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.

I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.
~Salvadore Dali

I meant to embark on the fierce rivalry that has ensued between the United States and Mexico which will be renewed in the title match of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Gold Cup tonight in Pasadena (formerly in Mexico). The U.S. and Mexico have shared 9 of the 10 Gold Cup tournament championships. Much is at stake as the winner qualifies for the next Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Confederations Cup, a preview of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. But, what follows seemed more important.

Squandering billions monthly on an ineffective policy with lives, capital and truth as casualties sounds just like the misguided Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. No, this ongoing waste derives solely from the failed four decade long War on Drugs. As the Global Commission on Drug Policy recently concluded, “…the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.” The esteemed, independent 19-member panel was comprised of former heads of state, a former U.N. secretary-general, a business mogul and even an author. They did not mince words. The report issued by the commission and delivered to the White House and Congress calls on governments to promptly end the criminalization of marijuana and other controlled substance use. They urged that governments instead institute drug policies based on methods empirically proven to reduce crime, lead to better health, and promote economic and social development. Drug users who are in need should be offered treatment, not incarceration.

The commission—which included George Schultz, who held cabinet posts under Presidents Reagan and Nixon and former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volker—is particularly critical of the United States, which must change its drug policies from those guided by anti-crime, “lock ’em up” approaches to ones rooted in health care and human rights. By financing domestic law enforcement to the exclusion of treatment, our government has wrongly focused on punishment rather than supporting prevention. That myopic approach comes as little surprise in this reactionary land.

The fiscal costs of this so-called war have been staggering. As recently as 2008, a study authored by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated that legalizing drugs alone would inject almost $80 billion a year into the U.S. economy. Over $20 billion has been directly spent on the purported War on Drugs in the first half of this year alone. Then, there is the shameful stat that the United States has 5% of the world’s population, yet 25% of the world’s inmates are housed in our overflowing, understaffed prisons. Too often, these joints are far from correctional or rehabilitative, but instead focus on punitive measures which only serve to rend the human spirit. A great percentage of these prisoners are drug offenders, caught up in a deeply flawed agenda. This makes little mention of the concomitant creation of a racially disparate and societally displaced underclass many of whom now have shattered and scattered families, criminal records, no voting rights, no income sources, and suffer severly limited educational and job opportunities. Once on the street, their futures are bleak.

After over 40 years, over 40 million arrests and over a trillion dollars imprudently spent, is it not time to shelf this misconceived war on drugs as another failed experiment? This move has been much too long in the making.

As the report declared, “(T)he global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and years after President Nixon launched the U.S. government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.”

On to some south of the border fare for tonight’s match…

CILANTRO, CUMIN & LIME RICE

2 C long grain white rice
2 C chicken stock
2 C water

2 T canola oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 C chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 t dried cumin seeds, lightly roasted then ground
Zest of 1 fresh lime
Juice of 1 fresh lime
1 pinch sea salt

In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook about 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the garlic only lightly golden. Add the rice, stir with a wooden spoon to coat well, and cook for 1 minute.

In a small bowl gently mix the chopped cilantro, cumin, lime zest and juice. Add the stock and water, cilantro/lime mixture and salt. Bring to a boil, stir and decrease the heat to low.

Cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed and those telltale “fish eyes” appear on the surface. Remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes.

Tacos à Paris? Enfin

June 1, 2011

Paris is always a good idea.
~Audrey Hepburn

A dimunitive spot in the Marais—not really a resto yet almost a caféCandelaria is now the self-annointed first bona fide taqueria in Paris. No doubt that claim will provoke debate on both rives and beyond. With minimal décor, a small counter, one communal table and a bouncer to boot, this venue offers tacos and tostadas to locals and tourists alike. About damn time, but never too late.

I have often been baffled why this eclectic culinary capital or even its overseas territories had not earlier embraced this humble and sumptuous street food. Tacos, un pur délice.

So, given colonial France’s nexus to southeast Asian fare…

SOUTHEAST ASIAN FISH TACOS

1/2 C shoyu
1/4 C coconut milk
1/4 C fresh lime juice
1 T red chile paste
1 T honey
4 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 Thai bird chiles, stemmed and minced
2 lbs skinless halibut or mahi mahi filets

1/2 C coconut milk
1/2 C peanut butter
1/4 C fresh lime juice
1 T nước mắm Phú Quốc (fish sauce)
2 t sesame oil
1 t red chile paste
Honey
Red pepper flakes, to taste

1 C red cabbage, very thinly sliced
1 C Napa cabbage, very thinly sliced
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 C pickled carrots and daikon radishes*

Fresh avocado slices
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
Fresh mint, roughly chopped

Heated flour tortillas or steamed bao buns

Whisk together shoyu, coconut milk, lime juice, chile paste, honey, garlic and 1/4 cup water to make a marinade. Place fish in a ziploc bag, pour marinade over the top and gently toss to coat. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Meanwhile, stir together coconut milk, peanut butter, lime juice, fish sauce, sesame oil, and chile paste into a small saucepan over medium low heat. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add a drizzle or so of honey and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir dressing and set aside.

Put cabbage, onions, pickled carrots/daikon into a large bowl with half of the dressing or so and toss to coat. Set slaw aside. Reserve any remaining dressing.

Prepare grill to medium heat. Drain fish, discarding marinade, and cook on well cleaned and oiled grill until it flakes easily with a fork and is opaque, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer fish to a cutting board, allow to rest for a few minutes and then roughly chop. Serve fish in warm tortillas or steamed bao buns, topped with slaw, avocado slices, dressing, cilantro and mint.

*Pickled Carrots & Daikon
1 C carrots, peeled and julienned (matchstick size)
1 C daikon radish, peeled and julienned (matchstick size)

1/4 C warm water
3/4 C rice wine vinegar
5 T sugar
1 T sea salt

Mix warm water, vinegars, sugar and salt until all is dissolved. Mix carrots and daikon radishes in a tightly lidded glass jar. Pour vinegar mixture into carrots and daikon, stir, cover, and allow to marinade for 3 days or so. Drain off liquid when ready to use.

Pourboire: of course, there are many ways to skin this quasi cat, but consider adding some red curry paste in lieu of or in addition to the red chile pastes in both the fish marinade and the slaw; or drizzle with a mix of sriracha and/or red curry paste and crema.

The right time to eat: for a rich man when he is hungry, for a poor man when he has something to eat.
~Mexican proverb

A thinner version of cousin crème fraîche, rich and delicately sour crema Mexicana is simply unpasteurized cream which is slightly thickened naturally by bacteria. Crema is often drizzled atop tamales, enchiladas, soups, eggs or even slathered on tortillas as a base for tacos. That is just a brief take south of the border.

Spread this velvety condiment with impunity hither, thither and yon and simply self-indulge. Adulterate most all with it. Once hooked, you’ll never savor a taco again without a spatter or squeeze of silky crema—a sauce undeniably deserving of those bourdainesque food porn tags and prurient innuendos.

Crema is more heat stable than sour cream and is less likely to break or separate while cooking. Covered and refrigerated, it will keep for about a week or so. In a pinch, you may also purchase crema at the local grocery or Latin market.

CHIPOTLE CREMA

2 t buttermilk
1 C heavy whipping cream
1 T chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
Juice of 1/2 fresh lime
Pinch of cumin seeds, roasted and ground
1/4 t sea salt

Pour cream into a small saucepan over low heat and stir just until the chill is off the cream. Lukewarm it—do not scald or boil. Stir in the buttermilk and pour into a glass jar.

Place a lid over the jar but do not tighten or batten down the hatches. Set in a warm location and allow to rest for at least one full day until it is noticeably thicker, much like yogurt. Once thickened, stir gently and refrigerate at least 4 hours to complete the thickening process.

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the crema with the chipotles in adobo sauce, lime juice, cumin and salt. Process on high speed until smooth.

AVOCADO CREMA

1 C+ crema
3 T fresh cilantro leaves, freshly chopped
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped

2 large avocados–halved, pitted, scooped and chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Pinch of sea salt

Make the crema as above or purchase at the store.

Add the cilantro and jalapeño to a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade, and purée until smooth. Add the crema, avocados, lime juice and salt and purée until combined. Taste and adjust the flavor by adding more salt if needed.

Pourboire: in a pinch, crema can be purchased at the local grocery or Latin market. Also, please draw on your imagination and consider versions where mashed, chunky avocado, chopped cilantro, minced garlic, minced roasted chiles, oregano, etc. are added to blend/process with the crema base. For instance, in the last batch of crema, I finished by adding a teaspoon or so of the unused dry rub for the low and slow roasted pork butt (salt, pepper, roasted & ground cumin seeds, dried oregano, dried sage, and dried ancho chile powder).

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.

This is a version of the classic chicken soup, soto ayam, with the notable addition of coconut milk and some more heat.

Indonesian cuisine reflects the diverse cultures that inhabit the nearly unfathomable 6,000 islands that compose this archipelago…a gastronomy long influenced by indigenous regional techniques and ingredients commingled with a potpourri of foreign influences which were introduced by the spice trade. Wafting throughout this string of isles are the aromas of India, the Middle East, China and Europe.

SOTO RESAH

1 free range, organic chicken, cut into quarters
3 stalks fresh lemon grass, bruised and tied in a bundle
6 kaffir lime leaves
1 – 14 oz can, coconut milk
1 qt water
1 qt chicken stock
Sea salt

2 t black peppercorns
1 1/2 T coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds
5 fresh shallots, peeled and quartered
3 plump, fresh cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1 1/2 T ground turmeric
2 T ginger, peeled and finely minced
Lime juice

3 T peanut oil
16 oz vermicelli rice noodles (glass noodles)
1 T fresh lime juice

2 limes, cut into wedges
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and cut into wedges
4 green onions, chopped
2 chili peppers, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
4 T chopped mint, basil and cilantro leaves
Chili paste, such as sambal

Place chicken in a medium heavy pot or Dutch oven with lemon grass, lime leaves, cocnut milk, stock, water and salt. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat. Skim off any foam and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes, skimming as needed to make a clear broth. Remove chicken pieces from broth and set aside. Remove and discard lemon grass and lime leaves; reserve stock in pot. When chicken is cool enough to handle, discard skin and bones and shred meat into bite size pieces.

Meanwhile, combine peppercorns, coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a small coffee grind or spice mill to create a paste. Pulse on and off until ground. Add shallots, garlic, turmeric and ginger and pulse to a thick paste. (Add some water and/or lime juice if needed for moisture.)

Heat peanut oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. When very hot, add spice paste and cook, stirring until paste is cooked and beginning to separate from the oil, about 5 minutes.

Add cooked spice paste and chicken meat to stock. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.

Cook noodles according to package directions.

Divide noodles in large soup bowls. Arrange chicken pieces on top along with chopped green onions and sliced peppers; ladle the chicken broth over the chicken and noodles. Serve hot with lime wedges, hard boiled eggs and sprinkle with mint, basil, cilantro and chili paste.