matcha cookies

Slice-and-Bake Matcha Cookies

To celebrate Let’sLuncher Grace Hwang Lynch’s (HapaMama.com) soon-to-be-completed house remodel, this month’s #LetsLunch theme is “housewarming.” And I’m baking Grace some matcha (green tea) cookies to help her settle in!

Slice-and-Bake Matcha Cookies with White Chocolate Chips

matcha cookies

Matcha powder is available at specialty tea shops and Asian markets. Buy a good-quality Japanese matcha powder, and not green tea leaves.

Time: 30 minutes
Makes: About 4 dozen cookies

2 tablespoons matcha powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup organic cane sugar
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
¾ cup white chocolate chips

  1. Sift the matcha and flour into a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Put the butter and sugar into a large mixing bowl and use a hand mixer (or a stand mixer, you lucky thing!) to beat at medium speed until well blended. Beat in the egg yolks, followed by the salt and vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour/matcha mix in batches, beating until just incorporated. At this point, it’s better to underbeat than overbeat. Fold in the white chocolate chips with a rubber spatula. If the dough is still crumbly and/or there’s still errant bits of flour/matcha at the bottom of your bowl, just work everything into a smooth dough with the spatula, or your hands!
  3. Have two 15-inch pieces of plastic wrap ready. Divide the dough into half and shape/roll into logs about 8 to 10 inches long and 1 to 1-1/4-inch in diameter. Wrap each log tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight. To prevent it from flattening at the bottom, I’ve seen suggestions from rolling it out every so often to laying it in a bed of rice. I didn’t have a problem with flattening though.
  4. Position your racks to divide your oven into thirds and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Roll the logs on a counter a couple of times to smooth it out. You may have to let it sit for a few minutes until it becomes more malleable to reshape it. Cut into discs 1/3-inch-thick with a small sharp knife.
  6. Arrange the cookies on the parchment-lined cookie sheets with about a 1/2-inch between them.
  7. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, swapping their positions halfway, until they are set but not browned. Leave them to cool on the cookie sheets for about 10 minutes (or they’ll be too soft and break apart) before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

For more recipes check out Twitter using the hashtag #LetsLunch or pin with us on our Pinterest boards. A recipe round up of the other “Let’s Lunch” food writers with links to their blogs will be posted here shortly.

Lemongrass and Pandan Christmas Sugar Cookies

stacked cookies

Growing up, my family didn’t have a tradition of baking Christmas cookies. My mom would place several orders of Bûche de Noël (Christmas log cake) for our family dinner on Christmas eve and to give away to friends but nary a sugar cookie was in sight.

I never realized what I was missing until I moved to the U.S. where everyone I met seemed to have a favorite family Christmas cookie. My husband has fond memories of churning out pizzelles (even though his adopted family is of mostly German descent, go figure!) in a pizzelle iron with his sister. My church friend Karen introduced me to biscochitos, or Mexican weddign cookies, the official cookie of New Mexico. (*Note: a reader was adamant that biscochitos and Mexican wedding cookies were not the same so I removed this reference. If you have an opinion please comment below!). And Deb was baking glazed lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) months before Christmas, packing them into tins to “age.”

When my sis and I lived in the same city for a couple of years, we baked an assortment of Christmas cookies to share with our friends: Snickerdoodles, Mexican wedding cookies, thumbprint cookies, etc. But that arrangement didn’t last long because we moved away.

Two years ago, when my son was a year and some, I decided I wanted to create my own Christmas cookie tradition. These lemongrass and pandan cookies were the result of my experimentation (read my original post here).

To make them festive for the season, I sprinkled the cookies liberally with colored sugar. Stacked, wrapped in cellophane, and tied with a bow, they make a lovely edible gift. Or, invite your girlfriends over for a spot of afternoon tea to escape the hecticness of the season and a plate piled with cookies will be a welcome–and pretty to look at–treat on your table. 

Have fun baking cookies and Merry Christmas everyone!

~~~

Lemongrass and Pandan Christmas Sugar Cookies

Adapted from Easy Sugar Cookies on Allrecipes.com

cookeis in a row

Cake flour produces a softer cookie with a finer crumb and I combined it with white whole wheat flour (that’s what I had but you can use all-purpose flour too) so that it would still stand up as a sugar cookie. You can make the cookies entirely with all-purpose flour if you desire. I also prefer natural cane sugar to white granulated sugar. I like its richer, almost molasses-like flavor. If you prefer a sweeter cookie, add up to ½ cup more sugar. If you can’t find fresh lemongrass, try dried lemongrass bits available at some herb and spice shops or lemongrass paste available at some supermarkets.

Makes: about 4 dozen cookies

2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup natural cane sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup Lemongrass Confetti (see below)
1 tablespoon Pandan Extract (see below), or 1/2 teaspoon pandan paste (available at Asian markets)
Sugar sprinkles or other decorations

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Combine the flours, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well mixed.

Add the dry ingredients gradually, blending each batch in before adding more. Mix well.

Divide the dough into 2 balls and place in separate bowls. Add the lemongrass bits and pandan juice to each bowl respectively. Knead each ball with your hands until the flavoring is completely mixed in.

Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten with the back of the spoon and sprinkle with colored sugar or other decorations.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Let the cookies stand on the cookie sheet for two minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks.

Rinse out cookie sheets, wipe down, and repeat until all the cookies are baked. (Don’t place dough on hot cookie sheets or they will cook unevenly and/or burn quickly.) Or refrigerate (up to 2 days) or freeze (up to a week) remaining dough to bake later.

Lemongrass Confetti

Trim about an inch from the hard root end of one plump lemongrass stalk and chop off the woody top where it just starts to turn from green to pale yellow. You should have 6 to 7 inches of lemongrass stalk remaining. Peel off the loose, tough outer layers to expose the tender white core, then bruise the entire length of the stem with a meat pounder, large knife, or heavy glass to release the aroma and oils. Cut the stalks crosswise into very thin ringlets (as thin as you can possibly cut them). Then rock your knife blade over the pieces to chop them into confetti-sized flakes. The tinier you can chop the lemongrass, the less chance you’ll be chomping down on hard bits when you bite into the cookie. Or whirl in a food processor. You should get about 2 to 3 tablespoons from one stalk so you’ll probably need 2 stalks for this recipe.

Pandan Extract

Pandan (also called pandanus or screwpine) leaves are considered the Southeast Asian equivalent of vanilla extract and are used to flavor cakes and kuehs in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. You can find pandan leaves in the freezer section of Asian markets. They are occasionally available fresh. (Go here for an article on pandan leaves I wrote for Saveur magazine)

Rinse 10 pandan leaves and snip off sharp tips and hard bases. Snip into 1/2 inch sections. Place the leaves in a small food processor with 3 to 4 tablespoons of water. Whirl until pulpy and wrap in a cheesecloth placed over a bowl. Squeeze out as much pandan juice as possible. You’ll have more than the required 1 tablespoon. You can boil it down in a small saucepan over low heat for a more concentrated flavor or just save the extra for making other desserts or add some to a pot of tea.

~~~

Today’s post is part of the monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter blogger potluck and we’re featuring festive and edible foods! For more Let’s Lunch posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below (please check back throughout the day for additions): 

Lisa’s Chocolate Almond Tree on Monday Morning Cooking Club
Anne Marie’s Ornament Sandwiches on Sandwich Surprise
Betty Ann’s Mini Bibingka on Asian in America
Lucy’s Peppermint Candy Tray at A Cook and Her Books
Tammy’s Chewy Gingerbread Cookies at Insatiable Munchies
Vivian’s Festive Gingerbread Cookies at Vivian Pei
Linda’s Merry Kale Trees at Free Range Cookies
Annabelle’s Pecan Caramels at Glass of Fancy
Linda’s Ottolenghi-Style Eggplant with Tahini and Pomegranate at Spicebox Travels
Nancie’s Bûche de Noël at NancieMcDermott

Tea and Marriage, Separation and Fried Chicken

Tea and poetry–what a beautiful marriage!

“With a smile and the warmth of

… a cup of tea, you caught me”

In black ink scrawled across college ruled paper, these simple words are strung together like precious pearls gracing a debutante’s soft neck. They offer a fleeting taste of the entire pie–a heartfelt poem of several stanzas that arrived in the mail, charged with the emotion of separation, the faint scent of a faraway place lingering between the lines.

Tea, like grey Seattle skies and the inconsistency of constancy, has always been a part of our lives. My husband claims he fell in love with me when I served him a cup of tea at my brother’s house all those years ago. We gave away sachets of jasmine tea at our wedding. And on many a cold, wintry evening, when the chill seeped deep into our bones, we’d share a hot pot of tea to thaw ourselves out.

On this day, my husband and I celebrate 10 years of marriage. Our hearts proudly bear the battle scars.

As newlyweds in England, I, lonesome and failing miserably at being a wife in a foreign land, fled home to Singapore to seek comfort under my mother’s wing and the familial company of old friends. He thought I was never coming back. I did.

Then came the arrival of a child we waited five heartbreaking years for. Silly us. We had absolutely no clue what we were in for. The sleep deprivation. A super-fussy baby whose wails could rival the queen of the banshees. To “cry it out” or not to “cry it out.” Did I mention the sleep deprivation? That baby is now a beautiful toddler, and a beacon who shows us the way and reminds us why we’re journeying.

Over the years, oh, how the seams of our relationship have heaved and ho’ed under the strain of having a spouse who’s just as obligated to his country as he is to his family. One transatlantic move, three cross-country moves (and counting), and two run-ins with the USCIS later, like rock that’s weathered by wind and rain, we’ve been through rough times but we’re not broken. We’re just transformed.

We’ve come a long way, but the journey is not yet over.

Sadly, at this milestone, we’re separated by 11-1/2 hours, 6,720 miles, 2 continents, and a damn war that won’t go away.

So here I am, raising my cup of tea to a decade of married life, with a plateful of mochiko chicken on the table and an Omar-shaped hole in my heart.

~~~

Mochiko Fried Chicken

mochiko chicken_edit3
One of my husband’s favorites, mochiko fried chicken, with mixed grains and burgundy tomatoes

My husband eats just about everything I cook but his eyes light up and he gushes every time I make mochiko chicken. This is one recipe from my cookbook that he didn’t mind me testing over and over and over again. I can almost guarantee that it’ll be one of his first requests for a home-cooked meal when he returns from his year-long deployment. In his honor, I’m sharing it with you today so you can share it with your loved ones near and far.

I made this dish my own by using tapioca starch (Southeast Asian cooks prefer this to cornstarch) which I think gives the chicken a crispier edge and nira (Japanese chives) instead of green onions.

Seek out Koda Farms Blue Star brand of mochiko, flour made from Japanese sweet rice (which is similar to glutinous rice) in the Asian aisle of many supermarkets.

Time: 45 minutes, plus marinating
Makes: 4 to 6 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

2-1/2 to 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mochiko
1/4 cup tapioca starch (or cornstarch)
1/4 cup sugar
Small bunch nira (or green onions), chopped (1/4 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Vegetable oil for shallow frying

Debone the chicken, and reserve the bones to make stock. Cut the meat into 2-inch chunks.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, soy sauce, mochiko, tapioca starch, sugar, nira, and garlic. Tumble in the chicken and toss to coat evenly. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or preferably 12 hours.

Bring the chicken to room temperature before frying.

Line a plate with paper towels. In a large heavy skillet, heat about 1 inch of oil over high heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Reduce the heat to medium. Using tongs or cooking chopsticks, carefully lower thickly coated chicken pieces one at a time into the oil. You are shallow-frying, so the pieces will only be half submerged. Fry in a batch of 7 to 8 pieces (don’t overcrowd the pan) until both sides are crispy and evenly golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon, shaking off excess oil, and drain on paper towels. Use a slotted spoon or a wire mesh strainer to remove any debris from the oil and repeat until all the chicken is cooked.

Serve hot with freshly steamed short-grain rice, or cold as an appetizer or picnic food.

Of Fusion Cuisine and Fusion Babies

The online Merriam Webster dictionary defines fusion cuisine as: “food prepared by using the techniques and ingredients of two or more ethnic or regional cuisines”

Going by this definition, just about everything we cook or eat is fusion cuisine. Noodles came from China (yes, they did!), so technically, spaghetti is a fusion dish. The Seattle dining scene is heavily influenced by the Pacific Rim, and even if no one bats an eyelid at grassfed flank steak shellacked with Sriracha-hoisin glaze served with a side of parsnip puree, this dish screams fusion! And while it never occurred to me when I was growing up, I was raised on fusion food. Many traditional Singaporean favorites are an amalgamation of the cultures that simmer in that diverse melting pot of a society. As were the Indonesian dishes my mum put on the table day after day.

In the same way, you could say my son is a fusion baby: he was created through the union of two or more ethnic groups. I am Indonesian-Chinese and my husband, Pakistani-White American (forgive the generalization as my husband is adopted and unsure of his heritage).

Fusion baby or not, all toddler boys are programmed to love trains especially one named Thomas.

So it’s not surprising he was the inspiration for this fusion dish I created for #LetsLunch, our monthly Twitter-inspired food bloggers potluck.

One weekday several months ago, I was exhausted after a whole day of Isaac-sitting and I didn’t really want to cook. I was fine eating leftovers but I didn’t think Isaac would appreciate the fiery Indian curry from several days ago so I rummaged around in the fridge and found leftover cooked pasta, frozen peas and tofu. Yay, I thought, my kid loves tofu and will eat it with anything. However, tofu and red sauce didn’t quite appeal so I decided to try an Asian-style pasta stirfry.

I cut the tofu into cubes and brushed them with oyster sauce before pan-frying them. Once they were done, I removed them from the pan then continued with the rest of the ingredients. When everything had been given a final toss in the pan, I was a little skeptical but once I tasted the dish, I was pleasantly surprised.

When I made the dish again, I wanted a crisper tofu so I tossed the cubes in olive oil and baked them. The result–light golden cubes with crusty edges that held up better in the pan. I also added some butter toward the end to give the dish richness and flavor, a tip I learned from a Vietnamese chef when I was gathering recipes for The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook. I thought, “why not?’ since Isaac’s pediatrician was always telling me to add olive oil and butter to his meals to fatten him up.

Tofu, pasta, and butter(!) may seem like an odd combo but this dish turned out very tasty and has been filed away in my “recipes to keep” folder.  Plus, Isaac LOVES it! There we are, fusion cuisine for a fusion baby.

Our very own #LetsLunch-er Grace Hwang Lynch of HapaMama wrote a BlogHer article, highlighting that one in ten married couples have partners of different races. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, mixed-race marriages have increased by 28% in the past decade nationwide. Not surprisingly, more mixed-race (fusion!) babies are being born, according to this Washington Post article.

In the next century, perhaps fusion cuisine will be an obsolete term, humankind will be entirely mixed-race, and if Joss Wheedon (sorry typo, thanks Mo!) is truly a soothsayer, we’ll all be space cowboys cursing in Cantonese on the frontier! (And if you didn’t get that “Firefly” reference, you really need to email me to fix that!)

~~~

Buttery Tofu, Pasta and Peas

This is an easy, no-fuss recipe perfect for a weeknight meal. You can bake the tofu the night before and refrigerate until needed, or utilize the baking time to cook the pasta and chop the garlic and onions. You’ll still have time to take a shower and feed the dogs! I like my tofu a little crisp but if you’re running short on time, pan-fry the tofu cubes for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side instead. You can also use store-bought fried tofu or baked tofu.

Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes active
Makes: 4 servings

14-ounce package firm or extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for cooking
Sea salt
8 ounces farfalle pasta, cooked according to package directions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1-1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup frozen peas
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, toss the tofu cubes with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and salt to taste. Spread them evenly in one layer on a baking sheet. Bake until golden and crispy along the edges, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

While the tofu is baking, cook the pasta according to package directions.

Once the tofu is done, swirl in the remaining oil into a large pot and heat over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Cook the garlic and onion until the onion turns translucent. Add the pasta, followed by the oyster sauce and soy sauce. Mix well to coat the pasta.

Add the frozen peas and the butter and toss until the peas are heated through and the butter has completely melted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a glass of white wine or a sippy cup of milk (for you know who).

~~~

Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ creations below. And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #LetsLunch.

Anastasia‘s Miso Salmon with Mango Salsa at In Foodie Fashion

Cathy‘s Bacon-Studded Polenta With Tomato Gravy at ShowFood Chef

Charissa‘s Gluten-Free Azuki Bean Bundt Cake at Zest Bakery

Cheryl‘s Goan Pork Curry Tacos at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Eleanor‘s Wok Picadillo at Wok Star

Ellise‘s Salty Lime Sablés (Margarita Cookies) at Cowgirl Chef

Emma‘s Kimchi Bulgogi Nachos at Dreaming of Pots And Pans

Felicia‘s Mexican-Lebanese Hummus at Burnt-Out Baker

Grace‘s Taiwanese Fried Chicken at HapaMama

Jill‘s Southern Pimento-Stuffed Knishes at Eating My Words

Joe‘s Grilled KimCheese Sandwich at Joe Yonan

Juliana‘s Fusion Chicken Casserole at Food, Fun & Life

Karen‘s Ukrainian-German Cabbage Rolls at GeoFooding

Leigh‘s Venezuelan-Italian Cachapas Con Queso at Leigh Nannini

Linda‘s Project Runway Pelau: Rice & Beans Trinidad-Style at Spicebox Travels

Linda‘s Edible Salad Totes at Free Range Cookies

Lisa‘s Sunday Night Jewish-Chinese Brisket at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Lucy‘s Coconut Rice Pudding with Mango at A Cook And Her Books

Maria‘s Spanish Shrimp with Bacon, Cheddar & Chive Grits at Maria’s Good Things

Nancie‘s Chili-Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter at Nancie McDermott

Patricia‘s Buttery Tofu, Pasta & Peas at The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook

Patrick‘s Kimchi Jigae and British Mash at Patrick G. Lee

Rashda‘s Mango Cobbler at Hot Curries & Cold Beer

Renee‘s Asian-Spiced Quick Pickles at My Kitchen And I

Steff‘s Chicken Fried Steak at The Kitchen Trials

Vivian‘s Funky Fusion Linguini at Vivian Pei


Coronation Chicken–A Sandwich Fixing Fit for a Queen

Depending on the quality and amount of curry used, the color of coronation chicken can range from acid yellow to subtle ochre. I like to think mine is the latter

Coronation chicken isn’t so well known in these parts (i.e. the U.S.) but in the U.K., this dish has a fabled history.

A humble dish with a regal name, coronation chicken was invented by Rosemary Hume, the founder of Le Cordon Bleu, joining the ranks of its Anglo-Indian brethren, chicken tikka masala and mulligatawny soup. It’s basically chicken salad’s gussied up little sister–shredded chicken dressed with a curry- and chutney-spiked mayo and studded with raisins–served over basmati rice or between bread.

According to this Guardian Newspaper article (where you can also read more about its provenance and permutations), coronation chicken was originally called poulet reine Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth chicken). And since Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this year (she ascended the throne 60 years ago on February 6th, and her coronation took place June 2, 1953), why not pay tribute to my colonial heritage?

And besides, I had leftover chicken, curry powder, and preserves just waiting to be used up. Operation “Cook Down My Kitchen” cracks on!

Do you have a favorite way with coronation chicken?

~~~

Coronation Chicken

I first discovered Coronation Chicken when I was living in England. A friend ordered a coronation chicken sandwich for lunch one day. (This was one dish that didn’t quite catch on in the colonies, at least not Singapore). I wasn’t enticed by the turmeric yellow-tinged chicken but she coaxed me into having a bite and I’m glad she did! That first bite was an intriguing mélange of tender chicken, spicy curry, and sweet raisins. I’ve had many versions since then, not always tasty and often not pretty. I came up with a dressing that wasn’t too sweet, doing away with the requisite raisins/dried apricots of many recipes, and cut the greasy mayo with the lighter texture of yogurt. Plus, I added some celery (another refrigerator legacy!) for a nice crunch. The result–a light and bright filling I enjoyed sandwiched between hearty slices of herb bread.

Time: 15 minutes

Makes: 4 appetizer servings, or enough filling for 2 to 3 sandwiches

2 cups shredded cooked chicken (about 4 drumsticks or 3 breasts worth)
2 stalks celery hearts, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoon preserves (I used a tropical mix but try apricot) or mango chutney
2 tablespoons yogurt (whole milk or lowfat is fine)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
A few squirts of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Place the chicken and celery in a medium bowl.

In a small cast iron skillet, toast the curry powder until fragrant, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Combine the curry powder, chutney, yogurt, mayo, and lemon juice in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.

Fold the curry dressing into the chicken until the chicken is well coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for at least an hour in the fridge to allow the flavors to meld. Serve the chicken on a bed of lettuce leaves or between slices of freshly baked bread.

Triggering Taste Memory with Purple Rice Pudding

Gorgeous black grains are transformed into a luscious burgundy pudding

There’s rice pudding and then there’s rice pudding.

Or more precisely, my rice pudding: “my” being yours, mine, or Uncle Bob’s.

Ask just about anyone and you’ll probably get an earful about a “secret” ingredient, or a tale inextricably linked to the memory of their childhood (or perhaps adulthood) rice pudding, be it seeds scraped straight from the vanilla pod or an emotional recounting of their six-year-old self standing by the stove watching mom stir rice and milk into a whirlpool of thick, creamy custard.

I’m no different.

When I first spied Maria Speck’s Purple Rice Pudding with Rose Water and Dates recipe (Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, Ten Speed Press, 2010), I was overwhelmed by the taste memory of bubur pulot hitam (black glutinous rice porridge) swirled with smooth, velvety milk still warm from the first squeeze of freshly-grated coconut flesh. The result: a burgundy bowl of sweet bliss.

Ah, the power of comfort food! Just one whiff or taste (or the mere imagining) is enough to spotlight a singular emotion or event amidst the jumble of memories and thoughts that are churning in our minds day after day, year after year.

Dusty Springfield’s “The Windmills of Your Mind” from the soundtrack of the original “The Thomas Crowne Affair” started playing in my head in stereo.

Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning,
On an ever spinning wheel
As the images unwind
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

I can’t say for certain what it was about Maria’s recipe that triggered my memory. Perhaps it was the Forbidden Rice, an heirloom black rice variety trademarked by Lotus Foods. During Ming Dynasty China, this medium grain rice was reserved for the Emperor to ensure good health and long life. I’m not one to resist the thrill of an illicit ingredient.

Find Forbidden Rice and other Lotus Foods rice products at Whole Foods Market

Plus, the rice reminded me of black glutinous rice, the grain used to make pulot hitam. Uncooked, black glutinous rice and Chinese black rice are almost identical. After a spell on the stove, black glutinous rice huddles together and transforms into a chewy, almost gummy (but not in a bad way) porridge. Forbidden rice is more toothsome and the individual grains hold their shape better.

Once I started making the dish, I literally started tearing as I doused the chopped dates in the fragrant liquid. The fragrance transported me to my childhood kitchen where on the refrigerator’s topmost shelf always sat a bottle of rose syrup, far out of the reach of prying little hands. As a little girl, ambrosia was defined by one part rose syrup and four parts water served in a tall glass. Alas, this was a drink mainly served to guests. Only once in awhile, my brother and I were given a glass as a special treat.

Rose syrup is not to be mistaken for rose water. Or for that matter, a natural product infused with the essence of rose petals. It was (and probably still is) made with artificial flavoring and coloring, clearly, since just one glassful left my tongue stained a deep crimson.

No matter the source, memory is both a marvelous and precious thing. And just like Dusty sings, “Never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning wheel” our memories are in constant flux. But rest assured the images will always unwind in the “windmills of your mind.”

~~~

Purple Rice Pudding with Rose Water Dates

A food writer friend once said that he wouldn’t let chefs test his recipes because they couldn’t follow directions and always wanted to add their own spin. I’m not a chef but I’m guilty as charged. While it is difficult for me to follow a recipe to a ‘T’, I ended up giving this one just a mini makeover. Amidst claims that I am in denial about my lactose intolerance, I used coconut milk instead of half-and-half to nudge it closer to the rice pudding I own kinship with. And in place of the cinnamon stick, I sprinkled ground cardamom as an ode to my favorite kulfi flavor–rose water and cardamom.

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup Chinese black rice
1/4 cup finely chopped pitted dates (about 6)
2 dates, pitted and cut into thin strips
4 teaspoons rose water, divided
1 1/4 cups coconut milk (slightly less than one 13 oz can)
2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom or 2 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, bring the water and rice to a boil. Lower the temperature to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the rice is tender yet still slightly chewy, about 30 minutes. Some water will remain (do not drain).

While the rice is cooking, prepare the date topping. Place the chopped dates in a small bowl and drizzle with 2 teaspoons of the rose water. Add the date strips to a different small bowl and drizzle with 1 teaspoon rose water. Stir the dates in both bowls and set aside, stirring once or twice more.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon rosewater, coconut milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, and vanilla to the rice. Raise the heat slightly until the mixture starts to bubble, stirring several times. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle bubble and cook, uncovered, for 15 more minutes, stirring every few minutes or so. The consistency should be creamy yet soupy — the mixture will thicken as it cools. Remove the saucepan from the heat and remove the cardamom pods if using. Stir in the chopped dates.

Divide the rice pudding among small individual dessert bowls or cups. Garnish with the rose water-infused date strips, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes:
Maria recommends choosing firmer dates such as Deglet Noor that won’t turn to mush in the pudding. To lighten up the pudding, she also suggests using whole milk instead of half-and-half. In the same vein, you can use light coconut milk.

~~~

This music-inspired (well kinda) post is part of the Twitter #LetsLunch bunch. Here’s what the rest of the crew is raving about:

Tiger Cakes ~ from Ellise at Cowgirl Chef
Honey Mac Wafers with Coconut ~ from Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Tommy’s Chili ~ from Felicia at Burnt-out Baker
Banana Bread ~ from Rashda at Hot Curries and Cold Beer
Chicken and Dumplings ~ from Cathy at ShowFood Chef
Quiet munchies for concert-going ~ from Patrick at Patrick G. Lee
Coconut Cake ~ from Steff at The Kitchen Trials
Cuban black beans ~ from Linda at Spicebox Travels
Gluten-free Thin Mints ~ from Linda at Free Range Cookies

Tex-Mex Like You’ve Never Tasted Before–Miso Chili Con Carne y Wasabi Sour Cream

As un-American as it makes me sound, I never make chili con carne, or chili for short. In fact, I’ve probably eaten only 4 or 5 bowls of it in my lifetime. I know, I’m ashamed to say it.

To me, chili refers to the red or green finger-shaped fruits that add spice and heat to the many dishes of my childhood.

Chili as a piping hot bowl of cumin-scented ground meat, beans, tomatoes, and spices topped with sour cream and shredded cheese is an American incarnation I am slowly coming to terms with.

Needless to say, I was a little stumped when I was asked to join the Let’s Lunch group, a Twitter-inspired virtual lunch date organized by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of “A Tiger in the Kitchen” (it’s a great read about Tan’s journey of discovering her Singaporean family and culture through food), and I discovered that the dish of the month was chili!

I was determined to “Asianify” this Tex-Mex staple. It’s been done before. Zengo, a Latin-Asian fusion restaurant with locations in Denver and D.C., marries chipotles with miso, achiote and hoisin, and adobo and sesame. And who hasn’t used Serranos or jalapeños in their Asian cooking?

As I rummaged through my fridge I found some white miso. Miso is similar to Chinese yellow or brown bean paste which is used in mabo tofu, a dish of ground pork, tofu, and chilies. I decided to use this as a launching pad to create a chili recipe with my name on it.

Miso Primer

miso smiley face
How do you like my miso smiley face?

Miso is a salty paste fermented from soybeans, salt and/or rice, barley. A concentrated form of protein, it has live active cultures (i.e. lactic acid-forming bacteria) that aids digestion. Miso adds robust umami flavor to soups, sauces, and meat marinades.

Here are some more common misos in order of light to dark-colored, delicate to strong-flavored:

Saikyo: Lightly fermented, this cream-colored miso is naturally sweet with a delicate flavor. Sometimes used to flavor sweet baked goods.

Shiro (commonly called white miso): A straw to gold-colored miso that’s low in sodium. It’s also the most versatile of the lot.

Aka (commonly called red miso): The longer ageing process (compared to shiro) produces a deeper, more savory miso with a reddish hue.

Hatcho: Soybeans and salt are fermented for two years in cedar barrels to produce this dense, chocolate-colored paste. Its intense, meaty savoriness is perfect paired with meat.

For the most part, you can use any type of miso in any recipe.

When I was researching “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook,” Hiroko Sugiyama, a Japanese culinary instructor based in the Northwest  told me she likes to combine red and white misos when making miso soup to make it more interesting. (If you have my cookbook, it’s on page 90.) You can also buy awase miso which is a blended miso.

Even a bowl of chili could do with a dash of umami!

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Miso Chili Con Carne y Wasabi Sour Cream

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Don’t get hung up on the type of miso to use in this recipe. My organic miso was labeled “White Type” and contained both rice and soybeans. More importantly, look for just the basic ingredients without any additives. Whatever type of miso you use, you’ll end up with a rich, umami-laden stew that will impress your friends at your upcoming Super Bowl party.

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes (15 minutes active)
Makes: 4 to 6 servings

1 pound/500 grams ground pork
1 small onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons miso (white or red) mixed with 1/4 cup warm water to make a creamy paste
1 (28 oz/794g) can chopped tomatoes
2 cups (1 (16 oz) can/500g) cooked beans (adzuki, pinto, kidney)
1 cup roasted corn
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Wasabi Sour Cream (see below), shredded cheese, and green onions to serve

Brown the pork in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat to render the fat, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the fat and remove the meat to a plate.

Using the same Dutch oven, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and cook the onion and garlic over medium heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Return the pork to the pot. Add the miso mixture and mix well. Add the tomatoes, beans, corn, spices, plus 1 cup water. Mix well and bring the chili to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for at least 1 hour. Stir occasionally and add water if the chili looks like it’s drying out.

Taste, and add salt and pepper, and/or more spices as needed. I didn’t add any salt because I found the miso added enough saltiness.

Serve in individual bowls and top with wasabi sour cream, cheese and green onions.

As with any stew, this chili tastes even better the next day, or even the day after!

Wasabi Sour Cream
Admittedly, the wasabi sour cream adds more fun than flavor to the chili, you hardly taste the wasabi. The proportions below produce a pretty mild result. If you prefer, continue adding wasabi powder and tasting as you go until you feel a jolt up your nose.

2 teaspoons wasabi powder
1 cup sour cream

Whisk the wasabi and sour cream together in a small bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

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Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ chili below. And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch.

Cheryl‘s Keema Chili at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Cathy‘s Chunky-Style Cowboy Chili at Showfood Chef

Charissa‘s Clean Out Refrigerator Night Cassoulet, A “Frenchified” Chili at Zest Bakery

Ellise‘s Chicken Tinga Chili at Cowgirl Chef

Emma‘s Dave’s Chili at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Felicia‘s Low-Concept Vegetarian Chili at Burnt-Out Baker

Grace‘s Chinese New Year Chili at HapaMama

Karen‘s Hawaiian Chili at GeoFooding

Linda‘s Smokin’ Hot Vegan Vaquero Chili at Spicebox Travels

Lucy‘s “Full of Beans” Chili at A Cook And Her Books

Joe‘s Texas Bowl O’Red at JoeYonan.com