Quesadillas & Secret Laws

October 19, 2016

Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
~Benjamin Franklin

Unfortunately, this is posted just beyond the cusp of National Hispanic Month this year (September 15 – October 15, 2016). Yet, quesadillas are welcome at our table at whatever the day or hour.

Now, imagine that your second language is English.  Better yet, that your cradle language is English. Either way.

Still, there are “secret laws” that are unsettlingly passed without public consent or approval to anyone and all. We have been taught endlessly that Congress publicly enacts statutes candidly, but when the secretive panel known as the Foreign Intelligence Survey Court (FISA) permits the surreptitious collection of phone records, interrogation or torture procedures it somehow becomes the law of the land. Intelligence agencies issue rules and regulations on national security issues are very often not published and not made known to the public and remain “classified.” These include, inter alia, intelligence gathering and the detention, interrogation and torture of suspected terrorists.

Secret laws deny each individual the ability to comprehend constraints imposed by official conduct. In short, perilous secret laws disallow constituents to challenge accountability or to demand any form of legal or legislative transparency. Law and fact soon become an addictive blur in a what is otherwise known as a democratic society with supposedly open courts, judges, prosecutors and legislators. Now, each may act with impunity and without the thoughts, acumen, judgment or oversight of citizens — individually or collectively, before, during, or afterwards.

The last time I looked, the preamble to the United States Constitution began with “We the People” — one of our Constitution’s guiding principles, to make no mention of the due process and confrontation clauses explicitly stated in the Bill of Rights.

While quesadillas may sometimes have directed ingredients, truthfully they are an amalgam of fine leftovers here — so, whatever is recently in the fridge or pantry are fair game (so long as you do not overload), e.g., brussels sprouts, asparagus, tongue, tripe, shredded pork butt, chicken or lamb, gizzards, livers, whatever greens, leeks, green onions, thinly sliced radishes, cheeses of any and all types, fresh or dried oregano, coriander, herbes de provence, thyme, fennel seeds, chipotle peppers, chiles of any species, garbanzo beans, hominy, new potatoes, fennel bulbs, edamame, chinese peas, snow peas, peas, salmon, mackerel, sardines, shrimp, squid, mussels, et al.

QUESADILLAS

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1-2 T unsalted butter

1 lb mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 T brandy or cognac
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 ozs spinach or arugula, stems removed
2-4 ozs or so, cilantro, stems removed

1-2 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, and minced

Spoonful of salsa verde

Goat cheese or chèvre, grated or broken into small pieces
Gruyère cheese, grated

8 or so flour tortillas

1-2 T extra virgin olive or canola oil
2 T unsalted butter

4 local, farm fresh eggs (1 per quesadilla), fried

Place a heavy, medium to large sauté pan over medium high heat and add 2 T extra virgin olive or canola oil and 1-2 T unsalted butter. When oil and butter shimmer, add mushrooms and as well as salt and pepper. Sauté, adding brandy or cognac until mushrooms release liquid and begin to evaporate and mushrooms begin to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.

Combine mushrooms, greens, chilessalsa verde, and cheese in a bowl. Place a large nonstick, heavy skillet over medium to medium high heat, and add extra virgin olive or canola oil and unsalted butter until it begins to shimmer. Do not allow to burn. While pan heats, place a large spoonful of mushroom, greens, chiles, salsa verde, and cheese mixture into each tortilla and place other tortilla over the filled one so as to make a sandwich. Place tortillas in preheated heavy skillet and cook, turning once, until tortillas are nicely browned on both sides and cheeses are melted.

Top with a large, fried egg.

Serve promptly.

The American poultry industry had made it possible to grow a fine-looking fryer in record time and sell it at a reasonable price, but no one mentioned that the result usually tasted like the stuffing inside of a teddy bear.
~Julia Child

Shall the talk be about food or something else? I am torn now.

Peut être, since my youngest son is now in France, it is time for me to talk about Julia. Each day I am graced with awakening early and each night bedding late to Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes I and II, and times in between with each one bearing the name on top of Julia Child. Each tome stares me in the face close to my laptop screen and always smilingly so — thank you, Anastasia. By her writings and intervening WGBH television appearances, the 6’2″ Julia Child, with her warbly tongue and sometimes maladroit gestures was ever tactful and frolicsome. Julia and her cohorts Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck, Paul Child (whom Julia met at the OSS and married) and always had a couth palette (and Jacques Pépin) simply changed cooking in America. They forever altered my mother and others and somehow randomly permeated me.

Thank you to all and others.

MOROCCAN CHICKEN WINGS (AILES DE POULET MAROCAIN)

4 lbs chicken wings, wingettes and drumettes intact

1 T coriander seeds, slightly heated and ground
1 T mustard seeds,slightly heated and ground
1 T cardamom seeds, slightly heated and ground
1 T cumin seeds, slightly heated and ground

1 T sea salt, finely grated
1 T freshly ground black pepper
1 T turbinado or raw sugar
1 T light brown sugar
1 T pimenton
1 T turmeric
1 T cinnamon powder
A touch of vanilla extract
1/2 T cayenne
2 limes, juiced
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

2 T apple cider vinegar
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 C fresh jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/4 C honey
3 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Preserved lemons, at least 2 or 3, insides spooned out gutted), sliced

Heat the coriander, mustard, cardamom and cumin seeds in a dry medium heavy skillet over low medium heat, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally, until they become aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Allow to cool, and then coarsely grind in a spice grinder devoted to the task. Transfer to a small glass bowl and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

Then, put those 4 (coriander through cumin seeds) and the following 12 ingredients (sea salt through extra virgin olive oil) on the wings in a large ziploc bag and refrigerate overnight, turning a few times.

Then, add the 6 next ingredients (apple cider vinegar through preserved lemons) to a heavy sauce pan and allow to very slowly work to a simmer reducing to 1/2 or so and, after cooling to room temperature, allow this to marinate with the wings for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 F at the lower part of the oven and prepare a well foiled pan.

Pour off most of excess marinade. Cook the entirety — the chicken wings + marinades — turning a couple of times, with the exception of the yogurt sauce, scallions, jalapenos,and cilantro (see below), of course, for about 30-40 minutes or so, until nicely yet slightly browned.

Scallions, cleaned and chopped
Jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, membrane removed and thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves, stemmed and chopped

Sauce
1 1/2 C plain Greek yogurt
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 T fresh cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 T honey
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Then, top the wings with chopped scallions, jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, membrane removed and thinly sliced, and cilantro leaves, chopped.  Drizzle very lightly with, then dip in yogurt sauce.

Now feed (with toppings and yogurt sauce in a bowl) to les enfants and the elders — in the proper wing way, whatever that may be.

To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.
~Mahatma Gandhi

Then, we kill the both of them, without much compunction. As many may already know, I respectfully disagree with M. Gandhi, who was assassinated by a person repeatedly in late January, 1948. To an omnivore, occasionally slaying lamb, pork, beef, poultry or fish (provided one butchers head to tail) seems almost natural, commonplace — foodstuff for hungry mouths. So, lambs are somewhat beloved. Humans however, despite recent and past stats, should prove off limits to early deaths with little regret.

For instance, the Srbosjek was the term for the cutthroat, originally agricultural knife made for wheat sheaf cutting, which was used to kill prisoners in Croatian concentration camps during WW II. It was likely adopted to execute millions by the Ustase (Insurgence) having the upper part made of leather, designed to be worn with the thumb going through the hole, so that only the blade protruded from the hand. It had a curved, long knife with a sharp edge on the concave side. (Think box cutter.) There were even evil competitions to see just how many Serbian, Jewish and Gypsy throats could be slit with a single knife in a night. Their whole bodies then lie lifeless in a nameless, unmarked, mass grave.

A fascist Italian and Nazi German puppet government was installed under the guise of lawyer, Ante Pavelić, in around 1941.  Brutal genocide existed, what is often now called in a sanitized version, “ethnic cleansing, of Orthodox Serbian Christians for over a century…held most markedly under Nazi domination, anti-semitism, racism, and anti-catholicism. Terror reigned, and Pope Pius XII’s controversial response, despite the papacy’s detailed knowledge of the industrialized murders, was to turn a blind eye to these heinous crimes — certainly as it pertained to the victims. Neutrality, platitudes and often silence from the papacy met atrocities. The Pontiff could simply have done much more.

This post makes little mention of the vast number of Serbians that were forced to convert to Roman Catholicism during the war. Then, there were the barbarities of gas ovens and showers which perpetrated persecution via The Holocaust or Final Solution, and now American gun violence.

For shame, y’all.

LAMB SHOULDER

1 whole bone-in lamb shoulder, about 8-10 lbs

3 or so fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled & slightly smashed
3/4 C light brown sugar
1/2 C sea salt
1/2 C espresso beans, well ground
2 T black pepper, freshly ground
2 T oregano, ground in hand
1 bay leaf
1 T sage
2 T cumin seeds, roasted and well ground
1 T ground cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg, freshly grated
1 T cayenne pepper

Mantou (Chinese steamed buns), potato rolls, egg buns, even tortillas (warmed)

Place the lamb on a foil covered, rimmed sheet pan and set aside.

Rub the lamb with peeled garlic cloves.  Combine the brown sugar, sea salt, espresso beans, black pepper, oregano, bay leaf, sage, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne in a glass mixing bowl and combine well. There should be about 2+ cups total.

Use the dry rub to coat all sides of the lamb, carefully massaging the mix into the meat’s cracks and crevices.

To set up a grill for smoking, leave half of the grill free of coals for wood chips.

Place the lamb onto a smoker or grill and cook, maintaining a temperature between 225-250 degrees F, replenishing wood chips as needed.

After about 4 hours, begin to check on the lamb every 20 minutes or so. You should be able to tear off a chunk of the meat readily.  The internal meat temperature, measured in a thick part not touching bone, will reach about 185-190 degrees F with the process taking up to 6 hours.

Remove the lamb to a clean rimmed sheet pan and set aside, covered, to rest. Then, using two forks or your clean fingers, pull apart the lamb shoulder into smaller pieces for sandwiches.

Garnishes
Lime wedges
Cornichons, sliced
Red onions, peeled and minced
Fresh cilantro or parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Radishes, thinly sliced
Avocados, peeled and sliced
Chipotle crema
Salsa fresca

Vietnam was a country where America was trying to make people stop being communists by dropping things on them from airplanes.
~Kurt Vonnegut

Ursa major is a visible “constellation” (actually, an asterism — a prominent pattern of stars often having a title yet a tad smaller than actual constellations) which is seen in the northern hemisphere.  Fairly linear roads lead to Polaris, a yellow-white super giant and the brightest cephied variable star that pulsates radially and forms the very tail of ursa minor. Take a gander at the Alaska state flag to get a general feeling of how to envisage Polaris.

Both ursa major and ursa minor resemble ladles, pans, cups or bowls even though they tend to be translated as the “larger and smaller she-bear(s)” likely due to their northern latitude locations or some zany look at the Big Dipper picture.

On spring and summer evenings, ursa major and minor shine high on in the sky while in autumn and winter evenings, the asterism lurks closer to the horizon.  If one travels from lines of the Merck (β) to the Dubhe (α) stars of ursa major (from the outer base to the outer tip of the pan) and then go about 5x that distance and, Polaris, the north star, will be notably recognized. Polaris, and other pole stars, are relatively steady and stable.

Ursa Major was catalogued by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century. Polaris has often been used as a navigational tool having guided sailors, ancient mariners, even escaping slaves on underground railroads.  It is circumpolar, meaning that it never sets in the north or never disappears below the horizon.  However, given that the Earth’s axis moves slowly, and completes a circular path at some 26,000 years or less — so, several stars take turns becoming the pole star over eons.

FLANK STEAK VIETNAMESE

½ C nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce)
2 T nước măn chay pha sản (chili soy sauce)
1 lime, zested
1/2 C fresh lime juice
3 T light brown sugar
2 T fresh, local honey
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
jalapeños, stems and seeds removed, minced
1/2 C ginger, peeled and grated or finely minced

1 flank steak (about 2 lbs)

Rice noodles, just cooked al dente

Sesame seeds, for serving
Mint leaves & cilantro leaves, chopped, for serving

In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, chili soy sauce, lime zest, lime juice, honey, brown sugar, garlic, jalapeños and ginger. Pour the mixture over the flank steak in a ziploc bag in the frig and let marinate overnight.

Light the grill to medium high, and wipe the steak with a paper towel.  Cook until done, about 3-4 minutes per side for rare to medium rare. Transfer steak to a cutting board and let rest for 10-15 minutes tented in foil while simmering the leftover marinade.

Thinly slice steak across the grain on a bias (perpendicular to the grain) and serve over al dente cooked rice noodles gently drenched with reheated marinade. Garnish meat with sesame seeds and mint leaves and cilantro leaves.

A highbrow is the kind of person who looks at a sausage and thinks of Picasso.
~A.P. Herbert

Merguez, which has Bedouin and then Tunisian and Moroccan antecedents, has some assorted Arabic spellings:  (mirkas (ﻤﺮﻛﺲ), pl. marākis (ﻤﺮﺍﻛﺲ),mirkās (ﻤﺮﻛﺎﺱ), markas (ﻤﺭﻛﺲ) and mirqāz (ﻤﺮﻗﺲ).  After the French invasion, occupation and colonization of the Maghreb (“sunset” or “west”) which are the lands west of Egypt in coastal North Africa, the lamb/mutton or beef piquante sausage naturally spread to France and elsewhere.  The Maghreb was cordoned off from the rest of the continent by the immense Sahara Desert and peaks of the Atlas Mountains also their ports, often built by Phoenicians, look out on the shimmering Mediterranean Sea.  The area was conquered and settled by the Spanish, Italians, French, Arabs, Ottomans, Vandals, Carthaginians, Romans, Phoenicians, Berbers, Islamics, Turks, to name a few at differing times.  Sadly, there is nothing like conquest to make cuisine sublime.

Merquez is often served grilled, with tajines and stews, next to couscous or lentils, and in baguettes or buns with pommes frites — now, the latter is a scrumptious charcuterie and street food both.

Not that there exist constraints or restraints by any of these culinary means — with the exception of personal imagination.

A must.

MERGUEZ

1/4 C+ extra virgin olive oil
4 pounds spinach, stems removed, washed and dried well

2 medium onions peeled and cut into small cubes
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 T fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 T fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 T harissa
Freshly ground black pepper
2 t  quatre epices (recipe follows)

2 C water
2 C chicken stock
A splash of dry white wine
1/2 lb dried garbanzo or cannellini beans, drained

2 lbs fresh merguez sausage
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 300 F

Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the spinach and cook, stirring throughout, until all the spinach has wilted and browned slightly and all the liquid has evaporated, about 20-30 minutes.

Add the onions, garlic, mint, cilantro, harissa, black pepper, and quatre epices and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.

Pour in 4 cups water and stock and a dollop of dry white wine to the mix above, then add the garbanzos or cannellini beans. Stir, bring to a quiet simmer, and cover. Braise gently in the oven for 2 hours, or until the beans are nearly tender.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 T extra virgin olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sear the merguez on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain well.

Stir the lemon juice into the beans and place the seared merguez on top. Cover and continue to braise until the beans are tender and the sausage is cooked through, about 30 minutes more. Season with salt to taste.

Quatre Epices
1 T allspice berries
1 T whole cloves
1 T nutmeg, freshly grated
1 T ground cinnamon

Grate the nutmeg. In a coffee mill or spice grinder, grind the allspice and cloves. Combine all of the spices in a bowl, stirring to mix. Use as needed, then store remainder in a tight, glass container in the cupboard.

Bon appetit!

Great art is horseshit, buy tacos.
~Charles Bukowski

But, don’t judge your tacos by their price.
~Hunter S. Thompson

They are both gracefully dead, in their own ways.  However, they gave tacos a good name before they left, as should be the case.

More important, both Bukowski and Thompson cast ripe books, short stories, verses, screenplays and journalism that left the imagination brimming, eloquently reeling, and sometimes in utter disarray. The lives of everyday folk, countercultures, writing as drudgery, altered minds, alcohol and drug use, prurient depravity, vivid taboos, dark binges, expressive depression, broken renewal, anguished desolation, inherent absurdity, flirtatious promiscuity, and often such unrecognizable tongues…laureates of supposed lowlifes, yet intimate and not at all shameful souls were their subjects.

Although one died more slowly of leukemia, the other passed suddenly from committing suicide with a .45 within a decade or so of one another.  Is there really a difference between how they departed?

Eye rolling rapture follows.

TACOS DE POLLO (CHICKEN TACOS)

Tomatillo Salsa
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 chicken stock
A pinch or so of sea salt

Sauce
1 small to medium yellow onion, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt
3 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 t ground cumin, toasted and ground or dried
Adobe sauce from a small can of chipotle chiles

Pollo (Chicken)
1/2 each parts of water and chicken stock to cover birds
2-3 chicken thigh/leg quarters, later shredded
Sea salt and a hint of freshly ground black pepper
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 t dried oregano, broken

Flour tortillas, warmed

Combine tomatillos, garlic, chiles and cilantro in food processor or blender. Add 1⁄4 cup stock and 1 t sea salt. Blend by pulses to a coarse purée and then pour into a medium glass bowl.

Season the birds on each side in salt and just a little pepper and cumin on the skin side.  In a heavy skillet or Dutch oven, over medium high heat, place bay leaves, thyme sprigs into the mix. Add the chicken skin side up and cover with 1/2 water and 1/2 stock, simmer for about 25-30 minutes, then shred off the bone with fingers or fingers and a fork. Strain and reserve the chicken stock.

In a small heavy saucepan, heat olive oil and/or canola oil, yellow onion, sea salt, garlic cloves, cumin and adobe sauce. Sauté, then add the chicken stock derived from cooked chicken and cook until thickened.  Add chicken and sauté a bit longer, until the meat glistens some.

Wrap 6 or so flour or corn tortillas  in foil and place in a preheated 325 F oven for 15-20 minutes, so they become soft and warm.

Serve chicken in warmed tortillas with the tomatillo salsa forming a base and quickly add the following to your liking to each taco, many of which should be in bowls on the table or counter (but, please do not overload tacos — just choose a few fillings, at most):

Radishes, sliced
White or red onion, peeled and chopped
Green cabbage (Brussels sprouts, possibly), cored and thinly sliced
Black beans (frijoles negros) , drained
Refried beans (frijoles refritos), slightly cooked
Salsa roja and/or salsa verde (red and/or green salsas), warmed
Gochujang (hot pepper paste) and/or (soybean paste) ssamjang (both at Korean markets)
Fried eggs
Queso fresco, crumbled
Crema, just a few dollops
Fresh chiles of any variety, sliced thinly
Lime wedges
1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh removed and cut into 1/2″slices
Cilantro leaves (not stems)

Pourboire:  many advocate the use of 2-ply tortillas by placing one tortilla centered directly upon the other, then filling the inside one.  Both warmed, of course.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
~Søren Kierkegaard

Around 380 BCE, in a book of The Republic, Plato presciently wrote the myth of the Ring of Gyges, in which a noble shepherd pocketed a “magical” ring found on the hand of a corpse in an abandonned cave that rendered him invisible to suit his whims. Gyges (sometimes pronounced jahy-jeez and other times jee-jeez) used this newly found trinket to infiltrate the royal household, and was even invited by the King of Lydia to secretly view his queen in the buff. He then could not help but seduce her and abruptly assassinated the king, ultimately usurping the throne. The basic notion behind Plato’s fable is that anonymity and disinhibition can corrupt even the most virtuous folks. So, if social reputation and sanctions are removed (now e.g., cowering behind a screen) moral character with any sense of empathy or contrition simply disappears too.

The once ancient Gyges effect with its namelessness, facelessness and/or faux appellation worlds appertains today in the form of trolls, thoughtless naysayers, online ragers, discord sowers, cyber-harassers, ranting yelpers, yik yakkers, social media/app abusers, inflammatory commentators, aggressors, droners, truculent ones, hackers, cyberbullies, belligerents, hate mongers, disrupters, and keyboard antagonists (to name a few). They all tend to enter a universe without filters or open discourse, actually pretending that there is not a real human enduring their assaults. To them, these are merely raging words on a formerly blank screen where there is just a desire for impact, for contemptuousness or resentment without any shared humanity or sense of responsibility. Shameless, in so many ways. Whatever happened to compassion and empathy?

A kind suggestion. Instead of hiding behind a screen of whatever sorts, please look intently in a mirror — a cold, hard stare — and closely conceptualize your face before even thinking about ranting online or elsewhere. Then instead, perhaps gently make a bowl of rice or some dessert. Be cool, be calm and savor each scent, each bite. So, “feed” a troll contrary to common advice.

But then, ponder while munching — how do we see real faces again?

BASMATI RICE & CORN PILAF

2 C Basmati rice

4 T unsalted butter or ghee (divided)
2 t garlic, minced
1 T ginger, grated
1/2 t turmeric
Pinch saffron
1/2 t coriander seeds
1/2 t cumin seeds
8 whole cloves
1/2 t black peppercorns
2 cardamom pods

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 C corn kernels, freshly shaven off of ears

Sea salt
1 C golden raisins
2 C chicken or vegetable broth

2 T cilantro, chopped
2 T scallions, chopped
1/4 C roasted cashews

Put rice in a medium bowl and cover with cold water. Swish with fingers, then pour off water. Repeat 2-3 times, until water runs clear. Cover again with cold water and soak 20 minutes, then drain.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter or ghee in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Add garlic, ginger, turmeric, saffron, coriander, cumin, cloves, peppercorns and cardamom, and stir to coat. Let sizzle a bit, then add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter or ghee, the rice and the corn, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook for 1 minute. Add raisins and chicken or vegetable broth and bring to brisk simmer. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.

Cover, reduce the heat to low and let cook 15 minutes. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes off heat. Fluff rice and transfer to serving bowl. Strew rice with cilantro, scallions and cashews. Consider serving with raita. (See the August 5, 2012, post for a raita recipe or just simply type raita into the search box on the right hand side of the screen).

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)
Sea salt

Garnishes
Hoisin sauce
Hot chile sauce (e.g., Sriracha)
Lime wedges
Bean sprouts
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).

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
Sea salt

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.

Do not dismiss the dish by saying that it is just simple food.
The blessed thing is an entire civilization in itself.
~Abdulhak Sinasi

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 pak (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.