By Kelly Sauvage Angel
Is there any question that we literary sorts get a little, how shall we say, “balmy” after spending day upon day, week upon week and, bless our little hearts, year upon year, tapping away at our laptops, building imaginary worlds that are far more vivid to us than the one into which we were born?
What is that I hear? Crickets. I think we have a consensus.
Thus, in order to better recall the scent of fresh air and the warmth of sunlight upon my skin – as well as to procure for myself a healthful dose of human interaction – I signed up last month to drive for Uber. Of course, paying the rent had absolutely nothing to do with my decision.
Suffice it to say, my social circle has expanded. In addition to several garden variety physics majors, corporate executives, university professors, investment bankers and service professionals, I’ve had one-off encounters with a disc jockey, a chef, a pilot, a bellydancer and a standup comedian among others. Thanks to a painfully slow-moving trash truck, I kept the husband of one of my favorite local authors stuck in traffic for a good part of the morning!
However, I most enjoy the relationships that, in short time, have been forged with my regulars. The handsome guy who works on Research Park Boulevard is an utter gentleman, and the Frappuccino-guzzling woman, beholden to no man, who rises bright and early to make her way toward Mineral Point Road is a hoot. I feel a kinship to each of them, for they themselves are Near East-siders.
“The Swamster,” on the other hand, keeps me on my toes. One day, I’m called to pick him up in Shorewood Hills. Another time, a few blocks from the hospital. The next, smack in the center of campus.
Kind of like a bad rupee, that guy.
So, a couple Fridays ago, in response to my inquiry regarding his upcoming weekend, The Swamster shared with me that he planned to cook an authentic Indian meal for several of his friends. He described in detail the ingredients required and the variations to be found throughout his country. Although I made a point of asking him for the spelling, the name of the dish continues to elude me.
“So, what do you consider the best Indian restaurant in town?” I asked, suggesting a couple of my favorites.
“Those restaurants? They are for students, for an American palate.”
Suddenly, I needed to know not only which establishments The Swamster frequented but the secret to authentic Indian cooking; yet, the transmission of such precious knowledge requires more time than we had at our disposal, given that we were a mere three blocks from his destination.
“I’m from South India,” he explained with a shrug of his broad shoulders. “That’s where my taste buds developed.”
I slowly braked, nearing the stop sign at the end of Observatory Drive.
“So, is it strange that I put garam masala in my chocolate cake?” I asked with newfound humility, seeking validation that I knew I’d not receive.
An expression of amusement, which he tried mightily to restrain, manifested as a twinkle in his eye.
Then, an unprecedented beat of silence enveloped us.
“Yes, that’s a little strange,” he said on an exhale. He then opened the door, rose from the passenger seat and sent me off with a wave.
Given that it was nearing lunchtime, I navigated East Johnson Street toward home, leaving the app on my phone active, just in case someone nearby needed a ride.
Crossing Wisconsin Avenue, I found myself convinced that I could win The Swamster’s approval with my unique spin on fusion cooking, if only I could perfect my recipe for Red Beans and Rice.
Mind you, this isn’t any ol’ Red Beans and Rice that we’re talking about. It’s my original recipe that’s finished with, you guessed it, an earthy teaspoon of garam masala and topped off with a poached egg.
Ticking off the ingredients in my mind, I made a split-second decision to detour and slid into a parking spot on North Livingston, near the supermarket. I needed only a bit of parsley and a can of petite diced tomatoes. After all, who doesn’t keep a tube of chorizo and a package of thick-cut bacon at the ready?
I ran into the store, grabbing a handheld basket and the weekly circular as I passed by. Once I’d taken possession of the parsley and tomatoes, I flipped through the ad. Oh, tuna’s on sale! I discovered. And, bananas!
Checking out, the cashier informed me that my total was $10.18. I’d never gotten away so cheap.
As I walked quickly along the sidewalk and hopped back into my car, I got a little psyched about the Groupon for a month’s worth of yoga classes that I’d be able to purchase with my savings.
I rounded the block so as to turn left onto East Washington at the light. It was only then that the ticket, secured by my wiper blades yet flapping in the wind, registered within my line of sight.
Idling, I opened the driver’s-side door and reached around the glass, begging that it not be true.
A brief glance nearly stole my thunder. Apparently, the side of the road upon which I parked was restricted for street cleaning. The cost of my violation: 35 dollars. More than the price of my beloved Groupon.
Undeterred, I tucked the ticket into the glove box and headed home to prepare my dish.
In a flurry of culinary inspiration, I tore the unusually tidy kitchen apart. Dicing the onion, mincing garlic, slicing the bacon, measuring out the rice, I had no time for “cleaning as I go.” I was out to blow The Swamster’s mind; and, as I plated the perfectly-seasoned rice and gently laid atop it a not-so-perfectly poached egg, I deemed that I had succeeded.
It almost felt like sacrilege, breaking into the yolk, but the prospect of an excruciatingly painful afterlife or unfortunate rebirth hasn’t deterred me yet.
Resist a yolk so creamy and golden? Please.
Red Beans and Rice with Poached Egg
For “The Swamster”
6 ounces bulk chorizo
3 slices bacon, cut into ¼-inch strips
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 16-ounce can red beans, including liquid
1 14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
1½ cups basmati rice
1½ cups water
1 teaspoon garam masala
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 eggs, poached, or more, depending upon the number of servings
Chopped flat-leaf parsley to garnish
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the chorizo and bacon, breaking up the chorizo and separating the bacon strips with a wooden spoon. Reduce to medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until softened. Stir in the garlic and thyme, cooking 1 minute more. Incorporate the beans and tomatoes. Then, add the rice and water, stirring well to combine. Briefly return to medium-high heat. Once the mixture has come to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 40 minutes.
Shortly before the rice is ready, poach the egg(s) according to preferred method. (I find Alton Brown’s technique to be virtually foolproof: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/perfect-poached-eggs-recipe.html.)
Once the cooking time is completed, check the rice for tenderness. Then, stir in the garam masala. Salt and pepper to taste. Spoon into bowls, and top with poached egg(s). Garnish with chopped parsley.
A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in literature, Kelly Sauvage Angel is the author of Om Namah… (published under Kalyanii), a collection of poetry, two stage plays, dozens of short stories and hundreds of articles. After surrendering to the healing touch of her massage therapist and downing a couple anti-inflammatories after dance class, she most enjoys wiling away her free time manifesting her culinary inspirations and reveling amid the magnificence of nature.