After checking my kitchen, I determined that I still needed cilantro, fresh ginger, and a jalapeno for my attempt to wrestle Maybonne into the aforementioned chicken pumpkin stew. To tell the truth, I was unable to locate the original recipe. But with help from Google, I came up with another one. It sounded perfect, and so off I went to my favorite Korean market.
The plan seemed straightforward enough:
1. Purchase the remaining ingredients.
2. Make the stew.
3. Enjoy the stew.
In my effort to accomplish these modest tasks, however, I learned that any or all of these may apply:
1. I am easily distracted.
2. I am a weirdo.
3. I do not have a life.
Perhaps I should have named this piece “Pleasures for the Simple Minded.”
There I was, piddling my way up and down the aisles, when I was transfixed by the most gorgeous mound of jalapenos. So deeply and uniformly green, smooth, firm, glossy, and well formed! I had a hard time moving on from the pepper display but I did so for fear I’d be arrested for fondling. Instead of buying one jalapeno, I bought two. One to cook, and one to admire in private. (It’s in my fridge, stashed in a baggie, so I can ogle it whenever I please. Do I need to join a 12-step group?)
Finding the ginger was easy as well. It was gorgeous in a knobbly, fresh-gingery kind of way but it did not move me. I then went in search of the cilantro.
After checking a few times to make sure I hadn’t missed it, I figured the green bunch labeled culantro had to be the herb I sought. The market has many Spanish-speaking customers and employees. Hmmm. Maybe this was just another word for the same thing. I picked it up and sniffed. It didn’t look the way I thought it would but it smelled, well, familiar. I placed it in a plastic bag, added it to my cart, and checked out.
Groceries in car, I headed off to my daughter’s music rehearsal.
I guess culantro is one of those odd foods, like kimchi, which mess with your mind. When I walk into my house and think: O.M.G.! Would someone please locate that dirty diaper and dispose of it, STAT?!, it eventually dawns on me that I have stumbled unprepared into another person’s kimchi experience. But when I anticipate kimchi, my tongue tingles in blissful expectation.
The reason I bother to explain this is because, when I arrived home that day and stuck my nose into the sun-warmed grocery bag, I was assaulted by the foul odor of a fresh stinkbug massacre. You know what I’m talking about if you have ever attempted to stem the Fall Invasion with your Dirt Devil hand vac. Except, in this case, it wasn’t stinkbugs. Nope. It was my tiny bag of culantro.
My stomach churned. I tied the bag tightly, tossed it into the fridge and went to do a little more Googling. Apparently culantro is cilantro’s cousin—it’s hairy, well-muscled, odiferous cousin. The one who trips little old ladies and picks fights in bars.
I pulled out my cutting board and got to work.
The dish was coming together. Onion, garlic, curry, jalapeno, chicken, pumpkin, coconut milk, red bell pepper, ginger. The scents were intoxicating. All that my work of art required was cilantro, and I was loath to add this vomitous imposter. Fortunately, my research had indicated that culantro will safely permit you to substitute if for cilantro in small quantities if you:
1. Wear a hazmat suit.
2. Give it your lunch money.
3. Promise to do its homework until Christmas break.
I knew what I had to do.
I thought hard about cilantro–how delicious it would taste warmed in this aromatic blend on a cool autumn evening. Suddenly my mind made that strange shift. I hurried to chop the culantro and add it to the mix.
The stew was delicious!
If you want to give it a go at this recipe, the link is here.
If you are up for reading a strange poem about things whose smells can trick you, click here.