Showing posts with label Asian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Asian. Show all posts

Apr 16, 2018

Tips & Tools: How to Make Perfect Fluffy Rice

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We eat rice every day, twice a day. Before I moved to South Asia I had rarely cooked rice. I had never even used a rice cooker! Googling the subject of cooking rice only revealed numerous methods with less than perfect results. So I emailed my Chinese-American university pal Eileen as to how to properly cook rice. I quickly learned that western methods of cooking rice were overly complicated and prone to failure.

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The first thing my friend recommended was to buy a rice cooker. Well, we had a rice cooker but it had no instructions and we rarely had electricity to even run the thing back then. Now that we have 20 hours of electricity a day I can concur that a rice cooker is one of the most cost-effective gadgets ever. If you cook rice on a regular basis you definitely need a rice cooker. It is the easiest and most time-saving appliance ever, just set it and forget it!

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This is the kind of rice we eat every day!

The technique my friend Eileen taught me to cook rice is the absorption method. This is the most common way to cook rice in Asia. Rather than drowning the rice in water and hoping for the best, one adds only as much as the rice needs to cook, and waits for it to absorb while cooking. -It is the simplest way to cook rice and I have found it gives the most reliable results. The method you use to cook rice also depends on the variety of rice you are using. Indians tend to use long-grain rice and use techniques to create separate grains that remain perfectly intact. The Chinese use starchier medium-grain varieties so that the rice sticks together, making it easier to pick up with chopsticks. I have cooked both a local short-grain pearl rice and long-grain Basmati rice with this absorption method with excellent results for the past 10 years!
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1/2 cup uncooked rice = 1&1/2 cups cooked rice

First, you'll want to determine how many servings of rice you wish to make. I usually estimate one and a half cups of cooked rice per adult for my Indian family then add an extra half cup just in case. Rice triples in volume when cooked so that's one-half cup per person of uncooked rice.
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ONE PART RICE TO TWO PARTS WATER
The second and most crucial part of this technique is the ratio of rice to water. All sorts of variables come into play here: the type of rice being cooked, the age of the rice, humidity levels, how well the lid fits on the pot you use, the temperature of the burner being used, altitude, what phase the moon is in (kidding) - the list goes on. Because of all these variables, this is the step that may require some trial and error. The best place to look for the proper ratio the rice is to be cooked at is the directions on the package the rice came in. (Amazingly enough, the instructions on the back of rice packages are usually correct.) If that is unavailable I usually estimate one part rice to two parts water. Sometimes we buy local rice that comes in a plain burlap sack from a village and sometimes we buy rice from the supermarket that's labeled. If the rice is really fresh (as in recently harvested) it may need a little less water to cook. Rice harvested more than a year previous generally requires more water than recently harvested rice due to decreased moisture content. Cooking rice is game of ratios, so be sure to measure carefully unless you want a bowl full of disappointment.

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This is how rice gets cleaned so there's bound to be twigs, pebbles, or bugs in it!
Third, unless you are using rice that is fortified or enriched you will have to wash it. Rinsing traditionally polished rice alters its texture when cooked. Rinsing removes the thin layer of starch from the surface of each grain and keeps the rice from sticking together thus ensuring perfectly separate grains. Long-grain rice, like Basmati, is always rinsed for this reason. This doesn't have to be an extremely thorough sort of a cleanse. I usually rinse the rice twice over the sink by submerging it in water, swirling the rice with my fingers, then pouring off the cloudy water. Submersion allows any debris like twigs, bran, or insects to float out of the rice also. I have seen recommendations on the internet to rinse rice until the drainage water runs clear- this will never happen no matter how many times you rinse the rice I assure you.
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2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline: the aromatic compound that gives bread, jasmine rice, basmati rice, pandan, popcorn, & bread flowers their characteristic scent
Fourth, you need to decide if you wish to soak the rice or not. Soaking the rice speeds up cooking which affects the flavor of the rice. By letting the rice soak for 15 to 30 minutes, you can decrease the cooking time of most rice varieties by about 20 percent.  2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline is the flavor compound in aromatic rice varieties that is responsible for their characteristic popcorn-like aroma.  2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline dissipates while cooking. The longer the rice is exposed to heat, the less of an aromatic flavor it will have. By soaking the rice and shortening the cooking time, you will get more flavorful results. Some people rinse again after soaking the rice, I do not find it necessary.

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Fifth, add a little oil, ghee, or butter to the rice and water before cooking. This is optional but it will add flavor to the rice, help keep the grains separate, and prevent dryness if the rice is left standing for more than an hour after cooking. Restaurants usually do this to keep cooked rice tasting fresher and tender longer. I usually only add a little butter or ghee for special occasions such as if we are having dinner guests. Most Indians and Nepalis do not add salt to their rice when cooking so I don't add it either.

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Sixth, cook the rice over medium heat and with the lid on. If the temperature is too high you run the risk of scorching the rice at the bottom of the pot or unevenly cooked grains. If the temperature is too low you'll get a gloopy mess of undercooked rice. Put the lid on and keep it on throughout the cooking process. I recommend only lifting the lid to check the rice after 15 minutes. Do not stir the rice while it is cooking as you risk breaking the grains, releasing more starch, and a mushy mess. You can tell that the rice is completely cooked when all the water has boiled away, there are "fish eyes" or holes in the rice, and you can hear a crackling noise rather than a bubbling noise signifying that the water has completely boiled away.

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The last and most important step: let it rest! Resting is an unskippable step. When the rice has finished cooking remove the pot from the burner and let it sit with the lid still on. Allow the rice to rest for at least 10 minutes after it's done cooking to achieve optimum texture. This rule goes for all types of rice. Keep the rice covered until you’re ready to eat. Just before serving fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle. As the Indian proverb goes, grains of rice should be like brothers – close, but not stuck together.
 
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Perfection!
So there you have it: ratio, rinse, soak, flavor, cook, rest, and fluff! Follow these easy steps and you'll get perfect, fluffy, rice every time. This is it - the foolproof recipe to cook rice on the stovetop:

Ingredients:
1&1/2 C long-grain white rice
3 C water
1 tsp cooking oil, butter, or ghee (optional)

Here's what to do:
1) Measure out 1&1/2 cups rice and place into a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cooked rice expands to three times its original size so be sure to choose an adequately sized pot. 
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2) Over the sink add room-temperature water to the rice until it is covered by about an inch. Use your fingers to swirl the rice and water around the pan. Drain the cloudy water off of the rice through your hand. Discard any debris that floats to the surface. Repeat this process one to two more times. 

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3) Add 3 cups water to the rinsed rice and a teaspoonful of oil, butter, or ghee if using. For fluffier rice, the rice should be soaked for at least 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes prior to cooking.

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4) Cover and place the pot on a burner set on medium heat. Allow rice to cook for 15 to 20* minutes or until water has evaporated and the rice is tender. I usually check on the rice after 15 minutesYou may raise the lid occasionally to see if the water is boiling, see if the water has evaporated, or to listen for a crackling noise signifying that the last of the water has boiled away. Do not stir the rice while it is cooking.

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The little holes you see in the rice are called 'fisheyes' and signify that the rice has been cooked properly.



5) Remove pan from heat. Keep the lid on. Let rice stand, covered, for 10–15 minutes to firm up and absorb the last bit of water.

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6) Remove the lid just before serving and fluff the rice with a fork or rice paddle. Serve hot. This recipe makes 4&1/2 cups cooked rice.

Helpful Hints:
The same procedure can be used for a rice cooker. Instead of step 4 just place the pot in the rice cooker instead of on a stove burner.

*If cooking at altitudes over 3,000ft/1,000M increase cooking time by 5 minutes.

A special thanks to my dear friend Eileen!

Jan 11, 2017

Tropical Nasties: Asian Hornets

Pure Evil!!!! aka the Lesser Banded hornet (Vespa affinis)
Last September I had an unfortunate run-in with a nest of Lesser Banded hornets (Vespa affinis). I had let a wooden crate weather in the sun over the Summer by leaning it against the garden wall. When I went to pick up the crate I unknowingly disturbed one of these:
Nest of the Lesser Banded hornet (Vespa affinis)
Yes, it was a not so proverbial hornet's nest. And as the proverb goes out came an onslaught of hornets which attacked me. Hornets, like many social wasps, can mobilize the entire nest to sting in defense by releasing an attack pheromone. Any materials that come in contact with this pheromone such as clothes, skin, and dead prey or hornets, can also trigger an attack. (Other aromatic chemical compounds such as banana or apple flavorings can mimic the effects of this pheromone too.) Bibi unwittingly disturbed the nest and thus became the target of a hornet attack. The entire neighborhood was treated to Bibi running and screaming blue murder across the yard. 

The unbarbed and nondetachable hornet's sting
Hornets can and do sting repeatedly. Hornets do not die after stinging like bees because their stingers are not barbed and therefore are not pulled out of their bodies. I can attest to this as I was stung 15 times. Rolling on the ground, removing articles of clothing, and soaking myself with a hose did not deter these damned things. My husband finally beat them off me with a towel. 

Acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter and active component mediating pain in hornet venom
Hornet stings are more painful to humans than wasp or bee stings. I can attest to this also. Out of all the creatures I have been stung by (bees, yellow jackets, fire ants, catfish barbels, and various species of mosquitoes), the hornet stings were the most painful. Insect venoms are a complex mix of proteins, peptides, enzymes and other noxious compounds. Hornet venoms differ from bee and wasp venom by containing about 5% acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that’s also produced by our bodies, but in hornet venom it stimulates pain receptors thus heightening pain. Cytotoxic enzymes in hornet venom such as hyaluronidase and phospholipids A and B dissolve cell proteins allowing further penetration of venom into tissues. Serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline are present in hornet venom increasing pain and irritation too. Various histaminic compounds and other kinins contribute to pain and itching in the odious chemical cocktail of hornet venom. To me it felt as if a white hot nails were being driven into my flesh for about nine hours. The sting sites swelled to about the size of fried eggs being about four inches across and about an inch high. The handful of cetirizine, diphenhydramine, and ibuprofen I took did not help at all. I could not walk on my right foot that had been stung twice nor bend my right knee which had five stings on it for ten hours.  

Typical pockmarks from hornet stings, the cytotoxic venom has dissolved the flesh around the sting
The next day the cytotoxic and histaminic effects of the hornet venom really kicked in. Although the pain subsided I was left pockmarked and itching like crazy. The miserable swelling and itching continued for about a week and was not responsive to antihistamines nor NSAIDS. After about two weeks the swelling and itching reduced and I was left with fifteen little round scars. 
The Giant Asian hornet (Vespa mandarinia) or 'yak-killer'
Asian hornets cause many human fatalities worldwide. Here in Nepal they cause about 10 to 20 deaths annually. (Three children died in western Nepal last Summer as a result of hornet stings received while chasing monkeys out of a cornfield.) The Giant Asian hornet (Vespa mandarinia) is thought to cause 30 to 50 human deaths yearly in Japan. Between July and September 2013, hornet stings caused the death of 42 people in China and over 1,500 injuries. The fatalities are not all from allergic reactions or anaphylactic shock. At high enough levels hornet venom can cause multiple organ failure. Renal dialysis is the only way to remove the venom and it's toxic byproducts when they reach such high levels. 
Lesser Banded hornet killing a honeybee (via Wikicommons)
Asian hornets kill beneficial insects such as honeybees and preying mantis to feed their nesting larvae. I've seen Asian hornets hanging around the local fruit stands simply to kill the bees the ripe fruit attracts. I've also seen Asian hornets hanging around dead animals preying on the numerous flies. Supposedly Asian hornets eat ripe and rotting fruit but I've not see them do it. Apparently Asian hornets have spread as far as France (via a shipment of Chinese pottery) recently and have been spotted in the UK threatening domestic bees and humans.

Buh bye hornets!
So Bibi developed an eradication program of her own. In Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia hornet larvae are made into a tasty stir-fry and adult insects are used to to flavor alcoholic drinks. Bibi decided to go for a full tilt boogie BARBECUE!!! That's right, some paper rubbish piled onto the nest and the wooden crate, a pint of kerosene, and a match,  ~et voila!~ it was hornet flambée! Nasty bee and baby killers gone forever from Bibi's yard!

You can come out now, Baacha Khan. Mom is ok.
About all you can do to prevent hornet attacks is avoid them. Asian hornets breed during August and September so are likely to be more aggressive during these months. In general they will not attack you unless you disturb their nest, kill one of them, or are wearing a scent that attracts them. Even though the nests are about the size of a soccer ball they can be hard to see as they can be located underground in deserted rodent dens, amongst brush piles, dangling from canebrakes, up high in eaves, or even behind crates as Bibi found out. It is recommended not to run or flail your arms if attacked but rather walk calmly away. (Easier said than done.) If you are allergic to bees or wasps have your epinephrine injection at the ready if stung. If you incur more than ten stings it is recommended you seek medical attention. If you suffer 75 or more stings you are probably going to need renal dialysis and a few months' hospitalization.

Cheerio,
Bibi

Jun 19, 2016

Ingredient of the Week: Lychee, Lichee, Li Zhi, Litchi

These beautiful fresh fruits are called lychee, litchi, liechee, liche, lizhi or li zhi, or lichee. Lychees are native to China but now cultivated in tropical and subtropical climes all over the world. Fresh lychees are a common summer sight in markets all across Asia. Their juicy white pulp is famed for it's floral fragrance and delicately sweet flavor. 


Lychees have a history of cultivation going back to 1059 AD in China. Fresh lychees were so prized by the Chinese Imperial court they formed a special courier service utilizing the fastest horses to deliver them from the country side. Lychees were first described and introduced to the West in 1656 by Michal Boym, a Polish Jesuit missionary who drew the above print. 


The lychee tree, also known as Litchi chinensis, is an evergreen member of the Sapindaceae family. It thrives in warm, frost free climates with high summer heat, abundant rainfall, and intense humidity. The tree can grow as high as sixty feet and prefers slightly acid yet well drained soils. Their are a wide range of lychee cultivars available to suit warmer and slightly cooler temperature ranges.


Lychee trees have distinctive laurel-like leaves to help them shed water easily. The blossoms grow in clusters of ten or more and are distinctively fragranced. Fruits mature in 80–112 days depending on climate, location, and cultivar. The fruits' bumpy, leathery inedible skin is green when immature, ripening to red or pink-red. The skin turns brown and dry when left out after harvesting or when placed in refrigeration.

Fresh lychees are really unique in flavor. They sort of taste like a blend of fresh peach, kiwi, strawberry, mango, and a light floral note I can't quite place. Some people say they taste like grapes. While they do resemble grapes in texture lychees are unlike any grape I've ever tasted. Unfortunately, when canned they lose their lovely almost perfume-like fragrance and flavor and don't really taste like much of anything.


Other than eating lychees fresh out of hand, Pierre Hermé's signature "Ipsahan" macarons are my favorite way of enjoying lychees. Early in his career the famed French pastry chef came up with this divine combination of lychee, rose, and raspberry for the upscale boutique Ladurée.  Ladurée still sells this amazing combination of pink macarons sandwiching rose buttercream and raspberries with a single fresh lychee in the center. The velvety red rose petal with a single dewdrop aside a single perfect raspberry still adorns the top of this culinary icon. Pierre Hermé continues to experiment with this amazing Ispahan flavor combination in cakes, ice cream, parfaits, and even a buche du Noel. Bibi tried making a recipe for an Ispahan flavored poundcake with fresh lychees and raspberries folded into the rose infused batter. Bibi regrets to inform you that lychees do not bake well either. They collapse into viscous, beige, and bland puddles which unattractively ooze out of your poundcake when sliced. I guess I'll just have to fly to the nearest Ladurée or Pierre Hermé's to get my next Ipsahan fix. Paris, Dubai, or Tokyo?
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