Balance And Harmony, Or Teaching Your Food To Sing! - The Well Travelled Spatula Blog at - 231314

The Well Travelled Spatula

Balance and Harmony, or Teaching Your Food to Sing! 
Apr. 10, 2011 11:24 pm 
Updated: Apr. 17, 2011 5:54 pm
I have been asked to explain myself, AGAIN! It seems that I keep making reference to
 ‘balance’ when discussing making dressings, sauces, and marinades with a certain 
This came from an e-mail discussion regarding the picture I took of 
Brad’s Basil Marinade of Love, one of the ‘faceless’ recipes from the recent 
‘Marathon of Love’. I mentioned that while the marinade was very tasty and lovely, 
and had absolutely nothing wrong with it, that it was weird for me to be following 
a recipe for marinade, as I always shoot from the hip. I know the balance of acid and 
oil, flavours and herbs that I like, and depending on what my target flavours are 
(Asian, BBQ, etc), or what ingredients I want to use, I am generally able to throw 
together a great marinade. I continued on to say, that particularly with Asian flavours,
 I understood the ‘balance’ of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. Now, my relentlessly 
inquiring friend wanted to know more about the four ‘S’s’. Specifically, exact amounts
of what, as in baking where you have precise ratios of flour:oil:moisture. 
It’s not quite that simple, my dear, I tried to explain (NOT to imply that baking is 
simple – it is a skill I have barely mastered!). It depends on the dish. It depends 
on whether you want fish sauce salty or soy sauce salty; honey, sugar or tamarind 
paste sweet?Blast your socks off heat, or a pleasant, mild chilli flavour. 
Sour from lime, lemon or vinegar?  I’m afraid there are many correct forms of balance. Then, when you get the herbs and flavourings (garlic, ginger, coriander, sesame oil/seeds etc.) correct, on top of the balance, your dish will sing!
Fifteen or twenty years ago, when I was a young wife and enthusiastically learning 
and experimenting in the kitchen, I did follow recipes, mostly from Joy of Cooking. 
I’ve always loved ‘Joy’ because each section begins with “About ….”, giving me just 
enough info and confidence to tweak any of the following recipes with success. 
As The Man and I began to travel the world, our palates expanded and we craved 
knowledge of re-creating the fabulous cuisines we experienced. At this time, our 
cookbook collection began to expand. Instead of t-shirts we came back from places 

like Egypt, Malaysia, Ecuador, Singapore, Thailand and so forth, with cookbooks,
 and great inspiration from the great meals we’d enjoyed.

One of our favourite cuisines is Thai, and one of my personal favourite dishes is Yum Nua, or Thai Beef Salad. The recipe that I use, in my opinion, is a classic example of balance and harmony, and to me this dish doesn’t just sing, it performs Arias!  The best Yum Nua I have ever had was in Bangkok, and this recipe is spot on. I think this dish, (or at least my making of it), which includes both a marinade for the meat and a dressing for the salad, is the point at which I began to fully grasp the secret of the four ‘S’s’.
So, my dear inquisitive friend, this one is for you:

(WARNING: The following recipe contains coriander!!! If you are even slightly prejudiced, you might want to skip this part... It is, however, totally beet-free!) 
Yum Nua (Thai Beef Salad)
· 1 lb beef fillet (or any quality steak)
· 10 ounces Chinese cabbage, shredded
· 6 ounces sliced cucumber
· 1 small carrot, shredded or julienned
· 1 cup of fresh coriander
· (optional tweaks: water chestnuts, bean sprouts, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper)

· 2 stalks fresh lemon grass, finely chopped
· 2 inch piece of ginger root, finely chopped or grated
· 6 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped
· 2 shallots, finely chopped
· 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
· Juice of two limes
· 4 tsp of soft brown sugar
· 4 tsp of tamarind concentrate
· 2 tsp of fish sauce (nam pla)
· 2 tbsp chili oil

· 2 Tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
· 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
· 2 Tbsp peanut oil
· 4 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander
· pinch of sugar
Don’t let the ingredient list frighten you. A good Asian market will have all of the ingredients. I am able to buy frozen lemon grass stalks and frozen kaffir lime leaves, so I always have a stash in the freezer. If you don’t have/can’t find tamarind paste, it is only a small part of the marinade, so don’t panic, just add a little extra brown sugar.
Oh, and yes, my dear friend, the 1:1:1 ratio of fish sauce, rice wine vinegar and peanut oil in the dressing is an excellent base to start from…

Marinade Ingredients
Blend the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and allow the steak(s) to marinade for at least an hour. (You can use a cheaper cut of meat, but I like a good steak. I have also ‘cheated’ and used leftover, bbq’d rare steak, marinated it, and re-grilled/warmed it!)
Blend the dressing ingredients well and set aside.

The Dressing

Fresh Coriander!!!
Toss vegetables together in a bowl. Grill or fry steak until cooked to your liking (I prefer rare-medium). Allow steak to rest. Meanwhile, dress the salad, toss well, and arrange on individual plates. Slice rested steak into diagonal slices and arrange on top of salad. Serve at once
Now, here is where I am going to digress. We have some lovely fresh/flash frozen tuna in the deep freeze that we need to use up, so today, we made some lovely fishcakes out of it. We were pondering what to serve them with...Last week, on a rare but fantastic break, we had lunch at Highfield Winery, in Marlborough. I had Battered Bluenose (a fish) with an incredible Thai style salad. It was beautiful in appearance, it tasted sensational, but it also reminded me of how balance and harmony is important with texture, as well as taste. This salad was a combination of shredded, julienned and shaved veggies and apple, tossed with rice noodles (vermicelli), and dressed with a citrus vinaigrette. It worked on all levels. Sweet, yet tart apples, a bit of fresh chilli flavour from the bell pepper, more, but different sweet from the carrot, earthiness from the cabbage, and the added four ‘S’s’ from the dressing.  BUT, it also had the moist crispiness of the apple and bell pepper, the slightly tougher crunch of the carrots and cabbage, all bound together with the tenderness of the rice noodles! SING!!!!
Bluenose with Thai Salad and a beautiful Chardonnay

The Man had 'Steak, Bacon & Black Pudding with Courgette Wrapped Potato Salad' and a lovely glass of Pinot Noir
So, tonight we are having the Thai Steaks, but I am experimenting with the salad to see how it will work with the Fishcakes. Tonight, I am using cabbage, carrot, a bit of green bell pepper,
chopped coriander, chopped mint and a not too hot red chili pepper, as well as a julienned Granny Smith apple off of our tree. I tossed everything with the dressing while the steak cooked. When I tasted it, I realized that I had forgotten the pinch of sugar! It was clearly out of balance! I tweaked my seasonings, and ‘La dee da’ I plated the salad while the steak rested, and, we were most pleased with the results!  I will add a bit more mint to the final dish tomorrow, and then it will truly belt out a good tune!This not only works with the Yum Nua, but will be a perfect partner for the fishcakes!

Salad Veggies and Apple

Rice Noodles
So, tune up your taste buds, tweak your seasonings, balances your ‘S’s’ and get your food singing a happy tune!
Can you guess who my dear, inquisitive friend is, or will she willingly ‘out’ herself!?

Apr. 10, 2011 11:36 pm
Apologies for the font and formatting problems. I don't know what happened...
Apr. 11, 2011 12:20 am
I'm here for you, Sweetie....Ugh not a fan of coriander but it looks pretty! Marley sends wets kisses and all the free dog hair you need! ♥
Apr. 11, 2011 12:28 am
Hello! My first visitor couldn't be a better guest! And, true to Cindy Loo, fashion, NOOOO, I am HERE for you! You goofball! When I spoke to you on the phone and asked how you were, you replied, 'No, more importantly, how are YOU!' ROFLMAO! ♥
Apr. 11, 2011 12:30 am
It's all so pretty! I am not known for pretty food (= Good thing, maybe - yours is so pretty, I'm not sure I would want to eat it =D Maybe THAT'S the diet I need to try - food to pretty to eat =D Love you!
Apr. 11, 2011 12:31 am
That is our Cindy, isn't it? So typical - and why we love her so much!
Apr. 11, 2011 12:33 am are known for cooking and helping and backwards smiles! But I miss you!
Apr. 11, 2011 12:39 am
Miss you, too! Wish SO much I had a magic wand to take all the pain away! Love YOU! (I'm afraid to make a heart - I'm afraid it will come out as a question mark again /=)
Apr. 11, 2011 12:41 am
You girls are all so sweet!! I just love you bunches!! BTW, nice pictures, Laurie. Miss you Cindy, Miss you too, Barb.
Apr. 11, 2011 12:46 am
What a bunch of sappy estrogen in this room tonight (um, this morning!) You, too, Toni (= I hope to see everyone tomorrow night . . . [I pretty much just caught up on sleep all weekend - just pooping in on Laurie's blog before I head back to bed . . . I make a good party (and blog) pooper (=]
Apr. 11, 2011 12:47 am
I needed to Giggle Out loud! crazy nut!
Apr. 11, 2011 12:48 am
Apr. 11, 2011 12:52 am
Any time! Always makes me feel good to know I can do that for you!!!! (I am establishing a tradition of pooping in on Laurie's blog - thankfully, she started it, and knows it's all done in love!)
Apr. 11, 2011 1:14 am
Poop on, Barb! (hysterical)
Apr. 11, 2011 2:08 am
Oh Sheeshh....It is always good to poop in and see everyone is doing great....You guys crack me up!
Apr. 11, 2011 6:22 am
Do Re Mi! And thank you, my dear! I knew if I kept asking, you'd write something down for me :) I grow my own lemon grass and ginger so got that covered. We have some large supermarkets near so the tamarind shouldn't be hard. Can I sub lemon tree leaves for the lime leaves? Can you eat lemon tree leaves? They certainly smell lemony. Do lime leaves smell limey? I know answer one question for me and I ask a thousand more. Now off to make something balanced and SING in the kitchen!
Apr. 11, 2011 2:00 pm
Beautiful pics Laurie! I agree with Barb- looks too good eat! (and btw, it is lovely of you Barb to poop in! It wouldn't be the same if you didn't :) ). One of these days I am going to visit you in NZ and have you cook for me whilst I sit and enjoy the scenery. Perhaps I shall bring Toni with me...
Apr. 11, 2011 2:05 pm
Fa So La Ti Do! Cat, glad you liked this! Kaffir lime is a specific type of lime tree and the leaves are used in many Thai dishes. I don't know how to describe it, but no, you wouldn't want to sub anything else. Check with your garden centre, you can probably get a plant. We recently got one, and now I just go pick my leaves.
Apr. 11, 2011 3:51 pm
Hi Laurie just read your blog and I enjoyed it but all I learned was there are some spices i did not realize existed interesting to read your blog tho Iprobably couldn't eat that food cause my weak brain could not figure out the exchangesbut it sure looked good
Apr. 11, 2011 4:16 pm
Bugger! Due to the new spending freeze in this household I have less of the ingredients than I thought. Thought I had the fish sauce but I really liked it and used it. Afraid the only thing I balanced was my temper while making lunch for DH while watching him sit and the wind did sing thru the trees while I was gardening. So there was some balance and singing! :)(:
Apr. 11, 2011 4:32 pm
Again, thanks for doing the blog for me :)(: I'll get singing and balance in the kitchen soon!
Apr. 11, 2011 4:33 pm
Wait! You didn't answer the ? about the lemon leaves :)
Apr. 11, 2011 4:36 pm
Umm, have I mentioned you are a kind and patient friend?
Apr. 11, 2011 8:03 pm
Cat, I like your mirrored smiles (=
Apr. 11, 2011 8:45 pm
Ditto, Barb! Cat, I've never heard of anyone eating lemon leaves... I'd be a bit wary! I think they would taste like furniture polish!
Apr. 11, 2011 8:49 pm
Thanks, Toni and Rach! I will gladly cook for you anyday. And, Rach, you can buy a new pair of Uggs!
Apr. 11, 2011 8:49 pm
Thanks, Twyla. I am pleased you stopped in!
Apr. 11, 2011 8:56 pm
Now I know what it's like to get one of those big ol' Kentucky ((((Hugs)))). Thanks, Cindy, I owe you one.
Apr. 11, 2011 9:37 pm
another terrific offering! beets suck...but you kinda dragged me in with phrase. the recipe sounds wonderful and the picture makes my mouth water! you and your man rock on!
Apr. 11, 2011 9:38 pm
and i just noticed my lepp was ya my lepp!
Apr. 11, 2011 10:34 pm
Thanks, Gary! I'll omit the coriander when I make this for you!
Apr. 11, 2011 10:50 pm
hey GENZ, I will pass on the coriander but the marinade sounds great. I love to invent my own sauces and such too. I read about the soap/coriander comparison so while shopping at the store, I snipped a tiny leaf to see what my verdict was....not so much soapy flavour, but nothing I was willing to spend money on either. Great blog!
Apr. 11, 2011 11:04 pm
Thanks, RNG! Coriander just seems to be one of those things that everyone has a strong opinion about. You either LOVE it (like me) or detest it. There don't seem to be very many that are in the middle...
Apr. 12, 2011 4:09 am
Haven't been on a lot recently, been concentrating on the play I am in - but this just made we want to chuck the script into the river! Well done explanation, and well pictured recipe. Thanks so much, as usual. SJ did a bit about balancing tatstes in one of our earlier blogs, I think. When I get a chance, and if the grey cells remind me, I'll look up the URL.
Apr. 12, 2011 7:29 am
I rememebered .... the blogisode I referred to above was ...
Apr. 12, 2011 10:16 am
Good blog and wonderful "tasty" pictures. Asian flavors are our favorite.
Apr. 12, 2011 3:24 pm
xraybarb, it was Cindy saying she loved your backward smiles (which I like too)that made me think "oh do try something different, it's one of those weeks" :)(:
Apr. 12, 2011 3:28 pm
Swiss Phil, thanks I need all the help I can get, just ask GENZ!! And I miss your Sunday blogs!
Apr. 12, 2011 3:30 pm
Knew I forgot something. Corriander is growing like crazy here in it's pot and I tried a big old leaf of it. Yes, indeed, soap is what I tasted but in small amounts I like it in other stuff. Odd huh?!
Apr. 12, 2011 5:14 pm
Thanks, Phil. I'll check that link out -- I too, miss the Sunday posts.
Apr. 12, 2011 5:15 pm
B'Nana, thanks for the compliment -- that means a lot! We love playing around with our 'Asian Pantry'.
Apr. 12, 2011 5:17 pm
LOL, Cat -- so sorry you get 'soap'. Coriander to me, is like cat mint to cats -- I can't get enough. Now, I wondering what you will think of kaffir lime leaves, cuz half of their charm is in the fragrance!
Apr. 13, 2011 5:31 pm
Seeing the "soap" reference (and Gary's comments about the coriander), I had to look it up. But all that was coming to my (poor, old, tired) mind was "cumin" . . . No . . . So, I finally dragged the phrase "asian parsley" out of the deep recesses, and googled it to find that "CHINESE parsley is coriander is CILANTRO" - now my brain is REALLY tired (=
Apr. 13, 2011 8:57 pm
Yes, Barb, coriander = cilantro. I've never heard it called Chinese parsley, but that would make sense. Oh, and thanks for pooping in again!
Apr. 15, 2011 8:55 pm
[Don't ask why I couldn't tell from the picture - duh!] [Happy to poop in anytime (=]
Apr. 16, 2011 5:39 am
While weeding (I get some really productive thinking done then)I wondered just what does corriander smell like and if its allure was in the fragrance. I don't mind it in small amounts, say in fresh salsa, straight off the stem not so much. Then I wondered about the lime leaves and if that was what they were bringing to the recipe. I love reading Barb's posts. I had a person insist cumin and cilantro were the same. I'm going to try growing Black cumin this year. Another aftershock!? Are they ever going to stop?
Apr. 16, 2011 3:09 pm
Interesting, Cat. Unlike you, I have an exceptional sense of smell -- drives The Man nuts. Perhaps that is why I am so fond of my herbs and spices, particularly the aromatic ones like cilantro, cumin, basil,ginger...
Apr. 16, 2011 9:18 pm
Hadn't heard of black cumin. Cumin is something my mom never used. I know it because my xsil gave me her Spanish Rice recipe 25 years ago (= LOVE cumin! Love the aroma! [I love cilantro/corriander/chinese parsley, to (=] I tend to be a little free association and way to honest for my own good - I let everyone know what a dink I am (= And Laurie - GLAD this one wasn't as bad as the others, and that you and Chicken are okay - just a little shaken. [sorry - earthquake humor (=]
Apr. 16, 2011 9:20 pm
Btw - I hope you feel honored!!!!!!! I am not a big blog person - and I very, rarely ever poop in - so you are obviously very special =D
Apr. 17, 2011 5:17 am
Xraybarb, I love reading your posts no matter where they poop up :)(: I have no sense of smell and poor Laurie has had to EXPLAIN food related stuff to me over & over...Oddly enough, I have an extensive collection of herbs-perennial & annuals. I'll let you know how my adventures with cumin turn out. See if it is anything like storebought. Thanks again for the blog, Laurie. Have recipe in hand will balance & sing!
Apr. 17, 2011 5:51 pm
Thanks, Barb! I appreciate your visits! Cat, can't wait to hear how it turns out and what you think!
Apr. 17, 2011 5:54 pm
Oh, and Barb, cumin is in a first place tie with coriander/cilantro on my fave spice/herb list!
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About Me
As a Californian, now living in New Zealand with 20 odd years spent in the Caribbean in between, my cooking style has had a lot of different influences. After several years in other businesses, we finally came to NZ 9 years ago, and with no experience other than eating in a lot of them, we opened a cafe! Our friends thought we were nuts, and in retrospect, we were. We have now sold that business and are trying to figure out what to do next! Watch this space...
My favorite things to cook
I love to play with Asian inspired marinades/ingredients - getting the blance of sweet, salty, sour and spicy just right. I also seem to be drawn to fiddly foods -- home-made pastas, tortillas, filled won tons and grape leaves.
My favorite family cooking traditions
My mother loved Mexican food, and definately passed the taste on to me. I always loved my mom's enchiladas and tacos, and often whip up something like that quick for dinner. When I have more time, I make home-made Tamales. It's time consuming, but worth it. We have a hard time getting decent whole roasting turkeys here in NZ, but there is nothing like spending a day preparing 'the works' for a holiday dinner.
My cooking triumphs
I recently catered for a group of 18 - 22 for 18 days straight. I had prep support from the cafe (they were able to make all the cookies, muffins, cakes, etc) but I single-handedly managed all the main dishes, plus the organization and ordering supplies. The group was so impressed they gave me a gift certificate and I had a real Sally Fields' moment: They like me! They really like me!
My cooking tragedies
Serving things at dinner parties, not realizing that they weren't things that everyone liked or had tasted before. I was shocked when an important client turned up for the lovely roast lamb and said he had never eaten lamb before! Corned Beef was another one.
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