This is my third summer in Chicago and I realize now that the last two were merely lovely, prolonged springs. Dainty little dandelions. This year, we’ve been getting hit with all the fury the Midwest has apparently been storing up. Downpours and thunderstorms every other day. Humidity as thick as a side of beef. The grass and weeds are so overgrown and virile that it feels like a drive through the jungle on certain narrow stretches of the freeway. This morning on my way into work I saw lightning strike the Sears Tower. Amazing.
This dish has somewhat of a monsoon flair, with flavors like ginger and coconut. It also features one of my five all-time favorite ingredients: cilantro. I remember searching all the small Italian produce stands I could find for cilantro when I lived there, promising my roommate I’d show him what Mexican food could taste like (nothing like the one faux Mexican velveeta restaurant in Bologna). It was a staple in all my early cooking explorations in college, and on my favorite Food Network show at the time: Two Hot Tamales. I know it doesn’t suit everyone. Julia Child hated it. But I think its flavor is fresh and bright–like the citrus of the herb world. It’s been with me in my various kitchens for a long time, and yet I still get excited when I see it in a recipe.
Bon Appetit subscribers will recognize this recipe from June’s issue. Mine is an improvisation with the ingredients I had on hand. I’m nothing if not resourceful, and I hate buying whole bottles of specific oils and vinegars if I’m only going to use a dab for one particular recipe. So here is my improvised (and improved–with peas and coconut) version. You could easily add a few more veggies and a protein to make this a pilaf.
1 c. long-grain white rice
2 1-inch-long pieces fresh ginger, peeled, each cut into 4 rounds, plus 1 tsp. minced peeled fresh ginger
1 2/3 c. vegetable broth
1 c. frozen peas
1 1/2 c. fresh cilantro
5 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. rice or apple cider vinegar
1/2 c. shredded coconut
Combine rice and ginger rounds in a large saucepan. Add broth and sprinkle with salt. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Cover; reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 15 minutes and then add the peas. Recover and simmer another 3 minutes, or until rice and peas are tender and broth is absorbed.
Meanwhile, combine cilantro, shallot, and minced ginger in a mini food processor. Add oil and vinegar, coconut, salt, and pepper. Blend until almost smooth. Taste it and adjust seasonings as necessary.
Transfer rice to a bowl. Remove ginger rounds. Mix in the cilantro oil and serve.