COOKING ADVENTURE #30: Kavarma
There are several reasons why I don’t cook hot foods. I don’t mean “hot” as in temperature. I mean spicy. I like it in some things when I go out to eat but whenever I try to make something from home, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Now, I’ve made several Cajun and Indian dishes over the past year that have been pretty mild compared to this Kavarma, the smell of which is like inhaling a bottle of paprika… literally. Not only does it have a ridiculous amount of the red spice in it, it also requires the use of a hot pepper. Having never cooked with hot peppers before, I didn’t take necessary safety precautions. Due to the length of cooking time, the taste, and the agony I went through to undergo this cooking adventure, I’ve given my outcome of this recipe a new name: liquid hell.
Kavarma is a traditional Bulgarian dish in which there are a number of different preparations. I found one that I thought looked particularly easy. Boy, was I ever wrong… It called for pork, leeks, onion, carrots, and a hot pepper. I decided on it last week and didn’t really look at the recipe closely. I should have. Damn, I should have looked at it hard! First of all, always check your recipe to make sure that there aren’t a bevy of spelling errors. Among the ones I discovered while about half way through making the Kavarma are: kebap (kebab), leaks (leeks), and shopped (chopped). I suppose I could have put two holes in my pan to give myself “two big leaks” like it asked for… Second, make sure the directions utilize sentences that, you know, make sense! “Cook the cut in discs leaks […] and cook while soft.” HUH?!
The recipe had me start by creating the marinade. A cup of white wine which I just happened to have left in my fridge went into a glass bowl. Next, I did a double take at the measurement for the paprika: a whole tablespoon. I tried to tap out the correct amount into the measuring spoon while holding it over the glass bowl. I got a tablespoon… and a little extra. Next, I added just a pinch of ground black pepper and a tablespoon of tomato sauce. Now, here’s an irritating thing. I bought the tomato sauce thinking I was going to use more than a tablespoon. So now, I have a whole can of the stuff and nothing to use it for. I could have used ketchup for the marinade for crying out loud! (And that’s why foresight is helpful.)
I let the marinade sit aside as I checked the directions. It says nothing about actually heating up any oil. It just says add pork (cut in cubes) with “cut in discs carrots” to hot oil. I opened my cabinet and then discovered that the frying pan was hiding in the sink a midst a tower of dirty dishes. I sighed and quickly went to work on them. After I’d unearthed it, washed it, and dried it, I put it on the stove top and measured out 1/2 cup vegetable oil into it. I know. 1/2 cup is a freaking lot! I didn’t realize I was going to be practically deep frying the stuff.
I opened the package of pork and realized with some degree of stupidity that I hadn’t left any room on the counter top for me to set it. I balanced it precariously on the edge of the garbage bin and slid each chop out to slice up into cubes. I also managed to get pork slime all over the knife and the nearby counter top (which I then had to wash.) Next, I pulled out my bag of carrots and peeled them. I’m assuming that who ever wrote the recipe wanted you to cut the carrots into discs. I did that and dumped everything into the oil. Then, I turned up the heat to medium high, put a lid on it and waited for it to cook.
Finally, the pork began to brown after most of the oil had cooked down. I pulled the frying pan off the heat, scooped the pork and carrots out of the oil pool and plopped them into the red marinade. There they languished for a half an hour while I attempted to get some editing and revising done on Book 2. (Not much got done, btw.) After the timer went off, I returned to the marinade and added 1/2 cup water to it before dumping it all back into the pan (with the remaining oil still in it). I turned the heat to low and waited for it to simmer. Except… it didn’t. I kept turning the heat up higher and higher every second.
Now… in the original recipe, I would have added leeks to the oil first with some water instead of putting everything back in. Truth be told, I tried looking for leeks. I really did. But once again my local grocery store has let me down. It’s a shame really because it’s becoming a bit ridiculous. I mean… green onion (shallots) are one thing. But leeks? That’s pretty well known. Why don’t they have any?
The recipe still wanted me to add other things. I was supposed to use an onion. Ha. Ha ha. HA! No. I will never again use an entire onion when a recipe asks me for one. Those little orbs are just too powerful for me. I cut up (or should I say “shopped up”) and added the remaining half of a red onion that I had in the fridge. Then came the pepper.
As I stated before, I’ve never cooked with a hot pepper before. And I’m not familiar with many of the pepper types. I was smart enough not to have bought a Habenaro. I know those are ridiculous with the heat they cause. I settled with one on the 4-6 heat scale and got a yellow chili pepper. I cut it open, expecting it to smell stronger than it did but was surprised when it didn’t. This didn’t last very long however. As I cut, I managed to get some of the pepper juice into a microscopic cut on my thumb which had recently been given to me by the Lemon Jelly kitty cat.
Instant pain. The cut burned and turned red. I raced to the bathroom to wash it out. That did little to nothing. I had no choice but to grin and bare it as I returned to the kitchen. Having washed my hands three or four times though, I was assured that I’d washed away any trace of pepper left on them… By this time, the pork/carrot/ hell mixture was cooking down and the liquid evaporating. The more it did this, the stronger the smell of the paprika became until just walking into the kitchen clogged up my sinuses indefinitely. My head swam with the potent stench of pepper and spice and my eyes began watering profusely. I managed to drop the onions and pepper into the frying pan and then escaped to the other room to wait for it to cook down.
After another five minutes, I took a deep breath and entered Dante’s Inferno to glimpse the end result. My eyes misted over as I stared at the brilliant orange-red soup in the stainless steel frying pan before me. Bits of pork poked up from beneath the surface. Carrot discs bobbed in the swamp of onion and pepper flakes. I snagged a fork from the dish drainer and poked a pork cube. After blowing on it for about a minute, I tasted it. I half-expected my throat to catch fire but was pleasantly surprised when it did not. In fact the heat on this wasn’t too bad at all. It’s the smell that’s very potent.
After I’d finished writing the bulk of my Cooking Adventure, a renegade eyelash got into my right eye and I promptly used my fingers to try and get it out. Now, an IMPORTANT NOTE: Under absolutely no circumstances should you touch your eyes after you’ve touched a hot pepper. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve washed your hands and you think there’s no trace of it left. It’s still there. Lurking. Waiting. Trust me. DON’T DO IT! I was half blind, as I leaped off the couch and scrambled to the bathroom. My eye felt like it was on fire! This was about the time I started screaming and whimpering, “IT BURNS!” I ran it under the faucet for five minutes straight before there was any sign of relief.
Never again. I will never cook with hot peppers ever again, unless I’m wearing double thick rubber gloves. That moment is a top five in the dumbest things I’ve ever done while cooking.
The recipe says that this goes well with either white rice or french fries. The rice I understand. French Fries? Who in their right mind would eat this chunky hot soup mixture with french fries? Must be a Bulgarian thing.
Next week on Cooking Adventures, I’ll be trying my hand at a delectable Turkish/Greek recipe that has absolutely nothing to do with hot peppers… Baklava! Stay tuned!