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).

Advertisements

L’Italia è fatta. Restano da fare gli italiani. (We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians).
~Massimo d’Azeglio

Unification (Risorgimento) was a 19th century political, and socio-cultural movement that aggregated a patchwork of unique states of the peninsula into a single kingdom of Italy. Although many scholars dispute the dates, it is likely that conservatively the process began with the downfall of Napoléon Bonaparte followed by the 1815 Congress of Vienna and ended in 1871 when the country’s capital moved from Florence to Rome…except for the Vatican which became an independent state inside the city. In between that half century, much happened throughout Italy. (I could not begin to discuss the entirety of the movement here.)

For centuries, the Italian peninsula was a politically, culturally and linguistically fragmented conglomeration of neighboring states. Local dialects and regional power conflicts abounded. Although Italy still remained splintered through the mid 19th century, the concept of a united country then really began to take root. With nationalist fervor ignited, pervasive arisings occurred in several cities, mostly advanced by adherents such as professionals and students and often directed at Austrian rule. Giuseppi Garibaldi, a native of Piedmont-Sardinia, also cobbled together the then southern peninsular states into the unification process. With French resources appropriated to the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), Napoléon III ordered his troops out of Italy. Then, the final thrust for unification was orchestrated by an adroit diplomat, Piedmont-Sardinia’s Prime Minister, Count Camillo di Cavour. Through many struggles — regions, nations, leaders, peoples, wars, revolts, skirmishes, and strifes — Italian risorgimento was finally achieved in 1871.

Italy celebrates the anniversary of risorgimento each semicentennial (every 50 years).

The risotto rendition below is a tad tardy for this farmers’ market season, but likely there still will be some heirloom tomatoes making their final curtain call. Certainly, though, the same recipe can be used during next year’s iteration (and afterwards) when fresh corn ears, ripe heirlooms and basil leaves together grace the stalls. Thanks, locals.

RISOTTO WITH CORN, TOMATOES & BASIL

2 medium to large, local sweet corn ears

8 C chicken stock, seasoned

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C yellow onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 1/2 C arborio rice
1 lb heirloom tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded and diced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/2 C dry white wine, e.g., sauvignon blanc
3-4 T unsalted butter, cut into tabs
Freshly grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese

3 T fresh Italian basil, cut into chiffonade

Remove corn kernels from cobs and set aside the kernels in a bowl. Simmer the cobs in stock for 20 minutes. Remove from stock and discard. Bring back to a gentle simmer over low heat, with a ladle at hand.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a wide, heavy skillet or Dutch oven until shimmering and not smoking. Add onion and a pinch of salt, and cook gently until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and arborio rice and cook, stirring, until grains of rice separate and begin to slightly crackle, a minute or so. Stir in heirloom tomatoes, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until tomatoes have reduced slightly, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Add wine and stir until it has evaporated and has been absorbed by the arborio rice. Begin adding simmering stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time. Stock should just cover the rice and should be simmering, not too slowly but not too aggressively. Cook, stirring often, until just nearly absorbed. Add another ladleful or two of the stock and continue to cook in this mode, adding more stock and stirring when rice appears to dry. You do not have to stir continually, but often and vigorously. After 10 minutes, add corn and continue for another 10 minutes. When the process is complete, the arborio rice will be just tender but al dente (chewy to the teeth), which is about in 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste, if necessary.

Add another partial ladleful of stock to the arborio rice. Stir in butter and parmiggino-reggiano for about a half minute and remove from heat. The admix should be creamy. Top with basil and serve somewhat promptly in shallow soup bowls with spoons.

Ad Hominy

October 6, 2011

Nunca falta un pelo en la sopa (There’s always a fly in the soup).
~Mexican proverb

Served both whole and ground, hominy is simply corn kernels without the germ. In a process called nixtamalización, dried field corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution (often slaked lime) until the outer layers can be hulled. This yields slightly altered flavor and a different texture with enhanced aromas and tenderness. With Mesoamerican roots dating to circa 1500-1200 BCE, hominy is just another culinary extension of the maize culture that was birthed and flourished there.

The English “hominy” is derived from the word maize in the now extinct Powhatan tongue, a subgroup of Algonquin languages. A confederation of tribes, Powhatans lived in tidewater Virginia during pre-colonial days. As became the habit, white colonists rendered the native dialect dormant as well as nearly eradicating the tributary peoples. Eugenics at work.

When whole, hominy can be found in heavenly menudo (hominy and tripe soup) or pozole. It can also be ground coarsely to make hominy grits, or even finer into a dough to make masa for tortillas, tamales, empanadas, arepas y amigos.

Pozole is a classic pork stew with hominy and dried red chiles. A hearty, rich feast which bathes the senses. This recipe has an admitted shortcut. While using canned hominy may not be preferable—the time and effort that need be allotted to preparing the lime mixture, then cooking, cleaning, hulling, washing and deflowering the corn can be a touch daunting. My apologies to purists.

POZOLE ROJO

6 large, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
8 C water
3 C chicken broth
2 lbs boneless pork shoulder
3 lbs pork neck bones
1/2 t dried cumin seed, toasted, then ground
1 t dried oregano, crumbled

2 1/2 qts canned white hominy, well rinsed and drained

4 large dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and deveined
4 large dried guajillo chiles, stemmed seeded and deveined
2 C water

1 T sea salt

Corn tortillas
Canola or vegetable oil

Garnishes
Cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
White onion, finely chopped
Radishes, thinly sliced
Lime wedges

Corn tortillas
Canola or vegetable oil

In a large heavy kettle or Dutch oven bring water and broth just to a boil with sliced garlic and pork shoulder and neck bones. Skim surface and add oregano. Gently simmer pork, uncovered, until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add the hominy during the last 45 minutes.

While the pork is simmering, tear the chiles into larger pieces and toast in a heavy large skillet over medium heat, pressing them against the surface some. Once they blister turn and repeat. Boil in water, then soak for about 30 minutes. Drain, place in a blender or food processor and puree, slowly adding some water, until a paste forms. Strain and add to the simmering soup, stirring for awhile until incorporated. Season with salt.

Now while the pozole is simmering, work on the tortillas. First, stack and cut into wedges. Then, spread into a single layer, and cover lightly with a dry towel to keep from curling. Allow to dry or they will be greasy. In a heavy medium non-stick skillet heat 3/4″ oil until hot but not smoking and fry in batches, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden, about 30 seconds per side. Transfer tortilla wedges with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Once drained, carefully place in a bowl.

Remove the neck bones and shoulder from the broth. When cool enough, remove the meat from the neck bones and roughly shred all the meat from the shoulder. Return the meat to the pot. Again season with salt to taste.

Ladle the stew into large bowls and top with the garnishes of choice. Serve with the tortillas.

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.

Lobsters
2 – 2 lb pound lobsters, parboiled and split in 1/2 lengthwise
Canola oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Corn tortillas
Canola oil
Añejo cheese

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.

Creamed Corn

September 11, 2010

Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.
~Garrison Keillor

A summer synonymous symphony: corn, chile peppers, tomatoes. With cream? Muah!

A cereal grass domesticated by early indigenous mesoamerican tribes, corn (Zea mays) is better known as maize to other cultures for obvious linguistic reasons. Some of the earliest traces of meal made from corn date back about 7,000 years. Corn was initially brought back to the Old World by Spanish and Portuguese explorers who later introduced it throughout the Mediterranean basin and thence much of the remainder of the world. Now, maize is cultivated on every continent except Antarctica.

Add corn to those lofty innovations that native farmers introduced to Europeans —joining vanilla, chocolate, potatoes, peanuts, manioc, beans, tomatoes, sunflowers, and yams. What indigineous tribes received in return from the white man? Well…

CREAMED CORN WITH CHEVRE, SERRANO CHILES & TOMATOES

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
3 heirloom tomatoes, thickly sliced

2 T unsalted butter
1/2 medium shallot, peeled and minced
1 serrano chile pepper, stemmed, seeded, and minced

4 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked, kernels stripped
1 C heavy cream
Fresh rosemary sprig
3 T chèvre, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 C pine nuts, freshly toasted
Fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons

In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over moderate heat. When shimmering but butter not browning, add thick tomato slices. Do not crowd, so cook the tomatoes in batches. Sear the tomatoes until slightly cooked, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn over and repeat. Cook remaining tomatoes in the same fashion. The tomato slices should still be firm yet lightly browned. Set aside.

Melt butter in a heavy medium sauce pan over medium high heat. When it foams, add shallots and chiles. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add kernels, cream and rosemary sprig to the sauce pan and cook over medium heat. Cover and bring to a simmer for about 5 minutes; then uncover and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in chèvre and ground pepper and continue cooking uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about another 5 minutes. Remove and discard rosemary sprig.

Arrange tomato slices on a platter or individual small plates, and top with creamed corn, chèvre and chile mixture. Garnish with toasted pine nuts and fresh basil.

Pourboire: For a tingly and pungent change of pace, substitute a fine French bleu or Italian gorgonzola cheese for the chèvre; or stir in cooked bacon lardons in lieu of garnishing with pine nuts.

Flatfish & Mussel Ceviche

August 24, 2009

A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
~William Shakespeare, (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 3)

A friend just returned from Peru where she visited the mystical pre-Columbian Inca site of Machu Picchu. Our mummy bag accompanied and warmed her at night on her life journey. Machu Picchu by osmosis. Her homecoming was a shameful reminder that, to date, only one ceviche recipe appears on the site (see Ceviche: Debated Ancestry 03.27.09). Time to remedy that oversight.

FLATFISH & MUSSEL CEVICHE

1 lb white skinless fish fillets, such as flounder or sole
1 lb fresh shelled mussels, cleaned and rinsed
1 C fresh lime juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 t salt
1 plump fresh garlic clove, peeled and finely diced
2 fresh serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

1 T chopped parsley
1 T chopped cilantro
1/4 C yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1/4 C red onion, peeled and finely diced

2 C corn kernels
1 lb sweet potatoes, roasted, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ slices, then half disks
1-2 avocadoes, halved, peeled and sliced

Chill bowls in the freezer.

Cut the fish fillets horizontally into 2″ x 1/4″ slices. Soak the fish and mussels in lime juice for at least 2 hours. Add the salt, garlic, and chili and refrigerate for another hour before serving.

Roast the sweet potatoes in the skin until a fork pierces the meat easily, about 45 minutes in a 375 F oven. Cool, then peel, and cut into 1/4″ slices, then half disks

Just before serving, fold in the parsley, cilantro, and onion and slice the avocadoes.

Divide and mound the ceviche in the center of each bowl. Surround with fanned sweet potato and avocadoes slices topped by corn. Serve immediately.

Thsufferin Thuccotath! You didn’t have to overdo it!
~Sylvester the Cat (Sandy Claws, 1954)

Lima beans were named for the capital of Peru, where this legume has been grown for some 7,500 years. Cultivation spread northward through the migration of indigenous tribes— probably through Central America and Mexico into the American Southwest, then eastward. Spanish explorers likely introduced dried beans to Europe, and the Portuguese took them to Africa.

These little beans are nutritional darlings, packing protein, fiber, iron, manganese, folate, thiamin, potassium coupled with a modest calorie count, little fat and no cholesterol.

A basic dish of corn and lima beans, Succotash is a word derived from the Narragansett word msíckquatash, roughly meaning “stew with corn” or “boiled corn kernels.” The Narragansett are a centuries old Native American tribe of the Algonquian language group who controlled the area west of Narragansett Bay in present day Rhode Island, and also portions of Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts.

In the Great Swamp Massacre (1675) during King Philip’s War, a band of marauding Puritans from Plymouth and Connecticut massacred a group of Narragansett (mostly women, children, and elderly men) living at an Indian winter camp. Following the massacre, many of the remaining Narragansett retreated deep into the forest and swamp lands in the area of what is now southern Rhode Island. Those who refused to be subjected to white colonial authority fled elsewhere or were hunted down and summarily executed. Some Narragansett were even auctioned into slavery to the Caribbean, while others escaped to upstate New York and Wisconsin.

Another proud native peoples absorbed, decimated, and nearly eradicated by white war, disease and expansion. Years later, these practices were termed Manifest Destiny. What a lofty notion— to the contrary, it was a rapacious marketing scheme of the darkest origins with euphemistic icing. Seems more synonymous with those ever divinely ordained concepts called genocide, ethnic cleansing or holy war.

SUCCOTASH WITH BACON AND TOMATOES

5 bacon slices, coarsely chopped
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
2 C fresh corn kernels
3 C fresh or frozen baby lima beans
3/4 C chicken broth
2 t fresh tarragon, chopped
2 C fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For fresh beans: place limas in just enough salted water to prevent sticking and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until almost tender. Check occasionally and add more water as needed.

For frozen: simply thaw.

Cook bacon in large heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons fat from skillet. Return skillet to medium heat. Add shallots and sauté 3 minutes. Stir in corn, lima beans, stock and fresh tarragon. Cook uncovered until lima beans are tender and most of stock evaporates, stirring often, about 5-6 minutes for fresh and 12-14 minutes for frozen.

Add bacon and tomatoes. Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

SUCCOTASH WITH POBLANO AND CREAM

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
3 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 C fresh or frozen (thawed) baby lima beans
2 T unsalted butter
Grating of nutmeg
1/4 C heavy whipping cream

2 C fresh corn kernels

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium high and sauté the onion, garlic and pepper until tender, about 5 minutes. Add lima beans, butter, nutmeg and cream, reduce heat and simmer and stir occasionally until tender, about 15 minutes.

Add the corn kernels to the pan and cook another 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.