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Healthy Pad Thai

After the winter season wrapped up in Hakuba and seeing a world champion sumo match in Osaka it was time to say goodbye to beautiful Japan and hello to hot and sunny Thailand!  Since we landed in this amazing country we have been in awe of the kindness and love this country exudes.  I play this game when I travel while walking down the street, I smile at people – and see how many people smile back.  It’s not an over-the-top smile, just a soft happy smile.  To my surprise, this is by far the happiest and smiley-ist country I have ever been to.  No matter what a Thai person is doing they will always smile back, huge and joyful- I have now learned it’s called the Thai Smile. 

The next greatest thing here is the food, oh my god the food! Vibrant fruits, smoothies, spicy soups, noodle bowls, satays. I mean summer food can’t get much better. Food heaven. So I set out to learn how to make some Thai dishes in a cooking class (surprised?).  I teach cooking classes when in Fernie, so I thought lets support the local community and dive into a small town class.  We were in the north of Thailand in a little town called Pai, very laid back and nestled in the mountains. Pai is the ultimate chill out, read a book, go for a hike, mountain bike, learn muay thai boxing and eat good food kind of place.  It was my Thai-Fernie away from Fernie. 

The tiny cooking class started in the afternoon.  This local lady, our chef, didn’t have her driver’s license so instead of her walking to the market I offered to come early and drive her on the back of my scooter. I secretly wanted in on the local market and she happily agreed. Here I was with a nervous little Thai women clutching me as we drove into town to the afternoon market.  There are three markets each day in this town, a morning, afternoon and night market.  The morning market is more commercial produce and meats that have driven far distances.  The afternoon market is only food grown or raised in the community and the night market is local vendors selling street food and goods.  Naturally this little Thai chef chooses to support her community and so this brought us to the sweltering hot entrance of the afternoon market. 

If you are anything like me and want to know what every strange looking foreign food is, this was the place. You could pass a stand with fresh tamarind– a long brown bean pod with sticky and tart date-like brown seeds and then right next to the tamarind stand is a lovely elderly lady selling ant eggs wrapped in banana leaf.  Yes, after a few deep breaths I tried ant eggs…when in Thailand right!?  We went from stall to stall, each having their own specialty, and gathered the ingredients we needed.  I had no idea you could buy fresh rice noodles (like you can pasta) which requires only stir-frying and no boiling, mind blown.  There were a few stands here I understood why us foreigners get upset stomachs from the food.  After working in the food industry in Canada where cross-contamination is avoided at all cost, then here I was watching a lovely lady handle raw chicken, then without washing her hands go straight for the tofu and then give you change with one hand while wiping her forehead with the other.  But like I said, When in Thailand! 

We returned with all the ingredients in tow, a tricky endeavor as these scooters are small. Among the super tasty recipes we made, this is one of them with a few twists.  You can easily add more vegetables like finely grated carrots or use spiral sliced vegetables as the noodles.  Bring some of Thailand’s flavour into your kitchen and hopefully bring the summer sun to Fernie. 

Authentic Healthy Pad Thai

  • 300-350g of thick rice noodles (you could use zucchini noodles too)
  • 1 knob of ghee or coconut oil
  • 1 package of organic chicken thighs, cut into 1/2 inch peices
  • 1/2 block of firm tofu, diced small
  • 2 local eggs
  • 1½ Tbsp + 1½ Tbsp coconut oil or sesame oil, divided
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ cup green onion, chopped
  • 3 cups bean sprouts, for garnish
  • 3-4 large leaves of kale thinly sliced
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • ¼ cup crushed peanuts or salted cashews

Sauce ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup chicken/vegetable or bone broth
  • 3 Tbsp coconut sugar or raw cane sugar
  • 3 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp tamari soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp tamarind paste 
  • 1 tsp chili sauce (I used sambal oelek)

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl combine sauce ingredients and whisk together.  Cut up tofu and place in bowl to marinate, toss until evenly coated.
  2.  Prep chicken, garlic, green onions, kale and lime wedges.
  3. Place a large pot of water to boil on stove. 
  4. In a sauce pan over medium heat melt ghee, add garlic and chicken.  Once chicken in cooked through, move chicken to the side of the pan and crack egg and scramble.  Once eggs are cooked though add sauce, tofu and kale. Reduce heat to low when sauce and tofu are heated though.
  5. Once water is boiling, cook rice noodles according to package instructions (usually only 3 minutes), drain and add to sauce pan. Stir and coat noodles in sauce.
  6. Transfer to serving plates and top with a handful of bean sprouts for each plate, crushed peanuts and squeeze fresh lime juice on just before eating.

Okonomiyaki

The season here in Hakuba, Nagano Japan had a very slow start.  Some of the town elders have said it’s the worst they have ever seen.  Now after Fernie’s dry season last year I started to think James and I had some bad karma or something. Then slowly day by day (and I mean slowly) the snow started accumulating.  Like Mother Nature was trying to teach me a very valuable lesson about patience and appreciation for what we have.  Day by day the grass slowly disappeared, the brown coloured town turned white and the snowbanks got a tiny bit bigger than the day before. New ski runs started to open, new chairlifts woke from their extra-long summer slumber.  Skis in the lift lines got fatter and the stance on the snowboards moved back to keep the ever patient shredders afloat on the long awaited Japan powder or as it’s often referred to as Japow.  This slow and steady shift of seasons has made our pace of life peaceful and relaxing. I have opened books that have waited months to devour my imagination again and after eating some local ethnic cuisine I decided to make my own version of them, one of my favourite being Okonomiyaki. 

Everybody loves having breakfast for dinner, Instead of the normal bacon, eggs and pancakes we are going to spice it up a little, Japanese style.  I ‘m pleased to introduce you to Okonomiyaki, pronounced Oh-kon-o-mi-ya-ki. It is a Japanese savory pancake or a cabbage pancake.  I realize that doesn’t really sell it unless you love cabbage, but I assure you, we Canadians are truly missing out.  This dish has two sauces; mayonnaise and this sweet and savory okonomiyaki sauce, a Japanese BBQ sauce, a combination that sounds so bizarre but is actually the perfect finishing touch to this dish.  Don’t knock it before you try it, it’s one of those dishes that people fall in love with in Japan. These delish pancakes are a work of art when they are done. Typically the two sauces are drizzled in a crisscross design and then topped with bonito flakes (fish flakes) and parsley.  The bonito flakes dance back and forth as they are exposed to heat – very magical but these are hard to find in Canada so I left them out. 
The name Okonomiyaki is derived from the word okonomi, meaning "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki meaning "grilled" or "cooked". This dish is most popular with the Kansai or Hiroshima regions, western part of the main island of Japan, but is widely available throughout the country. 
Each prefecture has their own spin on it with different toppings or batters, most likely due to the different varieties of vegetables/ meat grown/raised in that particular area.  
Typically in restaurants you are given all the raw ingredients and you make it just as you like it on these special hot plates built right into the table. I’m especially keen for interactive food so it’s great for large groups and perfect for even the pickiest of eaters. You can really be adventurous with this recipe and add whatever veg you like – I see it like an elaborate omelet.  As long as the egg binds the vegetables together, you win!  This is my very own spin on Okonomiyaki – replacing most of the flour with winter vegetables.  If you make too many – they freeze well and can be baked at 350 in an oven or thrown in a toaster oven as a quick bite.  Enjoy and most importantly have fun making and eating it!

Find this and other great articles in the Fernie Fix Magazine!

Okonomiyaki

  • 8 eggs
  • 2/3 cup gluten free or whole wheat flour
  • 7 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1 cup thinly sliced kale
  • ½ cup thinly grated carrot
  • 2 green onions finely chopped
  • ½ cup kimchi* (a Korean spicy picked cabbage)
  • 1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional but delightful)
  • 8 sulfite free or locally sourced bacon strips, cut in half to make 16 slices altogether (optional)
  • Mayonnaise, Veganaise or avocado with sea salt (for topping)

Okonomiyaki Sauce (you can sub with a sweet BBQ sauce)

  • 3 Tbsp organic ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • ¼ tsp onion powder

Beat eggs together in a small bowl. In another large bowl place all sliced vegetables with kimchi and cheese.  Add the eggs and flour to the vegetables and mix until a batter is formed. The consistency of the batter is like egg coated vegetables, the veggies being the star of the dish.  You can adjust the batter if necessary adding more egg and flour until you meet the described consistency.  If you are going to add your own veg stick to the ratios in the recipe.

Heat oil in a large pan or griddle over medium heat. Using a soup ladle, scoop a small pancake size out and place it on the pan.  Take a spatula and pressing on the top, spread the pancake to ¾ of a inch thick – the trick is to get them thin to all the veggies and egg cook through but not too thin so you end up making a ton. Place two slices of bacon on top of each pancake.  Let the pancakes cook for approximately 5 minutes each side, if it starts burning your pan is too hot.

Remove when the vegetable pancake is cooked through and each side is golden brown and the bacon cooked.

Pour the sauce on top like you would maple syrup on a pancake and top with a dollop of mayonnaise or avocado with sea salt.  Have fun making designs on top!

*You can find Kimchi in the produce section typically near the Asian vegetables. 

Onigiri – Japanese Rice Sandwiches

We are settled down in the mountain town of Hakuba, a small town in the Nagano prefecture on the Western side of Japan. I wasn’t expecting the alpine to be similar to the Canadian Rockies, but there are times where you swear you are in Fernie.  Happo-One, pronounced hap-po o-nay (means 8 ridges) is the closest ski resort to us and is known as the competition venue for the 1998 Olympic Winter Games Nagano. I can’t believe it was 18 years ago now!

Along with history and beautiful mountains there is the amazing culture and food of Japan.  A typical grocery store experience here in Hakuba, Japan can be so interesting or completely overwhelming for a gaijin (foreigner).  Once you get past the jingles that play throughout the store that shouts the specials in a repetitive catchy songs – much like our commercial jingles that we all know like U-ni-ted Furniture Ware-house (do do), or Da da da da da I’m loving it, however these ones are on repeat and in each isle.  I imagine the cashiers and staff there have mastered a meditative state of blocking them out so they don’t go crazy.  SO, beyond all the jingles…the layout of the grocery store is the same, but everything is different.  For instance, there is a produce section but there is 15 different types of mushrooms, bamboo, lotus root and tons of leafy greens that you have never seen before. There is a meat section full of amazing sushi grade fish, and the animal meat is cut in all different ways for different dishes.  The center isles are for packaged goods and that is where the real trouble comes, for the one reason is it’s all in Japanese lettering called kanji, hiragana or katacana…all of them being very hard for a foreigner to read.  It is just easier to go by the little photos on the package, and if there is no photos, well then you are out of luck. A small but rewarding triumph is coming home with a grocery bag full of new things and they all taste good.  The biggest fail for me so far was me thinking a package was kimchi and it was really squid guts! Surprisingly the flavour was quite good, but the texture was too similar to rubber that I couldn’t eat the whole package. I also went to buy coconut milk and soy milk because I am lactose intolerant and I ended up getting coffee flavoured soy milk and coconut milk that tasted like pina colada mix.  A few of the biggest wins – that could easily been fails - have been picked vegetables, umeboshi (salty/sour plums), naato (fermented soy beans) and bento!

Bento (弁当) is a very popular single portion take-out or packed meal.  I am in love with the widely accessible onigiri which is a stuffed rice ball shaped into a triangle and wrapped in nori (seaweed paper) a fancy way of saying a Japanese rice sandwich.  While the Japanese typically fills the onigiri with a salty ingredient like pickled vegetables, salty/sour plums, sea vegetables or salty fish, I prefer a more western spin of sustainable salmon with mayonnaise or avocado, almond butter and jam or even leftovers like chicken, curry or slated edamame. The trick to these little rice balls when you buy them from the store is opening them!  It’s quite ingenious actually – the nori doesn’t touch the rice in the packaging until you open it, so it doesn’t get soggy.  It takes a few times of opening the little suckers to finally get it. These onigiri bento snacks are sold in every corner store and grocery store!  So in the spirit of trying new things I decided to make my own.

Find this and other great articles in the Fernie Fix Magazine!

Onigiri – Japanese Rice Sandwiches

  • 1 cup brown or white sushi rice, rinsed and cooked to manufactures instructions
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (containing mother) or rice vinegar
  • ½ Tbsp organic cane sugar or coconut sugar
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • Nori sheets (seaweed paper), cut into long rectangular pieces.

Your choice of fillings:

  • Salmon & avocado/mayo
  • Almond butter & jam
  • Salted edamame beans
  • Any sandwich fillings!
  1. Prepare sushi rice by following manufactures instructions. (If you want to use short grain brown rice in a rice cooker use 3 parts water to 1 part rice.)
  2. Whisk the vinegar, sugar and salt in a bowl.  Once rice is prepared drizzle vinegar mixture over rice while hot and stir with a wooden or plastic spatula (important: do not use metal, it will react with the rice).
  3. Prepare your fillings.
  4. Fill another small bowl with water.
  5. Dip your hands into the water, coating them so they don’t stick to the rice.
  6. Take a handful of rice and form into a bowl like shape.  Take 2 Tbsp of your filling and place into the rice bowl. Dip your hands again in the water bowl and place another small bit of rice on top of the filling to seal it shut.
  7. Shape rice into a triangle or whatever shape you would like. You can sprinkle the outside with sesame seeds or hemp seeds.
  8. If you are going to eat them right away, wrap the outside with a long rectangle piece of nori.  If you are packing these for lunch, wrap the rice triangle with plastic wrap and then wrap with nori when you are ready to eat them.
  9. These also freeze very well! Enjoy!