Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ode to A Green Monster

I love Oscar the Grouch. Always have. Even as a young child, I found him so much more compelling than, say, Big Bird, whose naivete bothered me even as a three year old. Big Bird was, and is, a big yellow idiot. Grover wasn't so bad, mostly because he seemed to understand that he was doomed to screw things up constantly. I appreciated his self awareness in spite of his incompetence. And I liked Mr. Snuffleupagus, because he also seemed to realize that Big Bird was a moron. (Were we the only two? I suspect so.) But Oscar, oh Oscar. You had me at SCRAM! You're witty and charming, and your pet is a worm named Slimy. Slimy is, I am convinced, one of the most underrated characters on Sesame Street. Not least because he was clearly not slimy; he was obviously made of something like felt. Oscar, you slay me.

If Oscar the Grouch cooked Indian food, his favorite dish would be one of the things I cooked tonight: Broccoli with Indian Spices and Asafetida.

No, not because it tastes like trash. Because the colors and textures and the smell of one key ingredient make me think that Oscar would really be into this. Actually, it's more than that. If Oscar himself were a food, he would be this. It actually looks a bit like him.

I was a smidge worried this dish would taste like trash as I was subbing sometimes smelly broccoli for the much milder, sweeter cauliflower called for in the original recipe. But with a fridge full of produce and a looming vacation, I had to deal with what was on hand. There will be no trips to Whole Foods this week. So broccoli it was.

The asafetida was originally what had me thinking about Oscar the Grouch. The fragrance of this stuff is really hard to characterize. I wouldn't say it smells good. You do not want to get a big noseful of this stuff. It's no garam masala. Evidently James Beard once likened the scent of asafetida to fresh truffles. I personally feel it smells like Funyuns. I hate Funyuns.

One thing that's not in question about asafetida is that it smells. A lot. This is what has earned it such fantastic monikers as "devil's dung" and "stinking gum." The container my ground asafetida came in was clearly not airtight, so after a trip to the Container Store to, well, contain the smell, I felt ready to start cooking. Here's the recipe I used, adapted from Madhur Jaffrey.

Broccoli with Indian Spices and Asafetida

1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
generous pinch of ground asafetida
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium-small onion, peeled and cut into very thin rings
1 serrano pepper, stemmed and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Put the oil in a large frying pan (I used my saute pan) and heat over medium-high. When shimmering, add the asafetida, then a second later, add the cumin seeds. Stir for 10 seconds or so and then add the onion. Saute until beginning to brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add the broccoli and green chili, then turn the heat down to medium, tossing and stirring. Add the ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and salt, and continue to toss and stir until evenly distributed, about a minute. Add the water and lemon juice and bring to a simmer. Then cover, turn the heat to low, and cook for about 5 minutes until the broccoli is just tender but not overcooked.

In the end, it looks like this:

And on the plate, it looks like this:

It's pretty good. Saucy, savory, with a delicate spiciness. I'd make it again. Oscar would definitely approve. I am sure he'd give it two thumbs down.

However, broccoli does not a dinner make, so I've got another recipe to share with you. This one courtesy of the farm box, which has provided me with more mangoes. I am slowly coming around to the idea of mangoes. I am not sure where or when but at some point earlier in life I decided I didn't like them. To be honest, I think I got them confused with papaya. Ripe papaya smells to me like the worst dirty baby diapers. Gag. Somehow, I think I lumped the mango into this unfortunate tropical fruit club.

I'm so sorry, mango. I had you all wrong. Can you ever forgive me?

The mangoes in the fruit basket on my counter have started exuding the most intoxicating scent the past few days. Which means I really need to use them. I found this fantastic recipe on Epicurious and co-opted the rice portion. I should preface this by saying I cooked this in my rice cooker. I love my rice cooker. I am terrible at making rice on the stove and my little Sanyo is a godsend.

This is not an attractive recipe. It's not supposed to be the star of the meal. That's ok. It's still tasty. It would really be very delicious with the yogurt marinated chicken suggested in the Epi recipe (but again, I had no chicken at home and I am not allowed to buy groceries this week. T minus 3 days to vacation, people!

Kate's Herbed Rice with Mango
adapted from Epicurious

1 mango, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 handful fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup brown jasmine rice

Prepare the mango and set aside in a medium bowl. Combine the parsley, cilantro, garlic cloves, cumin, salt, and cayenne pepper in a food processor and puree. Scrape down the sides, add the olive oil, and process until combined. Add the rice to the rice cooker along with the specified amount of water in the rice cooker instructions. Stir in the herb mixture. Cook until done. (Alternatively, if you do this on the stove, you can cook the rice with 1.5 cups of water and the herb mixture for about 45 minutes. But you should check that time - as previously cautioned, I am no good at making rice on the stove.)

Once the rice is cooked, combine it with the mango and toss to distribute the mango and rice evenly amongst each other. The end result is slightly spicy and slightly sweet. Really delicious.

Again, not much to look at, but really very tasty.

With a belly full of stinky broccoli and sweet mango, clean sheets on my bed, and a new book on my night table, I think it's time to bid adieu to the weekend. Good night! (Or, channeling Oscar: Have a rotten night! Now go away!)


merp said...

I never could understand how you didn't like mango. It's all making so much sense now.

Kathleen said...

How could I have forgotten Slimy? I always love the silent characters (Maggie Simpson, R2-D2). As for Mango, you should try Martha's Mango Chicken Salad with toasted coconut. Mmmmm. And I throw together a Mango Guacamole sometimes, replacing tomato with Mango and using red onion. Now I'm hungry.