Friday, August 29, 2008

Not Just Desserts

Isn’t this the most gorgeous looking pineapple? Can’t you just imagine the sweet juice dribbling down your chin as you bite into a succulent slice?

Sorry to go on a bit, but I’m really proud of this home-grown pineapple, which represents victory in my on-going battle against our horde of marauding squirrels. Each and every pineapple in our garden has to be enclosed in a wire mesh cage, “stitched” at the bottom with fine wire, to keep it from these rats with furry tails.

Pineapples grow easily in this climate. When I asked our Timorese friend a few years back how to plant the pineapple crown I’d twisted off a ripe fruit, he took it from me and tossed it down the grassy hillside. When I looked shocked, he reassured me that it would take root on its own, no need to dig a hole, put fertiliser or anything like that. He was right, of course, and two years later, the plant bore fruit.

Although in the West pineapple is most commonly eaten fresh as a fruit, or made into desserts or cakes such as the excellent pineapple upside-down cake, in this part of the world, pineapple frequently appears in salads, soups, stir-fried dishes and stews. Here are some of the ways we enjoy pineapples such as this beauty (apart from biting into that succulent slice I mentioned):

∑ chunks blended with Asian pennywort (daun pegaga or gotukala) and iced water to make a healthy green juice
∑ fine dice mixed with cucumber (ditto) and sliced shallots, seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar and salt
∑ chunks mixed with sliced shallots and bird’s-eye chilli, tossed with a mixture of sambal belacan, lime juice, sugar and salt
∑ slices dipped in sweet soy sauce with sliced red chilli
∑ slices sprinkled with salt (to heck with blood pressure problems!)
∑ my favourite Laotian fish, beansprout and pineapple soup (recipe in my Green Mangoes & Lemon Grass)
∑ Vietnamese-style slivers of beef seasoned with oyster and soy sauce, stir-fried with garlic and pineapple, then splashed with lime juice and fish sauce

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Magic Grain

These days, most of us eat far more exotic grains and starchy products than the familiar wheat, rice and barley. There's polenta, which is made from corn and which is regarded in Italy as poor folks' food, definitely not trendy as it is or was in many Australian restaurants. Then there are couscous and burgul (yes, I know they're made from wheat, but in different forms) and the magic grain of the Andes, quinoa.

I’d eaten quinoa only once before we went to Peru, and found it pleasant, light but unremarkable in flavour. The tiny pale grains are actually the seeds of a leaf green veg, and as well as being high in protein, are full of all sorts of valuable minerals. No wonder the Incas could toil away in the potato fields at 3,500 metres or more!
When we were in the Sacred Valley last year, we noticed that most locals ate soupy stews in the markets, often with quinoa, vegetables and sometimes a few shreds of chicken. A small Peruvian cookbook I bought in Lima has a recipe for quinoa soup, which I’ve adapted slightly. The lack of spices and minimal use of herbs makes it almost like nursery food after the Asian and Middle Eastern food we most often eat, but it’s certainly healthy!
You should crumble in fresh white cheese, the sort shown in the photo here, but I find Gruyere a perfectly adequate substitute.

1-2 tablespoons pork lard or vegetable oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 – 3/4 cup quinoa (depending on how thick you want the soup)
1 medium potato (or sweet potato if you like), sliced
1 medium carrot, sliced
handful of spinach leaves
1 cup milk
1/2 cup crumbled white cheese or grated Gruyere
salt and pepper to taste
flat-leaf parsely or fresh coriander leaf

Heat the lard or oil and sauté the onion until soft. Add the stock, bring to the boil, then stir in the washed and drained quinoa. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add the potato and carrot and simmer until tender, Put in the milk and spinach leaves and cook til the spinach wilts. Add the cheese and when it has melted, season and serve with chopped flat-leaf parsley or fresh coriander.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Sausage that Got Away

I don't know what went wrong with Blogspot, publishing the code for the photo on my last posting rather than showing this gorgeous Italian sausage in all its juicy glory.

Down by the River Side

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There’s something about a barbecue that seems to bring out the cave woman in me. I am a real pyromaniac, and love gathering firewood, twigs, dried bamboo leaves or casuarina needles to make a blaze. Last Sunday, however, I diplomatically left it to the chief caveman and his (male) assistant to get a good fire going while I concentrated on the food (yeah, I know, sexual stereo-typing).

Our favourite picnic spot is along the Kiulu river, where there’s a wide grassy stretch on one side. The water is deliciously fresh and clean, fed by streams tumbling down the Crocker Range from Mount Kinabalu. It is the perfect spot for lazing about, keeping cool with a dip in the river aided by the occasional beer, and playing a spot of boules or petanque. During our picnic, a few young local guys turned up for a swim and the universal game of skipping flat river stones.

The main event for our picnic (after Belle’s pakhora) was Italian sausage, which I’d decided to stuff into one continuous coil rather than bother twisting and tying to get small sausages, and then risk them falling through the grill into the fire. I held the coil together by piercing it through with thick rosemary stems (saved in my freezer for months). Thanks to Belle and Jim, who carried back sausage skins from England, and to Markus, whose parents carried a giant jar of skins in brine from Germany, I’ve enough sausage skins for at least a couple of years. Just as well, as you simply can’t buy a decent sausage in Sabah.

In case you are also crazy enough to make your own sausages, here’s the best of the recipes I’ve tried since becoming an amateur charcutier.

1 kg minced pork (at least 15% fat)
1 1/2 tablespoons fennel seed, toasted
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 tsps freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup dry red wine
chilli flakes with abandon

Mix minced pork together with all other ingredients and leave refrigerated for 4 hours or overnight for the flavours to blend. Stuff the sausages and then poach in barely simmering water for 10 minutes or (preferably) steam over water in a covered wok. Drain and refrigerate, freeze or grill right away.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Careless Omnivore

I forgot to say that in the Omnivore food list I just posted, items I have NOT tried are in italic type.

Are You an Omnivore?

There's nothing like a deadline to encourage you to do everything except finish that article/ad/book. This morning's distraction was an amusing list of things an Omnivore should try at least once. I have tried 77 of the 100 items, missing out on American rubbish like McDonald's and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (it took me a while to figure out what PB & J was!, and I still don't know what S'mores is (I doubt it's the Dutch Eurasian Smoore!; ditto for Hostess Fruit Pie. The latter sounds like something Hannibal Lecter would relish.

Here's the list, in case you're interested.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Sunday, August 03, 2008

I adore yoghurt (home-made, of course) in every way possible, but for some reason, I'd never tried to make a yoghurt ice-cream. A famous Asian iced yoghurt chain is now strutting its stuff in Kota Kinabalu but their ic-cream is sickly sweet and 1 scoop costs as much as 1 1/2 litres of home-made yoghurt.

When I was in Singapore last week, Julia and I visited the superb Singapore Garden Festival, where we spent 5 hours drooling over orchids, pitcher plants, "fantasty gardens" (plus, I admit, indulging in a bowl of piping hot rice porridge with century egg and chicken to warm us up after 2 hours of freezing temperatures). One of the exhibitors kindly gave me several kaffir limes, those small, bumpy-skinned fruit from the tree whose double leaf has the most heavenly fragrance and is used in Thai and Nonya cuisine. I have a tree in my garden but although the providesmore leaves than I need, it has never flowered and given me fruit.

Anyway, I put the singapore kaffir lime and yoghurt together in the following recipe. By the way, the sickly colour of the lime in the photo is because I'd deep-frozen it. They're lovely bright green for the first hour or so after they defrost (but can be grated while still frozen) but then they take on this awful colour. The yoghurt ice tastes great, sort of herbal or even reminiscent of newly cut grass. You could, of course, substitute lemon rind and lemon juice for the lime. And if you have an ice-cream maker, you don't have to keep processing and re-freezing it as I do.

400 ml plain yoghurt (home-made or the best quality you can find)
grated zest of 1 kaffir lime
60 ml lime juice
130 ml sugar syrup* or a mixture of honey and sugar syrup
a liberal splash of limoncello or light rum

* I make mine with by boiling water with several chunks of Chinese yellow rock sugar, which is a mixture of cane sugar and honey and gives the syrup an unctuous texture and delightful flavour

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl, then taste and add more syrup if needed; remember, when it's frozen the sweetness is less noticeable. Put in a freezer until it starts setting along the edges; whizz in a blender, return and freeze again. Whizz once more to break up the ice crystals, returning to your freezer container, cover with foil and return to the freezer until about 20 minutes before you need it. Then transfer it to the lower part of the fridge to soften. Serve, preferably with crisp sweet wafers.