This report from CNN on newly discovered species in the Mekong River basin is really quite amazing. I would love to see a Laotian rock rat next spring when I go to the delta, but I have no desire to eat one. The consumption of exotic animals — because they are exotic — was one of my biggest clashes of values with Vietnamese culture when I lived there. That, and a certain disdane for the suffering of all animals, really got to me. And I found it strange, too, in a Buddhist country. Buddhism’s doctrine that the world is defined by suffering has two sides: compassion and indifference. Over the course of their history the Vietnamese have had to sometimes eak out a living off of a parsimonious & capricious nature, which has led them to take a catholic view of what and what is not appropriate for eating. When you’re hungry, that coconut grub might look pretty tasty. I’m not an anthropologist, but it seems to me that there must be some symbolic process through with a food originally eaten for survival becomes a food of particularly high status, especially when times are more lavish.
I don’t know much about Indian food other than that I like to eat it; I’ve had a couple of Indian cookbooks for a while, but only this year began really trying to cook from them. Saturday night, I made Kashmiri style lamb kabobs in curry, potato raita (which I had never heard of until I found it in the back of the cookbook), snap peas cooked in a little ghee with sesame seeds, & chapati. Served with a little salad of cucumbers and coriander. This was the first whole Indian meal I’ve made — previously, I had just made individual dishes, usually a curry. Came out very nicely. Amy contributed a cherry pie for desert: not Indian, but excellent — the sweetness after the mild heat of the curry was lovely. We drank a couple of bottle of Riesling with the meal. All the recipes came from Camellia Panjabi’s Great Curries of India, a beautifully produced & well-written book with a lot of color photos & very good background information on the food & ingredients.
I spent most of the day deciding not to use Blackboard for my Literature of American Popular Music course. I went to Edublogs instead & started a blog. But in betwen sessions at the computer, I made soup & baked bread. The soup was from a mid-week roasted chicken carcass, the bread my basic variety:
I begin by making a sponge, preferably the night before, though five or six hours ahead will do. For the sponge, I use a third of a cup of my sourdough starter from the from the fridge (replenishing it with a third of a cup of flour & a bit of water), a third cup of flour & about the same amount of water go with the starter in a small bowl that I stir into a lose dough. If I’m in a hurry I will ad a quarter teaspoon of yeast to this sponge to get it going, but if I have overnight it will do just fine without additional yeast. You can also make a good sponge without starter. Just use 3/4 cups of flour & enough water (with half a teaspoon of yeast dissolved in it) to make a loose dough. Cover & let sit for a few hours. Making the bread is the easy part. I have a stand mixer with a dough hook, but this can also be done by hand. Put the starter in a big mixing bowl, add a cup of warm water with a tablespoon of dry yeast dissolved in it & break up the starter in the yeast water. You don’t have to get it smooth — clumps are fine. Then dump in three cups of high gluten flour made from “hard” high protein wheat that’s often sold as Bread Flour. As you are putting in the flour, add a tablespoon of kosher salt. You could make this bread with all purpose flour but the crust wouldn’t be a crunchy & the texture of the bread would be lighter. Using the mixer or a big spoon, bring the dough together until it is a consistently moist lump. At the point, the flour needs to hydrate. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap & let it sit for 20 to 30 minutes. Next, give it a good kneqding. At least ten minutes in the mixer on medium, or 15 to 20 minutes by hand. Let the dough at least double in size, punch down, and form into two loaves — long or round, doesn’t matter. I like to put each loaf on a separate baking sheet lined with a piece of parchment paper dusted with flour. Dust the loaves generously with flour, cover lightly with plastic wrap, let double in size, or a bit more. Just before you put the loaves in the oven slit the tops with a very sharp knife two or three times so the dough can expand easily has it heats in the oven. Bake at 450F in a conventional oven or 425 in a convection oven. Spritz the oven well with water when you put the loaves in. After 15 minutes, pull the loaves out, turn them around & exchange the shelves they’ve been baking on, & give the oven another good spritzing with water. Turn the oven down by 25 degrees & bake another 20 minutes. The loaves should be golden brown & hollow-sounding when you thump them on the bottom. Cool on racks. I don’t manage to make bread every week, but I wish I did. I’ve made this basic bread probably a hundred times & I don’t have to think about it. Sometimes I substitute some whole wheat flour for some of the white. Last time I made a part-whole wheat batch I also threw in a couple of handfuls of toasted pumpkin seeds. And when I use whole wheat flour as part of the mix, I usually add a tablespoon of brown sugar or honey to bring out the flavor. I have several books with more advanced bread making techniques & one of these days I’ll have to study them, but for now, it feels good to have this basic bread making recipe & technique as one of my daily skills.