Dining out at an inspired chef’s restaurant simultaneously motivates and chastens me. Often, I end the night well satiated yet lamenting, “Why can’t I come up with a meal like that?’ This is one of those dishes. In the mind and hands of a creative chef, this all-too-common kitchen disaster – burning rice –morphs into a crispy nutty culinary epiphanic filling for lettuce wraps. After munching down a few wraps, I couldn’t wait to purposefully burn my rice at home. Why couldn’t I come up with that?
Burning the rice doesn’t have to be a bad thing – this nutty version is the perfect crispy base for Asian lettuce wraps.
- 1 cup Calrose rice
- 1 cup water
- 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- Pinch salt
- Rinse rice with water until it runs clear. Combine rice with 1 cup water in a medium sauce pan. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove rice from heat and let steam, with lid on, for another five minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small microwave-safe bowl. Heat about 30 seconds until vinegar is hot and sugar has dissolved. Transfer rice to a large greased baking dish and let cool slightly. Drizzle with vinegar and pat rice evenly into dish, about ¼ – ½ inch thick.
- Preheat broiler. Broil rice 6-10 minutes, turning baking dish as needed, until rice is golden brown with areas of dark brown on top. The rice should be crispy on top and slightly chewy underneath. Break into pieces.
- Serve as a base for lettuce wraps or as a crunchy counterpoint in Asian salads.
Burning rice on purpose
He strode over to our brightly lit booth and asked if he could take our photo. He was a photojournalist snapping pics for a book called “A Day in the life of America”. The date was May 2, 1986 – the time, 3:40 a.m. Dressed in black with heavy eyeliner, we would erroneously be called “goth” today, but actually we were paying homage to Steve Strange and bands like Visage. “Of course,” we said. “Who wouldn’t want to take our photo,” we thought. We were young and invincible, a stylish knot of fashionable alternative kids huddled in Canter’s Deli slurping matzo ball soup in the wee hours before dawn. For us, it was truly just another Friday night – a ritual of underground clubs followed by a nosh at Canter’s. At that time of the morning, it was always an eclectic mix in their dining room – clubbers, rockers, blue collar workers, and the local older Jewish community unable to sleep – all there for a bowl of their rich chicken soup surrounding one humongous Jewish dumpling. Comfort in an unbreakable melamine cafeteria bowl.
For me, even 30 years later, matzo ball soup still conjures those early mornings spent at Canter’s. The book came out several months later – our photo disappointingly left on the cutting room floor. This recipe is dedicated to those kids in 1986 – intoxicated by life, in love with late L.A. nights and shimmering with uncontainable youth.
I prefer to make my matzo balls smaller and serve two per bowl rather than the classic single humongous dumpling.
- 4 large eggs, well beaten
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ¼ cup chicken stock
- 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper
- 1 cup matzo meal (such as Manischewitz)
- 2 carrots, cut into ½” rounds
- 2 celery ribs, cut ½” thick
- 1 small onion cut into ½” cubes
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups shredded chicken
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- To make matzo balls, beat together eggs, oil, stock, parsley, zest, salt and pepper until combined. Fold in matzo meal and stir until fully combined. Cover and chill mixture.
- Meanwhile, in a medium soup pot or Dutch oven (not too big – stock will need to be 4” deep to cook matzo balls), sauté carrot, celery and onion until softened but not brown. Add garlic, parsley, bay leaves, and thyme and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.
- Remove the matzo mixture from the refrigerator. Moisten your hands with cold water and quickly shape the mixture into 8 smooth balls. As you form each ball, drop it into the simmering soup. Cover soup and cook for about 30 minutes longer, turning matzo balls over half-way through cooking. Cook until carrots are tender and matzo balls are fully cooked.
- Remove garlic cloves, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs. Add shredded chicken and season well with salt and white pepper. To serve, ladle soup into bowls, divide matzo balls evenly.
Summer shouts at me through the squeals and laughter of the neighborhood children;
Its scent is Barbacoa de Cordero slowing cooking in the neighbor’s backyard
It passes by on wispy clouds riding rapids through cornflower skies;
I run my fingers through summer’s mane of apple green and fragrant grass
I kiss summer in the ripe, juicy nectarines from my straining tree.
Recipe adapted from Gourmet’s Raspberry Buttermilk Cake.