Since I can remember I’ve always been eating my Nai Nai’s (dad’s mom’s) cooking. She’s now over 95 years old and continues to be incredible, bustling around and constantly feeding me. I recently spent time at home and my most important mission during my visit was to spend time with her learning how to cook the dishes I had grown up loving. Like most chefs, my Nai Nai does not believe in exact measurements. “Just look at it,” she says “Taste it,”—and that’s how I learned to make the necessary adjustments. So, for those who prefer more precise measurements, here are two of my Nai Nai’s recipes quantified.
This is a really refreshing dish for the summer time—incredibly simple. The coolness of the cucumber married with the tang of the rice vinegar and the heat from the red chili pepper flakes provides a wonderfully balanced combination. Serves 3-4 as a side.
Cucumbers: 2 medium
Salt: 1 ½ teaspoons
Rice vinegar: 2 tablespoons
Sesame oil: 1 tablespoon
Garlic cloves: 3
Red pepper flakes: 2 teaspoons
How to do it:
1) Cut the ends off of 2 medium cucumbers. Then cut them length wise, and into quarters. Cut the quarters into ½ inch long pieces and place in a bowl.
2) Add 1 ½ teaspoons of salt into the cucumbers.
3) Then add 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar to the cucumbers.
4) Toss the cucumbers, making sure all the pieces are covered with the salt and rice vinegar.
5) Let the cucumbers sit for 5 minutes. Mix 1-2 more times during the 5 minutes. The salt will begin to draw water out of the cucumbers while the vinegar will begin to flavor them. Think of it as if we’re doing a quick pickle of these cucumbers.
6) Drain the liquid from the bowl.
7) To finish, add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, 3 garlic cloves (diced finely) and 2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Stir and serve.
Whole cooked shrimp
This recipe is perfect for the summer because it’s great for sharing. Take a big bowl of it outside, sit around a table with friends, dig right in and peel away! If you’re authentic, you’ll suck the juicy goodness from the heads after you separate them from the bodies. However, you can also make this dish using headless shrimp. I know more than a few people who are slightly unnerved by the sight of a stack of shrimp heads. Serves 4.
Shrimp: 1 pound
Salt: 1 ½ teaspoons
Garlic cloves: 5-6
Ginger: 1 inch piece
Cilantro: 1 bunch
How to do it:
1) Take a pound of head-on shrimp and use scissors to cut off the long antennae of the shrimp if there are any. If you’re using headless shrimp, no need for this step.
2) Take each shrimp and devein by slicing the shrimp about half way through along the outside with a serrated knife and removing the vein.
3) Add 1 ½ teaspoons of salt, toss, and let the shrimp sit for 10 minutes.
4) While letting the shrimp rest, dice 5-6 garlic cloves, dice 1 inch piece of ginger and cut 12 scallions (green part only) by slicing each scallion in half length-wise and then into one inch segments. Also chop a whole head of cilantro in one inch segments.
5) Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pan over medium-high heat (or however much is needed to coat the bottom of the pan). Add the green onion, garlic and ginger and cook until the green onions soften a bit. Then remove from the pan and set aside on a plate.
6) Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan and then add the shrimp into the pan.
7) Immediately add 1 ½ tablespoons of dark soy sauce by stirring with ½ cup of water in a separate bowl and then pouring the mixture over the shrimp. Note: Using dark soy sauce gives the dish a deep, rich coloring. Please, please try to refrain from substituting light soy sauce!
8 ) Toss the shrimp and sauce together. Cook until the shrimp are pink on both sides.
9) Add the green onion, ginger and garlic back to the pan.
10) Add chopped cilantro and toss.
11) Plate, service and peel! Note: the sauce of this dish is amazingly delicious over rice too. Enjoy!