Guerrilla Cooking Skills

I’m really grateful that at this point in my life I have guerrilla cooking skills, because they are really helpful in times of exhaustion. Example — meals for this week:

– I took a pork shoulder out of the deep freeze and stuck it in the fridge, planning to cook it the next day — maybe vindaloo or tamarind pork curry?

– I was too tired to cook the next day; we ordered Indian takeout instead. Indian, because I was still planning to cook the pork soon, and so I figured any leftovers would go with

– the saag paneer that came with the Indian food was blander than usual — Kevin and I ate about a fifth of it, but without joy. I knew I’d want to add flavor before eating any again.

– the cilantro chutney that came with our samosas was thin and watery — it had some flavor, but needed more intensity and less wateriness

– next day, still too tired to cook from scratch. But hey — I heated some oil and cayenne in a big pot, took the pork shoulder and put it in, searing it (turning to sear both sides), and then dumped in the saag paneer and also the cilantro chutney and also some salt. Added some water, brought it to a boil, then covered and turned down to medium. Went to basement to chill out with TV for a while.

– eventually wandered back up, flipped pork over, gave everything a stir, tasted the sauce. Delicious. Added in the leftover devilled potato curry from the other day, turned heat down to medium low. Let it all cook another hour while I watched TV, checking periodically to make sure the liquid didn’t cook off too much.

– checked pork temp with thermometer — all good. Removed pork from sauce, sliced it up, and rinsed a few slices for the kids (too spicy for Anand otherwise, and I wasn’t sure Kavi would go for the saag sauce), Kevin and I had it straight up with naan / rice, pouring sauce over.

– next day, needed chickpea water for vegan love cake experiment. So had to open can of chickpeas. Perfect — added chickpeas to remaining sauce and simmered for 15-20 minutes. Delicious straight up with rice / naan, also good with pork slices added in.

Somewhere in there, I also pan-fried some chopped up chicken thighs with salt and pepper, added the restaurant tikka masala sauce, along with the tamarind sauce that came with their samosas. Yummy.

And so it goes around here. Nothing wasted, everything delicious.

Delicious Duck Eggs

Roshani came by with a plan to make uppuma for lunch — she had brought over some shrimp curry too, along with some delectably sweet cherry tomatoes from her garden. That would have been plenty, but I had these fabulous duck eggs that a local gardener brought me in thanks for letting her dig up some goldenrod and morningstar sedge. So this seemed like the perfect occasion to use them.

I’ve never had duck eggs before — these were very pretty, and on researching, I learned that they’re basically like chicken eggs, but a little larger and yummier. Well, yummier if you like rich and creamy egg yolks, which I absolutely do. They’re often pickled in Asian cuisine, and I’m curious about that, but I was too impatient to wait three weeks for pickling. So curry it was.

I hard-boiled the duck eggs first, then just made my standard salmon curry (pulling out some wild salmon from the freezer and thawing enough to cut it), and then slipped in the hard-boiled duck eggs. Reader, they were so yummy. I’m honestly a little cranky now that they’re not easily available in grocery stores around here. Quail eggs, I know where to find. Duck eggs, not so much (unless I want to go to the Asian market and get them pickled…).

I am *not* starting a duck pond in the backyard. Not this year, anyway. Get thee behind me, Satan. I haven’t had time to keep up with the garden I do have, much less adding more living creatures to it.

But oh, they were DELICIOUS.

Tender seafood curry

Finishing up the California launch party photos on my phone. Basic process for making a tender seafood curry — make the curry sauce, get it to just the way you like it, slip the seafood in, and cook it just long enough, uncovered, to cook through. A little water will usually come off the seafood, thinning the sauce, but then as you cook it through, that will evaporate again, so you should end up with deliciousness in just a few minutes. Works for salmon, other fish, scallops, shrimp, crab, squid, etc.

You can also cook longer, and sometimes I do, esp. if I’m making more of a mixed seafood stew, and that’ll help get the seafood flavor to really permeate the sauce, but it also ends up making the seafood itself more firm, so there’s a bit of a tradeoff there.
I suppose you if you were being really fancy, you could make a stock first, with seafood that you planned to discard, and use that as your base, then only simmer a fresh batch of seafood a little while in the stock-based curry sauce. I do sometimes do that with shrimp shells, if I’m being fancy. But it would feel wasteful to do it with actual seafood. I don’t know if anyone ever does that at fancy restaurants. I kind of hope not.

Pork and Peaches

Had some leftover plain roast pork shoulder, really happy with what I did with it in about 10 minutes:

– sliced pork, heated olive oil, added pork, salt, and fresh ground pepper
– sauteed for a few minutes on high, flipping pieces to brown
Рadded two sliced peaches, gently stirred in to season and saut̩ed with pork

– added a splash of Cointreau to bring it all together with a bit of tasty orange-peach sauce

YUM.

Lunch in Paradise Park

Roshani took me out for birthday lunch yesterday; I had an errand in the city, so we combined that with lunch at Paradise Park, which happens to be in my old neighborhood of Wicker Park, where Kevin and I lived for a few years.

I was amused to drive by our old condo and glimpse what I think are the trellises I built on the roof deck still there. I hope the current owners enjoy gardening up there, and take advantage of the water we ran up to the roof. 🙂

Eggplant fries — recommended, really tasty, and I actually really liked the burrata too, which came with an interesting combo of balsamic drizzle, fig jam, and sun-dried tomato pesto — the tomato and fig worked really well together, salty tang playing against sweetness. Yumyum.

Mushroom and Onion and Swiss

That feeling when you’re having a staff meeting and one of your staff members talks about how much they love mushroom and onion and Swiss on a burger, and you get excited because you ALSO love mushroom and onion and Swiss on a burger…

…and then your other staff member says they’ve never tried that, and you get even more excited because you get to INTRODUCE them to this deliciousness…

…and conveniently, you’re having a party the next day where you were planning on grilling, and luckily, they’re free and can swing by the party, so later in the day you go to Costco to get party supplies…

…and there you realize Costco has some very fun chef’s sampler mushrooms (and you don’t know what they are, exactly, but they may include any of the following: golden chanterelles, morels, black trumpet, porcini, shiitake, oyster, lions mane, pioppini or hedgehog), so you definitely HAVE to try making grilled onions and mushrooms with those…

…so it’s possible that your staffer’s introduction to a burger with grilled onions, mushroom and Swiss might be just a little bit EXTRA…

…and can you tell it’s been WAY WAY TOO LONG since I got to entertain and feed people? Yes. Yes it has.

Sakkarai (Jaggery) Pongal

(30-40 minutes, serves 8-10)

For this one-pot celebration dish, rice is mixed with a little toasted mung bean and cooked down until very soft, close to custard texture. Sweeten the rice with jaggery and coconut milk, season with fried cashews, raisins, cardamom and saffron, and you have a dish fit for the gods — which was, in fact, what jaggery pongal was intended for. It was traditionally made to offer the gods as part of the harvest celebration of Pongal (typically around mid-January), and on other similarly celebratory occasions.

In modern times, many will use a pressure cooker or Instant Pot to bring the rice quickly to the right texture, but I go a bit more old school here, which requires stirring on the stovetop.

2 c. rice (white or red, your choice)
4 c. water
1 c. coconut milk
1/4 c. green grams / mung bean, toasted in a dry pan
1 c. jaggery
1 t. salt
2 T vegetable oil or vegan butter
1/4 c. cashew nuts, chopped
1/4 c. raisins
1/4 t. ground cardamom
pinch of saffron threads

optional garnish: whole cashew nuts and raisins fried in more vegetable oil or vegan butter

1. Soak the toasted green grams for 30 minutes, then add to a large saucepan, along with rice and water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 15-20 minutes, until rice is mostly cooked through.

2. Stir in jaggery and coconut milk, then cover and continue to cook, stirring periodically to keep from sticking. If you need to add more water, do so.

3. Meanwhile, heat the oil or vegan butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add cashews and raisings and fry until cashews are golden brown. Stir them into the cooked rice mixture.

4. Add cardadmom and saffron and continue to cook, stirring periodically, until rice has broken down, and the entire dish has a somewhat creamy texture (similar in appearance to risotto).

5. Remove from heat and cool. You can simply spoon it in to bowls for serving, or for a fancier presentation, mold into portions by pressing into greased cups, then unmold and serve garnished with additional fried cashews and raisins. A little fried ripe plantain would also go nicely with this, or fresh ripe mango.

Thank you, hibiscus tree, for giving me a single flower just in time for this photograph. 🙂

Rosappu Pachadi / Rose (or Hibiscus) Salad

(15 minutes, serves 4)

This is an ancient recipe, based primarily on a recipe N. Maheswari Devi saved from 13th-14th c. manuscripts in the Jaffna Library. The library, which contained over 97,000 books and manuscripts and was one of the largest in Asia, was burned by an organized mob on June 1, 1981, during the Sri Lankan conflict, one of the great tragedies of that era. The burning was one of the most violent examples of ethnic biblioclasm of the 20th century.

Although the library has since been rebuilt, many irreplaceable manuscripts were lost to the world. I offer this recipe to you with gratitude to the author for her work researching and saving many such recipes, and recommend her book to you, Jaffna Heritage Cooking.

Roses bloom lushly in the hill country of Sri Lanka; if roses aren’t available, hibiscus (shoeflower) also works beautifully here, lending a little more tang. You can prepare this recipe either as a lightly-dressed salad, or as more of a yogurt-based raita, a cooling element with a spicy curry meal.

Petals are quite perishable, so this should be made and served fresh for a salad; a raita will keep for a few days in the fridge.

NOTE: It’s important to only eat flowers that haven’t been treated with pesticides or other poisons when cooking; if you’re not growing the flowers yourself, be sure to buy from reputable sources that certify they are food-grade quality.

about 40 rosebuds, or 20 roses
3-5 green chilies, minced
1/2 c. fresh grated coconut
1/2 c. red onion, minced
1/4 – 1 c. vegan yogurt (determine amount depending on whether you’re aiming for a dressed salad, as pictured, or something closer to a raita)
1 t. fresh mint, minced

1/2 t. salt

1. If using rosebuds, remove the petals from the base. If using fully-grown roses, tear or chop the petals small (otherwise, the large petals will have an unappetizing slick texture). Rinse and drain them well before continuing.

2. Combine petals with remaining ingredients, stirring to mix well. Serve cold.

Boom! Tell me that wouldn’t be the star of your brunch table. 🙂

Sitting in the Sunshine

Met Roshani for lunch yesterday, outdoors at Little Gem. They have perfect French onion soup, and we shared a split of prosecco. Yumyum. So nice to sit outside in the sunshine with a friend…

Travel Through Food

Lunch today — I’d ordered seafood paella from a local restaurant a few days ago, excited to try it. The last time I had paella was on the beach in Mexico, and it was so good, and I miss beaches. So travel through food, yes? One way of getting through sheltering in place.

Unfortunately, the paella was…not great. I mean, it was fine? But not DELICIOUS. And I wanted delicious. Also, it was mostly rice with a little seafood, and I’m not sure how traditional that is or isn’t, not being a paella expert, but I wanted mine to be more seafood with a little rice.

So I messed with it. I diced an onion and some bell pepper, sauteed those in a good amount of olive oil with salt and pepper and smoked paprika and garlic powder. Added in a little wine and some already cooked shrimp I had on hand. Stirred in the restaurant paella, and then a good amount of lemon juice. (I like tang). Tasted, wanted more spice, ground in a little more fresh black pepper.

Reader, it was delicious. Anand came over and tried some, and then served himself a huge helping, so that was an extra win — I wasn’t expecting him to go for paella, but he does like rice, so I should not have underestimated him, I guess. 🙂. It’s not the same as being able to go dive into the ocean beforehand and work up a big appetite, but for now, I’ll take it. Vacations will come again.