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Monday, February 14, 2005

a thing or two about love

Khaotung

Not much, mind you, but I do believe I know a thing or two about love. Romantic love may forever confound me, but I have seen a far greater kind. And I have neither loved nor been loved more, or better.

This post is a remembrance of my beloved Khunta, my grandfather. How I so wish to share another meal with him, or perhaps a quiet teatime so we could, once more, talk about the world. How many things I have to share with him...

His house, our house, gave me sanctuary from the sometimes maddening world outside. His love was my courage, and his kindness my support when I stumbled. And the best gift of all, he gave me room to be myself.

On this day, when everyone is supposed to be thinking of love, I am taking myself back to one of those bygone afternoons, on my grandfather's patio, sharing with him a pot of fragrant tea and stories about the world, between mouthfuls of his favorite snack of Khao-tung Na-tung, crispy rice cakes and a sweet and savory prawn and peanut dip.

Khunta is no longer with me, but his love remains always.

Khunta's favorite Khao-tung Na-tung
Crispy rice cake with prawn and peanut dip

1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound shrimps, shelled (reserve the shells), deveined, and chopped into small pieces
2 cups coconut milk
4 tbsp palm sugar
4 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tsp chopped cilantro roots
1 tsp whole white pepper
2 dried red chillies, soaked until soft, seeded, then chopped
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup ground peanuts
1 ten oz. package of dried rice cake (Instant Sizzling Rice)
oil for frying
a handful of cilantro leaves for garnish
a few red chillies for garnish

For the rice cake (Khao-tung)
1. Fill a frying pan with about 1 inch deep oil, let heat until hot. Test the heat level of the oil by frying a broken bit of dried rice cake, the oil is ready when the rice cake sizzles and puffs up immediately on contact with the oil.
2. Fry the rice cake until golden on both sides, turning frequently to keep them from curling up too much.
3. Drain and set aside until serviing time. This can be done up to a day ahead, keep the fried rice cakes into an airtight container until ready to serve.

For the Na-tung dip
1. In a hot 3qt. sauce pan, add 1 tbsp of oil and shrimp shells and cook for a few minutes until the shells are pink, add the coconut milk and let cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Drain the coconut milk into a bowl and discard the shells.
2. In a mortar or food processor, pound or process garlic, cilantro roots, white pepper and red chilli together to a fine paste, set aside.
3. In the 3 qt. pan, add 2 tbsp oil and the paste and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Be careful not to burn the paste.
4. Return the coconut milk into the pan, then add the pork, fish sauce and palm sugar, let cook for 3 minutes on low heat, stirring frequently, then add the shrimp and let cook another 2 minutes or until the pork and shrimp are done.
5. Add the peanuts and shallots, cook for another minute to soften the shallots.
6. Fix the seasoning, making sure that the salt and sugar balance is to your taste. Remember that the dip must taste strong enough to support the rather bland rice cakes.
7. Garnish with cilantro leaves and julienned red chillies, serve with the Khao-tung, fried rice cakes.

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