Monday, May 13, 2024

Around the World in 80 Dishes: The Gambia

My Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge reaches another milestone ... the fiftieth (50th) challenge. This particular challenge takes us to The Gambia, which is the smallest country by square mileage on the African continent. 
A narrative would describe this country as a sliver of land, beginning along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, at the estuary of a river that shares the same name as the country. That river, the Gambia River, snakes its way inland, as does the country, which extends from north and south along the river. Yet, at its widest point, The Gambia spans only thirty-one (31) miles from north to south. To put that in some perspective, that distance is shorter than the drive down Interstate 95 from Baltimore, Maryland to Washington, D.C.
Agriculture figures prominently in The Gambia. Around seventy-five percent (75%) of the population is involved in one way or another in agriculture, and, their combined effort results in agriculture constituting twenty-five percent (25%) of the country's gross domestic product. One could find a wide range of crops grown along the Gambia River, such as cassava, yams, tomatoes, rice and lentils. However, if you truly want to know more about The Gambia, you need to know more about gerte ... or peanuts. Those groundnuts play an important part in the economy, the culture and the cuisine of the country. 

Source: Aramco

The Portuguese originally introduced the peanut to the region during the sixteenth century. But, it was the British turned who turned it into a cash crop, Today, with the shackles of colonialism long gone, peanuts continue to be the cash crop of The Gambia, grown on one-third of the country's arable land. Those crops support approximately one-quarter of The Gambia's population. It is not just growing the crop, but also processing the peanuts into goods for sale, namely, peanut butter. 
"Every child in The Gambia learns that we depend upon groundnuts." -- Musa Loum
Yet, despite the rather heavy emphasis on agriculture, the country produces only about half of the food its people need to eat. Moreover, food insecurity. poses a significant threat to the people of The Gambia. There are many reasons to explain why there is not enough food, from low crop yields to the exports of the production to countries like the United Kingdom and the United States. For example, approximately sixty percent [60%] of the groundnut production is exported.) According to the World Food Programme, about twenty-seven percent (27%) of the population faces food insecurity, and nearly double that percentage -- 53.4% -- live in poverty. 

There is a even larger threat looming on the horizon ... climate change. Groundnuts, like peanuts, require a certain amount of water. That means there needs to be a certain amount of rain or precipitation. However, growers in The Gambia find that total rainfall has decreased by 8.8 milliliters since 1960. That may not seem like a lot. But for a grower of a subsistence crop, or even a crop destined for export, that change in the amount of rain means something. The reduction in rain has resulted from more erratic rain patterns. Those uncertain patterns result in smaller peanuts and, by extension, smaller yields, creating greater issues for a very small country and its people. 

MAIN COURSE

For this challenge, I draw my inspiration from the peanut. I prepared the national dish of The Gambia, which is known as Domada. The name -- Domada, or perhaps more appropriately Domodah or Tigadena -- means peanut butter sauce. That is an apt description of the reddish-orange stew, whose aroma and taste feature peanut butter. Domoda is typically prepared with whatever vegetables are available, along with tomato paste, chicken stock and maggi cubes (bouillon cubes). It also features some protein, usually beef or chicken.   

DOMADA (GAMBIAN PEANUT STEW)

Recipe from Daring Gourmet

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound beef steak or chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 can (3 oz) tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup of natural, unsweetened peanut butter
  • 4 Maggi or Knorr tomato bouillon cubes
  • 3 cups water
  • Scotch bonnet chiles, diced, according to heat preference
  • 4 cups pumpkin or sweet potato, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Directions:

1. Prepare the stew. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven. Sauté the onions until golden. Add the beef (or chicken) and garlic and continue to sauté until the beef is no longer pink (or the chicken is browned). Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, chiles, peanut butter and stir to combine. Add the water and bouillon cubes.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add squash, cover and continue to cook for 35-40 minutes or until the pumpkin or sweet potato is tender, stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper.

2. Finish the dish. Serve hot with rice.

*    *    *

The preparation of Domada was fairly easy and the resulting dish is very delicious. The hardest part of this challenge is preparing the national dish of The Gambia while knowing that so many Gambians live in poverty and suffer from food insecurity. That knowledge has been weighing a lot on me lately as I explore cuisines and cultures where the people are struggling to survive. Until next time ...

PEACE.

Monday, May 6, 2024

On Count Rostov's Plate: Chicken Saltimbocca

1922, sometimes referred to as the "year that sealed the fate of Russia." It had been five years since the October Revolution, which led to the overthrow (and execution) of the Tsar and his family. The revolution turned into a civil war between the "reds" (the Bolsheviks, who supported Marxism) and the "whites" (those who favored other ideologies). However, by 1922, the civil war was over and the Bolsheviks and their Communist Party had control over Russia for almost one year. The leader of the Communist Party, Vladimir Lenin, had been looking back over the year and making plans for the future. the tide clearly favored the reds by 1922; and, their leader, Vladimir Lenin, was making plans for the future. He laid out those plans at the 11th Congress of the Russian Communist Party met between March 27 and April 2, 1922. 

It was also at the 11th Congress that Josef Stalin began his rise through the ranks, being appointed as the Communist Party's first Secretary General.  One month later, Lenin would suffer a stroke, and Stalin would take over Lenin's health care. Thus, by May 1922, Russia's path toward a communist economy and totalitarian state was sealed, as was its fate. 

Just one month later, so was the fate of the (fictional) Count Alexander Iliych Rostov. Summoned before the Emergency Committee of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, the Count had to answer for his past and his status. The committee ultimately found that the Count guilty of succumbing to the corruptions of his class, and, it sentenced him to house arrest. (For more details, you should buy and read the book.) The Count would live out the rest of his life at the Metropol hotel.

After returning to the hotel, and after having been shown his new arrangements, the Count made his way to the Boyarsky restaurant. The restaurant had Moscow's "most elegant decor, its most sophisticated waitstaff, and its most subtle chef de cuisine," Chef Emile Zhukovsky. The maitre d' sat Alexander at a table and he waited for his first meal since being confined to the hotel. 

The Boyarsky

Sitting at his table, Alexander waited for his first meal. Yet, to put it in context, Author Amor Towles excellently laid the groundwork for readers as they also waited. As Towles wrote: 

In the Revolution's aftermath - with its economic declines, failed crops, and halted trade - refined ingredients became as scare in Moscow as butterflies at sea. The Metropol's larder was depleted bushel by bushel, pound by pound, dash by dash, and its chef was left to meet the expectations of his audience with cornmeal, cauliflower, and cabbage - that is to say, with whatever he could get his hands on.

(Pg. 27.) That was the life of most everyone in 1922. Still reeling from years of war, the early days of Communist Russia were often characterized by shortages, especially when it came to food. 

This scarcity meant that, while Alexander may have ordered a specific dish, the meal he received may not be entirely consistent with his expectations. This point was underscored by Towles' description of the meal served to the Count:

a saltimbocca fashioned from necessity. In place of a cutlet of veal, Emile had pounded flat a breast of chicken. In place of prosciutto de Parma, he had shaved a Ukrainian ham. And in place of sage, that delegate leaf that binds the flavors together? He had opted for an herb that was as soft and aromatic as sage, but more bitter to the taste.... It wasn't basil or oregano, of that the Count was certain, but he had definitely encountered it somewhere before....

(Pg. 27.) The herb was nettle. Substitution became an essential part of cooking and eating. Unable to get the necessary ingredients, due to the lack of trade, the chef had to make due with what he could find. Rather than complain, the Count made the best of his circumstances and enjoyed the dish.  

Stinging Nettle Leaves (Source: Food52)

For my first post, I wanted to prepare the chicken saltimbocca in the same manner as Chef Zhukovsky. The chef had to make three substitutions: (1) chicken for veal; (2) Ukrainian ham for prosciutto; and (3) nettle for sage. I found myself in the identical position as the Chef, but for entirely different reasons. I did not face any shortages of veal, prosciutto or sage. I could easily go to any store and purchase those ingredients. I faced a shortage of what Chef Zhukovsky had on hand, namely Ukrainian ham and nettles. I made some efforts to find these ingredients, but with no success.

In the end, I decided to take a chicken saltimbocca recipe from the New York Times and made some modifications to produce a recipe that, if I had the ingredients, I could make. I nevertheless made the recipe anyways, using what I have on hand. Hence, a saltimbocca made with chicken, prosciutto and sage. 

CHICKEN SALTIMBOCCA

Recipe adapted from The New York Times

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 pounds of boneless chicken breast cut into 4 ounce pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped nettle, plus 24 large nettle leaves (substitute sage)
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • 6 thin slices Ukrainian ham (substitute prosciutto or other thinly sliced ham)
  • 6 slices of fontina cheese

Directions:

1.  Prepare the chicken. Using a meat mallet, pound the chicken to flatten a bit. Salt and pepper each piece on both sides and place on a plater. Sprinkle with chopped nettle (or sage), garlic, red pepper flakes (if using) and olive oil. Massage in the seasoning to distribute, cover and marinate at room temperature for one hour, or refrigerate for up to several hours). 

2. Crisp the nettle (sage). Heat a wide skillet over medium heat and add 3 teaspoons olive oil. When the oil looks wavy, add the nettle (sage) leaves and let them crisp for about 30 seconds. Remove and drain. 

3. Brown the chicken. Brown the chicken breasts in the oil for about 2 minutes per side, then transfer to a baking dish large enough to fit them in one layer.

4. Broil the chicken. Top each piece with 2 sage leaves, a slice of Ukrainian ham (or prosciutto) and a slice of cheese. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling. Garnish with the remaining nettle (or sage) leaves. 

P.S.: I know the chicken breast is a little thick for chicken saltimbocca. I could not find my meat mallet. Apparently, it had been seized as property of the people and now it is lost. 

P.S.S.: On a more serious note, by the end of 1922, the Soviet Union emerges with the compact between Russia, Belarussia, Ukraine and the Caucusus states (Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan). Stalin is also on his way to consolidating power. 

Until next time...

PEACE.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

On Count Rostov's Plate: An Introduction

It all began when I came across a recipe for Latvian Stew. My mind immediately turned to my Around the World in 80 Dishes project. I quickly checked my blog and realized that I have not had a challenge involving a Baltic country or, for that matter, Scandinavia. I started researching the recipe and discovered that its origin does not come from a cookbook, but a work of fiction. 

The recipe for Latvian Stew was based upon a dish referenced in A Gentleman in Moscow, a work of historical fiction by Amor Towles. Fiction does not figure among my reading choices. If one were to peruse the shelves at my home, they would see mostly works of historical non-fiction, cookbooks and even historical books about cooking, such as such as Anya Van Bremzen's Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. It is Van Bremzen's book that ultimately opened the way for me to read Towles' book. Van Bremzen covered the entire history of the Soviet Union, beginning with its early Leninist and Stalinist days. I was quite intrigued with what life was like for ordinary citizens during those days, especially with the struggles they had to feed their families and hold on to their traditions as they weathered the turbulent changes to their government, economy and society.

The story in A Gentleman in Moscow begins during the early days of the Bolshevik revolution, as Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov -- recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, master of the Jockey Club, and Master of the Hunt -- faces the Emergency Committee of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs. Ordinarily, titles associated with nobility often led to the person standing straight against a wall facing a firing squad. However, the committee spared the Count's life (for reasons you can read in the book), but sentenced the Count to house arrest at the Metropol, a hotel where he had been staying for the past few years. If he leaves that hotel, then the Count would be shot.

The main facade of the Metropol Hotel (Source: Wikipedia)

The Metropol Hotel stands on Theatre Square, which is in the center of Moscow, within eyesight of not just the Kremlin, but also the Bolshoi theater. Thus, the hotel served as the place for not just Russians (who had dollars, silver or gold), but also international diplomats and other visitors. 

Not only is the Count confined to the hotel, but he is relegated to the attic, which used to house the guests' servants. Yet, the Count is able to make his way throughout the hotel, including its two restaurants: the high-end Boyarsky and (as the Count refers to it) the more down-to-earth Piazza. As I followed the Count's life through the hotel, page after page, I found myself paying particular attention to when Count Rostov dined in the restaurants. Not only did I come across the reference to Latvian Stew, which has a very interesting part in the story, but I also noted other dishes that graced the Count's plate. I began taking note of those dishes, with the thought of preparing them myself. 

Those thoughts have led to this project, On Count Rostov's plate. My goal is to step into the shoes of the fictional chefs and kitchen staffs that worked in the Boyarsky and the Piazza. I hope to create the meals that they prepared for the Count at various points during his confinement. As of right now, I am planning to make the following:  

  • Saltimbocca
  • Okroshka
  • Latvian Stew
  • Ossobuco
  • Roasted Whole Bass with Black Olives, Fennel and Lemon
  • Chicken Marechal
  • English Roast with Yorkshire Pudding
  • Rack of Lamb with Red Wine Reduction and Cucumber Soup 
  • Bouillabaise
  • Braised Veal with Caviar Sauce 
  • Kotlety

Each post will feature one of those dishes, as well as a little context surrounding it. (If you want the whole picture, buy Amor Towles' book and read it, it is an excellent book.)

You can follow along with this project by clicking here to see the posts that I have completed to date. Until next time ...

PEACE.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Black Viking's Zingabier

There are more craft breweries in the United States than ever before, with an estimated 9,500 such breweries across the country. Those breweries produce a diverse range of beers, from light session beers to weighty barleywines. The diversity of beers is not really matched by the diversity of brewers. Only about ten percent (10%) of the brewers are persons of color and other historically underrepresented groups.  

Diversity, equity and inclusion have been reaching into the craft brewing movement.  Some of the breweries owned and/or operated by African-Americans, Hispanics, women and others have staked a name for themselves. One example of a large craft brewery is Brooklyn Brewery. Garrett Oliver serves as Brooklyn's head brewer; and, while he could be in the running for the most interesting person in the world (in my humble opinion), he has overseen some amazing beers, such as the Soriachi Ace and the Black Ops. More locally in my area is Union Brewing, which has firmly established itself among the Charm City breweries (in Baltimore Maryland).  Union produces some solid beers, such as the Duckpin double IPA.

Relatively recently, the first African-American owned and led brewery opened its doors in Montgomery County, Maryland. The brewery is Black Viking. The brewery was started by Shaun Taylor, the head story teller, and Jamil Raoof, the head brewer. One of their first beers that I have seen on store shelves is the Zingabier, a Golden Ale brewed with ginger and honey. (The name zinga comes from the Latin word for ginger.)

The Zingabier pours true to its style, with a densely golden color. The aroma of the beer hints at some floral notes, as well as its primary ingredients, both the honey and ginger. Those primary ingredients shine through more in the flavor of the beer. As I took sips, I could note the ginger in the taste. The honey probably came through more as some of the sweetness in the taste and the finish. 

The Zingabier may become the flagship beer for Black Viking. It is definitely a remarkable start for the new brewery. Right now, distribution is limited to the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia. However, they have big plans. In the meantime, if you see a six pack of the Zingabier on a store shelve, I strongly recommend you buy it. 

Until next time...

PEACE.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Jira Alu

I had a lot of red potatoes; and I really needed a recipe. When I had this realization, I was sitting in front of my laptop. I did a search for global potato recipes. I found a recipe for Jeera Aloo.

The name, Jeera Aloo, provides some insight into the two principal ingredients of this recipe. Jeera is the Hindi word for cumin. Aloo is the Hindi word for potatoes. That's it: cumin potatoes.

The recipe says that it comes from Bangladesh, so it should actually take its Bengali or Bangla title, Jira Alu. (I can't find the appropriate symbols or the Eastern Nagari script on Blogger, so I can't do justice for the name). Yet, this recipe incorporates spices that easily telegraph its origin. Not only the use of cumin, but also mustard, turmeric and ground chiles. Taken together, this dish reminds me of the aromas and flavors of the subcontinent.  Those aromas and flavors are some of the reasons why the cuisines of Southern Asia - from Bangladesh to Pakistan, from India to Sri Lanka - are some of my favorite cuisines to cook and eat. 

Apart from the aromas and flavors, the other key feature of this recipe is that it is really easy to make. There are only a handful of ingredients needed to make the dish. There are a couple of different ways to make it. One way would be to boil the potatoes first and then cook them in a pan. Another way is to just simply cook them in a pan. In the end, I decided that boiling the potatoes first would be best, because that would help to cook them through, especially since I decided to have larger pieces. It would also help when they are roasted in the pan because the outsides could crisp up while the interiors remain softer. 

So, in the end, this recipe does what many cooks do ... improvise with the ingredients (that is, use what is on hand) and the cooking methods. The end result is a very delicious side dish that could be part of of any meal. 

JIRA ALU

Recipe adapted from The Foreign Fork

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 5 small potatoes, large dice
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds (substitute brown mustard seeds)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Directions:

1.    Boil the potatoes. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the potatoes. Boil for about 10 minutes until a fork can be inserted into the potatoes but they are not too tender. Drain and leave to dry.

2.    Fry the spices. Heat the oil in the frying pan until it almost reaches its smoking point. Add the cumin. When the cumin seeds begin to pop, remove the pan from the fire and add the mustard seeds until they begin to pop as well. 

3.    Add the potatoes. Add the potatoes to the pan and the remaining seasonings. Cook over low heat until the potatoes are done. 

PEACE.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Steamed Snow Crab

Snow crabs --  also known as chionocetes opilio, "opilio crabs" or just "Opies" -- are native to the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. One can find Opies at depths between 43 feet and over 7,000 feet, but they usually hang out on sandy or muddy areas around 110 feet deep. The Atlantic Opies are located along Greenland, Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Pacific Opies are predominantly found in the waters around Alaska and Siberia. If anyone has watched any of the nineteen seasons of the TV show, Deadliest Catch, then you have inevitably watched crabbing vessels ply their way around the Bering Sea, pulling up large pots with snow crabs.  

Yet, chinocetes opilio may become better known as the twenty-first century, aquatic version of the proverbial "canary in the coal mine." Back in 2018, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries estimated that there were about eleven billion (11,000,000,000) snow crab in the northern Pacific ocean. By contrast, there was just 7.6 billion people on the planet in 2018.  Just three years later, in 2021, there were just over one billion (1,000,000) snow crab in the same region. A loss of ten billion would exceed the entire human population on the planet. (There were only 7.8 billion people on the planet in 2021.)

Researchers and scientists have spent the following three years (from 2021 through today) trying to determine what exactly caused this catastrophic plunge in the northern Pacific snow crab population. At the time, no one quite knew what happened. There were theories that the crab migrated to colder waters, either at greater depths or further North. Other theories revolved around disease or predators. Years passed and the research continued. In recent months, researchers and scientists have begun to go public with their conclusions. One organization -- the Global Seafood Alliance, a not-for-profit that promotes responsible and sustainable seafood practices --wrote a very interesting and troubling piece about that research. 

Charts explaining the snow crab collapse.
Source: Science (2023), Phys.org

The bottom line has a simple answer and a complicated one. The simple answer is that the snow crab starved to death. The more complicated answer involves climate change. There is no disputing the fact that temperatures have increased in the northern Pacific. The rising temperatures were the facts that led many to think the crabs migrated. However, they didn't. They remained where they were. And, relatively speaking at the time, there were a lot of snow crabs. However, as the temperatures increased, so did the metabolism of the snow crabs. The rising metabolism meant that the snow crabs needed to eat more. An increase of 3 degrees Celsius (or about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) requires snow crab to eat twice the amount of food they would otherwise eat. However, there was less to eat because of the rising temperatures. The combination of factors led to mass starvation and death. It also led to the closure of the snow crab seasons, with the resulting harm to fishing vessels and their crews. 

The snow crabs are a warning sign and it is one that has led me to limit the snow crab that I purchase and consume. The last time I probably bought snow crab was back in 2018 or 2019, before the news broke about the population loss. I broke down recently to purchase some snow crab legs as a treat for my beautiful Angel and the kids, as well as an opportunity to talk about the pressures that threaten the crab's future. 

Generally, snow crab is easy to prepare. The best way is to set up a steam pot and steam it for about 10 to 15 minutes (if the snow crab is frozen, less time if it is thawed). The steamed crab needs only be served with melted butter. 

But, I looked around for something to add to this special dish. I ultimately I found a recipe for a spice mix that reminded me of my project  -- In Search of Orange Gold -- in which I sought to recreate Old Bay. The mix worked well with well with the melted butter and the snow crab. It also works well as a blackening spice for fish. 

After this recipe, I will go back to my old ways of not buying snow crab.

STEAMED SNOW CRAB

Spice Mix Recipe from Delish.com

Serves 4-6

Ingredients (for the crabs):

  • 4 pounds snow crab legs (about 3 clusters to a pound)
  • 1/4 cup distilled vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • Water
  • 1 cup butter, melted, divided into four serving ramekins

Ingredients (for the spice mix):

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions:

1. Prepare the steam pot. Add 2 to 3 cups of water to a steam pot, so that the water level is below the plate or steam basket. If you want to add additional flavorings, add the vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, mustard seeds and allspice berries. Heat the pot, covered, on high until the water starts to boil and steam comes out

2. Prepare the spice mix. Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl, mix thoroughly. Set aside. 

3. Steam the snow crabs. Add the snow crabs to the pot by layering them. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes. 

4. Finish the dish. Remove the pot from the heat and remove the crabs from the pot. Serve immediately with the melted butter and spice mix.  

PEACE.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Lemongrass Chile Chicken (Ga Xao Xa Ot)

As followers of this blog may know, I am a big fan of the public broadcast television series, Luke Nguyen's Vietnam. I watched every episode, as the chef made his way across the country  to showcase the ingredients, dishes and traditions that make Vietnamese cuisine special. 

Many years later, I got a copy of the Luke Nguyen's cookbook, The Food of Vietnam. Much like his television series, the cookbook is a culinary tour from south to north, with many stops along the way.

One such stop was in Hoi An. As Nguyen describes the city: "There are no street lights, but the entire town is dotted with thousands of colourful lanterns, lighting up ancient old buildings and cobbled streets, a slow-folowing river and pretty foot bridges." Hoi An is a remarkable place, finding itself on UNESCO's World Heritage List as a well preserved Southeast Asian trading port. The government owns the entire town, with its structures and environment controlled by several laws. 

As Chef Nguyen made his way through this beautiful town, the one thing he noticed was an "obsession with food." As he wrote, "I am surrounded by street food, market food, restaurants, cafes, and even liitle old ladies sitting on the streets with a steam pot and kerosene lamps." Chef Nguyen had more stories about the town, its people and their food; but, I have to admit I skipped to the recipes (knowing that I would return to read the rest of what he wrote). As I paged through recipes, such as Green Mango & Dried Anchovy Salad and Whole Chicken Pot-Roasted in Sea Salt, my attention fixated upon one particular dish ... Lemongrass Chile Chicken. 

Chef Nguyen prepared this dish in the garden of Brother's Cafe, a restaurant in Hoi An. This dish presented an opportunity to cook with many familiar ingredients, such as fish sauce, chiles, lemongrass and garlic, along with a new ingredient, coconut water.  Coconut water is a clear liquid found in young coconuts, and it is available in many supermarkets. 

This dish is very easy to make, with the only issue being the time it takes to marinate the chicken. (I really wanted to try the dish, so I was a little impatient while the chicken rested in the refrigerator.) Once prepared, this recipe reminded me of all the great things about Vietnamese cooking, such as the lightness of the dish and the balance of the five flavor elements.

LEMONGRASS CHILE CHICKEN (GA XAO XA OT)

Recipe from Luke Nguyen, The Food of Vietnam, pg. 175

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 lemongrass stems, white part only, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 2 long red chiles, finely diced
  • 1 pound of boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup young coconut juice
  • 1/2 onion cut into wedges
  • Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Directions:

1. Prepare the chicken. In a mixing bowl, combine the fish sauce and sugar and mix until the sugar has dissolved. Add half the lemongrass, half the garlic, half the chile and all of the chicken. Toss the chicken to coat, then cover and marinate in the refrigerator for one hour or overnight for an even tastier result. 

2. Cook the chicken. Heat a large saucepan or work over medium heat. Add the oil and the remaining lemongrass, garlic, chile and stir-fry for one minute, or until fragrant and slightly brown. Increase the heat to high, then add the chicken and sear for 2 minutes on each side or until browned all over. Now add the coconut juice and the onion. Cover and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until the sauce has reduced by half. 

3. Finish the dish. Transfer to a bowl, garnish with coriander and serve with steamed jasmine rice.

PEACE.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Steamed Broccoli with Sesame Soy Dressing

My intense dislike of broccoli is not a secret. I have previously blogged about it. To quote myself: "I hate broccoli. I really hate broccoli." Yet, for some reason, I keep finding myself buying broccoli at the grocery store and searching the Internet for some way to make the green vegetable appealing to my palate.

Despite my feelings about broccoli, I know deep down that I need to eat more vegetables. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, broccoli contains antioxidants (like Vitamins A, C and K) and glucosinolates, which a body can convert into substances that fight cancer. Broccoli also contains compounds such as indol-3-carbinol and diindolylmethane, both of which help to regulate the immune response and reduce excessive inflammation. 

Recently, I just grabbed a few ingredients from the pantry and my steam basket. I decided that I would steam the vegetable and then toss it in a dressing made from soy sauce, mirin, black vinegar, and sesame oil. I then would garnish the broccoli with a mixture of toasted sesame seeds, toasted black sesame seeds and salt. The end result was decent, but not enough to change my position with respect to broccoli.

I guess some more purchases and surfing for recipes will be required. 

STEAMED BROCCOLI WITH SESAME SOY DRESSING

A Chef Bolek Original

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large broccoli crown, florets trimmed and large ones halved
  • 2 tablespoons Tamari soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Mirin
  • 1 tablespoon black vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons toasted black sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Directions:

1. Prepare the dressing and the sesame seeds. Combine the sesame seeds and salt in a small bowl. Combine the soy sauce, mirin, black vinegar and sesame oil another bowl.

2. Steam the broccoli. Add water to a steam pot with a plate and bring the water to a boil and steam. Add the broccoli and steam until cooked, about five minutes. Remove from heat and remove broccoli to a bowl. Add the dressing and toss. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds. 

PEACE.

Friday, March 22, 2024

The Uyghur Connection

The People's Republic of China is the world's largest seafood producer, producing over sixty-seven million metric tons (67 MMT) of seafood per year, which includes more than twenty million metric tons of processed seafood. Much of that production comes from aquaculture, the domestic cultivation of fish, shrimp and other crustaceans, with wild caught seafood in decline. 

China also has a very sizeable seafood processing industry. There are approximately 9,202 seafood processing facilities, mostly in the coastal provinces of Shandong, Fujian, Liaoning, Zhejiang and Guangdong. The largest export markets for Chinese seafood are, in order of size, (1) Japan; (2) the United States; and (3) Thailand. The exports principally consist of processed seafood products. The magnitude of the exports is also staggering.  For example, it is estimated that half of the fish sticks served in American public schools were processed in China. 

Yet, in recent weeks and months, additional light has been shed on some of the workers who process seafood in Chinese facilities for both domestic and foreign markets. The revelations expose, at least for me, some of crueler dimensions of the Chinese government's ongoing persecution of the Uyghur people. This is a story of how a people, whose home can be found in a landlocked region, end along the coastline, processing seafood.

I have previously discussed China's persecution of the Uyghur people. Those discussions can be found here, here and here.  This persecution is best described by Anthropologist Adrian Zenz as a "strategy of control and assimilation ... designed to eliminate the Uyghur culture." 

One major component of this strategy is a forced labor program in which the Chinese Government forcibly transfers Uyghurs across the country to work in various industries. One of those industries, as it is being reported, is the seafood industry. In recent weeks and months, new light has been shed on some of the workers who process the seafood in China for both domestic and foreign markets. These revelations expose even crueler dimensions to the ongoing persecution of the Uyghur people.  

Investigative journalists have been chronicling this persecution and forced labor. One very good resource is The Outlaw Ocean. Investigators for the Outlaw Ocean have followed Chinese seafood vessels around the world, from the waters of North Korea to the waters off of The Gambia and then to the waters off the Falkland Islands and Galapagos Islands. Their method of communication with the crew involved throwing plastic bottles with handwritten questions (in Chinese, Indonesian and English) onto the seafood vessels. Surprisingly, the investigators received some answers. Those answers revealed abuses such as debt bondage, wage withholding, excessive working hours, forced labor, beating of crew members, confiscation of passports, prohibiting medical care and death.

Once the food made it back to the mainland for processing, The Outlaw Ocean tracked the food to a processing plant in the Shandong province, where they found forced labor working to process the catch. The forced labor consisted of Uyghurs who had been sent to work there. The forced transportation of Uyghurs has been part of what China has called as "Uyghur Aid." The communist government claims that the program is to promote "full employment" and "ethnic interaction, exchange and blending. The actual purpose is the forced assimilation of Uyghurs through forced labor. The program is "door-to-door," with Uyghurs being "delivered from the collection points in Xinjiang to the factory." 

The United States enacted the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act ("UFLPA") in 2021, which requires the United States Customs and Border Protection ("CPB")  to block the import of goods produced with the forced labor of Uyghurs and other minorities. Over the past two years, CPB has seized over a billion dollars worth of goods, ranging from cotton to solar panels. However, most of those goods originate in Xinjiang or East Turkestan, making it easy to seize. 

By contrast, the production of seafood, as noted above, takes place along the coast, as opposed to a landlocked province like Xinjiang. By putting Uyghurs on trains and transporting them to a location that is thousands of miles away, China is able to evade many of the eyes watching for forced labor. 

As a result, seafood processed with forced labor has made its way into the markets of the United States and Europe. According to the Outlaw Ocean and other media sources (like Politico):

  • Over $50 million of salmon from plants in China that used Uyghur labor went to federally funded soup kitchens and programs to feed low-income elderly people;
  • Another $20 million of pollock (that is, fish sticks), was shipped to the National School Lunch Program and other federal assistance programs; 
  • Another $140 million of cod, salmon and halibut was delivered to U.S. military bases domestically and abroad. 

Those are just a few examples of how seafood processed with forced Uyghur labor has made its way into the American market. There are probably more given that at least ten large seafood companies in China have used over one thousand Uyghur workers since 2018.

There is a lot more than can be said on this issue and I may have more to say in the future. While I would ordinarily end one of these posts with my favorite recipes, it doesn't seem appropriate here. Instead, a word of advice ... try hard to determine the source of the seafood that you buy in the market. If it comes from China, buy something else. 

Until next time ...

PEACE.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Three Creeks Winery Petit Verdot (2018)

Every wine region has its particular grapes, blends, and wines that set it apart from every other wine region. When it comes to the State of Virginia, it may be safe to say that one particular grape sets it apart from other regions. The grape is the Petit Verdot. To be sure, Petit Verdot is grown around the world. What happens in Virginia is its own story. 

Petit Verdot -- translated as "little green" -- is a grape varietal that matures late in the growing season. As such, it is often used as a blending grape. The winemakers of Bordeaux rely upon the grape to add color, tannins and depth to their iconic blends. Few if any produce a single varietal wine that feature the grape. 

Like many grapes, Petit Verdot has made its way to other parts of the world, some close like Portugal, and others further way, such as  Chile, Argentina, Australia, Mexico and South Africa. In the United States, the grape is grown in ten States. As noted above, one of those States is Virginia. 

Virginia has become a place where there are multiple winemakers produce a single varietal wine that features the Petit Verdot grape. One such winemaker is Three Creeks Winery, which provides a Petit Verdot that, quite frankly, provides a robust red wine that stands out. 

This particular Petit Verdot is aged for nine months in new and neutral American Oak barrels. It pours a dark crimson red, with inky depths in the middle of the glass. There are aromatic elements of some very dark fruits, like plums, black cherries and blackberries. Much of those dark fruits carry over to the flavor of the wine. Plums and blackberries, with hints of vanilla and clove, greet the taste buds. 

The taste also includes other elements that one would expect from a Petit Verdot. One noticeable element is the tannins. There is also some earthiness that emerges from the wine as it sits in the glass and opens up. 

The Three Creeks Winery is a lovely place in Hamilton, Virginia. It is definitely worth the visit, not just for the scenery, but also this Petit Verdot wine. 

PEACE.