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 tot eh 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.