You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.
~Phineas T. Barnum

Dear Groupon,

I felt compelled to write about your troubling Superbowl XLV ad which used the plight of Tibetans to convince consumers to buy Groupon certificates. In case you missed the airing, actor Timothy Hutton ended his somber monologue about how Tibet’s “very culture is in jeopardy.” He then suddenly chirped in that Tibetans “still whip up an amazing fish curry,” touting how his friends and he thankfully saved money at a Chicago Himalayan restaurant via Groupon. As you may know, Tibet has been threatened with societal extinction at the hands of an oppressive Chinese government. So, peddling your product at the expense of tyrranized victims of a revered culture seemed, at best, perversely odd.

Your multimillion dollar half minute was undeniably directed at furthering Groupon’s brand and generating Groupon profits and not aimed at altruism. An attempt to garner marketing attention and revenue from a beleaguered people’s struggle seems exploitative—a disrespectful quip demeaning the gravity of Tibetan misery.

I embrace humour noir, but this was over the line. Genocide is no joke.

While it appears that empathy rarely emanates from your Chicago Ave boardroom, it has seemed reasonable to expect some remorse. But, no genuine apologies are in the offing. The only words uttered were a feckless, fork-tongued defense (a/k/a publicity statement). And nowhere to be found is a solitary “I’m sorry” from corporate. Just self-justifying tripe focused on quelling Groupon losses.

No matter how and when spun, making light of cultural, religious and ethnic persecution for gain is both chilling and disgraceful. Equally deplorable were Groupon’s lame, hastily organized post airing efforts to contort this crass “show me the money” profiteering into donating to a mission-driven cause. You padded a hasty retreat driven solely by the palpable fear of losing customers. Nice try, Andrew.

On to the culinary content of the Tibetan fish curry ad which was likewise thoughtless. FYI, Tibetans do not eat fish for the most part. To many locals, eating fish is as abhorrent as pork is to Muslims and beef is to Hindus. Besides the obvious fact that Tibet is a mountainous, landlocked country, the absence of fish on tables there exists for several reasons. Some Tibetans practice water burial in lakes, and so eating fish is considered synonymous with dining on the dead. Fish are also regarded as the incarnation of the revered god of water and thus remain sacred. Tibetans detest gossip, and as fish do not have noticeable tongues, they cannot gossip. So, fish are rewarded for their silence by not becoming part of the Tibetan diet.

The disdain for Groupon’s brand name that resulted from your ads seems predictable. The negative online aftermath urging a mass “unsubscription” also comes as no surprise. Who knows how conscientious shop owners may respond.

Sincerely,

A Lay Cook

P.S. Groupon’s after the fact public ploy to show social conscience through savethemoney.org has already ceased. That non-profit “humanistic” site has already closed and now simply redirects to Groupon’s profit making center. A vital effort to save Groupon’s most precious natural resource: money.

CALAMARI WITH RED CURRY & COCONUT MILK

3 T peanut oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 T peeled and grated fresh ginger
3 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 1/2 T red curry paste
2 t ground coriander
Freshly ground black pepper

1 14-oz can coconut milk
1 1/2 C chicken broth
1 T light brown sugar
1 T fresh lime juice
Pinch of sea salt

2 lbs calamari, (bodies and tentacles), cleaned, bodies cut into 1″ slices

Freshly grated lime zest
Fresh mint leaves, chopped
Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Heat peanut oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add jalapeño pepper, ginger, garlic, curry paste, coriander and pepper and cook over medium heat another 3-4 minutes. Then, add coconut milk, broth, brown sugar, lime juice, and salt. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.

Add calamari to curry sauce, and cook over medium high heat until calamari is opaque, about 2 minutes. Plate and garnish with lime zest, mint and cilantro.

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Squid & Heirlooms

July 24, 2010

A hundreth knyghtes mo… and four hundreth to bote, squieres of gode aray.
~Robert Manning of Brunne, Langtoft’s Chronicle (1330)

Said to be the ancestor of all cultivated tomatoes, they are the smaller garden varieties of these exquisite fruits. Pop(s) a shots, of sorts. The varieties abound: black, red & yellow plum, black cherry, red & yellow pears, coyote, green grapes, Isis Candy, Cuban yellow grapes.

For me, I adore that audacious rainbow coalition…differing hues, shades—vivid yellows, pinks, reds, purples, oranges, golds, and even bicolors to boot. A chromatic scheme that naturally creates harmony. And then the shapes. From precisely spherical to slightly oblong to grape or pear like. Artful imperfection, everytime I look at you.

SAUTEED SQUID WITH HEIRLOOM CHERRY TOMATOES & TARRAGON

1 lb squid. cleaned, rinsed and patted dry
3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lb mutlicolored heirlooom “cherry” tomatoes

2-3 T fresh tarragon leaves, roughly chopped

Cut the squid body into ringlets and leave the tentacles intact. In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil to medium and add the garlic. When the garlic sizzles (but does not brown), add the squid, then salt and pepper. Stir and raise the heat to medium high until the squid runs from opaque to white in “color.” Add the tomatoes and cook until just heated through, yet not broken. Make double sure the squid is cooked briefly, or rubber will ensue. Stir in the tarragon and serve.

Squid Triad

February 2, 2009

The art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasure not a slight pleasure.
~Michel De Montaigne

Squid belong to the class Cephalopoda, which means “head foot.” They are mollusks and related to octopi and some other culinary delights, such as bivalves (scallops, oysters, clams) and gastropods (snails). Cephalopods are thought to be the Einsteins of invertebrates, with highly developed senses and large brains…they even have three hearts that pump blue blood throughout.

Squid grow rapidly, reaching maturity within a year, and reproduce in large numbers. These characteristics help keep populations robust even when they are heavily fished; so they are a scrupulous, sustainable seafood choice. Squid are relatively inexpensive, are quite versatile and also make simply wonderful eats. Try serving them with aioli (garlic mayonnaise) or rouille (saffron & red pepper mayonnaise).

To clean squid, first separate the head from the body (mantle), cut free and retain the tentacles, trim off the eyes and hard beak which it uses to consume prey. With fingers or the back of a small knife, push out and discard the insides and the translucent cuttlebone or quill. Rinse, then dry thoroughly.

Squid must be cooked either quickly for a couple of minutes or slowly braised for about an hour—any time in between will result in one tough critter. Three variations on the squid theme (braised, fried and sautéed) follow:

CALAMAR AU VIN

3 T extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves peeled garlic, gently crushed
1 shallot, diced
1 clove peeled garlic, finely minced and crushed to a paste
1 C red wine
2 pounds squid, cleaned
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet with a lid, and turn the heat to medium high. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, then remove. Add the shallot and and garlic paste and saute over medium heat until shallots are tender. Add the squid and stir, then lower the heat, and add the wine. Stir, add the thyme and bay leaf, then cover.

Braise covered at a slow simmer until the squid is tender, about 1 hour. Uncover, season with salt and pepper to taste, raise the heat, and cook until most but not all of the liquid is evaporated. Stir in the remaining olive oil, and garnish with parsley.

CALAMARI FRITTI

1 lb fresh squid, cleaned
1 cup fine flour, such as semolina, rice or Wondra
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
6 C of peanut, sunflower or canola oil
Lemon quarters

Preheat the oven to 200.

Slice the squid bodies into 1/4 inch rings, and depending on the size, cut the tentacles in half lengthwise.

In a bag or an open bowl, combine the flour, 2 t salt.

Pour the into a heavy sauce pan or use a deep fryer. The oil should be at least 2 inches deep and should be heated to 375.

Dip a handful of squid into the bag or bowl of flour and shake to coat. Transfer the squid to a fine mesh sieve and shake to remove excess flour. Gently drop the squid in small amounts into the hot oil and cook until slightly brown—1 to 2 minutes. Do not crowd them. With a wire spider skimmer, scoop the squid from the oil and season immediately with salt and pepper. Then place in the warm oven with the door ajar as you continue frying the remaining squid.

Serve, garnished with lemon wedges.

SQUID WITH GARLIC, HERBS & TOMATOES

1 lb squid, cleaned bodies and tentacles separated but kept intact
6 T extra virgin olive oil
4 fresh plump garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 (1 1/2-inch) serrano chile, halved lengthwise
1/2 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 C dry white wine
1/4 C drained bottled capers, rinsed & dried

1/2 cup loosely packed roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 T lemon zest
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

If squid are large, halve ring of tentacles, then cut longer tentacles crosswise into 3″ long pieces. Cut bodies crosswise into 1/4″ thick rings. Rinse and thoroughly pat squid dry.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté garlic and chili, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add squid and sauté, stirring, 1 minute. Add tomatoes and wine and simmer, stirring, 2 minutes. Add capers and simmer, stirring, 30 seconds. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Remove from heat and stir in basil, pine nuts, zest, and salt and pepper to taste.