Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gazpacho with Lemongrass Foam

Perhaps influenced by my stint in Kediri during Ramadan, I got to thinking about what would be a nice way to start off a summer meal, to break the fast if I were fasting.  Although I have what some would say is  a strange aversion to cucumbers, I do enjoy a good gazpacho.  And this is one soup that almost cries out for an Asian touch.  Lemongrass has a natural affinity for tomatoes, but getting the flavor without the fiber of the stalks is problematic.  One approach would be to infuse some oil with lemongrass.  I decided to take a different path.  Using some soy lecithin, I made a foam which I floated on the surface of the gazpacho.  This resulted in an ethereal touch of lemongrass that nicely complemented the gazpacho but did not overwhelm it.

 Summer is a great time to visit the farmers market in Sacramento.  Besides an abundance of stone fruits such as peaches, nectarines, and plums, there are also all the summer vegetables.  The variety of tomatoes now available is astounding, and I decided to use some of those in this gazpacho.  Happening upon some vibrant purple bell peppers, I chose to include those in the soup as well.  Unfortunately, they didn't add much to the appearance of the gazpacho, and I didn't think they tasted quite as good as regular bells.  The kaffir lime leaves which are from a tree we have growing in our back yard were a nice addition to the mix. Kalamansi limes spark the soup with a dash of zing.

(makes approximately 6  four to six ounce servings)

1 1/4 pounds of vine-ripened tomatoes (I used a mix of red and green zebras)
2 purple bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 persian cucumber, seeded and peeled
2 shallots, peeled and chopped
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1--2 TBS rice vinegar
juice of 3 kalamansi limes
4 kaffir lime leaves, center vein removed, finely chopped
1 hot chile, seeded and chopped
salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup water
two stalks of lemongrass, pale whitish bulb only, chopped
1 TBS lecithin

To make the gazpacho, quarter the tomatoes and press the seeds into a coarse mesh strainer set over a bowl.  Put all the ingredients into a blender.  Add the liquid collected from the drained seed pulp.  Puree the mixture and chill in the refrigerator.  

To make the lemongrass foam, puree the lemongrass and water in a blender.  Allow to sit for at least several hours before straining the lemongrass from the liquid.  Chill the liquid and add the lecithin.  Using a stick blender mix the liquid until a light froth forms on the surface.

To serve, pour the gazpacho into four to six ounce glasses and spoon on a layer of the lemongrass foam.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Breaking the Fast--Buka Puasa

In Indonesia, where more than 90% of the population is Muslim, Ramadan is an important month. During this month Muslims are called upon to fast from sunrise to sunset.  But this is much more than just a fast in the sense that most non-Muslims probably consider the word.  For Muslims, the fast does not simply mean not eating during the daylight hours, but also not drinking (anything, including water), smoking, gossiping, looking at profane images or objects, or engaging in any activities that might enflame the passions.  It's a month of sacrifice and self-reflection, a time to think less about one's own appetites and focus more on the community.  The breaking of the fast is done at sunset and is a communal event including family, friends, and neighbors.

This was my first Ramadan in Kediri.  I recall that in Cepu during Ramadan the town was basically closed down, the rumah makans closed or appearing so, so as not to tempt, or taunt, any fasters.  I recall religious patrols in KL making sure restaurants had their front doors closed so that Muslims would not be affronted by the sight of people eating during the day.  I expected Kediri to also close down during daylight for the month.  Much to my surprise, this didn't happen.

While some warungs and rumah makans closed the first day or two of the month, by day three most of them appeared to reopen.  Doors were not kept closed, nor was there any attempt to disguise the fact that food and drinks were being served and that some people were eating.  At the Podjok Soto (Soto Corner), a rumah makan featuring chicken soto that has been in operation since 1926 and, like the now defunct Tower Records, is open every day of the year, including all holidays, a young Muslim woman wearing a jilbab (a headscarf) was serving customers soto and drinks.  All of this openness about eating during the day during Ramadan really took me by surprise, but I was glad to see it.

Another thing that surprised me about Ramadan in Kediri was the selling of drinks and foods to break the fast.  Perhaps because Cepu was such a relatively small town, or maybe because in the early 80s people did not have the disposable income to spend on prepared foods, but there was nothing like the array of prepared snacks offered in Kediri.  From after the afternoon call to prayer to the breaking of the fast at sunset, vendors set up tables on Jl. Hayam Wuruk, one of the main streets in Kediri.  Again, as the fast also means no liquids during the day, drinks, especially sweetened fruit drinks, are a popular treat to break the fast.  The demand for these snacks and drinks is such that a special police patrol makes sure that the vendors and their many customers don't entirely cut off traffic from the street.