Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Lemon ginger cream sauce

Two weeks preceding Christmas of 2011 I was in Stuttgart, Germany on work and made a friend. Elvira Ruhnke-Hauptvogel was one of the few colleagues with whom I laughed a lot and also got a dinner invitation from. Picking up on my inquisitiveness about the food she made and served, she aptly gave me this parting Christmas gift.

This post is hence dedicated to her and though I am not as much in touch with her as I promised to be, I would like to tell you Elvira that the books you gave me are on the top of my pile of cookbooks and very soon I even plan to attempt Spätzle!
This books is about 50 sauces and the kind of pasta (Nudeln = German for Pasta) they go with well. I had Thai rice sticks and was rummaging for a suitable sauce for the same. I zeroed down on this recipe to which I have made significant modifications by including more spices, vegetable and seeds.

It is a typical fusion dish with Asian spices and yet a very European slant due to the cream base. It pairs well with flat rice noodles (Thai rice sticks) as well as with regular wheat pasta. As you might notice even the book files this recipe under "euro-asiatisch". It is a cold dish; it is served at room temperature. The concept of distinguishing a warm meal from a cold one is also typically German and it is considered healthy to eat at least one warm meal a day. A cold pasta dish is not necessarily a pasta salad and neither is this one. It calls for only minimal cooking of the ingredients- just browning the onions and cooking the noodles.

For this dish (for two) your pantry should include...

-Flat Rice Noodles or Pasta (if using pasta a similar flat pasta like fettuccine would work well)
-About 20-25 fresh Basil leaves
-A stalk of Lemongrass
-1" piece of Ginger
-1 Lemon
-3-4 dry Red chillies (you can go up to 6 if you like it really spicy)
-3-4 cloves of Garlic
-1 Onion
-1 Green Pepper
-1 Tbsp Black Sesame seeds
-150-200 ml Fresh Cream
-1 Tbsp Honey
- Salt

Boil a liter of water in a large pot. Place the red chillies (stem removed), the garlic cloves (peel only the outer wispy skin, leave the tight snug skin on) and some salt in a mortar (I use rock salt in the mortar as it helps grinding the spices) and add one tablespoon of the boiling water to it. Peel the ginger and chop into fine pieces and add to the mortar as well and keep aside.

Thinly slice the onions. In a skillet, heat about a teaspoon of any oil and add the onions to it. Spread the slices. You have to get the onions brown, so lower the flame to the lowest and start also thinly slicing the green pepper while keeping an eye on the onions, stirring when needed. When the onions are nearly brown, add in the sesame seeds and toss around till they crackle or show some form of acknowledgement of the heat and turn the flame off. Take out the onions and sesame and add the green pepper slices to the skillet and let them get just very slightly done in the residual heat. I like green peppers just slightly done, even raw is fine.

Remove the outer leaves of the lemongrass and chop the stalk as fine as you can. Even the basil has to be cut very finely. A good idea to finely cut basil is to stack up 3-4 leaves at a time, roll them like you would a cigarette and cut finely using a pair of kitchen scissors. Add the basil and the lemongrass to a mixing bowl. Zest the lemon and squeeze the juice. Both go into the mixing bowl as well.

By now your boiled water would have cooled down a bit, add the rice sticks and keep covered. Rice sticks don't need a flame to cook in. Just immersing them in hot water (not even boiling water) will cook them. But again this depends on the variety and quality of the noodles. I have described what worked for these Thai rice sticks. Follow the instructions on the pack for cooking the noodles.

Back to the spices. Now the chillies in the mortar would have softened. Crush and pound with a pestle to make a fiery red paste. You are now nearly done; it is now mixing time. The red paste and the onions- sesame mixture go into the mixing bowl. Add in the cream and honey and mix well. This is what allows you to add so many spices and yet not burn through while eating. Your sauce is now ready. Add the green peppers and drained noodles to the sauce. Toss well and voilà!

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