Saturday, May 20, 2023

Stir-Fried Walnuts with Dried Prickly-Ash Pepper Leaves

My exploration of the Mindfulness Foodways (and, for that matter, my cooking in general), has encountered some obstacles in recent weeks. A variety of issues have prevented me from being able to be in the kitchen. Those same issues have impacted my ability to meditate, as I find myself too exhausted to do much of anything. 

Yet, it is those moments when I need to meditate. I am not a Buddhist and I have had no formal instruction. (Just like I am not a chef and I have had no formal culinary instruction.) My interest in mediation led me to the Plum Village, which is the Buddhist temple and mindfulness center founded by Thich Nhat Hanh. The teachings of Master Thay impressed me insofar as it opened my eyes to all the ways that I could meditate throughout the day: whether it was while walking, while sitting and even while cooking. 

For a while, I would meditate at various points during the day. Events and issues would inevitably begin to overwhelm me and I would lose my focus on mediation. I would go days without meditating, trying to concentrate on the issues that lay before me. That is where I have been over the past few weeks (which explains the lack of posts on this blog). 

Even in the maelstrom of these issues, there have been moments where I have been able to find some peace, which enabled me to try to meditate while cooking. All it takes is a simple recipe, like this one for stir-fried walnuts with dried prickly-ash pepper leaves, which comes from my Buddhist temple cookbook. I could focus on the ingredients, which, at first, seemed out of reach. After all, few households around where I live would have dried prickly ash pepper leaves. (Those are the leaves from the plant that gives us Sichuan peppercorns.) Taking some breaths and centering myself in the present moment, I remembered that I had some curry leaves from my favorite local Sri Lankan market. I also knew I had the other ingredients, such as the  perilla oil and rice syrup, in my pantry.  

This very simple recipe gave me a moment that I needed. I could meditate for a moment as I prepared a dish that was different, and very enjoyable. I just need more of those recipes and moments.  


Recipe from Wookwan, Wookwan's Korean Temple Food, at pg. 77

Serves 3-4


  • 300 grams of walnuts, washed and dried
  • 10 grams of dried prickly-ash pepper leaves (or substitute)
  • 1 tablespoon perilla oil (or untoasted sesame oil)
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 1 tablespoon rice syrup
  • 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt


1. Stir-fry the walnuts. Heat a pan, add the grapeseed oil and walnuts. Stir-fry well and add salt. Add in the rice syrup and stir. 

2. Add the leaves. Add the prickly-ash pepper leaves and stir. Turn off the heat and add perilla seed oil and sesame seeds. Stir well to mix. Plate and serve immediately. 


Friday, May 5, 2023

Oysters with Nuoc Cham

There was a point in time when I was experimenting with all sorts of mignonette sauces, seeking out the best ones to serve alongside raw oysters. The sauces include a Green Sauce, as well as ones made with balsamic vinegarbeer, or champagne. The experimentations continued; but, honestly, none of them stood out as something that I really wanted to make again, and again, and again. 

Recently, I got to thinking about a sauce that I really do love ... nuoc cham. My introduction to this sauce came about from my efforts to learn more about Vietnamese cooking. The sauce caught my attention because of how it balances sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and spicy. In addition, the backbone of nuoc cham is fish sauce, which adds umami to that balance.

Indeed, the history of nuoc cham is inextricably tied to the history of fish sauce. And, that history appears to be subject to some debate. There is quite a bit of literature about the development of fish sauce in the West, whether by the ancient Greeks (who called it garos) or the Ancient Romans (who referred to it as garum). Some of that literature (such as the one I have linked) suggest that fish sauce traveled east to Eastern and Southeastern Asia. However, there are other sources that propose the idea that fish sauce developed independently in Asia, rather than being an import from the West. 

Regardless of where it originated, there is no doubt that fish sauce - and nuoc cham - are very popular in Southeast Asia. Every country's cuisine has some form of the sauce, but it goes by a variety of names, including not only nuoc cham (Vietnam), but also tuk trey (Cambodia), nam pla prik (Thailand), budu (Malaysia), and ngan-pye-ye (Myanmar). 

In any event, my recent use of nuoc cham got me to thinking that it might make a great "mignonette" to be served alongside raw oysters. It is definitely a different taste, but the balance of flavors works well, especially with larger, meatier oysters. For this dish, I used Chincoteague Salts, which come from the Chesapeake Bay. These oysters tend to be more on the briny side. The brininess worked well with the sauce. The other flavors, namely the fish sauce, the chile and lime juice, still balanced the added saltiness from the oysters.  

Needless to say, I may dispense with mignonette sauces altogether and just prepare nuoc cham whenever I have or serve raw oysters. It is that good.


Nuoc Cham recipe from Luke Nguyen, The Food of Vietnam, pg. 358

Serves 3-4


  • 2 dozen oysters, rinsed and shucked
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 red bird's eye chile, thinly sliced 
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice


1. Heat the liquid ingredients. Put the fish sauce, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan with 1/2 cup of water. Place over medium heat, stir well and cook until just before boiling point is reached. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool. 

2. Finish the dish. Just before serving, stir in the garlic, chile and lime juice. Store in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge for up to five days.