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A good meal

Monday, November 14, 2011

I read Jay Rayner's piece in The Guardian about how he dislikes slow eaters and it made me laugh because just two days ago, as I was licking my fingers at the end of my lunch of lentil rice and chilli eggplant, I thought about how fast I had finished that plate of food.
I am normally a medium-speed eater and what's in the picture above was all I had – rice, eggplant and a little mango chutney – but it was good and I ate it quickly.
Then I was reminded of someone who gobbled down his food in three minutes flat! I was having a lunch meeting with him and he ordered – I remember this clearly – spaghetti with chilli tuna while I had a shepherd's pie. As soon as the food got to our table, he started on his pasta and literally sucked the whole thing down! I swear, I had only taken two bites of my pie and he was done.
Back to my own cooking. These two dishes didn't take long to cook. First, the eggplant sambal. It uses fresh and dried chillies. Now, I have tried several times to grow chillies in pots on my balcony, but I haven't had any luck at all with that. Red chillies are really expensive right now, but I needed only a small amount. Fortunately, I managed to get some rather hot ones.
Well, my hands were still burning long after I had finished handling the chillies, but it was worth it. The amount of chilli used is, of course, according to personal taste. Also, some people prefer the sauce a little watery, but I like it thick so that when I scoop it up with a spoon, it doesn't run off.
With that kind of heat, it should got with something milder, and the lentil rice is a good accompaniment. I would say my dish is Indian-inspired although it is similar to the Middle Eastern dish, mujadarrah, which also contains lentils and fried onions.
I made more rice than can be eaten by normal appetites in one sitting because I used a rice cooker and I think the machine works better when it cooks at least a cup of rice.
I used red lentils and wished they would remain red, or at least turn pink, after they cook. Wouldn't that make the rice look pretty? But what they lose in colour, they more than make up for in flavour and texture.
Sambal terung
Sambal Terung (Fried Eggplant with Chilli)
Serves 2
2 long eggplants (about 250g)
4 tbsp oil
5-6 dried chillies, softened in hot water (deseeded if preferred)
2-4 red chillies (deseeded if preferred)
3 shallots, peeled
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
    Cut the eggplants into 10cm lengths and then quarter them lengthwise. Heat the oil and fry the eggplants in batches until lightly browned. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Reserve the oil.
    To make the chilli paste: Pound or blend the dried and red chillies, shallots and garlic until fine. Add 1 tsp of the oil used to fry the eggplant to loosen the paste.
    Heat 1 tsp of the oil in a pan and fry the chilli paste until fragrant and the oil separates from the mixture, about 5 minutes. Add the tamarind paste, sugar and salt. Add water if necessary if the paste is too thick. Stir-fry for about 1 minute. Adjust seasoning. Remove pan from heat.
    Arrange the fried eggplant in a serving dish and spoon the chilli sauce over them.
      This is what would be described as 'gebu' in Malay – tender and fluffy
      Rice with Lentils and Fried Onion Rings
      Serves 3-4
      2 tbsp ghee or cooking oil
      1 medium (about 50g) red onion, sliced into thin rings
      90g (about ½ cup) dried red or brown lentils, soaked for 30 minutes
      200g (about 1 cup) Basmathi rice, washed and drained well
      375ml (1½ cups) water or stock
      ½ tsp salt
      ¼ tsp garam masala

        Heat ghee or oil and sauté onion rings until crisp and browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
        In the remaining ghee in the pan, add lentils and rice; stir well so they are coated with the ghee. The next step can be continued in the pan or done in a rice cooker.
        Add water or stock and salt to the mixture in the pan, cover and cook over a low heat until done; OR
        Transfer the mixture to a rice cooker, add water or stock and salt; cook until done.
        When rice and lentils are cooked, stir in the garam masala and half the fried onions. Garnish with the remaining fried onions and serve with Chilli Eggplant.

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