Friday, November 9, 2007

Lusty Flavors

i have a cookbook that brings a chill down my spine every single time i look at it. hard to believe that out of 220 of these suckers -- and countless cooking mags, articles, old newspaper recipes and things i've found on the net -- that i have this one book that makes me shiver with antici...pation. it's not the ONLY one that brings a tear of joy to my eye, but it's the latest one. it's pages hold some of the most extraordinarily elaborate and passionate dishes i have ever seen. i dream of one day going to al of the countries it embodies and it wasn't until last night, as i was reading through it, that i realized i had been to two of the three upon which it focuses and recalled how much i enjoyed eating in each of them. from roadside food stands to elaborate feasts, these were some of the most memorable culinary experiences i had gone through.

the book is CRADLE OF FLAVOR -- pretty cool title, i think -- Home Cooking form the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. it is by James Oseland and he, like Tyler Florence, is my hero. the book itself is wonderful, yes. the recipes a delight, the pictures gorgeous. but it is the stories that captivate me even more. the way he sets up his recipes and talks about his experiences in putting together this book. i have had the opportunity to be in indonesia and singapore. i was to go to malyasia, but that part of my journey was cancelled at the last minute and i went back to singapore. there's a part of me looking for that experience over and over and this book gives it.

the recipes are also very elaborate, because of the layering of flavors. that makes me want to use it more and buy things like plantains and dried shrimp paste; lemongrass and glass noodles when i'm at the store for milk and toilet paper. they have a whole section just for tempeh, tofu and eggs. k'yeah. this whole aroma comes to mind when i read the recipes and i read them like they're magical fairytales. such passion and attention to the entire experience of each dish makes me warm to this book and type of cuisine even more. it's so full of life and communal enjoyment. this is also the very first time i've used this cookbook since i got it and since i had already made the roasted chicken the night before, i decided to make a side for it using Cradle of Flavor. i made LEMONGRASS-SCENTED COCONUT RICE, which, considering how our chicken was made, seemed like a good idea.

check it out:

2 cups jasme rice
3 thick stalks fresh lemongrass, tied into a knot
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 tsp kosher salt
10 whole daun salam leaves (large, grass like leaves that impart a vanilla flavor -- if you can't find them, omit them -- they're optional in this and are available at Chinese or Asian markets)
2 tbs crisp fried shallots (optional)

what to do:
1. place the rice in a 1 1/2 or 2 quart saucepan. fill the pot halfway with cold water. if any rice hulls or small twigs float to the surface, scoop them out and toss. gently swirl your fingers through the rice until the water becomes cloudy, about 20 seconds. don't work the rice too hard, because you don't want it to crack. let hte rice settle for a few seconds then tilt the pot over a sink and drain out all the water, cupping the rice with your hand to prevent it from spilling from the pot. repeat the whole process 3 more changes of water. by the last rinse, the water will be much less cloudy. it doesn't need to be completely clear. drain after the last water change and leave the rinsed rice in the pot.
2. add the lemongrass, cooking water, coconut milk, salt and daun salam leaves (if using). stir well to combine, making sure the lemon grass and leaves are as fully submerged as possible.
3. place the pot over high heat and bring the liquid to a boil, sitrring with a large spoon to prevent the rice at the bottom of the pot from scorching or burning. it may thicken a lot, but that will be from the coconut milk. boil for 15 seconds, continuing to stir to prevent the rice at the bottom from scorching or burning. immediately reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover the pot tightly with the lid. continue cooking for 15 minutes. don't lift the lid.
4. remove the pot from the heat and allow the rice to continue to steam, covered, off heat, for 10 more minutes.
5. remove the lemongrass and daun salam leaves. fold the rice over with a spoon, evenly distributing the aromatic flavors that may be concentrated in pockets in the rice. transfer the rice to a deep serving bowl and fluff it well with a fork.

what we did:
we did an optional ginger scented cocnut rice, because we didn't have daun salam leaves. we took a 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled it and bruised it until it was juicy and used it in place of the daun salam. we also didn't have lemongrass, which is a severe drag, because i like cooking with it -- i have a great recipe that uses lemongrass for a tea -- so we went with lime -- not at all the same, but whatchagonnado? it had a citrus vibe that was gonna have to be close enough. i also didn't have jasmine rice -- which was weird, because i could have SWORN i had it (love that stuff) and then as i looked, i realized i had used it a couple of weeks ago with every intention of replenishing it.
or was it?

the kids liked it well enough. oh, it didn't bowl them over, but it was a nice little addition to our chicken and salad. i loved it, but i'm a rice whore, so there ya go. i am making this again and often. but i will tell you how this worked out so well. leftover rice for fried rice.
oh, yeah.

i made myself a little lunch yesterday of a handful of chopped leftover chicken, chopped ham, both sauteed until a little crisp and browned, some cilantro, mushrooms, and chopped omelet and a handful of chopped shrimp -- sauteed with curry powder, ponzu sauce and garlic chili paste. i sauteed up some chopped garlic and ginger, tossed everything together then topped it with some leftoever rice, cooked that up until it was heated through and full of the goodies, topped this with some hoisin sauce -- about 1/4 tsp. -- ponzu sauce and black sesame seeds. it was GREAT! oh, man. the yummiest lunch i've had in a long time.

a little bit about rice: rice is serious business, once you get into it. i've probably said this before, maybe i haven't. i dunno. the massaging of rice, washing it, handling it as a general rule is very methodical. you need to put your hands in it, feel it as you prep it for cooking. and the ratio of water to rice is always an issue -- do i do a 2 to 1 sort of deal or do i do 1 - 1 1/2? and does it REALLY matter if i wash my rice, i mean, who cares?

there are different types of rice -- long grain, short grain, black, white, brown, wild (which isn't a rice at all, but a plant), medium grain, sweet and on and on. my recommendation -- and what has helped me in my rice cooking life -- is to really take a look at the asian rice cooking recommendations and follow those. there is a high respect for the grain and they have discovered the best ways to work with all forms of it.

another night, another meal, another walk down a culinary road with my kiddles.
pretty cool.


Tina said...

Rice Whore=new nickname? I like the sound of that!

PalateScriber said...

i can live with that.