Sunday, June 24, 2007

Thai Olive Rice

The salted black olive for the Thai olive rice does not come from Italy or Thailand but China. The olives used in this dish are preserved salted black olives that are large and elongated in shape, tapering at both ends almost to a point. Even the hard seed is sharply pointed on both ends. These olives are preserved either as a sweet-and-tart dry fruit your "kah nahs" that are wrapped in paper, or as salted black olives packed in brine used for cooking.

It took me a while to figure out they were what the dry goods grocers here would refer to "kiam kah nah"', literally salted olives. This is different from the bottled olive vegetable that you find on the shelves of supermarkets. Kiam kah nah is only found at your mom n pop shop at the wet market.

Teochews and Hokkiens migrated into then Siam to work, trade and search for a better chance to improve their lot in life. Large numbers of them settled in South East Asia, from Thailand into Malaysia and all the way to Singapore. Among the foods they introduced was the preserved salted black olive which, like many salted foods, provided an inexpensive way to flavor a lot of rice and porridge for those yet to find their fortunes.

My first taste of the Thai olive rice was at Yhingthai, a Thai-Chinese restaurant on Purvis Street. I have always longed to learn to prepare this dish and now I do. It's real simple and a good hearty meal on its own.

Serves 2

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup minced chicken meat
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups cooked rice
10-15 sprigs coriander, chopped
5 salted Chinese olives, pureed

lime pieces
Cashew nuts

Over medium heat, add oil to a wok. Quickly add chopped garlic and stir. Add ground minced chicken meat and pureed Chinese olives.
When the meat is cooked, add rice and stir. Gently break up small clumps of rice with the back of your spatula to coat it with the olives. Your rice will turn brownish black at this point. Taste and see if the fried rice is not too salty. If it is too salty, add more rice. Conversely you can also add more fish sauce, but I normally find the salted Chinese olives contribute more than enough salt.

Put the fried rice in a plate. Sprinkle the chopped coriander on top. Add lime pieces, cashew nuts and cucumber on the side. Add shrimps if you wish.

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