Mint dinner ~ Ham Pie Sandwiches

18 June 2008

Mint dinner

Here are some things to make on a summer night just after you get back from several days of no cooking at all and increasing restaurant fatigue.

I got the marinade idea here from Nigel Slater's Appetite. He put his on chicken; I put mine on fish. It turned out very well, strongly flavored and also shockingly spicy for something containing so much yogurt. Eating the whole thing induced a nice slow burn.

How to make a tasty fish for summer

perch/other whitefish filet
plain yogurt
a hot pepper
fresh ginger
fresh mint
lemon zest
garam masala

First, mix several big spoonfuls of plain yogurt with a chopped hot pepper of your choice. I used a regular green jalapeno. Scrape all the skin off a little knob of ginger, chop it up , and add it too. Cut a few strips of peel off a good lemon and add that. Tear up a handful of mint leaves and add them. The original wanted lime, but I had lemon: it turned out fine. Add a few scanty shakes of turmeric and garam masala and stir it all up.

Stick your fish into the marinade. Cover it up with yogurt and stick it into the refrigerator for a bit while you make spring rolls or lie around.

After at least a half hour, you can fry the fish in a sufficiently nonstick pan. Cook on medium-high for three minutes on each side, or until things turn opaque all the way through and flake well. Eat it fast and hot: it's fish.

Different things to do here:
- Don't use fish at all; use chicken or lamb or tofu or maybe even paneer. Would that work? It seems like paneer would absorb flavors pretty readily. Now I have to try it.
- Try splintered lemongrass and ginger for lightly perfumed results.
- Try orange zest and coriander and cloves for really heavily perfumed results.
- I've been considering marinating things in strong tea; the clove and orange would work really well there.

I wanted to make dinner a big production, so I decided to make spring rolls too. I hadn't ever made them before, so I followed this rolling technique. It was actually really easy, even with rice paper involved. I think it helps not to be too picky about how your rolls look. As long as they cohere into some cylindrical mass, you're doing fine.

How to make a tasty minty spring roll

rice paper wrappers
bean thread noodles
fresh mint
anything else you think would be good

Heat up some water and pour it over your bean thread noodles. Let them sit and soften for ten or fifteen minutes while you prep vegetables.

Scrape your carrot and daikon; peel your cucumber if it's waxed. Chop them into matchsticks. The amount depends on the amount of spring rolls you want. I just eyeballed it and everything was fine. Other fillings that would be good: crispy cabbage, tiny seared tofu cubes, slivered red pepper.

Pull a bunch of mint leaves off their stems. I left mine whole, but you can chop them if you want to. You can also add basil or cilantro if those float your boat and you happen to have them. I like mint best, though, since it makes the rolls seem coolest.

Get out a wide bowl or dish with a rim. Fill it with an inch or so of warm water.

When everything is ready, get out one rice paper and put it into the water. Let it soften for a minute or two. When it's pliable, take it out of the water and lay it on a cutting board or other reasonable surface. Arrange equal amounts of daikon, carrot, and cucumber in an off-center row. Add a few bean threads. My noodles were still in their water, so just I pulled them out to use as I went. Add some mint on top of everything.

Now roll the whole business into a spring roll. This is a little slippery, but fine otherwise; just try to roll them as tightly as you can. I found that my rolls stuck together perfectly well without any extra water or anything.

Make as many rolls as you want, dip into delicious sauces, and eat. These clearly want a sauce of the honey-vinegar persuasion.

If you want to bring some rolls to work tomorrow, wrap them in a damp cloth before sticking them in tupperware. Otherwise they're going to get dry and stick together. I wrapped mine in a damp paper towel with excellent results. This is what I get for making huge production dinner when I am the only one at home: delicious lunch.

I wish I could tell you how to make a tasty dipping sauce for the spring rolls, but I can't! I tried two different things and both of them turned out badly. The first one called for two tablespoons of cornstarch, which caused the whole business to gelatinize into a horrifying blob. The second was a peanut-soy sauce that turned out unutterably salty. I thinned that one down and used it anyway, but I wouldn't recommend it. I have a sneaky plan to go into Siam Royal sometime soon and ask them nicely for their dipping sauce recipe. It may even work, since I'm there often enough for them to know me. We will see.

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