Tuesday, March 3, 2009

CSA week 13 - Lo mai gai

I hadn't realized when the idea of wrapping sticky rice in collards came to me, but the dish I was thinking of wasn't just sticky rice wrapped in a leaf of some sort, it's a particular dish, lo mai gai, with a specific assortment of fillings in the rice. I did know that there was some variation in what sort of leaves were used as wrappers--lotus, banana, bamboo or, Wikipedia says, lily or grape. No reason collards shouldn't work.

Those standardized fillings are chicken, Chinese sausage and shiitake with the occasional addition of dried shrimp, peas and a few other things. I decided against the dried shrimp, but did include the peas and some water chestnuts.

I made two cups of rice. I don't have the right Chinese glutinous rice so I used half sushi and half risotto which I figured would get me in the right neighborhood. Most of the recipes suggested soaking the rice for an hour before cooking. They don't say why, but I soaked my oatmeal overnight last night to make it cook quicker this morning and found that it broke down a bit more when cooked than it would have otherwise. I presume I'm doing the same thing with the rice here.

I soaked and diced 6 small shiitake,
chopped up and marinated one chicken thigh in 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 Tablespoon rice wine and 1 teaspoon cornstarch,
chopped a garlic clove, a couple links of sausage and a handful of water chestnuts,
measured out a half cup or so of frozen peas,
and mixed 1 Tablespoon rice wine with 1 Tablespoon light soy sauce, 1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce, 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch and 1 Tablespoon water.

Then, while the rice was cooking I heated a bit of oil in my wok, added the garlic and a moment later the chicken. I cooked that for a minute before adding the sausage, mushroom, peas and water chestnuts. After a couple minutes more I added the sauce which immediately thickened up into a glaze. I added more water as needed over another couple minutes of cooking to end up with everything kind of glazed but a bit of thick extra sauce too. A lot of the recipes say to add a little sesame oil at this point; I forgot so I added it when serving.

I set that and the rice aside to cool as I prepared my collard leaves. In retrospect, I should have just cut off the stems at the bottom of the leaves, but I cut them out entirely which left my leaves with a slice halfway up. That caused me some trouble so I double-wrapped each packet to compensate. If I could have single wrapped, I wanted to do six single-serving sized packets. I didn't have enough leaves to do that so I ended up with three larger packets and one really big one to use all the remaining fillings.

For each, I put down about half cup of rice in the center of the leaft, patted it out fairly flat, added around a third cup of filling and spread out another half cup of rice on top. Then I tried to wrap it up and tie it tight with string to get it compacted. That didn't work so well. Full leaves and another set of hands would have helped greatly. The first two were a bit of a mess, but I think the third one was presentable. That's when I realized the leaves should be perpendicular. And then the fourth was overstuffed so I ran into trouble again. For the record, I have a heck of a time rolling burritos too so I still think this is a decent idea; it's just me making it look so awkward.

After all that, it was time for some dinner. The last package looked the least stable so I decided that was the best choice to cook right away.

Here it is after 15 minutes in the steamer.

It held together somewhat, but my poor wrapping job kept the rice from compacting correctly. It's a bit messy but it tastes just like lo mai gai is supposed to so big success there. Another positive note is that the collard leaves are nicely cooked. Honestly, I found that very surprising. Collards are supposed to take a half hour of simmering to cook not 15 minutes of gentle steaming. But these were tender and not even particularly chewy. I found I could treat it like injera and tear off pieces to pick up bits of rice and filling. I fully expected to end up throwing out the leaves so it's a pleasant surprise to be able to have it as a full component of the dish unlike the dried lotus or banana leaves. On the other hand, you don't get that infused floral flavor the dried leaves give you, but it's a fair enough trade off. It's not quite traditional and it's certainly not conducive to good table manners but it tastes pretty good so what the heck.


Karen said...

For the record, those were exceptionally fresh and tender collard greens leaves - I set ours to cook in the traditional Southern style, expecting them to be tender in 2-3 hours, and they were done in 30 minutes. Kudos to the CSA box! but a cautionary note if you're trying this Lo Mai Gai with store-bought greens.

kat said...

Hey, for all the trouble you had folding & tying them I think they look pretty darn good.

billjac said...

I'm glad you commented, Karen. I've found that occasionally something cooks in half or double the time it's supposed to with no obvious explanation. It's good to get confirmation that it's not just me screwing up and/or talking nonsense.

And Kat, compare these to those perfectly formed pyramids or cubes of wrapped rice held together with just two wraps of string you see in the better dim sum places. I used more lashings than a schooner ship and they're still misshapen lumps barely holding together. They still taste fine so I suppose it doesn't really matter in the end.

LaDivaCucina said...

Looks great! I have a whole bag of glutinous rice that I didn't know what to do with so might just give this a shot!