Omu-raisu — Amulet of Leftover Destruction

Trying to return a bit to our early tradition of “cooking without a net”, kitchen improvisation, I want to recount a recent success.

Leftovers in question included an Indian style yellow curry with vegetable medley and shrimp as well as a shellfish paella (Spanish rice dish very much like a pilaf).

The additional major player, and the point of inspiration, was a clutch of farmer’s market eggs I had hoped would become fresh pasta, but which did not have sufficiently impressive yolks for that application (but which were still very excellent and ethical eggs).

Omu-raisu (aka omu-rice, aka omelette rice) is a Japanese comfort food which turns out to be an amulet for the obliteration of leftovers — the above items being a great example.

I beat three eggs with the curry sauce until it had retained quite a lot of air. This was poured into a non-stick pan (eggs are the only application for which such pans are acceptable) which had been pre-heated with olive oil (or butter) over medium heat.

Once the egg had begun to curdle, spoonfuls of veggie medley, curry shrimp and the paella were liberally sprinkled throughout the top and then a tight fitting lid was brought to bear on the situation. I highly recommend pre-heating the “filling” items in a separate skillet so that they aren’t trying to come up to temperature while the egg is trying not to completely dry out.

After a few minutes, remove the lid (careful not to drip all that water on the under side back into the eggs) and using a flexible spatula, fold the egg over itself either in half or, if you’re skilled, into thirds.

If you have leftover brown gravy handy, this will be an excellent addition at plating time.

Water Dragons

You’ll want to start with a reasonably sized, closable vessel for the oven (a dutch oven may be too big in this case) and a couple of thick cuts of fish (fillets are probably too thin, steaks are cut the wrong way, I used cod loin, but if that is not cost effective in your area, or is out of season, make the smallest possible adjustment from this option you can).

In addition, you want a mango (soft, but not mushy), a large stick of lemongrass, hot peppers (I used habanero I oven dried two Summers ago), olive oil and basic seasonings.

Apply a thin (but complete) layer of olive oil into your cooking vessel. Lay the fish flat, keeping the upper surface dry of the oil. Cut the lemongrass into a handful of large pieces which you bruise with the back of a knife, but keep whole (you need to remove them later, and you really don’t want pieces of lemongrass ending up in your creamy sauce), and scatter these and the hot peppers around (but not on top of) the fish.

Season the top of the fish.

Slice the mango into long, thin strips and arrange these on top of the fish.

Cover and put into a 225f degree oven for at least an hour, two might be better.

Transfer the fish to plates, and get out the lemongrass (compost it). Everything else goes into a blender or food processor to be rendered smooth and creamy.

Dress the fish and serve with saffron rice. Depending on how many hot peppers you used, have alcohol or dairy on hand.

If you have extra sauce left over, it makes a fantastic sauce for pasta with lump crab meat.

Well, unless you don’t like sweet heat.

Turn Your Head and Kofta

One simple way I’ve worked into my food thinking to try to ensure that more and more of the meat that I consume is at least vaguely ethical is by going out of my way to have cuts from animals which are less popular with the general public, and thus through sheer economic principles are less likely to have been industrialized. Lamb instead of beef, quail or duck instead of chicken, boar instead of pork… that kind of thing.

The good news for me, is that attending a church full of people of Arabic descent means that discovering lamb dishes, how to prepare them, and places around the city to get good Middle Eastern food (which, when done authentically, is almost always lamb, not beef) has gotten much easier.

Always budget conscious, and recognizing that eating ethical meat means spending a lot more per pound, I always have my eye open for budget friendly options. The most obvious budget friendly lamb option I’ve found is kofta (or kafta, depending on regional transliteration). This is a ground meat preparation which sort of straddles the fence between a sausage and a meatball; traditionally oblong, not spherical, not stuffed into a casing, and yet not cooked loose like Western breakfast sausage or scrapple, either. This preparation is typically cooked as a kabob, which is to say on a skewer, on a grill.

Kofta is, for me, a shining example of how Mediterranean cuisine somehow manages to have strong flavors, and use a lot of spices, and yet somehow everything still tastes like “itself”. Kofta tastes like lamb. And yet, it is anything but “plain” or “bland”. These are the kinds of food traditions I enjoy the most, and so kofta has become a fast favorite of mine.

I have found a few places around the city which serve phenomenal kofta wrap sandwiches, but of course, cooking at home is always cheaper than dining out, so of course I needed to figure out how to make my own kofta at home. And of course, I knew better than to ask any of the jadda at church for their recipe because, well, I like my ears to remain their current size, and in their current location on my head. Clearly, some deep nerd R&D was going to be required.

The first thing you learn when you start looking into ground meat preparations from the Middle East (such as gyro and kofta) is that the meat is ground much, much finer than one finds for Western sausage or meatball/meatloaf/burger preparations. During my early experiments I was inclined to ignore this detail, and I paid dearly with crumbling meat during cooking, eventually resulting in not only bad texture, but poor flavor. Yes, it is a very tricky business to put meat into a food processor and not end up with “pink slime” or some kind of wallpaper paste, but if you don’t own a grinding attachment for your pasta maker or stand mixer (and I don’t even own this hardware, yet, let alone have grinding attachments) you’re going to need to bite a bullet, develop a very adept pulse button finger, and tighten up the grind manually.

Part of the reason for this is that some of the primary ingredients you’re going to add to the meat are pureed raw onion and fresh herbs — which have a lot of water in them. A loose grind combined with a high water content is going to cause the crumbling during cooking that I was seeing.

Note, that yesterday I was making a variation on Italian wedding soup, but using kofta instead of meatballs[1]. If you want kofta for sandwiches or an entree, use all lamb, rather than the combination I have below.

So, enough foreshadowing, here’s the rundown.

  • quarter pound ground lamb
  • quarter pound ground pork
  • quarter pound ground chuck (not highly lean ground beef!)
  • half white onion, pureed and left to drain
  • four cloves garlic, pureed and left to drain (or prepared minced garlic, well drained)
  • large handful of fresh cilantro
  • large handful of fresh basil
  • salt, pepper, hot and smoked paprika, and sumac (or at least a zatar blend which includes it)

Puree your onion and garlic and set aside to strain. Coarse chop your cilantro and basil. Put your meats, dry seasonings, fresh herbs and pureed aromatics into a bowl and combine as best you can with a big spoon. Then, in small batches, add to a food processor and carefully work everything together more thoroughly (while making the grind on the meat finer without pulverizing it).

Form golf ball sized meatballs with the results. Arrange in a cast iron skillet and place beneath a broiler on high heat, but at some distance from the flame. Once one side is browned, drain the fat into a large cooking pot, turn the meatballs over, and put back beneath the broiler until the second side is browned, then remove from heat, drain fat again, and set aside, covered. Carry over heat will ensure they are cooked through safely.

Cook a batch of short grained rice, barley, orzo pasta or pearl couscous.

In the large pot where you put all that meat fat, add three chunked carrots, three chunked celery ribs, and the other half onion chunked, with liberal salt, on medium high heat. Once well wilted and soft, add two cartons of low sodium vegetable broth and a third carton of water. Let simmer until the vegetables all want to fall apart. Strain into a large bowl, put the vegetables aside (either to compost or to puree into a sauce base if you just can’t bring yourself to “waste” them), return the broth to the pot and add a bag of chopped spinach (I recommend working through it by hand to remove all the stems). Once the spinach is soft, you can serve your soup by filling the bottom of a steep bowl with your rice (or pasta or whatever you made), putting two meatballs on top of the rice, and then filling the bowl with broth.

Note: this makes far more broth than it does meatballs. But, broth keeps, meatballs don’t. Be prepared to make additional batches of meatballs (and cook more rice/pasta) to finish off the broth — or to store the broth for later use in sauces and gravy.

[1] Traditional Italian meatballs are one part pork, one part lamb and one part veal. I refuse to eat veal, and so I substitute ground chuck (rather than a highly lean ground beef) to ensure that I have enough fat content to keep the balls moist during their time under the broiler.

Flaming Bowl of Flaming Yum (Dolsot Bibimbap)

This falls in the category of not eating leftovers the same way twice.  However, this falls outside the category of me trying not to suggest recipes with esoteric ingredients or tools.  But this turned passable leftovers into a really tasty meal.

Components:

  • Dolsot (Korean stone pot/bowl for cooking)
  • Burner plate or small cast iron pan (for gas stoves)
  • Vegetable stir fry
  • Cooked Rice (pref. Korean-style sticky)
  • Egg
  • Happy Red Stuff (aka Gochujang)

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