Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes. Today’s post is clearly brought to us by the letter “S”. I’m your velveteen vampire, Jon O’Guin. Today was originally solely going to be about a recipe my mother attempted recently, but it turns out there’s really not a lot to talk about with that dish. Luckily, I ALSO had a really simple recipe I wanted to do, that I had meant to do with a couple dishes I cooked, and just kept forgetting, so I whipped it up for the leftovers of that food, and we’ll talk about it now. EVEN MORE Luckily, the dishes form nice bookends in terms of culinary traditions, and share a significant sibilant consonant: so let’s sit down and suck up some sweet ‘n sour cucumbers, and some mango lassi.
Cool as A Vine Gourd
We’ll talk cukes first, since they’re the old school dish in the equation. Recently, my mother went to Oregon for a week or so to help out with a family reunion on her side of the family. While there, she was struck by a desire for a dish she’d not had in years, and asked her mother to make it. My grandmother declined, saying she didn’t remember the recipe, to my mother’s mild miffing. (Is there a verb form to “miffed”? Spell-check says so, and a Google check backs it up. Good to know.)
Let’s miff some shit UP!
Now, my family has a number of noteworthy traits. We each specialize in various tasks and enterprises. Mine, according to Nate, is “convincing people to make bad choices.” He holds it’s the reason I’ve been employed by every job I’ve interviewed for: once you get me in the door, it’s already too late. A more universally shared trait we have is what I think of as ‘pearls of pettiness’. Which isn’t a great name, because it’s not like they’re all petty. Basically, we’ll get these little ideas in our heads. “Man, the shed is really old.” Or, “Someone mentioned a restaurant I’ve never heard of in a town 20 minutes away” or so on.
And where a more normal person might brush off the thought and move on, my family seems weirdly disposed to lock onto one of these ideas every month or so, and worry at it, locking our mental teeth into it, and grinding. And grinding. We just KEEP worrying at it until we eventually spit out some kind of resolution. Nate recently spent 2-3 weeks convincing himself to buy (admittedly pretty rad) wirelessly controlled LED light bulbs for his room.
Fun fact that I might have already shared: the human eye is particularly good at distinguishing between shades of green, which is why this was the best color saturation shot I took of the bulbs in action.
My mother got it for this recipe. Once she heard that grandma didn’t remember it, she called her sister, who lives a couple time zones away, to ask if SHE remembered the recipe. Then, she eventually discovered that the recipe was in a cookbook her church had put out, which sits in our kitchen basically every day. She could make it herself! Or could she? DUN DUN DUN
By which I mean my mother looked at the recipe, and it wasn’t particularly familiar to her. It didn’t SOUND like the recipe her mother made. Which is entirely plausible, as I mentioned back in the Bean Casserole post, my grandmother uses recipes as Caesar-Salad ciphers, where every measurement and ingredient is a stand-in for some other, distinctly different value.
Little Caesar cipher joke for you cryptography fans.
Or should I say
”Orggov Xzvhzi xrksvi qlpv uli hglk wvxlwrmt gsrh”
So the recipe was seized, and it was analyzed, and it was found to be incredibly easy. Consisting of nothing more than whipping together some simple ingredients, and simmering some cucumbers in them for flavoring. And while I would love to tell you what those ingredients are, it turns out the recipe is NOT in the cookbook I thought it was, a bad realization to make at 1 in the morning. Look, things have been busy around here. (Editor’s Note: Turns out, it was the cookbook sitting to the right of the one I grabbed. I was inches from success, and dashed it to the ground.)
So…the cucumbers…happened. I can say that with certainty.
I have too many pictures of them in various stages of slicing for them to be faked.
While I’m not lying about not actually knowing the recipe, I do know the broad strokes of it: the sauce was a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and…I know at least one other thing, and I think two. Let me check my phone. I take all the site’s pictures on my phone camera, so I have…oh, hey, I took a picture of the cookbook! Open to the page of the recipe! Alright, I can just read this and…nope, I do not have the resolution to pull off that trick. Damn it, why couldn’t I be in a police procedural show?!
Zooming and enhancing only works if you started with millions of pixels.
One thing the pics DID remind me of that I had completely forgotten was that this recipe actually uses more veggies than just cucumbers. It also involves sliced green onion. So that’s useful.
Stored in the traditional Onion Chalice
Anyway, you sauté the onions for a bit, add the sauce, cook, add the sliced cucumber, and cook for a while. I do recall this part because the instructions here are REALLY weird: it says to simmer for like, 3-5 minutes, but to not “let the cucumbers become discolored”. We’re somehow supposed to simmer cucumbers in SOY SAUCE, the INK of Seasonings, and not let them get discolored? What the hell?
Also, side note. These are supposed to be “sweet and sour cucumbers”. Why is there so much soy sauce? Like, there’s a bit of sugar, so I’ll give you sweet, but you’re relying on straight vinegar for your ‘sour’? I don’t know that I would CALL white vinegar sour so much as… just the concept of “sharpness”. You know, “pure acid”. (Future Jon, back with another comment. After finding the cookbook, I discovered the other two ingredients were peanut oil for sautéing the green onion, and TABASCO sauce. SUGAR isn’t even in the listed ingredient, it’s just added in during a random step. This recipe is the least sweet OR sour thing I’ve ever heard called “sweet and sour”)
I’d have called them “Salty Shiny Cucumbers”. Look at that reflective sheen!
In the end, the cucumbers were perfectly fine, but they weren’t what my mom remembered. Maybe we should try apple cider vinegar? That would be sweeter, at least. I don’t know. This is a difficult mission, one that I often warn people against: trying to recreate the taste of a food from years ago only rarely works. It can be immensely satisfying when it does succeed, but the vast majority of the time, you should be bracing yourself for disappointment. On the other hand, Nate discovered that maybe he was too harsh on his Crab and Cucumber concoction, because he didn’t like the cucumbers in this recipe, so he may just not like partly pickled cucumbers.
So let’s not chase the haunting phantoms of our youth, and instead push into a bright new future! One based on a drink that was invented millennia ago!
What’s That, Lassi? Timmy Fell Into the Untouchable Pit?
Are jokes about the caste system okay now? Like, the caste system was…”solved” by Gandhi, right? What’s that? Violence against former untouchables has been a recurring issue in India, as recently has two years ago? Oh. That’s good. That’s what I get for mixing classic American television jokes with millennia-spanning national and religious social structures.
Don’t judge me, infant.
Lassi is an Indian beverage that is said to originate in Punjab. The basic formula is something that, while somewhat foreign, should also be pretty recognizable: Lassi is made by mixing yogurt, water, and flavorings (often fruit, but other options such as salt can be popular) together. And if that sounds weird, think about it this way: Imagine you had a mixture of flavorings and dairy. Some sort of chilled, processed cream. And imagine if you mixed it with similarly cold water, or perhaps another, thinner dairy product. Some sort of…shaked cream. Mixed Milk. Or something.
If only there were some kind of beverage this looked like.
Yeah, Lassi is just one of several ways you invent a milkshake before refrigeration. Dairy, water, flavorings, and sweetener. Which makes perfect sense for why it was invented in India. The hot climate there is going to spoil straight milk in no time, and it’ll melt any frozen product before you can say Bhagavad-Gita. And, also, India loves spicy foods. Not always HOT foods, but foods just packed with spice mixtures. When they DO bring the heat, however, it’s nice to have some cold dairy to wash it down with.
Anyway, like their milkshake brethren, Lassi are STUPIDLY easy to make. And also hugely varied. The recipe I found suggested I use Greek Yogurt, but some brief research shows that basically EVERY kind of yogurt+water combination has been used to make lassi by someone. Plain yogurt and Ice, water and greek, buttermilk and yogurt, the list goes on. Our recipe doesn’t even use actual water! It’s yogurt, frozen fruit, and milk!
Oh, and honey for sweetness.
The Flavorings are similarly diverse. Mango is the flavor that’s caught on in America, but other fruits are accepted, as are many savory varieties such as salted, mint, or black pepper & cumin. Hell, for one religious festival, bhang lassi is the drink of choice…bhang being a cannabis compound. Yeah, marijuana milkshakes. That’s a thing. Expect to hear about it at your next trip to Burning Man. Or a Whole Foods, probably.
Anyway, as you can guess, the recipe for lassi is pretty easy. My recipe used frozen mango chunks (actually, it said “a cup of either very ripe fresh mango, chopped frozen, or mango pulp”, and I went with the frozen kind because it was the easiest.)
And it prevented me from getting mango juice all over my hands and the floor.
Toss it in a blender with water and yogurt, and blend. You can tweak the proportions how you like. My site went with a “1:2:1” of water to yogurt to mango, but checking back, that number was for normal yogurt, and they recommended less if you used Greek. Whoops.
Honestly, they were pretty good. For my tastes, they could have stood to be a little sweeter, but overall they were fine. We drank them while chowing down on some spicy rice we’ll cover sometime in the next couple weeks, and I think they played together pretty well. I’ve had mango lassi from a restaurant before, and it wasn’t quite the same (probably because we used too much Greek yogurt) but overall, I’d say for the minimal investment, I could probably work out a real appealing version before I use more than like, 2 bags of frozen mango.
And that’s the other thematic connection barely connecting these two dishes: falling short, even in the simple things. Were these dishes exactly what we wanted them to be? No. But we made them, and we ate them, and they were even pretty good. Falling short of your goals is not always a failure. It’s something that you can accept, and push on to do better.
Now, speaking of pushing on, if I’m going to hammer out this mango lassi thing, I’m gonna need more mango chunks. And since they’re so inexpensive, you could really help me out by simply donating a dollar or so a month over at Patreon! HA, that’s RIGHT, you thought we were still continuing our thematic moral to the post, but it’s just me begging for money! HaHA! Seriously, though, our Patrons are what allow the site to keep running, currently covering the strictly technical costs of the site, so that only the FOOD is being paid for out of pocket. They’re great people, and you could be just like them! Check it out! Or, if money’s tight right now, you can also support us on social media! Invite your friends to like our Facebook page, share and like our content, all those Internet things you do for creators you like. Remember, however, that we’re happy that you’re taking the time to read our posts at all. So if you don’t feel like you do either, you’re still a valued member of the Catastrophic Community.
THURSDAY: JON, AND SOME LUCKY FRIENDS, PARTAKES ON YET ANOTHER ADVENTURE IN ALCOHOL, JUST DAYS BEFORE HIS BIRTHDAY. (WELL, THE POST IS DAYS BEFORE HIS BIRTHDAY. THE TRIP WAS LIKE, 2-3 WEEKS AGO.)
MONDAY: WE MAKE A DISH TO INTEGRATE NATE’S DIET WITH JON’S DESIRE TO MAKE WEIRD SHIT, WITH BEEF LARB. THAT’S A B THERE. I’LL EXPLAIN LATER.
“Sweet” and “Sour” Cucumbers (accurate name: Sharp and Salty Cucumbers)
2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced.
½ cup chopped scallions (the fancy name for green onions)
2 tbsps. peanut oil
3 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. vinegar
½ tsp Tabasco sauce
“A pinch” of sugar. (I’d veer higher on this. Say ½ a tsp)
1. Heat peanut oil to an unspecified degree. (We did medium high) add scallions and stir for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add soy sauce, vinegar, Tabasco, and sugar. Stir, and bring to a boil.
2. Add cucumber and toss until sauce becomes thick. Serve warm.
Serves 2 large glasses, or 4 smaller ones
2 cups plain yogurt, or 1 cup Greek Yogurt
1 cup milk
2 cups mango (You can use chopped frozen mango, chopped ripe mango, or, if you can find it, a cup of canned mango pulp)
4-8 teaspoons sugar or honey, to taste
Dash of ground cardamom or cinnamon for topping (optional)
Ice (optional, if thicker texture is desired. I just added more frozen mango)
1. Put all ingredients (except cardamom/cinnamon) into blender. Blend for 2 minutes.
2. Pour into glasses, top as desired, and serve.