kindkit: A late-Victorian futuristic zeppelin. (Airship)
[personal profile] kindkit
At long last, a post from me that is not about moving or computer problems. Instead, it's full of nice things!

Let's start with nice things to eat and drink. It's summer in my neck of the woods, and since the new apartment gets a lot warmer than the old one, I've been disinclined to cook elaborate foods. For me this lets out a lot of Indian cookery (although I know that most Indian food is cooked and eaten in India, where I hear it often gets warmish) and I find my cooking is sort of wandering across Asia depending on my mood, the temperature, the amount of time I have, etc.

Let's start with two cucumber salads, one south Indian and one Vietnamese-ish.

The recipe for the south Indian one comes from Chandra Padmanabhan's Dakshin:

Fresh Cucumber Salad (Vellarikkai Kosumallai)

2 tablespoons moong dal (split mung beans)
1 cup water

1 large cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons grated fresh coconut or 3-4 tablespoons flaked coconut
1 green chile, finely chopped (optional, says I)
1 small bunch cilantro aka fresh coriander
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or more to taste.

2 teaspoons oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon urad dal (aka black gram dal or hulled split matpe beans)
1 teaspoon chana dal (either split chick peas or yellow split peas--Indian cookbooks are confusing on this point)
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder
1 red chile, halved
4-5 curry leaves

Soak the moong dal in the water for an hour, then drain.

Meanwhile, combine all the second group of ingredients in a bowl. The original recipe doesn't say to, but I soaked my dried flaked coconut in water for a few minutes to soften it and make it more like fresh. Also, you may want to use more lemon. Add the moong dal once it's ready, and stir everything together.

Now heat the oil in a small heavy-bottomed pan with a lid. Add all the third group of ingredients and cook, stirring constantly, until the mustard seeds start to splutter and pop. Pour the oil over the salad. Give it a good mix and serve at room temperature or chilled.

Notes: When I made this I entirely forgot to include the chopped green chile with the cucumber, etc., and for my taste the salad was sufficiently spicy without it. You could also make it without the asafoetida if you must, but I think it adds a depth of flavor. (Asafoetida, if you haven't cooked with it before, is a resin with a distinct, heavy odor that some people find unpleasant. If you've gone into an Indian grocery and noticed a pervasive smell that's a bit like onions and a bit like a locker room, that's asafoetida. I was terrified of it at first. But once cooked, even briefly, the smell goes away and is replaced by a lovely onion-garlic savoriness. And, to be honest, I have learned to like the smell of asafoetida, just as I quickly adjusted to the smell of curry leaves--which smell like you're holding a tangerine near your face while standing next to a highway that's being repaved.) Definitely don't omit the moong dal, which is crunchy and earthy and lovely in this dish. The soaking is all it needs, honestly. Which reminds me of one more tip: I let my moong dal soak for about two hours--I live in a desert and things like dried beans become very dry indeed. So use your judgment--when it's ready it should be slightly crunchy but not something you're going to break your teeth on.

The salad keeps well for several days in the fridge.

Vietnamese-style cucumber salad (dressing recipe found somewhere on the interwebs and adapted by me).

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon granulated sugar (superfine sugar would be best, in which case use a little less)
2-3 tablespoons fish sauce (Golden Boy brand is excellent imo)
1 teaspoon canola or other flavorless oil
Vietnamese chile-garlic paste to taste, or some minced chile and minced garlic

Several small cucumbers (I used the Persian ones from Trader Joes) or 1-2 large ones. If you're using large ones you might want to peel and seed them.
1 lime

A few dry-roasted peanuts, chopped (optional)

Peel and seed the cucumbers if necessary and slice them thinly. Remove the peel and pith from the lime by cutting off a little of the top and bottom so it's got flat ends, then guiding your knife along the curve (there's a helpful video tutorial, showing an orange, here). Then you can either remove the lime segments from their membrane (as shown in the video with the orange) and dice them, in which case you'll need better knife skills and probably a better knife than I've got, or you can cut the lime in half, remove any pith in the center, and dice without bothering about the membranes. Stick the cucumber and lime in a bowl.

Mix the dressing ingredients, making sure the sugar dissolves, and add to the cucumber mixture. Right before eating, top with some chopped peanuts if you like. (I almost didn't bother, but I have to say they make a nice contrast to the light, crunchy, sharp, salty salad. Don't use salted peanuts unless you really love salt.)

Now, how about a nice, easy dinner?

Stir-Fried Noodles with Beef, Ginger, and Scallions

This recipe comes from Vatcharin Bhumichitr's The Big Book of Noodles.

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoons cornstarch (I, weirdly, had tapioca starch but not cornstarch, so that's what I used)
1 egg
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 pound tender beef (Bhumichitr calls for tenderloin; I used "petite sirloin" which was on sale at the supermarket and it worked great), as much fat removed as possible, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
10 ounces rice stick noodles (i.e. thick rice noodles), soaked in hot water until tender, drained and rinsed in cold water
2 tablespoons fish sauce
5 scallions aka green onions aka spring onions, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper aka capsicum, cut into thin strips

Mix the garlic, cornstarch, egg, and oyster sauce in a bowl and adds the beef. Let marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour.

Heat a pan over high heat, add the oil, stir-fry the ginger briefly, then adds the beef and cook just until the meat is barely cooked and hopefully nice and brown on the outside. Add the noodles and cook for another minute or so, until they're warmed through. Then add the fish sauce, bell pepper strips, and scallions one by one, stirring all the while. Serves 2-4 depending on appetite and what else you're serving.

Notes: I probably used closer to 12 ounces of beef than a full pound and thought there was plenty. Also, when I made this I changed the ingredient order, because I tend to like my bell pepper more cooked than the recipe seemed to allow. So I started the pepper before the beef. I don't think I can recommend this, as the beef didn't brown well and I found, frustratingly, that I wanted the bell pepper to be crisper than it was. But it was still delicious. I was worried that the quantities of oyster sauce and fish sauce were too small, but the dish had a really nice balance of savoriness, with distinct garlic and ginger notes.

Bhumichitr says this is a Singaporean dish. I think it goes nicely with the Vietnamese-ish cucumber salad for a pan-Asian sort of meal (not to mention getting your recommended daily allowance of fish sauce--mmmm, fish sauce).

And now, let's have a drink!

World's Best Limeade

I've adapted this very slightly from a recipe in Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries. I've been drinking it daily--usually without the vodka--for almost a week, it's so good.

The quantities I give will make slightly over a cup and a half (or 350 milliliters), which is enough to mostly fill a large drinking glass with room for some ice.

2 tablespoons or so of sugar, preferably superfine (see note below)
Juice of 2 limes
Pinch salt
2-3 grinds of fresh black pepper
Sparkling water or club soda
Vodka, if desired

Mix the sugar, lime juice, and salt in a glass until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Grind in some black pepper. It has to be freshly ground; the pre-ground stuff has little flavor and won't work here. Add some vodka if you're using it (Iyer's recipe doesn't call for it, but I think it's a lovely addition) and fill the glass about 3/4 full with sparkling water. Give it a quick stir, add some ice cubes, and enjoy.

Notes: Do not omit the salt and pepper. No, really, don't. Trust me. The quantities are small, and the resulting drink isn't salty or overtly peppery, just deeply refreshing and flavorful. I prefer it fairly tart, but you can certainly add more sugar if you like it sweeter.

The first time I made this I was frustrated by the sugar's reluctance to dissolve. So later I made a simple syrup flavored with lemon peel (lime peel would be better, but I was out of limes at the time): put 1 cup each of water and sugar in a saucepan. Add the peel--just the peel, not the white pith--of a lime or lemon. Bring to a boil, boil for a minute or two, let cool with the peel still in the syrup, and strain into a jar. It keeps nicely in the fridge. It's not as sweet as pure sugar, so I tend to use four or five tablespoons of simple syrup per glass.

And finally, a musical dessert: Kay, Why?, by the Brothers Butch. Recorded in 1967 by a duo reminiscent of Julian and Sandy, this is a glorious string of double-entendres. Ignore the irrelevant (Laurel and Hardy?) video. A little more information, including the must-see sleeve of the single, can be found here. The Queer Noises album, which I was fortunate enough to find a secondhand copy of, has lots of awesome music on it, not least "Florence of Arabia," which is politically sketchy in about eight ways but also delightful. Alas, I can't find the right version on YT, just different songs with the same title.
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