A fusion dish with Asian spices and a European cream-based sauce
A few years ago, when Nishil went to Stuttgart on work he made a friend - Elvira Ruhnke-Hauptvogel. Their friendship extended to a dinner invitation and Elvira gave him a parting gift – a tiny book called 1 Nudel – 50 Saucen, put together with German precision (Nudel is German for pasta). It is a book about 50 sauces and the kind of pasta they go with.
We are always kicked about ideas for different sauces so this book comes in handy in our cooking. So when we realized that the Thai rice sticks bought recently were feeling left out in the cupboard for a sometime, we started rummaging for a suitable sauce for the same. We zeroed in to one particular sauce to which significant modifications were made by including more spices, vegetable and seeds. It is a typical fusion dish with Asian spices and yet a very European slant due to the cream base. It pairs well with flat rice noodles (Thai rice sticks) as well as with regular pasta (say spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine). The book files this recipe under "euro-asiatisch". It is a cold dish, served at room temperature. Also, it calls for only minimal cooking of the ingredients - just browning the onions and cooking the noodles.
Noodles in lemon ginger cream sauce
Flat rice noodles or flat pasta like fettuccine
20-25 fresh basil leaves
A stalk of lemongrass
1 inch piece of ginger
3- 6 dry red chillies
3- 4 cloves of garlic
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
1 tbsp black sesame seeds
150-200 ml fresh cream
1 tbsp honey
Boil a litre of water in a large pot. Place the red chillies (stem removed), the garlic cloves and some salt in a mortar (we use rock salt in the mortar as it helps grinding the spices) and add one tablespoon of the boiling water to it. Peel the ginger and chop into fine pieces and add to the mortar as well and keep aside. Worry not if you do not have a mortar and pestle; just use your food processor.
Thinly slice the onions. In a skillet, heat about a teaspoon of any oil and add the onions to it. Spread the slices. You have to get the onions brown, so lower the flame to the lowest and start also thinly slicing the green pepper while keeping an eye on the onions, stirring when needed. When the onions are nearly brown, add in the sesame seeds and toss around till they crackle and turn the flame off. Take out the onions and sesame and add the green pepper slices to the skillet and let them get just very slightly done in the residual heat. We like the green peppers only just slightly done and crispy.
Remove the outer leaves of the lemongrass and chop the stalk as fine as you can. Even the basil has to be cut very finely – use a pair of kitchen scissors. Add the basil and the lemongrass to a mixing bowl. Zest the lemon and squeeze the juice. Both go into the mixing bowl as well.
By now your boiled water would have cooled down a bit, add the rice sticks and keep covered. Rice sticks don't need a flame to cook in. Just immersing them in hot water (not even boiling water) will cook them. But again this depends on the variety and quality of the noodles.
Back to the spices. Now the chillies in the mortar would have softened. Crush and pound with a pestle to make a fiery red paste. You are now nearly done; it is now mixing time. The red paste and the onions- sesame mixture go into the mixing bowl. Add in the cream and honey and mix well. This is what allows you to add so many spices and yet not burn through while eating. Your sauce is now ready. Add the green peppers and drained noodles to the sauce. Toss well and your noodles are ready to be served!
Prathap is a freelance writer who lives in Bangalore with his partner and a turtle. He recently quit his fulltime job to focus on his food and travel writing career. He blogs at www.backyardbasil.blogspot.in.