A mission statement

Hello, and welcome to My Kitchen and I. Every year I choose a cuisine to explore. This year, it's the year of the Snake! And I'll be continuing to cook mostly Asian foods, particularly Chinese dishes. Have I finally found the best cuisine in the world? Come explore and cook with me and let's find out. Please feel free to share your stories and comment on anything you see here, and thanks so much for visiting. Hope you enjoy the Year of the Snake in food!


Sunday, February 24, 2013

The tastiest soup — Fish and Lettuce

I know it sounds crazy to put lettuce in soup, but this might be the tastiest soup I've had yet. It is so good! And so easy — you have to give this Chinese style recipe a try.

You know a friend recently asked me why I'm cooking all these Chinese dishes. Was it just to learn the language and culture? Or did I really like the flavors? Or is it just that cooking is some kind of hobby?

Of course, it's all of the above, and this week's recipe to me exemplifies all the good things I like about Asian foods.
Authentic Asian foods have a simplicity that is very appealing in today's complicated world. Everything is so fresh and goes together so quickly. It's all so pretty, and tastes so good, like something gourmet — yet without the gourmet prices.

But, best of all, cooking Asian foods every Saturday lets me have a little bit of an adventure and a little taste of culture, along with what is usually a tasty and very healthy meal. I might not be able to afford to travel to the places where these foods are made, but I can easily bring a bit of the tastes and fun of such travel into my kitchen every week.

For me this blog is a great adventure. A way to explore the world without leaving home, all while having a wonderful meal. And not only that, it's a chance to share that adventure with others who enjoy cooking. Because sharing an adventure makes it that much more fun.

At the end of last year, I was looking over my year in Asian cooking, thinking about what to do next. Maybe French, maybe Italian ... but as I was leafing through my cookbooks, I saw there was really still so much more to learn, so much more to explore, so many ingredients I have yet to try. I've only managed to scratch a very deep surface so far. Why, Chinese cooking alone has 8 distinct regional schools of cooking! Never mind Japanese, Malaysian, Korean, Phillipine ...

About that same time, I received an unexpected gift. The good folks over at Tastespotting were having some sort of giveaway on Asian cookbooks. I left a haphazard post with a legion of other hopefuls .... 

And won three new cookbooks! How cool is that?

The books are "Asian Tofu" by Andrea Nguyen, "A Cook's Journey to Japan" by Sarah Marx Feldner, and "Flavors of Malaysia" by Susheela Raghavan.

These are fantastic books! Of course I'm going to cook from them before this year is out ... How could I not?

So it was decided. I'm going to go with the cosmic flow for a bit longer here. Extend my year of Asian cooking into the year of the Snake! Maybe even indefinitely ... who knows? 

It is a pretty fascinating area, and I'm definitely having too much fun to stop just yet. I'm looking forward to all the journeys to come, and the adventures along the way. Hope you will enjoy them with me as well.

For this week's recipe, something tremendously easy, tremendously healthy and tremendously delicious, fish and lettuce soup.

I don't typically think of lettuce as an Asian ingredient, but in fact iceberg and other lettuces do appear on Asian tables. They're not typically eaten raw, however, as we are most accustomed to eat them. They're almost always cooked a little bit. Considering the problems we've had lately with e coli contaminating lettuce and other vegetables, this soup really makes a lot of sense to me.

It's also extremely frugal for all the waste-not want-not cooks. I can never seem to eat up that big batch of lettuce before it expires, so here is a tasty and thrifty solution to that little problem. But, trust me here,  you won't believe how good lettuce actually tastes in a soup. Make this once and you may find yourself making it again for its own sake, not just to use up lettuce while it's still fresh.

Of course, if you're dead set against trying lettuce in soup, you could always use some fresh spinach leaves instead. That would be quite wonderful as well.

I do apologize for the lack of photos this time. I took some lovely shots of the preparation, but something went wrong with the memory on my camera's disk. I had to reformat, and of course lost all my pictures. I took a picture the next day, but it was just not quite the same.  Still, it should give you some idea what this delicious and easy soup looks like when finished. 

Fish and lettuce soup

8 cups fish or chicken stock
5 filets of swai or other favorite fish
2 teaspoons ginger oil, divided
2 T soy sauce
2 T sunflower oil
7 to 8 cups chopped lettuce
one handful chopped or crushed cilantro
1 T shaoxing wine or sherry
sesame oil

Marinate the fish in 1 tsp of the ginger oil, soy sauce and and sunflower oil. If you don't have ginger oil, not to worry, just slice up a couple coin-sized pieces of ginger instead.

While the little fishies are marinating, bring the soup stock to a boil, along with the tsp of ginger oil and a handful of chopped cilantro.

Now here is a little side trip into some science of cooking, which as a chemist, interests me a great deal. Did you know that cilantro will help kill any fishy smell or taste? It is truly a secret weapon any time you're making fish stock or fish recipes, to kill out undesirable fishy odors and tastes.

My recommendation is to crush the handful of cilantro up a bit in a mortar, which will help destroy any soapy undertones. Add the crushed cilantro to your fish stock during the last 30 minutes of cooking, but no longer than that. The aromatics that do the trick are destroyed if you boil them too long. People will wonder, of course, how you have managed to get rid of the undesirable fishy flavors and leave only the good behind. You don't have to tell them, of course, it can be our little secret. :)

Meanwhile, divide the chopped lettuce into individual bowls, along with a sprig of cilantro for each.

Once the stock is boiling, slide the fish in all at once. Bring it back to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Put one fish filet on each bed of lettuce in a bowl. 

Now if you want to save the other bowls for lunch the next day — which is what I did — then you may want to let the fish and the broth cool a little before adding it to the lettuce in your lunch containers. That way the lettuce won't be overcooked when you reheat your soup the next day.

Otherwise, go ahead and pour the boiling hot soup broth over each bowl of lettuce and fish. It will cook the leaves just enough and at the same time helps cool the soup to eating temperature more quickly.

Garnish with a bit of sesame oil — definitely a required flavor for this soup, but you can get it at Walmart in the Asian foods section— and serve along with some steamed or baked buns, as you prefer. I would add a little glass of champagne as well, or your favorite white wine, for a perfect meal.



  1. What a fun idea! And thank you *so* much for including my cookbook, A Cook's Journey to Japan, among the books you'll be cooking from. I hope you enjoy the recipes and can't wait to see what you make. If you have any questions along the way, just let me know!
    Sarah Marx Feldner

  2. Hi Sarah, so surprised (and glad) you happened to find me! Your cookbook looks amazing, and I can't wait to try it out. :)

  3. Renee, you just won ANOTHER cookbook! This time the new Steamy Kitchen one. Thanks so much for coming to our Twitter chat last night :) Please email me with your full name and mailing address.

    llizzy.do AT gmail.com

    Thanks and congrats!!!

  4. Renee, just letting you know that your link to Food on Friday: Chillies and Other Spicy Stuff was featured in my Need Some Inspiration? Series today. Have a nice week.


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