July 24, 2008
July 23, 2008
Organ meats, offal, or the euphemistic "variety meats" are too often overlooked (at best) or run away from, with disgusted noises issuing forth from the escapee. If only more people would try them! Most of it is a mental block, of course. At what point did we decide that muscle was the only kind of meat we should eat?
I was raised with my German great-grandmother, who grew up on a farm. Every part of a slaughtered animal was used. To throw away a good part of that animal would have been unthinkable. That sort of waste was not only a luxury, but, given the delightful flavors of the various organs, would have been a real loss to gastronomic satisfaction. When I travel to Europe, I'm always thrilled to find organ meats on the menus and available for purchase in the stores. Heaven!
I'll ease the uninitiated in and begin with tripe. The simple definition of tripe is: the lining of a cow's stomach(s). However, tripe from pigs, goats or sheep can also be called tripe. But, the beef version is the most prevalent. There are 4 kinds of tripe, just as there are 4 stomachs in a cow or other ruminant. However, only 3 are usually available commercially, and only 2 are popular. The most readily available type is "honeycomb", from the second stomach, the reticulum. It is so named because the inner side has a pattern similiar to a honeycomb. Most recipes you will find call for this type. "Blanket" or smooth tripe comes from the first stomach, the rumen. This is the type favored for menudo. The third type available is one I like very much. From the omasum, it's called "bible" "book" or "leaf" tripe due to the hanging sheets of lining coming from the stomach. The fourth type is from the Abomasum and is called "reed" tripe. But it is usually not sold or sought after, due to its glandular tissue.
Trivia: the word 'ruminate' comes from ruminant...to slowly digest something.
Tripe dishes are popular in many countries...Patsas in Greece, Drisheen in Ireland, Dobrada in Portugal, Trippa in Italy, Andouille in France, Pepperpot Soup in America and Pho soup in Vietnam, for example. Popular belief has it that tripe is a cure for hangover and for improving your sex life! So why not eat some tripe today??? Try my recipe for Trippa alla Milanese and see what you think!
July 19, 2008
Anyone who knows me will tell you that rice is my comfort food. When other women crave chocolate, I crave rice. Any form of rice will suffice! My favorite basic rice is jasmine and my favorite dish is any kind of risotto, preferably made with Vialone Nano rice. I love 'wild pecan rice' from Louisiana. It has a nutty flavor and has some of the bran left on the grain. It smells like popcorn when cooking.
Rice is a grain belonging to the grass family. Botanical name: Oryza sativa and Oryza glaberrima. The plant requires warmth and moisture to grow, measures between 2 and 6 feet tall, depending on variety. Plants have long, flat, pointy leaves and stalk-bearing flowers which produce the grain known as rice. Rice is one of the few foods in the world which is entirely non-allergenic and gluten-free.
Rice is consumed by nearly half the entire world population and many countries are completely dependent on rice as a staple food. Rice is the most widely consumed grain in the world. It feeds a third of the world’s population: 590 million tons of rice were produced in 2003. The Chinese word for rice is the same as the word for food, and in Japanese, the word for cooked rice is the same word for meal. In Thailand, when you call your family to a meal you say, “eat rice.” Americans statistically eat only 25 lbs. of rice a year - not THIS girl...I eat 15 lbs. a month! In the Phillipines, a person eats 500 lbs. of rice per year!
At some point in its early cultivation in Asia, the more labor-intensive white rice became a status symbol—the whiter the better—and thus, the preferred variety. Only the poorest people, who could not afford white rice, ate brown rice. They, however, got far better nutrition. Today, it is unfortunate, given how many people in marginal economies eat rice, that white rice is the norm. Stripped of the bran and the germ, its most nutritious parts, white rice is almost pure starch. Brown rice has essential vitamins and minerals and takes less effort to mill. It would thwart the vitamin deficiency diseases that affect many of the world’s poorest rice-eating peoples, most notably beriberi. Enriching white rice does not compensate for the vitamins, minerals and fiber stripped away from the brown rice.
There are currently some innovative programs to grow rice more effectively. The system is called SRI, which stands for System of Rice Intensification, and the method at least doubles, the rice harvest. For an in-depth article about SRI, see the NY Times article here:
Most of us will only ever try a fraction of the number of rice cultivars known. The largest collection of rice cultivars is at the International Rice Research Institute, with over 100,000 rice accessions held in the International Rice Genebank.
As to Indian rice, most people are familiar with Basmati. But this is only one of many varieties grown in India. Rice agriculture is the backbone of India’s economy, providing direct employment to about 70% of working people in the country. Rice finds applications in the arts and crafts of India. Rice paste is used in the resist-dyeing techniques of creating patterns on cloth. In traditional homes, decorative features frequently consist of wall paintings and floor patterns. It is usually women who paint renditions of folklore and mythology on domestic spaces, passed on from mother to daughter. In many parts of India, as part of daily ritual -- ephemeral, abstract designs created by women are traced in rice powder or paste on domestic thresholds and floors. These are known by various names, alpana in Bengal, mandana in Rajasthan and kolam in South India, for instance. The designs are meant to bring good luck to the home.
Over the centuries, three main types of rice had developed in Asia, depending on the amylose content of the grain. They are called indica (high in amylose and cooking to fluffy grains to be eaten with the fingers, generally long grain types), japonica (low in amylase and cooking to sticky masses suitable for eating as clumps with chopsticks, generally short to medium grain types), and javanica (intermediate amylose content and stickiness).
So, I've posted my favorite Indian rice recipe in the recipe section. The flavors are haunting and unusual. Hope you'll try it and like it as much as I do.
July 17, 2008
July 8, 2008
Salty, substantial and satisfying -- these vegetables are a wonderful addition to many dishes. The botanical name is Salicornia, with several subspecies, but sea beans are known by many names: samphire, glasswort, pickleweed, pousse-pied, salicornia tips and sea asparagus. If anyone knows the various Asian names for them, I'd love to know! The term samphire is believed to be a corruption of the French name, herbe de Saint-Pierre, which means "St. Peter's Herb." I like the sound of samphire the best of all the names, myself. Salicornia is a genus of succulent, salt-tolerant plants which grow in salt marshes, on beaches and in mangrove swamps. It is native to Europe, the United States, south Asia and Sri Lanka. The ashes of these plants and of kelp were long used as a source of soda ash for glass and soapmaking until the 19th century.
I first came across sea beans at Uwajimaya ~ a fantastic Asian food supermarket in Seattle. "Waji's" is one of my main food stops on each city trip! But, I digress. More on Uwajimaya in a future blog. As you can see from the photo, the plants are rather coral-esque...growing in branched form. They can be eaten raw in a salad, where their crunchy, sharp-salty taste really pops. Sometimes I just snack on them by themselves. But, their flavor develops more nuance when quickly cooked as part of a stir-fry, or sauteed with a garlicky, black bean sauce or added to yakisoba noodles. Their briny pang offsets the sweet yakisoba sauce beautifully! And they are tender when cooked ~ not at all stringy. They complement fish dishes very well. Remember to reduce salt in any recipe in which you use them and then adjust as necessary when done.
They grow well here in the northwest and I seek them out on the coast and on Hood Canal. I hope you'll be able to procure some, either in a shop or in the wild and try them. They're available fresh from spring to fall. At other times of the year, you can find them pickled, but fresh is best, as always. Bet you'll be as addicted as I am!
I'll post a recipe I found on Epicurious, for Black Roasted Cod with Sea Beans and Oysters. It sounds divine and I'm going to make it soon!
More to come about sea vegetables and yummy recipes to try ...
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