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Feb 24, 2014 09:24 AM

Cooking from Pok Pok

A number of us have this book, and it certainly has gotten a lot of press. Now, let's put it to the test. Bring it to the kitchen, get your ingredients in line, and let's cook!

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  1. Yam Wun Sen "Chao Wang" (Sunny's Fancy Glass Noodle Salad) - page unkown (iPad version)

    I'm finally geared up for some serious cooking from this book, and I decided to start here. Yam Wun Sen is one of my favorite Thai dishes, and one I am consistently disappointed with in restaurants. So where better to start?

    Let's say from the start, the problem I have with what I'm served in restaurants. First off, I love bean threads, a.k.a. glass noodles. My favorite versions of the dish have been heavy on the glass noodles. I also love the tart flavor in this salad, and the versatility of serving it at room temperature. In restaurants, I am disappointed that this is often served in tiny, appetizer-sized portions. And that every ingredient except the glass noodles seems to dominate. I don't really give a damn what meat or seafood is in there. There is always too much of it.

    This recipe has, for the meats, a mix of ground pork, which has been cooked in a skillet with a little fish sauce, shrimp, and Vietnamese pork roll (sold in my store as cha lua). I had rather large shrimp, so I cut them into chunks instead of halving as directed. I also cut the Vietnamese pork roll a bit smaller than directed. The pork I used was boneless "country ribs", which I ground at home.

    This is not a difficult dish to make at all, and with the exception of the Vietnamese pork roll, which required a trip to a Vietnamese market, the ingredients are not difficult to find. There are two sub-recipes involved, for fried shallots and fried garlic, but these are no big deal.You also need fried shallot oil, which is a by-product of making fried shallots. I made just enough fried shallots and garlic for this recipe, and I made them together. I actually had some shallot oil on hand.

    The prep is simple. You cook the ground pork with some fish sauce sprinkled in. You toast some dried shrimp in a dry skillet. You cut the Vietnamese pork roll and shrimp to the sizes specified (or in my case, a bit smaller). You soak the noodles. You julienne carrots and shallots, chop some cilantro and chinese celery (I omitted this last ingredient). You thinly slice some pickled garlic. A simple dressing is made from lime juice, fish sauce, pickled garlic juice, and thai chiles and garlic that have been pounded to a paste in a mortar.

    The cooking is very fast. It is a salad, after all. The noodles, shrimp, and pork roll get dunked in boiling water for 30 seconds, then removed and drained. They are then tossed with the dressing, the pork, dried shrimp, the vegetables, cilantro, and some white pepper. The fried shallots and garlic are a garnish, along with some extra cilantro.

    I could tell as soon as I weighed out the glass noodles, that this was going to be yet another recipe heavy on the add-ins and low on the noodles. So I doubled the amount of glass noodles and dressing, and kept the meats as written (or maybe just a tad more).

    With those proportions, I came up with something very close to what I wanted. I'm not sure if I'll go out of my way to buy the Vietnamese pork roll again, especially as the amount in the dish is much less that the pound I had to buy. But the recipe worked quite well, and the taste was delicious. I will be fooling around with the add-ins (by which I mean all the stuff that is not noodles and dressing) to see what I like best. I did really like the fried shallot/garlic garnish, which added a depth and savory quality to the dish.

    16 Replies
    1. re: MelMM

      Delicious and fresh looking dish! What are the white-ish triangles in there that look like tofu to me but obviously not? I think it would be very good with just shrimp - I do not eat pork and always look for substitute. Chicken thighs are good sub for pork but I wonder if this salad even needs it. Tofu fried in shallot oil would be tasty too.

      1. re: herby

        The whitish triangles are the Vietnamese pork roll. Personally, I would have been just as happy with tofu instead. I would not use chicken in this salad. Just a personal preference, but it me it is too heavy, and my big gripe is that it always has too much meat.

        1. re: MelMM

          I am thinking that tofu cut into fancy triangles like your pork roll and fried in shallot oil and shrimp will make the salad light but still filling and tasty.

          1. re: herby

            I agree. I used to make, and love, a vegetarian version of this dish, with tofu and mushrooms. I like a bit of shrimp and dried shrimp, but more meat is not better, imho.

          2. re: MelMM

            That is the real problem with cha lua (which I think of as Vietnamese bologna) in the home kitchen. You only need a small amount of it in any dish (it's often found in banh mi sandwiches julienned and frequently mistaken --by me anyway-- for tofu, though it has a strong fish flavor taste) and whether you buy it or make it from scratch, you always end up with too much of it. It freezes nicely, though and if you made it from scratch, you could freeze it in small portions for occasional use, but I don't know how you're supposed to use up an entire log of it if you purchase it already frozen unless you're a large Vietnamese family and you put it in everything (as they apparently do).


            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              I'm going to portion it into 2 oz segments, vacuum seal, and refreeze. And when it's gone, I doubt I'll buy it again. I would be just as happy, or happier, substituting something else in its place.

              1. re: MelMM

                I didn't think you were supposed to re-freeze foods. Is that an old myth?


                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  It's an old myth. According to the USDA, it is safe to refreeze both previously frozen uncooked meats, and previously frozen cooked foods, if they have been handled correctly.

                    1. re: MelMM

                      I still thought it was a big no-no. This is hugely helpful info.

                      1. re: MelMM

                        The only reason not to defrost and re-freeze is that the ice damage. When you refreeze, the cells in the food expand and contract with each freeze and defrost which can really change the texture of the food.

                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    A friend refers cha lua as "meet mayo". They (the people they work with) were having a Vietnamese themed dinner with the meeting. My friend brought Banh Mi. One of the attendees boy friends was afraid to try it. If the word pate was mentioned he was not going to touch it ever. My friend said oh just think of it as meat mayo. He like the Banh Mi.

              2. re: MelMM

                I toasted shrimp paste for a meal one time, and my family was gagging from the smell for a week. Strictly necessary?

                1. re: LulusMom

                  In this recipe, you toast dried shrimp, not shrimp paste. Dried shrimp is not quite as stinky, but I would use your vent hood. The lingering smell in the house from this dish was mostly from frying the garlic and shallots. Not bad, and 24 hours later, not noticeable.

                  1. re: MelMM

                    We all love the smell of fried garlic and shallots (when I start, it is like bees to honey).

                2. re: MelMM

                  I'm glad to hear that the Vietnamese pork roll wasn't necessary. I couldn't get out to the Vietnamese market, so I left it out.

                  I thought the small amount of pork and shrimp made sense, but I'd probably do another handful of carrots. I guess I like the add-ons! And I agree that the fried garlic and shallots are really nice here.

                3. Thanks so much for starting this thread. I've been interested in this book, but felt that the chances were going to be that it was too labor intensive for me. Reading along will help me decide whether or not that is true.

                  1. Khao Man Som Tam (Papaya Salad with Coconut Rice and Sweet Pork)

                    Let's put the bottom line on top: make this.

                    This is from the one-plate meal section of the book. You get a complete dinner out of this one. And while it is a multi-component dish, it's all really pretty easy.

                    You start making the pork. Cut some boneless pork shoulder into strips, leaving the grain long. You put this in a pot with thin soy sauce, sweet soy sauce (molasses-like), some palm sugar, and white pepper. Just toss it all together and let it simmer on low, covered, for a good hour and a half. Then you'll take the lid off, and simmer a bit more until the excess liquid has evaporated. Really simple. The pork should come apart into strands - just like pulled pork.

                    While that's cooking, you make the coconut rice, for which the author recommends a rice cooker. I used one, and this could not be easier. You wash and drain the rice, then put it in the cooker with some coconut cream, water, sugar, and salt. Press the cook button and let it go. Once it's done, you let it sit in the cooker for a while, then fluff. At that point you can let it keep warm until you are ready to eat. The author recommends coconut cream from a tetra-pak box, and that is what I used. He's right. It's far better than the stuff in cans, if you can get it.

                    And then you make your papaya salad. The recipe for this is given earlier in the book. I used a wooden mortar and pestle for this. You mash up some palm sugar with garlic and chiles. Then add some small lime wedges (each is 1/12 of a key lime), and mix them in, and then add and pound in some dried shrimp that has been toasted in a dry skillet. Some slices of long bean go in and are pounded just enough to bruise them. Now you add lime juice, tamarind (from seedless pulp per the recipe, but I extracted from whole pods), and the papaya, which is in a fine julienne. This gets mashed together a bit (not enough to break it down), while stirring to mix. Last things to go in are some tomato and peanuts.

                    This gets served as a one-plate meal: Rice goes on the plate, topped with some of the sweet pulled pork, which is, in turn, topped with a bit of fried shallot and a bit of cilantro. The papaya salad is served alongside. I added some shredded cabbage as a garnish.

                    Every component of this plate is delicious, but what really blew me away is how perfectly it all went together. The rice is subtly sweet and you can taste the coconut. The pork is a dense sweet/savory taste. No heat in either of these. This is all offset by the tart papaya salad, which has enough acid to balance all the sweetness of the other components, and also a nice kick from the chiles. Everything balances out just right.

                    This is a meal I will absolutely make again.

                    20 Replies
                      1. re: MelMM

                        I`ve been staunchly resisting purchasing this book, but my resolve is wearing thin--thanks to your enticing reviews!
                        This dish looks and sounds like a pleasure to eat.

                        1. re: MelMM

                          Mel, how important is palm sugar and sweet soy sauce? Have not been able to find either yet. Did you fry your own shallots or bought ready made in a bag? Do you think I can make it with chicken or maybe beef instead of pork?

                          1. re: herby

                            Not Mel here, but I've subbed brown sugar for palm sugar before.

                            I've often subbed ground turkey for ground pork, although I see this isn't ground pork. It is certainly worth a shot.

                            1. re: LulusMom

                              Thank you, LLM! Have not thought about subbing brown sugar - good idea. I often sub ground chicken thighs for pork and it works well but here it is almost pulled pork, so I don't know.

                            2. re: herby

                              Sorry for the slow reply, I've been out of town for the past couple days.

                              The pork in this recipe isn't just like pulled pork, it is pulled pork, so using the correct cut of pork and preparing it as directed is very important. I have seen people get a "pulled" effect with chicken, but I've never done it myself. I think chicken breast actually works better for that than thigh.

                              As LLM said, you can substitute brown sugar for palm sugar. The sweet soy sauce is very important to this dish. Ricker does not offer a substitute. However, the author of the Asian Grandmother's Cookbook suggests, by volume, one part water, one part soy sauce, and three parts brown sugar. Microwave for 30 seconds and stir to mix. She says the consistency will be thinner than the commercial product. You could also simmer it on the stove to reduce it and thicken it a bit.

                              1. re: MelMM

                                Thank you for the reply, Mel! I went to my favourite Asian grocer and bought pretty much everything on my list including palm sugar and sweet soy sauce. This was supposed to be a free weekend but turned into a bunch of errands and sewing for charity. Cooking didn't happen; hope to sit with the book later tonight and decide on a couple of dishes to make tomorrow evening.

                            3. re: MelMM

                              We made this last night. I would agree - it was delicious. I found that the pork took longer, more like 2 - 2.5 hours, but I was keeping the simmer very low, and I wasn't in a hurry with it (I will admit that I have not bought in to the concept that chewy is good).

                              We don't have a rice cooker, so we cooked the rice on the stove. I was able to find coconut cream at Whole Foods. (When I was shopping for asian ingredients at some large asian supermarkets, I never came across coconut cream, only coconut milk, and that only in cans.) I think I may have overcooked the rice slightly, but it had great coconut flavor.

                              For the papaya salad - no mortar and pestle, so big spoon in a bowl. We use a mini-chopper for the chilies and garlic. Green beans instead of long beans.

                              Instead of fried shallots, we used some canned fried onions we had. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that!

                              Everything works really well together - the spicy sweet sour crunchy salad is the perfect counterpoint to the softer rice and pork - and don't skip the fried shallots! - they add a great savory taste and crunchy texture.

                              1. re: fairyinthewoods

                                No need to be embarrassed by the fried shallots. I think it's very resourceful!


                                1. re: fairyinthewoods

                                  I recently saw bags of fried onions and shallots in Asian stores and wonder if I should buy some shallots instead of frying my own. Is that what you ahd? Did they taste good enough?

                                  1. re: herby

                                    Just a word of advice from one who has made this error far too often to admit: save your palate and spring for the "expensive" fried shallots/onions. Those lesser-quality ones are a wretched taste experience not soon forgotten.

                                    1. re: herby

                                      I buy fried shallots all the time. They are good enough for my purposes (soups and salads)

                                      1. re: herby

                                        Can't vouch for those. We have some fried onions from Trader Joe's that we inherited from a friend who was cleaning out her pantry of "bad" food. We crisped them up in the same skillet we used to dry fry the shrimp.

                                        1. re: herby

                                          Frying your own is very little work at all. You can do as many or as few as you want, and it doesn't take a ton of oil. If you have leftovers, they keep and you can use them for the next dish. Just speaking for myself, this is not something I would buy. Far more trouble to go to an Asian market to get these than to fry them up at home.

                                          1. re: MelMM

                                            Thank you all for the advice!

                                            @Allegra: I do not think Asian markets here have different grades, just rather inexpensive (that is what made me pause and walk away) fried shallots in a big bag. I'll stay away based on your experience.
                                            @Mel: I thought it would be handy to have a bag for those lazy days when frying shallots feels like a one more chore to do :) I tried JoanN's method and caramelized a bunch of onions in the oven. Now it is a breeze to make onion soup of whatever and I silently thank her every time I pull a little baggie out of the freezer!

                                            1. re: herby

                                              We use pre-fried shallots a lot. General rule of thumb, if the ingredients are shallots & oil, they are good. I the ingredients include anything else, especially citric acid, we avoid them.

                                              1. re: qianning

                                                Q, have you ever encountered rancid oil? The oil is what I am mainly concerned about. Do you buy yours in Asian markets?

                                                1. re: herby

                                                  we always buy them at asian markets, and have had good luck. back in the days before there were many asian markets my mil used french's onion strings....

                                                  for small batches home made are great, but some burmese relishes use these in multiple cups, which gets tiresome quickly.

                                                  1. re: herby

                                                    I always get mine at Asian markets. No problems with rancid oil.

                                                    1. re: jadec

                                                      Thank you both! I am convinced - easy to make a small quantity at home but good to have store bought just in case :)

                                      2. I was planning to make a dish or two from the book on the weekend but gave my book away :( Need to buy another copy - will order today and maybe they'll ship right away.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: herby

                                          You what??? I hope somebody realizes what a special friend they have.

                                          1. re: MelMM

                                            Last night was my last Thai cooking class and the night before I realized that we have not thought about a thank you gift for the teacher. So, I talked to a friend that is in the same class and we decide that I'll bring my book and if others liked the idea will give it to the teacher. So, I got a card, etc. and every said "yes" :) I just ordered a new copy - amazon says it will be here next Friday but they usually ship faster than promissed.

                                        2. Khao Soi Kai (Northern Thai Curry Noodle Soup with Chicken)

                                          Forgive me for not including page numbers. I'm using the iBooks edition of this book. While I'm very fond of cookbooks on my iPad, my one complaint is that the page numbers are not "real". I love being able to change my font size and such, and that changes the number of pages in the book, but I wish there were a way to link back to whatever page you would be on in the print edition.

                                          This is another from the one-plate meals section of the book, which appeals to me for obvious reasons. The author states in the very long headnote to this recipe that making khao soi at home takes a bit of work. Yes, it does. Not on the scale of a Oaxacan black mole, but definitely not something you whip up in 30 minutes. That said, a lot of this dish can be made ahead - a feature I did not take advantage of.

                                          There are a few sub-recipes to be made first. I started with Naam Phrik Phao (roasted chile paste). This is a condiment to be served with the curry. The good news, is that once you make it, you will have a lot left over for other dishes. The recipe also calls for Kapi Kung (homemade shrimp paste), which involves pounding some regular shrimp paste with some jarred Korean salted shrimp. Again, once you've made this, you'll have plenty leftover for other dishes.

                                          Now on to make the curry paste. You toast and then grind in a mortar some black cardamom, coriander seeds, and cumin seeds. Those get set aside. Then you grind up some Mexican puya chiles and salt. This is where I ran into trouble. They puya chiles were like leather, and would not break down. Maybe the ones the author gets are drier than mine. I eventually gave up and put them in my Sumeet multi-grind, then back into the mortar. Then several ingredients get added to the chiles and salt, and pounded down to a pulp in the mortar, one ingredient at a time: lemongrass, galangal, ginger, garlic, shallots, then the ground spices are added back in, then more shallots, and finally the homemade shrimp paste. Between the prep of these ingredients, and all the grinding, this takes a good long while.

                                          Now, you are in the home stretch! You heat some oil in a large pot, and fry the curry paste over a low heat. Then in goes some fish sauce, thin soy sauce, and palm sugar. This gets mixed up until the sugar is melted into the sauce. Now the chicken goes in. The recipe calls for bone-in legs and thighs. I used boneless thighs, cut into fairly large chunks or strips. This gets cooked for a couple minutes (I found it appropriate to up the heat a bit here), then in goes a lot of coconut milk. You bring everything to a simmer, and cook until the meat is done. At this point, you can turn down the heat and keep warm until ready to serve.

                                          When you are ready to eat, you are supposed to fry some dried wheat noodles as a garnish. I omitted this. Then you cook some noodles. Here, I had to deviate from the recipe, as I have to eat gluten-free noodles, so I used rice vermicelli instead of wheat noodles. The cooked noodles are portioned into serving bowls, and topped with the curry, a little bit of coconut cream, and the fried noodles. The dish is seasoned and garnished at the table by the eater with pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime, cilantro, the toasted chile paste, and fish sauce.

                                          Whew. Now you get to eat! The curry is very rich and savory. The garnishes are essential - not necessarily all of them, it's up to your taste. I wanted lime, cilantro, the pickled mustard greens, and the toasted chile paste. I also put on some fried shallots, that I already had made, instead of raw ones. The curry itself has no heat, but a very deep flavor. Adding the toasted chile paste to taste gets the heat to wherever you want it in no time. Because this dish can be made ahead right up to the point of cooking the noodles, and because the heat is adjustable at the table (with no dilution of the curry taste for those who take it mild), this would be a good meal to serve to guests. It's truly delicious.

                                          9 Replies
                                          1. re: MelMM

                                            Mel, this sounds absolutely delicious! Did you find sourcing ingredients difficult? Korean salted shrimp for example - where did you find it? I have a large Asian store very inconveniently located with almost no English-speaking staff and than a number of small groceries in Chinatown. Thai teacher recommended on of these small groceries and I'll try them but she didn't make much from scratch and used a lot of jarred pastes which annoyed me but this is beside the point :)

                                            1. re: herby

                                              I got the salted shrimp at a large supermarket (in Charlotte, NC), that caters to the Asian community. They are in the refrigerated section (in this store, along the produce section, along with tofu). I'm going to add a picture to this post so you'll have an idea what to look for. This particular brand is distributed by Seoul Trading Corp, and I notice on the jar there is a Seoul Trading Toronto Corp, with the URL . So maybe that will help you track it down.

                                              Around here, most of the small Asian markets are Vietnamese or Korean. I can do pretty well finding all the packaged ingredients there, but the fresh produce selection is limited. The larger supermarket is way out of the way, but they did have the produce items I needed.

                                              1. re: MelMM

                                                Thank you! This is super helpful, particularly the picture. I'll check the web site - they might say where their product is distributed. Forgot to ask about pickled mustard greens - I never had them but somehow it sounds delicious. Were they jarred or refrigerated? I really need to make a small list of recipes and ingredients to go with. I like the idea of making pastes and sauces ahead of time. I am sure some will keep almost indefinitely.

                                                1. re: herby

                                                  The pickled mustard greens were in a can. I don't have the can anymore, so no picture, but it was a small can, maybe 1.5" tall, and they are from Thailand. I got them at a Vietnamese-owned market. This is one of those things I'd like to pickle at home, but then I have the problem of finding the right kind of green, or a suitable substitute.

                                                  The book is really good about telling you what can be made in advance, how long each component or paste will keep, and how it can be stored. I am really finding this book to be pretty user-friendly.

                                                  Edited to add: I should have said, the can was on the shelf, not refrigerated.

                                                  1. re: herby

                                                    I've also seen small little silvery plastic packets of pickled mustard greens.

                                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                                      Thank you both! I will try to get to an Asian market this weekend.

                                              2. re: MelMM

                                                Mel, aside from being incredibly tempted to purchase this book as I read your posts I can't help but admire the quality of your photos. Do you mind sharing what kind of camera and lens you have?

                                                1. re: Breadcrumbs

                                                  Nothing that fancy. A Nikon D90 with a 100mm lens. What has helped a lot with the photos during the winter months is that I got a tabletop lighting system. Namely, the Lowel Ego kit. This saves me from having to deal with typical indoor household lighting during the winter. It has made a huge difference.

                                                  1. re: MelMM

                                                    Thanks Mel, I'll have to check out that lighting kit. When I was last in HK I eyed this Canon camera and I'm tempted to get it on my next trip back:


                                                    In the interim, I'll check out the lighting kit you mentioned...I could use this w mr bc's Nikon.