New Worlds of Flavor Learned from You
All we ardent food lovers can fall into the “rut” of reading our fellow bloggers’ recipes and thinking, “That sounds like this or that other recipe I’ve tried” and perhaps not venture to actually sample what has been offered. I know I do that, too. But sometimes someone’s description or method or humor captures our attention. We try the recipe. We’re surprised. And delighted. We’ve learned something new. A nuance has been added, a revelation is internalized.
The first time I saw coconut vinegar on the shelves at the Philippine supermarket here, I considered getting a bottle but we already had 10 different vinegars in the pantry so I actually passed it over. For three years. Then I saw what Marvin over at Burnt Lumpia made with coconut vinegar. He took the ubiquitous beer-can chicken and made it his own with his Chicken Inasal marinade and basting oil. We had never heard of — much less tasted — the regular chicken inasal, a marinade of coconut vinegar, calamansi juice, brown sugar, lemongrass, garlic, and ginger popular in the Philippines. And so the coconut vinegar finally made it’s way into the shopping cart.
Marv’s chicken inasal marinade creates an incredible melange of flavors, especially when the whole thing is basted with achiote (aka achuete or annatto) oil! The coconut vinegar is mildly acidic — on par with rice wine or balsamic vinegars — but it gives the chicken a definite tang that you know right away is not plain vinegar. I don’t know if you could substitute a different vinegar and get the same sweetness and bite, so for this recipe, coconut vinegar will be a pantry staple too.
We used Marv’s marinade with chicken parts, rather than a whole chicken as he did in the grilled beer-can chicken fashion. We’ve used this recipe 3 times already; the last time we made it, the chicken was broiled in the toaster oven (photo) rather than grilled. Still tasted great with sticky rice and Evil Jungle Prince style veggies! For his recipe and photos of beer-can chicken (for the uninitiated), check it out here.
Having fallen in love with the smoky, resinous flavor of dried methi, or fenugreek, leaves when we tried Fingerling Potatoes with Fenugreek at Easter, I’ve had my radar up for other recipes with methi leaves. Mansi at Food and Fun shared a recipe for her pakodas with fresh methi leaves. I asked her if I could use the dried leaves, since our grocer was often out of fresh, but she recommended frozen leaves instead. Never knew it was an option — but sure enough, they were there.
Pakodas (sometimes also spelled pakoras) are the Indian equivalent of Japanese tempura, but made with a highly seasoned batter made of chickpea flour, or besan. It’s one of our favorite first courses when we’re lucky enough to be in an Indian restaurant. Usually, vegetables such as cauliflower, mushrooms, carrots, or an assortment are dipped in batter and fried. This version produces a more dumpling-like pakoda, as tablespoonsful of brilliantly-speckled batter are fried until golden brown.
The “fresh” methi leaves really do taste different than when they’re dried — the pakodas had a fresh, almost minty flavor. We couldn’t quite place what the flavor reminded us of, until we were into our second fritter — it was eucalyptus! There’s a suggestion of fresh eucalyptus leaves in the aroma. Served with a tamarind chutney, it makes a great appetizer. Or part of a appetizer grazing meal, paired with the next recipe — which is what we did. Get Mansi’s recipe and instructions here.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking these are mere meatballs because they’re anything but. A more fitting tem would be “meat pillows” because that’s exactly what came to mind when I first bit into these hot little cuties. It was Lulu’s, at Mama’s Taverna, description of Keftedes that was so intriguing:
“These weren’t meatballs so much as they were fluffy meat clouds with a crispy crust that released a minty oregano-scented steam when pierced. You may think this hyperbole; if so, just try them.”
Mint? Steam? Crust? In a meatball? Yes — seriously, this is not like any meatball we’d ever met.
Lulu shares her Greek mentor’s recipe for these highly unusual treats with precise instructions juxtaposed with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek. The recipe calls for almost equal amounts (by weight) of ground meat and a combination of soaked bread, onions, ouzo (or wine, we used wine) and eggs; and also includes parsley, oregano and mint. I have to admit that I was sorely tempted to mess with this recipe, especially when I saw the proportion of meat to “other stuff” and how wet the mixture was once it was combined. I don’t care for doughy, mushy meatballs or meatballs that are more filler than meat — you know the ones: leaden and blah. I was afraid these were going to be like that.
Lucky for us, before I came across the Keftedes recipe I had read Lulu’s About page wherein she recounts her first experiences with Mama’s (friend Zoe’s mother) recipes and how she battled her own inclination to mess with Mama’s recipes. She describes Mama’s passion for keeping true to her recipes and that is something I respect so I, too, followed the recipe to a “T” — and boy, am I glad I did.
We’ve had these at 2 different times now, and I still marvel at how they are both meaty AND crisp and light at the same time. There is nothing doughy or heavy about these keftedes. Still not sure what black magic happens once these simple ingredients are combined in just the manner Lulu describes, but hey, I’m not gonna tinker with it.
This is an incredibly frugal recipe, too — with just 1 pound of ground meat we got about 36-38 medium-sized Keftedes (I kind of lost track the second time b/c we were pretty much eating them as they came out of the oil). Lulu provides a Keftedes size-graphic with the recipe so you’ll see what I mean by “medium.”
Actually we’ve only made one batch of the meat mixture, and froze half of it to use at a later time. Last week when we tried the pakodas recipe above, we thawed the remaining keftedes mixture, shaped & floured them, and fried them after the pakodas were done. The keftedes made from the frozen mixture tasted as fresh, meaty and light as the original batch so if you’re cooking for one or two, freezing the uncooked meat mixture works well. Unlike other meatball recipes where we would cook up the whole batch at the beginning, this recipe is at its crispy best when eaten hot and fresh. Find Lulu’s post on this recipe here.
So our thanks to Marv, Mansi and Lulu for taking us along with them on a culinary globe trot. It was a great ride!