Thursday, March 11, 2010
Last Saturday night, I decided to try my hand at Southeast Asian food. We had a few close family friends over for dinner, and fortunately they know by now that if they come over for dinner, they're likely to be my guinea pigs.
I made recipes from Southeast Asian Food: Classic and Modern Dishes from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnamby Rosemary Brissenden. Not all of the dishes were what we expected, but I found this cookbook to be very helpful. Brissenden has obviously spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia, watching people cook in their homes, on the streets, and in restaurants. She has helpful tips for making any of the recipes here, where the methods don't always translate.
Brissenden includes helpful tips, however, such as substituting banana leaves with aluminum foil. She also goes through the spices each country uses and has pictures of each, which is very helpful for when you're shopping. There are pointers on how to make the best rice without a rice cooker, the best way to blend spices (with a mortar and pestle), and what to do if you don't have all of the equipment necessary.
While it seems odd to delve into this region for recipes, they are all naturally gluten and dairy free. It might seem obvious, but the recipes are all variations of spices, rice, coconut milk, vegetables, spices, fish, and meat. There are many that are also suitable for vegetarians. I recommend starting with this book, since Brissenden is informative and helpful without making you feel bad about what you don't know.
So for Saturday night, I made three dishes. The first was Sauteed Spinach, which I did not particularly like because it had coconut in it. Even though I love coconut, the combination was a bit strange.
Second was Brissenden's recipe for Yellow Rice, which actually reminded me of Persian rice dishes. This was a family favorite. It's basmati rice, raisins, cashews, and chopped onions. It makes a very tasty side dish that can be added to main dishes from other cuisines. I will post my version of this recipe shortly.
For our main dish, we had Original Kalasan Fried Chicken, which we accidentally overcooked. This chicken is prepared by making a spice paste that is rubbed on all of the meat. Next, the chicken simmers in a pot on the stove with more spices and whole stalks of lemongrass. The recipe said to let the chicken simmer until all of the liquid was gone, but that overcooked the chicken. Once it was done on the stove, the chicken is tossed onto the grill quickly to give it different flavors.
The concept of this chicken was great, and I might make another version of this again. The only issue I had was with the galangal, which is a staple of Southeast Asian dishes. It looks like an alien root version of ginger, but is more difficult to chop. I hate to say it, but galangal does not smell that good. Once it is cooked, however, it smells better.
If you're still not sold on Southeast Asian food, I understand. I will be trying many more recipes in the future, since tasty, healthy dishes are always something to relentlessly pursue.