Friday, October 29, 2010

Simmered Burdock and Lotus Root

There's nothing like bland comfort food after one has been immensely ill from being badly glutened.

Now don't get me wrong. I love spices and strong flavours. Heck, I live in a country where bold cooking and pungent spices are the norm for meals. But there are times - like today - when all my system wants is something warm and soothing rather than fiery stimulation.

Lo and behold, in a beautiful display of serendipity, Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef posted a wonderfully simple recipe for coconut brown rice. Not only that, I even had all the ingredients necessary except for coconut milk, which I could get by just walking downstairs to the little convenience store in the apartment complex. No argument about it, that was my dinner all set and planned.

I wanted something else to go with the coconut rice though - something that would complement the flavours, not overpower it. Since I had a length of burdock that's been sitting on top of my oven for umpteen weeks (burdock keeps incredibly well, as I know from personal experience), I decided to make simmered burdock and lotus root for an accompanying dish.

I never cease to marvel at how beautiful lotus root is when I slice it up. All those lacy holes like some couture piece of jewellery! Can you wonder that lotus flowers are so beautiful when they have roots like this?

I put the rice on to boil in my rice cooker, and got the vegetables prepared. Just the smell of all the cooking made me smile.

And when everything was done, the flavours of the rice and the vegetables went together so beautifully, they could have been made for each other.

Serendipity. There's nothing quite like it.

Simmered Burdock and Lotus Root

1 length of young lotus root
1 length of burdock (if it’s a large one, even a quarter of a burdock root will do)
1 pack instant dashi powder
1-2 tsp cooking oil
1-2 tsp mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)

Preparing the vegetables:
Wash and scrape the brown skin off the lotus root – you may use either a knife for this, or a vegetable peeler. Slice into thin rounds cross-wise. Set aside.

Prepare a big bowl of water. Wash and scrape the burdock. I’ve found the back of a knife very handy for this, as the skin is thinner than that of the lotus root. Sliver the burdock like you would sharpen a pencil with a pen knife – into thin, long shavings. As you sliver, drop the burdock into the bowl of water. This helps prevent discolouration, as burdock tends to oxidize very fast when exposed to air. Keep the burdock soaked until you are about to use it.

Cooking the dish:
Drain the burdock well in a colander.

In a heavy medium saucepan, heat the cooking oil until drops of water flicked into the pan fizzle and pop sharply. Toss in the burdock and fry it, stirring constantly, for around 2-3 minutes, or until it changes colour and begins looking less opaque. Add in the lotus root and fry for another 1-2 minutes, stirring the entire time. The starch content in the lotus root may cause it to stick to the pot, but don’t worry, the next step will take care of that.

Pour the packet of dashi powder into the saucepan, and add the water. Stir to combine with the vegetables. Eyeball the water a bit; you don’t want to have too much, but you don’t want to have too little either. The water shouldn’t cover the vegetables; maybe about ¾ way up is enough. Add the mirin and stir.

Bring the saucepan to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover the pot. Let the whole thing simmer for about 15-20 minutes to give the burdock time to soften.

When the burdock is soft, turn off heat and serve hot with rice.

You can use any cooking oil – I sometimes use sesame oil when I have it to give added fragrance to the dish. I sometimes also julienne a bit of carrot to add to the dish to give it some colour – if you do use carrot, add it when you put the lotus root in to fry.

For Shauna's rice, I halved the recipe as there's just one of me in the house and in this tropical weather, coconut milk in food spoils quite easily. I didn't have coconut oil so I used sesame oil instead. As an extra bit of flavour, I sliced up one kaffir lime leaf into thin shreds and added it to cook with the rice.

Trying Out Cha Trung

Wandering Chopsticks may be one of the best ever Vietnamese cooks I know in my personal blogosphere. Her site is a delight to read and browse through, and the recipes that I've made from it are wonderful and fuss-free. No losers in the entire lot that I've tried!

One of the ones that I've been meaning to post up for some time already is her Cha Trung, Vietnamese Meatloaf Steamed Egg Omelette. It's become a staple for me when I have ground pork in the freezer, little time for anything more than about half an hour in the kitchen, and a need to eat NOW. Best of all, it is naturally gluten-free so it didn't need ANY tweaking whatsoever.

I can't, and won't, better the explanations she gives on the recipe. You'll just have to go look at it and try it for yourself.

But since I've told her for ages that I have pictures of the process and the finished product, I will put them up here since I finally have an appropriate blog space to do so!

Cha Trung just after being steamed...

Cha Trung unmoulded onto a plate...


Thanks so much for the recipe, WC! I'm definitely going to be making this many more times over the course of the year.

Wednesdays with Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: Pizza Pizza!

This is sort of a repeat/cross-post from my regular blog, since it fits better here. For why I went to Hanoi, that can be found here.

A week before I left for Vietnam, Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef blog mentioned something very exciting - Wednesdays cooking from her new book, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef. If you don't know who Shauna is, she is one of the most inspirational people in the food blogging world that I know of. She's spunky, caring, innovative, and she's been one of the biggest influences in my life as far as being able to survive gluten-free goes.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to get hold of her book yet so I wasn't sure I was going to be able to take part in the Wednesday cooking sessions, and left it at that. However, thanks to Michael Ruhlman's interview with Carol Blymire of 'Alinea at Home' and 'French Laundry at Home' fame, I -was- able to participate in this week's Wednesday - baking pizza!

This is -me- of course, so I -had- to run into problems first reading of the recipe. Corn flour. in Malaysia, that's what I call corn starch. But corn starch had already been mentioned in the recipe so I was pretty sure that wasn't what was being asked for. A bit of slightly confusing research drew up an article that mentioned Southern cooking and the silky smooth flour made from finely-ground corn meal. Ahhhhhhhhhhh. That helped.

Except I didn't have any of that, and the nearest thing to hand was maize meal, rather coarse-ground. To heck with it, I thought about it for a moment, then grabbed the maize meal, weighed it out on the rickety contraption that -calls- itself a manual kitchen scale but in reality should be more 'Cook's Domestic Torment', and went right ahead with the recipe.

By golly, it worked.

I am not the world's best photographer so the first shot I got of the pizza coming out of the oven is cringe-worthy (and I forgot I had a camera tripod). But I was far, far too excited to even think about proper photography at the time - I had PIZZA. Glorious, safe, pizza!

(Rolling dough into a circle, however - that's another story. The adage that anyone who can draw a freehand circle will make a good artist? LIES. -MY- circle looked like someone patched together a 2-year old's sense of geometry and mangled it with a Picasso perspective. Thankfully, that's got no bearing on the taste of it or I'd be in trouble by now.)

This morning, I got some better pictures of the project that hopefully do the recipe a bit more justice.

1) I mixed up the entire batch of flour and realised that my small oven wouldn't contain a 10" crust, let alone anything bigger. So I halved it. I didn't need to do a thing to the recipe otherwise, apart from adding just a little more water to bind the dough properly when it was getting mixed together - and that likely because my measurement for the oil was a little off.

2) The dough was a bit wet and sticky to handle for rolling. When putting it between two sheets of parchment paper didn't work, I removed the top sheet of parchment paper and substituted it with plastic wrap instead. Once rolled out, I took the entire thing, parchment paper and all, and put it on my baking sheet as I don't have a pizza stone. I was afraid that not sprinkling the bottom with corn meal might make the whole thing stick, but as it turned out, I needn't have worried. The crust came off the parchment paper beautifully. I also will try rolling the dough out thinner and using a different flour to see if that makes any difference to overall texture; I might need to bake the crust for a bit longer to get it browner and crisper.

Taste-wise? FANTASTIC. I topped this crust with tomato puree, spinach, black pepper smoked pork strips, green apples and parmesan. The one remaining crust in the fridge is going to get eaten soon; perhaps I'll try roasted eggplant, home-made tomato sauce and bacon. Either way, I would make this again in a heartbeat. Thank you so much Shauna, for this beautiful recipe!

An Introduction (or, So Why The Extra Blog...)

So I really must have extra time on my hands or I wouldn't be putting up yet another blog to maintain along with my main one The Great Unknown and the one for Dawn Studio Creations, right?

Well. No, not really. To explain it fully, let me digress a little.

I was diagnosed with gluten-intolerance a little over ten years ago when I was still a student in America. When I returned to Malaysia, living gluten-free was such a nightmare I gave up on it for some years since my system could still tolerate small amounts of gluten and not go haywire.

Then I got very, very sick. It was either go back to gluten-free again or be sick my entire life, so I kicked myself into shape and started the long slow process of healing my system.

I could still tolerate small amounts of gluten when I finally healed up, or so I thought.

And then I got badly, badly glutened just after recovering from very bad food poisoning in Vietnam. Every single stomach problem I'd encountered in my readings on celiacs and gluten-poisoning happened to me in one night, just because I'd been accidentally glutened from eating out the night before.

It made me think about celiacs and other gluten-intolerant folks living in Malaysia, and how difficult it could be to find safe food that wouldn't make them ill. I'd spent the last four years of my life hunting for places that sold gluten-free goods but it wasn't easy.

So that's why I started this blog - as a resource for people with dietary allergies like mine or worse.

Hopefully, it will make a difference and a whole lot less hassle for someone else who needs the information badly.