Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Spring Onion and Chili Pepper Sauce

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I know next to nothing about photography—all of the photos on this blog are taken by my husband. Conversely, my husband doesn't do any of the cooking for the blog. This arrangement, however, works out pretty well for both of us: while I am putting the finishing touches on a dish in the kitchen, he sets up whatever lighting he thinks he'll need for the shoot. I then plate and arrange the dish, and he takes over from there. This system allows us both to be creative in our own way, and helps to produce an end product that is as visually appealing as possible. This particular shoot was a departure from our usual place-the-dish-on-the-corner-of-the-table setup, so I asked him to describe what he did to achieve this effect:
To create this effect I used two remotely-triggered light sources, one from below streaming light through the bottom of the bowl and a second from above to fill in the highlights of the dish. In order to allow the light to stream from below I needed to use a clear or translucent glass bowl, suspended over the flash on a clear plane. So for this shot I just used a standard, clear glass pyrex baking dish bridging two boxes separated about a foot apart from each other (think of an actual bridge over a river, with the baking dish being the bridge, and the boxes being the land on each side). The hardest part about this shot was probably finding two equal height boxes to hold up the baking dish. The first flash is placed on the ground between the boxes pointing directly up towards the bowl. The second flash is on a stand above the bowl, filtered through a softbox. Changing the strengths of the flashes relative to each other changes the effect to either stronger back-lighting (think petri-dish science class) or more standard top-down lighting. Also, you can block out light from the portion of the baking dish outside the edges of the bowl if you want only the bowl lit, which results in more of a planet-in-a-dark sky effect. After taking sample shots of all these effects, we finally settled on the picture seen above.
The base for this sauce is very simple: a 2:1 ratio of boiling water to some seasoned rice vinegar, whisked with some sugar and salt. From there, you can add any kind of components you want to make a pretty dipping sauce. Serve it alongside some deep-fried tofu for a perfectly balanced appetizer.

for the sauce
1 cup boiling water
5 TB sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar

optional components to add once the sauce has cooled
fresh cilantro
sliced hot chili peppers
chopped scalllions
white and black sesame seeds
crushed peanuts
sliced shallots
minced garlic

for the tofu

One block of firm tofu
1 1/2 tsps Ener-G egg replacer, whisked with 5 TB warm water

1/2-3/4 cup cornstarch
plenty of vegetable oil for frying


Place one cup of water in a measuring cup. Microwave until a small boil is achieved. Add in the sugar and salt, then whisk until fully dissolved. Add in the vinegar, whisk again, then place into the refrigerator to cool.

Once cooled, distribute the sauce into small glass bowls and garnish as desired.

To make the tofu, cut the tofu block in half, then cut an X into those squares to produce eight small triangles.  
In a medium-sized pot, heat the oil (enough to submerge the triangles in) over medium-high heat. After about 7 minutes, test the oil's readiness by inserting a wooden spoon into the pot—if bubbles immediately form around the spoon, the oil is ready.

Dip the tofu triangles into the Ener-G mixture, and then coat it in some of the cornstarch, making sure all sides are covered and tapping off any excess. Place the triangles, two at a time, into the oil and fry until golden, about 4 minutes. Carefully remove from the pot and place on paper towels to drain.

Serve immediately with the sauce.


  1. wow! that photo is gorgeous! when i first saw this post in my reader, i was like, "well this is different!!"

    the soup looks delicious, too! it reminds me of a soup i used to get at a vietnamese restaurant my brother used to work at.

  2. ^^what she said. your pictures are always great, yes, but this one in particular just popped when i opened my reader.

    honestly, that was a very technical description of how you guys got this shot, it's a vague picture in my head, the whole set up. my darling love also participates in my blog by eating what i make, no matter how awful... sometimes i have him hold up a white board. we make a great team, as do you & your hubs. :)

    1. Thanks Lan! Yep, I am occasionally the photo assistant/hand model, and its fun when we can do this together. The fact we do this together is my favorite part of blogging!

  3. This is one of the most mesmerizing shots I've seen in a long time, I'm so glad that you took the time to describe your methods! I am excited to try the sauce as well, thanks!

    1. Wow, thanks for your kind comment, Sue! Your blog shots are gorgeous as well, thanks for visiting the blog! : )

  4. I love that this is something you and your husband do together. Your hubby does a great job! My husband and I do the same thing- It is so awesome to have this project that we work on together. :-)

    1. Thanks Kristy! I am a fan of your blog! : )

  5. i envy you and Kristy:) no photography stress while cooking:)
    that is a gorgeous shot. Thanks for the explanation of the setting. that definitely helps me learn. this is an absolutely gorgeous shot! and the sauce yummmm!

    It would be great if you can remove the blogger word verification. it is getting more unreadable by the day. takes me a few tries to get the comment thru:)

    1. Thanks Richa! It was such a cool technique that he used, I just had to include it in the post -- I'm glad you found it interesting.

      Hmmm ... lemme see what I can fix with the word verification, thanks for letting me know it was causing issues! : )


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