Friday, January 23, 2009

Inauguration Day

Ok, so I overestimated my ability to get all the countries done I wanted to this weekend and Malta fell by the wayside--basically because I didn't count on getting sick! (Sorry, Amy!) We will get to Malta this weekend on Sunday hopefully. However, I did get to complete Kenya and Indonesia with some help from the family.

Tuesday we were all feeling celebratory on the news that we were getting our baby and that we had a new president. I had plans for our meal to encompass Kenya, where Obama's father is from, and Indonesia, where Obama spent some of his formative years.

Not too much Kenyan cuisine is available. Around the World in 450 Recipes only had generic recipes from "Africa" as if Africa is one big country and not lots of countries comprising a continent. I had to resort to a Google search again, and a lot of what turned up was comprised of goat. Now, I don't know about you all, but a) my local grocery store doesn't carry a whole lot of goat meat and b) I'm not all that excited about eating goat. So, I did some further investigating and found a couple of recipes that sounded decent. We decided to make chapati (a fried Kenyan bread) and kachumbari (a salad).

As for Indonesia, I have eaten Indonesian food several times and like it a lot. The one decent restaurant near my sister's house is Indonesian and we first went there for my birthday several years ago. Upon hearing it was my birthday, they gave us a plate of noodles free of charge. Free food hooked our hearts and we go there a fair amount. I don't know how the place stays in business (it's always empty when we go), but I'm glad it does. If you're in the mood for Indonesia and find yourself in Alexandria, VA, check out Satay Sarinah on South Van Dorn Street.

Anyway, I decided to trust the Around the World book and its recipe for Chicken Stewed in Coconut Milk. We also decided to make basmati rice. I *love* basmati rice--it's probably my favorite kind of rice. It definitely pairs well with Asian cuisine of all types.

So, our full menu (with linked recipes where appropriate) was:

* Chapatis
* Kachumbari
* Chicken Stewed in Coconut Milk
* Basmati rice

We started with the chicken, expecting it would take the longest. Again, my stellar timing skills were sorely lacking. (For the record, when making any kind of bread, even a bread that requires no yeast, make it first.) The recipe called for a chicken to be cut into 8 pieces. Well, my local grocery store was most obliging in already selling the pieces packaged altogether. This made for a lot less work for me.

The chicken had to be put into a pan, sprinkled with salt, and put in the oven for up to 30 minutes. I am not big on salt, I'll be quite honest, but I keep putting it in there because darned near every recipe requires salt. We bought a box of salt strictly for use in this project. I find it interesting the things that we don't keep a lot of on hand due to lack of use that other people tend to use up fairly quickly. For instance, pretty much any time my father or my in-laws come to visit, you can bet we'll run out of butter or margarine. We never have salt on hand and always have to scrounge it up for my friend Joe or my mother-in-law. My sister is always looking for milk. But you'll find a steady supply of garlic, chocolate, and yogurt at Casa Kosior. So go figure.

Anyway, we put the chicken in the oven and I decided to throw the rice into the rice cooker on the off chance it was going to take two hours again. Of course, I put it on the white rice setting, so it only took 30 minutes. Since we had some time, we decided that we would make the paste for the chicken. The picture in the cookbook shows the paste being made with a mortar and pestle. I did actually look for a set at Target, I could swear I saw them there before, but no luck. So I got out the food processor again. Into it, we added garlic, onion, macadamia nuts, and coriander. Because we wanted a paste, I let it run rather than pulsing it.

The resultant paste smelled sooooooooo good. As we fried it up in some warm oil, the kitchen smelled absolutely heavenly. Again I wished I could convey smell through this blog. We were salivating. Once the paste was nice and warm, it was time to add the chicken, which had completed cooking. We also had to add lemongrass (see that stick in my sister's hand? That's lemongrass, which doesn't look like grass at all!), bay leaves, sugar, and two mystical ingredients: bruised lengkuas and lime leaves. Ok, frankly, I had no freakin' clue what the heck lengkuas was/is. The recipe called for one inch of it, peeled and bruised. Based on this and on the region we were cooking in, I supposed that it must be ginger, but I wanted to make sure. Back to Google, where I learned that lengkuas actually is a wild ginger. According to the Thai Foods Glossary at

Laos (lengkuas): Sometimes is called galangal, this is a member of the ginger family and it has a very tough but elusively scented root that must be peeled before use. Substitute slices of dried laos (soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes) or powdered laos (1 tsp = 1 inch).

Well, like goat, lengkuas is in short supply at my local grocery. So I substituted fresh ginger, which is plentiful and relatively cheap. Judy bruised it by hurling it on the counter several times until it fell into several pieces. Then we laughed at it to further damage its ego, peeled it and threw it in the pot.

Lime leaves were also not available at the local store. I briefly considered putting lime juice in, but I was afraid that it would curdle our last ingredient, coconut milk. So we did without. Looking back on it, I suspect that we probably could have used lime zest, but I wasn't using fresh lime juice anyway, so I didn't have any of that either.

So we threw all that in and then added the coconut milk. Out of curiosity, we decided someone needed to taste the coconut milk to see what it tasted like, as we had quite a bit left. Judy and I took a vote and decided Lucas would draw the lucky straw, since he missed drinking the leftover lemon glaze at Three Kings. He was very brave about it and when asked he stated, "It doesn't really taste like anything." Thus emboldened, Judy and I each tried a sip, and he was correct. It really didn't have much of a coconut flavor when you drank it. There was a definite coconutty aftertaste, however, but it wasn't strong and wasn't bad. All the same, I don't intend to take up drinking coconut milk.

We turned back to the chicken, mixed up all the ingredients and brought it to a boil and then let it simmer. It was supposed to simmer for approximately 30 minutes, but by the time all was said and done, it simmered for the better part of an hour.

Time to get onto the kachumbari. Kachumbari is a VERY easy salad to prepare. You slice up some tomatoes and arrange them on a plate. On top of that, you put a pile of chopped onions and cilantro. Now, let me confess here and now: tomatoes and I are only just beginning to mend our long rift. I used to be of the type who would eat ketchup and tomato sauce, but was not hot on fresh tomatoes. In the past 2 years or so, however, I would say that I have come to appreciate them more and more. Still, I was hesitant of a salad that used tomatoes as its base.

On the upside, I could just about graze on a field of cilantro. It is one of my favorite herbs ever. If I'm being honest, I doubled the amount of cilantro called for in this recipe, and munched on the extra cilantro left on the cutting board. It was spectacular. The pile of tomato, onion, and cilantro is topped with grated carrots, and then the entire thing is drizzled with lime juice. The colors of this salad look distinctly African, and it makes a very festive presentation.

This accomplished, I turned my attention to the chapatis. This is a fried flat bread, as I mentioned. It is extremely simple to make, deceptively so. However, the directions demanded that it needed to sit for 30 minutes under a damp cloth. I neglected to read these directions past the ingredient list, which is simply salt, flour, and water. Why does it need to sit? There's no yeast, nothing to rise. But I figured that if it needed rising, I would let it rise. Unfortunately, by now, the rice was completed, and the chicken had been bubbling away for the better part of its cooking time. But there was nothing to do but put the kachumbari back in the refrigerator, set the bread to rise, put the rice cooker on 'warm' and let the chicken continue to cook on low over the stove.

When thirty minutes had passed, I took the dough from the bowl. Unsurprisingly, it hadn't changed shape or risen in the least. I quickly heated up some oil in a pan, set my brother-in-law to cooking the bread, and started forming broad, flat disks with the dough. He fried them up quickly while Judy used the time to feed Dottie so she would keep quiet during the meal and I set the table.

We sat down to a veritable feast when everything was served up. As you can see, we added sparkling cider for a toast to Little Jack and the General got in his order of French fries.

And then we all tucked in. The chicken was absolutely fantastic, as I knew it would be. The General ate two full plates of the chicken before deciding it wasn't something that he cared to eat again. The fact that he ate it at all came as a surprise--honestly I had a package of Hebrew Nationals on stand by in the fridge, fully expecting to have to cook him a different meal. But he actually ate pretty well.

But what surprised me was the kachumbari. It was absolutely amazing. The flavors were so fresh and really, really came alive in your mouth. This is the second dish we've made where lime juice was the primary dressing/marinade and the second one I've absolutely loved. Viva la lime!

The chapatis were rather dull and bland. To be expected considering it's flour and water put together. We speculated that rather like Ethiopian food, where it is served atop a flat disk of bread that you pull apart, it was probably expected that you not eat it plain (although the General quite liked it). I put my kachumbari on top of it and it was not only much better, but made the salad more fun to eat.

The other three of us agreed that everything was very good. Judy thought it would be better next time to make the chicken without the bones, and I didn't care for the chicken skin still being on, so if I make it again, I would definitely use boneless/skinless chicken. Basmati rice was a must, and a little extra sauce made it taste delectable too.

A great meal to celebrate two great beginnings--one for the country and one for the Kosiors.

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