Tuesday dinner with The Asian Grandmother's Cookbook | Ann Mah

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Tuesday dinner with Pat Tanumihardja

By Ann | December 18, 2012

basil chicken

Amid the longest days of winter — indeed, amid days that feel darker than usual — it seems more important than ever to gather with the people we love to eat something good once a day, to find comfort in food and recipes through passed generations. Perhaps no one understands this better than Patricia Tanumihardja, who collected the wisdom and recipes of dozens of grannies for her book, The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook. Today, Pat shares her quick cooking tips and a beautiful recipe for Thai basil pork (or turkey, or chicken, etc).


author photo isaac satay 2

family meal

Pat lives in Seattle with her son, Isaac (he loves the satay of his Oma, or grandma), where she balances her writing career with life as a mom and military wife. “We moved back to Seattle so that we could be closer to family while my husband is deployed to Afghanistan,” she says. “In this photo (above) are my parents, my sister-in-law, nephews, sister and brother-in-law. My brother is taking the photo. My mom is the queen of the kitchen. I owe my cooking genes and skills to her.”

On life as a single mom:
It can be a little hectic, especially since my husband is away! I’m rushing to put dinner on the table by 6 or 6:30 p.m. with a little munchkin hanging off my leg. Unlike my college days when I would sometimes eat cereal and milk for dinner, I tend to be a little more conscious about what I put on the dinner table these days because of my son.

Her pantry and fridge wouldn’t be complete without: 
–Anchovies, garlic and lemons with pasta.

–Eggs are great for omelets, pasta Carbonara, and egg salad sandwiches.

–Crushed tomatoes for pastas, rice and soup.

–Frozen peas and carrots for instant veggies. To make boxed mac-and-cheese a more “balanced” meal (I buy an organic brand under the delusion they’re tastier and healthier), I mix frozen peas into it.

–Shrimp makes for a quick cooking protein that goes with rice, pasta and noodles.

–Bacon injects flavor into just about any dish!

–And sometimes we have frozen pizza.

On her favorite kitchen appliance:
I utilize my oven a lot! I marinate meats the day (or several days) before and when I come home I pop the meat in the oven. While that’s cooking, I’ll make the side dishes. And I usually have a little time to relax with my toddler before dinner.

On making dinner appear, presto change-oh:
Save the roast meat from above and use it in other dishes the rest of the week. Do prep work on the weekends. Peel and cut carrots, cut broccoli into florets, etc. and bag them. Then you can pull them out during the week and save time. Somehow, if I rummage hard enough in the fridge I can almost always find some leftovers that I can cobble together to make a meal. Of course, I always do the sniff test.

cutting board

shallots  chicken

Thai basil pork
From Pat Tanumihardja

Serves 4 to 6  as part of a family-style meal

Note from Ann: I loved this dish, so bright and fragrant with the flavors of Southeast Asia. I took a tip from Pat and used ground chicken to make this dish a little lighter. And — full confession — instead of fish sauce, I used the juice of a fresh lime. “Ground pork is usually paired with holy basil,” Pat says. “However, Thai sweet basil is much easier to find in Asian markets in America and makes a worthy stand-in. If all else fails, substitute with any basil or a mixture of basil and mint for a bright, refreshing flavor. If you can’t find Thai chilies, substitute with 4 to 6 serranos or jalapeños, cut into large slivers.”

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 1/2 cups packed fresh holy basil or Thai basil leaves
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 small shallots (or 1/2 small onion), cut into thin slices (1/2 cup)
6 red Thai chilies, cut into rounds (or to taste)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Dash white pepper or freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Preheat a 14-inch wok or 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in oil to coat the bottom of the wok and heat for 10 to 15 seconds until oil thins out and starts to shimmer. Stir in garlic and shallots. Stir 15 to 20 seconds, until garlic is light golden and fragrant.

Add pork, breaking it up with the edge of your spatula. Stir-fry until meat has just lost its blush, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium. Throw in chilies. Sprinkle oyster, fish and soy sauces and sugar, and toss to mix well. Add basil and stir until leaves are wilted and pork is cooked through, about half to 1 minute. Don’t overcook the pork.

Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with pepper. Serve hot with steamed rice.


Pat’s beautiful blog is a trove of information on Asian cooking — including many other quick recipes (check out her fried rice and shrimp in black bean sauce) — while her book, The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook, would make a lovely holiday gift.

(Non-food photos courtesy of Pat Tanumihardja.)

Topics: Free of gluten, Tuesday dinner | 10 Comments »

10 Responses to “Tuesday dinner with Pat Tanumihardja”

  1. Shut Up & Cook | The Attainable Gourmet Says:
    December 18th, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    I’ve been wanting to cook more asian foods, and we have a fabulous grocery store near us (Viet Wah), so I’m thrilled to give this a try when I get back to Seattle. Love the Tuesday dinners as always!

  2. CK Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 12:53 am

    This sounds fabulous — nothing like Thai food on a cold day (of which I guess there aren’t too many in Thailand!).

  3. Loulou in France Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Love love love dishes like this!

  4. Lil Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 11:49 am

    very yummy recipe! definitely one to try and i even have all the sauces ready in my pantry already :D

  5. Katia Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    I love her take on one of my favourite thai dishes! I can’t wait to check out her blog now! Thankyou for taking us on this culinary discovery of the blog world, Ann :)

  6. Ann Says:
    December 19th, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    Shut Up & Cook — Lucky you! I made this with regular basil, but the addition of the holy variety would make it even more delicious.

    CK — Yes, it’s a spicy, bright dish, perfect to perk up a dark winter day.

    Loulou — I think this would a wonderful companion to your fabulous green curry!

    Lil — Ah, I think it’s fate! :) If you make it, I’d love to hear how it turns out.

    Katia — I love Pat’s blog! She had a recent post on Christmas traditions from friends around the world that was FASCINATING.

  7. Betty Says:
    December 20th, 2012 at 12:02 am

    Thank you so much for your Tuesday dinner series. I have added to my recipes & blog sites. Even though I again had all the ingredients in the house, my husband opted to use the plant at the other end of my window garden & we had the left over chicken with sweet potatoes, zucchini, chives & grated parmesan sauted in olive oil. Truly yummy!
    Wishing you a blessed Christmas & a fulfilling New Year.

  8. Ann Says:
    December 20th, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Betty — And I’m wishing the same for you! Your dinner sounds delicious. And how lucky you are to grow chives in your window!

  9. Pat Says:
    December 21st, 2012 at 6:47 am

    I’m so happy to be included, Ann! The Thai basil pork recipe is one of my favorites from the book and it’s an easy 30-minute meal. Thank you and happy holidays!

  10. Ann Says:
    December 28th, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Pat, Thanks again for coming over for dinner! I’m certain the Thai basil pork will become a permanent part of my repertoire — yum!

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