Friday, April 03, 2009

south of the border

A package arrived for the SE. “Do not crush” the oversized envelope implored.

Inside was this.

One perfect habanero chilli, home grown by a friend of his in Sydney.

We were told to save the seeds to grow our own little golden bundle of heat and so we have.

It was almost too pretty to eat. What to do with it? In the end, to best appreciate the flavour rather than just the temperature I decided to put it in a salsa. Without the seeds, half a habanero in a sauce for two was enough to enjoy the well-rounded, slightly citrusy tones of the pepper, without being blown away. A whole habanero would have been far more interesting though!

A meal fit for a pepper
(Quantities are for 2 and are just a suggestion)

I based this meal around the salsa. Originally it was to be fish tacos but pure laziness stopped me from diverting from my journey, to buy some shells.

Mexican rice of sorts
vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup long grain rice
1 carrot, grated
1 cup vegetable stock, hot
2 tablespoons tomato paste

Heat the oil in the pan, sauté the onion then add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Toss in the rice and give it a good swirl around til it is well coated with oil. Add the carrot. Lastly add the hot stock with the tomato paste stirred through it. Stir one more time, then place a lid on the pan and sit it on a heat diffuser mat to cook slowly for 25 minutes. Stand for a further 10 minutes with the heat off and lid on.

1/2 habanero chilli, deseeded, very finely chopped
4 medium tomatoes, skins removed, finely chopped
small handful, coriander leaves and stalks, chopped
squeeze lime juice
pinch sea alt

Combine in a bowl.

1 large avocado, mashed
juice of 1/2-1 lime
1 clove garlic, crushed
generous dash, Tabasco sauce
pinch of sea salt

Combine the ingredients, adding the lime juice on the avocado immediately so it doesn’t oxidise and loose it’s vibrant colour.

Pan fried fish
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2-1 cup cornflour
1 tsp smoky paprika
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 fillets, fish
vegetable oil

Toast the cumin and coriander in a pan for a couple of minutes, shaking frequently, then pound using a mortar and pestle. Combine the spices, flour and salt on a plate, then dredge your fish. Remember to shake off any excess flour. I used gurnard, a delightful, underrated fish in this country but a favourite in New Zealand (and at just over $3 a fillet turned out to be good value). It holds together well in the pan and has a slightly sweet flavour. (As an aside, A. A. Gill once described gurnard as ”the Amy Winehouse of battered fish").

Back to the kitchen. The rice has finished cooking and is doing its ten minutes of rest with the lid on. The salsa and guacamole are made and the table is laid. All you need to do now is fry the fish. This is one time a shallow fry is called for, heat your oil to a decent temperature making sure the fish will sizzle when you put it in the pan. About three minutes a side will do it depending on the thickness of the fish. The average fry pan will cook two decent fillets at a time, don’t be tempted to cram it with more. If cooking for more than two people do it in batches and keep warm in the oven, otherwise your fish will stew rather than fry as the temperature drops in the pan.

Cook, drain on paper towels. Pile rice on the plate; artfully arrange your fried fish on top. Top with salsa and guacamole to taste.

I make no claims of authenticity with these recipes. The rice, I read a few recipes then promptly forgot them. The idea was to add a few vegetables and a little flavour, as a background rather than to compete with the other tastes on the plate. I think most Mexican rice’s are more tomatoey than this but I wanted to showcase the salsa, not the rice. It was a perfect balance.

The coating from the fish was purely from imagination. The paprika gave a barely detectable smoky back note; the spices were subtle but complemented the flavour of the gurnard. I always use cornflour, I like the feeling of its silkiness and when fried is a bit crispier than wheat flour. As a bonus it is gluten-free.

This was a fun meal to make. Despite the four separate components it can be put together in the time it takes to cook the rice. While getting vegetables into people in this house is never an issue, it would be perfect for those who need a little sneaky action to get their “5 a day”.

And the taste? Perfect!

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Blogger F.G. Marshall-Stacks said...

Frank Zappa sang in 1968
"Call any vegetable ...
And the chances are good -
That the vegetable will respond to you"
and the reputable London Guardian has an editorial on a vegetable, that made me wonder if eating it intensively might cure illness of the kidney:

The Guardian, Saturday 25 April 2009
An entire festival dedicated to a vegetable sounds excessive.
But when that vegetable is the asparagus, scepticism is trumped by Britain's burgeoning love for the green spears.
This week saw the British Asparagus Festival hit its third birthday after enterprising growers in the Vale of Evesham took the opportunity to expand beyond their annual auctions of the crop.
But why the fuss over the one vegetable that famously makes urine smell funny (something to do with its sulphur-producing amino acids)? British asparagus is greener than the imports, both literally and ethically. The white asparagus of mainland Europe grows more quickly than its British rival, and so develops less flavour - one reason to be grateful for our cooler climate. Lower carbon miles are another advantage.
Claims to its aphrodisiac nature have been made since at least the 16th century, but the properties of being high in vitamins A and C, folic acid and potassium are more readily proven. Asparagus is not a recent introduction to these isles, with the industry establishing itself in the 17th century. Never one to miss a trend, Samuel Pepys recorded his purchase of "a hundred of sparrowgrass" at a cost of 1s 8d in his diaries. An earlier enthusiast, Caesar Augustus, apparently defined haste as "quicker than you can cook asparagus". And when cooking one's spears, briefer (and cooler) is generally better. With British asparagus only available for around eight weeks of the year, buyers should strike with haste.

11:24 am  

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