You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.
~Mae West

Homo naledi whose feet and teeth mimic homo genus but still bear human lineage were unearthed last month. These hominids with smaller than current brains and intracranial space have been dubbed a mosaic species due to their varied anatomical features. They are ancestors from some 2.5-2.8 million years ago, from the same genus which includes the famed Lucy. An average Homo naledi was about 5′ tall and weighed some 100 lbs.

Lithe, petite ladies — slender and agile enough to wriggle through the proverbial crack in the wall — snakily, shimmied and crawled down narrow limestone shafts and lightless tunnels in South Africa to gather fossils and skeletal remains bones and the like from the burial vault. It was breathtaking to watch how they adroitly slid down the scant walls and so carefully culled these bony artifacts from the dirt.

Paleoanthropology professor Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg was seated on the ground above poised before his laptop watching them dive and eagerly awaiting their safe return with their trove. They did not disappoint, even though some expressed concerns about trampling on such delicacies. As Dr. Berger remarked, “…there is no substitute for exploration.”

In the Rising Star Cave, these underground astronauts encountered tombs where many of the Homo naledi were interred by rituals which perhaps avoided scavengers.

Bok choy which translates to “white vegetable” in Chinese is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family which also includes broccoli, kale, collard greens, cabbage, mustard greens, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Not surprisingly, they are rich in vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A (carotenoids), potassium, folate, vitamin B-6, calcium, and manganese. Bok choy have smooth, glossy, spoon shaped leaves that cluster with a small base.

In some realms, smaller is better.

BABY BOK CHOY

1 T soy sauce
3-4 T oyster sauce
2 T rice vinegar (unseasoned)
Pinch of raw sugar

1-2 T peanut oil
2 T plump fresh garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 t ginger root, peeled and minced
4-6 bunches of baby bok choy, with ends trimmed
3 T chicken stock

Combine soy sauce, oyster sauce, raw sugar and rice vinegar in a glass bowl and set aside.

Heat peanut oil in a heavy skillet (non-stick or not) placed over medium high heat until oil shimmers. Add garlic, red pepper flakes and ginger, then bok choy, and stir fry for about 2 or so minutes. Add stock to the skillet, then cover and allow to cook for a couple minutes more, until bok choy has softened some at the base. Toward the end, drizzle with the soy-oyster-sugar-vinegar sauce.

Remove bok choy and friends from the skillet and turn onto a platter or separate plates/bowls. We tend to serve bok choy sidled up to lemon grass chicken and jasmine rice or noodles (September 5, 2010), but it can be paired with a host of wokked, sautéed, roasted, or grilled main dishes, Asian or otherwise.

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Chicken With Thai Basil

August 20, 2011

A sweet basil cultivar native to subtopical southeast Asia, thai basil is a member of the family Lamiaceae—kin to such garden staples as rosemary, sage, mint, lavender, oregano, marjoram, savory, and thyme. Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflorum) features a square purple stem and slightly downy, densely aromatic, purple flushed leaves that grow in spear-like pairs opposite to one another. It tends to be more stable and less flimsy under high cooking heat than standard Genovese sweet basil.

To keep basil vibrant, trim the stems on the bias as you would hothouse flowers, then plunge the bunch in a tall glass of water. Loosely cover the basil with a plastic bag and store on the counter. This keeps moisture in, while allowing the naturally produced and leaf browning ethylene gas to escape. Alternatively but often not as effectively, you can wrap the trimmed stems in a slightly wet paper towel and store the basil in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Although basil’s celebrity could lead to smugness, this dish is without conceit.

CHICKEN WITH THAI BASIL

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2″ pieces
3 T fish sauce
2 T oyster sauce
1 T raw sugar
1/2 T honey
40 leaves Thai basil

2 T peanut or canola oil
4 cloves fresh, plump garlic, peeled and crushed

4 Thai bird chiles, stemmed and minced

In a small bowl, marinate chicken with the fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, honey and 10 basil leaves.

Heat wok over medium high heat and add oil. Once heated, add the garlic. Once the garlic is fragrant but not browned, remove and discard. Then, add the marinated chicken and stir fry until the chicken is just no longer pink. Add remaining basil leaves and chilies and cook until chicken is cooked through, about another 2 minutes.

Serve over jasmine rice, white rice or rice noodles.

The man who doesn’t like oysters, the woman who cannot abide sardines. We know the type.
~Harold Nicolson

Just a basic indulgent dish.

Savory oyster sauce is traditionally made by condensing this exquisite shellfish’s extracts yielded from its white broth. This translucent to opaque stock, similar to clam juice, is then reduced until the proper viscosity is attained and the sauce has caramelized to a dark sienna hue. Due to cost constraints though, this old school version is rarely made commerically. Rather, oyster sauce in today’s markets is a syrupy dark brown condiment made from an olio of sugar, salt, water, thickened with cornstarch, and flavored with oyster extract. Even weakened some, it does not lack for umami.

BEEF, BROCCOLI, & MUSHROOMS WITH OYSTER SAUCE

12 oz beef sirloin
1 T soy sauce
1 1/2 T oyster sauce
1/2 T sesame oil
1 T fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 T honey
1/2 T baking powder

2 T peanut oil
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded, finely chopped
2 C broccoli florets
1 t Shaoxing rice wine (or pale dry sherry)
1 T dried chile flakes

3 1/2 oz oyster mushrooms
Dash black rice vinegar, to taste
Dash soy sauce, to taste

On a heavy cutting board, cover the beef in saran wrap and beat with a mallet until half as thin. Slice the beef into 1/2″ slices and place into a bowl. Add soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, ginger, honey and baking powder. Mix well and set aside.

Heat a wok over high heat with peanut oil until just smoking and add the garlic and jalapeño chile. Stir fry for a few seconds, then add the beef slices and toss for a few minutes, until just barely cooked. Place into a bowl or onto a large serving plate. Tent and set aside.

Place the wok back onto the heat and add the remaining oil, then add the broccoli and stir fry for 2-3 minutes, or until cooked to your liking, about 3 minutes. Pour in the Shaoxing rice wine and sprinkle over the dried chilli flakes.

Add the oyster mushrooms, season with black rice vinegar and soy sauce and then stir fry until just cooked, about 1-2 minutes. Add the beef back to the wok and heat.

Serve over rice.