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Puttin’ the hammer down

once it’s been tamed, anyway


I used to drive myself crazy trying to grate jaggery (palm sugar).    Getting “enough” jaggery that didn’t end up with about 10% extra protein (from my knuckles) was a real adventure.

See, the problem with palm sugar and jaggery is that if you don’t get it crumbled up, it won’t dissolve as it should and whatever you are making will be the worse for it.    Big chunks of rock-hard raw-ish sugar, whatever its source (cane, beets, palm sap…) really puts the sabot in sabotage.

Then one day a few months ago, while contending once again with a recalcitrant, uncooperative block of jaggery – after about 30 years of struggling this way – something just snapped.    My inner barbarian took control.

“RRRRRRR!” gargled my inner (now outer) barbarian. “CRUSH! SMASH!”

My Hammer

Whereupon I grabbed the nearest vaguely weapon-like cooking tool – one of those meat tenderizers that comes in every set of kitchen implements, for reasons beyond human understanding since no one ever uses them for tenderizing meat – and proceeded to smash the living breathing daylights out of those sneering blocks of rock hard palm sugar.    (They have faces – I promise you, really, they do, and they are not nice faces either, they are smirky, taunting, arrogant faces beneath that thin veneer of sugary sweetness).

The next thing I knew I had a pile of nicely crumbled bits instead of large marble-hard blocks.    And the bits – apparently in considerable terror at this point – were apt to crumble easily between my fingers.    If not (to the tune of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer) – BANG BANG MY MEAT TENDERIZER COMES DOWN ON IT’S HEAD!    (I’m convinced the Beatles’ Maxwell knew a thing or two about palm sugar).

You need to do this on a cutting board or cutting mat with a smooth, not a pebbled, surface, and you will need a table knife, metal spatula, or a dough blade to scrape the bits of sticky palm sugar up off the mat and off the surface of the meat tenderizer head. You will, of course, be using the smooth side of the head of the tenderizer as the jaggery or palm sugar will stick in between the pointy bits on the other end.

In order to catch bits of palm sugar that may go flying about loose, I take 2 or 3 flour sack cloth towels (any lintless smooth towel or cloth will do – even a pillowcase) roll them up and make a “moat” around the whacking area.    With a little care – and a firm grip on your inner barbarian – judicious use of the hammer – errr, meat tenderizer – doesn’t usually end up with a lot of scattering.    The “moat” will easily capture what there is of it.

Palm Sugar
Palm Sugar

Jaggery is supposed to be palm sugar, but often it’s adulterated with cane sugar – sometimes it’s even 100% cane sugar.    But I stuck with jaggery because I can always find it at a local Indian grocery.    However, recently I found a large Asian market not far away where I can reliably get palm sugar now – and although some of it is also partially cane sugar, the brands carried at this store at least admit that on the ingredient labels.    So now I just buy 100% palm sugar at the Asian market.

And you know what?    It TASTES better than the jaggery I used to buy.    Possibly because I’m now getting actual palm sugar instead of something that was adulterated with cane or other sugars.

The only drawback is that the palm sugar in Asian markets is every bit as prone to being hard as rocks as is jaggery.    But that’s ok – I have my hammer to help me!    Now, that jar of palm sugar in the back left above – that is supposed to be spoonable.    But just in case its not, or in case it tastes different (because of whatever is in it to keep it soft and squishy) I went ahead and got the solid sort as well.    Well, and – you know – there’s just such SATISFACTION in being able to take a hammer to something and crush it UTTERLY!    You can never have too much palm sugar, anyway.

A Lump of Palm Sugar
A lump of palm sugar – see that irritating smirk?


From hard little lump to nice pile of smooshiness.    See how well that works out?

Now that I have palm sugar whipped into shape and under control, I can move on in my quest to perfect the preparation of pad thai.

Next on the chopping block:

Finding the elusive hua chai po wan, aka หัวไชโป้วหวาน, aka Thai preserved radish

Sweet Salted Preserved Radish - yes, really!
(Thank you, SheSimmers, for providing the correct name for that – and most everything else Thai-related)

I am sooo hoping this is it.    I know, the contents DO look vaguely… fleshlike.    But I’m sure the little picture on front of twin daikon is accurate.    Well, pretty sure.    Really, there’s no reason to be afraid to open it up and see what I’ve got.    Nooooo reason at all …

*takes a firmer grip on the hammer*


Roasted Onion Tofu Shirataki Noodles (Barbarian Style)

Lately I’ve been sort of grumpy and indecisive about cooking.

Why? you may ask. And well you may.

Well all the different sauces and pastes and whatnot that I’ve been accumulating for all the various and sundry dishes of Asian origin which I like to cook are taking over the kitchen. It’s to the point where I can’t even remember what I have and what I don’t have. The other day I came home with Thai style Black Soy Sauce, which I have been assiduously seeking for months now. Only to discover that I had already found and purchased a bottle of the stuff.


Here’s a small portion of what I have to deal with:

Lotsa Sauce-as!!!

I am assured by those who claim to know that one cannot substitute one type of hot chili bean paste for another as they are totally, totally different and will ruin whatever you are making if you try. So there are 6 or 7 different types of commonly used Korean bean pastes, and a bunch more from Thailand, and some more yet from Indonesia, and then there’s a whole passel over here from China, only they’re different from this region of China than they are in that region of China, and NO YOU ABSOLUTELY MAY NOT SUBSTITUTE ANYTHING FOR ANYTHING ELSE! AAAAAARGH!

But wait – why am I striving so assiduously for authenticity? Am I not

*dramatic pause*


Do not the cuisines of all countries tremble at my shadow? Does not the earth quake with the passing of my mighty hordes of hungry domestic warriors? Do I not bestride the culinary world like a COLOSSUS???

Well maybe not. Still, there is a time for striving towards being true to the cuisine, and a time for being true to your stomach. Today, I return to my barbarian roots, and make something up from scraps and pieces.

So. Today’s offering – sorta Thai-ish, sorta Indonesian, but not really either:

Roasted Onion Tofu Shirataki Noodles (Barbarian Style)

By Kitchen Barbarian

Published 06/27/2012

My own concoction, using whatever I have on hand, which happened tonight to be kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) and some Thai red pepper paste, among other things.

Using Tofu Shirataki noodles makes this a very low calorie, low carb meal, as there are only 40 calories and no carbs in an 8 oz package of the tofu sort, and none in the plain shirataki noodles. If you prefer to substitute bean thread noodles instead, it’s still fairly low cal, and still fairly low carb – bean thread noodles are among the lowest in carbs of any noodle other than shirataki or tofu shirataki noodles.

A noodly delight!


  • 1 T minced galangal
  • 1 T roasted red pepper paste
  • 1 T kecap manis
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 2 T sake
  • 1 to 2 T lime juice, to taste
  • 5 to 6 oz pressed tofu, pan-seared
  • 8 oz packet of Tofu Shirataki noodles or 4 oz bean thread noodles, soaked
  • 2 medium to large onions, quartered and roasted
  • splash of dark sesame oil


  1. Press a block of tofu, then slice and pan-sear the slices on each side. Use about 2-3 slices, cubed, in this recipe. (I like more tofu, the amount should be to your taste – you could also substitute chicken or pork for the tofu – unless you’re a vegetarian. Then you probably shouldn’t do that.)
  2. While the tofu is being pressed, quarter your onions, peel, remove root ends, and roast in a 300F onion for about an hour; then turn the oven up to 350F and roast an additional 20 mins, until the onions have softened and begun to brown (but not burn)
  3. When the onions are done and the tofu has been seared and cubed, set aside and start on the actual stir fry.
  4. Mix together the kecap manis, soy sauce, sake, and lime juice and keep aside.
  5. Splash a T or 2 of dark sesame oil in a large skillet. Add the minced galangal and the roasted red pepper paste and stir fry over a medium to med-high heat until the galangal begins to brown.
  6. Add the cubed tofu and stir fry for 2 or 3 mins.
  7. Add the prepared tofu shirataki noodles and stir fry for another 2 or 3 minutes, giving the noodles a good chance to soak up the sauce. You may substitute soaked bean thread noodles if you do not have or do not care for tofu shirataki noodles.
  8. Add the roasted onions and stir to mix well.
  9. Garnish with cilantro and Sweet Potato Sprinkles (if you have them) and serve with a wedge of lime.

Unlike most of my recipes, this dish will only serve 1 to 2 people – 1 if it’s your whole dinner, 2 if there’s another dish to go along with it.

I was cooking off the cuff or I’d have marinated that Tofu – if you plan better than I do, marinating the tofu is a GREAT idea! I’m just too forgetful to get it done half the time.

Tofu shirataki noodles are different than any other Asian style noodle I’ve ever used – you will find them packed in water in the refrigeration section of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and some of the larger Asian markets. Because they are packaged wet, 8 oz of noodles isn’t as much as it sounds like – I’m guessing it’s roughly the equivalent of 4 oz of most dry style noodles. So if you substitute for the tofu shirataki noodles with some type of dry noodle, remember to decrease the amount to make up for the difference in weight between wet and dry noodles.

Should you decide to give these a try, keep in mind that they are a unique type of noodle – basically they’re a noodle shaped fiber envelope filled with water. They are so high fiber that they can cause gastro-intestinal distress (to put it politely) if you overdo with them, or if you happen to be sensitive to them. Start out with a small amount. Personally I eat no more than one package (8 oz of the wet noodles) with stir fry, once a day, about 5 times a week. I’m good with that. However, there have been reports of ummmm, let’s say a “sudden return of ingredients” when people have thought they could eat gobs of these because they are (literally, for plain shirataki noodles, and virtually for the sort with tofu in them) no calorie.

Well you can’t. It is an ungood thing to try. So don’t do that. K? We’re barbarians, but never quite the barbarians the Romans were!

Tags: tofu shirataki noodles, stir fry, Thai, Indonesian, low calorie, low carb, kecap manis, vegetarian