All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2016
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So – last week on Tuesday – I began a test to see how long I could go without spending ANY money on groceries. The only cheats allowed would be the delivery of vegetables I get every two weeks from Farm Fresh To You & any restaurant meals. I eat out VERY seldom so – that second one is not much of a cheat. Still, I started the challenge out eating that Gardenburger from Carney’s. That cost me $10 with fries & a drink. Then, I spent the next week eating things like these:
Vegans, beware! The Morning Star veggie sausage is merely vegetarian – not vegan. If I ever eat breakfast (and I seldom do) – it typically looks like that above.
I eat tortilla pizzas a SHOCKINGLY frequent amount of dinners per month. I adore them. And that cheese there is vegan! It is Parmela Creamery cheese. I like it A LOT more than Daiya which – I think – tastes funny & doesn’t melt easily.
More often than not – I eat a giant, zero-carb, 100-calorie bowl of vegan pho for lunch. Made with shirataki noddles – it is a wonderfully filly & guiltless soup.
That is a salad of red lettuce, tomatoes & (I admit) a bit of goat cheese.
I also ate my Vegan Butternut Squash & Black Bean Enchilada Casserole with Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce and my Vegan Potato, Leek, Fennel & Turnip Soup with Carrots & Pepitas – seen below, respectively, so I had a pretty well-fed week. In the past when I attempt the pantry challenge – I do not allow the acquisition of ANYTHING if it can be avoided. Almond milk for coffee & wine being notable exceptions. In the past, once the fresh produce ran out, I became reduced to frozen leftovers & lots & lots of dry, white food – like pasta & rice. Panicked friends began delivering fresh produce so – to avoid a full-scale panic – I am allowing (as I stated) a 2x monthly delivery of veggies.
Well – everything was going great – until yesterday. I had not spent one cent on food since that burger at Carney’s – 8 days before. But, yesterday, I got bored. I wanted to cook. I wanted to post something on this blog. So – I cheated & allowed myself a stop in the CRAZY inexpensive Thai market – Bangluck. Shit is practically free in there but I still managed to spend $52. Here is the bulk of what I got there:
Those two jars of gluten look like lab specimens but I could not resist. Each of those cans of varied mock meats are gluten & all cost under $2. I bought that tofu above for under $2 each – far better than the price at Gelson’s – about a mile away – below.
Drunk from my misbehavior & shopping orgy – I drove by Sacred Farts. Yes. Sacred Farts.
I Googled it & I guess it is a dance & yoga studio. Who knew?
Well, my will weakened, I decided to stop by Silom Market – also in Thai Town. This place is super sketchy and always has a security guard at the front door. Armed guard to protect bulk spices? Sorta seems like Silom might be a front for something else – but I digress. If you go there & decide to buy some of the fresh items they make & sell there – be sure to check ingredients. By check – I mean GOOGLE. Let me recount an experience I had there once.
In the cooler section – they had what seemed to be a large selection of locally produced pre-made sauces & curries & pastes….sold in the lidded plastic containers delis use to sell you potato salad. I looked at a bunch of them, mouth watering as I thought of how authentic my dishes would taste if I used these expertly prepared flavorings. I saw one that looked dark & spicy & read the ingredients
Ingredients: Chili, onion, garlic, mangda, sugar, salt, fish, tamarind paste. It was called Nam Prik Mang-da. I love prik pao squid at my beloved Torung & this stuff looked like culinary gold. I didn’t know what mangda was but wrote it off as an obscure name for a common thing – like my recent anise pepper experience. $5. Sold!
Upon closer inspection – I see these curries/pastes are made in-house at Silom!
When I got home – I Googled the name of the chili paste I just bought looking for culinary inspiration. I was ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED when the search engine spat out its results. Here – take a peek and see what MANGDA means – HERE. Don’t look at the horseshoe crabs. In fact – here is a stock photo of your garden variety MANGDA:
Yes, folks. Mangda means giant water bug!!!!!! OMG! I’m gagging just looking at that thing! And I should have known better. This isn’t my first time crossing paths with these fuckers. No! I pointed them out to you guys in my Bangluck Market post. You can buy 4 of these guys whole, in the refrigerated section, for $4.49 – and they have 35 calories in the 4 together – 15 of which come from fat. Yeah – they are nearly 50% fat. Gag. Needless to say – I threw the $5 container in the trash and pronto.
So – I have learned to be a careful label reader in Thai markets.
Anyway – here are some new things I found at Silom:
It is vegan & it is $5. It didn’t seem very appetizing so I passed on it.
Vegan crispy balls?! I have no idea what they are but I fucking BOUGHT some!
Then I found fresh, frozen jackfruit but I already had 4 cans from Bangluck – so I passed.
That is how the stuff is displayed in the freezers at Silom. I dug into one & pulled out a package almost totally obscured by frost. I scraped it off & discovered this!
Vegan strip steak! And then I found this!
I was VERY excited by these two discoveries but stopped my impulse to buy the entire stock before I had put them to the taste test.
I also bought keffir lime leaves & some other stuff (some of the stuff below came from Bangluck):
So – I dropped another $35. And – when I got home – I realized I wanted red bell peppers for this beef dish so – I went to Gelson’s. I had a $5 off a $25 purchase so – of course – I had to spend $25. I filled my basket with what I guessed would just be $25 but I miscalculated. It never crossed my mind that two red bell peppers would cost over $6! I also bought the chorizo below. Gelson’s has a sorta fun (if very expensive) selection of vegan things. I bought the chorizo – but here are a few of the other vegan delights they offer. Anyway – I dropped another $40. So – there’s that.
OK! On to this Vegan Thai Pad Gra Prow – Spicy Beef & Basil – with Wide Rice Noodles!!! I added fresh noodles that I bought at Bangluck but this would go just as nicely over rice – or in lettuce wraps. The revelation is this AMAZING S.P.A. vegan beef! Read that nutrition label above. Non-GMO soy protein. This shit is guiltless and looks EXACTLY like slices of steak! It is pretty innocuous in the flavor department so – like chicken – it kinda just takes on the flavors you add to it. HERE they are on Facebook. I will DEFINITELY be buying more & more & more of this stuff. Once my pantry challenge is over.
This dish is very easy & doesn’t use anything especially exotic. I recommend it very highly!
Vegan Thai Pad Gra Prow – Spicy Beef & Basil – with Wide Rice Noodles & Bok Choy
SERVES 2 well
A few TBS sesame oil (or olive oil)
7 (or more) ounces vegan beef
12 ounces fresh rice noodles (or cooked pasta or cooked rice)
1/2 red bell pepper – sliced into strips
1/2 small onion – diced
2 jalapenos – diced
2 heads bok choy – cleaned (optional) & chopped a bit
5 garlic cloves – chopped
1 TBS liquid aminos (or soy sauce or tamari) – plus extra
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp vegan oyster or mushroom sauce
1 TBS sambal oelek
1/2 tsp agave nectar (or brown sugar)
1 cup basil leaves (I used a mixture of Thai sweet basil & Thai holy basil but any basil will do – Thai ones being preferred)
GARNISH – lime wedges, cilantro
If using noodles – separate them under cold running water. If using pasta or rice – cook it & set aside.
I did not bother to defrost the beef. It might be easier if you do. Either way – heat the sesame oil (2 or 3 TBS) in a wok or large saute pan. Cook the beef until it is seared on both sides. Set aside. (I only used 1/2 of the cooked beef in the noodle dish & reserved the rest for another recipe.) I covered the beef while it cooked to hasted the defrosting.
In the same pan – add a bit of olive (or sesame) oil & heat it. Add the red bell pepper, onion & jalapenos. Saute until soft. Add all the other ingredients except the garlic & basil (and the garnish). Heat the noodles & meat through & let the bok choy wilt. I added a bit of extra liquid aminos here because I thought the dish needed a tad more salt & moisture. This is your call. Once the bok choy is wilted & the ingredients are well-combined – stir in the garlic & basil.
Serve with cilantro & lime wedges!