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.
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.
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: