Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tilapia and Rice Soup (Kao Tom Pla)

I wrote a while ago that I was reading Moby Dick. But Moby Dick is not the book that has been added to my list on the right. Why? Because Moby Dick was boring me, and I read Mary Yukari Water's short story collection The Laws of Evening for a break. It is a beautiful collection of stories. Her prose style is lovely. Many stories caught me off guard with their emotion. Mary's stories have been chosen for various big anthologies like The Best American Short Stories and O. Henry Prize Stories, and the such. I've since been reading more Moby, and it is getting so much better.

As for my own writing, I've been working on a new short story tentatively called "Two Halves" about a chemistry professor who hires a young liberal arts major to help publicize his work. Scott and Michelle, this attempt is fully equipped with outlines and character sketches!

I recently made Kao Tom Pla, which is the Pla variation of the Thai dish Kao Tom. For those of you who don't know what Kao Tom is, it's boiled rice (Kao = rice and Tom = boil), and Thai people often eat it for breakfast or a midnight snack. You get a bowl of the boiled rice and there are toppings you can add to it like pickles and sweet pork and eggs and what have you. "Pla" means fish in Thai.

To make the dish, you need:
  • A potful of vegetable stock (3 cups per person)
  • Tilapia or other mild white fish (1 filet per person)
  • Rice (1 cup of cooked rice per person)
  • Cilantro
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Oil (Corn or Olive oil works)
  • Fish sauce

For the prep:

1. Start with a pot full of vegetable stock made from celery, carrots, onion and possibly lettuce. I strain the stock and salt it up with several dashes of fish sauce. Go ahead and make it a little salty since the rice and the mild fish will counterbalance it later.

2. Make some steamed rice like you normally would. I like to use jasmine rice, but I sometimes use short grained rice too.

3. Make some shaved garlic in oil, which is something that my mum always made vats of. Just chop up several cloves of garlic until the pieces are small (bigger than salt crystals, but not by much). Then, cook them on low heat with constant stirring in a pan with enough oil to cover them until they are golden yellow (they will get a little darker even after you turn off the heat, so don't go too long). Save both the garlic bits and the oil in a jar; it's good for a long time and you can also use it for stir fried vegetables and stuff.

4. Cut up fresh ginger into thin, needle like shavings (2 or 3 tablespoons worth), thinly slice some onion, and wash and pluck some cilantro (again 2 or 3 tablespoons worth).

5. Prepare your tilapia or other white fish by simply cutting into large chunks. I usually just cut each filet in half.

6. Then, right when you're ready to eat it, bring your broth to a boil, drop in the tilapia or other white fish and cook until it's just done (a couple of minutes, don't overdo it).

7. In a bowl, put in the steamed rice and top it with several ladelsful of the broth and 2 or 3 pieces of fish. I like to leave the level of the broth just low enough so that the fish sticks up above it to serve as a little island for the toppings.

8. Top it with as much ginger, cilantro, onion and toasted garlic as you like. (Go easy on the oil that the garlic is in for a lighter dish.)

There you have it!

What's Peanut eating? Still a lot of treats. But, he finished in the top of his class! He sat, he lay, he walked without pulling on the leash, he walked by a shoe full of treats without eating any, he came when I called his name, and he was the only dog in the class to stay for 30 seconds on the first try.  I was very proud.

Does this fix his ear eating problem? It does when I can convince him that he'd rather eat a treat than an ear.


  1. Peanut looks too small to be so disobedient! Are you going to frame and hang his diploma? Perhaps as a reminder to Peanut that he's a good dog now?

    So are you recommending the Mary Yukari Water collection? Who published it? Is it new? I know she's one of your favorite writers, so I am inclined to pick this up.

  2. Peanut is a sweet and cuddly and loving dog the majority of the time, but a handful of dogs frighten him or threaten him or something. He's misunderstood. It makes me wonder what sort of life he faced before we brought him into the family.

    Mary's collection was published by Scribner several years ago--maybe 10? I'd recommend it highly if you are in the mood for short stories. They are very well crafted and quiet. And they give a lot of insight into the Japanese half of her life.

  3. Oh, Scott, there is some discussion of framing Peanut's diploma! I would be slightly more motivated if it was signed by the governor, but I guess his wrist is broken or something.

  4. PEANUT!!!! Congrats!!!! I want to hug you and your dog. :)

    It sounds like I need to get the Mary Yukari Water collection. I need a good new collection of short stories! I'm adding it to my list. And yay for outlining!

  5. Thank you, Michelle! We would absolutely welcome your hug!

    I think you'd really like Mary's collection. Both of you can probably find several of her stories online if you want a preview.