Wednesday, June 16, 2010

North Korea, Iran and Bulgogi Leftovers

North Korea qualified for the World Cup this year? Really?

Source: BBC Sport

Does anyone detect the sweet irony of this situation? The only reason North Korea squeaked by was because Iran failed to beat South Korea, meaning that North Korea only needed a draw with Saudi Arabia. But WHY Iran failed to beat South Korea is amazing, in my book at least. Six of the Iranian players (including the Captain) chose that game to protest Iranian presidential election results. They wore green arm bands, a very visible protest and reminder to the Iranian audience that was watching it telecast at home on state television that they supported the opposition candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

They came out for the second half without the armbands. Apparently they'd been told to remove them. So, let me get this straight. These men chose to defy what can only be called a rogue regime, and chose very publicly to do so on television worldwide, and then someone tells them during halftime that they really should take them off (if they know what's good for them, that is). And then they come out for the second half and go on to draw 1-1, failing to win one of the four automatic qualification spots for Asia. Are you kidding me? They must have been so damn scared, knowing that they were going to have to go home after that match, that I'm surprised it was 5-1--and not in their favor. Seriously, watch the video in this report--scroll down and please ignore the inane commentary about 'detecting protest.' Those are terrified men on that field.

South Korea got really lucky in that match. It's not like they were really preoccupied with a terrifying regime at home. After all, it's not like they're North Korea, right? Some of that luck ended up wearing off on North Korea too though, which is the irony. Players who bravely protested a terrifying regime ended up pushing through players from another terrifying regime. North Korea and Iran--now that would be a match.

And I'll bet that when you saw it was a post about North Korea, you thought I was going to talk about the Chinese individuals who were paid money to appear as North Korean fans.

In all fairness, since I like to use World Cup games as inspiration for meals, I now have double the reason, with both North and South Korea qualifying, to make bulgogi. I think I stumbled upon a very satisfying recipe the other day, and it was delicious. And because my very considerate mother knows how much I love bulgogi, she always picks up about 2 extra pounds of the thinly sliced ribeye when she shops at her local Korean grocer, since I can't seem to get anyone to cut it that thinly up here.

When you consider how much thinly sliced meat constitutes 2 pounds, you'll understand we had a lot of leftovers. After a couple of meals of bulgogi and brown rice, I decided to whip up something new, using the leftover meat. What came together was amazing--the bulgogi had soaked up juices over 2 days, and, what's more, the fresh cabbage, peppers and scallions over rice vermicelli made it taste refreshingly Vietnamese, and the peanut chili sauce reminded me of Thai noodles. All in all, a party in your mouth and definitely one I'd host again. Enjoy!

Bulgogi part 3: Peanut Chili Noodles

  • 3/4 pound of leftover bulgogi
  • 2 red peppers (thinly sliced)
  • 1/2 head of purple cabbage (thinly shredded)
  • 4 scallions, white and green parts (chopped)
  • 1 tbsp garlic (minced)
  • 2 tbsp ginger (minced)
  • 10 oz. rice vermicelli
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter (if using regular peanut butter, just omit 1tbsp sugar)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup-1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp red chili flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil

Submerge vermicelli in boiling water for 6-7 minutes. Then flush the noodles with cold water for one minute. Drain and keep aside. Add vegetable oil to a pan and saute the garlic until fagrant. Saute the red peppers and cabbage in this oil for 3-4 minutes and then add green onions and saute for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Combine peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger and red chili flakes in a saucepan. Slowly add chicken brother, making sure to continue stirring so it doesn't congeal. Stir for 10 minutes, allowing it to simmer, but continuing to add broth so it doesn't become too thick. Toss the vermicelli with the sauce.

Serve topped with peppers and cabbage mixture, and top that with some heated leftover bulgogi. Serves 6.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bunny Chow

In honor of World Cup 2010's host country, I decided to make some popular South African street food for a group of friends who gathered at our place yesterday to watch USA vs. England. I was lucky enough to get to SA in our summer/their winter of 2005, and Bunny Chow was far and away my favorite meal there--perhaps with the exception of PeriPeri shrimp, which I'll post before the Cup ends. Here's the recipe for one of the easiest and most satisfying dishes I've made in ages.

Bunny Chow
  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (bite size pieces)
  • 2 tbsp garlic (minced)
  • 2 tbsp ginger (minced)
  • 1.5 red onions (chopped)
  • 4 large potatoes (bite size pieces)
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 2 tbsp red chili powder
  • 2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp garam masala
  • 1 inch piece of cinnamon
  • 3-4 cardamon pods
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch and a little bit of water
  • 12 whole bread rolls (not the sliced kind)

Here's the amazing part--just combine* all of the ingredients (with the exception of the chicken broth, cornstarch, water and rolls) in a slow cooker. Make sure you rub the spices into the chicken, onion and potatoes. Next, add the chicken broth. Cook on high for 3.5-4 hours, or on low for 7.5-8 hours. About 30 minutes before serving, mix the cornstarch with enough water to make a thick paste and add this mixture to the chicken curry. Stir well, and don't be afraid to have the chicken and potatoes break apart. *I ignored a bunch of slow-cooker first principles by not searing the meat, not layering meat on top of potatoes, etc. It turned out moist, tender and delicious anyway. And if we had the time to do all of those preparatory steps in the morning before work, would the slow cooker really have revolutionized the amount of time we spend on meals?

How to serve: Pour the chicken curry into a serving dish and garnish with chopped cilantro (optional). Take the bread rolls and hollow out a large hole in each one, making sure that you retain the 'lid' and 'insides' as one piece. [note: the kaiser rolls pictured above are a decent, if not slightly disappointing, substitute for South African 'government sandwich loaves' which are tall and square, like Indian pav. If you can get loaves like those, bless you.] Allow guests to assemble their own Bunny Chow by removing the lid, scooping some curry inside and using the lid to eat the meal with their hands. That's the real way to do it. Serves 12.

The astute among you may be asking why chicken curry inside of a bread bowl is called Bunny Chow. Since 12 servings of rabbit do not usually appear on a graduate student's grocery budget, I'm grateful that the name developed completely independent of the cottonball-tailed burrowers.

While the actual origin of the dish is disputed, I find the most believable account to involve the Bania (pronounced: buh-nee-yah) caste of Indian migrants, brought over to South Africa as indentured laborers to work on sugar cane fields. One version explains that Indians were excluded from restaurants and given curry scooped into a loaf of bread to take away; another claims that Indian workers found the loaf easy to transport to the fields. Both reports describe the affordability and convenience of a meal that workers have discovered in various countries throughout history--pasties in England, for example, were also cheap and convenient options for Cornish tin miners who could not come up for lunch and wanted a self-contained meal to eat without utensils below ground.

The term Bunny Chow is said to have arisen around 1933, when Indians and non-Indians alike suffered from the Great Depression and discovered that this meal was one of the cheapest they could manage. Bunny became the colloquial adaptation of the Banian curry, and 'chow' was the term used to describe Chinese food--another community who turned to the meal for sustenance. Interestingly enough, now the phrase is sometimes used to describe multiculturalism in South Africa, even becoming the namesake for a 2006 film about the humanity in interpersonal/intercultural/interracial, really inter-difference, relationships.

Sixteen years after the end of apartheid, South Africa has made serious advancements in this direction, and I hope that this fact isn't lost on World Cup audiences as they watch matches hosted in this country. Its post-apartheid Constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, for example, and even legalized same-sex marriage in 2006.

But race relations seem to be another matter. The legalized system of racial segregation under apartheid (in addition to a history of colonialism), and the measures that have since been taken to compensate for such injustice, have fostered distrust and resentment that seems to live strong today. I remember walking back to my hostel in Durban, with some Bunny Chow in hand, and encountering its white owner on a bench outside. He looked at the food in my hands and offered the following, unsolicited, wisdom: "We have a saying here in South Africa. During apartheid, whites were the head of the cow, blacks were the ass, and Indians were milking it in the middle. Now that apartheid's over, blacks are the head, whites are the ass and the damn Indians are still milking it in the middle." Charming, really.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Porkin' up a CSA

I freakin' love CSAs. Seriously. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and these local ventures provide exactly what I want to make my meals: fresh, inspiring, sustainable, and delicious treats. They're pretty simple--the farmer offers shares of that year's crop up front and it's a win-win for the seller and buyer. The farmer gets resources at the beginning of the year to help with costs for the upcoming harvest and the customer gets all of the wonderful qualities I listed above, and the added benefit of cheaper prices than it would often cost to buy the same quantities at the farmer's market. I know some people might think that these are absurdly expensive (because, come on, how can something organic in a box NOT be?) but they're really affordable... I'd dare say they're even cheap.

I'll give you an example: a local CSA offers 5 months of produce for a single person household at $375 per share. That's (usually more than) a week's worth of fresh vegetables for less than $19. If you're not already spending that much on vegetables, you're not eating enough vegetables. And this particular organization offers work exchanges for low income shares, as well as nutritional cooking classes based on that week's produce. But the best part of CSAs? You never know what will be in your box. You open it up and there are usually the staples (onions, potatoes, etc.), but then there could be tomatillos, turnips, chillies--whatever's in season. A friend in Brooklyn just got kohlrabi and collard greens this week and asked me this morning what in the world she could possibly do with them. Needless to say, the dissertation took a hit for the rest of day, but I found some really interesting south Indian recipes ideas for the cabbage-like veggie.

The heavens parted the day I found out we had a local pork CSA called The Piggery. We'd been lucky enough to have The Piggery's charcuterie at our weekly Farmer's Market, but the CSA introduced the idea of buying a 'whole hog,' 'half hog' or 'quarter hog' share. You read that right. So, every week (or every other week, based on your share), you open your box with the same anticipation as you would your box of produce--sometimes it's pate and chops, sometimes it's sausages, bacon and lard.

What's not to love about these local schemes? They tell you more about where your food comes from, they build sustainable communities, they cut down on economic risk, and, frankly, they stand to make cooking fun for people who just can't be bothered to see the delight involved in making your own food.

I'll admit that I've had a tenuous relationship with pork since an ill-fated incident in Trumansburg a few months back. See, I lovelovelove pork belly (the kind euphemism for what is nothing more than pork fat). Bacon is the most commonly known derivative, but pork belly has been commonly used in Chinese dishes and, more recently, has started appearing in 4oz. portions, slow roasted in some sort of delicious glaze, on some of the most high-end menus around the country. My favorite was served up in Gramercy Tavern, with a close second at Blue Hill Farm.

But one night it went very wrong in Trumansburg [note: I'm not going to name the restaurant, because I think it was prepared impeccably and I refuse to spread bad press about such a consummate delight]. Because I broke the one and only rule about eating pork fat: a little goes a long way. I gorged and then suffered nausea for roughly two weeks.

Since then, I've tried to rekindle my love of the fat by making dishes that organize themselves specifically around that one rule:

Mushroom and Spinach (Porky) Pasta

5-6 strips of bacon
4 cloves of garlic
1 red onion
1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
splash of dry white wine
8 medium sized mushrooms, chopped in large pieces
pasta (bow-tie works nicely)
8 oz of spinach
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup milk

fresh grated parmesan (to taste)
salt and pepper (to taste)

Start off by frying the strips of bacon in large skillet. While it's cooking, start the pasta in a pot of salted, boiling water. Once the bacon is done, set the strips aside. In the remaining bacon fat (yes!), saute the onions, garlic and red pepper flakes until the onions are translucent. Add mushrooms and white wine and saute until the wine reduces. Next, add the broth, milk, salt and pepper, and some parmesan. Continue stirring so that the cheese doesn't congeal. Add handfuls of spinach, making sure to patiently stir it into the mixture slowly. Toss the pasta in this mixture and serve warm. Serves 4.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Allergic Reactions, or Reactive Allergies?

I grew up taking allergies seriously before this seemingly recent dawn of peanut and wheat allergies. My mother cannot eats eggs in even the slightest amount (raw or cooked) and my sister cannot ingest chickpeas in any of their variations (posing a particularly inconvenient problem for our trips to India or Indian restaurants, since the popular ingredient of graham flour is derived from the chickpea itself). Both allergies are severe and have required medical care in the past. The episodes are always frightening; only after the reaction is quelled, do we consider how we could have determined the drink's rim had been dipped in egg whites to help affix its sugar, or how we could have prevented a mischievous baby from sticking chana dal up her nose.

All this is to say, I take allergy precautions rather seriously and always pity others when I hear what foods they must avoid. My own system is unfamiliar with any such restrictions, except perhaps for street food vendors in India, which I stubbornly patronize (there was an incident in 1987 where my parents tried to convince me I was allergic to popsicles, but I think we can all see where that was going). But its my experience working with small children in daycares and summercamps, as well as my exposure to nephews from my partner's side of the family, that sadly suggests food allergies are on the rise.

It could very well be the case that I'm more aware of restrictions as an older, more mature adult (who also loves to cook for guests and doesn't want to incur a lawsuit), but recent research suggests that modernity might be responsible for making food more dangerous to consume. One explanation blames technological inventions such as the refrigerator--before people could store their foods for months on end, they had to eat foods seasonally. Today, the continuous exposure to certain foods may build up the body's resistance.

Another explanation that blames modern inventions focuses on the increase in environmental pollutants. If we ingest foods that have particles from car fumes attached to them, for instance, our bodies might not recognize the substances as real food and may try to reject them.

Some public figures, like Chef Ming Tsai of 'Blue Ginger' fame, believe that the recent rise in allergies should be understood as a public health concern. Tsai spent years advocating for legislation in Massachusetts that would require restaurants to take certain precautions for the health and safety of its patrons. As of January 1, 2010, Senate bill 2701 requires all MA restaurants to take certain precautions for the health and safety of its patrons. The precautions include watching a video on food allergies and hanging informational posters in the kitchen made by the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN).

These measures are obviously not difficult--after all, how hard is it really to simply watch a video or hang a poster? The precaution that interests me most is the one that requires menus to include a statement that informs the customer to notify the wait staff of any allergies. I'm most intrigued by this particular precaution because it frames the issue under the rubric of customer rights, instead of health and safety in the kitchen.

Tsai's interest in customer rights stems from his own son's experience with allergies. Before the age of 6, his son was allergic to soy, wheat, dairy, shellfish, eggs, tree nuts, and peanuts (7 of the 8 major food allergies, his exception being fish). Luckily, he's outgrown most of his allergies, except for nuts, but Tsai remembers how difficult it was in the earlier years and he wants to reach out to other people who might feel the same frustration dining in restaurants.

Right now MA is the only state that has passed such legislation and New Jersey is the only other state with similar legislation pending, but Tsai and other advocates hope that it will quickly spread. We don't have to worry that our favorite restaurants will no longer cook with shellfish or eggs should a customer with those allergies frequent the establishment. Instead it should be understood as the educational campaign that it really is--a campaign that says restaurants should know emergency rooms across the country see 30,000 cases of food allergies every year, with 150 of them ending in fatality; a campaign that also says customers have the right to inform staff of allergies and then, because the restaurant has its own right to say that the allergies are impossible to accommodate, can turn around and vote where to eat with their feet.