Reverse Engineered Crackers

My family likes to have me cook. Well, they liked it the first time I cooked for them. Today was not such a success. The first time I found bottled spaghetti sauce, ground pork, spaghetti, broccoli, and made dishes that were well received and shared at work the next day. Today the agenda seemed reasonable to me but the final products were, well, distinctive.
The way to go about cooking “American food” for my family is to figure out what’s available locally and then figure out what I can make from it that’s familiar to me. In theory. So it occurred to me I could get tomatoes, cucumber, garlic, onion, and with the addition of lime juice to substitute for the vinegar, maybe I could make something like gazpacho. There’s no blender here, but I was counting on “Mom’s rule” which is that if you put in good ingredients then what you get is good, even if it isn’t what you had in mind in the first place. So I figured I’d chop the ingredients very fine and mash a bit and see what happened. To give it something of the consistency of soup I added water. Unfortunately, the tomatoes didn’t contribute much sweetness, and after I put in the lime juice the whole thing was stunningly sour. So I added sugar. And tasted. And added sugar. And tasted. And added sugar. Hmm. I guess it was sort of okay.
Then there was the fish. I made a sauce, sort of like a gravy. The sauce was actually quite good. It began with a chopped onion, browned until it caramelized, then I added finely chopped garlic and ginger and browned it some more. To make it into a sauce I wanted some flour, but there didn’t seem to be any available in the little stores I’m familiar with, so I got some crackers that are like a Ritz cracker and mashed them up into crumbs and used that to thicken the sauce. Hey, crackers are made of flour, salt, some shortening or fat of some sort, and all those things go into gravy. So I threw in some crushed crackers, browned that a bit, then added water and simmered until I had a gravy. Okay that was the highlight of the meal.
The fish. Well. It was a whole fish, and I should have… Maybe I should have filleted it. I don’t actually know how to do that, but it would have been a good idea. There were young Thai friends over, so I left it to them to cook the fish. Let’s just say that cutting it crosswise and then stir-frying it in a wok made the bones multiply and become indistinguishable from the browned crusty bits.
So anyway, the sauce was nice on rice, which completed the meal.
I have an idea for next week (I’m only attempting this once a week). If I can find a pan that will substitute for a griddle and if my language instructor and my dictionary can help me locate flour I can make crepes. We have eggs. Oh, did I mention the quail’s eggs we picked up cooked at the outdoor market? They were delicious. Were they quail eggs? Who knows, they were the right size for that. Were they from some endangered bird? Could be. Who knows. Ooops end side trip, we have eggs. How about a nice creamed chicken rolled up in crepes? If the pan part of this works out, I’d be willing to buy a griddle of a pan to take with me when training’s over so I can make pancakes at site. If the pan part of this doesn’t work out I think I could make a decent chicken salad with curried rice, as I can buy a roasted chicken.

When I’m living on my own I will learn to make some Thai dishes, but in the mean time my family would like to sample some American style foods.
Perhaps you have a suggestion. Here are the rules: no cheese is available; tiny amounts of milk are available but folks are likely to be lactose intolerant so alternatives to milk are advisable; so far I don’t have a source of flour or “breadcrumbs” except for my reverse engineered crackers (and I could try to work backwards from the Thai version of Wonderbread); there’s no oven but there are woks, knives (can I locate a whetstone?), and saucepans; eggs, chicken, fish, shrimp, and pork are available, although not any particular cut that I recognize and I can have ground pork; the seasonings I know I can get are limited to onion, garlic, ginger, sugar, lime, peanuts, chilies, and salt. I have a substitute for celery, leafy greens, no potatoes. Coconut milk is available. It seems likely that I can figure out what leafy thing in the market is Thai basil, given some forethought and the help of my language instructor. Game on!

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2 Responses to Reverse Engineered Crackers

  1. Kristen Norton says:

    Hi Pat–Here’s an idea that is very flexible! I call it ‘Eggs Kristen’ but you can call it anything you want! Its basically scrambled eggs, but before you put in the eggs, you chop up and stir fry whatever vegetables are available; you can also include any bits of meat that are handy or desired. Once the meat and vegies are fairly well cooked, add several stirred up eggs, depending on how much you want to cook, and scramble it up. You can add cheese if you have it. It is easy and American (??) I would think so. Definitely easy and very flexible! Enjoy 🙂 Kristen

  2. pkeig says:

    Hi, Kristin!

    Yes to Eggs Kirsten! I will definitely make that. And yesterday I found flour and sugar. I’m on the trail of a flat enough pan to make crepes… I could buy one that I’d also use at my site (after training) if I could wrangle a ride to the mall which would also require a phone call for permission from the Peace Corps safety and security officer as I’d have to be outside our “safe zone” for an hour. I will get to go outside for the first time today, for a boat ride and dinner on the river. Wow! And I even got photos for the first time yesterday … which I haven’t figured out how to get onto the computer but hey, one step at a time. Love to all!

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