"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Friday, November 16, 2007

at my job

So we had to write up a short food bio and recipe so that our "Team Fun" committee could make posters and hang them up in the "kitchen." I'm not sure why we do these things, but hey, they're kind of fun. Here's mine.


I began cooking at 11 or 12; the twin motivators were boredom and a growing distaste for whatever my mom or dad was able to throw together at the last minute after working a 12- or 14-hour day. As a latch-key kid, I had plenty of time alone at home, and a good deal of that time I spent messing around in the kitchen.

My childhood wasn’t a complete culinary wasteland. Mom could cook a porkchop with savvy or throw together a pot of spaghetti—American-style, lots of meat, lots of sauce, slightly overcooked spaghetti—and of course, there were the Gramma Staples: red chile, freshly made tortillas, refried beans, fried vegetables like spinach and zucchini (always with a little pork), chorizo and eggs, sopa seca de fideos, enchiladas (cheese only), meat empanadas, and of course, for the holidays, great stockpots full of tamales. These foods, as much as they make me wax nostalgic today, never meant a great deal to me growing up (with the possible exception of a fresh, just-off-the-comal tortilla, smeared with butter—well, come to think of it, probably margarine). These were simply the foods that we ate; I reserved no special affection for them. As an adolescent, a McDonald’s hamburger was a much more exotic and desired treat than yet another plate of chiles rellenos and beans.

When I discovered Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cooking, though, hoo boy! I roasted chickens (with two lemons), rolled my own homemade pasta. I rolled it. With a rolling pin, like an Italian nonna, I rolled it. (I wasn’t even aware that pasta machines existed.) I learned to make dozens of different pasta sauces, made complicated braciole, diligently stuffing meat into other meat—you get the idea. The recipe I include here, though, is culinarily quite distant from my early loves. When I was 18 years old I moved to San Diego which, though not a big food town (unless you count the ubiquitous fish taco, an item done much damage during its migration up the coast—the fish taco doesn’t travel well), opened up a whole new range of chow options. For the first time I ate gyros, Thai food, Afghan food, “authentic” Chinese food, hummus, shawarma, taco-truck tacos!

I still have fond memories of trying to puzzle out Thai dishes in my small kitchen in my small apartment in East San Diego. What is kaffir lime? Where can I get it? Are these long brown, beanish things in the supermarket labeled “tamarindo” the same thing as the tamarind paste called for in this dish? Well, Reader, I survived. One of the first really successful things I ever made in this new idiom was a dish called Kai Kook Luey, literally “Son-in-law Eggs.” As you read the recipe, it may seem odd. And it is. It’s also fairly simple and incredibly delicious.

  • You’ll need some eggs. Hard-boil them. Peel them. How many? How hungry are you?
  • Prepare garlic and/or shallots. Slice very thinly. Deep fry the garlic briefly in sizzling vegetable oil. Repeat with the shallots. The shallots will take a bit longer. Drain on paper towels. Don’t have the patience to thinly slice alliums and then immerse them in oil? Most Asian groceries carry already fried garlic and shallots.
  • Mix 1/3 cup of tamarind paste (thinned with a bit of boiling water), 1/3 cup sugar (white or brown), and ¼ cup fish sauce (or to taste—I like Golden Boy brand). Don’t omit the fish sauce. Heat over low heat to a mild simmer. I sometimes add a bit of water if it’s going to be on the burner for awhile. Taste and adjust for sweet, tart, and salty flavors. Feel free to add extra sugar, vinegar, or fish sauce to taste.
  • Now for the fun part. Heat some oil in a wok and drop the eggs in. That’s right. Deep-fry the boiled eggs. They’ll turn a deep reddish-brown and get a chewy, nubbly skin. When they are brown enough and nubbly enough, remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. When cool enough to touch, slice lengthwise into halves or quarters.
  • We’re almost there. For each portion, assemble 2-3 eggs on a plate. Top with the tamarind sauce, sprinkle with fried garlic and shallots. Tear some sprigs of cilantro over the whole glorious mess.
  • I like to serve this with steamed jasmine rice and a simple sauce (to be added by each diner to taste) of white vinegar in which thinly sliced Serrano or Thai chiles have been marinating in while you were busy cooking the eggs. A squeeze of lime is also nice.
  • Eat. Rinse. Repeat.

Oh yeah, and don’t use chopsticks. The Thai don’t, so neither should you.

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