Sometimes when people ask me what my favorite type of food is, I pause for a long time. One side of my brain wants to say Italian. I grew up eating Italian every day. It is close to my heart, brings back all sorts of memories, and nothing on earth can comfort my soul like a bowl of pasta. The other side of my brain screams out for the Asian flavors in Thai and Indian food. If there is an Italian restaurant next door to a Thai place, I guarantee I have never been there. These cuisines represent freshness and excitement to me. And spice!
It’s hard to merge these two loves of mine, but when everything hits just right, it becomes magic! I have had many failures along the way, but they were worth it for a dish like this. Creamy Italian style rice, crunchy peanuts and tofu, tangy hits of tamarind and lime, spicy sriracha, and the deep savory flavor of the stock.
When tackling exotic flavors, I think it is nice to find recipes that only have one ingredient that you are not used to working with. For most people, with this recipe, it will be the tamarind. Tamarind is one of my favorite ingredients to use! I eat it raw right out of the pod.
The way to make a usable tamarind paste (which is what most recipes call for) is to first remove the outer shell from the tamarind, then simmer it about 15 minutes in water that barely even covers the pods. Next pour the whole thing into a strainer with a bowl under it (water too) and push all of the pulp through the strainer until you are left only with strings and seeds.
The tamarind paste. Next add sriracha, brown sugar, fish or soy sauce, and chicken stock. This will be our risotto cooking liquid! You may need to add a little water to this liquid; we need at least 6 cups to start with. Put it on low and let it come up to a simmer.
Meanwhile, get everything else ready. I cut the carrots into little matchsticks so they wouldn't get lost in the risotto. The other image is a chile, garlic, and ginger paste.
Carrots and a small amount of onions simmering. Next goes the paste.
Then the rice. You want to coat the rice with a little bit of oil during this phase. Let this cook about 2 minutes before you start to add the stock.
In goes the first stock ladle. Now as you may know, risotto takes about a half hour of fairly constant stirring. Fairly is the key word here, you still have time to fry up some other ingredients for this dish!
Like tofu! And shrimp! And eggs!
When the rice has become tender, remove from the heat and add the cooked shrimp and eggs, bean sprouts, and scallions.
Peanuts and lime on top of the serving bowls. This was REALLY good!
It may seem like a bit of work, but it is a fun and different meal to make with some friends on a Saturday afternoon. And you will feel like you really accomplished something!
Dan Whalen thinks Thai and Italian foods get along like two tamarinds in a pod! Check out his blog at The Food in My Beard
; check Dan’s Tablespoon profile often to try his recipes with creative international spins!