Batch & Fridge: Thai/Vietnamese Dipping Sauce: Thai Chicken Salad (Laab Gai)

Laab Gai, Thai Chicken Salad
Laab Gai, Thai Chicken Salad

As promised on the last post, here’s my other favorite Laab Gai, Spicy Thai Chicken Salad.  This is also easy to make, especially if you already have the same sauce from the eggplant dish on hand, and/or toasted rice powder in a small jar.  I recommend just toast about 1/2 C of rice, so that it will last for a few times. I can guarantee this will become another of your favorite, you won’t regret it.

The first time I had it was over 15 years ago in New York at this Thai restaurant where we used to host a new graduate welcome lunch for our graduate school Thunderbird.  We didn’t order it, but the friendly owner wanted us to try it.  We all loved it.  Every time I have this dish, I think of these friends and good old days (and some other crazy stuff from the life in New York.)

The problem was,  because we didn’t order it, I didn’t know how it was actually called. I’m sure I asked the owner how its called (so that I can order again), but a Japanese girl trying to decipher Thai dish name is not the easiest.  After I moved from New York to California, I was looking for it, but it was nowhere to be found.  This is a Northeastern Thailand specialty, so if the owner or chef is not from that area, they normally don’t put it on the menu.

As for any other my food quest, I finally found it! at a Thai restaurant on someone’s table. I asked the name, and the rest is the history.  I even got the recipe, so I can easily cook it at home.

This is traditionally made with chicken, but you can also make it with other meat or seafood.

This recipe is adopted from the recipe I cut out from San Francisco Chronicle years ago.  My version will allow you to use the sauce made in advance.

Thai Chicken Salad (Laab Gai)

Ingredients – serves 3 – 4:

  • Ground chicken 1/2 lbs or chicken pulsed in food processor until coarsely chopped
  • White rice 2 TBS
  • Garlic  1 ts, grated (optional)
  • Red onion or shallots  1/4 C, thinly sliced
  • Lemon grass 1 TBS, minced
  • Lime zest, grated (optional)
  • Onion, thinly sliced, 1/2 C
  • Green or red chili  1-2, seed removed, and thinly sliced, or red pepper flakes
  • Sugar 1 -2 ts
  • Fish Sauce 1 1/2 TBS
  • Lime juice 2 TBS
  • Water or lime juice 1 TBS
  • Cabbage (white, red or napa) julienned
  • Cilantro 2-3 TBS chopped
  • Mint leaves


  1. Dissolve the sugar, fish sauce, lime juice.  Taste and if you like it a little milder, add water. if you like it more sour, add lime juice.
  2. Toast rice in a small skillet until golden. Make sure to shake it consistently for even toasting. Grind it in spice mill until coarsely grinded. (I make extra and save in a small jar for the next time)
  3. Heat 1TBS vegetable oil in skillet on medium heat. Cook chili until fragrant for a few seconds. Add chicken and a little fish sauce and cook, while breaking up the chicken lumps.
  4. Turn heat off, mix in onion, lime zest, lemon grass, 1 and 2, and herbs.  Let it sit for about 15-20 min to allow flavor to blend. Serve on the bed of julienned cabbage.

Just like the Thai eggplant salad, I LOVE the flavor fireworks in my mouth — balance of sweet, sour and spicy.

As in my past post (click here if you missed it), fish sauce adds depth and flavor to many dishes, both Asian and non-Asian.  Be sure to click the link at the bottom of the post for San Francisco Chronicle article how celebrity chefs are using fish sauce to add umami to their dishes, and recipes. So, if you don’t have one, get a bottle, and use it often as your favorite flavor booster.  They are available at Asian market (best selection and price) or large supermarket’s international section.

Easy, Exciting (Grilled) Eggplant Extravaganza 4: Thai Eggplant Salad (Yaam Makhuea Yow)

Thai eggplant salad

Thai eggplant salad

The last of the Easy Exciting Grilled Eggplant Extravaganza series is Thai dish.  I can go on and on with this, to share the versatility of grilled eggplants, yet just like me in Turkey (if you missed my Turkey eggplant story last week, click here), some of you may be wondering “would Mari turn this into an ‘eggplant blog’?”

No… As I said many times, I thrive on VARIETY. Even for writing.  Don’t forget, I cook things I write about and EAT them for dinner.  I’ll save other eggplants recipes for later (nice fall/winter dishes….).

In Thai restaurants, this dish is often made with dried shrimp.  But that’s not the easiest to come by for most of us, or even if you find it, could take years to finish unless you cook South-East Asian dishes all the time.  Therefore, my version is simplified with something you can use more often, and every grocery store should have, and some people like me always keep some in the freezer…  regular shrimp.

What’s exciting about this is that you can double the amount of the sauce and onions, to make Thai Chicken Salad (Laab Gai) as well.  It’s a bit like that Indian spread, you can have two Thai salads really quickly. (or one today, another next day.) Or make a large batch, keep a jar in the fridge, and use them for other Thai as well as Vietnamese dishes such as fresh spring rolls and Bun, cold Vietnamese vermicelli noodles salad.

I’ll share the Laab recipe on my next post.  Again, make sure to subscribe from the top right, so that you won’t miss it.  You have 3 options: email, RSS or Networkedblogs Facebook application.

Thai Eggplant Salad (Yaam Makhuea Yow)

Ingredients – serves 2-3:

  • Eggplants (Japanese, Chinese or Italian)  4 small to medium, grilled, and cut in bite size pieces (click here for how to make grilled eggplants)
  • Cooked shrimp  2 large (cut in 1/2” pieces) or 3-5 medium (if frozen, thawed)
  • Red onion  1/2 C, thinly sliced
  • Green or red chili  1-2, seed removed, and thinly sliced, or red pepper flakes
  • Sugar 1 -2 ts
  • Fish Sauce 1 1/2 TBS
  • Lime juice 2 TBS
  • Water or lime juice 1 TBS
  • Mint leaves or julienned ao-shiso as garnish


  1. Dissolve the sugar, fish sauce, lime juice.  Taste and if you like it a little milder, add water. if you like it more sour, add lime juice.
  2. Mix shrimp, eggplant, onion and the sauce.  Let it sit for about 15-20 min to allow flavor to blend. Garnish with mint leaves (or my favorite, julienned ao-shiso leaves).

Note: You can also omit shrimp and serve with hard-boiled egg wedges. Or to make it more substantial, cook 1/4 lbs ground meat (chicken, turkey or pork works best) in oil, and proceed to 2.

If you are vegetarian or vegan and cannot use fish sauce, here’s the resource for the alternative.

I LOVE the balance of sweet, sour and spicy burst in my mouth, along with cold slippery texture of eggplants and shrimp in summer. (It’s great in any season.) As you can see, you can make this with everything you have at home (or easily accessible.)

As in my past post (click here if you missed it), fish sauce adds depth and flavor to many dishes, both Asian and non-Asian.  Be sure to click the link at the bottom of the post for San Francisco Chronicle article how celebrity chefs are using fish sauce to add umami to their dishes, and recipes. So, if you don’t have one, get a bottle, and use it often as your favorite flavor booster.  They are available at Asian market (best selection and price) or large supermarket’s international section.

Sneak Preview of the next post…  mmm….

Laab Gai, Thai Chicken Salad

Laab Gai, Thai Chicken Salad

Easy, Exciting (Grilled) Eggplant Extravaganza 3: Turkish Eggplant Salad (Patlican Salatasi)

eggplant dip and pita

Eggplant is THE national vegetable of Turkey, and they are everywhere.  Appetizers, salads, casseroles, fried, stuffed and pickled, even pureed eggplant, served with a nice lamb stew with a strange name…

When we  traveled around Turkey, I was fascinated with this fact, and wanted to try all possible preparations of eggplant.  Even though I start getting bored of it toward the end (remember? I love VARIETY, so too much of the same thing, even if it’s wonderful AND prepared differently it’s bad news for me), I faithfully ate all the eggplant that showed up in front of me, and some extra on my husband’s plate.

As you can imagine, when we came back, I had to go cold turkey with eggplant. I even avoided the eggplant section at Berkeley Bowl, my favorite gourmet grocery store in our neighborhood, especially because they have 10 different kinds of eggplant (and 20 differnt kind of radishes) and I did not see any.  At all!

But my effort was in vein.  It didn’t last that long.

It was such a great trip, my husband and I shared the stories and photos with many friends as well as among ourselves.  And you know what happens.  Maybe it’s only me, but the conversation always end up “Oh, and such and such at this place was so delicious!” and many of them were eggplant dishes.

So quite a few eggplant dishes started to end up on our dinner table, (almost) night after night.  We even visited our local Turkish restaurant with our friends within a month of our return (they didn’t know it wasn’t our first time to have Turkish dishes after we left). Finally my husband had to force me to stop the eggplant experimentation. Crazy me!

One of the dishes I make often since that trip is Patlican Salatasi, pureed eggplant salad, actually more like dip.

It’s super easy and refreshing, and in my humble opinion, better than bababanouj, because you don’t need any “exotic” ingredients like tahini (sesame paste).

The good news is there are two versions.  One is with yogurt, and another without.  The Kitchen Wizard kind of split recipe indeed. So either split the recipe in half and try both at the same time, or enjoy the no-yogurt version first, then add yogurt later.

If you are splitting the recipe, start with less lemon juice, since the one with yogurt will get more tang from whey in yogurt.

Serve them with toasted pita chips, crusty bread or crackers.

Turkish Eggplant Salad


  • Grilled eggplant (about 1 cup)
  • 2 or more cloves, garlic, minced
  • 2 TBS or more Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • lemon juice to taste
  • lemon zest to taste
  • salt


  1. Combine all the ingredients and puree in food processor or with a stick blender.
  2. Adjust the seasoning (garlic, EVOO, lemon juice, salt) to taste.

Turkish Eggplant Salad with Yogurt

  • Add 1/2 C yogurt to above recipe. Mix well.
  • Optional: Top with chopped tomatoes and dill as garnish.

They are easy and the crowd pleaser.  My 2 year old nephew Hugo loves it too. He ate it with the dip all over his face! (I forgot to take a photo, so this is actually the ice cream photo just like the last one, but you get the idea.)

So make them for your next party or potluck, and remember to leave me a comment on how you liked it!


Hugo eats everything with 100% commitment.

Easy, Exciting (Grilled) Eggplant Extravaganza 2: Chinese Eggplant Salad with Chicken and Hiyashi Chuka (Cold Chinese Noodle Salad)

Chinese chicken cukie and eggplant salad

There are so many dishes you can make with grilled eggplant.

Today’s recipe is Chinese Eggplant Salad with Chicken.

This is really easy to do especially when you have shredded chicken (click here for how to make it) on hand, and perfect for summer.

Chinese Eggplant Salad with Chicken


  • Cooked, shredded chicken – 1 c
  • Grilled eggplant, cut in about 2” –1 c
  • Cucumber – 1 small cucumber or about 2” English cucumber
  • Napa cabbage or romaine lettuce – 2-3 c (preferably center part and/or top 1/3 of the bulb)
  • Sliced tomatoes (Optional) – 1 or 2
  • Chinese dressing (recipe follows)


  1. Roll up the napa cabbage leaves and slice thin. If using romaine lettuce, you can just chop them into bite size pieces. Cut cucumbers into thin sticks. (If using regular cucumbers, peel the skin, cut in half, remove seeds first.)
  2. In a salad bowl, pile up napa cabbage/romaine lettuce at the bottom, and arrange shredded chicken, eggplant and cucumber (and tomato if using).
  3. Serve with Chinese dressing. Optionally, top with cilantro, fried wonton skins etc.

Note: If you don’t have chicken, you can substitute with a can of tuna (in Olive Oil preferred.)

Chinese dressing:

  • Mix equal parts sesame (or vegetable) oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and some sugar (adjust the amount based on your taste). Add either grated ginger, chopped green onion and/or ground sesame seeds. Add chili oil if you have any.
  • You can use this dressing for Hiyashi Chuka (Cold Chinese Noodle Salad), or on any other salad, as well as dipping sauce for gyoza and marinade.  Especially tasty with vegetables with high water content, such as grilled eggplant, cucumber, tomatoes as well as wakame seaweed.

Since summer is almost over, here’s the bonus recipe of Hiyashi Chuka.

hiyashi chuka w sesame sauce

Hiyashi Chuka (Cold Chinese Noodle Salad)

It’s pretty much the same with the Chinese eggplant salad above, except, you’d want to use boiled and chilled fresh Chinese noodles instead of napa cabbage.

When it gets really hot, I lose my appetite (many of you who know me personally probably do not believe that’s possible).  I survived the muggy summer in Tokyo with this dish, and still make it when it’s hot in the Bay Area (even though the the humidity is a lot lower, we don’t have an air-conditioner, so all I want to eat is something cold when it gets beyond 85F!)

Traditionally we use shredded toppings of various colors and nutritional values – protein from egg and ham or chicken, and vitamins from vegetables. The most typical veggies we use for this dish are tomatoes and cucumbers. Yet you can use bean sprouts, boiled and julienned asparagus or green beans, as well as corn (my favorite!) or wakame seaweed.


  1. Boil fresh Chinese noodles (thin egg noodle or spinach noodle – I use 3 oz per person,  6 serving to one pound of noodles).  Should be done in 2-3 min. Drain and wash with cold water until noodle is cold.
  2. If using egg (about 1/2 per serving), either boil eggs cut into thin wedges, or beat egg with a little bit of salt and sugar, make a very thin omelet (just like you would make a crepe). When the egg is set, let it cool, and julienne.
  3. In a salad bowl, pile up cold noodles in the center, and arrange shredded chicken/ham, and julienned vegetables and egg attractively.
  4. Pour generous amount of Chinese dressing. (Note: You’ll need enough amount of dressing to coat all the noodles, make a large batch and dilute the dressing with water or dashi broth a bit.)

Our 26 month old nephew Hugo loves Hiyashi Chuka (he’s 100% American, no Asian blood at all as you can tell from his size), and so are many of our friends and their kids.  (Sorry I forgot to take photo of him when he was eating it…  So instead, here’s the photo of him adult-size coffee ice cream – all by himself.  I’m so proud of him!)

Try it before the summer is over and please leave us a comment on how you liked it.


Easy, Exciting (Grilled) Eggplant Extravaganza 1: Yakinasu

Do you like to grill?  Then next time, make sure to throw on several whole eggplants on while you are cooking your meat, veggies or seafood.

Why whole eggplants?

Because while you are grilling something else, they basically cook themselves and you can use them for hundreds of dishes, or eat as a side dish to eat with your BBQ.

Rather than huge globe eggplants, I prefer smaller and more slender Japanese, Italian or Chinese eggplants which cook much faster and are more versatile. As you see in the glimpse of what you could do with Eggplant curry recipe, there are so many dishes you can make with grilled eggplants; Japanese to Thai to Turkish and Italian.

How to make grilled eggplants:

  1. Poke several places with a folk or knife on eggplant skin.
  2. Grill at 400F or so until tender (Do not use oil). The skin should be charred. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin (and seeds if there’s a lot, especially in the globe eggplant). Or if hard to do so, use a spoon to scrape the flesh.  If preferred, cut into bite size pieces. Keep in a tight container in the fridge.


  • Alternatively, before you start grilling, you can beat or roll the eggplants on the counter.  Create a shallow incision around the calyx, and around the long side of the eggplants. It’s a bit cumbersome, but helps you peel the skin very easily.
  • In winter, you can do the same in the oven, toaster-oven or even right on gas stove.There’s a lot you can do with this.

Probably the easiest is to just eat it with your grilled food on the side. The smokiness of grilled eggplant is great even without any seasoning, yet when soaks up vinaigrette, it’s a wonderful summer treat.

Here’s the easiest and probably the most refreshing of all, a summer favorite of all Japanese households and restaurants around the world called Yaki-Nasu (simply meaning grilled eggplant.)  Every time I have some, it reminds me of how I survived the hot summer days in Tokyo with this (and cold somen noodles), and how I appreciate living in San Francisco Bay Area now, the place with year-round natural air-conditioning (even thought we don’t have one installed at home!)

Yaki-Nasu (Japanese Style Grilled Eggplant)

  • It’s the best to use the chilled grilled eggplant.  If you only have eggplants that’s hot off the grill, you can put them in a small bowl (metal is best), cover with aluminum foil, and put it in the freezer until cold.
  • Top with grated ginger and drizzle with soy based Japanese sauce, such as  soy sauce, thinned men-tsuyu (Japanese noodle soup base), ponzu, or just by itself.
  • Alternative garnishes: beside grated ginger, try shredded ao-shiso (green perilla), bonito flakes or toasted sesame seeds.


We’ll cover more international recipes using grilled eggplants later this week.  Be sure to subscribe to “Secrets of Kitchen Wizard” from the 3 options on the top left (E-mail, RSS or Facebook NetworkedBlogs application), so you won’t miss any.

Ao Shiso (Green Perilla) plant on our vegitable garden

Ao Shiso (Green Perilla) plant in our vegetable garden

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Batch and Fridge: Whipped Up Sweet Potato Pudding

Sweet Potato Pudding

Sweet Potato Pudding

Would you like a dessert recipe for weeknight that you can whip up in about 20 minutes while you are eating dinner or doing dishes, largely unattended?

I thought so.  Especially if you can use some pre-cooked left over ingredient from dinner. (Don’t worry, I won’t use anything savory.) Once of very few sweets I actually make and eat is flan.  I love sweet potato version more than regular egg and cream version.  It’s healthier too.

What you need is grilled or steamed sweet potatoes left over from dinner before. Make sure it’s cooked tender. With these and hand blender, the prep will be done in a minutes.  Then all you have to do is steam and wait for it to set.

Whipped Up Sweet Potato Pudding

  1. Place 2 peeled, cooked sweet potatoes (about 2/3 lbs), equal amount of milk and cream, or half and half, and puree until smooth with stick blender. 
  2. Add 3 TBS sugar, 2 beaten eggs, and a dash of cinnamon. Mix well.
  3. Strain the sweet potato mixture through a small sieve into heat-proof cups. (It’s filling, so use smaller cups.  It also takes less for them to set.)
  4. Steam about 10 – 15 minutes (depending on the size of the cup) until set. Or place cups in a oven-proof pan filled with hot water (to about half of the height of the cups)and bake in toaster-oven (faster) or oven until set.


  • Use soy milk if you are watching calories.
  • Decorate with whipped cream on top.
  • If you have extra time, caramelized sugar before pouring in the sweet potato cream will make it even better. (Make sure to apply some butter all over the inside )especially at the bottom first for easier clean-up.
  • You can use the same filling for sweet potato pie. You may want to use more egg or less milk, since this pudding is pretty loose.
  • To be honest, I thought the sweet potato cream before heated was quite tasty…  If you want to just use it as dessert, be my guest. : ) 

So next time you grill, make sure to bake some extra sweet potatoes… You can eat some for dinner, and you now have an easy dessert later in the week!

Secret of a Tiny Big Eater: How to stay thin and fit and still eat a lot

I was asked recently by a few people about how I stay thin and fit with all of this cooking… And they probably meant “all of that eating”…

Home cooked meals definitely help one lose weight. Because I’m so small (5’1”, very small-boned, even for a Japanese), a few pounds make a huge difference on me. My weight is back to my college level finally mainly because I’m not eating out as much. I’m in my late 40s, my metabolism has slowed down, so I try to keep my portions smaller, and eat more variety and vegetables. (Back to a Japanese style diet.) Actually, Japanese dishes only shows up on our table once or twice a week. And you can do the same type of diet with any other cuisine.

The key is a balanced diet — many different things in smaller portions. To accomplish this, eat slowly and use smaller plates (if you use bigger plate, everything looks small, so you end up with more).

For example, we have been eating about 4 oz of meat/fish maximum each meal vs 6 oz that we used to. (It’s easy, there’s 2 of us, so I just buy 1/2 lbs. and split.) I now use about 2.5 oz of pasta (divide 1 lb of pasta into 3, and use one of them for 2 of us) vs 4 oz before (1/2 bag each time for 2.) The difference looks small, yet both translate into a 33% portion reduction.

Do I get hungry? No. Because we eat more vegetables. You save not only calories but money per meal too!

When you do Kitchen Wizardry, keep your vegetables in stick form, or separate into smaller portions, just like you see on a crudite/veggie platter. Then not only do you save time for meal preparation, you can also use them for healthy snacks or as an appetizer, instead of crackers, chips, etc which have a lot higher calories. Also when you bring lunch to work bring these veggies instead of getting a bag of chips that often comes with a store-bought sandwich. It saves you money, time and calories. Go for a walk with the time saved!

Another thing is I barely eat any sweets, nor do I drink much soda or alcohol. My snacks are mostly leftovers or make-over versions, not typical American snacks of crackers and cheese, chips etc. According to my husband, an American, that’s probably the real reason why I can still eat a lot and stay pretty thin.

If you have a sweet tooth, have a very small portion.

Whatever it is (especially those small portions), eat slowly, put down your utensils after you put one small bite in your mouth, and really savor the flavor. This way, your brain will be satisfied even from just a small piece of chocolate. Rather than depriving yourself of what you love and rebound with binge eating, you could enjoy your guilty pleasure more often without guilt.