Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pastes, Jars, Squeeze Bottles and Cakes

Probably because I've been on a very simple diet of a low-fat protein and a vegetable, and starving for a little variety, I have been hungry for a different trajectory in tastes lately. Probably spurred on by my introduction to the variety of Indian and Thai curries. Probably because the Thai Market, called Tuk-Tuk, is within walking distance of my home and I can get palm sugar, red curry paste and kaffir lime leaves there with little effort. Probably because I need to find a different way to making boring vegetables, like, cauliflower--delectable.
You heard me, delectable. Nothing makes cauliflower more delectable than in an Indian curry. And its so simple. Red curry paste, a can of coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil make it work. Its the combination of sweet-spicy that makes it so satisfying, and great with brown basmati rice.
Then there's mole. My family came back from Mexico bearing gifts of Mayan artifact replicas, a squeeze bottle of Mexican vanilla, and a cake of spicy black mole. I've used it as a sauce base with hoisin sauce, which makes for a spicy-sweet black hued glaze that's multi-layered and complex.
Once in awhile, I take out my jar of Thai crab paste with garlic and chilli and add it to a garlic rice and shrimp dish. It adds a beautifully rich deep seafood flavor not unlike a seafood stock, only spicier. Throw in a little black bean chili paste to a steamed fresh piece of fish, add some sliced fresh ginger and scallions and we have the fresh and spicy flavors of Canton available in Berkeley. Heaven.

Most of these savory flavors cost no more than $3.00 at an Asian supermarket, and they pack miles of punch--adding a flavor boost to pasta, fish, meat, poultry, rice, soups, stews, pilafs and whatever you can think of. Scrambled eggs with chili paste? You betcha!!!

Attention college students, a little exploration in ethnic food markets can yield an attractive array of flavors available on the cheap for your ramen bowls, pasta jags, and even maybe a pizza or two.

Take a chance.