Shaved Asparagus and Potato Salad

Tonight is my last night of scuba diving class. It has been fun spending my Tuesdays and Thursdays for the last two and a half weeks taking quizzes and breathing underwater, but I’m glad it is almost over. The classes extend a half hour beyond my designated bed time, you see, preventing me from getting my required 9 hours of sleep each night. Nonetheless, it’s pretty cool that I now feel comfortable with the act of breathing through a regulator underwater.

I have been meaning to obtain my Open Water Diver certificate ever since I studied abroad in Australia in 2006. As a student, it was too expensive, though I did do a “resort dive” in the Great Barrier Reef, which allowed me to go underwater with a scuba unit for around 20 minutes, albeit holding on to an instructor’s hand.

Before Eric and I went on our honeymoon, I thought of taking classes also, but Eric had some anxiety about it. So we held off, promising that we’d do another “resort dive” when we were staying on Pom Pom Island off the coast of Borneo – off some of the very best dive sites in the world. It’s true – the diving and even the snorkeling is amazing there. Better than any snorkeling I’ve done elsewhere, including the Great Barrier Reef. Eric happened to catch a cold when we were there, and after watching the video that shows your lung exploding, he didn’t want to risk it. I dove, again holding on to my smarmy Italian instructor’s hand, and thought it was awesome. With that, I decided to take the plunge and invest in Open Water courses and my very own snorkeling gear.

bye bye water bungalow
Water bungalows at Pom Pom Island

lion fish!
Lion fish in Borneo

nemo!
It’s nemo

eric "making the snorkel"
Eric “makes the snorkel”, as our Italian dive master would say

Anyway, what does this have to do with potato salad? Nothing, really, but it is a fun little intro. This potato salad is full of all kinds of springy, healthy goodies. Nearly all my ingredients came from the market – including the Russian fingerling potatoes, asparagus, stinging nettles, and green garlic. It’s a versatile recipe, though, so if nettles and green garlic aren’t available or don’t float your boat, a simple vinaigrette would work nicely as well.

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Shaved Asparagus and Potato Salad with Stinging Nettle and Green Garlic Vinaigrette

1 pound fingerling potatoes
1 pound fresh asparagus
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
3-4 stalks stinging nettles, leaves only
1-2 stalks green garlic, chopped into 1-inch pieces
salt and pepper
1 can tuna packed in olive oil
1/4 cup capers

Start by boiling the potatoes. Fill a pot with cool or room temperature water. Plop in the potatoes and bring to a boil. Boil them until they are al dente or just underdone. Strain out the water and put the potatoes in an ice bath to stop them from cooking further. Slice the potatoes into thin discs and set aside.

Using a mandolin or vegetable peeler, shred the asparagus into this strips, keeping the heads in tact. Bring another pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the shaved asparagus in for 1 minute, then remove. Mix with the potatoes.

To make the vinaigrette, mix the lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, honey, nettles, and green garlic in a food processor. Process until the oil is emulsified and the solids are nicely ground. Taste and add salt/pepper to taste, as well as some additional lemon juice or vinegar if needed.

Finally, strain and rinse the can of tuna. Combine the potatoes, asparagus, capers, and tuna, then toss with the dressing.

Creepy Crawlies in Borneo

Ah, bugs. There certainly were plenty in Borneo. Eric had a stomach bug (actually, he had multiple stomach bugs), I was eaten alive by sand flies, and then, of course, there were these bugs:

We saw tons of HUGE bugs! These fun guys roll up into a little ball when they're scared.

giant snails

giant millipede

it's a leaf bug!

creepy

eric and i both had nightmares about this centipede.

Ok, let’s not get technical with the insects vs. mollusks. It’s still big and a little creepy, so I feel I can include it here.

Of all the bugs, though, that last one really shook us. We discovered him on a night hike – hanging out on a tree just a few inches off our path. Of course, it looks gross, creepy, downright disgusting. But when our guide – a man who has been leading people through the jungle for 9 years – was afraid, well, we could not get this bug off our mind. Apparently he bites – hard – and you’ll pass out if he does manage to have a nibble.

That night, I could not stop thinking about that centipede. My skin was crawling, and I just wanted to wrap myself in a blanket and seal myself in a bug-proof room. Not possible in the jungle. I even woke up in the middle of the night to Eric pacing around the room. His legs itched, and he could not sleep. I had him rub cortizone cream, deodorant, anything on his legs. Nothing was working. Needless to say, we did not sleep much that night.

That bug really penetrated our psyches.

Honeymoon Gluttony

We’re back! After a month of wandering around Southeast Asia, we arrived in Chicago at 9am Saturday. I’ll be busy writing up posts on everything we did in addition to trying to recreate the amazing food we ate, but for now, I have a few pictures of some of the amazing food we ate.

Best thing we ate in NYC: the famous pork buns at Momofuku

Pork Belly Steam Buns at Momofuku Noodle Bar in NYC

The jet lag has controlled us the last two days. After 36 hours of traveling and sleeping on airplanes, I went into a coma for about 4 hours, then stayed awake until 4am. Laying down in a bed and stretching out my legs under my down blanket was pure comfort after being couped up in economy class.

This was amazing. Toasted Manti with garlic yogurt.

Toasted Manti with Garlic Yogurt and Broth at Prune in NYC

The trip went like this: 4 days in NYC prior to departure. It was actually quite warm (high of 50 degrees F the day we left), but snow blanketed the city. It was just three days after the first of the massive snow storms in the Northeast, and the streets and sidewalks were a mess. Regardless, we managed to eat some scrumptious food.

best thing ever. mango and sticky rice. you haven't had mango until you've had it in Southeast Asia.

Mango with Sticky Rice on the streets of Bangkok

Then we flew to Seoul. With a 12-hour layover in Seoul, we took a tour of the city and ate some bibimbap (rice with mixed veggies, beef, and spicy paste) and bulgogi (marinated grilled beef). The meals were good, but the photos haven’t uploaded to Flickr yet, so I haven’t included them here. After that, it was on to Bangkok. We had just one day in Bangkok – we ate street food, saw some temples, and checked out the infamous Khao San Road. We also had about 5 hours to kill in Bangkok at the tail end of our trip, which is when we picked up this amazingly juicy mango served with coconut-y sticky rice. Probably the highlight of Bangkok.

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Bun Bo, aka Vietnamese Beef Noodle Salad, in Hanoi, Vietnam

From Bangkok, we flew to Hanoi, Vietnam. We had some glorious meals in Vietnam (in addition to several sub par meals), but the Bun Bo shown above may have been my favorite. Our hotel recommended this place – a small restaurant that serves only Bun Bo. The salad is served with tender butter lettuce and a rich, flavorful broth. Yum.

and the final product - wow.

Marinated beef, grilled tableside and served with crusty bread, on the streets of Hanoi

Another day in Hanoi, we were wandering around looking for a lunch when we spotted, and smelled, this amazing grilled beef. It’s grilled at your table in lard and butter with tons of vegetables. The famous banh mi, Vietnamese bread, was flaky and crusty on the outside, and soft and doughy on the inside. It was incredible.

We had a whole snapper and sting ray, plus two bottles of water, for a grand total of about $9.

Fresh seafood at the Night Market in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

After Vietnam, we flew to Malaysian Borneo, where you can go to the well-known night market in the main city, Kota Kinabalu. All the vendors display their freshly caught seafood, so you can pick out what you want and they’ll grill it up for you on the spot. Pretty amazing stuff.

a Balinese specialty - crispy duck!!

Crispy Duck in Ubud, Bali

Finally, our last stop was Bali. In Ubud, the famous dish is this Crispy Duck – a small Balinese duck that is grilled and then deep fried. Served with the super spicy sambal shown below, it was a tender, delicious meal.

that spicy spicy sambal. it looks so good, i want to eat it by the spoonful, but one small bite burns my mouth for hours

Very spicy Balinese Sambal

This stuff is more potent than you’d think. It looks so delicious that I wanted to eat it by the spoonful, but it was so spicy, I could only stand a small bit at a time.

rambutans and snake skin fruit

Rambutans and Snake Skin Fruit at the market in Bali

Lastly, we had some amazing fruit. Besides the juicy mangoes, I also loved the snake skin fruit. It peals ridiculously easy and has a texture similar to an apple. It is dry – not juicy like most delicious fruits – but it’s sweetness is seriously delicious.

I’ll be updating on more adventures soon. I already went to the book store today and picked up a Vietnamese cookbook, so I’ll be sharing some recipes soon as well.