Dr Sister Outlaw: the food averse child is taking da heat

This summer I am having the biggest adventure ever and going to Asia for the very first time. It’s my 40th birthday present to myself, and although I initially planned the trip as a running away affair, I eventually decided to take the little one with me. Only problem is, he doesn’t like chilli.

I can understand that. I wasn’t raised to eat chilli, being Tasmanian as well as growing up in the house of a 10 pound pom with serious issues with flavour. It wasn’t really a feature of cooking in the student houses I’d lived in and I remember arriving in Sydney and perusing Thai and Sichuan Chinese restaurant menus in desperation, because everything seemed to have more chilli in it than I could bear.

My awakening was a Thai beef salad that hurt so much to eat it made my face burn purple and caused fat oily tears to roll down my cheeks but, once the 90 seconds of agony passed the flavour was so exquisite that you were prepared to do it all again. I never looked back, although I remain bemused by friends, particularly blokes, who seem to have permanently destroyed their tastebuds by overdosing on chilli. Nor would I ever eat an entire dorset naga. This Aussie bloke reckons it destroyed his sense of taste for 36 hours. Why would you do that?

The other extreme is, of course no chilli at all, and it has been hard living with a boy who is determined to avoid spice. He did make a concerted effort when he was five (announcing ‘I’m going to change my life’). Like most New Year’s resolutions, it didn’t last. But now we have to get into serious training, otherwise he’ll be stuck with Chinese food in Thailand, and what a shame that would be.

Fortunately he is prepared to take on the chilli challenge. Last week I bought a green chilli, and chopped the end off it for him. He ate it, apprehensively, but survived and was prepared to go one step further. My fingers were laden with the juice from the seeds so I placed one finger lightly on his tongue, and watched while he went ‘phwoar!’ and realised, for the first time, that chilli is joyous, as well as painful. Now he sees chillis in the supermarket and wonders …

We’re so excited about the trip, and I know that nothing we make here will ever taste as good as it does over there. I also know we can’t really prepare for the blasts of chilli to come and there will be tears – mine as well as his. But we’ve enjoyed upping the chilli ante and there have been some cool experiments, including chilli chocolate. One of those experiments, which I was inspired to make following a discussion on this blog about caramelising onions, was this nice quick chilli sambal. It involves my favourite chilli sauce, sambal oelek, which I love for its saltiness, particularly when blended with things like tempeh and Vietnamese mint.

Quick chilli onion sambal
Take two onions and slice them very thinly. Warm a tablespoon of sesame or peanut oil in a heavy saucepan. Add the onions and cook, covered, on a slow-moderate heat for at least 10 minutes until they go transparent and are beginning to brown. Take the lid off the pot, step up the heat a bit and add a tablespoon of brown sugar (or palm sugar) and a tablespoon of sambal oelek. Sit with it and cook it off until it’s a nice rich sticky, orangey brown, gloopy mess (don’t let it catch and burn). You end up with this;

onionjam

The sugar and salt counter each other perfectly. It makes a terrific sauce for fish, or alongside spuds – it would be very good with tofu or tempeh. I also ate it with Francis Xavier Holden’s beef curry and it was fine. Obviously, if you want it properly hot, doubling the sambal oelek doubles the heat, and the onion can take it. Not sure the seven year old can …

Stuff White People Ate

I thought we’d done well last weekend when our friend Andrew (Achilles to his mum) came around bearing an extremely impressive pastitsio.

However I think we may have just had a world record breaking weekend of eating Stuff White People Like.

First there was a cup of fair trade Ethiopian coffee (#1) and shopping at the non profit (#12) ANU Food Co-op (#48) for organic tempeh and the like (#6), followed by a trip to Choku Bai Jo (even whiter than the Farmers Market, #5). Then it was lunch at my sister’s house, a very glamourous version of surf’n'turf, fat slabs of steak from the organic butcher at Belconnen Markets, a coleslaw with homemade lime and chilli mayonnaise and a salad of prawns, avocado and kipflers:

… followed by hollowed out strawberries filled with a Campari jelly and topped with mint and lemon zest – white person heaven. The recipe is from Moveable Feast, but minus the wasabi because they’d forgotten. If only I’d known I could have bought the fresh horseradish root in the veggie crisper.

But that was just the beginning.  The peak of our weekend’s White Person experience isn’t on the Stuff White People Like site, but I heard founder Christian Lander on Radio National (#44) one day saying about the best thing you could do for a white person was cook them something from your culture and tell them it wasn’t available in restaurants or anywhere else.

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Francis Xavier Holden presents: Red Meat Curry

Even though it’s spring time and the salads are getting a flogging and the BBQ is all cleaned up ready to rock and roll the nights are still cool enough to allow for the odd curry or soup or other winterish type dish – before we pack away the casserole pot for another 6 months.

It was 16 degrees this arvo when I decided “Bugger it – I’ll do my Red Meat Curry”. So off to Box Hill market I went. The kilo of rump already chopped was $9.90. It was chopped a bit smallish for me – I like bigger chunks in this dish but it would save me the slicing when I got home. I bought it from the Italian guys down the end as I don’t reckon the Asian butchers have got the beef under control. Worse with the lamb – I reckon the Asian guys don’t know anything about lamb and I suspect they don’t even like it. When it comes to pork and especially belly pork I head straight to the Asian guys. But tonight it’s Red Meat Curry. I have tried lamb as a substitute for this dish and it works ok. But beef is better.

Setup: Usually I would put Dr John Naw’lins on the speakers up loud while I’m cooking but tonight it was PM on Radio National.

Four medium brown onions roughly chopped.
Melt them down in a big pan on top of stove – a bit of brown don’t hurt just don’t burn them. When they are melted down a fair bit throw in about four good cloves of chopped garlic and a whole lot of chopped ginger. Continue to melt down for a while.

Have ready on a plate the spices:
2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons of turmeric
1 teaspoon of chilli powder
12 curry leaves
1 teaspoon of ground black pepper

Throw all these spices in the large saucepan on medium high heat and stir to brown off onions and melt them and toast up the spices and mix them.

When ready shovel out onto a plate and wait.

Slop more oil in the saucepan. I use Rice Bran Oil . Until exactly 5 minutes ago I thought it was healthier than Peanut Oil – now I’m not so sure. Get the oil hot – drop in half the red meat – not too much or it will stew. We are seeking to brown it here. Brown it. Then tip that half out on plate and brown other half.

Meanwhile you will have been warming the casserole bowl in the oven at around 220 degrees.

Throw meat and onions and spices into casserole and place in warm oven.

Get a large tin of Coles brand diced Italian tomatoes and open it up. Pour it into the saucepan used to brown the meat and smoke the spices. Deglaze the bowl and heat tomatoes. Grab about half a beef stock packet – I usually have half ones frozen in the freezer – and plonk it in the mélange. It’s not strictly Gunga Din but I like to splash a bit of salt in at this point. Depending on your tendencies you might like to chuck in a dollop or two of tomato paste – I don’t.

Slop a small amount of water in. Then pour it into the casserole dish what has the meat in it. Then whack it in the oven somewhere above 220C for two hours. Give it a stir every now and again.

I hardly need to tell you that this is best cooked slow and then left overnight before eating. That will make it taste mature and well integrated. But if your ungrateful unwashed unfed are like mine hanging around the kitchen saying “When’s it ready” then, like me, you will roll your eyes heavenward and sigh and you’ll serve it up on the night it’s cooked too.

OK. It goes with basmati rice. Plonk a measure for each person in the rice cooker and 1.5 of water for each measure. Sometimes I put frozen peas or sultanas in the rice mix prior to cooking. Squeeze a lemon into the rice cooker.

Ok it’s ready. Rice on plates with meat curry alongside it – not slopped on top please, some Patak’s Lime Chilli Pickle on each plate, a big drop of ordinary mild chutney on each plate as well and a big dollop of fresh Greek yoghurt. Or you can plonk it all on the table in separate serving bowls and yell out “It’s ready”.

All that’s needed is a fork and mouth.


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