Thursday, July 16, 2009
I don't know about you but I crave Asian flavors. It's become a pattern that my craving comes very suddenly and without warning and I get this unreasonable urge to sate it immediately. I usually end up going out to sate it instead of making something at home.
I try to remedy that problem by keeping as many Asian food staples in my pantry as possible. They're generally inexpensive and useful in a myriad of ways. I don't pretend to know how to recreate a lot of the dishes I love, at home but having some of the basic ingredients around like kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, red chile paste, mirin, a good dark soy sauce, ginger, basil, cilantro, fish sauce, coconut milk and hot, fresh or dried peppers means I can occasionally throw something together that will satisfy me in a pinch. I know that sounds like a lot to think about but the ingredients last a little while and all that might literally run you about $12 to $15 at an Asian market.
And thank god for Nigel Slater's book The Kitchen Diaries. He's a well known food writer in London and it's his personal diary of meals recorded for one full year and divided into months so it's very seasonal. He's also an incredibly unfussy and almost lazy cook, which I love, and everything in the book makes me drool.
Example: So one day he happens to have bacon and an avocado at home so he makes the bacon in a fry pan, pulls it out crisp, throws some sherry vinegar in with the drippings to deglaze the pan and then tosses the whole shebang over the avocado and eats it with rye bread.
Are you kidding me? Sign me up!
The way this book is written continually underscores that cooking is about PLEASURE (remember pleasure?); it's a sensualist's dream if you ask me. Reading it makes me ache to cook, now how's that for a glowing endorsement?
He also loves flavors from warm climates such as Southeast Asia and India and it's definitely reflected in many of his recipes. So far, I can vouch that so much of what I've made from his book is easy (beginner easy) and incredibly satisfying.
I made his Pork Burgers with Lime Leaves and Cilantro last night and ate it with a little homemade cucumber salad. Just cucumbers, thinly sliced red onion, cilantro, some rice vinegar, a touch of sugar and salt.
Break out the Riesling!
Adapted from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries
scallions - 4
hot red chile peppers and their seeds - 4
garlic - 4 medium cloves
the stalks and leaves from a small bunch of cilantro
ginger - a thumb-sized lump
limes leaves - 6
(also added some basil leaves and a touch of fish sauce to mine)
*smoked pancetta or slab bacon - 4 oz
*ground pork - 1.25 lbs
a little veggie or peanut oil for frying
Chop scallions, peppers, garlic and cilantro and finely grate ginger. Roll and shred the lime leaves very fine (and basil if you use it).
Throw it all in the food processor and process until it's finely chopped and well mixed like a paste. Scrape the paste out into a large bowl, and add a couple dashes fish sauce if you please.
Cut the pancetta or bacon then process in the processor to a coarse mush. Add that to the spice paste in the bowl along with the ground pork and mix with your hands adding a little salt and pepper along the way. Chill for a half hour in the fridge to meld flavors.
Roll the seasoned, chilled pork into about twelve balls and flatten into patties. Heat a heavy, shallow pan, add some oil and cook for several minutes a side over relatively high heat until they brown nicely and cook through the middle. Squeeze some lime juice on top and eat with cucumber salad and jasmine rice optional.
*If you can find local pork, I highly recommend it. It benefits you, the pigs and the environment. In Chicago, Twin Oaks Farms sells their sustainably raised pork at Green City Market on Saturdays.