What’s Yours is Now Mine: The “Something Borrowed” 2020 Roundup

This is part three of an end-of-year roundup series for the dumpster fire known as 2020. You can check out part one here and part two here.

I’ll be the first to confess that I’m both a lazy and shortcut-whenever-possible kind of home cook. When certain recipes call for ingredients that I rarely (or never) use, I tend to try substituting it with something I already have on hand, or skip it entirely and hope it won’t be missed. Of course, sometimes this does result in a subpar dish, but at least 75% of the time I’ve found that it either doesn’t make much of a difference (to my tastebuds at least), produces a variant of flavor I can accept, or on very rare occasions turns it into something even better tasting to me.

I’m not saying I always compromise recipes, because recipes are recipes for a reason. But if I can save some time, avoid wasting ingredients I wouldn’t use again, or adapt a recipe to fit my own tastebuds, then why the heck wouldn’t I take some liberties?

The Adapted Recipes (and Their Lenders)

1. Soft-Boiled Eggs
Original recipe from my sister

Eggs can be tricky, so this is one of the few recipes I haven’t really messed with. When she told me she found a way to make the kind of soft-boiled eggs I love (runny insides, softly firm outsides) with minimal fuss, I immediately had to try it out. And she was right! The recipe is a winner. I’ve tried skipping the ice for a plain cold water bath, but I’ve found lowering the water bath temperature makes it a lot easier to peel the eggs cleanly.

Boil a pot of water, then drop the eggs in for 6 minutes. Then put the eggs in an ice water bath for 2-3 minutes. Peel and enjoy delicious soft-boiled eggs every single time.

Isn’t it absolutely beautiful?

2. Chinese Corn Soup
Original recipe from my future MIL

If you’re from a traditional Chinese family, chances are family meals typically included a variety of dishes and a soup. Always a soup. My mom’s corn soup was always tasty but basic— literally nothing but sweet corn boiled in hot water and a little salt. My fiancé’s mom on the other hand, made a version of corn soup that involved two types of corn, eggs, and dried scallops for added umami. It was delicious the first time I made it, except we ended up with a bunch of dried scallops that just expired in the fridge. My fiancé had the idea to use spam instead and surprisingly, it ended up just as delicious, if not more so.

Our Version:
Pour 1 can of Del Monte cream-style corn, 1 can of Del Monte sweet corn, and 3 cups of water into a pot. (My fiancé says Del Monte is the brand his mom swears by.) Bring to a boil, then add chopped spam in and simmer until heated and cooked through. Pour in 2 beaten eggs and swirl with a spoon under incorporated. Top with some chopped scallions and enjoy.

3. Korean Cucumbers
Inspired by Maanchi’s recipe

I can’t seem to find the original recipe I used, so I linked the closest one I could find, but I recall that it had listed white vinegar as an ingredient. At the time, I didn’t have anything except Chinese black vinegar, so I substituted that instead and found that it gave a milder flavor to the cucumbers which I liked. A while back, I tried using rice vinegar instead and found it balanced out the flavors even more without me having to add much sugar or sweetener. This dish is easily customizable depending on your palate, so give it a try!

My Version:
Thinly slice 2-3 Persian cucumbers, mince 2-3 cloves of garlic, and thinly slice 1-2 stalks of green onions. Put them all in a large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru), 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, and 2 teaspoons of rice vinegar. Mix well and take a taste. Add a drizzle of honey or 1 teaspoon of sugar if you like it a little sweeter, and mix again.

4. Chanko Nabe
Original recipe from Just One Cookbook

Another fabulous favorite of mine from Just One Cookbook, chanko nabe is the best thing to eat on a cold, drizzly night. While her original recipe calls for handmade chicken meatballs and a variety of proteins including fish, pork, and shrimp, I’ve typically just used chicken thighs and picked between fish or pork belly as a second protein. If I feel fancy, I’ll include all three. But the nice thing about this recipe is that it gives you some flexibility, as long as you make the broth correctly. See? I know what to prioritize.

My Version:
Use whatever protein and vegetables I feel like or happen to have in the fridge. My basic staples that I always have to have for this recipe are chicken thigh, medium firm tofu, napa cabbage, scallions, and either cod or pork belly.

In this version I used salmon, but I’d stick to white fish or other more mild-flavored fish so the overall flavor isn’t thrown off balance.

Additional Borrowed Inspiration

Eating More Sustainably*
Inspired by David Attenborough’s documentary, A Life on Our Planet

Towards the end of 2020, David Attenborough came out with a new documentary on Netflix called A Life on Our Planet. It was a sobering look at how modern human society has forced unnatural change to the planet, and one of the big contributing factors is the food production industry, specifically for meat and dairy products. Attenborough does a much better job explaining it than I ever will, but essentially, the main takeaway was if the global population started eating a little less meat, especially red meat, we could impact the environment for better in a significant way.

As soon as the credits started rolling, my fiancé and I looked at each other and decided we would start eating less meat right away. Fortunately, both of us have a healthy appreciation for vegetables and tofu, so it wasn’t too hard to implement. While it’s still tough to go completely meat-free, it’s a step in the right direction and I hope we’ll be able to keep this up for the long-term.

Walking a path towards more sustainable eating. Or maybe just the end of the park.

*Check out this article for more information.

The next post will be last one of this series, so hope you’ll stick around for that when it goes live!