Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Death in the Kitchen: Honoring a Fallen Herb with Uzbek Fennel Rice

I am a murderer. In the last year, I have killed the following plants: dill, cilantro, spider plant, chrysanthemums, sweet marjoram, lavender, harlequin columbines, rosemary, basil, oregano, spearmint, and thyme.

As you might have guessed, I was trying to grow my own herb garden, thinking naively I would then have fresh herbs with which to cook. The steady death rate would make one believe I was voting one herb out of my kitchen every week.

The last, sturdiest, most hearty, hard-core survival-style herbs are now almost dead as well. The summer savory has keeled over, the sweet basil is shriveling, the chamomile thinning, the chives wilting, the parsley paling, the sage turning gray.

Today, I formally laid to rest my brave fighting fennel. It will be missed.

To celebrate and honor its life (which ultimately yielded me no usable fennel), I made a rice and mushroom dish from Uzbekistan.

Almost every country has their own variation of the mushroom-onion-rice dish. This one is different because of the fennel and coriander, which make it taste almost musty, as if you were eating it in a dark tavern, deep in the middle of a winter forest. I felt like I should soon be ordering the stableboy to ready my horse and fetch my cloak. Who knew fennel and coriander were enough to transport me into a Beauty & the Beast scene.

Uzbek Fennel Rice with Mushrooms

Makes enough for 4

2 cups rice
2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 cups mushrooms
2 medium onions, sliced
1 tsp ground coriander
Salt to taste

Cook the rice about 15 minutes in boiling water. It should be almost-done.

In a frying pan, melt the butter and cook the fennel seeds until they start to brown. Then add the mushrooms and onions. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the onions are translucent, then add a cup of water, bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Add the rice, coriander, and salt, cover, and cook over low heat for 10 more minutes, until all the water is absorbed.

Serve warm, in dark, musty lodge in middle of winter forest, to honor death of beloved plant.

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