Monthly Archives: June 2012

Get Spiced Or Die Chai-in’

Just the thing to make your worries fade away.

Chaiiii, chaiii, chaiii, chaiii.  The melodic tones snapped me back to Earth.  Lost somewhere between exhaustion and relative lucidity, I immediately assessed my surroundings. First, I noted the location of my backpack.  Next was to assess all points of skin contact.  Realizing before bedtime that I wasn’t alone in my rail car berth, I had tucked myself in to provide a barrier.  No roaches were trotting around on this passenger!  Finding all to my (sub)standards, I let out a sigh.  And then it sounded again passing through the corridor.  Chaiii, chaiii, chaiiiiiiii.

Despite the resentment for such an abrupt awakening, I was tempted.  For a second I reflected on the sweet and spicy nectar, and then reality sunk in.  Chai could wait until I was sure it had come to a rolling boil.  No need to entice parasites mid-way through a journey.  The chai was lukewarm and the bathrooms a little short of sanitary.

Tea time!

Throughout my time in India, I found one constant.  North, South, young, old, rich, poor — chai.

It’s no surprise this delight has caught on in the West.  It takes your basic milk tea and it kicks it up.  It literally adds some spice to your life.  Now I get what Columbus was searching for.  Spices exalt the senses.

A coffee addict at heart, I’ll never cheat, but I do like to mix it up.  With the weather heating up, I was looking for something refreshing to top off my afternoons.  Taking an ode from India, I gathered together my spice stash and made up a batch that’s perfect served over ice.  My version uses soy, and takes into account its already-added sweetness. If you’re particularly fond of porcelain, feel free to sugar it up and rot ’em out.  Next time you hear the cry of chai, you’ll be amply prepared with back-up.

Perfectly spiced harmony

Soy Chai Tea

Makes 1 cup

1/2 cup water

1 black tea bag

1 tsp crushed/coarsely chopped ginger

1 green cardamom pod

2 whole black peppercorns

1 clove

1/2 cup sweet soy milk (I like Vegemil B)

1. Coarsely pound ginger, cardamom, peppercorns and clove together.

2. Bring the water to a simmer in a small pan over high heat.  Add tea bag and spice mixture.  Allow to simmer about 15 seconds, then remove from heat.  Allow all ingredients to steep together for another 5-10 minutes, then strain.

3. Pour strained concentrate over ice.  Mix with soy milk and enjoy.

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Frankensoju

Remember a couple of months ago when I stumbled upon the idea for Kahlua soju?  Well, I kind of suprised myself with the success of that one, and I guess I didn’t stand alone. Thanks to this, I was given the opportunity to include a story in this month’s Groove Magazine, a publication geared towards the expat community in Korea. 

Starting with the Kahlua, I looked to friends for inspiration and came up with a slew of five cocktails that  reinvent the spirit.   From the soju strawberry lemonade to the fire-roasted chile mango martini, there’s something for everyone.  For those to whom soju conjures up images of a  karaoke rendition of “Livin’ La Vida Loca” (complete with valiant shimmy), it will wash away your pain.  For those new upon the bandwagon, hop aboard, fasten your seatbelt, and don’t expect to accomplish anything tomorrow.  Bottoms up!

Hop over to Groove to check it out here.

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Bite Me

Speaking with your mouth full is not encouraged.  Just the same for spewing debris from an overflowed mouth. Minding your manners can prove exhausting.  Particularly when everything you’ve come to know goes out the window. 

I was raised in a household where sneaking a rest on an elbow during a meal was comparable to committing arson.  Speaking of arson, the stares I’d receive down my mother’s nose in response were enough to burn a hole in your conscience.  Not normally an advocate of fear-mongering, I suppose in this case it proved effective.     

One inconsistency in my mother’s no-nonsense policy was the regular schedule of visits to a local sandwich joint.  Primanti’s sandwiches put Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the (glutton-based) culinary map, and they’re a primary reason why I’ve purchased a flight home this summer. 

Let’s see what you’re made of.

French fries and coleslaw on a sandwich? Indeed, my friend, you will not be disappointed.  Prove your dedication by adding an egg inside as well. 

When we’d make our visits to Primanti’s, the biggest challenge was not deciding between pastrami or capicola, as you might assume.  Rather, it was figuring out how best to dislocate your jaw to enjoy the monstrous delight.  Not normally a stiff-upper-lip accredited form of dining, the experience was an exception to the table rules.  Filling your mouth to capacity was encouraged. 

A lot was in the handling.  Once you raised the sandwich for the initial bite, it was time to demonstrate your commitment.  You must not release the hold until down to the very last morsels.  Disregard, and disaster would ensue.  The delicate balance would crumble into an intimidating pile of slop.  It was in your best interest, as dining with forks at Primanti’s is viewed as rather pretentious. 

This regular exercise in grip-centered technique proved useful when I found myself at my first teacher’s dinner in Korea.  A mainstay of employment in this country, the outings are considered just as much an obligation as showing up on time for class.  Explained to me as crucial for developing working relationships, nothing says bonding like acting as crutch to a stumbling deskmate. 

It sent me into a tizzy when slurping was a sign of enjoyment and I was faced with the almighty lettuce wrap.  Seeming impossible to consume in one bite, thankfully, I came with experience.      

Wrapping up morsels of food in crispy lettuce blankets is kind of a staple of the Korean diet.  It eliminates the need for plates, and adds a nice amount of freshness.  Referred to as ssam, there’s often a basket of leaves present on the table. 

Like Primanti’s, the art of ssam congestion is a delicate one.  Nimble fingers are a bonus, and a lot is contingent upon finding the right balance between fill capacity and leaf surface area.  Forget attempting multiple bites, you only end up with mangled gristle looking unsightly on your chin. 

My personal plan of attack is the bag o’ gold method.  I find it works best to gather the loose edges in one cluster around the center of the leaf.  With a wide open mouth, I then shove the whole bit, bag first, into my mouth.  It’s a one-handed technique, and you may want to set aside a good minute for chewing. 

Like Primanti’s, don’t waver once committed to the bite.

With weekend dinners out not proving enough to keep my techniques sharp, I decided to whip up something  at home.  It’s becoming crucial that my jaw is in shape for my visit(s) to Primanti’s this August.  I came up with a variation of curry chicken salad that’s perfect for the picnic-friendly weather.  It’s spiced up with ginger and orange, and perfect to keep in the fridge for an urge to practice on short order.    

The challenger

Curry Chicken Salad Ssam 

Serves 4

4 cooked chicken breasts, shredded (about 4 cups)

2 cups julienned carrots (about 1 large carrot)

2/3 cup sliced green onions

1 small container plain yogurt (3 oz./85 grams)

2 Tbsp mayonnaise

1 Tbsp orange zest

1 Tbsp orange juice

2 tsp finely minced ginger

1 tsp curry powder

Lettuce or cabbage leaves (any variety)

1.  Combine chicken, carrots and green onion in a medium-sized bowl.

2.  In a small bowl, mix remaining ingredients until smoothly blended to make the dressing. 

3.  Pour dressing over chicken mixture, and stir until evenly distributed. Serve as wraps in leaves of your choice.

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