But this time I didn't want to be just another tourist.
So I took a friend's advice and headed to the market in the UN plaza, which is known for its affordable prices (yes, in San Francisco) and for its Asian influence. I strolled by each stand, amazed at the number of foods I didn't recognize: knobby gourds and massive squashes in various colors, spiky cucumbers and gangly green beans over a foot in length. I stopped by a table and asked the farmers to tell me about their vegetables - how do they taste? what are they called? how do you prepare them? A customer overheard and jumped in to give me tips and recipes. Later, I was kicking myself for not writing them down.
I couldn't leave empty-handed, so I bought a large bundle of fresh lemongrass and a generous piece of ginger root.
I spent less than 2 bucks.
Back at my cousin's apartment, I sliced the ginger and the lemongrass and then gave everything a good whack with a heavy spoon to release the flavor. Then into a large, glass bowl to cover with boiling water and bathe for a spell. This became the most heavenly tea, which I drank for the next 3 days, both hot and chilled.
This helped balance out my daily sweet (insert preferred dessert item here: pastry, ice cream, chocolate; you know, the usual suspects). Um, OK - sweets.
Actually, who am I kidding here? I would've had to consume several vats of tea a day to counteract the affects of the sugar shock. Don't get me started on the burnt brown sugar ice cream with the caramel swirl from Bi-Rite or the insanely delicious banana cream pie with caramel and fluffy whipped cream at Tartine. Yes, I'm planning another trip soon.
Yet, I digress (dessert, you distract me far too easily). This new love affair with lemongrass resurfaced last night when I pulled a few stalks together with ginger, peanuts, lime and coconut to create a Thai inspired meal for my honey. That's right - I put the lime in the coconut. So get out the blender and start cooking!
First, fire up the grill! You could use the broiler instead, but keep a close eye on things so the your dinner doesn't end up charred! (Remind me to tell you sometime about the fire I started in my parent's oven when I tried to make kale chips under the broiler....). Second of all, read through the whole recipe first so you have a sense of the timing. It seems like a lot of components, but the prep is quick and the final result is delicious!
Fish & Rice:
1 can of coconut milk
1 stalk of lemongrass
1 knob of ginger about 1 inch long
juice of 1 lime
Simmer all in a saucepan for 20 minutes and then strain out solids.
1 pound piece of white fish (I used hake)
Pour just enough over the fish in a shallow dish to cover the fish, sprinkle with cracked pepper and marinate for about 20 minutes on the shelf (don't leave it too long or the lime juice will start to "cook" the fish).
1/2 cup rice (I used strawberry rice, but jasmine would be nice or forbidden rice would be wonderful)
Prepare the rice using the remaining coconut mixture in place of the typical water.
Transfer the fish to a large piece of foil and fold it up like a packet. Cook it on the grill for about 12 - 18 minutes, depending on how thick the fish is and how hot your grill gets. You want it flaky, not rubbery! (NOTE: put on the veggies at the same time - keep reading!)
Grilled Kale Salad:
1 red pepper
2 portobello mushrooms
1 medium bunch of kale
1/2 cup toasted peanuts, unsalted
Cut the pepper in half and remove the seeds. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and brush off any dirt. Cut stems from kale. Wash the pepper and kale, pat dry and rub all with peanut oil. Put the pepper and the mushrooms on the grill at the same time as the fish.
Once the fish and veggies are done, remove all to rest for a minute while you briefly grill the kale. Lay the leaves out on the grill for about 1 minute, then flip and grill for another 30 seconds. You want the leaves to wilt and brown, but not shrivel or blacken.
WARNING: once you've had grilled kale, you'll madly add it to recipes left and right; then you'll start grilling things like chard and lettuce. It's OK - don't hold back - just go for it.
Cut the peppers and mushrooms into chunks. Stack up your kale leaves, roll like a yoga mat and slice (yep, you chiffonade like a pro). Toss together in a bowl with just enough peanut miso dressing to coat. Top with chopped peanuts.
Peanut Miso dressing:
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup white miso
2 T soy sauce
drizzle of honey
a few slices of ginger, chopped
Puree in a blender/food processor. Then add:
1/8 cup hot water
Puree to create a smooth dressing. Add more water if it's too thick.
Cilantro Scallion puree:
bunch of fresh cilantro
4 or 5 scallions
juice of 1/2 lime
Roughly chop the cilantro and scallions. Combine all ingredients in a blender/food processor to combine, but leave it a bit chunky.
Putting it all together:
Serve the fish on the rice, topped with cilantro scallion puree. Serve the salad along the side with the peanuts on top. If you have an extra flourish in you, then pop a sprig of cilantro in the rice. Presentation is everything.