Energy mustered. Dinner cooked. Fusion. Only one whole week late!

Last Tuesday, I wussed out on the Hobo Tuesday Challenge – fusion – like some kind of blood-coughing, afternoon-in-the-ER-spending, antibiotics taking pansy. I know: no one’s more disappointed than me. I mean, it’s not like I was coughing up a lung or anything. And there wasn’t that much blood. I tried yelling at myself to PULL MYSELF TOGETHER, but the yelling just made me more tired and I fell asleep on the sofa watching a Scrubs rerun. And I had a plan and everything.

The stalwart players did not wuss out, and happened to all choose Italian as one of the cuisines they were fusing. As luck would have it, Italian is also one of mine, along with Indian in the curried vegetable risotto with cilantro gremolata I’d been planning and finally made tonight. I know it might look like I’m just another lemming, but I’m fairly certain I had my idea before anyone else had their respective ideas. So I’m like the Queen Lemming.

This was a fast, satisfying dinner, all the better for being done early enough that I just had the time to tear myself away from the computer to watch Dancing With the Stars, which I fully admit I did solely because I heard Shakira was going to be on. Which she was, and it is in fact the case that her hips do not lie.* I’ve mentioned the rule of five before: you get a list of five people other than your significant other with whom, if they showed up at your door, you could sleep without repercussions (not a rule I made up, but why not?). I’ve already stated that I would really just prefer a nice dinner and some spooning, but in any case my list is only two people long and is comprised of (1) Christian Bale and (2) Shakira. And if I had to rank them in order of importance, Shakira totally comes first. Her hips COULD lie, and it would still be okay. So thank you, risotto, for giving me the gift of televised hips, even if I also had to watch her completely irrelevant and cognitively dissonant backup traditional Chinese drummers.

*Please note: I do not actually like this song. But have you heard the songs she wrote for the soundtrack of “Love in the Time of Cholera”? Crazy gorgeous.

Yes, I just said that. Television, she is batshit insane.

Anyway, I’m not going to waste hundreds of words talking about how to make risotto because those words already exist in thousands of other places on the internet, including here. The only real difference here was that I nixed the wine you usually stir in at the beginning, replacing it with coconut milk instead. Otherwise, it was the same old stir and dance. (Rim shot!)

I have a fridge full of veg because although I’m excellent at making room for all the CSA vegetables in my fridge, I’m very bad at actually planning menus and figuring out ways to use them. (Yes, 4-inch diameter head of Napa cabbage, I know you’re in there. YES, I’m thinking about you. OFF MY BACK, CABBAGE.) For this meal, I pulled out some Yukon Gold potatoes, a fistful of bi-color red and orange carrots and a mutant half-green, half-red pepper. Or capsicum, if I feel like putting on airs an affectation.

The veg went in in stages, to give me a range of textures other than “mush”: I threw in the potatoes at the beginning, just after adding the coconut milk to the rice, so they’d have time to cook all the way through as I added the cooking liquid. The carrots went in when the rice was almost done so they’d retain a little toothsomeness, which I realize is potentially not a word, and the peppers went in when the rice was nearly done so they’d still have a little crunch. There’s a very fine line between “almost done” and “nearly done,” so I wouldn’t attempt this dish unless you’re (1) an expert or (2) a very good guesstimator. I’ll let you figure out which of those two I happen to be.

During the last 10 minutes of cooking, I took breaks from stirring to chop up my gremolata-like substance. Traditional gremolata is a mix of parsley, lemon zest and garlic, served atop osso buco to cut through some of the richness; the French have something kinda similar named persillade because they just can’t leave well enough alone. I thought something in this vein but with curry-oriented flavors might be fun here to play off the spice of the curry and fat of the coconut milk.

I know there’s low-fat coconut milk available, but I feel very strongly that it should only be used in the most dire coconut-related emergencies. I can’t think of what a single one of those might be, so just don’t use it. I mean, you don’t have to listen to me. Maybe you like your food bland and watery. Different strokes for different folks.

For the gremolata-esque, I finely chopped some mint and cilantro to stand in for the parsley, grated some ginger for the garlic, and zested a lime and an orange for the citrus; I love the way the perfume of orange mingles with curry, like in those totally bananas pots de creme. I bashed all the ingredients together with my knife – the ginger needed a little muscle to really incorporate itself fully, but I gave it its what-fors – gave the now-incredibly thick risotto a last stir and dinner was served. (Also, my hands smelled really, really good. Maybe I have avoided fully washing them because I don’t want the smell to go away. MAYBE.) A ladleful of risotto, a spoonful of gremolata, stir in and breathe deep as the heat releases the flavors of the herbs and citrus, and eat. But blow on each bite, because potatoes retain their heat like little fucking napalm cubes, and they WILL hurt you.

This is a really lovely meal for:

  • Nights you want to pick up some Indian take-out but are too broke
  • Nights you want soup but don’t want to spend more than 30 minutes cooking*
  • Nights you want something that doesn’t suck

The coconut milk never really absorbs totally, so you end up with a slightly more liquid (although still quite thick and creamy) risotto. The veg makes it hearty, and versatile – you could chuck/disguise any veg you wanted in here. The gremolata did exactly what I wanted it to; it helped keep the dish from being too heavy, and the citrus skin hitting the heat was heavenly. And you know I mean that, because you know “heavenly” is not a word I toss around lightly. Or at all, except for in this particular instance. Adding the veg at intervals also produced the desired effect. The potatoes were fully cooked, the carrots kept some of their texture and the capsicum just a bit of crunch, also helping to keep things from veering too far toward the heavy and gloppy.

Plus, if you make this for other people they might do all the dishes even though they are in a bit of a rush to get somewhere, which is part of what might have allowed you to take those 20 minutes and watch Shakira’s candor-filled hips. And that right there? Is love.

*Under the assumption that soup from a can is NOT AN OPTION.

Curried Veggie Risotto with Gremolata-esque
Many of these ingredients should be pantry staples, and you can use whatever vegetables you have in the fridge or freezer. If you’re doing it right, you should only have to buy the herbs and citrus.
1/2 medium or 1 small onion
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 c. arborio rice
1/2 can coconut milk, full-fat please
1/2 c. diced potato
1/2 c. diced carrot
1/2 c. diced bell pepper
2 c. stock, chicken or veg
2 tsp. curry powder of your choosing
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. mint leaves, loosely packed
1/2 c. cilantro leaves, loosely packed
zest of 1 lime
zest of 1 orange
2 inches fresh ginger, grated

Make the risotto: Heat the butter over medium-low heat in a heavy pot. When it’s melted, add the onion; cook for 5-7 minutes until it’s starting to go translucent. Add the rice and stir to combine with the fat; cook the rice for 5 minutes or so until it develops a tranlucent outer coating. While you’re doing this, heat the stock.

Add the coconut milk and stir until the liquid is mostly absorbed (it won’t absorb totally, the way wine will). Stir in the potatoes. and spices.

Begin adding the now-warm stock by half-cupfuls, stirring stirring stirring with each new addition of liquid; wait until the previous addition is mostly absorbed before adding more. After 10 minutes, stir in the carrots. At 15 minutes, start tasting the rice; risotto usually takes me just under 20 minutes to cook. When you’re almost there, add the pepper.

Make the gremolata-esque: Finely chop the mint and cilantro. Dump the mint, cilantro, ginger and zest into a pile on your cutting board, and keep running over it with your knife until everything is finely minced and well-combined.

Serve the risotto piping hot with a generous spoonful of gremolata-esque.