Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More Tricks Of The Trade

My cousin told me that for our second lesson in culinary greatness she wanted to cook something "Asian."  This presented a few problems.  One: her stovetop doesn't get hot enough, which means that searing anything, or browning anything, or caramelizing anything by heat is nearly impossible.  It literally took over 30 minutes to boil water the last time I was over.  This means that the trademark high-heat dishes that we all associate with "Asia" would be difficult to replicate.  The second problem?  My cousin doesn't eat pork.  And pork is what every kitchen maven wants to get her hands on when it comes to dabbling with soy sauce. 

Ah, well.  You can't win them all.  I decided to take her to a very large grocery store to find inspiring ingredients. 

Me: This is Savoy cabbage.  We're going to cook with it.
Her: It looks like lettuce.

And so on.  

Perhaps because we were in New Jersey there was no fresh ginger.  There were no scallions and I walked around the store about a hundred times before I located sesame oil.  Sometime amid those rotations, my cousin informed me that she wanted to make a soup.  She bought canned chicken stock.  I bought cilantro.  

Back home, I had a few ideas.  Lettuce wraps with ground turkey, snap peas, and red peppers.  Sauteed sweet and sour cabbage.  "Clear" soup with broccoli, snap peas, cilantro, rice noodles, baby corn, and water chestnuts.  I had bought my cousin a steam basket.  She had never seen a steam basket before.  I told her that a steam basket made cooking fresh vegetables very easy.  She looked at me like I had three heads. 

I steamed fresh broccoli and snap peas, putting them aside to use later in the soup.  I made a soup base of sauteed onion and garlic and then added the stock, some soy sauce, some honey, some ground ginger, and a little bit of sesame oil.  I let the soup come to a boil and then left it alone. 

I told my cousin to brown the turkey with salt, pepper, ground ginger, and red pepper flakes.  We put the finished product aside and did the same with sliced peppers and snap peas, adding soy sauce, more honey, and some apple cider vinegar.  I took the cooked veggies off the heat and combined them in a separate saucepan with the turkey, mixing the whole lot together.  My cousin's finace wouldn't be home for a while and I planned to re-heat the turkey at the last minute.  

Finally, when said fiance was en-route, I browned (or attempted to brown) garlic and onions on a not-hot-enough stove in a blend of sesame and olive oils.  To that, I added one head of sliced Savoy cabbage, cooked until soft.  Next up, two heaping tablespoons of soy sauce, two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, one tablespoon of honey, and a handful of red pepper flakes.  I covered the skillet for a few minutes to let the sauce reduce.  

The problem in our final execution had to do with timing.  I thought the man of the house would be home earlier than he was, so I added the steamed vegetables and rice noodles to the soup too far in advance.  What happened, then, was that the broccoli and snap peas turned soft and lost their vibrant green and the noodles began to absorb too much broth.  

Ditto for the turkey, which sat too long in a covered saucepan.  Lost was the crunch of lightly-sauteed vegetables, although the flavors turned out just fine.  

The cabbage came out fine, though it lacked the brown lacquer achieved by a hotter flame.  Not that it mattered.  Both my cousin and her hubby-to-be refused to eat it.  I should have just told them it was lettuce. 

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