On my continued quest for savory, comforting breakfast meals, I came across this wonderful recipe for Peanut and Rice Porridge (or Khao Poon Tua Lin) in the beautifully researched Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid.
An equal combination of boiled peanuts and cooked rice ( I used a brown rice mix), blended together with a bit of peanut oil, soy sauce, and salt, then topped with braised greens and other textural condiments, this porridge overwhelmed me with flavor and texture, and it kept me going strong through a long day. I chose to top my porridge with braised spinach, fried tofu, crunchy toasted chickpeas, fried shallots, fresh coriander, chili oil, and a bit of chili sambal, but you could make your porridge much simpler. The flavor of the peanuts and rice, even alone, is wonderful comfort food.
This isn’t a quick dish – I had to boil the peanuts for about an hour to soften them, but instead of adding raw rice to the cooked peanut water, I saved some time and cooked the rice and prepared the condiments while the peanuts boiled. This porridge lasts nicely for a few mornings or afternoons: just add a bit of water and stir well to loosen the porridge before heating.
During my junior year of college, I lived in Yogyakarta, Indonesia (on the island of Java) and while there, fell in love with Indonesian food. Hardena, a small warung (or casual dining place) in South Philadelphia has been recieving great foodie press for years, but I’ve been putting off a visit until I could take along another person I spent time with in Indonesia. On a balmy weekday night, my friend Monica agreed to make the journey, and we couldn’t have been more pleased with the results.
While you can order dishes individually (don’t worry, the woman who works the hot food counter speaks English if you can’t read the Indonesian menu posted on the wall), it’s much more fun to just order a “plate” – 3 dishes of your choice for $6. On any given day, Hardena offers 3 or 4 vegetarian dishes, and 4 or 5 meat-based dishes (think spicy fried fish and goat curry). Pictured above is a boiled egg curry (one of my all-time favorites) a vegetable and tofu coconut milk curry, and a sweet fried tempeh with peppers over white rice. I just couldn’t resist the tempeh goreng cake (a large, thin slice of tempeh, dredge in egg and flour and deep fat-fried) so I added that to my platter for an extra dollar. I also added some sweet sambal (the orange color), but Hardena’s deep red sambal is one of the best I’ve ever tasted.
The set-up is just a step up from the traditional good carts with mini tables that are popular in Indonesia. A small store-front, little tables covered in plastic, styrofoam plates and plastic silverwear, and a cooler of cold water, but you won’t be dissapointed in the food, or the price. Memberi makan!
Every time I make brown rice or soak and then cook black beans I make extra and freeze the leftovers. It doesn’t really take any more time or energy to make more than you need, and then when you come home mid-week, ravenous and lazy and tired and not wanting to cook, a little quick defrosting will have you most of the way to a meal. I LOVE toppings and garnishes of all kinds, and rice and beans are so easily transformed into an exciting dinner based on what you have in the fridge. I got lucky on the night pictured above and had fresh avocado, pico de gallo green onions and cilantro available, along with two kinds of hot sauce, roasted red peppers and some cheddar cheese. On other nights I might add some quick-sauteed greens and garlic, leftover tomato sauce, and parmesan. O maybe some curry spice and the bottom of the bottle of mango pickle and some sweet chutney. It’s your quick and cheap dinner – go wild!
I love Thai curry. Red or yellow or green or panang, thick or thin, potato and egg-based or full of vegetables. I find that I can whip up a thai curry in no time at all, using just about whatever vegetables I have around (hopefully seasonal), a can of lite coconut milk, and a small can of prepared thai curry.* My favorite ones are the Maesri brand, easy to find at any local asian mart. In West Philadelphia I buy them at PP grocery or H Mart, in South Philly at any of the big asian groceries on Washington Ave., downtown in Chinatown, and in Northern Liberties at the asian market on 3rd and Spring Garden Ave. The varieties seem almost endless, and each can comes with a suggested ingredient list on the back. But I say, use what you wish, and taper the curry paste to suite your taste. Serve over rice or rice noodles, and you have a fast week night dinner!
* If you are vegetarian, check the ingredient list. A few of these curries have fish sauce or fish products included.
I love to visit markets in different parts of the world where I can see how people buy the food that cook. The above photo was taken at the Saturday morning market in Santiago Atitlan. Many villages in this area of Lake Atitlan grow the small onions you see above, meticulously cleaning them at the lake shore before transporting them to market in large baskets.
Vegetarian lunches and dinners were easy to locate in Guatemala. While larger tourist centers offer a wide range of international food, there are also traditional Guatemalan dishes that have no meat. The above is a dish that I ordered at La Fonda de Calle Real in Antigu – potatoes, green beans and chaote in pepin suace, served in a banana leaf with a side of rice pilaf. Pepin suace is made with roasted pumpking and seseme seeds, cloves, cinnamon, and roasted plum tomatoes.
Rice is usually prepared with finely diced carrots and green peppers, peas or green beans. This preparation is so popular, you can buy carrots and beans pre-diced, in bulk, at any food market.
This plato vegetariano from Comida Tipica Kaquikel (a type of people in and language in the Lake Atitlan region)in Panajachel incorporates many of the food items the also appear in breakfasts – rice, beans, cheese and guacemole. Rice and beans is perhaps the most common dinner in Guatemala, but this “plato” added steamed vegetables, a half of a boiled plantain, and a dab of mayonaise (which I skipped). It was just the right amount of food!
This basic cucumber salad with onions and yogurt gets dressed up with the addition of black sesame seeds, tomato, and a sprig of cilantro.
It’s not a meal without a basket of hot, fresh, handmade corn tortillas. The smell amazing, and the quick grilling on a large griddle sears them with a toasted corn flavor.
Cucumber, vine ripened tomatoes, avocado, onion, red onion, grated carrot, and just a dash of oil and vinegar. Heaven.
The restaurant at Posada de Santiago does international food right. While my schezuan eggplant was’nt at all spicy, it was coated in in yummy sweet soy sauce and the pieces of eggplant were still firm with an almost thick, yet still tender skin.
On the other hand, international food can go horribly wrong. This green thai “curry,” served at La Casa del Mundo, was the only dissapointing meal I had my entire trip. It was not spicy, it did not taste at all likely curry, I don’t know where the “green” description came from, and it was served on a bed of spaghetti. This meal is a perfect example of why I avoid “international” food when traveling – what the locals cook best is food traditional to the region.
Not at all native to Guatemala, the cheese quesadillas, picked up in Zona Viva, Guatemala City, were still a tasty late dinner for Senor Lanky, served with an assortment of salsa, mild grilled green onions, guacemole and fresh pineapple.
Senor Lanky and I anticipate restaurant week every season, but since the price was raised to $35, I find that its often cheaper, especially for a vegetarian who is not that into dessert, to order straight off the menu. Our recent trip to Alma de Cuba was no exception. We chose the place because the concept was intriguing, and the restaurant itself is beautiful. I especially love the warm red glow of the bar, the leaf imprinted glass partitions, the projected black and white photos, and the ceiling fans. I started with the (above) Gloria’s Black Bean soup with cremata and rice croquettes. The soup itself was tasty, but nothing to excited about, even with the yummy, creamy-centered croquettes. The serving was large enough, though, that I could have made it my whole meal!
There were no vegetarian options on the restaurant week menu, but I had decided against that option anyway. I ordered a dish (sadly, I can no longer find its name on the menu) that was two sweet corn cakes, layered with thinly sliced grilled zuchhini and cheese, covered with a bright tomato sauce. The flavors were nice together, and it came served atop a smear of black beans which was a nice addition.
Instead of dessert, I ordered a side of grilled asparagus with black truffle mojo. It was fine, if a little oily, but nothing special, and certainly didn’t warrant its $7 price tag.
For dessert, Senor Lanky ordered a spice cake roll filled with dulce de leche and frosted with a sweet, almost cream cheese frosting (again, not on the regular menu) it was served with candied walnuts and my favorite, a crisp fried sweet potato “crown.”
Overall, we had a nice night, and the food was good. I think I’m just a hard sell for gourmet “peasant food.” Alama de Cuba, you have to do a lot to beans, rice, and corn to impress me.