Recipe 1: Olive Oil–Fried Eggs with Yogurt and Lemon
Victory 1: Making perfect fried eggs (thankfully, Julia Turshen and I agree on the definition: fully set egg white and runny egg yolk) by creating and trapping steam in the pan
So I finally got back to cooking yesterday morning after a two-week break. I decided to get things rolling again by starting my Small Victories challenge, which I will call One Small Kitchen, Many Small Victories. For those of you who don’t know, Small Victories is the latest cookbook by Julia Turshen. She has co-written cookbooks with Gwyneth Paltrow (It’s All Good) and with Mario Batali (Spain), among others. Small Victories, which came out last year and made it to many prestigious best-cookbook lists, is her first solo cookbook.
But it’s not her ties to the big names that got me interested in this cookbook. As I wrote in a post in January, I love the concept of the book and how personal it feels. The whole book just emanates warmth and friendship. I makes me want to cook with this Julia Turshen, you know? There are a few things that Turshen wrote in the introduction that I love:
- “Celebrating small victories is not only how I’ve marked my life (both in and out of the kitchen), but it’s also a sure way of becoming a comfortable and intuitive, even inventive, cook. Which brings us to this very personal collection of recipes and advice, the goal of which is to demonstrate that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated to be satisfying, or over-the-top to be impressive.”
- “The only way to become a cook is to cook, and the road to becoming a good cook is paved not only with repetition but also with the intuition you gain along the way. That intuition will allow you to realize that if you can make spaghetti, you can also make rice, quinoa, or soba noodles.”
- “Cooking is simply a huge and often very fun puzzle of piecing together techniques with different ingredients. Once you know the basics, the world is your oyster (or your clam, chicken thigh, block of tofu—whatever makes you happy).”
So with this challenge, I’m going to cook one recipe from each section of the cookbook, except the “Seven Lists” section. The book is divided into eight sections, starting with “Breakfast,” followed by “Soups and Salads,” “Vegetables,” “Grains, Beans, and Pasta,” “Meat and Poultry,” “Shellfish and Fish,” “Desserts,” “A Few Drinks and Some Things to Keep on Hand,” and “Seven Lists.”
I chose a fried-egg recipe not because I didn’t know how to fry an egg. Of course I knew how to fry an egg. I just think there’s so much to learn from cooking and eating eggs. In my previous cooking challenge, Cooking Genius Recipes, I also tackled a fried-egg recipe.
My love for eggs hasn’t always been one without obstacles though. The biggest hurdle to what would otherwise be a perfect love? The egg white.
I grew up eating fried eggs a couple of ways. First, the Thai way with jasmine rice and Maggie sauce. Second, the American or Western way with toast and sprinkles of salt and pepper. In both ways, I always leave out the egg white. I later discovered that really flavorful olive oil and spices like paprika and cumin can make the white much more tolerable. But seriously, I’m not going to cover every square inch of the white with olive oil or spices. Another way is to put cheese on a frying egg to let it melt a bit and eat that in a sandwich. But even then, I usually discard the parts of the white that isn’t covered in cheese.
The first time I thought the egg white was more than tolerable and could even be delicous was when I cooked Roger Vergé’s fried-egg recipe during the Cooking Genius Recipes challenge. His recipe uses butter as the fat of choice and tops the egg with white wine vinegar. Delicious—all of it, egg white included.
So naturally, I was really curious when I saw Turshen’s fried egg recipe. To be honest, I was skeptical about it. I’ve always loved eggs with acid. To me, the Thai omelette is best eaten with rice, fish sauce and lime. When I was studying in Canada, a schoolmate’s family, who took me in during a major ice storm, taught me to eat scrambled eggs with salt and a squeeze of lemon. Yum! And even though Vergé’s fried eggs with wine vinegar was revelatory and the first time I had fried eggs with something sour, yogurt and lemon and yogurt and fried eggs seemed like unsavory combinations. Yogurt is already sour, so why does it need lemon juice? And yogurt and egg white, that just sounded weird.
In any case, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Turshen and I not only agree on the definition of a perfect fried egg, we also agree that a fried egg can beautifully complete a meal. I love to top pad krapow (stir-fried pork, beef, or chicken with basil and chilies) with a fried egg; I always leave out the egg white when it comes to this dish. The runny yolk of a fried egg is also wonderful with pasta and pesto sauce. I sometimes like to crack an egg into a pan of home fries. A lazy breakfast of only home fries suddenly feels more complete that way, and I love eating the yolk with well-seasoned potatoes.
I was also drawn to the recipe for Turshen’s egg-frying technique of splattering a few drops of water on the hot pan so that there is steam, then covering the pan to keep the steam in. I had actually tried this technique a few times before I cooked this recipe yesterday morning and had liked the result.
I didn’t follow the recipe to a tee. My budget is a little tight at the moment, so I only bought things that I didn’t already have or the cheaper version of something I needed. OK, I was lazy, too, so I went shopping only at the supermarket instead of also going to the wet market to get things like fresh produce, which would have been much cheaper. I didn’t buy kosher salt because I already have some salt (Turshen outlines the reasons she prefers kosher salt to regular salt in the “Some Things to Keep in Mind” section, and I do want to eventually have kosher salt in my pantry). Plus, kosher salt is not cheap in Thailand. I was out of olive oil, but I just bought a regular kind instead of extra-virgin since olive oil is generally pricey in Thailand. As for the fresh herbs, I got whatever I could find at the supermarket—tarragon, thyme, and Italian parsley.
When it came to this recipe’s cooking method, the only thing I did differently was cracking the two eggs into two separate bowls first instead of directly into the pan. I learned this trick when I was looking for an egg-over-easy recipe. I like this technique because it creates less of a mess, and it’s supposed to help you cook the eggs more evenly. I guess you could just use one bowl for two eggs, but I didn’t want two connected eggs.
Apart from that, I followed Turshen’s other instructions like a good student. And there weren’t many instructions to follow. It was such an easy recipe that took about 15 minutes from the prep time to the time I placed the eggs on the yogurt and sprinkled them with chopped herbs.
And I liked the result a lot. I loved eating the egg yolk with the yogurt that had been whipped with lemon juice and seasoned with salt and pepper. I like what lemon yogurt and herbs can do to the egg white, but not as much as what butter and wine vinegar can. This is a much more refreshing and summery fried-egg recipe than that of Vergé’s. Overall, a very flavorful and elegant dish for a hot morning in Bangkok.
It’s Songkran today, by the way. So Happy Thai New Year to all my friends and readers everywhere who are in a festive mood!