The Tale of a Pseudo-Curry

There is a reason why I haven’t been posting as much this week.

I haven’t been cooking– and there’s a reason for that too.

Here’s the story.

The setting is a gloomy Sunday afternoon.  I woke up to a veil of clouds outside my highrise window, so thick that I couldn’t even see the trees outside our apartment. Halfway through the day, we decided to go out and about just so we could feel a little better, because the weather had us both so, just, bleh.  So we got coffees and drove out to a flea market where we wandered around, bought a cookbook about Jewish holiday baking, and interacted with crabby old white ladies who seemed put out that we existed.  Finally, we stopped by the grocery store and bought ingredients for a meal we were both really excited to try– Curry Shrimp, found on page 515 of The Joy of Cooking.

It’s not one of those recipes you can whip up in a couple minutes.  First, we prepared two onions and set them to slowly brown for about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, I finished de-frosting the still half-frozen shrimp, shelled, and de-veined it with very cold fingers, and boiled the shells in some water to make a stock for the curry. We also prepped the list of ingredients which includes bell peppers, ginger, garlic, cilantro, tomatoes (we cheated and used canned), and mild flavorings of cumin, coriander, pepper, turmeric, and… well, it called for fenugreek, which we didn’t have, so I popped in a little bit of fennel. All of this took a good while and a decent amount of effort.  In went the vegetables and stock, to bring to a boil and then allow to cook slowly for a while.

During this time, Julian prepared some broccoli for a side and went to pre-heat a frying pan on another burner.

Somewhere during this time between the onions finishing browning and Julian preparing to start on the broccoli, we made an unbelievably frustrating discovery.

The burners had stopped working.  All of them.

We tested them multiple times, checked the broiler and the oven, flipped the breaker– nothing.

So here we were with a half-cooked sauce, raw shrimp, and cut broccoli, and no heat on our stove.  So we threw everything in the fridge, put in a maintenance request, and ordered Chinese takeout again.  Thankfully, Happy Buddha never disappoints, and munching on orange chicken and egg rolls while watching Hairy Bikers’ Chicken and Egg provided some relief.

Monday rolled around, and rolled out into a warm, sleepless evening.  The oven was still not working, and no maintenance worker had been by to check on it. Yet another meal out.

On Tuesday, we contacted the office for our apartment complex only to find out that the work hadn’t been assigned and nothing was being done about it.  After some persistence, we reached someone who was willing to do something about it, and when we got home from work that evening, we had a new (to us) oven awaiting.

Out came the awaiting curry sauce and the shelled shrimp. It made for a quick dinner, since all we needed to do was heat up the sauce and throw the shrimp in for a couple minutes.

Finally, the long awaited curry!

Unfortunately, we were very disappointed in the recipe.  We were expecting a dish full of flavor and spice, but in fact, the dish is severely under-flavored.  As I learn more about cooking and gain more confidence in my own seasoning skills, I may be able to build on the recipe, but as it is, the flavor was so bland that we didn’t even finish it, and ended up ordering some chicken to top off our meal.

Trying South Asian food recipes– or Asian recipes in general– can be really tricky, and I think it’s because when they are translated to American cookbooks, they become altered for the Western palate. “Here’s a hint of Indian spices, but not too much just in case you’re not into spice.” But what’s the point of having Indian curry if it’s not going to be spicy?

I have high expectations too, having lived with four Indian roommates for two semesters, and daily experiencing the intense smells and tastebud-enlightening dishes my roommates would concoct.  There’s no skimping on flavor when it comes to the real deal.  If I could go back in time, I’d pay more attention and figure out what they did to make their food so delicious and spicy, and replicate it with a new, revolutionized curry shrimp.

 

The curry shrimp is the first recipe I’ve been disappointed in from The Joy of Cooking, and perhaps all the more so because of the long prep-time and the even longer wait to actually taste it.  A year ago, I would have been really hard on myself for the meal not turning out, but as Julian has encouraged me, I’ve come to view these disappointments as just steps in my kitcheneering journey– I experiment with things, I try new recipes, and sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t.  Hopefully, the next one will turn out better.

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What is your ultimate South Asian curry recipe?  If you know any hidden tricks to bring the spice-filled subcontinent straight to your home kitchen, please let me know in the comments below!

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The Hairy Bikers’ Asian Adventure

I saw a post on the internet recently that said, “You can control white people by giving them cheese.”  Another Tumblr user responds, “Cheese is so good tho.” Victini, the original poster, responds, “I got one.”

For me, I think it very likely the way you can control me is by East Asian food. Or East Asian music. Or East Asian languages. Or two free flights to East Asia.  Or all of the above.  If you narrow it to South Korea, all the better for you.

After two semesters in South Korea, a piece of my heart is forever nestled into that corner of the world, and wherever I go, that little piece will always be there waiting for me to come back.  East Asia holds a special place in my heart, so when flipping through Netflix options after having finished The Great British Bakeoff, there was no resisting this tempting show title, despite the fact that I have a personal dislike of excess facial hair.

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It turns out it was an amazing find.  The Hairy Bikers’ Asian Adventure is one of many shows hosted by Dave Myers and Si King, two men from the north of England that remind me a little bit of Merry and Pippin– goofy, down-to-earth guys with a passion for really good food.  And not only that, but they are also amazing chefs who make the creation of mouth-watering top-notch food look as easy as a walk in the park.

In Asian Adventure, Dave and Si (also referred to as Kingy) seek the source of the Asian cuisine that has become so popular in the UK (and in America as well.) Their journey begins in Hong Kong, where they sample street foods and visit a multi-generational family in a tiny high-rise apartment for real, homecooked Chinese food.  The following two episodes feature Thailand– first Bangkok, and then the more rural seaside and mountain regions.  Their adventure takes them to the rice paddies of rural Thailand and to a small village of the Lisu people, where they learn about how rice is cultivated in the sloping mountains, try local dishes, and encounter a giant tarantula.

The final three episodes move further East.  Two episodes feature Japan– first up is Tokyo, where they visit with sumo wrestlers and try their hands at making sushi.  Next, they bike to Mount Fuji where they try homemade noodles, and further south to Kyoto.

Finally, the moment I was on the edge of my seat waiting for: South Korea.  Here they try classic dishes such as bibimbap and Korean barbecue, and go behind-the-scenes with one of my favorite Korean fast foods: Korean fried chicken.  (There is nothing like crispy Korean fried chicken, which can be delivered to you at any time of the day or night, and which I enjoyed many nights sitting on the floor of my dorm room with my roommates, Miso, Suah, and Eunsol.) They also enjoy something straight off my bucket list: making homemade kimchi with a seasoned and experienced ajumma to guide them.  One day, Melanie, one day.
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Needless to say, one of the charms of the show was getting to travel vicariously throughout the six, all-too-short episodes.  It feels like for an hour, you’re on the other side of the world with them, exploring all those countries have to offer and filling up on some of the best cuisine on the planet.  And they bring their experience into reach of stuck-at-home viewers with their amazing recipes. Si and Dave are amazing cooks who, periodically throughout the show, cook up tributes to the people and places they’ve encountered, demonstrating recipes step-by-step in a way that makes me feel like I can really just run over to the Asian market, grab some ingredients, and make something at least almost as good.

It’s also so refreshing what normal, down-to-earth people the hosts are. They are far from queasy, need-everything-to-be-sanitized-and-Westernized tourists. They want to know what daily life is like for the people they meet, and where the food we take for granted comes from.   In all their interactions, there is a charming curiosity and a loving respect and admiration for the people they encounter.

My only complaint was that the show was far too short. I’d love to see a sequel featuring more Asian countries (I would love to explore the world of Vietnamese food some more!) and more rural corners of South Korea (or just make a whole entire series about Korea, I won’t complain!)  But luckily, there is more to the Hairy Bikers.  We’re now embarking on another series on Netflix, where the bikers adventure across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the U.S. to find the perfect chicken and egg recipes.  I’m anticipating some experimental chicken recipes to be featured on this blog soon…

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