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Malaysian Style Sweet Pork Ribs

9 Aug

A few years ago I was watching a cooking show on TV when the host prepared a Malaysian style sweet pork. ribs I’m really sorry, but I just can’t remember neither the name of the show nor of the chef (all I do remember is that he was wearing a T-shirt that looked at least 2 sizes smaller). As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure if it was a Malaysian dish or from some other oriental country. Even the recipe, as I didn’t write it down, may now have somewhat evolved. I really don’t know. We at home call it “Malaysian ribs”.

A piece of advice: do it! It’s a question of “taste it and love it”. Up to now it has 100% approval among my friends (ok, give it a discount, after all friends are expected to support you).

Sauté onions, garlic, ginger, chili pepper and cinnamon sticks

Start by sautéing in a large wok, with vegetable oil, some diced onions, garlic, ginger, 1-2 sliced chili peppers and 1-2 cinnamon sticks. Add some pork ribs individually cut and seal them for a couple of minutes. After that add 1/2 cup of soy sauce and let simmer for a couple of minutes. Add around 1-1.5 cups of sugar.

Sealed pork ribs covered with 2 cups of sugar

Immediately after the sugar add 2 cups of a good quality white wine (or apple) vinegar and cover the ribs with cold water.

Pork ribs covered with cold water

Now let the low fire do its thing. Go read a book, watch TV, write a comment on my blog… Ah, the smell may be a bit awkward while the vinegar evaporates.  Don’t pay attention to that.

After around 1 hour this is how they should look like.

Pork ribs after around 1 hour

Hang on, keep leaving your comments on my blog, the ribs are not ready yet. You’ll need around another 30 min. But be careful now, you won’t want the sugar to burn and spoil the whole thing. No, not after all the prep and cooking time. So, watch out for the sauce consistency, specially around 1.5 hours.

Ok, they're ready after around 1.5 hours

If they look like the ones above, getting loose from the bone and with the sauce at the right point, prepare to lick your fingers.

Serve over white rice with some diced scallion.

Malaysian style sweet pork ribs

If you don’t fall in love with that I think you should start looking for a psychiatrist.

Pork Ribs
Malaysian Food

Some Arab Contributions

17 Jun

Arabs have made very significant contributions to civilization, easily recognized if one sets aside present day politics and discrimination (see Arab Contributions to Civilization). I’d like to point just two them:

1. Arabic Numerals – Although originally developed in India (hence also Hindu-Arabic numerals), the system reached Europe in the 11th century, through Spanish Muslims, and for this reason the numerals came to be known in Europe as Arabic Numerals. The Italian mathematician Fibonacci, whom you may remember from Dan Brown’s ” The Da Vinci Code”, was instrumental in bringing the system into European mathematics in 1202.

2. Coffee – It’s generally accepted that coffee originated in Northern Africa, probably in Ethiopia, from where it spread to Egypt and Yemen. But it was in the later that it was for the first time roasted and brewed, originating the drink as we know today. By the 16th century it had spread all over the Arab world from where it reached Europe and the New World. Coffee is probably the world’s most popular beverage, with over 500 billion cups being consumed every year, around 1/3 of which is produced in Brazil (over 2.5 millions of metric tons).

To prepare a good coffee you just have to follow three basic rules: it should be “black as hell, strong as death and sweet as love“. Almost every Brazilian will have his/her own way of preparing it, I, for example, when not using an espresso machine of course, follow this simple original Turkish recipe:

1. A good quality, freshly and very finely grounded Coffea arabica grains are needed. Use around 1 teaspoon for every small cup of water (or at least 2 teaspoons for a regular cup).

2. Add the coffee to cold water, along with some grounded cardamom seeds (optional, but it adds another dimension to a regular coffee), and slowly heat it until it starts to boil and some foam is formed.

3. Remove from the fire for a few moments and let the mixture cool a bit (just a bit).

4. Put it back on slow fire and wait for the foam to form again. It’s important to have a nice brown foam.

5. Remove from the fire and serve in small cups.

A typical Brazilian "cafezinho" (small coffee)

Some powder in the cup is part of the ritual. You can use it to read your fortune later on.

In Brazil this small coffee cup is called “cafezinho”, and although preparation methods nowdays usually involve machines, they all share two common characteristics: they are rather strong and served quite hot.

Coffee on FoodistaCoffee

Mexico – Guess I’ll have to go

4 Jun

Oh, Mexico
It sounds so sweet with the sun sinking low
Moon’s so bright like to light up the night
Make everything all right

(Mexico, James Taylor)

The year of  1974 marks one of the most important events of my life:  I went to the US as an exchange student.  The experiences I had the opportunity to live in the small and wonderful town of Carthage/MO with the Ross family (Larry, Gail, Don, Shellie and Billy), and where I got my high school degree at the class of ’75, have left permanent marks on my personality and abilities.

I’d like here to mention two of these experiences:

First – I was introduced to the music of James Taylor, of whom I became a huge fan.  Playing his songs on my guitar after I’ve returned to Brazil made me score some extra points with the local girls, including with my actual wife Maristela.  The few words at the beginning of this post are from “Mexico”, a song from his 1975 album “Gorilla” (my favorite one is “Sweet Baby James”, from 1970).

Second – I had my first contact with Mexican food.  My wonderful and unforgettable American mother (Gail) prepared a very nice “chili con carne”, which we would eat with hard shelled tortillas, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese.  To this day we still prepare a variation of that dish, which has been incorporated in our regular menus at home.  I say it’s a variation because I have changed the original recipe along the time, incorporating new spices and changing proportions to better suit my personal taste.  In fact I don´t even know if  Gail´s recipe was really Mexican.

Nachos, chilli con carne, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese. Don't forget the hot sauce.

My “chili con carne” recipe you can find at Foodista (see the link below).

As hot sauce I use a very simple mixture of tomato sauce and a pepper sauce (like Tabasco or Chili Willy).

When I have this dish my memories of Carthage and of the James Taylor’s song just seem to come alive and, as he says, “make everything alright“.

How authentic is this dish when compared to the real Mexican deal?  I have no idea, as I’ve never been to Mexico, nor to any respectable Mexican restaurant.  That’s one of the reasons I’m preparing myself to make a trip to Mexico, probably next October or November.

As James Taylor says in his song:

Oh, down in Mexico
I never really been so I don’t really know
Oh, Mexico
I guess I’ll have to go.


My Chili con Carne

Mom’s Clericot

26 May

It was with my mother that I’ve learned to appreciate a refreshing “clericot”.  This is a drink the British took to South America as “claret cup”, which later became “clericot”.  According to Darcy O’Neal it was the punch of choice for parties and the drink most enjoyed by the British in the 1800’s.   It’s very similar to the Spanish “sangria” and it basically consists of wine with some sort of fruit and a sweetener (usually white sugar).  Hundreds of different “sangria” and “clericot” recipes can be found on the net.  Actually in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, as far as I know, the main difference between “sangria” and “clericot” is that the later is prepared with white wine (regular and/or sparkling), while in the former reds are used.

This was my mom’s choice drink for Christmas Eve (remember that Christmas is during the Brazilian summer), and she had her own recipe, which included diced fruits (mainly fresh apples and canned peaches – thus you don’t need to add the sugar), 1 bottle of Champagne, 1 bottle of white wine (usually a Riesling), 1 bottle of sparkling mineral water and lots of ice.

A few weeks ago I was offering a Sunday lunch for some friends and decided to try something different (at least it was completely different for me).  The idea was to transform my mom’s “clericot” recipe into a dessert.

What I did, and you can try it too, was to dissolve 2 powdered neutral gelatin envelopes in 2 cups of cold water and waited it to hydrate for a couple of minutes.  I then added 1 1/2 cups of sugar and heated the mixture until the gelatin and the sugar dissolved completely (you must be careful not to overcook the gelatin, after all it’s a protein).  I then transferred it to a large bowl and added 1 bottle of Champagne (in fact I used a Spanish cava) and 1 bottle of Chardonnay.  I gently mixed everything (gently, as you won’t want to lose all the gas) and took the mixture to the refrigerator.  All this was done one day ahead.

Just before serving I diced several canned peach slices, scraped the gelatin with a fork, and arranged them (almost in layers) in white wine glasses.

Clericot gelatin

I have no reason to be modest, then let me tell you, the result was excellent.  You could even feel the bubbles as the gelatin melted in your mouth and the wines filled your tongue and palate with their distinctive and refreshing flavors.  My mom sure would have loved it.

Just remember, the alcohol is still there, thus there goes a piece of advice:  go easy on it and keep your kids away.

Clericot Gelatin

Autumn Flowers

20 May

On this side of the world fall is arriving, and although spring is the season known for the abundance of flowers, last weekend a nice surprize was waiting for me as I walked around my home garden to take care of a few herbs, fruits and other plants growing around. Guess I don’t need to say much more than that, judge for yourself.  I bet you’ll never look at these plants the same way again.

Papaya - Carica papaya

Papaya - Carica papaya

Malagueta pepper - Capsicum frutescens

Can you believe that from this delicate flower a 100,000 Scoville units devil grows?

A variety of basil - Ocimum basilicum

A variety of basil - Ocimum basilicum

Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis

Loquat - Eriobotrya japonica

Want some information about these plants?  Click on the links below:

Papaya on FoodistaPapaya

Malagueta Pepper on FoodistaMalagueta Pepper

Basil on FoodistaBasil

Rosemary on FoodistaRosemary

Loquat on FoodistaLoquat

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