Have you ever done something that seemed strange, maybe wrong, but you did not know why and you just did it anyway?
I really never thought about it growing up. My grandmother did it, taught me, and always seemed naturally comfortable doing it. It was one of my earliest food memories.
I knew, of course, that my grandmother was a tad off. Born in Edinburgh, she grew up on the island of St. Helena [yes, the place Napoleon was exiled, too], eventually taught piano to the Czar’s family in St. Petersburg, and ended up marrying a railroad engineer in Montana. I never got the story in detail, and now there is no one to get it from. All I have are those disjointed snippets of a life.
Those images and her method for eating white rice. The first time I sat down to dinner with Suzen and we had rice, I began to follow my grandmother’s habit. I put butter on my rice, which drew Suzen’s attention. Then I reached into a sugar bowl and took out a teaspoon of sugar.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Suzen screamed. Yes, she can scream.
I held the teaspoon above my rice, my hand quivering slightly. Yeah, I had always thought it was a little strange — white rice with butter and sugar — but it went well with pork chops.
I explained it all to Suzen. “People don’t eat rice like that, Brian,” she said.
“My grandmother did.”
“Gene pool,” she mumbled.
I’ve never done it again. I think if I tried she’d put a fork in my hand. But, in compensation, I have learned how to get rice with flavor and with sweetness. From Mexico, here is a side dish that pairs yummily with just about anything. Suzen served this with pork in adobo sauce. Chicken or fish are equally fine partners.
The rice has almonds for crunch, raisins for sweetness, and cilantro for the herby tones that rice always seems to beg for. It’s the perfect side dish.
I think my grandmother would have like it.
Cilantro, Raisin and Almond Rice
Yield: 6 servings
- 2 cups hot steamed white rice
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup slivered almonds
- ½ cup snipped fresh cilantro
- 1 tablespoon butter
In a bowl, stir together all ingredients. Taste and, if desired, add salt or pepper. Serve alongside the entry or in a separate bowl. Garnish, if desired, with a cilantro sprig.
Source: Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publication: Mexican, 2013
Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 18-55MM Macro lens shot at F/2.8 1/60th second, ISO 3200
Do you ever manipulate your spouse? I mean just plain set them up on the path you want them to follow. Can you do it without guilt?
I don’t want to think of myself as having crossed over to The Dark Side, but I’m rather accomplished at steering Suzen now.
“What’s that? ANOTHER Mexican cook book?” Suzen asked me with skepticism. She took the book from my hand. “Did you buy this because of the picture?” Now she was being very accusative, so the manipulation that was about to take place stirred not a scintilla of guilt in me.
The book cover for Fresh Mexican features author Marcela Valladolild. Marcela has one of the Disney-Mickey-Mouse-Club faces that has appealed to men since 1955.
Now, it turns out, the Marcela is a very accomplished culinary pro. She has books, TV shows, and writes with an important perspective: she likes Tex-Mex food but she grew up on real Mexican food and wants us to experience and enjoy authentic Mexican dishes. The 100 recipes in the book, while simple to prepare, are wonderfully different and intensely flavor packed. Imagine trying:
- Lobster, Mango and Avocado Salad
- Poblano Potato Salad
- Puff Pastry Wrapped Jalapenos with Oaxaca Cheese
“Suzen,” I began strategically. “I really hadn’t noticed this picture. I got this book for you. You like poblanos, right? Look at this picture.” I showed her a full page phone of this Poblano Rice Gratin.
“Let me get the shopping list,” she announced. “We’re doing this tonight.”
And we did. And it is fiery good. And, and, we served it with the Bulgarian Cast Iron Chicken with Bacon and Sauerkraut I posted yesterday. It’s a perfect pairing.
There are books, like Fresh Mexico, where you can do the whole meal from that single book. With 4000 cookbooks, we can adopt more of a United Nations approach. Some Bulgarian here. A Mexican dish there. Something American tossed in. Oh, our American piece for this meal? That’s a frozen iceberg lettuce recipe that you will see this weekend.
This rice dish makes great leftovers, of course. The chile and cheese flavors penetrate and mellow. Easily prepared, you may find the being one of those side dishes that is a family standard.
Poblano Rice Gratin
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ¼ cup minced white onion
- 1 cup long-grain white rice
- Kernels from 2 ears fresh corn
- 2 poblano chilies, charred, stemmed, seeded and chopped
- ¼ cup Mexican crema or sour cream
- ½ cup grated Monterey Jack Cheese
Heat the oil in a medium-size heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the rice and cook for 10 minutes, or until opaque. Add 2 cups water and the corn kernels and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender.
Meanwhile, preheat the broiler on high.
When the rice is cooked, fluff it with a fork and stir in the chopped poblanos. Transfer the rice to a 7 x 10-inch baking dish. Drizzle with the crema, and sprinkle the cheese all over the rice. Broil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the top is browned in spots and the cheese has melted
Source: Fresh Mexico: 100 Simple Recipes for True Mexican Flavor by Marcela Valladolid