Hawaii: Loco Moco Benedict

A little travel food blogging while I’m on vacation and not cooking!

Yesterday’s breakfast at Tango Cafe, which is a Swedish place recommended by a local. I bypassed all the Swedish fare and went for a loco moco benedict — a cross between a traditional Hawaiian loco moco and eggs benedict. A big stack of fried rice with plenty of meat in it, then braised beef on top, then a poached egg and hollandaise sauce. Two of them! It was delicious, but a *lot* of rich food — I ate just one of the pair of them, and then rolled out the door. (Maybe it was unwise asking the probably 20-year-old young Hawaiian man serving us what he liked on the menu — I’m guessing he consumes twice as many calories in a day as I can manage. ūüôā )

I didn’t know anything about Hawaiian food when I arrived here, so Jed kindly forwarded me a nice Wikipedia page with fascinating info — it reminds me of Sri Lankan food in many ways, with the different European influences. But also wildly different:
 
“The cuisine of Hawaii incorporates five distinct styles of food reflecting the diverse food history of settlement and immigration in the Hawaiian Islands.[a] In the pre-contact period of Ancient Hawaii (300 AD‚Äď1778), Polynesian voyagers brought plants and animals to the Islands. As Native Hawaiians settled the area, they fished, raised taro for poi, planted coconuts, sugarcane, sweet potatoes and yams, and cooked meat and fish in earth ovens. After first contact in 1778, European and American cuisine arrived along with missionaries and whalers, who introduced their own foods and built large sugarcane plantations. Christian missionaries brought New England cuisine[1] while whalers introduced salted fish which eventually transformed into the side dish lomilomi salmon.
 
As pineapple and sugarcane plantations grew, so did the demand for labor, bringing many immigrant groups to the Islands between 1850 and 1930. Immigrant workers from China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Portugal arrived in Hawaii, introducing their new foods and influencing the region. The introduction of new ethnic foods, such as Chinese char siu bao (manapua), Portuguese sweet bread and malasadas, and the Japanese bento, combined with the existing indigenous, European, and American foods in the plantation working environments and in the local communities. This blend of cuisines formed a “local food” style unique to Hawaii, resulting in plantation foods like the plate lunch, snacks like Spam musubi, and dishes like the loco moco.”
 
And if you follow the link on the last: “Loco moco is a meal in the contemporary cuisine of Hawaii. There are many variations, but the traditional loco moco consists of white rice, topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and brown gravy. “
 

Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #4: Patties!

And we have a winner — seeni sambol & egg patties. ¬†They are so, so good. ¬†I took our standard Sri Lankan patty dough, rolled it thin, cut circles, all the way you would for typical chicken patties.

I did some extra small, to see how they’d come out, and they were very cute when fried, and a nice little snack — I ate some on the flight today, and they were lovely with tea at room temperature. ¬†(I also tried baking one, and it was, I’m afraid, pretty eh. ¬†They want frying.)

But when they’re that small, there isn’t room for egg, and I wanted the unctuousness of the egg balancing the intensity of the seeni sambol. ¬†So I went back up to typical patty size (which is just fine for a tea or cocktail party anyway), filled it with seeni sambol and a sixteenth of a boiled egg (you could do an eighth, but I wouldn’t recommend anything bigger), folded it and crimped it up. ¬†(I tried making one that was round, which was a fun experiment, but I didn’t like it as well as the classic patty shape.)

Then, for a little added color and zing, I brushed it all with an egg wash, and then deep-fried it. ¬†It. was. perfect. ¬†I’ll write the recipe up properly the next time I make it; all the experimenting meant that I wasn’t up for measuring everything until I knew which was the winning approach. ¬†Maybe for New Year’s!

But in the meantime, if you know how to make patties already, it’s very easy to adapt for seeni sambol. ¬†Leave out the Maldive fish if you like, and your vegetarian friends will thank you for this delectable little snack.

 

Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #3: Pastry Cups

I knew I wanted more richness for my appetizer, and that suggested a nice, buttery pastry. So I asked Kevin to make up a batch of Sri Lankan patty pastry dough (he’s my bread guy), rolled it out fairly thinly, cut it small, and put the rounds into my mini muffin pan.

 

I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to just fill and bake, or blind bake a cup and then fill it, so I tried both. I forgot to dock the pie cups, so about half my blind-baked pastry cups puffed up to an unusable level. But some of them came out perfectly, so I was able to try both options.

 

I’m a little torn there, honestly, because I think it tastes just slightly better when you cook the seeni sambol in with the pastry — but the oil does discolor the pastry, so it doesn’t look quite as neat and party-ready. I think I would blind-bake and fill just before the party, if I were going to do these.

They’re quite good, even without the egg, and topped with hard-boiled egg, they’re delicious. This one was almost perfectly what I wanted it to be — but could it be just a little bit better? Yes, yes it could. Let’s give this an A- for now, and look to the next post for the winner…

Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #2: Buns

As we discussed possible containers for the seeni sambol, Kevin advocated for buns — which, fair enough, is actually traditional. ¬†Seeni sambol buns can be found sold in roadside stands across Sri Lanka, so obviously, people like them.

But there was a problem — those buns were too big for cocktail / tea party. ¬†Could I make mini buns instead?

The answer was yes — I made the buns half-size (which, if you use my mas paan recipe, means that you’ll end up with 60 little buns), which was just big enough that you could dollop a teaspoon of seeni sambol and an eighth of a hard-boiled egg into the center, before closing them up.

  

The end result was just fine, I’d say, and I would be happy to serve them to people. ¬†This would be a great option for taking them on the road as a snack, as they’re nicely closed up and will keep well. ¬†You should even be able to freeze them, I think, though I haven’t tried that, and I’m not positive what the cooked egg would do. ¬†I also tried slashing the top in a criss-cross pattern, which makes for a more interesting presentation for a cocktail / tea, and lets you see a little bit of the bun.

Overall, I’d grade these as a B+.

But I was pretty sure I could do better…

Seeni Sambol Appetizer Experiment #1: Wontons

I’m a little obsessed with seeni sambol, the Sri Lankan traditional accompaniment of caramelized onions, cooked long and dark with tamarind and chili — made vegetarian if you like, but even tastier, I have to say, with some dried Maldive fish simmered in. ¬†The perfect accompaniment to an egg hopper — but egg hoppers are actually kind of a pain to make, especially for a party, as you have to cook each one individually and steam them slowly. ¬†And they’re not bite-size ¬†treats — I wondered how I could introduce my American friends to the glory of seeni sambol at a cocktail party or tea. ¬†And thus, we set out on our quest — to create the perfect seeni sambol appetizer.

The first attempt was, I’m sad to say, a failure. ¬†I was in a hurry, cooking a lot of things for our holiday party, and so I went for the simplest option available — pre-made wonton shells from the grocery store, filled with seeni sambol. ¬†They were…all right, I suppose? ¬†The wonton shells felt wrong, though; they were too crispy, and they didn’t meld with the sambol. ¬†Adding some cooked egg helped — that was definitely the right flavor the seeni sambol needed to mellow the pungency and make a rich, yummy bite. ¬†But I didn’t think the wontons were the right container. ¬†I’d have to try something else.

 

Also, when I tried pre-filling the wontons and refrigerating them, the seeni sambol gave off oil that discolored the wontons and made them a little greasy to pick up.  Not ideal.  If you really want to go with the wonton option, fill them right before serving.

Mas Paan (Meat Bun)

Mas Paan is literally ‘meat bread,’ and is a favorite snack sold at roadside stands, hotel cafes, and transit stations across Sri Lanka. ¬†The yeast bread may be filled with whatever curry you like — fish and vegetarian options are also common. ¬†This batch, I made with some leftover pork and potato curry, but most often, I would make this with beef and potato curry. ¬†Regardless, having thirty mas paan in my fridge and freezer means that I’ll snack happy for a few days, take them with me while traveling — they’re great to have on the road — and be able to pull some out of the freezer to toast up when I get home again. ¬†It’s best piping hot, but may also be happily eaten at room temperature.

Note: ¬†If you don’t want to make the dough by hand, and your grocery store carries frozen loaves of bread dough, I’ve thawed and used a pair of those for this recipe to good effect. ¬†This recipe adapted from Charmaine Solomon’s _The Complete Asian Cookbook_, with very little change.

Note 2: Minal Hajratwala has a fascinating chapter that explores the political significance of similar buns in South Africa, in her book on the diaspora, _Leaving India_. Highly recommended.

Mas Paan
(about three hours + currying time, makes 30)

1 batch meat and potato curry (about 2-3 lbs. meat, 3 russet potatoes)
Dough:
1/2 c. milk
3 t. sugar
2 1/2 t. salt
3 oz. butter
1 1/2 c. warm water
1 packet (about 2 1/4 t.) active dry yeast
5 1/2 – 6 c. all-purpose or bread flour

1. Make curry, if needed; it’s tempting to make it while the dough is proving, but the timing can be tricky, since the curry needs to cool down, and your dough may overprove, turning yeasty. (I admit to risking it on occasion, though, for efficiency’s sake.) The curry should be cooked until it is very dry, and then cooled down to room temperature.

2. Make dough: Scald milk, stir in sugar, salt and butter and cool to lukewarm. Measure warm water into a large bowl; stir yeast into water until dissolved. Add milk mixture and 3 c. of flour; beat until smooth. Add enough flour to make a soft dough. Turn onto a lightly floured board, and knead until smooth and elastic, about ten minutes. Grease a bowl with butter, then put the dough ball in, turning it to make sure it’s all greased. Cover with plastic wrap or a cloth and allow to prove in a warm place until doubled in bulk (inside a turned off oven works well), about 1 – 1.5 hours. (This recipe is also used for making breudher in Sri Lanka.)

3. Divide the dough into 30 equal portions, flatten each portion to a circle and put a spoonful of meat and potato curry in the center. Bring the edges together, pressing to seal. If you keep the dough thinner at the edges when you’re flattening it, that’ll help keep it from being too bready at the bottom.

  

4. Grease baking trays and put buns with the join downwards on the trays, leaving room for them to rise and spread. Cover with a dry cloth and again, leave in a warm place for 30-40 minutes until nearly doubled in bulk.

5. Brush with egg glaze (egg whites or even heavy cream may be used instead) and bake in a hot oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Lovely with hot, sweet, milky tea.

Master Recipe: Curry Sauce for (Leftover) Meat

I’m not sure this problem ever came up in Sri Lanka, but we eat Western food about half the time, and I like lots of it, really I do, but then sometimes I go to the fridge to eat some leftovers and there is no curry to be found and I am sad. ¬†Over the years I’ve learned that it’s actually easy to take a standard plain-cooked meat, chicken, or fish, and turn it into an acceptable curried version. ¬†When a girl is desperate for curry, she does what she needs to do — she makes a curry sauce, adds some cut-up leftover cooked meat, simmers it for a little bit, and eats happy.

3 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 T ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1 dozen curry leaves
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1 2-inch piece cinnamon
1-2 T chili powder
1 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
1 t. salt
1/4 c. ketchup
1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 – 1 c. (or more, if you like) coconut milk
2-3 lbs. leftover cooked meat, cubed (may also be left on the bone)

3 russet potatoes, cubed (optional)

1.  Sauté onions in oil or ghee on medium-high, stirring as needed, with ginger, garlic, mustard seed, cumin seed, curry leaves, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, until golden-translucent, about ten minutes.

2.  Add chili powder, Sri Lankan curry powder, and salt, stirring for a few minutes more.

 

3.   Add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and coconut milk, stirring each ingredient in.  You now have a basic curry sauce, suitable for meat, chicken, or fish.  (It also works with seitan or young jackfruit, for vegetarian options.)

 

4.  Add leftover cooked meat, stirring until well combined.  Turn down to a simmer, cover, and let cook ten minutes or so; the meat will impart some flavor to the sauce, and vice versa.  Add water if necessary to prevent burning.

5.  Add potatoes (and probably more water) if using, bring to boiling, then turn back down and simmer until potatoes are cooked through.  (You can speed this part up by par-cooking them in water in the microwave earlier, perhaps while your onions are sautéing.)  Cook sauce down until it has a thick consistency, like gravy.

 

Serve hot, with rice or bread.

 

Autumn Ribbons

This isn’t so much of a recipe, as a test of whether I’ve managed to automate posting to Facebook from this site. ¬†But here’s a picture of the classic ribbon sandwiches, made with just beets and carrots (leaving out the traditional spinach), on wheat bread, for a more autumnal look. ¬†Nice for a Thanksgiving party appetizer!

Desi Crepes

We had crepes for dinner last night, and I started with my favorite, lemon + sugar. Delicious as always, but then I thought, what if I desi-fy’d (desified?) it? So I tried lime + jaggery, and reader, it was good.

We also had some ripe persimmon, which I love, so I tried that — interestingly, the version I did with nutmeg / cinnamon / allspice, which I thought would work well, didn’t excite me. But the version with persimmon / salt / pepper was surprisingly delicious. I think it’s because the persimmons were so sweet?