Faux Pok (Pok): Making yam khai dao at home

Yam Khai Dao/Fried Egg Salad/Pok Pok

Fried Egg Salad (yam khai dao) from the Pok Pok Cookbook

Last year was the year for Portland cookbooks. In fact it seemed like every time I went on Eater, another chef had landed a deal and was working on a book. In the final few months of 2013, several well-known local talents, like chefs Gabe Rucker and John Gorham, released books that were hot commodities all over the country.

Most of the books I was content to just flip through at Powells, but there was one that had to be mine — Andy Ricker’s cookbook for his nationally acclaimed restaurant Pok Pok. Pok Pok is a place dedicated to Thai street food, made famous by their incredible fish sauce chicken wings. After a few very successful years, Pok Pok became so popular that Ricker opened several new restaurants throughout town (all with a slightly different Thai spin) and even opened a spot in NYC.

And while I, like most people, love the Pok Pok wings, the one dish I always, always order is the yam khai dao or fried egg salad. It was hard to put my finger on why I love it so much but after reading Ricker’s description of the dish, I solved the mystery.

The vinaigrette that dresses the greens, herbs and crispy egg is perfectly balanced. There is heat fire from the Thai chiles, a bit of funk from the fish sauce, sweetness from the palm sugar simple syrup and zing from the lime juice. It’s one of those dishes that sucks you in from the first bite and you just can’t stop eating it. Or thinking about it. Or craving it.

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Time and Tsai’s Asian-Style Sloppy Joe Sliders

Asian Sloppy Joe Sliders

Ming Tsai’s Asian Sloppy Joe Sliders

Usually when I see a recipe in a magazine it can take me a while to get around to actually making it. I am routinely pulling things out of my recipe binder that are dated back as far as 2003. But some things just sound so good that I immediately head out to the store to buy the ingredients.

Such was the case with this dish, Ming Tsai’s Asian-Style Sloppy Joe Sliders, which were featured in the January issue of Food & Wine. I saw hoisin sauce, lime juice and ground pork and I was sold.

Apparently, Tsai’s mother used to make these for him when he was growing up and all of the kids at school would trade their lunches just to get one. I can totally buy this story because these beat the pants of any PB&J out there!

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A dinner so delicious I changed out of pajamas for it…

This post was almost titled “Clearly the world is against me: An ode to turkey lettuce wraps.” Besides being too long, it sounded a little too fatalistic.

Now you may ask, why would the world be against these deliciously beautiful  things?

While I don’t have the answer to that, the least I can do is fill you in on the story.

The first night I was planning to make these, I had gotten off work and was waiting for my husband to pick me up. However, he hadn’t checked his phone to see when I was ready so I waited for a half an hour before he rescued me. By that time I was borderline “hangry” and so he insisted we eat at the taco cart instead. He’s a smart man.

The following day I was determined to make this recipe, come hell or high water. I got home, changed into pajamas (I am a big fan of being as comfortable as humanly possible as often as possible) and started cooking the rice and the turkey. I was pulling out the ingredients for the sauce when I realized something was missing…fish sauce. We had a giant bottle of it somewhere in our fridge, I was sure. There was no way we had used it all — we bought the biggest jug of it we could find at Fubonn.

I searched high, I searched low, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Then visions of my husband danced in my head. I sent out a text and got a quick reply. “Uhhh…sorry, I took it to work.” Just as I suspected. Now strangers at the restaurant were enjoying delicious things made with my fish sauce. Things like General Tso’s sweetbreads.

I sighed. I put on real clothes and headed to the store. I was back in less than 15 minutes. I got on with my life…

Back to the wraps. They are easy, healthy (taken from America’s Test Kitchen’s 2010 Light & Healthy cookbook) and require very few ingredients, all of which create a perfect meal in my book… Let’s get started.

Chop one bunch of green onions and tear up about a half of a cup of cilantro leaves. The recipe calls for basil which I never seem to have handy, but cilantro I always seem to have floating around. I minced up a jalapeño and got out a couple of limes for zesting and juicing.

Then take a pound of ground turkey and squish it with the back of a spoon. The cookbook says this helps the meat get a nice consistency for wrapping in the lettuce. I don’t know about that, but it’s fun to squish meat, so I do it. I’m easily entertained.

Then, before you get too far along and realize you don’t have an important ingredient (ahem), make your sauce. Combine 1 tsp of cornstarch with 1.5 TBS brown sugar in a small bowl. Add 3 TBS of lime juice and 3 TBS of fish sauce, mix well.

Then in a hot skillet with a little oil, start browning the turkey, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks. I usually hit it up with some red chili flakes as well along with the jalapeño. If you want to use some Thai red chilies, feel free. You can adjust the heat according to how brave you are. I’m a bit of a sissy so I tread with caution.

Then throw in the lime zest (about 2 limes worth). I also throw in half of the green onions and basil/cilantro at this time. Because I’m a rebel.

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