Fusion Wok Star

We interrupt your regularly scheduled holiday programming for a tropical breath of fresh air.

Let’s be honest: Who hasn’t dreamed of escaping from this so-called winter wonderland in search of greener pastures? Feeling the warm sunshine beat down on bare skin, palm trees gently swaying in the wind, can instantly undo weeks of built up stress. Since jumping on an airplane isn’t an option for most of us, I have the next best thing: Mango-Pineapple Fried Rice.

Purely fusion cuisine that exists in no authentic culinary tradition, there are elements of many southeast cultures mashed up into one hot bowl of whole grains.

  • Chinese sweet and sour sauce comes through from the combination of tangy pineapple and salty soy sauce.
  • Thai inspiration is found in juicy bites of mango, in sharp contrast to hot fresh chilies.
  • Indonesian elements like coconut oil and peanuts add body, depth, and richness.

The secret to creating such a harmonious yet complex balance of disparate flavors is to start with salsa.

Yes, you heard me right! Sam’s Fresh Mango Pineapple Salsa is a perfect companion to chips and guacamole, of course, but also a brilliant meal starter. Instead of shopping and chopping each individual component, this intensely flavorful base is ready to go right away. You can purchase Sam’s Fresh Salsa at ShopRite, Acme, and Safeway. If they are not in your local store, ask them to carry Sam’s Fresh Salsa products!

It’s easy to make the best fried rice with a few quick tips:

  • Most American or Americanized recipes use long grain white rice for stir fries. There’s nothing wrong with this, and you’re welcome to substitute your favorite, but I prefer medium or short grain, such as arborio or sushi rice. I find it stays chewier without drying out, and forms very satisfying little clumps that are easy to pick up with chopsticks.
  • Ideally, cook the rice a day or a few hours in advance to make sure it’s completely cool, if not downright cold. You want the starch to congeal a bit, which is what browns so nicely on the outside when you saute it.
  • Use very, very high heat. The cooking process is very fast since you just want to sear the rice that’s already fully cooked and otherwise ready to eat.

Wish me luck, because this fiery little entree is my entry Sam’s Fresh Salsa Blogger Recipe Challenge! Contest aside, I can already tell you this recipe is a real winner.

Continue reading “Fusion Wok Star”

Meant To Be Broken

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. If it already is broken, it might not need fixing in the first place.

Broken rice (Cơm Tấm) is intentionally fractured, not defective. Once upon a time, in the earliest days of milling and manufacturing, it did begin life as the cheaper alternative to pristine long rice, though that’s no longer the case. In fact, it can command a premium price, especially overseas where it’s harder to find. Stumbling upon it randomly while perusing the endless aisles at MT Supermarket, I knew I hit the jackpot.

Contrary to the negative implications that might be associated with a “broken” item, it’s just as nutritious as any other whole grain. In fact, it has the added benefit of cooking more quickly due to the shorter, fragmented pieces.

If you think regular white rice is a brilliant blank canvas for soaking in flavorful sauces, just wait until you break this party up; impossibly porous, this segmented cereal drinks in every last drop like an edible sponge. Soft, sticky, tender yet toothsome, you get the best of all textures in every bite.

You could enjoy it in any other short grain rice recipe for a change of pace, though it’s most popular in Vietnam as street food. Flanked by pork chops, fried egg, meatloaf, pork skin, and sweet fish sauce, you would be hard pressed to find a dish any less vegan.

Rather than attempting to twist this dish into something utterly unrecognizable to accommodate my demands, I was inspired to break up with tradition and try a fresh approach.

Fragrant, subtly sweet, delicate and supple, this exquisite cracked cereal shines with a gentle approach to seasoning. Slightly nutty, warm and toasted, yet also bright and floral with hints of citrus, it’s already quite a prize cooked only in plain water. It would be a grave disservice to the grain if such a wealth of flavor was obscured. Thus, I merely accentuated the natural complexities locked within, adding a touch of sugar, salt, and a few drops of lemongrass oil. Butterfly pea tea (“blue matcha”) provides a bold blue hue, but the rich palate of flavors outshines even that vibrant veneer.

Serve with ripe mango, papaya, peaches, coconut, or any fresh fruit, really. Feel free to experiment! You can’t mess this one up; it’s already broken.

Continue reading “Meant To Be Broken”

Fee, Fi, Fo, Fonio

Move over, quinoa; there’s a new ancient grain in town. Protein-rich, gluten-free, and quick-cooking, fonio is the best kept secret in wholesome superfoods. Though little known in the western world, this African staple has all the makings of the next big healthy craze.

Neutral yet subtly nutty in flavor like good old brown rice, fluffy like fresh couscous, and faster to whip up than a pot of pasta, the only barrier to mainstream adoration is distribution. Though the supply chain is especially stressed by the current pandemic, fonio has long suffered from inaccessibility. No one’s out there flying the fonio flag, demanding more, so most consumers and home cooks simply don’t know what they’re missing. They say ignorance is bliss, but this is more akin to an act of negligence, cruel and careless.

Uses for fonio know no limits. Receptive to marinades and sauces the world over, it thirstily drinks in the flavors of a stew while retaining toothsome tenderness. Use it cold in salad; serve it hot as a side; form it into patties and pan fry; blend it into batters, cakes, and cookies; don’t even bother cooking it, and use it instead of breadcrumbs; the only way you can do fonio wrong is to keep it off the menu.

For basic cookery, all you need is 1 part fonio to 2 parts boiling water. Combine and let rest for about 5 minutes, fluff with a fork, and enjoy. You don’t need a stove, a microwave, or even electricity; it’s really that simple. Your hard work will be rewarded with a nutritional dynamo, rich in B-vitamins, iron, and calcium.

That said, there’s no need to stick with the bare basics, of course.

Golden grains spring to life with savory aromatics and a touch of spice. It’s the kind of side dish that could very well steal the show, and considering the protein quotient, which is bolstered by tender chickpeas, it’s not a stretch to call it a one-pot meal all by itself. Kernels of corn enhance the sunny yellow appearance, but a bit of contrast would be a nice option, be it from green peas, red bell peppers, or even dark, chewy raisins.

Oh, little fonio, this is just the start. There are big things in store for this tiny grain. Just wait until the rest of the world catches on. Quinoa had better watch its back.

Continue reading “Fee, Fi, Fo, Fonio”

Sticky Situation

So deeply rooted in history, so utterly essential that in many cultures, the word for “rice” is the very same word for “meal,” or just simply “food.” The whole world as we know it could have quite plausibly begun from a single grain of rice. Trying to break down the myriad varieties though, from ancient to modern hybrid, is where things start to get sticky.

That’s exactly what I want to pick apart today: Sticky rice. For starters, sticky rice is distinct from common long grain white rice, and no amount of special preparation will come close to its unique characteristics. Don’t let any blissfully thrifty cooks tempt you into thinking that any overcooked long grains, gummy and swollen with too much water, are even remotely acceptable substitutes. While many types of short grain rice may be lumped together and called “sticky rice,” true glutinous rice is a separate breed. It all boils down to its starchy constitution. Glutinous rice contains just one component of starch, called amylopectin, while other kinds of rice contain both molecules that make up starch: amylopectin and amylose. Amylose does not gelatinize during cooking, which keeps grains separate and fluffy. Without that buffer, you’ll find a range of creamier or downright cohesive results.

Thai sticky or glutinous rice has been the object of my affection and frustration since the very first forkful I enjoyed in Thailand itself. Back at home, understanding the culinary transmogrification happening to turn out such a familiar yet entirely unique staple has been a fascinating, humbling experience.

A medium-to-long-grain rice hailing from South East and East Asia, glutinous rice does not actually contain gluten, but the name refers to the rice’s glue-like sticky quality, which easily binds it into rice balls and cakes. Black Thai sticky rice is simply the wholegrain version, meaning the bran has not been removed. Contrary to the name, it’s actually more of a mottled, deep purple color and has an exceptionally chewy, toothsome bite. Like other unmilled or brown rices, it takes slightly longer to cook than white varieties.

Typically soaked overnight, gently steamed in a special bamboo basket, and painstakingly tended all the while, traditional methods of cooking are as intimidating as they are ultimately gratifying. Every minute of planning and preparation is well worth the effort, but not exactly an endeavor for an everyday meal. If you’re willing to sacrifice authenticity for the sake of almost-instant satisfaction, I’m happy to share a secret shortcut to get those sticky morsels on the table in a fraction of the time.

Use 1/4 – 1/2 cup dry grains per person and bundle them up in a nutmilk bag. Plunge into a pot of boiling water, keeping the top drawn tightly closed and out of the water, as if you were steeping an oversized tea bag. Turn off the heat and let soak for 10 minutes. Bring the heat back up to medium, bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Elevate the bag in a large strainer, raise the heat to high, and steam for a final 10 – 15 minutes. If using black sticky rice, soak for 15 minutes and simmer for 25.

Most Americans might be familiar with mango sticky rice, a simple dessert featuring ripe mango slices crowning tender grains in a pool of sweetened coconut cream. The combination is hard to beat, tried and true, but so easily adapted for further flavor sensations. Consider the avocado, if you would, as an alternate fruit to feature. Straying a bit from the beaten path, I played around with this Blue Lagoon Sticky Rice by adding a touch of butterfly pea tea powder to the rich and creamy sauce, since it’s also a native Thai ingredient.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with eating fresh, hot sticky rice straight-up, ungarnished in all its fully fragrant, tenaciously clingy glory.

 

 

 

Red is the New White Rice

History tends to repeat itself and predictably, what’s old is new all over again. Dubbed one of the hottest food trends emerging for 2018, ancient grains are being lauded as the latest superfood darlings that you’ve never heard of. Though the exact varieties are novel additions to the daily American diet, their roots go far deeper than the inexplicable attraction to all things rainbow-colored or bacon-topped. In fact, these staples are more commonplace than peanut butter and jelly. Triticale, einkon, freekeh; their names sound like snippets of poetry to the lyrically-inclined ear, and their flavors are equally enchanting. Distinctive in character, they fell out of favor in the early years of the industrial food revolution, when refined consistency (read: homogeneous blandness) was the benchmark of sophistication. All things earthy, coarse, and distinctive fell by the processing plant wayside.

Celebrating heirloom edibles is just a small indication of the healthy food revolution that’s been brewing for years, catapulting one slice of the past into mainstream awareness at a time. Now that the media has focused its lens on grains and pseudo seeds of bygone eras, carbivores the world over have a reason to rejoice. Even those less enamored of the macro-nutrients should be cheered by the greater availability of more diverse options, introducing a bold new palate of colors with which to paint the dinner plate. You needn’t step too far outside your comfort zone to capitalize on this newfound, old-school inclination. Bhutanese Red Rice is just one option that offers a savory departure from the common white variety.

High in fiber due to the residual crimson bran, red rice cooks much faster than the familiar brown grain but retains just as much savory, nutty flavor, if not more.

Visually inspired as always, the stunning burgundy hue guided my recipe experiments as soon as I got my hands on these soft, tender grains. Though I could have easily just eaten a plain bowlful with a pinch of salt, it would be a shame not to pump up the volume on that ruby rice with further red flavoring. Wine was a natural pairing, infused right into the grains as they cook to soften the alcoholic edge but emphasize the deeper, nuttier, grassier notes. Caramelized onions were a given, although now I’m kicking myself for not adding roasted red peppers into the mix as well. Luckily, I have a feeling that this staple crop will now be an essential ingredient in my pantry as well, so there should be many more opportunities to paint the kitchen red.

Yield: Makes 4 Servings

Red, Red Rice Pilaf

Red, Red Rice Pilaf

Red rice takes on an even deeper ruby hue with a soak in red wine. Gently caramelized onions, nutty toasted almonds, and tender peas create textural harmony that will keep you coming back for another bite.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 55 minutes
Total Time 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup Bhutanese Red Rice
  • 2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
  • 1/2 Cup Diced Red Onion
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Whole Cumin Seeds
  • 1 Teaspoon Whole Black Mustard Seeds
  • 1 1/2 Cups Dry Red Wine
  • 1/2 Cup Vegetable Stock
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/2 Cup Toasted Sliced Almonds
  • 1/2 Cup Frozen Peas, Thawed

Instructions

  1. Rinse the rice with cold water and thoroughly drain. Set aside.
  2. Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the onion. Saute for 2 – 3 minutes until translucent before adding the garlic. Turn down the heat to medium low, season with salt, and slowly cook, stirring periodically, until caramelized; about 30 minutes. Add in the cumin and mustard seeds, lightly toasting for 2 – 3 minutes until aromatic.
  3. Introduce the red rice next, sauteing for just a minute or two. You’re not trying to sear the grains, but coat them in the oil and aromatics. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and vegetable stock, scraping the bottom to make sure that nothing sticks or burn. Add in the bay leaf and red pepper flakes, cover, and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat to low and maintain a steady, gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, until the rice is tender but still toothsome. Keep covered for 5 – 10 more minutes for any remaining liquid to absorb.
  5. Stir in the almonds and peas last, fluff with a fork, and serve while steaming hot.

Recommended Products

Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I have experience with all of these companies and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 306Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 368mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 4gSugar: 4gProtein: 6g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.

Treasure Chestnuts

Inspired by the Japanese kuri gohan, the beauty of this side dish is its simplicity, highlighting the seasonal delight that is freshly roasted chestnuts. Harmonizing with the naturally nutty flavor of brown rice, those toothsome grains cling to each tender morsel for an incredibly satisfying bite. Though chestnuts are sadly hard to come by when winter ends, you’ll find yourself craving this combination all year long.

Yield: Makes 4 Servings as a Side Dish

Chestnut Rice

Chestnut Rice

Inspired by the Japanese kuri gohan, the beauty of this side dish is its simplicity, highlighting the seasonal delight that is freshly roasted chestnuts. Harmonizing with the naturally nutty flavor of brown rice, those toothsome grains cling to each tender morsel for an incredibly satisfying bite.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Short Grain Brown Rice
  • 2 1/2 Cups Water
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Cup Roughly Chopped, Roasted and Shelled Chestnuts (About 20)
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Toasted Black Sesame Seeds

Instructions

  1. My favorite way to prepare this dish is in an electric pressure
    cooker since it’s so crazy fast, but it can just as easily be made on
    the stove top. If working with a pressure cooker, simply toss in the
    rice, water, salt, chopped chestnuts, and butter or oil. Lock in the lid
    and set it to 20 minutes on high pressure. Once that time has elapsed,
    quick release by opening up the valve to immediately discharge the built
    up pressure. Stand back and cover with a dish towel to prevent any
    spray or steam burns. Let the rice stand for 5 more minutes before
    uncovering.
  2. For stove top prep, combine the water, salt, and butter or oil in a
    medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the rice and
    chestnuts, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently for 45 to 50
    minutes, until the liquid has fully absorbed. Let stand for 5 more
    minutes.
  3. Top with sesame seeds right before serving.

Notes

Cooked rice will keep in the fridge for 5 - 7 days.

Recommended Products

Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I have experience with all of these companies and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 253Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 15mgSodium: 318mgCarbohydrates: 35gFiber: 3gSugar: 2gProtein: 3g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.