuff that finally got me to clean those plates of greens.

Perhaps this could have been seen as an early sign that I might grow up to be a serial killer but, no matter. I was eating vegetables. And that was good.

I was thinking of this story when my Let’s Lunch crew decided on doing “a dish that made me eat vegetables” for this month’s virtual lunch date toasting Joe Yonan’s new cookbook “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook,” which hit bookstores this week. Congrats, Joe!

What should I cook up? Why, broccoli, of course …

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Lemon-Garlic Yellow Beans: A Summery Side

I may not be the biggest fan of vegetables but summer, with its vibrant farmers markets, always manages to lure me to the green side.

Or, as this week had it, the yellow side.

A late-afternoon visit to my neighborhood market this week yielded a lovely surprise — bags of bright yellow string beans going for just 50 cents.

What to do with them? I decided to take them home and see …

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Spicy Korean Tofu: A Nod to Asia

I haven’t had much time to cook recently, with my book deadline looming.

But one does have to eat. So recently, when I found myself having to take a quick break from writing to prep a dish for a potluck party at The Studios of Key West, I turned to an old reliable: Spicy Korean tofu.

This dish is so easy (and delicious) that I find myself making it sometimes as often as once a week. Each tofu bite is packed with the intense swirl of garlic, chili flakes, nutty sesame oil and more — it’s terrific on its own but even better over hot white rice.

Every time I’ve made it, people ask for the recipe — so when my Let’s Lunch crew decided to make a dish that honors Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month for our May virtual lunch date, I decided it was time to share it …

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Broccoli-Slaw Salad: One Tasty Memento


Salad1 
Every relationship has its souvenirs — a card, a necklace, letters from afar.

I’ve discarded more than I can recall over the years but there’s one that I hold so precious and pull out so often that it’s riddled with the marks of a well-worn life: oil splatters, vinegar stains, bits of grainy powder now glued to its surface for all eternity.

It’s a recipe for broccoli slaw salad — lovingly shared by the very sweet mother of an old boyfriend. I first received it in the 1990s when I was just starting to cook and this was one of just three things I knew how to make.

Years later, my culinary repertoire has expanded, yet I still return to this recipe time and again. It’s incredibly easy to assemble for weeknight dinners and last-minute summer cookouts — and tasty, to boot. And because its ingredients include nuts and seeds, it also makes for an especially lovely fall salad. (Yes, it goes well with turkey, too.)

So, when my Let’s Lunch group, a gang of intrepid cooks spread out from San Diego to Paris who have a virtual lunchdate once a month, decided to do fall salads for October, once again, out came Mrs. Nak’s recipe.

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