Congee Is The Cure

Have you ever eaten something that was spicy enough to wake the dead? Though not for the weak of stomach, that might be just what the doctor ordered.

That was the literal inspiration for this recipe, glutinous rice porridge, AKA congee. Of course, the original dish is incredibly mild, sometimes seasoned only with a pinch of salt, if that. Meant to soothe an upset stomach, it’s classic sick day food that’s easy to digest and gently nurse the unwell back to health. Now I’m beginning to think that the opposite approach might be more effective.

Mo Dao Zu Shi (魔道祖师) is far from a food-focused donghua, but stick with me here. The protagonist, Wei Wuxian, is known to make his meals unbearably spicy, to the point that you’d think one’s spirit would depart their body after a single bite. This turns out to be an asset that ultimately cures those suffering from corpse poisoning.

There’s good sense to back this theory up. Hot peppers have genuine medicinal properties granted by that characteristic burn. Capsaicin is the compound responsible for its culinary prowess and health benefits.

What are the benefits of capsaicin?

  • For short term pain relief, biting into a blisteringly hot food releases endorphins, creating a mild “high” and dampening other discomforting sensations, like headaches, joint pain, and beyond.
  • Chili peppers are great for improving heart health! Studies have shown they can reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and increase blood flow.
  • Stress less with a calming dose of B-complex vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamin (vitamin B-1). Deficiencies in these vitamins can lead to added anxiety or trouble regulating moods over time.
  • Have tissues handy because this stuff will clear out your sinuses and ease congestion. Plus, capsaicin has antibacterial properties which are effective in fighting and preventing chronic sinus infections.

Most importantly, this is medicine you’ll WANT to take.

Toppings for congee are entirely up to the eater. Creamy rice porridge can do no wrong as a gracious base for anything your heart desires. Aromatic ginger and garlic are a classic starting foundation, amplified by savory, salty soy sauce.

Consider the following ideas to customize you own invigorating and restorative hellbroth:

  • Shiitake mushrooms are brilliant here, chopped finely to infuse every grain with umami.
  • To satiate a heartier appetite, bulk it up with plant proteins, like baked or braised tofu, or cooked beans.
  • Add textural contrast with toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds.

The only non-negotiable is the chili crisp. This is what transforms a bowl of mush into a downright addictive meal. While it’s tempting to eat it straight from the jar, try to keep at least a 1:1 ratio of chili crisp to congee, for the sake of your stomach.

Whether it’s a cold, flu, or corpse poisoning, this flaming hot chili crisp congee will cure what ails you.

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On the Lamb

In English, Rogan Josh sounds like it could be a proper legal name. It’s fitting for a dish with such distinct character and personality. They’re the person that everyone talks about candidly, in any company, with open admiration. Have you met my friend here, Rogan Josh, before? If you haven’t, I’d love to formally introduce you.

What is Rogan Josh/Roghan Ghosht?

Known today as a staple of Kashmiri Indian cuisine, the dish originated in Persia. The words themselves can be translated to “butter” and “stew,” although that strikes me as a curious way of burying the lede. Sure, ghee is applied generously for tempering the spices and sauteing the vegetables, but it’s far from the main character of this story. Meat is at the heart of this highly aromatic stew, typically in the form of lamb (mutton) or goat. Braised in a crimson red bath of chilies, low and slow, sometimes for hours before serving, I wonder if the “butter” here refers instead to how it becomes so tender that it practically melts in your mouth?

Plant-based meat has the clear advantage here. Seitan, AKA wheat meat, can cook in a fraction of the time while soaking in that intensely spicy broth like a high-protein sponge. Working in concert with equal parts Sugimoto Shiitake mushrooms, you get the hearty umami flavor and chewy caps for a perfect hearty bite. Donko shiitake have the ideal texture for this kind of application, both blending in seamlessly enhance to unique the rich palate of spices and standing out as the drumbeat moving the parade forward. Even the water used to soak and rehydrate the mushrooms gets put to good use, maximizing every drop of savory potential.

What Can Be Used Instead of Seitan?

If gluten is a concern, fear not. There are plenty of other plant-based proteins that would be excellent alternatives, such as:

  • Soy curls or chunks
  • Chopped tempeh
  • Cubed extra- or super-firm tofu
  • Vegan beef chunks or strips
  • Cooked chickpeas

Typically, the creamy component in this curry comes from plain yogurt, but I wanted something that would further bolster the lamb-like impact here. A big part of what makes game meat so distinctive is a unique grassy flavor, since they’re free to graze on wild grasses, of course. While that’s usually a negative aspect that cooks try to downplay, I’m bringing it back in to imitate that tasting experience. Hemp seeds have a similar earthy aspect, like a fresh bale of hay, which works in our favor this time around. Blended to a smooth consistency alongside tart, unsweetened yogurt, we get the best of all worlds.

What Does Rogan Josh Taste Like?

It’s hard to accurately describe the full volume flavor of the finished tomato curry sauce, but it’s one you’ll never forget. For the heat-seekers and hot sauce fanatics, this song is going out to you. Tune is melodious, haunting at first, like something familiar but long forgotten. Slowly the intensity grows, rising to a crescendo until you’re on the dance floor, electrified by the sensation. In other words, keep a tall glass of non-dairy milk nearby to douse the flames, or consider scaling back on the kashmiri chili powder in the first place.

What Can You Serve with Rogan Josh?

It would be a crime to let any of that luscious sauce go to waste. While it’s a complete dish that’s fully capable of standing alone on the dinner table, it’s even better with a side to soak up every last drop. My favorite options include:

To combat the fiery heat, some refreshing contrasting flavors help, such as:

  • Cucumber salad
  • Raita or plain, unsweetened yogurt
  • Mango lassi

Despite starting with melted coconut milk instead of clarified dairy, there’s no denying the downright decadent and impossibly buttery results. Simply having a well-stocked spice rack is more than half the battle in all good cooking. Knowing how and when to apply the umami power of shiitake mushrooms takes care of the rest.

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Devil in Disguise

Of all the pasta shapes in the world, which do you think is the worst, and why is it always angel hair? Meant to approximate the gossamer-thin strands of hair that only an angel could boast, such a divine name is entirely antithetical to its behavior on the plate. Let cooked noodles sit for just a second too long and all hell will break loose. Suddenly, those golden threads transform into bloated, tangled knots of dough. Gummy, gluey, supersaturated with sauce, it’s like they never even knew the term “al dente.”

Angel hair, AKA capellini, has never been my first choice. Nor would it be my second, third, fourth… I think you get the picture. It barely even registers on my hierarchy of pasta, and yet, I recently ended up with a box in my pantry. My trusty pasta maker went down at exactly the same time there was an apparent pasta shortage in local stores, so my choice was angel hair or nothing. Out of desperation, I said my prayers and tried to trust in fate.

One benefit to angel hair is that it does cook quickly; even more quickly than most manufacturers suggest. Start testing it after one minute at a full boil, leaving it on the heat for no longer than two. Then, overall success depends entirely on not just draining out the hot liquid, but then rinsing it in cold water. While this would be a sin for most noodles, stripping away the excess starch necessary for making rich sauces that cling as a velvety coating, it’s a sacrifice we must make for preserving any toothsome texture.

General advice is to pair angel hair with only the lightest, most delicate of sauces, such as pesto or plain olive oil. I’m sorry, but is an eternity in heaven supposed to be this boring? If we have to eat angel hair, I think it’s time we embrace a more devilish approach.

Seitan is the obvious protein of choice; what else is as wickedly savory, heart, and downright decadent in the right sauce? Speaking of which, this one is scant, just barely coating each strand while cranking up the flavor to full blast. There’s no need to drown the noodles in a watered-down dressing when this concentrated, fiery seasoning mix does the trick. Spiked with gochujang and smoked paprika, it glows a demonic shade of red, balancing out heat with nuanced flavor.

To embrace angel hair is to accept a more fiendish path to salvation. Don’t be afraid; a little seitan worship never hurt anyone.

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Seoul Food

There’s nothing that lights my fire quite like smoky, charred fresh corn still hot off the grill. Juicy kernels bursting with sweetness, still golden and tender-crisp, it’s a bite of pure summer brilliance. You can practically taste the sunshine infused right down to the cob. Not a week passes without some form of corn gracing my dinner table during prime harvest season for all the ways it can be dressed up or down. My very favorite serving suggestion, without a doubt, is elote. Add in a creamy, cheesy coating that’s at once cool and refreshing yet lusciously rich, and I could very well make a meal of that alone.

That doesn’t mean I’ll always stick with conventional methods, of course. A bit of spice is always nice, but rather than the predictable bite of cayenne or chipotle, it’s even more compelling when we cross cultural boundaries for a Korean flavor infusion. Kimchi is the greatest form of spicy pickle I can think of, so when it’s blended right into a vegan mayonnaise dipping sauce, the results are more spectacular than fireworks on the 4th of July. Lucky Foods has done just that with their game-changing eggless offering here, introducing the added smoldering heat of gochugaru, the essential chili pepper that gives kimchi its distinctive punch.

If you happen to like it really hot, they’ve got you covered with potent gochujang paste, too. Beyond pure fire power, the paste offers a warm sensation with lingering heat while introducing a subtle sweetness and umami flavor from fermented soybeans. Use in moderation to really elevate your elote game.

I’m entering my K-Elote (that’s Korean Elote, of course) into the Lucky Foods Blogger Recipe Challenge! You can find more spicy ideas by visiting out Lucky Foods on Facebook and Instagram. Look their products at Whole Foods, Target, HEB, and many more stores. Wish me luck in the contest!

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Fiery Love Affair

For a spicy gift that will really set your Valentine’s heart aflame, skip the chocolates this year in favor of a more fiery expression of adoration. Chili crisp is the all-purpose condiment that makes every dish irresistible, even if it’s just a bowlful of plain white rice. Heck, you could spoon it over scoops of vanilla ice cream for dessert with equal success, too.

It’s not just for heat seekers hell-bent on toeing the line between pain and pleasure. Aromatics blend in a delicate balance of nuanced flavors, far more complex than your average hot sauce. Satisfying bites of garlic and shallot define the uniquely crunchy texture, while cinnamon, anise, and ginger, create a symphony of complex seasoning.

Ubiquitous in specialty grocers and online, Lao Gan Ma, (老干妈) or “old godmother” is the brand to beat. This simple red labeled jar has dominated the market since its inception in 1997. Cheap, accessible, deeply satisfying across the board; it’s the gold standard that’s hard to beat. That said, anything homemade always has an edge over the competition.

I’m far from the first to take a DIY approach to chili crisp, nor can I claim to have reinvented the concept. I didn’t even rewrite the recipe. Rather, I took a page from Bon Appetit and would implore you to do the same. Show someone you really care by going the extra mile to make a superlative spicy Valentine this year. The best way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, and this one will really set their passion ablaze.