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Archive for the ‘ethnic excursion’ Category

The fifth taste

Yesterday, Clare and I served as volunteer assistants for Chef Mamie, one of the teachers of public classes at the Natural Gourmet. We were cooking for an event hosted by the NYWCA (New York Women’s Culinary Alliance) highlighting umami*. The “fifth taste” (after the basic four: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter), umami is strongly present in many foods including tuna, chicken, seaweed, tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, and parmesan cheese.

Last night’s event, held at the Institute for Culinary Education, featured a guest speaker from the Umami Information Center, who gave a short lecture on the history of the taste, which was followed by a buffet dinner full of umami-rich foods. The discovery of umami, in 1908, is credited to a Japanese chemist (Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University), thus people often associate the taste with Japanese foods. While it is true that many Japanese dishes are high in umami-rich ingredients, people of all nationalities have been tasting umami for centuries, it just wasn’t labeled as such. In fact, we learned during the lecture that breast milk is high in umami. 

The buffet we cooked included Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Italian dishes, each of which were paired with a wine or sake (all donated by Gotham Wine). I made one Thai dish: stir fried straw mushrooms and prawns with shrimp paste; and one Japanese: miso soup.

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Clare made two Vietnamese dishes: fresh spring rolls (served with a peanut sauce) and grilled pork chops.

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Clare also helped Chef Mamie with the pizzas, which were delicious.

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Chef Mamie made two dishes as well, they were my favorites: Japanese vegetable sushi rice and green tea cookies.

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It was a fun night, and I learned some new recipes, which is always good. 

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My dinner plate from last night.

 

* I linked to the Wikipedia entry on umami for those who want to read more on its definition, but wanted to note that I found a glaring error on the page (which I corrected) so beware of false information.

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Irene came over for dinner last night and I decided to make something a little special.  One of the newest additions to my cookbook collection is a wonderful book (which I fear may be out of print) called Curry Cuisine containing curry-based dishes from India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, as well as several “outposts” including Japan and numerous African and Caribbean countries.  After careful consideration, I settled on a Singaporean sour fish curry (local name above).

I quickly realized that a trip to Fairway would not suffice for all that I needed so I headed to Chinatown to Bangkok Center Grocery, a Thai supermarket. There I acquired some key ingredients including coconut cream, thai green chilies, lemongrass, and tamarind paste.  I had to improvise with the tamarind as my sour ingredient as the fruit the recipe called for (belimbing wuluh) was nowhere to be found.

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In order to make tamarind water, which is what I added to the curry, I soaked the tamarind paste in boiling water, let it sit, then strained out the pulp.

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Meanwhile, my dessert muffins came out of the oven just as I set my fish (which I had skinned and cubed) to marinate.

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Next, I made the curry paste — no short cuts from a jar this time — which got cooked together with the coconut cream, tamarind juice, and lemongrass.  Then I added the fish and let it simmer to cook and enhance all the flavors, done.

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As a side dish I served red swiss chard.  First I sauteed the stems (diced very small) together with the leaves (chiffonaded).  To the finished product I added toasted pine nuts and a balsamic vinegar reduction.  It was simple, quick, and delicious.  I also made some wild rice to soak up the neon yellow (thanks to the turmeric) curry.

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Dinner ended on a sweet note with my chocolate chocolate chip muffins, which I cut in half and stuffed with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Something tells me Irene will be back the next time she’s in NYC.  But, before that, she’s promised me a home-cooked Korean meal the next time I’m in Seattle (which will be at the end of April). Can’t wait.

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Singaporean Sour Fish Curry
Adapted from Curry Cuisine by Vivek Singh et al.
Serves 4

Ingredients
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp lime juice
black pepper, to taste
2 lbs halibut cut into 2 inch cubes
2 1/2 cups coconut cream
tamarind water (made by soaking 1 oz tamarind paste in 1/2 cup boiling water, then straining)
1 stalk lemongrass, cut in half lengthwise and then crosswise

Paste
6 shallots, chopped
2 small green chilies (or to taste), seeded and chopped
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp peanut oil (coconut oil can be substituted in the case of allergies)

Procedure
1. Mix together the first four ingredients in a non-reactive bowl.   Add the fish chunks.  Mix fish so that it is evenly coated with the marinade and set aside for 10 minutes.

2. Blend together all of the paste ingredients and 2 tbsp water in a food processor until smooth.

3. Put 3 tbsp of the coconut cream into a saucepan big enough to accommodate all of the fish chunks.  Heat over medium high heat for about 5 minutes then add the paste and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.  Add the tamarind water and the lemongrass.  Add half the remaining coconut cream and bring to a boil.  Allow the mixture to simmer rapidly until it has reduced by half, about 8 minutes.

4. Add the remaining coconut cream and bring back to a boil, then add the fish.  Simmer until the fish is cooked through, turning the chunks once in between, about 6 minutes.

5. Remove from heat and adjust seasoning to taste.  Remove the lemongrass.  Cover the pan and allow the fish to sit in the sauce for another few minutes.  Serve immediately with rice and a vegetable side of your choice.

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