Friday, May 02, 2008

As I stood cooking

I left the house at noonish today in order to reach Ashfield well before the psychiatric practicum started.

By 4.15, after an hour spent with three rather quiet inpatients from the hospital and two other DMT students, I was on the bus back from Ashfield, and I had plans for that lonely slab of fish sitting on my designated shelf of the fridge, waiting for my plans to happen.

I decided to make it into green curry fish, with chopped mixed vegetables to make a nice, healthful meal of it. For the past few years, my cooking activity has been almost nil, which is why apart from mashed potatoes (or potato anything), tiramisu and assorted other low-skill items, I can't really cook. Now that I no longer live within easy reach of cheap and tasty freshly cooked food, it's time I learned.

OK, so using packaged green curry paste from the Asian grocery doesn't really qualify as making green curry, but I have to start somewhere, right?

5.00pm, at my local supermarket:
What veggies should I get? Potatoes, of course. I think seven of these glossy little Colibans should do. Eggplant... why are all of them so big? Never mind, they shrivel when cooked, right? (Right?) I'll just take the smallest one. And a kilo bag of carrots... I guess that's enough. Shouldn't overdo it. (In hindsight, after the whole thing with the eggplant, I see what a joke this is.)

6.15pm, after I have rested my muscles that are a little tired from lugging what eventually turned into a few kilos' worth of fruit, veg, and refrigerated pasta:
I say my goodbyes to friends I've been chatting with online, and start the preparations. The potatoes are easy; I have a long history with tubers and I know just how to handle them. Carrots, fine. The eggplant produces a problem. How big should the chunks be, so as not to dissolve to nothingness once boiled, yet not so huge that my Hokkien ancestors (were they still alive) would turn up their refined Southern noses at them? Should I slice lengthwise first, or crosswise? Only now do I see that this "small" eggplant was small in comparison to the others, and was in actual fact bigger than a guinea pig. An obese one. An obese guinea pig from a very large breed.

Since I have twice as much santan (coconut milk), "meat" (the curry package doesn't seem to have been written by a seafood-fancying type) and veg...

Maybe I should rephrase that. Since I have twice as much veg as the recipe calls for, and I could just as well open the extra can of santan I'd bought in hopes of making kaya soon, let's cook up a bulk serving of green curry so I can freeze the extra.

All right, I need to rephrase it again. Since I underestimated just how huge the smallest eggplant was, and chopped it all up anyway and therefore now have about four times as much eggplant as carrot (about eight times as much as potato and, ominously, uncalculably more than fish), let's just cook a big pot and see what happens.

As per package directions, but double, I "fry" two tablespoonfuls of the paste in one can of santan. The resultant liquid is too pale for green curry. Mindful of my last attempt, which had too much paste, too little santan and too much meat, I decided to add paste in very tiny spoonfuls.

About five (gradually expanding) spoonfuls later, I decide it looks and smells right, and it's time to add the other can of santan and bring it to the boil.

Hmm... still too pale. (More paste.)

Boiling. Time to add the fish. (This is a very small amount of fish for this pot, is my thought as the last sliver plops to the bottom. Mental note: fish is more dense than green curry.)

Does this look too pale? (Still more paste. Have these paste people actually tried cooking using their own proportions?)

In goes the veg. The potatoes and carrots sink. (Mental note: Potatoes and carrots are more dense...)

My reverie over the potatoes and carrots is broken by the sight of all my beautiful, disdaining-Hokkien-ancestor-reject eggplant chunks floating. Evidently, eggplant is not dense at all. They're so floating that it almost seems they're not touching the liquid at all. This could be a problem. How are they going to cook if they're going to hover over the surface of the water- sorry, been spending a lot of time in Genesis of late (off-tangent aside: have really been spending a lot of time in Genesis of late; ask any other first-year Counselling student at Wesley)- of the curry?

I use the spatula to push a few chunks under the surface at a time. I feel like some mediaeval executioner, dunking unrepentant vegetables.

It's not working. I leave the lot to go on simmering while I duck back online and start typing this post, which I realise is a less worthy use of time than writing up one of the three assignments I have due next Friday, but take it as a warm-up for my writing muscles.

In between paragraphs, I keep going out to check on the curry. It has been a while since I last saw anything but eggplant. The carrots and potatoes obediently come up when I stir, but the fish, where is it? I can't find the fish.

Some of the eggplant has softened and submerged a little. Good. But where has all that fish gone?

Feeling optimistic at the sight of the softening eggplant, I put the rice on to cook.

I can't wait for the eggplant any longer. I need to eat, because there are papers waiting to be written.

I poke a chunk with a fork. Instead of the soft, yielding chssssshhhh I want, I hear a firm, almost crunchy khhhk (my phonetics aren't very good, but if you have experience in cooking eggplant, maybe you know exactly what sounds I mean).

I decide to wait just a little longer. Besides, the rice, which I have decided to microwave on very low heat in stages so as to avoid the exploding rice problem I've always had, is two stages away from "done".

I can't believe I've waited half an hour for vegetables. That's it, I am eating.

I take the rice out of the microwave and feel, lame as it is, that the perfectly done grains are cause for celebration. For once, there is no puddle on the microwave dish. There are no dried-out grains lying on top of a sodden heap of stuck-together grains. Perfect. I know just what to celebrate with:

Almost-vegetarian green curry. Or maybe vegetarian, because I still don't know where all my fish went.
Final verdict: Amazingly enough, everything was cooked just right. The fish did not dissolve, as some thought. It was pleasantly tender and the eggplant would have pleased Goldilocks.

But I think it could have been more green. The paste manufacturer definitely needs to revise the package directions.

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