Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Here's the Spice Islands for you, Columbus

What better way to celebrate Columbus Day than with food from the islands Columbus meant to encounter -- and thought he'd encountered? I've been hankering for the citrusy/spicy flavors in James Oseland's article in the August Saveur for weeks and finally got around to buying the exotic ingredients last week. Saveur recommends buying them at Kalyustan's but that's in boring Murray Hill. I'd rather venture out to my favorite Southeast Asian market, Bangkok Center Grocery in Chinatown. It's on Mosco Street, a tiny branch off of Mott leading to a playground.

The items you see here are, left to right, kaffir limes, galangal root, kaffir lime leaves, screw pine leaves (a.k.a. daun pandan), cassia (similar to cinnamon), and lemongrass stalks. I also picked up some kecap manis, a thick, sweet soy sauce from Indonesia.

I'm not going to assume you have access to these ingredients. Instead, here's some inspiration I got from the recipes (which turned out beautifully, by the way, and Saveur is lucky to have Oseland as its new Editor-in-Chief). Here are a few things you can try with the kinds of ingredients found in most groceries.

1. Cook your rice in half water, half coconut milk with a teaspoon of tumeric and a few lemongrass stalks.

2. Stir-fry your green beans in minced garlic, shallots, and ginger, adding soy sauce and a little sugar.

3. Saute fish in minced garlic and shallots, then braise in a little soy sauce with sugar, lemongrass, whole cinnamon sticks, cloves, and nutmeg. Crack the nutmeg in half with nutcrackers or smash with rolling pin and combine with cloves in a little muslin bag.

4. When using lemongrass, remove the outer leaves and pound the stalk until tender.

The owner at Bangkok tells me these kaffir limes are available only once a year for a month or so. What to do with these two? The leaves have such a floral tone, and so far the rind does as well. Maybe I'll make some lime tarts. I also picked up some tea bags for Thai iced tea. Orange afternoon delight!


liz said...

the limes look like mini brains. green ones.

Mary Ellen said...

My favorite Thai restaurant has a kaffir lime tree in a planter by the back door. Wonder if I could get one to grow in So. Texas?