Pineapple Twist of Fate

There was a dinner party at Casa Appetite on Saturday night, a combo early birthday celebration and inaugural warming of the new house.

We were a group of 12 and yours truly insisted on doing all the cooking, as long as guests would reciprocate with their beverage of choice. With three or four meatless eaters on the guest list, it was a no-brainer to whip up a pot of eggplant curry and some coconut rice to sop up its juices. The omnivores sunk their teeth into Viet-grilled chicken, which continues to impress me with its depth of flavor and ease of preparation.

While folks were cocktailing, I was manning the stove, frying up a batch of okra pancakes, which are more like fritters, cornmeal-y in a hush puppy kind of way, and loaded with still-crisp okra studs. A perfect nibble to whet the appetite.

The real surprise of the evening was an unplanned pineapple dish that seemed like a gift from a culinary muse who dropped in to spread some kitchen karma my way. While the eggplant curry simmered, I cut up a pineapple, thinking its sweet cold chunks would complement the rich grilled meat as well as the heat of the curry. The plan was to serve it as is, maybe with a cilantro garnish.

A breeze came through the kitchen window, and I lost my page to the eggplant curry recipe, and just like that, I stumbled upon a recipe for "Malaysian Spiced Pineapple Pickle," an intriguing combination of words that had my finger walking through the recipe. Sure enough, I had all of the ingredients on hand and threw caution to the culinary wind, assembling my mise en place and heating up the wok.

Within a few minutes, the kitchen smelled like an exotic spice den and I was nearly swooning at the stove, entranced by the colors and intense aromas taking over my senses. I wouldn't call this dish a pickle; it's more like a chutney - a sweet-sour-spicy melange offering extra depth to an already interesting menu.

My only regret is that I didn't have two pineapples: This stuff is nearly addictive! Make sure you cook it well in advance to let pineapple cool; you want to eat this at room temperature to get the optimal flavor experience.

When asked how I found this recipe (which comes from James Oseland's very savvy "Cradle of Flavor"), I paused for a minute. "It was kind of a fluke," I replied. "It was not part of the original plan, but the wind blew a certain way..."

And then I realized there was no way to explain this moment of serendipity. Bit by bit, I'm learning that some of the best things in life are often unplanned, that surprises keep us young and that only good things can come from the occasional breeze that blows through the kitchen window.

I'll save dessert for last and share the cake-y details in tomorrow's birthday blog.

Join me today at noon for this week's What's Cooking Web chat.

Malaysian Spiced Pineapple Pickle
From "Cradle of Flavor" by James Oseland

Ingredients
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 pieces cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 green cardamom pods, cracked open with the flat side of a knife
1 whole star anise pod
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 piece fresh ginger, 3 inches long, peeled, thinly sliced with the grain and cut into narrow matchsticks about 1 inch
3 shallots (about 2 ½ ounces), thinly sliced
2-4 tablespoons palm sugar, thinly sliced OR dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons water
1 pineapple, about 3 pounds, peeled, cored and cut into chunky wedges
3 fresh long red chiles such as Fresno or cayenne, stemmed and halved lengthwise (optional)
¾ teaspoon salt

Method
Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet (I used a wok) over medium-low heat. When hot, add cinnamon, cloves, fennel, cardamom pods and star anise and stir well to combine. Saute, stirring constantly until combined aroma of spices wafts up, about 2 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and shallots and continue sauteeing often, until garlic and shallots have just wilted, about 3 minutes. Don't let them change color.

Add palm sugar (or dark brown sugar) and water and stir well. Continue stirring until dissolved and add pineapple, chiles (if using) and salt, stirring to combine. Raise heat slightly to bring liquid to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until pineapple can be easily pierced with a fork, about 5 minutes.

Remove lid and cook at a lively simmer, until liquid has reduced by one-fourth, 6-10 minutes. Taste for salt and add more as necessary. Mixture should be syrupy, rather than soupy; continue cooking to thicken if necessary.

Transfer to a serving dish/bowl and allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

Malaysian Spiced Pineapple Pickle
From "Cradle of Flavor" by James Oseland

Ingredients
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 pieces cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 green cardamom pods, cracked open with the flat side of a knife
1 whole star anise pod
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 piece fresh ginger, 3 inches long, peeled, thinly sliced with the grain and cut into narrow matchsticks about 1 inch
3 shallots (about 2 ½ ounces), thinly sliced
2-4 tablespoons palm sugar, thinly sliced OR dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons water
1 pineapple, about 3 pounds, peeled, cored and cut into chunky wedges
3 fresh long red chiles such as Fresno or cayenne, stemmed and halved lengthwise (optional)
¾ teaspoon salt

Method
Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet (I used a wok) over medium-low heat. When hot, add cinnamon, cloves, fennel, cardamom pods and star anise and stir well to combine. Saute, stirring constantly until combined aroma of spices wafts up, about 2 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and shallots and continue sautéing often, until garlic and shallots have just wilted, about 3 minutes. Don't let them change color.

Add palm sugar (or dark brown sugar) and water and stir well. Continue stirring until dissolved and add pineapple, chiles (if using) and salt, stirring to combine. Raise heat slightly to bring liquid to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until pineapple can be easily pierced with a fork, about 5 minutes.

Remove lid and cook at a lively simmer, until liquid has reduced by one-fourth, 6-10 minutes. Taste for salt and add more as necessary. Mixture should be syrupy, rather than soupy; continue cooking to thicken if necessary.

Transfer to a serving dish/bowl and allow to cool to room temperature before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  August 21, 2007; 11:01 AM ET Discoveries , Entertaining , Kitchen Musings
Previous: Marinade Mojo | Next: My Kind of Birthday Cake

Comments

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you had star anise and cardamom on hand? wow. that's a well stocked kitchen.

Posted by: SSMD | August 21, 2007 11:47 AM

Happy birthday, Kim! May all the kindness you share -- and encourage others to share -- be returned to you for many happy years to come. Celebrate a Mighty Appetite for LIFE!

Posted by: Another Peridot | August 21, 2007 12:31 PM

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