Note: Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude is a weekly feature about food, food and more FOOD. No, I do not necessarily want to be a food blogger, but I do LOVE to talk about food prep, cooking food, eating food and making sweet love to food. Okay, maybe not the "sweet love" part. This is not meant to be some homage to 91/2 Weeks.
I’ll bet what motivated the British to colonize so much of the world is that they were just looking for a decent meal.
- Martha Harrison
December 1989: I begin to learn about the Pakistani and North Indian styles of cooking - prior to that, I had lived on packages of Lipton Rice because I had no idea how to cook ANYTHING. The boyfriend du jour was Pakistani and eventually, in my social circle, I would add a North Indian roommate, later a Vietnamese roommate along with a mix of friends from Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It all made sense back then, although it's a little tricky to explain today.
November 2000: I'm no longer dating the Pakistani, my friends are scattered to the far ends of the Earth - I had mostly lost touch with them after college. I happen to meet a nice Catholic, South Indian boy from Kerala. He asked me to dinner and I told him I knew of a place that actually served dosas, a South Indian specialty. He was doubtful because South Indian food is such a rarity here in Kansas City. We met there for dinner and he was quite surprised. On our first date, the event where you display your Mate-Worthy Wares, I told him that I could cook Indian and of course, he was politely doubtful. However, the first time I did cook for him, he couldn't suppress his surprise and said "You really can cook." I took that as a compliment. Early in our relationship, I hunted for a cookbook on Kerala and came upon Maya Kaimal's "Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors from Kerala". I got to work on learning how to cook with curry leaves, mustard seed, coconut milk and kudampuli. This Kansas girl even learned how to pick a damned good piece of fish. You see, I am nobody's fool. I really, really liked this boy and could see how much he loved food.
We've been together for over 10 years now.
For me, it was completely natural to do all of that - I love to cook and learning new recipes are the height of excitement when it comes to cooking. After all, We Who Love To Cook LIVE for sifting through cookbooks, hunting the Internet and pestering friends for recipes. However, since I learned how to cook primarily from foreigners, I am still weak when it comes to White People Food - I can do chili, ribeye steak, chicken n' dumplings and baked ziti. This has not been too much of an issue since Manoj only likes the baked ziti.
Wait. Actually, it has been an issue.
As much as I love Brown People Food, I am still very much 100% White Meat and it stings that Manoj has nixed two of my childhood favorites, two dishes I absolutely CRAVE on a wintery, snowy day.
Chili or Chicken n' Dumplings
Or, how about a hot, sultry day when a steak slapped on a grill served with a cool, arugula salad and side of fresh-cut cantaloupe is all my gullet requires?
Cue the Greek Chorus, folks.
To make matters worse, he has even blackballed a few of my favorite IndoPak dishes - vindaloo, haleem, nihari and chapli kabobs and chana. Christ on toast! What sort of Indian doesn't like vindaloo? Or chana? Okay...okay... I understand the beef issue. Manoj is anti-beef solely for health reasons - since he is from a Syrian Christian ethnic group, it's not for religious reasons. He's just trying to be healthy and save his beef consumption for the likes of Five Guys.
However, I did not give up so easily and over the years, I have scrounged around to find substitutes. I make this Peruvian Chicken Soup from Saveur and that fills my chicken n' dumpling void (sort of.) And he certainly does not mind slapping chicken tandoori on the grill, so sometimes, I will sneak a salad on the side. Occasionally, I will tell him that I must have chili or I WILL DIE and that he is going to have to Take One for the Team. At least I make it with turkey, he should be grateful. After all, I am sullying my Great-Grandma Daisy's chili with turkey, all in the name of Marital Compromise. And I do make keema with turkey, it still feels like a travesty, but at least I am getting my keema fix.
The one saving grace to all of this is that although Manoj has nixed some important food groups, he is still quite adventurous when it comes to eating. Since we have been together, I have added to our mix Mexican, Mediterranean, Thai and some American-style Chinese (despite my last post, I am okay with home-cooked Amercian style Chinese because I cut the sugar and greasy-fried parts WAY down) Oh! I can even sneak in White People Food (Curried Chicken Divan, anyone?)
Recently, I discovered a Filipino recipe for Chicken Braised in Coconut Sauce with Spinach. I found the recipe in the out-of-print The Asian Bistro Cookbook. Honestly, the recipe was horribly written, so I have cleaned it up here, which works quite neatly in keeping with copyright restrictions. This recipe hits a lot of notes - it is slightly rich because of the coconut milk, but the anchovies add a hint of sour. Also, I just LOVE the cloves in this - they really pique the tastebuds. This is a great cold weather dish because it is so savory and satisfying, but it is not so heavy that it can't be made in the middle of July. .
It is finding recipes like these that keep me going - knowing that I have years to look forward to in trying new things and having fun with cooking. Manoj may not eat vindaloo, beef or much White People Food, but at least he is open to my experimentations.
Although, I'm still a little resentful about the vindaloo.
Okay, is this a White People vs. Brown People thing? Those of you in Monochromatic Matches, have you encountered this? Are we the only couple in the history of coupledom to have to compromise when it comes to the kitchen?
Filipino Braised Chicken in Coconut Sauce With Spinach
1 1/4 lb chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp salt
12 oz fresh spinach, roughly chopped
6-8 green onions (separate green and white parts, then finely chop)
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp finely chopped celery with leaves
2 tsp ginger powder
2 tsp garlic
2 tbsp finely chopped Italian flat parsley
1 tsp chopped anchovies
1 cup chicken stock
1 can coconut milk (14 oz) (lite or regular will work. I use lite)
1. Rub chicken pieces with the black pepper, cloves, cayenne and 1/4 tsp of the salt. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a saucepan large enough to hold all the chicken. When the pieces are browned, remove them from the pan, leaving the oil behind in the pan.
2. Add the celery, ginger, garlic and the white portion of the chopped green onions to the pan. Cook until fragrant, a minute or so (if it sticks, add a tablespoon of water or two).
3. Stir in 1 tbsp of the parsley, the anchovies. Cook 30 seconds. (Again, if it sticks, just add a bit of water.)
4. Stir in the chicken stock and remaining salt (1/2 tsp); bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half. Slowly stir in coconut milk.
5. Add the chicken pieces and chopped spinach to the saucepan (don't worry if the spinach is overflowing a bit and seems too much for the pan - it will shrink drastically!) Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.
6. Stir in the green portion of the chopped green onions and the remaining 1 tbsp of parsley. Serve with white rice.
Food-prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Notes: Don't skip the anchovies! I realize they are not popular, but they add a bit of sourness to this that is essential to offsetting the richness of the coconut milk. I love anchovies, so I either eat the rest of the tin or freeze the excess in a sandwich baggie for the next batch of this dish. Also, the original recipe calls for 2-4 tsp of finely chopped green chilis in Step 2. I leave this out for now because of our kids - however, I think this would be even more awesome spiced up. Also! I have yet to make this dish perfectly - I always mess up the addition of the green onions and add the wrong part at the wrong time. Guess what? It has always come out delicious anyway. Pretty much, this is fail-proof. One final note: This dish is even BETTER re-heated. This would make an excellent Sunday night dish with leftovers saved for later in the week on a busy night.