A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reconnected, and it feels so good

Welcome back, readers!  I am thrilled to report that Verizon has finally resolved our landline/internet issues, and we are back in connection with the virtual world.  The restoration of our service surprised us by occurring a full day before the date Verizon had predicted, and has thus caught me unprepared for blogging.   It's not just that I have not been taking pictures of my meal preparations; I haven't really been preparing all that many meals.

How sad is that, when it doesn't seem worth the effort to cook when I can't blog about the food?  We actually have been eating reasonably well, what with all the leftovers I had stored in the freezer.  Including a batch of the oniony kidney beans I promised never to write about again.  But, given the dearth of new foods to describe, wouldn't you be happy to hear about how I served the last portion of these beans in a casserole cooked in my convection oven?  I mean, as opposed to not hearing about anything at all?

I thought you would: I covered the bottom of my square pyrex baking dish with the leftover beans with their accompanying chunks of sweet potato, crumbled a big piece of cornbread over the top, then grated lots of cheddar cheese over the whole thing and baked it for 30 minutes at 300 degrees F.  The cheese and crumbs got delightfully crispy during the baking, and the sweet-saltiness of this topping helped to counteract the powerful onion taste, which really did not seem like such a big deal after eating these beans for the 37th time.  I'm practically craving acrid onion taste at this point.

I also want to share with you the best crockpot experience I have had so far.  Yesterday I cooked up a big pot of congee, which also goes by the name of kidgeree.  It's basically a very simple porridge containing rice and beans cooked with vast amounts of liquid into a soupy consistency.  Some version of this is eaten in many Asian countries — I imagine it's more of a peasant food than fine cuisine, but it's exquisite in its simplicity and its nourishing properties.   Congee is like a canvas that you can paint with small amounts of more highly flavored foods like spicy pickles or other condiments to give it a kick.  You have to try this in your slow cooker; it's the perfect food for this method of preparation.

I've adapted a khichri recipe (the word is spelled all sorts of ways) from Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking.  It was so easy that I did most of the work while my morning pot of tea brewed.  The remaining steps took a few additional minutes later in the day.  I love this kind of recipe, which allows me to feed my family well in the small amounts of available time throughout my workday.

Please pardon these under-illustrated instructions, but I didn't take any pictures while I cooked because I wasn't expecting 1) that this dish would be blog-worthy or 2) that I would have the internet access needed for blogging.

First, I washed and drained a half cup of short-grained white rice and a third of a cup of mung beans (moong dal) and dumped them into the slow cooker.

Moong dal and plain white rice.  You can use any type of dal and rice you have on hand.  If you choose an aromatic variety of rice such as jasmine or basmati, you will have to ensure that its more assertive flavor combines well with your chosen accompaniments.
I added to the pot 3 coin-sized slices of fresh ginger root, which I did not bother to peel.  Then I poured in 7 cups of liquid.  Madhur Jaffrey calls for plain water, but, to enrich the taste and nutritive value, I used a 50/50 mixture of water and a stock I'd made over the weekend out of some lamb neck bones and veggies including a lot of greens stems.  I also added about a half teaspoon of salt.  The stock was lightly salted; you might want to add more salt if you're using plain water.

I stirred the pot and turned the slow cooker on to the low setting.  That's it!  After 8 hours of so, the ingredients had cooked up into a porridge.  I removed the ginger slices and added a bit more salt and some fresh ground pepper.  Then it was time for a chhaunk — a very simple one of only ghee and cumin seeds.
Ghee is a sort of ultra-clarified butter used in Indian cuisine.  It's solid at room temperature and has a wonderful rich buttery taste with nutty overtones (just like me).  Ghee adds a special sense of lavishness and festivity to foods.  And probably about a million calories.
For the chhaunk, I heated up 3 tablespoons of ghee in my small cast-iron frying pan.  When it was hot, I tossed in a half-teaspoon of cumin seeds and let them brown for a few seconds before dumping the oil & seeds into the kitcheree (see, you can spell it however you like).  I immediately put the lid back on the crockpot, waited a minute for the flavors to permeate the pohrriddge (oh dear, not every word is as amenable to ad libitum spelling, it seems), and then removed the lid once again to stir the contents.  At this point, I turned the crockpot to the "keep warm" setting until dinnertime.

We served the k-k-k-kittc̽heriiiii̊ (now I'm just being silly) with 2 different spicy Indian pickles and some delicious artisanal (= costly) ale going by the name of Sophie.  I'm not kidding.  She had sisters next to her on the shelf at Whole Foods — I forget their names, something like Wilhelmina and Darlene.  Silly, and overpriced at $8 - $15 per bottle depending on which sister you choose, but delicious.  Apple-y and bracing.

The khichri was so easy, so good-tasting, and so healthy-feeling in the belly that I plan to make it a lot more.  I will experiment with variations, using different liquids, different dals, different rices, different spices.

P.S. My morning fruitbowl today had a decidedly tropical feel to it, with banana, mango, clementine, and cacao nibs in the mix.  Even my breakfast seems to be evincing the upcoming change of seasons.

Before adding a generous dollop of plain yogurt.
It's nice to be back.


  1. Yay Verizon! Yay silly! Yay your rich buttery and nutty self!

  2. Michael, we missed you. I have no idea what most of the foods you just described were, except for basmati rice-yum! And I'm not so sure how your porridge would go over with my crowd. But you do make me want to expand my food horizons! Mom says 'hi'.

  3. I've had congee in Singapore and Malaysia. It's like chili in that every cook has THE authentic recipe, and all of those recipes are different.
    After my second bowl I was hooked. It's eaten for breakfast in Asian homes

  4. Good to have you back!

    I'm impressed with the way you've been able to dress up those beans in so many different ways.

    Believe it or not, during all the time I spent in China, I never ate congee (called zhou there). I guess the idea of rice gruel never appealed to me, though you make it sound more appealing with your yummy sounding seasonings. Plus I was probably too busy eating jian bing for breakfast. :)

    Now, your fruitbowl is definitely the best looking part of today's post to me!

  5. I love the word "gruel." It's such an unappealing-sounding description of something that is actually quite yummy. When I want to keep all the congee to myself, I'll offer it around as gruel, so nobody will take me up on the offer!

    Also love the overtones of Oliver Twist. Not to mention Goldilocks, but I guess that was porridge.

  6. Typo alert: It's not just that I not been taking pictures of my meal preparations; I haven't really been preparing all that many meals.

  7. Thanks, Drew. I've made the correction and it's perfict now.


  8. So glad to have you back. My life is complete once again. Well, it would be if we had a beardlette update. But, whatever.

  9. Perhaps my posts over the next day or so will truly complete your life.

  10. Welcome back online Michael. I look forward to your cooking adventures.

  11. I hope my thoughtless use of the word "gruel" didn't come off as offensive.

    In any case, your reply did bring a smile to my face. :)

  12. No offense taken, Melissa! In fact, we have been calling it "gruel" ourselves all week.

    "Gruel" ain't cruel; it's cool.

  13. It's my understanding that congee is more south east asian and khichri is more Indian (and has lentils added to the rice), but I may be wrong. But I do know that the English kedgeree is an anglicised dish that comes from the Indian khichri concept. And though it is really nothing like, it's delicious in its own right. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kedgeree

    Not only that, but congee/khichri is great when you're not feeling very well. I was in a very bad way with a nasty flu in Rajasthan, and the lovely hotel staff took pity on me. One night they made khichri specially for me, and not only was it the first thing I'd been able to stomach in a week (the normal, local food they had been serving was way too rich), but it was also only from that moment that I began to get better.

  14. Thanks for filling us in on these distinctions, Kapinny. We'll all be reaching for the gruel the next time we get sick....