Makin some noodles
I made pasta from scratch Monday night! I am getting in touch with my non-existent Italian heritage.
I have been following Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. She has a certain way with words, and tolerates nothing that falls short of her exacting standards:
"Do not be tempted by one of those awful devices that masticate eggs and flour at one end and extrude a choice of pasta shapes through another end. What emerges is a mucilaginous and totally contemptible product, and moreover, the contraption is an infuriating nuisance to clean."
"If you have absolutely no access to fresh rosemary, use the dried whole leaves, a tolerable, if not entirely satisfactory, alternative. Powdered rosemary, however, is to be shunned."
It makes the cookbook a lot of fun to read, but makes me worry that if I don't obey her exact instructions Marcella will materialize in my kitchen and beat me on the knuckles with her rolling pin (no doubt a geometrically perfect thirty-two inch solid cylinder cut from the heartwood of a Bolognese oak tree and passed down in her family since Italy was a collection of warring city-states.)
Anyway, here's pictures of me making pasta.
Pasta has only two ingredients: Flour and eggs.
Unless it's green pasta. Then it has has flour, eggs, and finely chopped cooked spinach. I made some of each.
The right proportions of flour to eggs is easy to figure out: You keep adding flour until no more will stick.
They see me roll-in'. They hate-in'.
Scary Italian Lady calls the dough kneading/rolling/stretching/folding process a "ballet of the hands" as well as "a race against time" and includes many dire warnings that if you do any part the least bit different from what she says, you will ruin everything and have to start over.
But it's not really that hard. It took me a lot of time to do all the kneading and stretching, but I figure I'll get faster with practice.
And this is how you make fettuccine. No magic trick to it — it's just folded, cut into strips, and unfolded again.
Dinner is served.
Along with the pasta, we also made a simple potato soup with carrots and celery and crostini (I started it, but Sushu did most of the work while I wrestled with dough.)
Next time will be even more hard-core as I attempt to make both the pasta and the sauce from scratch.
Here is some Oden I made on Sunday
Oden is a Japanese winter stew made of various robust, hardy, winter ingredients simmered in broth for several hours. Ingredients vary, but my version includes fish cake, fried tofu, konnyaku (a coarse grey jelly made from the devil's tongue plant), kelp, daikon radish, shiitake mushroom, hard-boiled egg, tofu pouches with mochi inside, and fish sausages with gobo root inside. You eat it with spicy mustard.
In Japan in the winter you can find oden sold piecemeal from street carts or convenience stores. It's very warming and filling. I kind of got the feeling that it was the exact opposite of a trendy food, though. Like, Japanese people thought I was weird and old-fashioned for liking it so much.
Last week, one of my coworkers brought a Mardi Gras "King Cake" to the office.
I've never been anywhere near New Orleans or participated in anything Mardi-Gras related, so this tradition was completely new to me. Anyway, I found the magic plastic baby inside the cake, which means I get to be "king for the day", a position which has no power or benefits, but only the duty to bring the cake the next time. It's kind of a bum's game. But I got the baby, so I made the next cake a week later. Here it is:
I took the Internet's advice and made it the easy way: two cans of ready-to-bake cinnamon rolls, unrolled and braided around each other. It came out pretty good.
I reused the baby (I washed it first), but whoever found it isn't talking. Cheater!
There's an amazing Thai restaurant on Western & Irving Park called "Sticky Rice". It bills itself as "Northern Thai" cooking, so I guess what we get everywhere else is southern Thai?
They have all the usual stuff like Pad Thai etc etc, but the exciting part is the extensive northern-style part of the menu, where everything is served with sticky rice (aka mochi rice). It's very good stuff and the spiciness level is high enough to satisfy even Jeremy. Also there are some pretty exotic things on that part of the menu, including a stew made with cubes of gelatinized pig's blood, a vegetable called "toon stem", and...
An omelette full of...
The ant eggs were kind of disappointing -- they didn't really taste like anything. (I was hoping they'd maybe be unbelievably disgusting). I'm thinking maybe they're a "status food" eaten not for flavor or texture or nutrition but because they must be freakin' hard to collect, therefore rare and expensive, therefore something you can show off by eating. Well, it was a good omelette all the same.
For dessert: fresh Durian boiled with sticky rice in coconut milk. Ohohohohohohohohoho. Where have you been all my life?
Yakitate for real!
I made bread in a rice cooker.
The recipie is from Yakitate! Japan. They totally broke the fourth wall on one episode and told the audience to write this recipie down. "It's so easy, even the producers of the Yakitate! Japan show can make it, and they suck at baking!"
Japanese kitchens typically don't have ovens, so giving the audience a recipie they can make in a "suihanki" electric rice cooker is a great idea.
The recipie was in grams; I had to convert it to barbaric volume-based American units using this site which knows the densities of common kitchen ingredients. Speaking of barbaric units, somebody finally explained to me the other day that there is one "ounce" which is a unit of weight and a different "ounce" which is a unit of volume, and the two happen to coincide for water at STP. Ohhhhhh! That's been confusing me for years. THIS IS WHY ALL NON-METRIC UNITS MUST BE DESTROYED! SUBMIT TO THE POWER OF TEN, PUNY HUMANS!
- Flour, 350g = 2.8 cup
- Butter, 21g = 1/5 stick
- Sugar, 21g = 5 tsp
- Milk, 35ml
- Water, 180ml
- Yeast, 5g = 1.25 tsp
- Salt, 6.5g = 1 tsp
Mix everything except the butter together, knead it into dough. Soften the butter and knead that in. Continue kneading until the lump of dough is not sticky anymore. Then let it rise for 60 minutes.
Drop it from a height of 50cm (this is what they said, but it's probably not important to measure the exact height...) and then let it rise a second time for 60 minutes.
Put it in the rice cooker and push the button. Then ignore it for 60 more minutes. (I made a mistake here -- I thought the rice cooker had to be on "cook" mode for 60 minutes, so I used a pencil to jam the button down so it couldn't revert to "keep warm" mode. Soon smoke started pouring out of the top. When it wants to revert to keep warm, let it revert!!)
Open the rice cooker, flip the bread over, close it, push the button, wait 60 more minutes.
Repeat the above step one more time. Done! So in total it was rising for 2 hours and cooking for 3 more hours. Since it requires no attention during this time, you can go do something else.
I'm fairly pleased with the result. I think the yeast I was using was mostly dead (it had been in my freezer for a year) as the bread didn't rise as much as it should have. It rose a little, but it was quite dense and chewey at the end. Entirely edible, though!
Beware the Cassava!
The Humanized members had a great lunch at a Peruvian restaurant called Ay Ay Picante one day. Among the many delectable exotic treats was a plate of fried yuca. It is a little like fried potatoes but with a unique and subtle flavor. I decided to try to make some.
I hit up the Vietnamese supermarket near my apartment, and found lots of alien-looking root vegetables. I had to ask which one was yuca since I've never seen it raw before.
So, I brought the yuca root in to work, chopped it up, and fried it in oil, and we at it, and it was good.
Then I checked out the Wikipedia article on yuca, to see if it's related to that spiky-leafed plant that some people have growing in their backyards. (It's not. That's "yucca" with 2 "c"s. Yuca with one "c" is the same plant as Cassava, also called Manioc, and flour from the root is used to make tapioca.)
From that Wikipedia article I found out that raw cassava contains cyanogenic glucosides , and cassava must be processed to remove these chemicals before you eat it, because they will turn into cyanide and kill you.
Oh. Wish I had found that out first.
Since I'm still alive, the ones we got must have been the "sweet" variety of cassava, which contain only 20 parts per million of cyanide, and not the "bitter" variety, which contains a much deadlier 1 part per thousand. I'm pretty sure that the deadly bitter version is not allowed to be sold commercially in its raw form for this very reason.
Everything I've read says to boil cassava to remove the poison; I chopped up the raw stuff and went straight to frying it. I can't find a clear answer on whether or not frying alone is sufficient to make it safe, but here I am.
Anyway, yuca/cassava is tasty, folks, but if you try it, make sure you boil it first.
Weird things I have eaten lately
I ate chicken feet for the first time on a trip to Mountain View Chef Dim Sum in Chinatown on Saturday. They were marinated in a nice spicy sauce and everything, but they were still chicken feet. Nothing but skin and cartilage. Yuck.
Also ate for the first time: a "preserved duck egg" bun from Chiu Quon bakery. They take a duck egg, coat it in ash and lye, bury it underground to ferment for six months so that it turns into a thick chewey mass of black jelly, then bake it into a pastry with candied ginger. It was surprisingly edible, but it sure made me feel funny.
Last week, I got lunch for the Humanized office from a drive-through greasy-spoon type place called "Susie's" a few blocks east. They gave me four extra orders of fries by mistake, without charging me. So we had an insane number of fries. These are the good kind, with the skin still on them and everything, but there was no way we could eat that much. So I took them home and I've been using them to cook with. Throw a few in a pan with meat and vegetables -- it's easier than chopping up potatoes, and you don't need to grease the pan (yum).
I'm still alive, here's a recipe
I discovered that just down the road from me there is a little Thai grocery store, and beyond that a big Vietnamese supermarket. The kind of place that has all kinds of scary stuff like 1,000-Year Eggs and fresh durians and fish maw and grass jelly. I loooooove Southeast Asian food so this is a great find for me. I am going to be studying more recipes and cooking SE Asian stuff all the time from now on! Huzzah!
Saturday my parents and Aleksa came over for dinner, and while Mom was rearranging my bathroom cabinets and Aleksa was playing with my D&D miniatures, I was figuring out how to make the following dish, a Thai cold noodle salad. It is a light and refreshing summer meal.
- Vinegar ( distilled )
- Fish Sauce
- Rice Vermicelli ( 8 oz, or half of a 1-pound bag )
- Limes ( 2 of thems )
- Chicken ( plain, cooked, in bite-sized chunks )
- Peanuts ( roasted, unsalted )
- Bean Sprouts ( the crunchy kind, aka. moyashi or mung beans, like a heaping double-handfull worth, sorry about these nonscientific units of measure )
- A Carrot
You may have to hit an Asian grocery store to get the fish sauce and rice vermicelli. Fish sauce is the secret ingredient of all Thai food and is basically liquid anchovy. It smells disgusting but a little dash of it gives food a great flavor. Rice vermicelli goes by many names; it's long, very thin, translucent noodles, usually sold dry and brittle and folded into a brick shape inside a plastic bag.
Cook the chicken first; you can just grill it in a pan, or use cold leftover or pre-cooked chicken pieces.
Boil a big pot of water. While waiting for that, cut the limes in half and squeeze all of their juice into a bowl. Also wash the vegetables and herbs, peel the carrot, and pick a couple big handfulls each of cilantro and basil leaves off of their stems.
When the water is boiling, drop in the brick of noodles and then immediately take the pot off of the burner. (That's how delicate these guys are; putting any more heat into the system will destroy them.) Push the noodle brick down under the water with a fork and recover the pot. Wait four minutes, then dump it through a colander and run the noodles under cold water until they are thoroughly chilled. They should now be soft and chewey.
Combine the noodles, bean sprouts, basil, cilantro, chicken, and peanuts in a big bowl. You can crush up the peanuts a bit first, or not. Take a peeler and start shaving layers off the carrot into the bowl; continue until the carrot is gone.
In another bowl, mix up the broth. I don't have exact measurements of how much of everything I put in this broth; but it's supposed to saturate the noodles and stuff from underneath, so we need enough to fill the big bowl about halfway up to where the tops of the noodles are. That's going to be mostly water, with enough vinegar and lime juice to make it pleasantly sour, a bit of fish sauce to make it salty, and just a little bit of sugar to balance out the sour and salty flavors. So start with something like 2 cups of water, 1/2 cup of vinegar, 1/3 cup of fish sauce, and 1/4 cup of sugar, and the lime juice, mix it all up, taste it, and fiddle with the balance until you like it.
Serve the noodle mix up into individual bowls, saturate each bowl with the sauce, stir them up, and serve.
I'm not going to have internet access at my new apartment for about another week probably, but what the heck, I'll just post a bunch of stuff as normal and everyone can have a big chunk o' content to read when evilbrainjono.net comes back up.
So, Friday night I was looking through the meager contents of my cupboards to see what I could make for dinner, and I saw some packets of nasty cheapo Maruchan ramen. I decided that instead of eating them as-is, I'd run to the grocery store and pick up a minimal set of ingredients to make the ramen into something decent.
The kind of ramen packets I'm talking about actually have pretty decent noodles. They're almost as good as much more expensive restaurant-quality ramen. The problem is the broth. The broth flavor packets they give you are nasty. They're basically just salt and MSG. So the theory here is that we're going to use the noodles from the packet, but make a decent broth with meat and vegetables in it. Like the childrens' story Stone Soup, we're going to add so much good stuff that the inedibleness of the original stone -- or ramen packet -- becomes irrelevant. That's why I'm calling this recipe Stone Ramen.
Ingredients You Can Get At The Normal Grocery Store
- Three cheapo ramen packets
- A slab of pork, about 7/10 of a pound. A fattier piece of pork is better, for this recipe.
- Two green onions
- One big carrot (optional)
- A small can of bamboo shoots
- One egg
- Soy sauce
- Applesauce (the secret ingredient! No, really!)
Ingredients That Probably Require An Oriental Specialty Grocery Store
- Some squares of dried nori
- One log of Naruto (a kind of extruded fish paste with a pink-and-white spiral pattern) (That ninja on that popular cartoon show is named after this food.)
- A bag of katsuo-bushi (those dried fish shavings. The coarser kind, intended for making dasshi, is best.)
Makes about four servings
Step 1: Boil about 6 cups of water in a big pot. Put the lid on until it boils, then take it off. Also get a secondary, smaller pot or saucepan boiling for cooking the egg.
Step 2: Open up the ramen packets. Set the blocks of noodles aside. Eat the crunchy noodle crumbs at the bottom of the packets. Oh man those are the best part. I love those. Open the foil seasoning pouches and dump them into the pot. This will give us our RDA of MSG. Omit if MSG is not your style.
Step 3: Take a generous handful of the katsuo-bushi, if you have them, and throw them into the pot. Use more katsuo-bushi if you're leaving out the MSG. If you don't have katsuo-bushi, bullion cubes may be an acceptable substitute, but I haven't tested this.
Step 4: Throw the whole raw pork slab into the pot. The theory is that the pork fat will melt into the broth and make it delicious, while the pork cooks.
Step 5: Chop up the carrot, if you're using it, and throw that in. It wouldn't traditionally be in Japanese-style ramen, but it's good for you, and it makes a good replacement if you're missing the nori or the naruto. Also add the can of bamboo shoots around this time.
Step 6: While you're waiting for the pork and carrots to cook, chop the green onions into tiny bits, and hard-boil the egg in the secondary saucepan. I find that eggs take about 12 minutes after the water is already boiling to be completely cooked.
Step 7: Check on the pork periodically by fishing it out of the big pot onto a cutting board, and stabbing it with a knife. If there's any pink in the middle it's not done yet. Trichinosis is not your friend. When the pork is done, slice it into bite-sized pieces and set it aside. Let the broth continue boiling.
Step 8: Poke the carrots with a fork. When they feel soft, they're done. Get the vegetables and fish flakes out of the broth by pouring the pot contents through a large sieve. Set the vegetables aside and put the broth back in the pot. If you don't want fish flakes in your finished product, now is the time to pick them out and throw them away.
Step 9: The broth is now full of fish and pork and vegetable juices, which gives it lots of savoryness, but it needs some salt and sweet flavors. This is where the soy sauce and applesauce comes in. I used about one ladleful of each, but taste your broth carefully and use your best judgement. It's best to err on the side of too little soy sauce -- you can always add it to the bowls at the table, but you can't very well take it out if you add too much, now can you?
If you think applesauce is a weird idea, consider that it is often used as a condiment for pork chops. Also, I was once told by the family of one of my students in Japan that their special family ramen recipe involved boiling pork bones and whole apples for several hours. I don't have that long so applesauce is my substitute.
Step 10. Let the broth continue boiling, and bring the secondary pot to a boil again. Use it to boil the dried noodles, for however long the packages specify. DO NOT boil the noodles IN the broth; they release lots of starch when boiled, and you don't want that in the broth, you want to drain it out and throw it away. If you overcrowd the noodles they will stick together, so do one block at a time. Ladle the cooked noodles out of the pot into a colander and run cold water over them; this prevents them from getting sticky or soggy and generally improves the texture.
Step 11. Peel the hard-boiled egg and slice it.
Step 12. Get out four bowls. Into each bowl put:
- 3/4 package of cooked noodles
- Some pork, carrot, and bamboo shoot pieces
- A slice of hard-boiled egg
- One quarter-square of nori
- One slice of naruto
- Enough broth to cover all of this
- Half a raw chopped green onion
Serve with wooden chopsticks for the full effect. If you have broth left over, you can save it in the fridge and re-use it.
If you make this recipe, please let me know how it goes!
Japanese autumn feast
Isaac came over this weekend. He was one of the five people I promised to make something for; he had asked for something edible, so we took a walk to the Mountain View farmer's market on Sunday morning and looked for inspiring ingredients. I was originally thinking about making Italian noodles and tomato sauce from scratch again, but right before I went to buy tomatoes Isaac mentioned that actually he had his heart set on something Japanese. I found some shiitake mushrooms that looked really good, so I decided to make gyuudon. Then I needed some other dishes to go with the gyuudon. I decided to go all-out and make the best damn Japanese meal I am capable of making, so after the farmer's market I went shopping at Mitsuwa and then a Chinese grocery store called Ranch 99. By the time I was done it had five dishes, plus tea and dessert, and I had used pretty much every pot, pan, bowl, and plate in my kitchen.
All Japanese food is seasonal. Mostly by accident, this meal was almost all autumn foods. It seemed appropriate, since we were all about read for summer to end and autumn to start.
I'm really happy with how it all came out, so here are the recipes for the benefit of anyone who wants to try them.
The five dishes are:
- Horenso (spinach)
- Kinpira Gobo (root vegetables)
- Miso soup with Asari clams
- Saba Shioyaki (grilled mackerel)
- Gyuudon (beef and rice bowl)
The rice takes the longest, so start it first. Wash and soak two cups of white rice and put them in the electric rice cooker, or use your preferred way of steaming rice if you don't have an electric rice cooker.
When you need a green vegetable to balance your meal, this is a super simple side dish.
Take a whole bag of fresh baby spinach leaves, fry them in a pan with a little bit of oil and salt until they shrink and shrivel up. Roll the leaves up and serve them on your tiniest plates with a little bit of sesame dressing.
The brown and bright orange colors of this kinpira gobo always make me think of autumn. Gobo, aka burdock, is a very long skinny brown root vegetable which is worth looking for at an Asian grocery store.
- 1 gobo (burdock) root
- 4 small carrots or 2 large carrots
- soy sauce, sake, mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine) vinegar, brown sugar, sesame seeds
Peel the gobo and the carrots with a vegetable peeler. Chop the gobo into manageable chunks, put into a bowl and soak it in a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water. The vinegar softens the root and removes the bitterness.
Carefully chop the carrots and gobo into matchstick-sized pieces.
Throw a little oil in a frying pan or wok over medium heat. Once it's hot, throw in the gobo pieces and stir-fry. Add:
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 1 tablespoon sake
Stir-fry some more. Throw the carrots in and stir-fry it all together. Once all the liquid is absorbed, sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds. Test a piece to make sure it's all soft enough to be edible. Take it off the heat once it is.
Miso soup with Asari clams and autumn vegetables
The mix of dasshi and miso in this broth is very important, but I do them to taste rather than measuring. Go easy on both of them, because you don't want the broth to be too salty, or to overwhelm the natural flavor of the clams. I use less of each than I would when making miso soup without clams.
- 1/2 a Daikon (giant white radish)
- 1 bunch of Enoki mushrooms
- 8 small azari clams (pick clams that look healthy and have just a tiny open gap between the two halves of the shell.)
- 2 cakes of deep-fried tofu
- 2 fresh green onions
- Dasshi powder (Japanese fish soup stock)
- Miso paste
Fill a large soup pan with water, and bring it close to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, scrub the outside of the clams in running water to make sure there won't be any dirt in the soup. Turn the heat down and let the water simmer. Dissolve a few shakes of dasshi powder, stir it up, and throw in the clams. You're going to gently boil the clams until they pop open. Meanwhile, rinse the fried tofu in hot water and chop it into bite-sized triangles. Chop the root chunk off the enoki. Slice the daikon into disks about 1-2mm thick, then cut each disk in half to make half-circle shapes.
If the clams are open now, turn the heat down to low and throw in the tofu, daikon, and enoki. Dissolve a ladleful of miso paste in the soup by holding it in a slotted spoon and stirring it with chopsticks until it dissolves. This is to prevent any miso chunks from ending up in the soup. Make sure that it stays on low heat and do not let it come back to a boil during this process; you'll ruin miso paste if you boil it.
Once the daikon is translucent and tender enough to eat, chop the green onions into little rings and throw them in. Stir it up and let it cook for another minute or so, then take it off the heat.
To serve, fish out the clams and put two in each bowl, then ladle the soup on top of them.
Saba shioyaki (grilled mackerel)
- 2 mackerel fillets
- lemon juice
- soy sauce
Buying the right fish is the most important part of this business so make sure they're fresh, firm, and silvery.
Basically all you do is: salt, let stand, fry in oil. It's the simplest thing ever. But here are the finer points:
Cut each fillet in half, so you have four quarters of a fish. Remove the spine, if it's still there, and the largest bones. Sprinkle salt all over each fillet; flip it over and salt both sides. Rub the salt in a little bit. Let it sit for 10 minutes while you work on the other dishes. Heat up a little vegetable oil in a frying pan over high heat. (An oiled grilling rack would be even better, but I don't have one, so the frying pan it is.) Once the oil is hot, throw the fish in; it will sizzle dramatically. Flip it three times. You want it to be cooked all the way through to the center, but just barely. There should be a light golden crust forming on the outside of the fish, and if you peek at the edges of the fillet you should see the translucent flesh turning opaque white all the way through. Use your best cooking intuition to decide when to take it off, and remember that saba is firmer than other fish, so it's not going to start flaking apart in the pan like some fish would.
To make the sauce for the fish, mix 1 part lemon juice to 2 parts soy sauce. Take about 1/3 of a daikon, peel it, and grate it into a bowl with the fine side of a cheese grater so that it forms a juicy white mush. Serve each piece of saba with a dish of the sauce and a little pile of daikon.
Gyuudon (beef on rice)
In Japanese cooking "umami" is the fifth flavor besides salty, sour, sweet, and bitter. Onions, beef, dasshi, and shiitake mushrooms are all strong in umami flavor, and this dish uses all of them, so it is one of the most umami things imaginable. Try it and then you will understand what umami means.
- 1/4 pound of shiitake mushrooms
- 1/2 an onion
- 1 pkg. white shirataki (Japanese yam gelatin noodles)
- 1 pound thin-sliced beef (the good stuff, not the cheap stuff)
- dasshi, mirin, soy sauce, brown sugar, sake
- Optional: beni-shoga (red pickled ginger)
First, make the broth. Mix 1 and 1/3 cup water with as much dasshi stock powder as will dissolve in it. Add:
- 5 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons mirin
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon sake
Pour that into a saucepan and turn on the heat. While waiting for it to boil, peel and coarsely chop up 1/2 onion. Wash the shiitake, remove the stems and throw away, chop the caps into bite-sized pieces. Drain the shirataki noodles in a colander and rinse them under hot water. Take a pair of clean scissors in one hand, grab bunches of noodles in the other hand, and cut the noodles until the largest pieces are no more than 4-5 inches long. Throw the onion, mushroom, and noodles into the saucepan. Bring it to a low boil, covered.
Let it simmer long enough for the onions to soften and turn translucent. Uncover and throw in the beef. The beef will cook rapidly and change color as it does. Take the pan off the burner the instant all the beef pieces have turned from pink to brown.
Dish out four large bowls of rice (you remembered to start the rice early, right?) and ladle the beef mixture onto each one, with enough broth to soak all the rice through. Serve with red pickled ginger.
Tea and dessert
I served this with hot genmai cha, which is green tea leaves mixed with roasted brown rice for a richer flavor. It's usually sold loose, so you'll need a tea press or at least a strainer of some kind.
For dessert, we had fresh nasshi, a.k.a. Asian pear, a fruit that ripens in late summer. I peel it with a vegetable peeler and slice it into bite-sized pieces on a plate.
The secret of curry
Observation: Curry is always better on the second day than it is when freshly made.
Theory: Letting it sit in the fridge overnight soaking in its own juices makes it good.
Experiment: Instead of making curry on the night of our board game party (tonight), we made two batches last night (one Thai green curry, one Japanese karee raisu). We didn't eat any, and put them straight into the fridge, still in the pans. This evening we took them out, added some water, and warmed them up on the stovetop right before our guests arrived. We made fresh rice to go with it.
Results: Delicious success!
On New Year's eve Sushu was mixing drinks and she invented a new one:
Baijou + Calpis Water!
She calls it the "Manchukuo".
Baijou (白酒, "white alcohol") is a kind of Chinese liquor, and Calpis Water is a Japanese sweet yogurt drink.
(Manchukuo is what the Japanese called the puppet state that they set up in the part of northeastern China that they conquered prior to WWII, speaking of Japanese fascism. It's a cold snowy area. The drink is Chinese + Japanese and white. So there you go.)
Cooking with eggplant, Turkish style
While we were in China, Sushu's mom planted green peppers and eggplants in our backyard vegetable garden.
She didn't plant those tomatoes. They just grew there all on their own.
I grew a lot of tomatoes there last summer; they all died in the fall, but I guess some seeds found their way into the soil.
Sushu's mom told me a Chinese saying about how the flower carefully tended does not bloom, while the willow branch carelessly dropped grows to provide much shade.
I don't know if it's the soil quality, the climate, or what, but our backyard is amazingly fertile.
So we've got all these eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers from the backyard. What do to with them all?
Tomatoes and peppers are easy to use in salads and pasta, but eggplants are a little trickier. I've made way too many curries where the rest of the vegetables were done but the eggplant was still tough and spongy. You can't just throw eggplant into a dish - you gotta have a plan for it.
The best eggplant I ever had was in Turkey. They do amazing things with eggplant, lamb, olives, and sheep cheese. I brought back a Turkish cookbook but I had never used it. Seems like a good time to try out some eggplant recipies!
One thing they do in Turkish cooking is to smoke the eggplant. We have a small charcoal grill in our backyard so I decided to give it a try.
First problem: We had a sack of coals in the garage, but no lighter fluid. I used junk mail as kindling, but the coals wouldn't catch. Finally Sushu offered me a bottle of baijou (Chinese sorghum alcohol). I poured some of that on the coals, threw in a match...
... and just barely yanked my arm back fast enough to save my arm hairs from getting set alight by the ensuing fireball.
Still, it's the best use I've found so far for baijou. That stuff is naaaaas-ty.
Anyway, you close the lid and leave the eggplant in there for like 20 minutes, then turn it over with some tongs and let it cook on the other side for another 20 minutes.
It'll get black and crispy on the outside, and you will think you have ruined it, but scrape the peel off (throw it away) and the inside will be a tender mush with the most amazing delicate smoky flavor. Seriously, it's the bomb.
Mix some milk and a few sprinkles of flour in a frying pan to make a sauce base, then mash the eggplant up with a fork and stir it in with the milk mixture. Add some feta cheese and salt and stir it until it all melts together.
Eat it with pita bread, or combine it with the meat dish I'm about to describe...
My mom hates lamb, so we never had it when I was growing up. But once I tried lamb, I loved it. Especially with the right blend of spices, it's delicious.
So for this one, chop up a whole onion and a few cloves of garlic and sautee them in oil. Then throw in a package of ground lamb.
The Turkish cookbook didn't list any spices (perhaps the spice blend is a Turkish trade secret). I tried it without spices and it was really bland. Through some trial and error, I settled on the following spices:
Salt, black pepper, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, sage, and cumin. LOTS of cumin. Don't be shy. Cumin is lamb's best friend.
While the meat is browning, chop up a bell pepper and a large tomato and throw those in. Keep tasting it and adjusting the spice mix. Stir-fry until all the vegetables are soft and the meat is well-done.
You can eat this stuff straight with a fork, or have it with pita and the smoked eggplant mush, or you can make it into a moussaka.
For the moussaka, take a couple of large eggplants and peel them. Chop them into half-inch-thick slices. Soak the slices in salt water for half an hour. This step is important as it tenderizes them and leeches out the water, leaving the eggplant ready to absorb oil and meat juices!
After half an hour, wring out the eggplant pieces by hand, and then fry them in oil until they turn dark, silky, and translucent. They will absorb a LOT of oil - you may need to keep adding more. I used canola oil but olive oil would be even better.
Once that's done, layer the eggplant slices with the meat mixture in a pan (like you're making a lasagna with eggplant slices instead of noodles) and bake it for 20-30 minutes.