Comfort in a bowl of Rice & Notice

>> Saturday 27 September 2008

"Each time I raise the lid off of a pot of rice I’ve cooked, the steam that rises, and the aroma that beckons is like an invitation to feed my soul and calm my worries. As I sit with my bowl or plate of rice and tuck in, each forkful of perfectly puffed and fluffy rice gently forces me to pay attention to it, freeing my mind of distractions. I’m eating, I’m concentrating, I’m observing, I’m tasting, I’m understanding". Click here to continue reading the column.

Very often we like to point to certain dishes and refer to them as "comfort food", but have you ever stopped long enough to ask yourself why? Why is that that particular dish (or dishes) your personal comfort food? You should, it provides an opportunity for you to learn more about yourself... and that's what this week's column is about. I share with you my comfort foods and though I had to spend sometime thinking about it, the reasons why they are my comfort food.

Last year May (2007), while reading one of my favourite blogs, authored by a husband and wife team, whose writing and photography are completely in sync, I came across a photograph of a sambal and here is how Robyn captured in words, the photographed sambal that had me salivating:

"Gurih's sambal is exquisite, unbeatable, worthy of worship, spicy-hot (most foods on Sumatra are), but so much more. Sweet, from palm sugar perhaps, but also from sweetness coaxed from onions and shallots cooked low and slow until golden. It's fresh-tasting, because it's made not from dried chilies but from the plump, long red and green chilies that Sumatrans favor. There's a wee bit of sweet-balancing sharpness from tomatoes and the barest hint of fishiness from trassi (Indonesian shrimp paste). We called for seconds." Eating Asia.

Being a lover of things firery and hot, I desperately wanted to taste this sambal. I did not have a recipe. I searched the internet and while they are many excellent sambal recipes out there, I just couldn't seem to find one that spoke to me the way Robyn described it. Based on her description and my own sense of taste, I gathered the ingredients she mentioned and set about making my own sambal. It was the first time I had cooked with shrimp paste so that was a little shocker as the kitchen lit up :) let's just say that I'm glad I live in the Caribbean where the windows and doors are open all the time (lol). The photograph above is the result of my creation, it is hot, spicy, sweet, along with subtle hint of tang from the piece of tamarind I added. It has great depth of flavour from the shrimp paste and palm sugar and the slow cooked onions. I bottled it and it has kept very well in my refrigerator. I use it all the time to stir into stews, certain condiments, curries and to make dishes such as this prawn sambal.

Are you done drooling? Okay pay attention to the notice.

This notice is for all of you who plan to make Christmas cake, black cake, rum-fruit cake, (whatever you want to call it) this year. If you have not yet done so, please go purchase your fruits, dark rum and sweet port wine. It's time to blend/grind the fruits along with the rum and wine and let it marinate so that come December, you can have a deep, dark, drunken, moist, boozy cake to share with your family and friends. Mine has been marinating since last December! You can refer to last year's post for more about the rituals of making the Christmas cake.

Don't fret about the recipe for the cake right now, just concentrate on getting the fruits soaked. Use a combination of the following: prunes, raisins, preserved cherries, currants and mixed peel if you can find some. If you can't find mixed peel where you are, not a problem. Exacting quantities are not necessary but since I know that some of you will insist on measurements, here's what I put into the batch I made based on the packages I bought.

2 pounds pitted prunes
2 pounds raisins
10 oz currants
11 oz mixed peel
13 oz glazed cherries
1 (750 ml) bottle dark rum
1/2 bottle (375 ml) sweet port wine
1 + 1/2 cups brown sugar

  1. Grind/blend the fruits along with the sugar, in batches, using the rum and wine to moisten.
  2. If you are using a blender, pour some of the liquid into the blender first before adding fruits, this way, the fruits would start grinding immediately and not clog up the blade. Use the pulse button. If you find that your fruits have become really thick in the blender and not moving, add more rum so that it will move easily or consider taking out some of the fruits. It is very important not to over crowd your blender as this forces the engine to work harder and can burn out.
  3. If you are using as food processor, do the opposite, add the fruits first then the liquid. You can opt to start whizzing the fruits and then pour in the rum and wine through the opening at the top of the food processor.
  4. Feel free to add some extra rum or wine to the entire mixture before bottling it.
  5. Store in a steralized glass or plastic bottle with an air-tight lid and place on your counter top or a cupboard.
  6. Adding more prunes to the mixtures enables your cake to turn out really dark without having to add burnt sugar or any other dark colouring as many people do. However, do what makes you comfortable.

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