Simple Simon Says Sunday Seafood

Too small to jump through, we'll have to figure out something else to do with them...

Sometimes, the simplest things are the ones that end up being the most difficult to do properly. Of course, by extension, they’re often also the most satisfying to get right.

Shoelaces. A prime example.

I’m still ecstatic with surprise and delight every time I actually send the rabbit around the tree the right amount of times and in the right order, and my shoes don’t fall off 20 minutes later.  Similarly, rice has been my fucking nemesis for years – no matter how many ancient and wizened Chinese women I lure and trap in my basement then torture for information, I’ve never quite gotten the knack of making it anything but a glutinous, champy mess, best used to get RDP houses to actually stay up rather than to serve with a curry.  Of course most of you are silently sniggering at my unreasonable incompetence, but everyone has his or her thing. Like my aunt – who can’t say ‘herbaceous’. Go figure.

Maybe its because complicated things food-wise often need concentration – you know they’re complicated, and so you act accordingly. At least trying to make sure that every little thing goes in the right order in the right amounts and in the right place and whatnot, which is why (paradoxically) they often come out great. But when it comes to like … toast, there’s just this ridiculous assumption that it’ll just take care of itself and that we don’t really need to pay any kind of attention. Which is how we spend our lives scraping off the black bits into the bin.

This is why it’s a special kind of satisfaction to master something that feels simple, but isn’t really. This Sunday it was calamari – the kind that any Z-grade chippie on the coast can churn out by the bucketload, but try it at home and it’s usually like trying to eat old condoms.

Spicy Calamari Rings with Naartjie, Olives and Coriander.

Hold still damn you, you're going in my mouth.

This is based on a Spanish salad that uses salt cod and blood orange, but I really wanted to find a similar feel, but using things that felt more distinctly South African and also seasonally appropriate.  Naartjies are a citrus fruit unique to South Africa (they’re easy to peel and their sweetness is slightly denser than that of an orange), but you could easily substitute Clementines or Tangerines for a similar effect. The combination of crunchy, spicy calamari and the tart sweetness of naartjies is a madly unexpected, but lovely combo, and doesn’t really need anything more than a splash of citrus juice and olive oil as a dressing.

 

Ingredients (serves 6)

 

6 large calamari pouches, cleaned and sliced into rings

4 naartjies, skinned and separated into segments

1 red onion, sliced

1 handful of olives, de-pitted and halved

1 small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped

half a tsp cayenne pepper

half a tsp turmeric

a generous pinch of salt

a generous pinch of black pepper

1 and a half cups of plain flour

half a cup of corn flour

1 bottle of sunflower oil (for deep-frying)

What to do

Sift together the flour, corn flour, black pepper, cayenne pepper, turmeric and salt together, then dust the calamari rings thoroughly in the mixture so that they’re generously coated.

Heat the oil in a large pot (making sure the oil doesn’t go any higher than one third up the side – spitting oil and grease fires are no joke, ask me I know…), and when a bit of bread bubbles immediately when lowered into the oil, you’re good to go.

It's like playschool for squids. Except instead of naptime you get eaten.

With a slotted spoon, carefully lower the calamari rings into the oil one by one, until you’ve used up available frying space (don’t crowd them!). After a minute (max! – this is the secret to non-condomy calamari, resisting the urge to over-fry…) the coating should be crispy and golden, so get them out the oil and onto some paper towel to drain. Keep this going until you’ve gotten through all your calamari.

In a wide, flat salad-bowl, mix up the calamari, naartjies, olives, red onion and fresh coriander. Squeeze over some naartjie juice, add a splash of olive oil and you’re good to go.

 

So, this was part of a lovely Sunday lunch on a ridiculously hot day – the rest of which went something like this:

Mad and beautiful friends. Sorry Justine, for some reason I don't have a pic of you, even though you were totally there.

The best compliments are always unspoken.
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Don’t be mean to dolphins.

Organic radishes that prove I am a Friend Of The Earth

Oh dear.  So, I must warn you that today we’re tackling Serious Issues and Possible Threats To Humanity.  It’s best I’m clear about this up front – because there’s nothing worse than being suckered into watching the movie that the trailer marketed as an uplifting family story with a cute dog in it, which then actually turns out to be about How We’re All Going To Die.  But don’t worry, it’s not all gloomy, there’s also an okay joke about Lady Gaga, which is something.

I recently had an argument with a beautiful and headstrong actress about pigs.  She wasn’t saying the usual things that get said by an actress who has an opinion about pigs (that they’re constantly staring at her cleavage and she just wishes they’d stop borrowing her money to pay for new Xbox games).  Instead, she was determined to impress upon me that, for someone who’d like to make sure that any pork-products she ate weren’t ‘factory farmed’ as such, South Africa presents very few options.  She felt very strongly about this, and by the end of the conversation I sort of felt like I’d been punched in the face quite a lot.

Now, I’m incredibly aware of the problems presented by the intersection of Food and Environment.  I’m surrounded by enough Vegetarians, Vegans, Fruitarians, Pescatarians, Eco-Conscious Consumers, Radical Foragers, Organic Warriors, Jamie Oliver’s never-ending TV shows about fat people and Those Who Don’t Eat Seafood Because The Japanese Are Really Really Horrible To Dolphins (which they are) – all of which are legitimate ideologies and represent some of the most pressing environmental issues faced by humanity, to know that this is a problem and that someone should probably do something about it quite quickly.

And all this is before we even get to cow farts.

The difficulty creeps in when one tries to properly balance an awareness and sensitivity towards to the practices used in generating the bag of groceries you’ve just paid for, and feeling like you’re personally responsible for the heinous rape of the planet every time you put a fork of grilled chicken breast in your mouth.  Because, surely there has to be a middle ground, right? Or is that something we don’t do any more since the invention of Lady Gaga.

The real problem for most of us, is that they have a point.  And it’s an uncomfortably good one.

I love food. I love cooking.  I love the pleasure it brings to the people I invite to share in that process.  And it feels like it should be an innocent and joyous thing, surely?  What I stick in my mouth feels so far removed from something that people protest about and blockade Russian ships for and create websites dedicated to deformed chickens that may or may not end up in your BBQ nugget.  And yet, increasingly the seemingly innocent routine of making lunch tacitly enters us all into a proper honest-to-goodness battlefield whether we like it or not.

You see, just because information is difficult to come by, doesn’t mean you can automatically default to the ‘ignorance is bliss’ line of defense.  That’s how truly kak things Nazism and Child Labour Camps happen. At the end of the day we’re not twelve anymore and we can dress ourselves and everything, so why do we insist on acting like we are when it comes to the food we eat, the stuff that actually keeps us alive and healthy? Sticking our fingers in our ears and shouting “La la la, I’m not listening” just makes us all look stupid.

My suggestion is this: don’t rush straight off and become an activist who alienates people at parties by being loudly obnoxious about supermarkets – because no-one likes those people and Occupy Pick n Pay is woefully unsexy.  Instead, perhaps read up a little (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s excellent cookbook Meat is a good place to start), think a bit, maybe walk into a butcher and ask where his animals actually come from.  Maybe skip meat on Mondays.  Maybe visit a fresh produce market once in a while, and then who knows where it all might go?

But, most importantly remember that food is meant to be a positive experience and these days, that extends way beyond whether or not it tastes nice.

On another note, I do *promise* promise that recipes and amateurish pictures of iffy dishes produced in my kitchen will return. Promise.