Cajun Jambalaya

Courtesy of Lynn, our Louisiana native, comes this family recipe that we make every year for Mardi Gras.

Ingredients

  • 2 boxes Zatarain’s Jambalaya Mix (rice and spices)
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • Hot sauce
  • Worchester sauce
  • 3.5 cups water
  • 1.5 pounds sausage (I recommend Uli’s Cajun Chicken Andouille)
  • 1 pound shelled jumbo shrimp
  • 1 pound boneless chicken
  • 3 bell peppers
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • Italian seasoning
  • Lemon pepper

Directions

  1. Marinade the chicken in apple cider vinegar and sriracha for a few hours.
  2. Grill the peppers, sausages and chicken until they have nice scorch marks
  3. Slice the sausages into thick pieces
  4. Cut the peppers and chicken into thick cubes
  5. Boil the water in a dutch oven
  6. Add tomatoes and their juice, Zatarain’s rice and seasoning packs, garlic, Italian seasoning, and bell peppers. Stir, return to a boil, cover pot, reduce heat and simmer until rice is at the desired texture. The water should almost completely cook out and leave the rice moist but not wet
  7. Add shrimp, stir well and simmer until the shrimp turn white (should just take a few minutes).

Turkey-less in Thailand

Tonight we had Thanksgiving dinner with our Burmese friends in Mae Hong Son. It was their first time celebrating Thanksgiving (they hadn’t even heard of the holiday until we mentioned it last week), and they were honored to be involved. The menu was quite different from our Thanksgiving in India, as there are no turkeys to be had in these parts. Our main course was “snake” in banana leaves, which took the better part of the day to prepare. We also had a side of papaya pancakes and the full set of accoutrements (including lots of chilies, of course). For dessert we had a ridiculous cake we picked up from a new bakery in town. The sweet shop owners asked if we wanted any writing on the cake (they usually do birthday cakes), so we acquiesced to a “Happy Thanksgiving” flourish.

After our food was all prepared, our Burmese friends asked us if we were going to give a speech before dinner or if we had any traditions on this holiday. So we went upstairs, sat around in a circle, and talked about thanks. Lauren gave a brief history of Thanksgiving and then many of us around the circle talked about what we were thankful for. One of our Burmese friends was thankful that we introduced them to Thanksgiving and shared our holiday with them. We’re thankful that we were able to share Thanksgiving with our small but growing family, and our adopted family here in Mae Hong Son.

Our Burmese Thanksgiving spread
Special Mae Hong Son Thanksgiving dinner

Dessert
Our festive dessert

Snacks and Splashing

Today is when I really “got” Songkran. The Water Festival occurs right smack in the middle of the hot season, and I’ve got to say that there really is no better way to deal with > 42°C weather than getting doused with water every few minutes.

We spent most of the day at Lauren’s NGO, where the activities consisted of cooking, hanging out, and lots of sneak-attach splashing. There were no super-soakers to be had; instead everyone used either a bucket or a bowl as their weapon of choice in our water fights. Everyone took a little mid-afternoon break from splashing, and Lauren’s co-workers showed us some videos of the celebrations in Burma, where they go absolutely nuts in the bigger cities.

It was great fun, and the level of intensity was just right for me here in our quite mountain town.

Lauren gets soaked
Lauren’s Songkran welcome

A Thai Seder

Last night Lauren, Daniel, and I had a small seder for the second night of Passover. We had to improvise most of the logistics, from a downloaded Haggadah to various ingredient substitutions. We used bitter gourd as our maror, and a fried chicken leg from the night market as our pesach.  I made a charoset of green mangoes, chilies, sugar, and peanuts, continuing my recent tradition of holiday cooking prep at P Nik’s.

Hard-boiled eggs, salt water, and leafy greens were easy enough to come by, and Daniel completed our menu with some supplies he picked up from the Chiang Mai Chabad:

  • 3 bottles of kosher wine
  • A monster box of matzot, imported from Russia

After finishing the pre-dinner ceremonies with a spiced up Hillel sandwich (awesome with the mango charoset), we had our main course: a big salad using our bounty from the Sunday market. As the youngest seder attendee, Daniel not only had to read the four questions, but he also had to hunt for the afikoman in our 100 square foot apartment!

For dessert we prepared a tropical fruit salad of yellow and green mangoes, oranges, and bananas. We also had some of Nik’s strawberry jam on top of the afikoman matzah. While not your typical Maxwell House seder, we covered all the Passover classics, and swapped family traditions and songs. It was a very enjoyable second night of our rice-free week.

Seder plate
Seder plate with chicken leg Pesach, bitter gourd Maror, Thai charoset, local spring onion karpas, and hard boiled egg

Daniel with matzah
Daniel showing off the huge box of Russian matzah he acquired in Chiang Mai

Lauren, Kenny, and Little Vid
Little Vid helped us prepare the seder plate

Passover party
Our seder – Haggadah on the Kindle, food, wine, and reclining on the floor

Passover in Thailand

Tonight marks the first night of Passover, and the first time I’ve ever spent Passover outside of the States. In a town where Lauren and I probably comprise 100% of the Jewish population, we’ll have to be creative this week. There is certainly no matzah to be found, and rice is the staple ingredient of just about every dish in town. That said, there are tons of fresh fruits and vegetables here, we can order a lot of stir fries sans rice, and P Nik makes a mean yogurt, so I think we’ll do ok. :)

Happy Passover everyone!

Snake in Banana Leaves

My co-workers invited us over for an office party yesterday, and they promised a particularly enticing entree: snake in banana leaves. I was a bit uncertain about eating snake, but had promised to at least try it. When we arrived, we learned that we were actually the targets of an elaborate language misunderstanding turned practical joke; we would instead be treated to a “snack” cooked in banana leaves. The snack started out as a mixture of spring onions, shallots, garlic, oil, rice powder, and water in a large bowl. My co-workers then taught us how to assemble envelopes using the banana leaves that they had been harvesting (from the office property) and cutting all morning.

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Volunteers and other assorted expats assembling “snake” packets

Here Kenny models the process of assembling a banana leaf packet:

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Step 1: stack a small banana leaf piece on top of a larger one
Step 2: spoon a dollop of snake mixture on top of the leaves
Step 3: use your fingers to make a lengthwise crease in the banana leaves

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Step 4: fold the sides to make a banana leaf envelope

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Step 5: hold the assembled envelope in one hand and use the other to pierce it with a half toothpick (for conservation purposes)
Step 6 (not shown): use scissors to trim excess banana leaf off the top of the envelope

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Step 7: steam

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Step 8: enjoy with fried garlic, spring onion root, coriander, and dried red chilies (one chili per bite, we were instructed)

During the steaming process, the rice mixture solidifies and the result is like an Asian tamale. We each ate two of them plain, and they were delicious. Then my co-workers taught us how you are supposed to eat them: garnish with garlic, chilies, and other condiments. This added deliciousness prompted each of us to eat about eight more. :)

Pressure Cooker Turkey

Sean really wanted to have turkey at Thanksgiving dinner this year, so we spent some time brainstorming viable cooking options in this oven-free city. Our final candidate list included grilling (we’d need to acquire a very large grill), my father’s tried and true trash-can method, or just treat it like many Indian dishes and pressure cook the bird. For cost and safety reasons we dismissed the otherwise compelling Southern favorite option of deep-fried turkey.

First stop: Metro (the Indian version of Costco) to acquire a turkey. Metro had two types of turkeys: local or imported. While the imported turkeys were certainly more plump, something felt wrong (in addition to the 3x price tag) about using an imported turkey. So we picked up a seven kilo local turkey, from which they kindly removed the head and feet at our request.

After also acquiring the requisite Heritage Wine for the evening, we trolled the aisles looking for an appropriately sized cooking implement. The closest thing we found to a metal trashcan was a large cylindrical metal bowl which was (a) quite pricey and (b) probably still too short to adequately hold our turkey. As there were no grills to come by, our decision was easy: one 12 liter pressure cooker it was.

We put together a marinade of local ingredients, and used it to pressure cook the turkey. On the plus side, it was enormously efficient – the turkey was fully cooked in about an hour and a half, a fraction of the time it would have taken in the oven. On the other hand, it tasted a little, well, chewy. Whether this was from the cooking method, the lack of marinade injection or the texture of a local turkey we will never know.

Turkey chefs
The turkey chefs ready for business

Turkey marinade
The turkey marinade: Kingfisher, apple-pear juice, onions, curry leaves, green chilies, and other good stuff

Marinating the turkey
We thought about injecting the turkey with our marinade, but settled on the more standard “let-soak” method

MY turkey
‘Zis turkey will be ‘ze finest in Malleswaram

Turkey in the pressure cooker
Fortunately we opted for the local turkey; I don’t think the imported one would have fit into our pressure cooker

Special India-Edition Thanksgiving Menu

We don’t have an oven, and can’t find cranberries. Sean is researching turkey options; it looks like we may be able to get one, but if we do we’ll need to get a big pot and cook it on the stove (or trash-can style!) If we don’t get one, we may try a turkey art project instead.

Here are our current menu thoughts:

Drinks

  • Cranberry Juice and Vodka
  • Mulled Heritage Wine
  • Cider?

Food

  • Green Beans with Almonds
  • Mashed Sweet Potatoes
  • Cranberry Salsa (or variant, maybe with grapes or pomegranate seeds?)
  • Stuffing (cooked on the stove)
  • Pumpkin Waffles with vanilla ice cream (and dried cranberries if we can find them)