Sunday, 30 December 2012

Asian cooking: 5 chefs share shopping tips and favorite recipes ...

The biggest hurdle to cooking delicious Asian dishes? Knowing ? and finding ? the right ingredients. How many times have you gone to an Asian market, recipe in hand and hopes high, only to leave dazed and confused? We know the feeling all too well. That's why we asked five local chefs intimately familiar with the cuisines of Korea, Thailand, Japan, China and Vietnam to help us navigate our way through some of our favorite dishes. You'll find their expert advice on stores and ingredients below, and links to their delicious recipes.

CHEF: Bo Kwon of Koi Fusion
RECIPE: Bi Bim Bap

Bo Kwon's rise to success in Portland's food scene can only be described as meteoric. In three years, his Koi Fusion taco truck has grown into a small empire consisting of two indoor "Koi-osks" at Bridgeport Village and downtown Portland, trailers at Mississippi Marketplace and The Row, plus three mobile trucks.

Kwon's foray into fusion cuisine occurred naturally. Growing up in Tigard as the son of Korean immigrants, he'd blend "the Korean side of the refrigerator ? my mom's kimchi, other banchan (salty, spicy, sweet or sour side dishes) ? with the American side: the hot dogs, the mac-and-cheese."

Koi's menu ? an intriguing assortment of traditional Korean food served as small tacos, burritos and quesadillas ? relies on Korean staples that Kwon gets from H Mart in Tigard. "No one else locally offers the selection or quality of Korean meats and spices that these guys do," he says. "Plus their kimchi selection is huge; easily the best in town."

For those wishing to explore Korean cooking, Kwon suggests starting with Bi Bim Bop, or Dolsot Bibimbap, a traditional rice bowl topped with an assortment of vegetables, chili paste and an egg. Key ingredients for the dish include kimchi, coarse red pepper powder and gochujang red pepper paste.

When it comes to kimchi, Kwon prefers homemade because you can adjust it to your preference. "My mother has a specific taste that she favors, which is very different than mine," says Kwon. "So at dinner she will pull out my over-fermented, super-sour kimchi for me to enjoy." When he buys kimchi, he shops for it only at Asian markets and prefers the Woori brand.

As for the coarse red pepper powder, which is commonly used when making kimchi, Kwon recommends Taekyung, Gogukaru and Wong brands.

The gochujang, however, is a bit harder to shop for. "There are so many to choose from now that it's like barbecue sauce," Kwon says. Trusted brands, many of which are written in the Korean alphabet, include Chung Jung Won (look for a rainbow-colored logo that looks like a sun tucked behind a purple mountain and green field), and Haechandle (the logo is a red rectangle with a thin line arcing through the top left corner).

The paste also comes in a variety of heat levels and styles. The word sunchang on the label means it's from the city of Sunchang, which is famous for gochujang. Taeyangcho means it's made with sun-dried peppers, chalgochujang or chapssal-gochujang is made with sweet rice, and cheongyangcho is made with the addition of a jalapeno-like hot pepper. Kwon suggests buying small amounts and sampling different ones until you find a favorite. "It's really up to your palate and preference, like Coke or Pepsi," he says. "All will work with the recipe just fine."

? Raechel Sims

Koi Fusion, various locations,
H Mart, 13600 S.W. Pacific Highway, Tigard, 503-620-6120,


CHEF: Noriko Hirayama of Miso Magic Cooking School
STORE: Uwajimaya
RECIPE: Miso Soup With Pork and Vegetables

Miso soup ? that sushi joint staple ? seems so easy. Mix some miso paste with water, right? Or maybe use an instant packet? Turns out, that's a pale imitation of the real thing, which is made with high-quality miso paste and a flavorful base of dashi stock. It can also be turned into a hearty, belly-filling version filled with vegetables and meat.

To get a real-deal recipe, we turned to Noriko Hirayama, Japanese native and founder of Portland's Miso Magic cooking school. She obliged with a recipe and helped us pick out the ingredients at the Beaverton outpost of Uwajimaya, the regional chain of Asian markets that grew out of an early Japanese food truck in Tacoma in 1928.

She led us to the miso section ? yes, there's entire section devoted to miso in the 25,000-square-foot store ? and explained there are three types: white, red and mixed.

All miso is basically fermented soybean paste; the starter determines the color. White is made with a rice or wheat starter and is sweeter. Red miso is made with a soybean starter. Hirayama prefers the mixed variety nowadays, but says any will do for the soup. She always looks for an organic brand ? Hikari is one ? but it can be hard to tell on foreign packaging. "Just ask someone!" she says.

Miso is alive, like yogurt, she adds, so it should never be boiled ? add it to the soup last, after all the other ingredients are cooked.

Next, the meat aisle. Uwajimaya sells super thinly sliced pork, perfect for the soup, or you can buy any boneless pork chop and thinly slice it yourself, Hirayama says.

In the produce section, she picks up a purple Japanese yam, which adds sweetness; a small, firm daikon (a white, mild radish); burdock (a long, brown, crisp root vegetable); as well as carrots and scallions.

As for the broth, you can make an Americanized version of miso soup with vegetable or chicken broth, but Japanese dashi gives you a richer, deeper flavor. To make it, Hirayama offers two options: a dashi made with dried kelp and bonito flakes (dried fish flakes), or dried kelp and dried anchovies or sardines. (In a pinch, she says, you can use dashi powder, which is similar to bouillon.)

Dried anchovies and shrimp tend to be in the refrigerator case (freeze what you don't use, she says). Dried kelp, bonito flakes and dashi powder, meanwhile, are in the dry goods section of the store. Hirayama isn't picky about brands for these, but if you don't want MSG (monosodium glutamate), look for the word "mutenka" on the dashi powder.

For her vegetable- and meat-laden miso soup, Hirayama uses fried tofu for its sturdy texture (she prefers the House Foods brand). But when she's shopping for the fresh stuff, she, like most Portland chefs, prefers Ota Tofu. It's made daily in Southeast Portland, in the Japanese tradition of a 102-year-old family company.

Overall, the miso soup is very healthful, Hirayama says. Miso itself is rich in nutrients and known to be healing. The Japanese traditionally eat it every morning for breakfast, she says, though the younger generation typically eats it more for dinner.

"Miso is like an apple a day here in America," she says. "It keeps the doctor away."

? Tracy Saelinger

Uwajimaya, 10500 S.W. Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, Beaverton, 503-643-4512,
Miso Magic Cooking School, 503-867-6367,


CHEF: Jia You of Lucky Strike
STORE: Oriental Food Value
RECIPES: Spicy and Sour Tofu Custard; Dan Dan Noodles

If you follow the gospel of Szechuan peppercorns, chances are you've dined at Lucky Strike. "We use it in about 80 percent of our dishes," says Jia You, chef and co-owner of the restaurant. "This is the taste I crave most."

The petite chef, as sweet as her food is spicy, has the peppercorns shipped fresh from China every few months. Technically not a peppercorn (it's the dried berry husk of the prickly ash tree), the spice adds pungent lemony and floral aromas to many traditional dishes and gives your tongue a unique, tingly sensation that's almost addictive.
You, a native of the Sichuan province of China, fell for Portland on her first visit to the city as a high school exchange student and later returned for college. "The only thing missing for me at the time was the food from Sichuan," she says.

An accountant by trade, You and her husband opened the first rendition of Lucky Strike in a strip mall near Southeast 82nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard five years ago. The tiny, labor-of-love restaurant quickly gained a large and loyal clientele that followed the couple to their current location on the corner of Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard and 33rd Avenue.

The signature dish at the restaurant, dan dan noodles, is what You makes most often for family and friends. "Dan dan noodles are dear to my heart," she says. After calligraphy or other extracurricular pursuits on weekends, "my parents always took me to get dan dan noodles."

You recalls eating up to ten (tiny) bowls of noodles each time. "I specifically remember my mom asking, 'Are you sure you want one more?' And I'd respond 'Yes, yes!' "

The name dan dan refers to the shoulder poles that walking street vendors would use to carry their goods; the two baskets swinging at either end held secret sauces in one, and noodles or tofu custard in the other.

The spicy and sour tofu custard is also one of You's favorites. "It's a very common dish in Sichuan," she says. Some restaurants in the region serve only tofu custards; and in more remote areas, you can still find vendors walking through villages, tofu custard dangling from the dan dan on their shoulders.

You buys her tofu from Ota Tofu, a long-standing family-run company that uses all organic soybeans. When she is seeking Chinese-specific ingredients, she heads to Oriental Food Value in Southeast Portland, a family-run store that's been in business for more than two decades. Not only does it stock her essential ingredients, but everyone knows her by name and the owners call her when her favorite ingredients arrive.

The first stop for You is often the aisle lined with dozens of bottles of Chinese black rice vinegar, an ingredient in dan dan noodles and the tofu custard. This vinegar can be a great mystery for the uninitiated. You makes it easy: Avoid vinegars that don't have water listed as one of the first ingredients, and avoid those made in Hong Kong. Instead, look for bottles that feature the name of a town, because they follow the traditional Chinese process for making vinegar and will be fermented and aged.

One of her favorites is Chinkiang vinegar from the city of Zhenjiang in the Jiangsu Province (it has a bright yellow label). "This one is good for the sweet and sour tofu custard," says You, "because it is not as potent as the more aged vinegars and it brings out a little sweetness so it is easier to balance."

She recommends the Shanxi Superior Mature Vinegar for noodle dishes, like dan dan, because they can take a more intense flavor. The vinegar is aged for up to five years and hails from a region where vinegar has been made for centuries.

Oriental Food Value is also the only store in Oregon where You can find prickly ash oil, a Szechuan-peppercorn-infused oil that the chef drizzles over the hot and sour tofu custard, and it can be used to add pop to many Chinese dishes. "Once they run out they don't usually get it in for another three to four months," she says.

-- Kerry Newberry

Oriental Food Value, 8303 S.E. Insley St., 503-775-8683
Lucky Strike, 3862 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 503-206-8292;


CHEF: Tanasapamon Rohman of Chiang Mai
STORE: Fubonn
RECIPE: Num Tok (grilled beef salad)

People come to Hawthorne's Chiang Mai ? as they come to any good Thai restaurant, really -- for that addictive interplay of spicy, salty, sour and sweet flavors. And for chef/owner Tanasapamon Rohman, one of the best dishes to capture that is num tok.

A traditional dish from Northern Thailand, the region the restaurant specializes in, this salad takes many forms depending on where in the region you're eating it and what meat is used. Rohman's version uses marinated sirloin to top a salad that is served with a bright, herb-rich dressing and brought together with the signature taste of roasted sticky rice powder. It's quintessentially Thai. But with so many different elements (marinade, dressing, salad, chiles) and unfamiliar ingredients (cilantro roots, powdered rice), it's also a dish most cooks are a bit afraid to tackle at home.

But with a bit of guidance, num tok can easily be made at home. As with most recipes, this starts at the market, with quality meat, fresh herbs ? and, Rohman stresses, ingredients that come from Thailand. Japanese and Chinese soy sauces (and, for that matter, Vietnamese fish sauces) all have flavor profiles that differ slightly yet significantly from the Thai versions. Rohman says to look for the telltale Thai script, and labels that clearly state "made in Thailand."

When shopping, she prefers Fubonn because it's not too far from home and the restaurant, and it offers a good supply of Thai ingredients, both on the shelf and in the produce section. If your closest Asian market isn't large enough to have fresh galangal, lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves, you might be able to find them in the freezer section (with only a small sacrifice in flavor).

For the produce and meat, Rohman recommends New Seasons, Whole Foods and farmers markets for their supply of locally grown, super fresh, sustainable ingredients.

When it comes to the actual cooking, Rohman suggests you take the Thai approach and pound things out in an old-fashioned mortar and pestle. Yes, it's hard, messy work. And sure, you could just dump everything in the food processor. But the mortar and pestle let you connect with your food in a truly authentic way, working the flavor out of every clove of garlic or root of cilantro, and stopping exactly when you've reached the particular sweet-salty-spicy balance that makes the dish so addictive.

? Deena Prichep

Chiang Mai, 3145 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 503-234-6192,
Fubonn, 2850 S.E. 82nd Ave. 503-517-8877,


CHEF: Le Ho of Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen
STORE: An Dong
RECIPE: Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Hip, cocktail-focused and open late, Luc Lac is the brainchild of two 20-something brothers, Adam and Alan Ho, who own the downtown Vietnamese restaurant together. But while its fresh vibe offers a welcome departure from the bare-bones decor of so many Asian spots in town, the menu is grounded in authenticity thanks to their mom and head chef Le Ho.

Whether she's making steaming bowls of pho or almost-too-pretty-to-eat spring rolls, Le Ho relies almost exclusively on An Dong Market on Southeast Powell Boulevard. It's not as big as Uwajimaya or Fubonn, but she says the service is great. If she needs an item they don't carry, they'll source it for her from other markets around town and include it in her daily delivery.

Thankfully for those of us without restaurants, An Dong isn't just a wholesaler.

The midsize market is open to the public, and well stocked with produce, seafood, meat and Asian ingredients, including 20-plus brands of rice paper ? essential for making Vietnamese spring rolls.

Ho's spring rolls are truly some of the best in town. They're lovely, plump and accompanied by a sweet peanut sauce so good you might be tempted to lick the bowl. She says there are a few secrets to their success. First, they must be carefully constructed, because presentation is important. "They have to be pretty," she says.

Second, Ho has tried every brand of rice paper at An Dong and says none comes close to the pliability and good flavor of the Three Ladies Brand. She's particular about the rice noodles, too. Ho urges cooks not to use the bright white rice vermicelli noodles, but the more transparent and slightly gray ones, because they contain fewer chemicals and taste better.

One more insider secret: The key ingredient in Luc Lac's peanut dipping sauce is the bubbly, Puerto Rican, coconut-flavored Coco Rico Soda. Look for it, or the similar Coco Solo soda, at Latino markets.

When asked why Ho chose her spring roll recipe to share with us, she says: "They are really healthy and Oregon people love fresh. I think spring rolls are great, too, because of all the variations. You can use any kind of meat -- beef, chicken, tofu, or even just vegetables. You really can do so much with them."

? Liz Crain

An Dong Market, 5441 S.E. Powell Blvd., 503-777-2463
Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen, 835 S.W. Second Ave., 503-222-0047,


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