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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rice Wine Vinegar: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

We asked another friend, JP Vellotti, to write a guest blog. He's a food lover and cook, and his wife is a professional food writer.

When Tim asked if I could guest blogsit while he and Ruth get settled into their new digs, of course I said sure. In fact, I enjoyed writing my last guest post and I thought it would help me relieve some stress.

Why am I stressed, you ask? Oh, just because I have no job, I'm closing on a house in another state, my house hasn't yet sold, and did I mention that I'm buying a house while on unemployment?

But enough about me . . . seriously. Let's get down to eating well, cheaply.

When Tim, guest blogger Kevin Ireton, and I were a team at our former place of employment, we had a standing meeting on Monday mornings; I thought of it as my therapy session. In fact, these little tête-à-têtes may just have been the highlight of my week.

Although the "conversations" eventually focused on business, often the first item discussed were our great food finds on the previous weekend. Since my wife, Ramin Ganeshram, is a chef and culinary writer, my stories most often revolved around what great dishes she cooked, or what cool ethnic market we visited, or what chef invited us to dinner. I'm spoiled like that.

But since this whole moving thing, we haven't been anywhere notable, as she's cooking the pantry in an effort to avoid packing foodstuffs. I've attempted this myself a few times, but would refer to my endeavors as "massacring the pantry."

For example, yesterday at lunchtime, I found a half-dozen soy nuggets from Trader Joe's deep in the freezer. The best way to eat these, in my opinion, is to heat them in the microwave for a minute so until they get soft, then give them a quick fry in a dash of canola oil.

Which I'm pretty good at, but yesterday my dash of canola oil was actually sesame oil, followed by an expletive. Not one to leave things alone, I thought that my mixup would be corrected by a dash of rice wine vinegar and everything would have that "taste of the Orient."


It seems that rice wine vinegar prevents anything from browning. I ended up with six little sponges that tasted anything but pleasant. (I have a secret weapon for situations like this called "Sweet Baby Ray's" and will write about it in another post.)

So after a long day of packing, followed by a visit to the Goodwill drop-off center, I was starving and needed some real Asian comfort food. In my case, that's Drunken Noodles from the most unassuming Thai restaurant in the most run-down shopping center in my area.

As usual on a Friday night, the place was packed. While waiting for our dishes, we had a Thai salad which seemed little more than cucumbers in a tasty, clear dressing.

I'm sure Ramin could see my brain trying to figure out the flavor profile. She blurted out, "It's just rice wine vinegar and sugar."

I had to chuckle inside, having abused my palate with this same ingredient earlier in the day. Now that it was used correctly, I couldn't get enough.

Here's the salad recipe. It's been vetted by Ramin, so you can useoy it with confidence.

Thai Salad with Rice Wine Vinegar Dressing:

4 Kirby or Persian, or 1 large traditional cucumber, diced

1 T. each, carrots, onions, tomato, julienned (optional)

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1/2 t. white sugar (or less, as desired)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine cucumbers and other vegetables in small bowl and set aside.

Wisk together vinegar and sugar, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour over vegetable mixture and allow to marinate from half an hour up to 2 hours.

Looks can be deceiving. My "Golden Rule" of judging ethnic restaurants is not by their exteriors or decors, but their cleanliness and clientele. At this nearly abandoned shopping center on Long Island, the Thai restaurant is mobbed every day for lunch and dinner. Next door, the sit-down Chinese-Japanese place is perpetually empty. Coincidence? I think not.

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