May 7, 2012
Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley
Deceptively simple yet complex, aromatic gàgà heaven in a bowl. Phở Nạm Bò (beef pho) was the talk earlier here, but it should be remembered that before the French incursion, cattle were cherished beasts of burden in Vietnam. They tilled rice fields and were not usually slaughtered for fodder. More of a pollo-pescatarian society except for the divine sus. So, the Việts have also embraced the less extravagant, more native, and still luscious chicken kin, Phở Gà — which is embellished with more or less depending on the region. While each kitchen ladles its own brand of phở, the further north, the focus is on intense, clear broth and far fewer garnishes. Less bling in Hà Nội than in Hồ Chí Minh City bowls.
Was phở born of feu? Some opine that the word phở is a corruption of the French feu (“fire”). So, maybe phở is a local adaptation of the French pot au feu or beef stew. As with pot au feu, cartilaginous, marrow rich bones and roasted vegs are simmered for hours to make a broth with the scum skimmed and discarded. Not a stretch really.
CHICKEN PHO (PHO GA)
1 – 4 lb chicken or leg thigh quarters, excess fat removed
Chicken back, necks, or other bony chicken parts
2 qts chicken broth
1 qt water
2 onions, peeled & quartered
3 – 1 1/2″ slices ginger, also sliced lengthwise
2 T coriander seeds, toasted
6 cardamom pods, toasted
6 star anise, toasted
2 cinnamon sticks, toasted
4 whole black peppercorns, toasted
4 whole red or pink peppercorns, toasted
4 whole green peppercorns, toasted
1 lime, quartered
4 stalks lemon grass, crushed and sliced
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 sprigs fresh mint leaves, stalks bound
6 sprigs fresh cilantro, stalks bound
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Pinch of sea salt
1 T fish sauce (nước mắm nhi)
2 T raw sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb flat rice noodles (bánh phở)
Hot chile sauce (e.g., Sriracha)
Scallions cut in half, then lengthwise into tendrils
Thai or small Italian basil leaves
Thai or serrano chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves, roughly cut
Mint leaves, roughly cut
Preheat oven to 350 F
Arrange onion quarters, rounded side down, and ginger pieces on baking sheet. Roast until onions begin to soften, about 20-25 minutes. Cut off dark, charred edges if any. In a heavy, medium pan over medium heat, carefully toast coriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon sticks and peppercorns until fragrant.
Leave whole or cut chicken into 6-8 pieces or so. To make the broth, put the chicken, back, neck or other bony parts in a large, heavy stockpot. Add the remaining ingredients (onions, ginger, coriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns, lime, lemongrass, garlic, mint, cilantro, red pepper flakes, salt) and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Throughout the process, use a ladle or large, shallow spoon to skim off any scum that rises to the top. Cook until the flesh feels firm yet still yields a bit to the touch, about 25-30 minutes. Carefully lift the chicken out of the broth and place into a large bowl or on a deep platter. Keep the broth at a quiet simmer.
Once adequately cooled and the chicken can be handled, remove the chicken skin, pull the chicken off the bones and set the meat aside in a foil tented bowl. Do not cut into smaller pieces yet.
Return the leftover carcass and bones to the broth in the pot, add fish sauce (nước mắm nhi) and raw sugar, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Adjust the heat to simmer the broth gently for another 1 hour. Then, strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve or a coarse mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a saucepan. Discard the solids and again use a ladle to skim fat from the top of the broth. Leave some fat for flavor.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Cut the cooked chicken into slices about 1/4″ thick and bring the broth to a gentle simmer in the saucepan. Now build…nest noodles in bowls, arrange the chicken slices over, and ladle the broth on top. Then, serve promptly with whatever garnishes suit your palate (hoisin, sriracha, lime, bean sprouts, scallions, basil, cilantro, chiles, mint and friends).
February 29, 2012
Omakase (お任せ?) is a phrase that means “I will leave it to you” (from the Japanese, to entrust). When you indulge in that luxury of allowing a fine sushi chef to make the gastronomic calls — the aesthetics, the architecture, the inspiration, the dynamics, the visuals, the sensuous flavors, the enticing aromas, the intriguing textures — all rising to or sometimes transcending the level of theater. Plated delectation.
Young and old, exacting sushi chefs try to emulate masters like Morimoto, Jiro and Nobu. They bless and coddle your palate with riveting morceaux adroitly shaped with dazzling blade work and raw ingenuity. The genuine article shortly followed by those hushed tones of pure contentment.
So, I will leave it to you or them.
TUNA & AVOCADO CEVICHE
1 lb tuna (sushi/sashimi grade only), sliced 1/4″ thick
1/2 small red onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 T shoyu
1 T capers, rinsed and drained
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Hass avocado, cut into 1/4″ dice
3/4 C fresh lime juice
Small jalapeño chile pepper, stemmed, seeded and very thinly sliced
1/4 C cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
Cilantro leaves, whole
Line a baking sheet or jelly roll pan with plastic wrap. Arrange the tuna slices in a single layer, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm but not frozen, about 10-15 minutes.
Stack the tuna slices on a cutting board and using a supremely sharp chef’s knife, cut the tuna into 1/4″ cubes. Transfer the diced tuna to a medium glass or bowl and stir in the red onion, shoyu, capers and a pinch of black pepper. Cover both the tuna and the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about a half hour, stirring occasionally.
Just before serving, gently fold in the diced avocado, lime juice, jalapeño, and chopped cilantro and season very lightly with salt.
Transfer the ceviche to a chilled bowl or glasses. Garnish with whole cilantro leaves.
June 28, 2011
Do not dismiss the dish by saying that it is just simple food.
The blessed thing is an entire civilization in itself.
Both daring and demure, sate (satay) spans the culinary horizons of east Asia from street vending to fine dining. While Indonesia is the proverbial home to sate having adopted it as the national dish, versions of this delicacy abound in Malaysia, Singapore and the Phillipines. Sate is simply marinated, skewered meat often served with a peanut sauce. Given the cultural and geographical enormity of the Indonesian archipelago and the vast eastern Pacific rim, this varied region teems with varieties of sate prepared, marinaded, wrapped and sauced with differing twists. The meats? Well, chicken, lamb, mutton, goat, beef, pork, rabbit, deer, water buffalo, lizard, crocodile, offal, tripe, flat fish, shellfish, eel, horse, turtle, snake, ostrich, porcupine and testicles, to name a few. Far from monolithic, sate is regional cuisine run blissfully amok.
Given the vagaries of invasions, conquests, occupations, trade and cross-cultural pollination, the origins of sate are murky and even disputed. Sate has been claimed to have been influenced by every immigrant or colonial group in Southeast Asia from Chinese to Indians to Western Europeans to even Arabs and Turks. Some lean on the reed that the spice trade which brought Arab merchants to Southeast Asia led to the spread of their culinary culture to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Nomadic Arabs, who often grilled sword-skewered meats, introduced their gustatory habits to east and southeast Asia. Over time their roasting practices were morphed by locals and then evolved into sate. The peanut based sauce either emerged as an east Asian flair or was initially borne by Spanish invaders from South America.
The confusion continues with etymology. Sate is variously called satay, saté, satae (Thailand) as well as satte (Philippines). Some even assert the origins come from some Chinese sounding combination of sah-tay or even sam-tay or a disputed Tamil word. Others claim that term has origins in the Malay peninsula and Sumatera region—a dish that is made by salai (smoking or grilling) on a tépak (box grill), that was simply conjoined and abbreviated to arrive at sa-té.
Those were some gnarly origins. Unresolved history and linguistic muddle aside, just savor the present with a sophisticated sear of grilled chicken, lamb, beef or pork (even offal). Spicing the embers brings an added element.
LEMON GRASS CHICKEN SATAY
1/2 C canned unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 C freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 C peanut oil
1 t fish sauce
2 T fresh cilantro leaves, julienned
2 t fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 t raw sugar
1 T turmeric
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Lemongrass stalks (about 8-9″ long)
1-1/2 C canned unsweetened coconut milk
6 T smooth peanut butter
2 T chopped peanuts
3 T brown sugar
3 T soy sauce
3 T yellow onion, peeled and minced
2 T red curry paste
2 fresh, plump garlic gloves, peeled and minced
1 T fresh lemon grass, smashed and minced
2 t unseasoned rice vinegar
1 t minced lime zest
1 jalapeno or Thai bird chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/2 C minced fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
3 T minced fresh basil leaves
1 T coriander seeds
1 T cardamom pods
1 T red peppercorns
4 whole star anise
Place the coconut milk, lime juice, oil, fish sauce, cilantro, ginger, sugar, turmeric, and garlic in a mixing bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar. Set some marinade aside for basting. Cut each chicken thigh lengthwise into thick strips, place in baking dish and toss well with remaining marinade. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, even overnight.
Remove the outer leaves of each stalk of lemongrass and cut the thinner end at an angle to make lemongrass skewers. Then, set aside. You may also use metal or soaked bamboo skewers.
Place the coconut milk, peanut butter, peanuts, sugar, soy sauce, onion, curry paste, garlic, lemongrass, vinegar, lime zest, chile, cilantro, and basil in a large saucepan. Bring just to a simmer while stirring, but do not boil. Continue cooking until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Turn heat to low and allow to remain warm.
Prepare a charcoal grill to medium high heat. While the grill is heating, thread the marinated chicken strips onto the lemongrass skewers. Just before grilling, toss the coriander seeds, allspice, red peppercorns and star anise on the coals. Cook directly for about for 2-3 minutes per side, basting with reserved marinade. Serve with the warm peanut sauce.
June 25, 2011
I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.
I meant to embark on the fierce rivalry that has ensued between the United States and Mexico which will be renewed in the title match of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Gold Cup tonight in Pasadena (formerly in Mexico). The U.S. and Mexico have shared 9 of the 10 Gold Cup tournament championships. Much is at stake as the winner qualifies for the next Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Confederations Cup, a preview of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. But, what follows seemed more important.
Squandering billions monthly on an ineffective policy with lives, capital and truth as casualties sounds just like the misguided Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. No, this ongoing waste derives solely from the failed four decade long War on Drugs. As the Global Commission on Drug Policy recently concluded, “…the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.” The esteemed, independent 19-member panel was comprised of former heads of state, a former U.N. secretary-general, a business mogul and even an author. They did not mince words. The report issued by the commission and delivered to the White House and Congress calls on governments to promptly end the criminalization of marijuana and other controlled substance use. They urged that governments instead institute drug policies based on methods empirically proven to reduce crime, lead to better health, and promote economic and social development. Drug users who are in need should be offered treatment, not incarceration.
The commission—which included George Schultz, who held cabinet posts under Presidents Reagan and Nixon and former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volker—is particularly critical of the United States, which must change its drug policies from those guided by anti-crime, “lock ‘em up” approaches to ones rooted in health care and human rights. By financing domestic law enforcement to the exclusion of treatment, our government has wrongly focused on punishment rather than supporting prevention. That myopic approach comes as little surprise in this reactionary land.
The fiscal costs of this so-called war have been staggering. As recently as 2008, a study authored by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated that legalizing drugs alone would inject almost $80 billion a year into the U.S. economy. Over $20 billion has been directly spent on the purported War on Drugs in the first half of this year alone. Then, there is the shameful stat that the United States has 5% of the world’s population, yet 25% of the world’s inmates are housed in our overflowing, understaffed prisons. Too often, these joints are far from correctional or rehabilitative, but instead focus on punitive measures which only serve to rend the human spirit. A great percentage of these prisoners are drug offenders, caught up in a deeply flawed agenda. This makes little mention of the concomitant creation of a racially disparate and societally displaced underclass many of whom now have shattered and scattered families, criminal records, no voting rights, no income sources, and suffer severly limited educational and job opportunities. Once on the street, their futures are bleak.
After over 40 years, over 40 million arrests and over a trillion dollars imprudently spent, is it not time to shelf this misconceived war on drugs as another failed experiment? This move has been much too long in the making.
As the report declared, “(T)he global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and years after President Nixon launched the U.S. government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.”
On to some south of the border fare for tonight’s match…
CILANTRO, CUMIN & LIME RICE
2 C long grain white rice
2 C chicken stock
2 C water
2 T canola oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 C chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 t dried cumin seeds, lightly roasted then ground
Zest of 1 fresh lime
Juice of 1 fresh lime
1 pinch sea salt
In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook about 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the garlic only lightly golden. Add the rice, stir with a wooden spoon to coat well, and cook for 1 minute.
In a small bowl gently mix the chopped cilantro, cumin, lime zest and juice. Add the stock and water, cilantro/lime mixture and salt. Bring to a boil, stir and decrease the heat to low.
Cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed and those telltale “fish eyes” appear on the surface. Remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
June 23, 2011
The torch of love is lit in the kitchen.
What’s in a name?
In 1803, envoys from the recently founded Nguyễn dynasty gathered in Beijing to establish diplomatic relations with their northern neighbor. The emperor had chosen the name Nam Việt for his ancient realm. The word Việt, a shortened form of Bách Việt (“hundreds of Viets”), was derived from the traditional name for the imperial domain and from those who populated what is now northern and central Vietnam. Nam (south) had been added to acknowledge expansion into lands further south.
The Chinese fervently objected to the proposed name because it conjured up memories of an identically named ancient state that had openly rebelled against China. So, it was resolved to call this culturally diverse land Việt Nam. Ironically, the words Việt Nam had appeared in several carvings and writings centuries earlier. Now, this long curve fingered nation carries the official moniker of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam (Cộng hòa xã hội chủ nghĩa Việt Nam).
The country was often called Annam until 1945, when Emperor Bảo Đại changed the official name back to Việt Nam. During French occupation, it was westerly referred to as Indochine française (Vietnamese: Đông Dương thuộc Pháp, oftened shortened to Đông Pháp).
Gỏi cuốn, often translated as “salad roll,” is a wickedly delicate Vietnamese finger food comprised of pork, shrimp, herbs, bún (rice vermicelli), and chums all serenely swaddled in Bánh tráng (rice paper). This is synergistic stuff chocked with textured, cool nuances and flavorful bursts. Tailor made for a midsummer evening.
GOI CUON (VIETNAMESE SPRING ROLLS)
1/2 lb. pork loin, ground or sliced very thinly
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. medium shrimp
3 stalks of lemon grass, just the thick ends, smashed and roughly chopped
1/4 C whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
3-4 thyme sprigs
2 T coriander seeds
2 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 pkg bún (rice vermicelli)
1 pkg bánh tráng (rice paper)
1 C cucumbers, peeled and petitely julienned
1 C carrots, peeled and petitely julienned
8-10 scallions, sliced thinly
1/2 head Napa cabbage or green lettuce leaves, thinly sliced
Mint leaves, cut into chiffonades
Cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Over medium high heat and in olive oil, saute, then dry and drain pork on paper towels. Meanwhile, prep, clean and dry all vegetables and herbs and place in bowls for assembly. Lightly dress the cabbage in equal parts of sesame oil and rice vinegar.
Place shrimp, lemongrass, sea salt, peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, coriander seeds and shallots in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil and allow to cook for about 5 minutes. Then add the shrimp to the boiling water and cook until just cooked through, about 2 minutes, then drain immediately. Please take pains to not overcook as the shrimp will take a tough, rubbery turn for the worse. Once cooled, peel and then cut boiled shrimp in half, lengthwise.
Add the rice vermicelli to boiling water and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes and drain well. All ingredients must be allowed to cool to room temperature before assembly.
Creating the rolls is a one-at-a-time zen task. Dip a single sheet of rice paper into a large baking dish filled partially with lukewarm water. It will soften within seconds. Then lay flat on a work surface. (If the rice paper languishes in the water longer than a few seconds it will become overly soggy and unusable.) Keep the remaining sheets covered with a damp cloth to prevent curling. On one edge, arrange a nest of rice vermicelli, a spoonful of pork, a few shrimp, some cucumbers, carrots, scallions, bean sprouts, cabbage, mint, and cilantro. While laying out the fillings, remain cognizant of how the spring roll will look once complete. Gingerly roll up the now loaded rice paper, tucking in the sides as you go and press to seal so it is snug. Once both sides are folded inward over the filling, roll the spring roll upwards so that it becomes a somewhat uniform cylinder.
Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling. During the process, arrange finished rolls on a plate and cover with a slightly damp cloth to keep moist as you construct the remaining rolls. Gỏi cuốn should be rolled up firmly, but not too tightly, or the they will split. They should be assembled to your liking, but not overstuffed. While the wrapping may seem difficult at first blush, once you grasp a technique it will go smoothly.
Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled with dipping sauces or concoct one to your liking.
Nuoc Leo (Peanut Sauce)
1 T peanut oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t chili paste
2 T tomato paste
1/2 C chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 t sugar
2 T peanut butter
1/4 C hoisin sauce
1/4 C unsalted roasted peanuts, finely chopped
1 fresh red Thai chile pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
Heat the oil in a small saucepan and then add the garlic, chile paste, and tomato paste. Cook until the garlic is lightly golden but not browned, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the broth, sugar, peanut butter and hoisin sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Cool slightly to room temperature and serve in small bowls, garnished with peanuts, and sliced chile.
Red Curry Peanut Sauce
1/4 C roasted salted peanuts
1 T brown sugar
2-3 t Thai red curry paste
8-10 T water
2 t peanut or vegetable oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C finely chopped shallot (about 1 large)
2 fresh Thai or serrano chilies, including seeds, thinly sliced crosswise
Finely grind 3 tablespoons peanuts in a food processor along with brown sugar. Finely chop remaining tablespoon peanuts by hand and set aside.
Stir together curry paste (to taste) and 6 tablespoons water until paste is dissolved.
Heat oil in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté garlic, shallot, and chiles, stirring, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add ground peanut mixture and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in curry mixture and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in chopped peanuts.
Cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes, then thin with water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to desired consistency.
Rice Vinegar & Soy Sauce
1 T rice vinegar
3 T soy sauce
1 t sugar
1 t red pepper flakes
1 t sesame seeds
In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes and sesame seeds.
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
1 T rice vinegar
1/2 C nuoc mam (fish sauce), available at Asian markets
1/2 C fresh lime juice
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 C turbinado (raw) sugar
In a small bowl, soak the red pepper flakes in the rice wine vinegar for 15 minutes.
In a second bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, and sugar.
Whisk in 1 1/2 cups boiling water to the pepper & rice wine vinegar mixture.
Add the fish sauce mixture and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Pourboire: Not surprisingly, rice vermicelli is found in other notable asian cuisines, including chinese (米粉), malay (bihun), and thai (เส้นหมี่ sen mee).
June 1, 2011
Paris is always a good idea.
A dimunitive spot in the Marais—not really a resto yet almost a café—Candelaria is now the self-annointed first bona fide taqueria in Paris. No doubt that claim will provoke debate on both rives and beyond. With minimal décor, a small counter, one communal table and a bouncer to boot, this venue offers tacos and tostadas to locals and tourists alike. About damn time, but never too late.
I have often been baffled why this eclectic culinary capital or even its overseas territories had not earlier embraced this humble and sumptuous street food. Tacos, un pur délice.
So, given colonial France’s nexus to southeast Asian fare…
SOUTHEAST ASIAN FISH TACOS
1/2 C shoyu
1/4 C coconut milk
1/4 C fresh lime juice
1 T red chile paste
1 T honey
4 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 Thai bird chiles, stemmed and minced
2 lbs skinless halibut or mahi mahi filets
1/2 C coconut milk
1/2 C peanut butter
1/4 C fresh lime juice
1 T nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce)
2 t sesame oil
1 t red chile paste
Red pepper flakes, to taste
1 C red cabbage, very thinly sliced
1 C Napa cabbage, very thinly sliced
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 C pickled carrots and daikon radishes*
Fresh avocado slices
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Fresh mint, roughly chopped
Heated flour tortillas or steamed bao buns
Whisk together shoyu, coconut milk, lime juice, chile paste, honey, garlic and 1/4 cup water to make a marinade. Place fish in a ziploc bag, pour marinade over the top and gently toss to coat. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Meanwhile, stir together coconut milk, peanut butter, lime juice, fish sauce, sesame oil, and chile paste into a small saucepan over medium low heat. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add a drizzle or so of honey and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir dressing and set aside.
Put cabbage, onions, pickled carrots/daikon into a large bowl with half of the dressing or so and toss to coat. Set slaw aside. Reserve any remaining dressing.
Prepare grill to medium heat. Drain fish, discarding marinade, and cook on well cleaned and oiled grill until it flakes easily with a fork and is opaque, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer fish to a cutting board, allow to rest for a few minutes and then roughly chop. Serve fish in warm tortillas or steamed bao buns, topped with slaw, avocado slices, dressing, cilantro and mint.
*Pickled Carrots & Daikon
1 C carrots, peeled and julienned (matchstick size)
1 C daikon radish, peeled and julienned (matchstick size)
1/4 C warm water
3/4 C rice wine vinegar
5 T sugar
1 T sea salt
Mix warm water, vinegars, sugar and salt until all is dissolved. Mix carrots and daikon radishes in a tightly lidded glass jar. Pour vinegar mixture into carrots and daikon, stir, cover, and allow to marinade for 3 days or so. Drain off liquid when ready to use.
Pourboire: of course, there are many ways to skin this quasi cat, but consider adding some red curry paste in lieu of or in addition to the red chile pastes in both the fish marinade and the slaw; or drizzle with a mix of sriracha and/or red curry paste and crema.
February 5, 2011
Without rice, even the cleverest housewife cannot cook.
Another culinary history debate? Another being of undecided ancestry? Another grain in progenitor limbo?
Some claim rice was introduced to Mexico during Spanish colonization via the galleon trade route from Manila to Acapulco, known as the Nao de China. The story goes that over a millenium before, marauding North African Moors acquainted the Iberian peninsula with rice which ultimately led to this Mexican import centuries later. Others, however, fervently assert that the region’s earliest rice cultivars arrived in slave ships from West Africa. Is this yet another example of black history erased? There are ethnographic, historic and genetic markers supporting, fusing and refuting both theories which just cannot be fully fleshed out here. Common threads exist though: conquest, occupation, ships and food.
Polemics aside, rice is and has been extensively cultivated in Vera Cruz, Campeche and other flood plain regions in Mexico. The two basic varieties of rice grown in Mexico are Sinaloa (long grain) and Morelos (short grain), joined by a number of sub-versions.
Arroz a la Mexicana does differ from Spanish rice, although some use the names interchangeably. The Mexican version derives its reddish hue from tomatoes, while Spanish rice is tinted with saffron.
This is simple, almost requisite, table fare. A traditional rice sidled up to tomatoes, onion and garlic all blithely bathed in broth. This version adds a poblano chile and carrot—maybe even peas or giblets if the urge strikes.
The initial browning is essential and imparts a rich, nutty flavor to the rice.
MEXICAN RICE (ARROZ A LA MEXICANA)
3 C chicken broth
2 T canola or extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 C long grained rice
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 15 oz can high quality peeled tomatoes, drained and seeded
1 t cumin, toasted and ground
Pinch of sea salt
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 large poblano chile, roasted, peeled and chopped
1/2 C chicken giblets, chopped (optional)
Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Heat chicken broth to a gentle simmer.
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add rice and onion and cook, stirring, until both are just lightly browned, about 7-10 minutes. During the last minute, add the garlic.
Purée the tomatoes in a food processor or blender. Add the puréed tomatoes, cumin and salt to the browned rice mixture and cook for a minute, stirring. Add the warm broth, carrot, poblano chile and optional giblets. Stir, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Resist the urge to peek, but the rice is done when small dimples appear on the surface, sometimes called “fish eyes.” Set aside off heat, still covered, to allow the rice to absorb the rest of the moisture in the steam and swell, about another 10-15 minutes.
Add cilantro to the rice, fluffing with a fork. Serve.
October 12, 2010
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.
~Sec. One of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constituition, ratified in 1868
More delectable fare from south of the border. I drool over Mexican cuisine, my fervor unflagging. It also is a sore reminder about another assault on ethnic minorities in this country’s ever so brief and curiously vainglorious history…following those historical precendents of demonizing Irish, Germans, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Native Americans, African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, women and so on. Will we ever learn? Flag pins on every lapel will never cure our bigotry and will only further our chauvinism.
Recent disingenuous threats by GOP leaders to repeal the 14th Amendment as a means of denying citizenship to immigrant children—so called “anchor babies”—are disquieting at best. Trifling with one of the more singularly profound statements this country has ever offered the world about the meaning of equality is shameful even if it is purely political posturing. Some more wretched debris of hubris.
The authors of the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed citizenship to all people “born or naturalized in the United States” for a reason. They wished to directly repudiate the abominable shackles of the Dred Scott decision, which held that no person of African descent, slave or free, could ever be a citizen of the United States nor could any of their descendants ever become a citizen. In the opinion, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney found that the original framers intended that blacks:
…had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it. Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856)
That racially motivated opinion was issued before the Civil War. Afterwards, Section One of the 14th was adopted which guaranteed citizenship to anyone and everyone born on our soil, including the children of parents here unlawfully. It was intended to make sure that a simple objective fact assured citizenship, and that those rights would not turn upon legislative whim or judicial caprice. This language is a unique part of our national identity and makes certain that each newborn child is not subject to a chain of title like a parcel of land or chattel.
The birthright clause assigned legal status to millions of slaves who had just been freed during the Civil War. Oh, as an aside: the House, the Senate and the Presidency were all in Republican hands at the time of the amendment’s passage.
Senators, please show some restraint and do not overburden your tacos with fillings.
LOBSTER TACOS AL CARBON WITH AVOCADO & CORN SALSA
Avocado & Corn Salsa
2 ripe avocados, diced
3-4 T fresh lime juice
2 ripe red tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced
3 ears sweet corn, shucked, parboiled and cooled
1/2 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 jalapeño chile peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/2 C chopped fresh cilantro
Sea and freshly ground black pepper
Place the avocado and tomato in a large mixing bowl and gently toss with lime juice. Shear the kernels off the cobs and again gently toss in the bowl. Cover well and refrigerate.
Just before serving, add the jalapeños and cilantro and gently toss to mix. If necessary, add a little more lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.
2 – 2 lb pound lobsters, parboiled and split in 1/2 lengthwise
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and add sea salt. Carefully lower lobsters into pot, and parboil just until just red, about 2 minutes each. Cooking time varies with lobster weight. Remove lobsters from pot with tongs and plunge into a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Remove and dry well. Split lobsters in half lengthwise along the back.
Heat charcoal grill to medium high.
Brush the lobster flesh with canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on the grill, first flesh side up, turn and grill until just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. The lobster meat should be firm, slightly charred and opaque when done. Extract the meat from the shells and coarsely chop.
Before filling the tacos, heat ever so briefly over the grill until they just become pliable. (Alternatively, place several wrapped in aluminum foil in an oven preheated to 400 F for about 8-10 minutes.)
Put a few spoons of salsa and lobster down the center of each tortilla with a sprinkling of añejo cheese over the top. Fold the tortillas over, brush with oil and grill, until slightly browned, about 1 minute. Brush with oil again, flip over and continue grilling until slightly browned again. Remove from the grill and serve.
January 8, 2010
This curry was like a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that I’d once heard…..especially the last movement, with everything screaming and banging “Joy.’” It stunned, it made one fear great art. My father could say nothing after the meal.
Lens culinaris is a bushy annual legume, well adapted to semi-arid, cool conditions and cultivated for its lens-shaped seeds which are usually smaller than an eraser head. Low in fat and protein/iron laden lentils have a mild, nutty, and fairly terrene flavor. Given their nutritive vigor, they form an intergral part of global diets, especially in the Indian subcontinent with its abundant vegetarian populace. Vegan comfort food.
The rainbow coalition of lentil shades is dazzling: black, beluga, brown, green, orange, maroon, crimson, pink, red, tan, yellow, white, black & white. A common red lentil is the Red Chief which is a lovely salmon pink in dried form, but turns golden when cooked. As lentils are rather submissive by nature, they are suited to more dominant, assertive spices, such as sense-evocative curries.
Dried lentils may be stored in an airtight container for up to a year in a cool, dry place…a pantry sine qua nons.
RED OR BROWN LENTIL CURRY
2 t cumin seeds
2 t coriander seeds
1/4 t mustard seeds
1 T black peppercorns
1 t turmeric
1 t red pepper flakes
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 T canola oil oil
1 T fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 fresh jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 T curry paste
1 t sea salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
2 C vegetable stock
1 1/2 C dried red or brown lentils
1 (14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cinnamon stick
Basmati rice, cooked
1 C fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Spread lentils out on a large plate to check for, and remove, small stones or debris. Then, place lentils in a strainer, and rinse thoroughly under cool running water.
In a small heavy skillet, combine the coriander, cumin, mustard seeds and peppercorns. Toast over low medium heat, shaking the pan until very slightly browned but not burned, 2-3 minutes. Cool and then add to a spice grinder or coffee mill and grind to a fine powder. Add the turmeric and red pepper and pulse the grinder a couple of times until well mixed. Set aside the curry spice powder.
Saute onion in oil in a heavy medium sauce pan or Dutch oven over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent and just turning golden, about 6 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and jalapeño or serrano chile and cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes. Add the curry spice powder (above) and curry paste; cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Stir in stock, lentils, coconut milk, cinnamon stick and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, covered, until lentils are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Season with salt to taste.
Serve over Basmati rice with cilantro scattered on top.
Pourboire: Cauliflower florets can be added for the last 10 minutes of the simmer.
October 1, 2009
(Cooking) is a form of flattery….a mischievous, deceitful, mean and ignoble activity, which cheats us by shapes and colors, by smoothing and draping…
The etymology of the word tacos—tortillas rolled around food—was derived from the Mexican Spanish, “light lunch,” or more literally, “plug, wadding.” Taco is a broadly applied generic term much like the English word “sandwich.”
The word has multiple meanings, from the culinary to some nether worlds. For instance, there are over 50 references to the term “taco” in the online slang lexicon Urban Dictionary, some of which are undeviatingly anatomical and may offend a few readers’ sensibilities. So they will not bear repetition, as what some find humorous or titillating others deem crude. Then again, who am I to be the arbiter of the definition of obscene? Even Justice Potter Stewart vainly struggled with the lewdness issue once and was left with the enigmatic: “(b)ut, I know it when I see it.” Now, that is one concrete translation which only leaves you to ponder when he saw it, where he saw it, or what he saw. Somehow brings to mind the image of an elderly, yet scholarly looking man with styleless glasses, a starched collar, dark tie and flowing black robes peering into a poor quality video in a tawdry booth. A neon OPEN 24 HOURS spasmodically blinks outside. “I’ll know it when I see it,” he murmurs into the night.
The mainstay of the Mexican diet was, and still is, the ever versatile tortilla which is the “bread of life” for tacos. Eaten as an entrée or one of the world’s most supreme street snacks, tacos come in seemingly endless varieties according to geography, local ingredients, and the kitchen itself…folded, rolled, soft, fried…tacos de cazuela (with stew fillings), tacos de la plancha (griddle cooked), tacos al carbón (charcoal grilled meats), tacos a vapor (steamed beef head meat), tacos de canasta (tacos in a basket), tacos dorados (crisply fried), tacos de harina (soft flour, burrito-like).
As with pizzas, pastas and paninis, please do not overburden your tortilla with a spate of insipid fillings. And as a warning to those who fear the wrath of the taco gods, avoid those crisp bent tacos brimming with bland ground beef, iceberg lettuce and cheddar cheese. You know who you are.
To warm tortillas, tightly wrap 6-8 in aluminum foil and place in an oven at 375 F for 8-10 minutes.
TACOS DE CAMARONES (SHRIMP TACOS)
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined (16-20 count)
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced
2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 T brandy
2 T fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, peeled and diced
1 tomato, cored, seeded and diced
6 radishes, trimmed and diced
1/2 C cabbage, finely shredded
2 T cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice of 1-2 limes
3 T canola oil
3 T extra virgin olive oil
Corn tortillas, warmed
In a heavy sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and sauté 1 to 2 minutes. Do not burn. Remove and discard garlic, but retain oil.
Add the shrimp, serrano chiles, and black pepper. Stir well, then sauté, stirring briskly until the shrimp turn pink and curl, about 3 to 4 minutes total, turning once. Pour in the brandy and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add a pinch or two of salt, sprinkle lightly with cilantro and tossed. Slice shrimp into 1/2″ pieces and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the onion, tomato, radishes, cabbage, cilantro, lime juice, canola and olive oils, and sea salt. Add the shrimp and toss to coat well. Serve in corn tortillas.
TACOS DE LENGUA (TONGUE TACOS)
1 fresh calf tongue (about 3 lbs)
8 C+ chicken broth
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
10 black peppercorns
2 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
Warm corn tortillas
Cabbage, finely shredded
Yellow onion, peeled and diced
Cilantro leaves, chopped
Quartered lime wedges
Corn tortillas, warmed
Rinse tongue well. Cover the tongue and remaining ingredients with broth (or equal parts broth and water) in a heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Skim off the froth on the surface after a few minutes. Simmer, uncovered, until tender, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove tongue, and very briefly plunge into an ice and cold water bath to cease the cooking process. Drain and dry well, then begin skinning with fingers and a paring knife. The skin should come off easily. Trim away the small bones and gristle.
To carve, place the tongue on its side and, starting at the tip, cut slices thinly on the diagonal.
Serve in warmed corn tortillas with cabbage, onion, radishes, cilantro, lime juice. Drizzle with salsa verde.
TACOS DE PATO (DUCK TACOS)
4 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled, and roughly chopped
1-2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
2/3 C cilantro leaves
1/4 C water
2 pinches sea salt
1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh removed and cut into 1/2″ chunks
1/2 C soy sauce
1/4 C water
1/4 C mirin
3 T honey
2 T canola oil
2 C coarsely shredded roast duck, coarsely shredded
Warmed flour tortillas
Combine tomatillos, garlic, chile and cilantro in food processor or blender. Add 1⁄4 cup water and 1 teaspoon salt. Blend by pulses to a coarse purée. Pour into a medium bowl and stir in the avocado.
In a small saucepan, combine the soy, water, mirin and honey. Simmer over medium heat until it just begins to thicken, 15 to 20 minutes.
In a heavy skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the duck until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add 1⁄4 cup of the soy-mirin sauce and sauté a bit longer, until the duck meat glistens. Serve duck in warm flour tortillas with the tomatillo salsa and the remaining sweetened soy-mirin sauce.
12 medium fresh tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
3 jalapeño chilies, stemmed, not seeded
8 sprigs cilantro, stems discared and leaves roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 T canola oil
2 C chicken broth
Boil the tomatillos and chilies in salted water for 15 minutes; drain. Place the cooked tomatillos and chiles, cilantro, onion, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until roughly smooth, slightly textural.
Heat the oil in medium heavy skillet over moderately high heat. Pour the tomatillo mixture into the pan and stir for 5 minutes or so, until it thickens. Add the broth, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until it reduces and thickens, about 10-15 minutes. Salt to your preference.