Plov with Young Chicken: The Soviet Experiment, Part 1

Here commences the Great Soviet Experiment (or perhaps, that is, the second Great Soviet Experiment). I will be cooking something from each former republic, in order, because I am back in America and have nothing to do and miss the Soviet Union (historically and geographically).1 (That is, I will do this one and then probably forget about the whole thing.) I’m starting with Azerbaijan because it comes first in the Russian alphabet, and I’m doing this from a Russian cookbook.

It’s called Cuisines of the Caucasus and Central Asia, by William (or Vil’yam) Pokhlyobkin (Вильям Похлёбкин)—he’s also done cookbooks on the Slavic countries and the entire Soviet Union, which I thought was what I bought, but I guess it was too heavy so I got this one instead. It was a while ago in Bishkek, I don’t remember anything. (Important note about Pokhlyobkin, whose name is impossible to spell in English: it seems like he’s an expert on Russian cuisine, and just sort of decided to branch out into Central Asian and other former Soviet, so we should maybe not trust him too heavily. But it is nice to use the Russian-language cookbooks that one has bought. Also, apparently he once got into trouble for writing a book about tea.)

Anyway. For Azerbaijan, we are doing a chicken plov (#plov), because most of the other dishes were much meatier (mostly lamb), and no. Plov is basically a dish of rice and meat from Uzbekistan/Turkey/many other places that they eat all over the former Soviet Union because, at least in Russia, they are obsessed with the food of their culinarily better neighbors/take-over-ees. There are literally entire books about plov, which is something I would like to own, so I will not go into more detail on it here. It is very complicated.

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Jollof rice (well, not really, but kind of)

I am continuing my West African kick with jollof rice, the national dish of a variety of West African countries. I don’t feel qualified to say much else about it; I have no idea if my version was authentic (and if it was originally, it wasn’t after I messed with it); etc. etc. But it is yummy and only gets better as time goes on. I wasn’t thrilled with it on Sunday, but by Tuesday it was really good, all melded together, flavor synthesis, blah blah. I am also so impressed by how the chicken came out that I’m willing to overlook all the other deficiencies, such as excessive tomato flavor such that all the other flavors are sort of lost and… well that pretty much sums it up. I browned, braised, and microwaved the chicken at various points over the last few days, and it’s still moist and yummy and tender and non-dry. And it tastes good. I think this is a function of using thighs and not cutting all the fat off? Or it’s because I used relatively happy chickens? (Let’s just say their lives probably had their ups and downs, but things could have been worse.)

Anyway. I messed up most of this recipe and barely took pictures because I was Skyping the whole time, and it was very stressful going back and forth from the chickeny cutting board to the computer to the recipe etc., and I spent a lot of time staring at the recipe while my sisters wondered what I was doing because it just looked like I was staring at them close-up and creepily. But I wasn’t. (Oh, and there was this one moment where I was getting an incoming Skype call and I got extremely stressed and clicked “accept,” but then I realized I hadn’t washed my hands after cutting some chicken, so I proceeded to spray my computer, mouse, and basically everything nearby with all-purpose kitchen cleaner. Ew. Ugh.)

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Dorothy Sayers sandwiches

I have been reading Dorothy Sayers novels all week. I’ve now run out of all the ones I had at my disposal and have to wait until Tuesday [I wrote this on Sunday; I have since gotten another book] to stock up. I feel bereft. All I can think about is when Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane will finally get married. (IF YOU KNOW, DON’T TELL ME!!!!!) It’s like Jane Austen, only with murder. It’s awesome. (Basically it’s posh British people solving murders and being charming and riding horses and driving cars with their gentlemen manservants in the 1920s and 1930s. They say “what ho” sometimes, and things of that nature. It is wonderful. I may devote my life to reading detective novels.)

Anyway, I’m really distracted because of my need to read more Dorothy Sayers. It kind of reminds me of those horrible two weeks after you finish the latest Harry Potter and you know you have to wait two or three years for the next one and you can’t think about anything except Sirius Black and stuff.

I’m making roast beef sandwiches for dinner. That’s not related to Dorothy Sayers, but you can’t really make a post out of roast beef sandwiches (well, that’s not true; I read a number of them, but I don’t have much to add). (You also can’t make a post on a food blog about Dorothy Sayers.)

I almost bought an actual horseradish at the grocery store because I couldn’t find the jarred stuff, but then I found the jarred stuff, in the sketchy aisle in the back with the chicharrones (at least that’s what I thought they were, but there are giant sheets of it so now I’m not sure), hot dogs, and bacon. I do not understand the function of that aisle. It opens into this back area of the supermarket, and things happen back there, but I don’t know what. Sometimes a man watches you while you investigate the hot dog situation. (They don’t have Hebrew National.) It’s uncomfortable. But they had horseradish.

The stuff upon which cities are built and crumble

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Sichuan/Szechuan/!!! (part 2)

Here is a paragraph I wrote while very annoyed that I couldn’t finish cooking:

I am sitting here unable to finish (or start, actually) making my Sichuan dry-fried green beans because my shrimps have not finished rehydrating. I did not know they needed to rehydrate until I had finished chopping everything else, and now they are sitting in a pool of water glumly. It might take twenty minutes. I am hungry. This is not something that happens every day. (The shrimp, not my being hungry. That happens multiple times a day.)

Now here is the rest of the post.

This all took place in that yada-yada’d area of the first Sichuan post.

I began by preparing my string beans—stacking them on one end, slicing off the ends, and doing the same to the other end, then cutting them in half. I hadn’t been terribly excited about this recipe, but I wanted a vegetable side dish that went with the dan dan noodles. Then, once I opened the bag of green beans, I suddenly remembered how much I love them raw. I ate a few; I love the crunch, the watery sweetness? That they taste green and of dirt. I have half a pound left and I hope they don’t go bad.

Then I sliced my mini-shiitakes, first pulling the stems out (not sure if that’s necessary, but they always seem slightly gross). I should have washed them or wiped them with a wet paper towel, but I didn’t do either. There’s a lot of controversy. Then I read the recipe again and realized I had to rehydrate my shrimp. So I sat around for a while.

Then—still during the rehydrating—I heated the oil in my larger pasta pot and, once a string bean I added began to sizzle, added about half the string beans. They sizzled away for about four minutes, after which time I thought they were shriveled enough to be considered done.

It’s hard to photograph green beans sizzling in oil.

I drained them in my colander on the suggestion of Use Real Butter. By then I figured the shrimp bits were hydrated enough, so I chopped them into smaller bits (they were still rather tough, but I have no idea what they’re supposed to end up like, texturally) and diced more preserved mustard greens.

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Sichuan/Szechuan (I think)

I like to think that the title of this post means not that I am unsure about the spelling of Sichuan/Szechuan or whether the food I’ve made this week is either of them; but rather, that I do in fact think.

I spent several hours today trying to avoid going to Chinatown to buy groceries for this week’s dinners. First I went to Katagiri, where I bought shiitake mushrooms. Then I went to H-Mart, where I bought absolutely nothing. Then I gave up and went home. Then I went to Hong Kong Market in Chinatown, where I spent at least one blissful hour (I mean all the time I spent there was blissful; I don’t know how much of it there was) perusing and then buying ingredients that I needed both for these dishes and then just generally for my life. I bought some things I have been needing for like a year. It was great.

And Chinatown wasn’t even stressful. I guess I usually go there at bad times, but today it wasn’t crowded, it was peaceful; maybe Hester Street is just calmer. I was in Little Italy, according to the giant flying signs and flags, but everything was Chinese.

I bought kind of a lot of things.

A strainer; two types of preserved vegetables (both mustard greens, I think; note how the label is in German); chili bean sauce; fermented black bean paste; black vinegar; rice wine (SCORE); peanut oil; sesame oil (just for backup); two types of Chinese egg noodles; dried shrimps; peanut meal (ingredients: Fancy Peanuts); dumpling wrappers.

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Meat salad

I just thought I should check in and let you all know that I am not dead. I have one more post besides this one to share, but I am doing this one first because it’s shorter. I have developed a delightful condition in which eating any food leads to horrible stomach pain, so writing a food blog is intensely unpleasant right now. Nevertheless, here you are.

The bear (a bag clip) seems to want to eat this salad.

I decided I should have salad for lunch this week, because I didn’t want to cook. I found a bunch of contenders (because for some reason I could not come up with my own salad recipe… I now have no idea what was so difficult about it, but I guess I wanted something more interesting), wrote down the ingredient lists for a few of them, and then spent literally an hour at the grocery store trying to decide which to make. I was in a haze of exhaustion (I ended up going to bed at 9 p.m. that night) for unknown reasons and just COULD NOT make a decision. At one point I was in the deli line to buy ham; then I left to check to see if there were radishes for sale; then I went back to the line and bought salami and provolone. This sounds like the setup to a one-minute mystery. (The only one I remember: A man goes into a restaurant and orders pelican soup. He takes a bite, then goes outside and shoots himself.)

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Pasta salad with all the good things

This pasta salad contains all the best things in the world. It was also utterly emotionally exhausting. During the making of it, I:

1) confronted the possibility that my cat is sick
2) lost my cat in my (300-sq-ft) apartment and was convinced he had gone somewhere to die.

He’s not dead, but a visit to the vet is definitely in the cards. (And he won’t take medicine—he’s aggressive and only eats one kind of dry food, so there’s no way to trick him—so I don’t really know what I’ll do if he’s sick. FREAKING OUT. SOMEONE HELP.)

I started out by preparing my one pound of chicken thighs—skin-in, bone-in. I did this because the happy chicken was too expensive unless I bought the most labor-intensive kind. I still have no idea how I made this edible; I tried to watch videos about how to remove the bone from chicken, but it just freaked me out more and wasn’t helpful. It was all, find the joint, and then put your knife in, and do something magical, and all of a sudden your chicken is perfect and cooked and already eaten.

Exactly.

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Seasonally incorrect pasta

I have been cooking and blogging THE ENTIRE DAY. Every post from this week was written TODAY. (Sunday.) I did not kickbox, see my bros, or really go outside (except for a fancy-grocery-store run in flip flops, during which I got wet and very cold. It was raining all day and it was nasty and horrible). I’m finally up to dinner. But I had this plan to make Swiss chard and radicchio pasta with chicken and cheese (the first title for this blog, long before I started it, was “Pasta with shit in it”), and then I looked at the weather forecast for the week and it was ridiculously hot all week. I was like nOOOOOO I CAN’T HANDLE THIS I HATE THE HEAT MY AIR CONDITIONER IS NOT INSTALLED I HAVE TO MOVE ALL MY FURNITURE ALSDKGHOIH;ER I FASLDFJ also, I had been cooking and blogging all day, did I mention that?

But I had no other options, so even though this pasta thing is definitely not even remotely appropriate for warm weather, I decided to make it anyway. I figured if I added lots of red pepper flakes and not too much cheese, it might be OK. I don’t really believe this, but we’ll see. (A few weeks ago I read a blog post that was like, “It’s getting warm, and I’ve started craving salads!” I was like, screw that, it’s getting warm and I still crave lasagna.)

This is a pasta of my own invention, born of the fact that I had a head of radicchio in my fridge. I decided to get Swiss chard as well, just because; I was going to add chickpeas, but I have stopped liking chickpeas and have been having meat cravings. Since I never crave meat, I decided I am probably anemic or something and should eat as much meat as possible. Yum. So I am having chicken, and it’s relatively happy.

I washed/chopped the radicchio and Swiss chard, and sauteéd them with olive oil. After they wilted a bunch, I added a lot of garlic (two spoonfuls of the pre-chopped stuff, probably about four cloves… no, maybe more), salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, as per my usual. They’re actually now just sitting in the pan by themselves, without the heat, since they seem to be done.

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Extreme r&b

Hi folks! I’m back. I don’t know where I went. Nashville, then I just didn’t post anything. Sorry.

Today is Sunday (well, it is now; it won’t be when this gets posted), so I’m cooking a lot of things. I just made a ridiculously awesome breakfast sandwich with:
-a multigrain roll (life tip: multigrain bread does not belong in breakfast sandwiches; dear self, please remember that)
-cheddar cheese
-2 fried eggs
-happy turkey bacon (there was no regular happy bacon. I wanted bacon)

Next up is lunch for the week—rice and beans, fancified. A few weeks ago I made really really good black beans with many spices and yellow rice (my secret: bouillon cubes and Goya seasoning… whatever, it’s really good and salty and makes brown rice taste good) but never wrote about them, and now I don’t really know what I did. Now I’m going to try to reproduce it, but with pinto beans, which I’ve never cooked from scratch before, and poblano peppers, which I don’t know much about, but they are big and green and pretty, and I always want to make chiles rellenos but then decide not to, so I’m deconstructing them. And jalapeños, because. I guess I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to make tacos, quesadillas, burritos, rice and beans, or stuffed peppers, so I just decided to take every ingredient ever and put them in a bowl. Or a tupperware. Or a generic off-brand plastic container.

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Cajun red beans and rice

[I want everyone in my family to know I wrote this last week and it just went up by itself this morning. I am not a horrible person.]

I alluded to this a few posts ago—Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana cookbook. I decided to make his red beans and rice with ham hocks and andouille sausage, though without the sausage, because I’m not big on meat. I was going to do it without the ham hocks as well, but I happened to find myself in a butcher shop the other day, so I bought them. I don’t think the dish would have tasted like much without them; it is intensely porky. And the hocks themselves, when you can get any meat off them, are REALLY good. Mostly they are just fat and skin, though, which I cannot eat. It’s a texture thing. Ewewewewew.

I made these after a very long day and weekend of cooking, so I was a bit burned out, but here we go. (I also didn’t do the rice properly because I’d had enough—extraordinarily simplified recipe below.)

First I had to chop 2 1/2 c celery, 2 c onions, and 2 c green bell peppers. I just stood there chopping for about seven years while complaining to Sarah (friend, not sister) at great length. It took about forty-five billion hours. (Oh, the red beans were soaking overnight.)

I CHOPPED FOREVER.

The father, the son, and the holy ghost

I put the ham hocks—I’d bought three instead of six, because that seemed like enough, and had the guy cut them in half (Wait, time for a dialogue.
Me: Do you have ham hocks?
Him: Yes. They’re small.
Me: OK. Can I have… um… three?
Him: [gets ham hocks] Should I quarter them?
Me: Ummmmm yes?
Him: Or halve them? Or leave them alone?
Me: Ummmmmmmm halve them?
Him: [halves them]
Me: [AAAAAH these look like pig legs/feet] [because they are] [I don’t really remember what they are, I Wikipediaed them once and don’t really want to do it again]

Ham hocks, pre-cooking. I stuck my head into the bag and smelled them and then said, “Sarah, I strongly recommend you stick your head into this bag and smell this.”

)

… anyway. Ham hocks went in my Dutch oven with ten cups of water, the Holy Trinity, and a bunch of seasonings. I boiled it, turned it to simmer, and left it for an hour. (OOh, look, my first “More” tag! Click it.)

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