Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Rain, Rain ... Go Away or Stay?

When I lived in , I often used to like the rain. Sometimes – not always – it came down gently, continuously, almost softly. You could take a walk in it, and almost enjoy it. Everything was intensely green, washed clean of the city soot. Because it is sort of far north, there were few really steamy humid days. Of course there were those storms that came in from the North Sea and tried to wash us from the map. I didn’t live through the big flood, but we had a few occasions where the rain-flooded Elba River rose just about to the doorsteps.

(This was the view out my appartment window of the Elba River in Hamburg, Germany)

Some places have had sensational thunder and lighting. The mid-west US offered huge, booming thunders that sometimes boomed continuously for quite a few seconds, and seemed to roll and echo away into the distance. Usually with brilliant lightning that could really light up the sky. Everyone counted the time from the lighting to the thunder. I’m not sure we knew then why we were counting. But we did it just the same.

Or when we lived in New Orleans, where it just rained. Nonstop. For days at a time. And hard – sheets of rain that you could hardly see through. The streets filled with water several feet deep. Cars stalled in it. Schools closed. You could board surf down the driveways on the water. We all had round boogie boards and would run down the streets or driveways, toss the bard in front of us and jump on and surf. Of course the high water washed all the critters up out of the neighboring swamps as well, so you had to be careful. The tiny town where I used to live at that time – , Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans – is pretty much washed away from the Katrina hurricane.

Other places, like Singapore or Tokyo, the rain seemed to merge with the air; the humidity seemed to be beyond 100%. It was like walking around in a giant sauna bath, hard to breath. Everything was damp, sweaty. It was something you had to get used to over time.

Here, it hardly ever rains. But naturally when it does, it seems to want to make up for lost time with a vengeance. Right now, it is storming pretty hard, with a stiff wind blowing in from the ocean. And the temperature has dropped quickly from comfortable to cool.

Maybe it seems so dramatic here because it hardly ever rains. Maybe this rain translated to Hamburg, for example, would seem just ordinary. And in Louisiana, it would be downright wimpy. And there is almost never thunder or lightning here, so it would be a pretty disappointing storm from a mid-west perspective as well.

Well, I’m freezing my butt off anyways. And we’re having something hot, hearty, in big portions, for dinner.

I’m making a lentil stew – a thick soup, really. Because the fat police were out in force today (due to the sausage and cheese spaetzle last night), I went fusion (French/Mexican/Japanese) and made chili pepper oil marinated fried tofu for a little spice on top of the soup. The tofu, despite being deep fried, is subsequently rinsed in boiling water, which removes most of the oil and fat. Everything is served, as always here, on top of steamed rice. Some will grate a little cheese on top. And that’s it. This recipe is pretty much my own invention, so I hope everyone enjopys it!

Lentil Soup with Jalapeno Pepper Chili Fried Tofu

1 onion, chopped fine
2-3 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups lentils – black, red, green or brown, or a combination
8 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
salt, pepper
Olive oil
Deep Fried Tofu (recipe follows)
Jalapeño Pepper Chili Oil (recipe follows)
Streamed rice if desired

Sautee onion in olive oil in a large, heavy pot until softened. Add carrots and celery. Continue to sauté until vegetables have softened. Add garlic, cumin and cayenne pepper, and continue to sauté, stirring for 1-2 minutes. Add lentils, bay leaves and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to lowest setting, and simmer until lentils are tender. Note – different types of lentils will have different cooking times, usually listed on the package.

Marinate the deep fried tofu pieces in the Jalapeno Pepper Chili oil, turning occasionally, for ½ hour.

Put a large scoop of steamed rice in a bowl. Ladle the lentil soup around it. Place several pieces of chili marinated tofu on top. Serve. Enjoy!

Jalapeno Pepper Chili Oil

1 fresh Jalapeno chili pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt

Cut the chili pepper in half and remove the seeds. Chop coarsely. Heat the oil in a pan over medium high to high heat.

Add the Jalapeno pepper and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
Stir in the cayenne pepper, cumin, chili powder and garlic and cook for another 2 - 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Cool and strain the chili oil. Store in a sealed jar at room temperature.

Deep Fried Tofu

1 block of regular firm tofu
A wok or large deep pan
1 small bottle of vegetable oil (about 20 fluid oz./or 600 ml)
I small pot of boiling hot water
large plastic or metal colander

Remove the excess moisture from the block of tofu by wrapping it in a clean towel and placing it between 2 cutting boards, let stand for an hour or two. Now cut the tofu block into triangle shapes (see drawing), about two inches long. Pour the oil into the wok and heat, when you dip a chopstick into the heated oil and bubbles rise from it the oil is ready for use. If the oil smokes it is too hot. Using the wok's spatula, slide the tofu triangles one at a time into the hot oil. Fry on both sides until golden brown.

Scoop the triangles out of the wok and allow them to drain on the wok's draining grill (or place on paper towels). Once the triangles are drained and cool, it's a good idea to give them a second deep frying. This deepens their golden color and makes them nice and crisp. Place once again on the grill to drain and cool.

The final step requires that you place the fried tofu triangles in a colander and run very hot water over them. I put the colander in the sink and allow the hot water from the faucet to run over the tofu, while I simultaneously pour boiling water from a pot over the triangles. This hot water bath completely leeches all remnants of oil from the tofu, resulting in tofu that you would never imagine as having been deep fried. Pat the tofu dry.

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