I think sometimes Americans think about ethnic food as EPCOT. Lotsa different countries with easily accessible cuisines all in one place.
I get to live somewhere diverse, where I can get Korean barbecue, Peruvian rotisserie chicken, and Ethiopian injera all on the same block.
However, this causes me to believe that I can achieve that level of diversity in my home cooking. Despite my unwillingness to buy specialized ingredients or equipment or even research a recipe.
Er… mixed success.
What the things I make generally have going for them is that they originate with beautiful fresh vegetables. Plant based, baby!
Here is a lovely and colorful selection of spudlets.
I gave them a chopsie and a roastie. (Drizzled with oil. Baked at 350 til tender). And I topped them with some mushrooms partway through the cooking process so the mushrooms roasted too.
And then, my friends, you know what happened? “Mole”!
Not mole. Not the actual mole sauce from a specific region of Mexico that takes special kinds of chilis and about twenty four hours worth of labor to make its subtle, nuanced flavor.
No, here’s how I made mole:
I made some tomato sauce (it was homemade, I had that going for me). Then I dug around in the back of the pantry to uncover a dried chile. I think it was a New Mexican? Then I rehydrated that chili in hot water. I stuck it in a food processor, along with my tomato sauce, and some cumin, and some cocoa powder. And then when it seemed kind of abrasive I had a moment of genius and mixed in some leftover pureed squash, which added a soft sweetness that went perfectly with all the other flavors.
And it made…
actually really really good “mole”. Who knew?
So I stirred together my roasties, the “mole”, and some leftover shredded chicken to make a stew of sorts and it was fantastic!
Note: a common theme in this post will be that foods can taste good and be extremely ugly. Bear that in mind.
While roasting and things were happening, I made some highly ghetto guacamole. By combining some diced avocado, diced tomato, onion powder, cumin, crushed red pepper flakes…?
It wasn’t my best. My best is even lazier and basically entails mixing mashed avocado with salsa. Plus some extra garlic salt and lemon juice.
Still, with some nice tortillas for dippage, this made for a surprisingly delicious and well rounded meal.
One ethnicity finished, and rated…
… and, like Epcot, mere moments later, another ethnicity begins!
What do these spices signify to you?
If you said INDIA, you are correct!
The main reason I initially felt like cooking Indian food is that we had okra, and one of my favorite ways to prepare okra is with Indian spices.
I roughly adapted a recipe in Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, one of my favorite cookbooks that details a variety of Indian vegetarian recipes. I probably adapted it TOO roughly and skimped on the oil TOO much, because though the variety of spices was beautiful and colorful and well-rounded in scope, it was just too dry. Sigh.
I did not just make that okra, though. I apparently had an Indian food VISION. In part due to the fact that we had oodles of fresh farmer’s market produce. I fancied some eggplant.
I really really wanted to make bhaingan bartha, because I love love love ordering it at Indian restaurants and don’t want to be a slave to eating out. SO, I winged it. Surprise surprise.
As most of the recipes recommended, I roasted the eggplant in a very hot oven (they said you could also just toast it over a stove burner, but I have an electric stove so that option was not available to me, alas)
And I got to cooking some onion, cumin and mustard seeds, hot pepper, garlic, ginger
Then I added the soft roasted eggplant, a buncha tomatoes, and some liquid. It was essentially a stew, at least the way I made it. So that was groovin’ on low on the stove.
BUT WAIT. I also got some (similar looking) spices, onion, and pepper going in a (similar looking) pan to make some chickpeas, because what is an Indian meal without chickpeas? (Also, yknow, it’s good to eat protein).
So with the brown rice I’d started at the beginning of this whole endeavor, I had EVERY SINGLE BURNER GOING.
And this was a few weeks ago, when it was still HOT. Steam facial!
Things began coming off the stove.
The okra was delicious in its spicitude but dry in its texture. Live a little, Lele. Use some fat.
As for the eggplant, it had a nice texture (the eggplant flesh and tomatoes got all velvety) but the flavors were a little bland.
And it was just not the transcendental experience to which eating bhaingan bartha in an Indian restaurant can elevate one’s consciousness.
It was… eggplant and tomato stew. Yawn. I really want to hang out with someone’s Indian grandmother and have her teach me how to make bhaingan bartha. Anyone?
Chickpeas and rice. I make both of these things all the time. They tasted like they usually do. Pretty good.
So this was a lot of effort… a lot of chopping… a lot of pans.
Authenticity: B- (the spices were legit but the chickpeas were canned)
Finally, my dad just returned from Thailand. He just sort of… wanders over there once or twice a year, teaches Asian businessmen about Facebook, and returns. (He spends the remainder of his time in his yard and garage).
Anywho, I very kindly picked him up at the airport in rush hour. So I went ahead and helped myself to some of the curry pouches he brought back.
Green curry paste!
Straight from Bangkok!
I would enlighten you about the ingredients, but they were all written in Thai (in my opinion, an exceptionally beautiful alphabet). If anyone can read Thai and translate, I’d be eternally grateful. Kup khun kha! (<< spelled wrong, I am sure).
I knew the curry paste would go nicely with some of the ingredients my mother had picked up at the farmer’s market. Yes, more eggplant in the same week. She buys eggplant like it’s her job. She loves it. A lot.
(I mean so do I. I am certainly not complaining. Actually, eggplant love runs in the family. My aunt Kathy ate in the North End while traveling to Boston over the weekend and awesomely sent me a play-by-play of each of the courses she and my uncle Tom ordered. Like other families are with fantasy football, we are with fantasy eating! Anyway, one dish they shared involved ‘eggplant bonbons”. It sounded so tasty!)
Anyway, these lil eggplants were particularly vibrantly hued specimens.
But wait, you ask, what is that colorful, caterpillar reminiscent item in the corner.
FRESH GINGER! Isn’t it gorgeous? The taste is special. Which I was actually counting on, because though I had an authentic Thai cookbook (I got it at cooking school in Thailand!) I lacked some of the ingredients. I hoped that this mild, special ginger flavor would resemble galangal, which is what the recipe actually called for.
The source for said recipe was this book:
The thing I like… and hate about the book is its casual measurements and ingredients. “Handful”. “Mixed vegetables”. Those of us who like freedom with our recipes no doubt respond well to this. But honestly, when venturing into a cuisine with which I am less familiar, I crave the order of a concrete recipe. But also lacked a lot of the ingredients (kefir lime say what?!)
So I improvised.
Lacking an all-purpose wok type instrument we had in our cooking school, I used a nonstick skillet. I put it on highish heat (as we did throughout our Thai cooking training), drizzled in a bit of peanut oil (which can stand high heat) and then added a healthy quantity of curry paste.
WHOO BABY! If you have any sinus blockages, I highly recommend simply heating up some green curry paste.
I let it get brown and aromatic (cough cough cough) and then added my ginger, which I’d minced, and eggplant, which I’d cut up into bite sized pieces.
Eggplant really craves tons and tons of oil, and just looooves soaking it up. Being scant on oil, the eggplant only sort of browned, but I cooked it til it was a bit blistery.
Then it was brothifying time!
I mostly used vegetable broth (homemade, dontcha know), but of course one cannot have green curry without:
With just the little bit (1/4 cup?) of the coconut milk I originally added (compared to probably a cup of vegetable broth), it thickened the mixture up beautifully.
(see those thick and creamy looking bubbles!)
However, the eggplant had to finish cooking.
And, though the cooking school where I’d learned my recipe was vegetarian, I had some leftover chicken to add, which I first shredded:
Fortuitously enough, the chicken had been marinated in honey and lime (as well as, er, tequila), and those sweet and sour flavors perhaps contributed to the finished curry?
I also added some flavoring: you were meant to use a mix of light and dark soy sauce but since I only had one kind of just regular soy sauce (is that light or dark?) and knew for a fact she’d included that in the recipe to omit fish sauce, a classic Thai ingredient, I just continued to be unvegetarian and added both soy sauce and fish sauce.
More vegetable broth to finish cooking the eggplant to tenderness and heat up the chicken. Cooked covered, a bit longer. Added a dash of coconut milk as a final flavor enhancer and thickener. Throw in some fresh basil leaves. Not thai basil, just basil basil.
Anyway, apologies. This green curry was delicious but fugly. What it was not was green.
On the bright side, I’d give myself the highest rating for it.
Authenticity: B (Yes, I didn’t have kefir lime leaves and galangal, but the curry paste was legit! As was what I served the curry atop, see below!)
There were no leftovers! (Well I mean… Steve was over. So there usually aren’t. But it was really good!)
As a vehicle for the curry, I used not rice (as is typically the carb of choice in American Thai restaurants), but the starch that served as a bed for the curry when I made it in Bangkok: noodles!
Made out of rice, a product of Thailand. An elephant on it and everything!
The source of these authentically Thai noodles? No, my dad did not attempt to pack delicate rice noodles in his suitcase.
Those are a product of my EPCOT neighborhood :D