Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Shifting TImes

 Life survives even though for many there is an icy coating, and unfortunately it is months away before we see penetrating verdant shoots that signal the worst is behind us. I miss gathering from the yard and hunting farmer’s markets for my daily inspiration. Not to mention, the pleasure of numerous herbaceous notes I have available to me highlighting my inspirations.

I am so hardwired to hunt and gather, and I cannot be thwarted by nature’s need to refresh. Luckily my freezer is full of vegetables and pestos allowing me to ferret through that chest seeing what I will use to augment the vegetables that had to be bought commercially. I usually take this time of year to put together a list of grocers I want to visit and hunt down items I may not of used before -- Indian, Caribbean, Asian markets all find me a seasonal visitor. With the lack of herbs to chose from I shift my focus to spices. In one of my freezers (of course, I have multiple ones) I have freezer bags stuffed with small plastic bags filled with spices. Usually bought in their whole form for that way I get the most fragrant product and have the option to use whole or placed in my spice grinder to be pulverized. Unlike fresh herbs that, if fortunate, give me about a week in the refrigerator, spices held in the freezer will last years.  So, in those bags you will find spices from annatto to za’atar mix.

It seems seasonally appropriate that my stimulation for what I’ll make comes from a frozen box.

Tamarind Braised Short Ribs – yields 6 servings

4-ounces tamarind paste
2-inch stick cinnamon
2-star anise
6-clove spikes
½-teaspoon mace
1-teaspoon whole black peppercorns
3-pounds short ribs (on the bone)
2- stalks lemon grass – cut in half
1-large onion - sliced
2-inch piece of ginger – peeled and diced
4-garlic cloves – chopped
3-tablespoons Thai fish sauce
¾-pound King Oyster mushrooms
¼-pound Enoki mushrooms
1-pound cubed pumpkin
Salt to taste
½-cup chopped Chinese garlic chives

Soak the tamarind paste in 1½-cups of warm water in a small bowl for about 10 minutes.

Place the cinnamon, star anise, clove, mace and peppercorns in a spice grinder, and process until it pulverized.

Using a small sauce pan gently pound the lemon grass as bruising it this way helps release more of its fragrance.

Heat a 4 or 6 quart pot over a high heat, and add the short ribs. Brown the ribs, and remove to a plate. Into the pot immediately add the onion, ginger, lemon grass and garlic and cook for a few minutes until the onions lose their raw look. Mix in the pulverized spices and return the ribs to the pot. Pour the tamarind through a seive right into the pot, discarding the seeds and any fiberous material left in the sieve. Add the fish sauce, and turn the heat down to low. Cover, and cook for an hour.

After an hour add the mushrooms, pumpkin and season with salt. Replace the lid, and continue cooking an additional 1 to 1½ hours longer. Mix in the chives, and serve.


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