I sat next to a very, very old lady yesterday. I don't say this lightly, or disrespectfully: she was 94, and in my book, that's old. My kids were playing in a piano recital at a local nursing home, and she pushed her walker right up to me and took the seat next to mine. When the concert was over, she folded my hand in hers and called me "lovely."
Old people like me. I have no idea why, frankly, because most young people could take me or leave me, but old people generally find me agreeable.
Which makes it doubly sad that all of my natural grandparents died more than 10 years ago. Happily, I have phenomenal step-grandparents, and they like me well enough. Three cheers for divorce! If my parents hadn't split and my dad hadn't remarried, I'd have neither grandparents nor step-grandparents, and then I'd just be awash, floating like a leaf, untethered from the family tree.
Perhaps all this thinking about older people explains why Pat Tanumihardja's new book, The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook (Sasquatch Books, 2009), resonated with me.
The book profiles real life Asian grandmas and offers little stories about their backgrounds, educational achievements, work experiences, and family lives. Of course, this is a cookbook, so the featured women also share their favorite recipes. Dishes with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, and Indonesian influences, plus several others, are included.
As someone who has never had an Asian grandmother, a few recipes intimidated me with their length or unfamiliar ingredients, but I still found plenty to bookmark. And the two I tried, Chinese Barbecued Pork and Amma's Rice (chicken biryani), pictured above, fed my family for days. The upfront time that went into the cooking paid me back with phenomenal leftovers.
Disclosurama: Do I know Pat? Yes. (Here's her blog.) Did I get this book as a free review copy? Affirmative. Would I have dinner with your grandma? Sure. Would I eat whatever she served me? Within reason, but no stuffed derma and no eel, please. Will I one day be a grandma? A cute grandma? I'd better. In fact, it's a goal of mine. All babies are cute, but to pull off being a super-cute grandma... that's on my to-do list, for sure.
Recipe for Chinese Barbecued Pork
Adapted from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook by Patricia Tanumihardja (Sasquatch Books, 2009)
A long marinade is key to the terrific flavor in this dish, so plan ahead. Pat's original recipe called for boneless pork shoulder, but I used country pork ribs to great effect. I also forgot to glaze my ribs with the reduced marinade (whoops), so if you want to do this, just boil the reserved marinade for 10 minutes and brush it on the ribs before serving.
Serves 4 to 6
2-1/2 pounds boneless country pork ribs, or boneless pork shoulder measuring 8 by 6 by 3 inches
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon 5-spice powder
2 scallions, smashed
2 stems cilantro, smashed
1 pod star anise
Cut the ribs into 8 equal sized strips. (I started with 4 long ribs and cut them in half width-wise.) If using shoulder, cut it into 8 strips about 1-1/2 inches wide and 7 inches long. Place in a single layer in a rectangular casserole. I used a Pyrex dish.
Whisk the sugar, soy sauce, sherry, and 5 spice powder together in a small bowl. Pour over the pork. Nestle the scallions, cilantro stems, and star anise pod in the dish. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours, turning once if you remember.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line the inside of a broiling pan with foil. Remove the pork from the marinade and place atop the grated broiler pan. (Transfer marinade to a small saucepan.)
Bake pork for 25 minutes, basting once or twice with reserved marinade. Flip the pork, baste again, and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pork caramelizes and just begins charring at the edges.
Transfer meat to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, boil reserved marinade for at least 10 minutes, if using. Cut meat crosswise into thin slices. Brush with boiled, reduced marinade, if desired, before serving.