Sunday, December 16, 2012

As a friend of mine likes to say, "Medications don't have side effects, they have effects," the point being that any given medication does lots of things and whether those things are classified as positive or negative is just a matter of perspective.  I'm mixing metaphors here, but what I want to talk about is travel delays, in particular a delay of nearly a week that Felipe and I had in Lima last year. One of the effects of the delay was that we ate incredible lunches at the local market every day. Peruvians know how to cook like you can't imagine, and I might relive bureaucratic hell in Peruvian winter if it meant being able to eat for another week in Lima.
Many Latin American countries have their own version of arroz con pollo, and the Peruvian version is crazy good, unsurprisingly given their track record. The chicken is served separately from the rice (unlike many versions that shred the chicken and mix it in), and frankly in my estimation it's really the rice that stands out, green from the copious cilantro that is blended and then used as the cooking liquid, savory from the spicing and vegetables, and addictively greasy with chicken fat. I've taken to making just the rice, a vegetarian, completely bastardized version (I even use brown rice sometimes, the horror!), and it makes an excellent lunch. It's also perfect when you have some stray vegetables and a bunch of cilantro about to wilt in the fridge. We like to eat it with fried plantains on the side, but that's just because we eat everything with fried plantains on the side; as far as I know Peruvians don't typically eat fried plantains at all. I don't think Peru has much of a plantain-growing climate.

So this is clearly not Peruvian arroz con pollo, largely because it lacks both aji amarillo, a type of Peruvian chile, and the pollo which is normally fried before the rice, leaving its schmaltz-y deliciousness behind in the pot that is then used to fry the rice and vegetables. This is just lovely, savory green rice. To replace the chicken fat I use a generous amount of oil and cumin, and the result is delicious and smells amazing cooking-- just don't try to pass it off as arroz con pollo to any Peruvians. As always, it's all a matter of perspective. 

Green Rice

big bunch of cilantro, use just the leaves and thinner stalks
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil (don't skimp on this, really)
1 tsp. cumin (seeds or ground)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1.5 c. white or brown medium-grain rice
1 Tbsp. hot sauce (Tabasco or something of the like)
1 medium red pepper (or half a large one), cut into quarter and julliened
1/2 c. green peas (fresh or frozen) (optional)
8 oz. beer (optional-- both dark and light beer will work, though I wouldn't use anything "flavored" or, you know, Guiness)
1 Tbsp. salt

In a blender, combine the cilantro and 2 cups water. Blend thoroughly, a minute or two, you shouldn't have any big pieces of cilantro remaining.
In a medium pot over medium-low heat, add the oil, cumin, black pepper, onion and carrot. Saute for a couple of minutes until the onion is translucent, then stir in the garlic and the rice so it that the oil coats the rice. Fry the rice for just a minute in the oil, then add in the cilantro water, hot sauce, red pepper and peas (if using them). Add in either the beer or another cup of water and the salt, and give everything a quick stir. Let the rice cook until the water level is right below the top of the rice (about 10 minutes), then put a top on the rice and turn the heat down as low as it will go. Let the rice cook for another 10-15 minutes (or more like 20 if you're using brown rice), check to see that all the water has been absorbed and the rice is almost completely tender but not mushy. I like to brown the bottom of the rice a bit as it gets nice and crunchy and caramelized, so I will leave the rice over the heat a big longer, another couple of minutes after all the water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and leave the rice another 10 minutes with the top still on.
Serve rice hot, with a fried egg, baked/fried chicken, or whatever you like. (We like plantains and quick-pickled cucumber; this is what happens when a Jew and a Colombian live together.) Sauteed cabbage is nice too. Don't forget the mango juice!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

I'm gonna give it to you (baby)

A couple of nights ago I was talking to a Chilean friend on Gchat and (knowing that he speaks English) I slipped a phrase in English into the conversation. His immediate response: "no seas como los spanglish here" ("don't be like the Chicanos..."). At the time I didn't think too much about his comment (though there actually is a lot to talk about there, but that's another post), but today I was listening to a Cuban timba album, and the first chorus of one of the songs goes: "Open the door, open the door o me tiro por la window" (open the door or I'll jump out the window) which made me laugh a lot. In fact, lots of salsa (and in this case, timba, salsa's modern Cuban cousin) songs have bits of English thrown in there as well as full on Spanglish, which is unsurprising given that salsa was more or less born in New York among Latinos. Much if not most of it is tongue-in-cheek, like Celia Cruz's statement "my English is not very good-looking" which is also quoted in a very well known song by Marc Anthony.

The second chorus of "Open the door" repeatedly sings "se la llevaron" (they took it with them), which always reminds me of when I was just starting to learn Spanish and was struggling with direct and indirect object pronouns. It took me quite awhile before I could comfortably use phrases like "me lo robaron" (they stole it from me) or "se lo llevas" (you take it to her/him). It probably would have been helpful if I had been listening to salsa and its relatives back then.

One of the best examples of this I've come across lately is this nifty little song above; if you repeat the chorus, "a la que me lo pida se lo doy" to any native Spanish speaker, they will instantly chuckle. That's because "a la que me lo pida se lo doy" means "to whoever asks for it, I'll give it to them," but in Spanish the 'whoever' is understood from the 'la', which is feminine, so it really means to any female, and the 'lo' is masculine and therefore tells you that both 'it's are masculine. Now, remember that you are in Latin America and everything has the potential for double entendre. Also, penis is a masculine noun. So instead of "to whoever asks for it, I'll give it to them," you end up with (re-arranging for comprehension) "I'll give my penis to any girl who requests it" or "I'll have sex with any girl who asks me." Classy, right? (To clarify, this particular song is another related genre called son, not salsa.)

Like most musical genres, salsa, timba and son lyrics can be offensive, simply silly like the ones above, or politically/socially motivated. Recently Felipe and I have been OBSESSED with Gonzalo Grau y la Clave Secreta, a little-known Venezuelan-directed timba group who have both amazing arrangements and more socially-minded lyrics. These two songs are a great place to start if you're interested.