It was 15 years ago this month that I have returned from my three years sabbatical living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I vouched that my next project with food will be prepared with lots of fresh fragrant aromatic herbs.
I wanted to share the knowledge of applying herbs with my audience and the importance of cooking with fresh delicate herbs. From allspice to sumac from perilla to parsley, it is an incredible enhancement to a dish without adding a lot of ingredients. One of my most popular flavorful Asian dishes, voted by CNN, is the Beef Rendang. Beef Rendang is a flavorful complex dish that originated from the Southern part of the Malay Peninsula. It includes many great herbs from curry leaves to kaffir lime leaves that are pounded with other essential herbs and spices such as cloves, cinnamon, star anise and a few more others that make this dish a favorite to many.
Why I name my catering company Saffron59, that a pinch of saffron sprigs deliver such an incredible subtle of taste from a simple risotto to seared diver scallops. The styles and stigmas that are derived from the flowers of crocus are used for seasoning and coloring make saffron the world's most exquisite and valuable spices.
Recently, I was fortunate to attend Stephen Orr's lecture and book signing of his new book, The New American Herbal at Brooklyn Botanical Garden. That afternoon in the garden reminded me that spring is here and soon there will be abundance of herbs in our garden and at market. It is a thorough, informative and non intimidating book that it is an ideal reading for both a gardener and a cook.
Recipe: Beef Rendang
10 pounds boneless beef chuck (cut into cubes)
1/2 cup cooking oil
4 cinnamon sticks (about 2-inch long)
10 star anise
10 cardamom pods (bruised)
1 pound lemongrass (cut into 4-inch length and pounded)
4 cups thick unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup tamarind pulp (soak in warm water to steep then strain for the juice and discard pulp)
15 kaffir lime leaves (very finely sliced)
1 cup dessicated toasted coconut
1/2 cup sugar/palm sugar to taste
Salt to taste
4 inch galangal
1/2 cup of minced lemongrass (white part only)
15 cloves garlic
4 inch ginger
15-20 dried chillies or 8 fresh Bird's Eye Chili
Chop the spice paste ingredients and then blend it in a food processor until it turns to paste.
Heat the oil in a bottom-heavy pot, add the beef and then pounded lemongrass and stir, browning the meat.
Add the spice paste, cinnamon, cloves, star anise and cardamom and stir fry them until aromatic.
Be careful not to let them burn.
Add the coconut milk, tamarind juice, water, and simmer on medium heat, stirring frequently.
Add the kaffir lime leaves, toasted coconut and sugar/palm sugar.
Turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for 2 1/2 hours or until the meat is really tender and the cooking liquid has thickened and greatly reduced to gravy. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking or burning.
Add salt to taste. If necessary, add more sugar to taste.
Serve with steamed rice or let cool and freeze for later.