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).

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Boasting a gastronomic history of some ten centuries, that Meditteranean morsel known as Catalan cuisine is stunningly simple and seasonal. A rich culinary tradition that predates medieval times, the first book of Catalan recipes was the Llibre de Sent Sovi (1324). In its own inimitable fashion, this cuisine has managed to incorporate foods that have arrived through contact with other cultures via trade, conquest or regional cross-pollination. Catalan food can boast of aristocracy and nobility yet remain rustic…where both complexity and modesty are revered.

CATALAN SPINACH

1/4 C raisins

2-3 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/4 C pine nuts
1/4 C dried apricots, thinly sliced

2 spinach bunches (about 2 lbs), stemmed, well rinsed and drained
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Place raisins in bowl. Cover with hot water and let soak 10 minutes in order to plump, then drain.

Heat olive oil in heavy large Dutch oven or a deep heavy skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until golden, about 4 minutes. Discard garlic. Increase heat to medium high and add pine nuts until they are slightly brown. Then add raisins and apricots and toss to coat well. Add the spinach and sauté very quickly for a couple of minutes until it begins to wilt, stirring occasionally. Remember, the spinach will continue to wilt off the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Fútbol & Food

June 24, 2009

Football is a matter of life and death, except more important.
~Bill Shankly, English football manager

A sports aside which readily segues into a passion for food. Soccer (well, “football”), is a sport that has long feed deep ardor across the globe. While European and South American teams have traditionally held sway, every other continent has joined the competitive fray at a high level.

What does this have to do with food? Maybe, soccer demands patience, entails technique, sometimes develops slowly, often places a premium on simplicity, differs in style by culture, and has an avid (even zealous) following everywhere. And, just think of the culinary cauldron stirred by the medley of cultures represented by the World Cup attendees and their loyal, sometimes rabid, devotees. Chinese, French, Korean, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Greek, Central American, Brazilian, Argentine, Indian, Middle Eastern, African…simply some of the greatest cuisines known to civilization (and that is an embarassedly short list).

Today, a soccer shocker with some reverberation occurred.  A  United States team, which was believed to be vastly outclassed, stunned a magnificently skilled Spanish squad, 2-0, in the Confederations Cup semifinals. An improbable, yet exhilirating upset. Granted it was not the World Cup, but it remains a striking accomplishment—a United States men’s team reaching the final of a significant international tournament. Of course, I was elated, but that does not diminish my respect for the supremely talented Spaniards who remain one of the favorites to vie for the World Cup championship next year. Little doubt that Spain will be back, but also that the United States unit gained some needed team tread going forward.

Even though in the end, the Spanish players left the field so frustrated the customary exchange of jerseys was dispensed with, it only seems fair to serve up some regional Spanish tapas to the vanquished. Both teams were ultimately gracious in defeat and victory. Over a post game meal, let them lick some wounds, and allow the American squad regale in their triumph with some bubbly and good grub too.

CHICKEN WITH FRUIT & NUTS

5 T extra virgin olive oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into a 2 or 3 pieces each
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 Vidalia onion, peeled, cut in half, and sliced thinly

12 dried apricots, halved
4 Mission figs, halved
4 dried prunes, halved
2 T raisins
6 T pine nuts
2 cinnamon sticks
Thyme sprigs
4 T brandy
1 C sweet white wine

2 C chicken stock
Chopped fresh herbs

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste and place them in the pan. Sear until lightly brown, a couple of minutes on each side. Remove and set aside.

Add the garlic to the pan and cook until just before brown, about 30 seconds. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then the onions. Cook until the onions are caramelized, about 15 minutes. Do not let them fully brown.

Add the dried fruits, nuts, cinnamon sticks, thyme sprigs and brandy. Cook until the brandy is reduced by half. Add the wine and cook until the sauce thickens to coat the spatula, less than 1 minute.

Add the chicken stock, stir, and continue cooking until it forms a sauce. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve.

Holy Mole

February 9, 2009

Not the oft heard exclamation by the Captain Marvel characters of yore—rather the supremely complex gastronomic gem of Mexico. The depth, breadth, and height of the aromas, flavors and textures of that fine fusion called mole are nearly unsurpassed, almost religious.

Showing the patience and imagination of creating a superbly complex mole is what real lovers do on V Day. Due to the number of ingredients alone, it is crucial that all things be mise en place before you begin the mole ritual.

MOLE POBLANO WITH CHICKEN

6 dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
4 dried anaheim chilies, stemmed and seeded
4 dried chipotle chilies, stemmed and seeded
1/4 C golden raisins (sultana)

1/4 C whole almonds
1/4 C sesame seeds
1 t whole black peppercorns
1 t coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick, broken in pieces
1 t dried oregano
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, sliced
3 cloves plump garlic, peeled and chopped
2 serrano peppers, stemmed and seeded
6 plum tomatoes, chopped and seeded or 1 14 oz marzano peeled, canned tomatoes
2 ounces fine bittersweet chocolate (85% cocoa), chopped

1 organic, free range chicken, cut into 10 pieces
2 limes, juiced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 C chicken stock
Sea salt

1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 radishes, thinly sliced
1 lime, juiced
Cilantro

Roughly cut the ancho, anaheim, and chipotle chiles into large pieces and toast them in a dry skillet over medium heat until they change color a bit, about 2 minutes. Put them into a bowl with the raisins and cover them with hot water. Soak until softened, about 30 minutes.

In the same skillet over medium heat, add the almonds, coriander, sesame seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, oregano, and thyme—one kind at a time. Toast for 2 minutes, grind in a spice grinder, and add the powder to a blender. In the same skillet over medium high heat add the olive oil, onions, garlic, and serrano. Cook until lightly browned, then add the tomatoes. Cook until all are softened, about 10 minutes, then add to the blender. Add the chocolate and the soaked chilies and raisins to the blender along with some of the chile soaking liquid. Purée, adding more of the soaking liquid as needed, to make a smooth sauce.

Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper and drizzle with lime juice. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet and brown the chicken on all sides; remove the browned chicken to a plate leaving the oil in the pan.

Pour 2 cups of the mole sauce into the hot skillet and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and return the chicken pieces to the pan. Simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the onion and radish slices into a bowl. Add the lime juice and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt. Mix well and serve with the chicken.

Serve over cooked white rice. Garnish with cilantro.

This is an impressive crowd: the Have’s and Have-More’s. Some people call you the elites. I call you my base.
~George W. Bush

With all the recent sharp banter about Wall Street moguls, their dizzying business failures, shameless sybaritic bonuses, and recent unfettered use of TARP funds, it seemed only appropriate to suggest a recipe which has origins in the Mughal Empire. After all, mogul—jargon for a successful business magnate who has built a vast economic empire—derives from the word “Mughal.”

The rulers of the Mughal Empire were the masters of the Indian subcontinental universe from the mid 16th century to the mid 18th century. Major Mughal contributions included majestic architecture, development of the Urdu language, and a refined, imperial cuisine influenced by Persian culture.

Find a reliable local spice merchant for all of your culinary journeys.

CHICKEN MUGHLAI

The Paste
2 T cumin seeds
2 T coriander seeds
2 t mustard seeds
1 T dried chili flakes
1 (1 “) piece ginger, peeled
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled & roughly chopped
4 T whole almonds, roughly chopped
1/4 to 1/2 C water

The Brown
2 T ground cumin
2 T ground cardamom
1 T ground cinnamon
2 T turmeric
Sea salt

2 T grapeseed or canola oil
3 T unsalted butter
3 to 3 1/2 lb. free range, organic chicken, cut into 8 pieces, room temperature

The Braise
5 cardamom pods, bruised
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
1 T turmeric
1 t dried fenugreek leaves, crushed
4 cloves
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
1 C plain yogurt
1 C chicken stock
1 C heavy cream
3/4 C golden raisins (sultanas)
2 T garam masala
2 T honey
1 t salt

3/4 C flaked almonds, toasted

In a dry heavy bottomed skillet, roast the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Grind the seeds and red pepper flakes in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Place the ground cumin, coriander, mustard and red pepper along with ginger, garlic, almonds into a food processor; blend while adding just enough water to develop a paste. Place in a bowl and set aside.

Mix ground cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric together in a bowl. Salt the chicken pieces first then coat with the spice mix. Heat oil and butter in a large, heavy bottomed deep skillet or dutch oven over medium heat until hot and shimmering. The chicken should sizzle when it touches the surface. Add the chicken pieces and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes per side. Place in a dish, loosely tent and set aside.

Pour off just enough of the liquid in the pan so there is still a liberal coating on the bottom. Add the cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, turmeric, fenugreek, and cloves into the pan and stir some. Add the onions and garlic, cook until softened and translucent, keeping the heat at medium, and stirring frequently, to avoid sticking. Pour in the blended paste, and cook until the color intensifies some.

Add the yogurt, and then stir in the stock, cream, garam masala, honey and raisins. Put the browned chicken back into the pan, along with any collected juices from the resting chicken. The chicken should be covered in the braising liquid.

Cover and cook at a simmer for 20 minutes, testing to make sure the meat is cooked through by piercing the flesh with a fork to see if juices run clear, yellow.

Serve with the toasted, flaked almonds.

RICE PILAF FOR CURRY

2 T grapeseed or canola oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves
3 cardamom pods, bruised
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3
1/2 t cumin seeds
2 C basmati rice
4 C chicken stock

1/2 C sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish
2 to 3 T chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

In a deep heavy saucepan, cook the onion in the oil, adding the cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, and cumin seeds until the onion is slightly browned and soft. Keep the heat medium to low and stir frequently, about 10 minutes.

Add the rice and gently stir until glossy and somewhat translucent; pour in the stock and bring the pan to a gentle boil. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to low, cooking for 20 minutes.

To serve, fluff the rice with a fork, topping with the toasted sliced almonds and cilantro.