Thursday, June 3, 2010
I've always had a rather active imagination. I credit this in part to my parents, who didn't allow my sister and I to watch television during the school week. Books were the lifeblood of my entertainment, and as such, I developed the spot in my brain that coaxes strong visual images out of words into a lean, high-performance muscle. I could picture just about anything with dazzling technicolour clarity, and stranger still, I could place myself, physically and emotionally, in the midst of whatever fairytale was playing behind my eyes. And for a long time, that was all I needed.
Until I started seeing movies.
I'm absolute crap at remembering plots. Husband seem to have this elephantine ability to remember specific lines from just about any movie, and will quote these lines freely for months on end.( I lived with recitations of various 'Anchorman' gems for a loooong time: "The human torch was denied a bank loan. ") But me, I remember characters, looks and gestures, colours, the way the movie made me feel. I don't just absorb a compelling story. I inhabit it.
Remember seeing 'Pretty Woman' for the first time? Did you not kind of want to be a hooker, even just for an hour or so? If it meant making out with Richard Gere (before his Buddhism and all that gerbil-and-bum nonsense) well yes, I DID want to be a hooker for an hour or so. Also, I wanted to be a mermaid after watching 'Splash' (side note: as a child forced to have short hair for much of her young life, Daryl Hannah's hair was the follicular Holy Grail) and the white girl in 'Dances With Wolves' who grew up with the Sioux people of the Dakotas, and Watts in 'Some Kind Of Wonderful' because I loved Eric Stoltz in the 80's.
But there's also a bit of a downside to this kind of immersion in a film. When I saw those brief, few illegal seconds of 'Poltergeist' through half-covered eyes (we weren't allowed to watch scary movies either) I couldn't look into a mirror for days. 'Silence Of The Lambs' made lotion disturbing. And 'Brokedown Palace', a based-on-a-true-story movie about an accidental drug smuggling into Thailand and its extremely unforgiving penal system, smothered any enthusiasm I may have kindled for future travel plans to mainland Southeast Asia.
I am, of course, hyperbolizing. But my Pan Asian cultural exploration has, for the time being, been limited to the regional cuisines. I don't know that I've ever had authentic Thai food. I've suffered through several take-out mounds of greasy Pad Thai, but the exploration stopped there. Which is terrible, because the flavours that populate traditional Thai cuisine positively sing to me . Mangoes, lemongrass, chilies, cilantro, kaffir limes; the contrasts of sour and sweet and spicy and fresh are so enticing and seemingly error-proof. So a recipe that incorporated some of these elements, like the one I found in a Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine, was a sure thing. Which was important considering my best friend and the very person who got me into cooking was coming over for dinner.
The salad was supposed to have a base of green mango, but I could only find ripe ones at the market, so that's what I used. I added heaps of mint and cilantro, lime juice and zest, chicken pieces that had been stewing in a spicy lime-and-chili-spice-mix marinade prior to pan frying.
Hello, naked limes...they look like little sea creatures, don't they?
The meal turned out fragrant, light and tasty, each ingredient playing out its part to perfection, from the creaminess of the avocado, to the crunch of the peanuts sprinkled on top. And no imagination was needed to be transported, for a few minutes or hours, to a place where the wine was chilled and the company was dear.
Because I was already there.
My Adaptation of Martha Stewart Everyday Food Green Mango Salad:
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into smallish cubes (about 1 inch)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp chili spice mix (see below)
A small knob of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 green onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh lime juice, plus more to taste
2 tbsp fish sauce, plus more to taste (Holy Sodium, Batman! I used soy sauce instead)
1 tsp sugar, plus more to taste
2 green or ripe mangoes, peeled, sliced and cut into thin strips
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly torn
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 ripe avocado, chopped in smallish cubes
2 tbsp chopped peanuts
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Chili Spice Mix, via Closet Cooking:
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika (hot)
1//4 tsp cayenne
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp garlic powder (I didn't use this)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
Mix everything well.
1. Put chopped chicken in medium bowl with 2 tbsp vegetable oil, 2 tbsp of spice mix and juice and zest of 1 lime. Cover and let sit in fridge for 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.
2. In large bowl, combine the lime juice, fish sauce or soy sauce and sugar and mix till sugar is dissolved. Add sliced mangoes, cilantro and mint and toss to coat.
3. Heat up a small bit of vegetable oil over medium heat. Add ginger and green onions and stir constantly till softened, about 5 minutes. Add the marinated chicken and cook till meat is lightly browned and no longer pink inside, about 10 minutes. Let meat cool to room temperature.
4. When ready to eat, place mango-cilantro-mint mixture in a bowl, on top of some cut up romaine lettuce if desired. Then add chicken cubes, avocado, peanuts and chili flakes and dig in!