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Posts Tagged ‘fish-free’

Thinking of you, US of A,

with your Freddie Mac, and your Fanny Mae.

I’m no Du Fu. But seriously, since food-inflation has neared 10% in the UK, our household has only been eating meat every second night. We also eat a lot of cured pork, which is cheap because it goes farther in smaller quantities. I estimate that we save about £15/week ($25USD), or about £750 in 2008, this way. In other words, my inborn meanness is partly responsible for all the lentils ’round here.

So in the face of the many Louisianan jambalaya recipes calling for chicken and shrimp and pork and alligator and all sorts of protein extravagances, this is a solely-sausage jambalaya, with gluten-free free-range pork chipolatas on offer (on sale) this week. Chipolatas are a thin sausage, and browning them also cooks them through, so out of the pot they came as soon as they looked good. I sauteed onion, celery, and garlic, and flavoured with oregano, thyme, paprika, and some dried chipolte innards. In went red pepper, the rice, and a can of sieved tomatoes. Now, Emeril would probably disapprove (and I’m okay with that), but I keep the lid off the pot while the rice cooks. This is because with the lid on I can’t see what’s going on inside, and what’s going on is usually burning. So I stir and I monitor and I add broth as needed until the business is done. I sliced my browned sausages the size of shrimp, chucked them in, and, um, well, bam (lower case ‘bam’, very meek and sideways-glancing).

PS. Anybody else remember that annoying chain restaurant in Edmonton years ago that made all the staff yell “Jambalaya!” whenever it was ordered? What am I saying?: it was a chain: it probably embarrassed people from Vancouver to Winnipeg.

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egusi.jpgEgusi is the name of both a substantial hot soup from Nigeria and the melon seed with which that soup is thickened. The seeds themselves are small and pale, and with their internal oils they grind to a paste more so than a powder. West-African stores carry shelled melon seeds, and Indian grocers often do as well. Where the packets disclose details, they tend to call the seeds that of the “white” or “red” melon, which I take to be some undisclosed varities of that African native, the watermelon. Sadly, I have not been able to find a package without a shared-equipment warning for nut-allergy sufferers. But where melon seeds cannot be found many recipes recommend the substitution of pumpkin seeds, which one may come across in situ in the month of October. Shelling would take some time, I fear. Perhaps your local Latin American store, or your local hippie healthy food store, carries safely processed pumpkin seeds, or pepitas.

Some Nigerian recipes for egusi soup call for frying the seed paste, presumably to enhance flavour. In my own kitchen I have found that frying decreases thickening ability, much like a brown roux thickens broth less well than a white one, and left me with a creamy but thin broth. Furthermore, I found that what enhancement of flavour frying this mild paste brought was lost amid the heat of the chilies, so frying the paste is a step that I decline, choosing instead to make a soup that is almost a stew. The meat should be carmelized with high heat, and while the traditional oil of choice is high-smoking palm oil, palm oil is unfamiliar to many cooks, and very high in saturated fat. I substitute sunflower or canola oil, recognizing that some authentic flavour will be lost through this concession. I also suggest frying the beef in a cast-iron pan for good browning and then moving to a saucepan to simmer, but I doubt that anyone cooking on a three-legged pot over an open fire would bother with such foolishness. Many egusi soups recipes use some form of seafood for enhanced flavour, and if fishstock or shrimp are in your diet you might like to include them, but this recipe is fish-free. The tomatoes in this soup do not produce a sauce base here (that is the job of the melon seed) but work as a complementary vegetable to the okra, and provide some acid for the palate. Whole okra cooked until just tender is deliciously vegetal and not at all slimy, again the thickening is provided by the seed paste rather than the okra. Choose the smallest fresh okra you can find this season, or substitute tender young spinach leaves stirred-in at the end instead.

Serve with white rice or Nigerian eba. And if you have a sorghum beer in your fridge, this is the food for it!

Nigerian Melon Seed Soup (Egusi)

90 minutes, including one hour simmering; serves four

2 Tbsp sunflower or canola oil (palm oil for purists)
1 lb stewing beef in 1/2″ cubes
1 onion, finely diced
6 stemmed fresh bird’s eye or scotch bonnet chilies (or other very hot chili)
1 tsp salt
1 cup shelled melon seeds (may substitute pumpkin)
7 fl oz canned tomatoes, diced
1 lb whole okra

1. Heat the oil to smoking in a heavy fry pan (like cast iron) while you dry the beef cubes with kitchen towel. Brown the cubes over high heat without letting them burn. Remove the meat to a waiting saucepan and add three cups of water to it.
2. Add the diced onion to the saucepan of soup and bring to a simmer. Dice the chilies with their seeds and add to the soup. Add the salt. Cover and simmer until the beef is tender, about one hour.
3. Grind the melon seeds in a clean coffee grinder until smooth. Add to the broth. Add water if you feel the soup is too thick.
4. Add the diced tomato. Top and tail the okra and add them, too. Replace the cover and simmer ten minutes more. Taste for salt.

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urap.jpgThis version of urap has a complex mix of flavours an unusual almost-crunchiness. The cuisine of Java is typically sweeter and less hot than that of many of its neighbours, but this dish does have some heat to it, via a few seeded red chilies. For good presentation and interesting mouthfeel it is important to cut the vegetables evenly and not subsequently overcook them. If you substitute haricort vert for snake beans watch the steaming time even more closely. I strongly recommend seeking out that strangely knobbly galangal root, which many Asian grocery’s carry fresh, because it provides a more complex aroma, sweet and lemony. And watch for water everywhere! Let the steamed vegetables steam-off the last of their clinging moisture and press, press, press the hydrated coconut. A soggy salad is no fun. Speaking of disappointment, do not chill the final product, or you will find it a shadow of its former self. What I find most remarkable about this dish is how is looks and tastes of the sea, with no seafood in it whatsoever.

Serve with cold water, or a gerwurztraminer.

Mixed Vegetables dressed with Javanese Coconut (Urap)

30 minutes; serves four

4 oz carrot, cut 1/8″ X 1/8″ X 2″ matchsticks
4 oz bean sprouts, brown tails removed
4 oz snake beans, cut in 2″ lengths (may substitute haricort vert)
1/2 cups dessicated unsweetened coconut
1 galangal root, smashed with a mallet until it splits
2 red chilies, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp palm sugar (may substitute brown sugar)
1/2 tsp Maldon salt (may substitute 1 tsp salt)
2 tsp lime juice

1. Set a kettle of water to boil, for the coconut and the sprouts
2. Steam the carrot until barely tender, about five minutes. Shake off any droplets you can.
3. Steam the beans until barely tender, about three minutes Shake off any droplets you can.
4. Place the coconut and galangal in a bowl and cover with hot water. Leave for ten minutes.
5. Place the sprouts in a strainer and pour the rest of the hot water over them.
6. Remove the galangal root, strain the water from the coconut, and press out all the moisture that you can.
7. Grind the chilies, garlic, sugar, salt and lime juice in a mortar. Mix with the coconut. Taste for salt and acid.
8. Toss the vegetables with the dressing, and serve.

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