GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 16, 2013

Asian food from America's ski country

Pat's Kitchen
Patricia Altomare

---- — “Let us celebrate life with the creativity, diversity and beauty in the food that we eat. Let us educate ourselves and know and respect where our food comes from.”

Honga Im Hopgood; Author, “Honga’s Lotus Petal Cookbook”

The most fabulous restaurant I have ever been in is the Lotus Petal in Telluride, Colo. It is sophisticated, funky and upbeat, while having a totally relaxed ambience. It was nice to finally meet Honga as I had heard so much about her from my son Mark and his girl, Lisa. Since we are both “foodies,” we had a lot in common. We sat back in cushy, comfortable chairs and partook of a great meal, which included the coconut curry soup that I am introducing you to today. The Lotus Petal restaurant serves Asian-influenced food as it sits in the middle of an amazing American skiing area.

Honga’s menu combines flavors and foods from Thailand, Japan, Bali, Korea, China, Vietnam, India, and even Polynesia. Her menu defines creative, as far as I am concerned. Some favorites include Asian Pumpkin Soup, Coconut Curry mussels, Grilled Salmon, Sweet & Sour Tofu, and Mango and Sticky Rice. (These recipes and more are in her cookbook.)

Honga has found local farmers and ranchers to grow for her restaurant year-round. All the dishes at her restaurant contain organic and free-range ingredients whenever possible.

To quote Honga from her cookbook, “Food is a privilege, a pleasure, something to savor and share with others. We can bring an amazing diversity of flavors into our kitchens”.

About Honga Im Hopgood; It was in 1987 that Honga consciously combined her two passions; mountains and cooking. She opened a food cart on Main Street, Telluride, where 13,000-foot mountain peaks were within her sight while she worked. The cart was a success. At 26, with no experience in business or restaurants, Honga expanded from the cart by opening the Lotus Petal. In the years since her restaurant’s beginning in Telluride, it has evolved into a very popular and thriving establishment, loved by the locals and raved about by the NewYork Times, In Style magazine, Ski, and other publications.

Amazingly, Honga is still an active skier and biker, as well as mom to her beautiful young daughter, Raven.

I was introduced to Thai food for the first time while in Telluride, and liked it right away. Yes, I love coconut and curry, but I discovered there is so much more to it. What I thought was too exotic and difficult for me to prepare has now become quick and easy. I found an Asian market in the next town so that I can make most all the dishes.

As in the case of the recipe below, once the vegetables are prepped and spices and liquids measured out, the cooking part is pretty quick.

COCONUT CURRY CHICKEN (OR SHRIMP)

Serves 2

This Thai-influenced soup combines the spice of curry and the coolness of coconut milk for a pleasant balance. Use either more curry or more coconut milk to create the level of spice you desire. You can also substitute beef, tofu, or fish for the chicken.

When I had this in Honga’s restaurant I had it with chicken and shrimp. It is now a favorite of mine, and I could easily eat two bowls of it. If I lived near her restaurant, I would be there all the time.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon high-temperature cooking oil (safflower, corn, peanut, canola)

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Thai green curry paste

2 boneless chicken breasts cut into bite-size pieces

1/2 cup straw mushrooms

4 pea eggplants or 1 small Japanese eggplant, sliced (or small Italian eggplant)

14 ounces canned coconut milk

1/4 cup chicken stock or water

1 inch of galangal, sliced

1/4 stalk lemongrass, sliced

4 kaffir lime leaves

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 cup fresh shelled peas or shelled edamame – may use frozen, thawed

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 bok choy leaves, sliced

Fresh cilantro, chopped (garnish)

Preheat a wok or skillet over high heat until it just begins to smoke. Drizzle the oil down the sides of the wok and immediately add the onion, garlic and curry paste, stirring occasionally.

Add the chicken and mushrooms. Stir for 1 minute.

Add eggplant, coconut milk and stock. Stir quickly and then add the galangal, lemongrass, lime leaves, fish sauce, brown sugar and peas. Stir again; making sure curry paste is diffused throughout the dish. Let simmer for 2 minutes.

When the chicken is cooked through, stir in the lemon juice and turn off the heat.

Add the bok choy and stir, allowing the remaining heat to cook the bok choy.

Top with cilantro and serve with rice.

Common ingredients

in Thai cooking

Kaffir: Many Thai recipes call for the kaffir lime leaves. If the leaf is used whole, like in curry or in soup, most people do not eat the leaf itself. Substitute 1 tablespoon lime zest for 6 kaffir leaves.

Lemongrass: A common ingredient in Thai cooking, lemongrass provides a zesty lemon flavor and aroma to many Thai dishes. Lemon juice may be substituted for lemongrass in a pinch.

Galangal: Fresh minced ginger root can work as an alternative to its more exotic counterpart. Use about one and a half times as much ginger as the recipe calls for in galangal. This will ensure that your recipe is sufficiently potent.

Straw mushrooms are as common in Thailand as white button mushrooms are in the US. Straw mushrooms are meaty and mild in flavor. Canned straw mushrooms are available at most Asian markets. Generally, the straw mushrooms themselves are not the driving flavor, you can substitute more easily found, locally available mushrooms, such as porcini.

Most of these ingredients can be found in an Asian market and some can be found in our local supermarkets. For instance, baby purple eggplants are in most markets today and several kinds of exotic mushrooms are now common here.

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Patricia Altomare invites feedback. Email her at patakitchen@yahoo.com, or write care of The Eagle-Tribune, 100 Turnpike St., North Andover, MA 01845.