Please Sir. I want some more.
~Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens

Happy birthday, Mr. Dickens.

Today, Britain marked the birth bicentenary of Charles Dickens with a wreathlaying at his grave in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. The church congregation included what may have been the most prodigious gathering of the revered novelist’s descendants. Simultaneously, a street party and ceremonies were held in his native Portsmouth. Ralph Fiennes, who will star as Magwitch in the adaptation of Great Expectations, read a moving extract from another of Dickens’ most beloved novels, Bleak House. The venerated Victorian author was an almost incomparable inventor of character, both ordinary and grand. His prolific pen authored numerous novels and other writings, all resonating with humanity and compassion. A deft storyteller, Dickens skewered wretched and greedy affluence, depicted the misery of poverty, and explored such varied themes as needed educational reform, sordid workplaces, class diparity, dismal childhoods, and destructive guilt, loneliness and despair. No slight to Shakespeare, Chaucer and esteemed ilk, but this is Dickens’ day.

Most know that Dickens coined “scrooge” (miserliness) and “uriah heep” (insincerity), but he is also the creator of “pecksniffian” named after Seth Pecksniff, a character in the novel Martin Chuzzlewit. The definition: hypocritically affecting benevolence or high moral principles (e.g., pompous politicians).

Over six decades after the end of British colonial rule in India, the works of Charles Dickens continue to be studied and taught across the sub-continent. The issues he addressed in his works–caste inequity, social injustice and poverty–repercuss in the modern world.

India had long ago exported the flavors of chutney, mustard, pepper, and curry to loyal (and perceptive) followers in the isles. Since imperial times, Indian fare and British gastronomy have been inextricably intertwined. About the time of Dicken’s birth, the first Indian restaurant opened in London and by the time of his death, curry was well entrenched in the country’s cuisine. This is not to say Dickens had a penchant for curry even though food passages abound in his novels.

Indian restaurants began to really proliferate in London in the 1960’s — flock wallpaper and spicy hues, tablas, biryanis, naan, and vindaloos, with piped sitars and seductive curry aromas wafting throughout. Decades later, foreign minister Robin Cook even proclaimed chicken tikka masala, arguably the most favored curry there, “is now a true British national dish.” No, not Sunday roast or Yorkshire pudding or fish and chips, but CTM.

CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA

1 T cumin seeds
1 T coriander seeds
1 t mustard seeds

2 t dried chili flakes
1 T ground turmeric
2 t garam masala
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 2 1⁄2″ piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and finely chopped
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into chenks
1 1/2 C Greek yogurt
Sea salt

3 T unsalted butter
2 small to medium yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 T paprika
2 t coriander
1 t cumin
1 t mustard seeds
1 can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 t garam masala
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 C heavy whipping cream
1/2 C plain yogurt

Cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Basmati rice
Naan

Soak bamboo skewers in water.

In a dry heavy bottomed skillet, heat the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds over medium low heat for a couple of minutes. Grind the cumin and coriander seeds and set aside for the sauce later. Grind the mustard seeds for the chicken marinade with red pepper flakes in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. In a food processor or blender, purée turmeric, cumin, coriander, mustard, garam masala, garlic, ginger, jalapeños, and slowly add water until a loose paste forms. In a bowl, stir together half of the paste, yogurt, and salt thoroughly. Rub into the chicken and marinate, covered, in the refrigerator overnight. Reserve the remaining paste for later.

Remove chicken from the refrigerator so it reaches close to room temperature. Prepare charcoal grill to medium heat. Thread the chicken pieces through skewers. Grill chicken until just done, about 2 minutes per side, then arrange on platter and tent with foil. Do not worry if the chicken is slightly undercooked, as it will cook more in the sauce.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a heavy saucepan over medium high. Add onions, paprika, and reserved coriander and cumin. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 6–8 minutes. Add remaining paste, tomatoes, garam masala, and cinnamon and cook another another 10 minutes. Stir in cream and yogurt, and chicken bring to a slight boil and reduce to a gentle simmer until thickened, about 8-10 minutes. Season with salt to your liking.

Serve with basmati rice and naan.

Pourboire: should a charcoal grill not be an option, simply broil, sauté or roast the chicken during that step and then continue with the remainder of the recipe.

Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices filled with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes.
~James Joyce, Ulysses

The gizzard, also referred to as the ventriculus, gastric mill, or gigerium, is a digestive organ comprised of a tough inner membrane, surrounded by a muscular pouch which provides grinding action for food. While fowl are the focus here, gizzards are also found in the stomach tracts of other critters such as reptiles, fish, mollusks, and insects. Some, but not all birds use swallowed gravel, called gastroliths, as grist to masticate and help with digestion. These stones usually become round and smooth from the polishing process in the belly.

A much revered food in so many of the world’s regions, gizzards are sautéed, poached, braised, roasted, grilled, boiled, stewed, pickled, deep fried or even used to flavor stocks. I adore these burgundy hued nuggets, and they are seductively cheap.

The English word “gizzard” comes from the Middle English giser which derived from the Old French word gisier (Mod.Fr. gésier) “a bird’s entrails,” from the Latin gigeria. The Latin term was likely drawn from the Persian word for liver, jigar.

While most gizzards are sold partially cleaned, the importance of diligently prepping the gizzards cannot be understated. (Although many prefer the chewy textured ones.) Simply rinse off any grit and trim off and discard any of the connective cartilage and silverskin membrane before using. A very sharp blade is imperative.

DUCK GIZZARD CONFIT

12 duck gizzards, cleaned and trimmed
1/4 C sea salt
1 T dried thyme

4-5 T duck fat

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 lbs fresh chanterelles and/or crimini, sliced
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
3 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Fresh thyme sprigs

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh tarragon and/or parsley leaves, roughly chopped

Mix salt with dried thyme and toss in the gizzards to coat well. Put the seasoned gizzards in a covered container in the refrigerator overnight. The following day, rinse the cured gizzards thoroughly and dry with paper towels.

Heat a large pot of water until almost simmering. Put the gizzards into a ziploc bag, and spoon in the duck fat with them. Seal tightly pressing the air out of the bag. Submerge the bag in a colander and then into the hot water, carefully positioning so that water does not seep into the bag. Maintain the water over a very low heat and slowly poach for about 4 hours.

Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat and add olive oil and butter. Add the mushrooms and shake the pan or stir with a spatula to cook. Add the shallots and toss to combine. Cook just until the shallots are lightly brown. Add the garlic and fresh thyme and cook until the garlic softens but does not burn, about 2-3 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs and season with salt and pepper.

Carefully remove the gizzards and duck fat from the bag, slice them and add to the mushrooms, shallots and garlic over medium high heat. Shortly remove from from heat, season with salt and pepper to taste if necessary, then sprinkle with tarragon or parsley. Serve in a bowl with grilled artisanal bread nearby.

BRAISED CHICKEN GIZZARDS WITH CURRY

1 1/2 lbs. chicken gizzards, cleaned and trimmed

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced into very thin half moons
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
1″ ginger root, peeled and chopped finely

1 T cumin seeds, dry roasted then ground
1 T coriander seeds, dry roasted then ground
2 dried red chiles, dry roasted then ground
1/2 t mustard seeds, dry roasted then ground

1 t fenugreek seeds, ground

1 t turmeric
1 t red chile powder
Sea salt

3 T grapeseed oil
1 T unsalted butter
3/4 C chicken stock
3/4 C water
1 cinnamon stick

Roasted peanuts, chopped (optional)
Cilantro leaves, stemmed and roughly chopped

In a bowl, combine ground cumin, coriander, red chiles, mustard seeds and fenugreek with turmeric, red chile, and salt. In a heavy large sauté pan, heat grapeseed oil and butter over medium high. Stir in the onions for a couple of minutes, then the ginger and garlic and cook until until just light golden. Stir in the spice mixture and cook another 2-3 minutes or so.

Then, add the gizzards, stirring until well coated. Stir in the stock, water and cinnamon stick, cover and simmer slowly until gizzards are tender, about 1 hour or more. Assess liquid from time to time to assure a fairly constant level. Feel free to add hot water instead of additional broth. You will need adequate curry sauce to smother the gizzards and ooze into the rice. While braising, stir occasionally and add sea salt to taste.

Serve in shallow soup bowls over Basmati rice topped with peanuts and cilantro.

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.

The cruelest prison of all is the prison of the mind.
~Piri Thomas

Petit and piquant, piri piri (also known as bird’s eye or African red devil) is a cultivar of Capsicum frutescens, which is both a wild and domesticated chile pepper.

Piri piri rolls off the ever seductive Portuguese tongue which did not so gently settle into the lush, tropical lands of the República de Moçambique (Mozambique). Not unlike most European-African incursions, Portugal began to colonize these lands in the early 16th century. Mozambique’s natives and natural resources, particularly gold mines, sugar and copra plantations, endured serious exploitation. Indigenous peoples were subjected to harsh conditions, punitive laws, and restricted rights all the while “settlers” were lured to a land claimed to be flowing with milk and honey. Sadly, a familiar tune.

Independence from this colonial yoke was finally achieved in 1975, yet Mozambique was soon ravaged by civil war, economic woes and famine. Relative peace was reached, ending sixteen years of brutal strife and allowing the country to begin drifting toward some form of stability. Still, the civil war that devastated Mozambique’s economy and infrastructure left it one of the world’s poorest nations.

Ironically, Portugal’s PM, José Sócrates, has now requested a financial bailout for his own country, north and west of its former colony.

The country’s name was derived from Mossa Al Bique or Mussa Ben Mbiki who was a renowned, local Arab trader of yore. I must assume that had to be one in the same person.

Shrimp piri piri has been anointed as Mozambique’s “national dish.” But, what does that phrase connote in a world rife with regional and familial dishes, cross cultures, conquest, occupation and colonialism?

This piri piri swerves some from the basic, but is well worth the diversion.

SHRIMP PIRI PIRI

1/3 C extra virgin olive oil

1/2 t black mustard seeds
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
6-8 red bird’s eye chiles, seeds and ribs removed, chopped

1 t cumin seeds, roasted and ground
1/2 t ground turmeric
1 t garam masala
1/2 t ground clove
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t sea salt
Pinch of raw sugar
1/2 C apple cider vinegar

1 lb shrimp (16-20 count), peeled and deveined, tails intact

Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Lime quarters

In a large, heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the mustard seeds and cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Add the onion, reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened slightly, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and chiles and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2-4 minutes longer.

Add the cumin, turmeric, garam masala, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, salt, sugar, and vinegar. Reduce heat to medium low and cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and, when the mixture is cool enough, purée in a food processor or blender until smooth. If necessary, add more oil to achieve the desired consistency. Set aside and allow to cool. Then, pour over the shrimp and cover in the refrigerator for a few hours or even overnight.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium high heat. Add the shrimp and sauté, stirring and shaking the pan, until the shrimp are done, about 2-4 minutes. Serve promptly with cilantro and limes.

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.

Cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.
~Mark Twain

Another inexplicable food bias. Why does cauliflower so often cop attitudes ranging somewhere between ambivalence and disdain?

Cauliflower can rarely find a date for prom which, as always, is a waste of fine material. This somewhat nutty flavored cruciferous vegetable is whitish as it lacks green chlorophyll in the head (“curd”) because the leaves shield the florets from sunlight. The orange and purple varieties are particularly fetching. Cauliflower possesses a high nutritional density with a profile low in fat, high in dietary fiber, folate, water and vitamin C. Ironically, when coupled with turmeric (see below), cauliflower has been found to reduce the risk of aggressive prostate cancer. So, please take her to the dance whether raw, roasted or sautéed.

Gobi Masala is a scrumptious Andhra cauliflower dish. Andhra Pradesh is a state located on the southeastern coast of India, baring the second longest coastline on this subcontinent—often monsoon ridden and occasionally battered. Two major rivers, the Godavari and the Krishna, course across this climatically and historically diverse region. The state is often called “India’s rice bowl” as over three quarters of the crops are rice, and it also happens to be a brisk producer of chile peppers.

The cuisine in Andhra kitchens is varied and regionally dependent, but naturally includes rice, peppers and a wide array of curries and spices.

As with all provincial cooking, versions of gobi masala abound. Some cooks suggest parboiling, even frying, the cauliflower first…some incorporate more indigenous Indian spices and curry leaves…some add a wondrous paste of poppy seeds and cashews…and so on and so forth.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER CURRY

1 cauliflower head, cut into florets
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered

2 t coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds

1/2 C canola or extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C sherry wine vinegar
1 T curry powder
1/2 t garam masala
1/2 t turmeric
1 t red chile powder
2 t sea salt

Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Stir coriander seeds and cumin seeds in small skillet over medium-low heat until essences are released, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool then grind in mortar with pestle or spice grinder. Place ground seeds in medium bowl and whisk in olive oil, wine vinegar, curry powder, garam masala, turmeric, chile powder, and salt.

Pull apart onion quarters into separate layers and add to cauliflower in a large glass bowl. Pour spice mixture over florets and onions and toss well to coat. Spread cauliflower and onions in a single layer in a large baking dish or heavy roasting pan.

Roast vegetables, stirring occasionally, until just fork tender, about 25 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

GOBI MASALA

1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets

1/2 C canola or extra virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

2 tomatoes, cored, seeded and finely chopped

2 t coriander seeds
2 t mustard seeds
2 t cumin seeds
2 t turmeric
1/2 t garam masala
1 t red chile powder
Liberal pinch of sea salt

1/2 C plain yogurt
2 t cashews, ground

Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Stir coriander, mustard and cumin seeds in small skillet over medium low heat until essences are released, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool then grind in mortar with pestle or spice grinder. Add turmeric, garam masala and red chile powder. Set aside.

Heat oil in a heavy, deep skillet and add the chopped onions, garlic and serrano peppers and sauté until onions are light brown.

Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the spice mix and salt and cook until the onion-tomato-garlic-pepper mix fully absorbs the flavors.

Add the yogurt and cashews and gently sauté until well blended. Now, add the cauliflower florets and sauté turning occasionally to coat for 2-3 minutes. Cover and cook until just tender, about 5 more minutes.

Garnish with fresh cilantro.

Huge lemons, cut in slices, would sink like setting suns into the dusky sea, softly illuminating it with their radiating membranes, and its clear, smooth surface aquiver from the rising bitter essence.
~Rainer Maria Rilke

An aromatic South Indian bend on a lemon rice recipe posted earlier. (Rice with Lemon & Pine Nuts, June 12, 2009).

Lemons are small evergreen trees (Citrus limon) native to Asia, which also bear the name of the trees’ sunny oval fruits. Although the specific regional origin is debated, it is believed to be somewhere in China or India, where lemons have been cultivated for some 2,500 years. They were supposedly introduced into southern Italy during ancient Roman times and were cultivated in the Mideast and North Africa by the 7th century. Prized for their medicinal value, Arabs scattered these tart orbs throughout the Mediterranean basin during their European conquests. The first European lemon cultivation began in Genoa during the mid-fifteenth century. Christopher Columbus introduced lemons to the New World when he brought seeds to Hispaniola along his voyages.

Not an atypical etymological path for the actual word. The Middle English word limon likely derived the Old French limon, which in turn probably came from the Italian limone—which reverts back to the Arabic word laymūn or līmūn, which comes from the Persian word līmūn.

LEMON RICE

1 1/2 C basmati rice
3 C water
1/2 t salt

2 T canola oil
1/3 C unsalted roasted peanuts

1/2 t cumin seeds, roasted and finely ground
1/2 t mustard seed
1 t turmeric
2 red whole dried red chiles, seeded and finely diced
1/2 T curry powder
Pinch of garam masala
1/4 C lemon juice
Sea salt, to taste

Freshly grated coconut, for garnish (optional)

Wash rice gently changing water several times until the water appears clear. Drain the rice and put it into the saucepan. Add water and salt, and bring to a gentle boil, then promptly reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook until the rice is tender and “fish eyes” appear on the surface, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and fluff the rice with a fork. Set aside, covered.

Heat the oil in a heavy sauté pan on medium heat. Sauté the peanuts until the change color to light brown, about 2 minutes. Remove the peanuts and place in a bowl.

Add ground cumin and mustard seeds and once the seeds crackle add red chili, curry, garam masala, turmeric, and stir briefly. Mix in the already cooked rice, peanuts and lemon juice, then season with salt to taste. Toss the rice in the pan so that the spices mix evenly in the rice, ensuring that the rice is evenly yellow. Much like paella, if the rice at the bottom hardens, do not scrape the bottom of the pan.

If desired, garnish each serving with grated coconut.

Pourboire: if locally available, add a few sprigs of curry leaves in lieu of the curry powder. The curry tree (Murraya koenigii), in the citrus family, has small, oval leaves with a pleasing aroma that hints of tangerine and anise.