Back to Front Vintage Rice with Pomegranate

Research­ers have been por­ing over not the front but the back of the Bayeux tapestry, to prove that it wasn’t woven by dif­fer­ent teams of nuns in sev­eral sep­ar­ate pieces, but by the same group of people in one long length. After all, the back of a work of art says as much about its cre­ator as the front.

My Great Auntie Susie loved sew­ing, knit­ting and crochet of all kinds. But when I took her to the Vic­toria & Albert Museum to see the work of the great tapestry artist Kaffe Fas­sett, she had abso­lutely no interest at all in the beau­ti­ful artistry on dis­play. ‘I want to see the sew­ings’, she kept repeat­ing crossly. ‘I don’t want to see the front. I want to see the back.’ Her meas­ure of real crafts­man­ship was how beau­ti­fully Kaffe Fas­sett had fin­ished off his threads at the back of the can­vas. Sev­eral times, she tried to creep behind a dis­play to peer at the neat­ness of the ‘sew­ings’ and each time we were warned not to get too close. Finally, she could bear it no longer; she grabbed one of the canvases and lif­ted it up to get a bet­ter look. We were politely asked to leave, but not before she pro­claimed that, accord­ing to her stand­ards, Fas­sett had done a good job.

I love the work­ings of an object: the half-finished paint­ing with pen­cil marks show­ing through, the hand-thrown pot with the indent­a­tion of a thum­b­print or the drag of a fin­ger­nail. I even love the sound of an orches­tra as it tunes-up before a con­cert. It lays itself bare in all its ragged, dis­cord­ant imper­fec­tion, like a host­ess before the party starts, dressed in posh frock and high heels but hair still in curl­ers. An orches­tra tuning-up always makes me think of the great sitar player Ravi Shankar at the Con­cert for Bangladesh in 1971. ‘Thank you’, he said testily, as he fin­ished his pre­par­a­tions and the audi­ence star­ted to applaud. ‘If you appre­ci­ate the tuning-up so much, I hope you’ll enjoy the play­ing more.’

This is a dish in which all the sew­ings, the work­ings, the ingredi­ents and the method are laid bare. There’s no con­ceal­ment, no obfus­ca­tion, no trick­ery. It’s pure, simple, hon­est and above all deli­cious and every com­pon­ent can be seen clearly. And yet there is a mys­tery; the taste of the rice. It may look like per­fectly stand­ard bas­mati rice. But this is vin­tage bas­mati rice. Like Stra­di­vari viol­ins, the best har­vests of bas­mati rice become finer over time. This par­tic­u­lar Tilda vin­tage is from 2006 and the dif­fer­ence was appar­ent as soon as I bur­ied my nose in the packet. It has a stronger, more toasted aroma and the fla­vour, when cooked, is both nutty and del­ic­ate. It seemed cruel to plonk some­thing on top of it; hence my back to front rice salad that is both refresh­ing and refined and in which the rice is the star.

Back to Front Vin­tage Rice Salad

Serves 4

  • 40g of vin­tage bas­mati rice per person
  • 1 cucum­ber, peeled and cubed
  • 8 spring onions, finely sliced
  • Large hand­fuls of fresh flat leaf pars­ley, cori­ander and mint, chopped
  • Seeds of 3 pomegranates
  • 4 table­spoons clear rice vinegar
  • 4 level tea­spoons caster sugar
  • Salt and black pepper

I tried two dif­fer­ent meth­ods to cook the rice: first, soak­ing it in a bowl of cold water for half an hour before cook­ing it in a small amount of water with the lid on. My second method was to simply rinse the rice well and then sim­mer it very gently in an open pan. The second method pro­duced a more dis­tinct tex­ture and bet­ter sep­ar­ated grains.

When the rice is cool, add the herbs, cucum­ber, spring onions and seeds. Mix the vin­egar with the sugar and season­ing and then pour over the rice, stir­ring to coat it well.

This salad, with its zingy, sharp dress­ing, is per­fect with grilled sal­mon. It’s a dish that my Great Auntie Susie would have approved of, given that it reveals its ‘sew­ings’ so clearly and hon­estly. And she adored pomegranates. She would pull them apart and spear the seeds with a dressmaker’s pin from her sew­ing box. And so the post about the back to front salad that star­ted with the stitch­ing of the Bayeux tapestry comes full circle. It ends with a pin.

Post Hoc

In the gal­van­ising spirit of New Year optim­ism, I set myself an arbit­rary chal­lenge. These are my inven­ted rules: shut eyes, pull book from shelves — it turns out to be The Dic­tion­ary of Dif­fi­cult Words - slap right index fin­ger down some­where on ran­dom page. Whichever word or phrase I land on will provide the mater­ial for both some­thing to eat and a semi-coherent set of ideas. And the phrase is, hon­est truth.….. post hoc, ergo prop­ter hoc.

I don’t like to admit defeat, so here we go. The mean­ing of post hoc, ergo prop­ter hoc is ‘a phrase to point up the error in logic of con­fus­ing sequence with con­sequence.’ The lit­eral trans­la­tion, in case you’re slightly baffled is: don’t be daft enough to think that just because it happened after this, that it happened because of this.

The phrase is designed to detach what hap­pens from the events that lead up to the event. I don’t want to sound smug, but I think I’ve found a way round the argu­ment. I’ve just been to Aus­tria and when I came home, post hoc, I made the sweet Aus­trian del­ic­acy of Kais­er­schmarrn. But if I hadn’t been to Aus­tria where I was told about the recipe by my god­son Arthur, I would never have made Kais­er­schmarrn because I would never have heard of it. If that’s not a solid case of iden­ti­fi­able and jus­ti­fi­able prop­ter hoc, I don’t know what is.

And if an Aus­trian winter tree smothered with snow doesn’t inev­it­ably come after an autumn tree covered with leaves, and isn’t fol­lowed by a massive stack of fire­wood, then I’ll eat my thermal vest.

Kais­er­schmarrn, with its over-generous sup­ply of con­son­ants, should, of course, be in The Dic­tion­ary of Dif­fi­cult Words itself. It appar­ently means The Emperor’s Muddle, although no-one knows pre­cisely why. Essen­tially, it’s a sweet pan­cake, but it’s cut up into little squares in the pan as it cooks. That way the chef makes enough for six people at once, rather than stand­ing for­lornly at the stove mak­ing one pan­cake at a time and los­ing the will to keep going after pan­cake num­ber three.

KAISERSCHMARRN

  • 60 g but­ter
  • 4 eggs
  • 100 g flour
  • 150 ml full cream milk
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Pinch salt
  • Hand­ful sultanas
  • 75 g caster sugar
  • Sprink­ling of caster sugar

Whisk the eggs until frothy. Sieve the flour into the milk and whisk in as much air as pos­sible before adding the salt, lemon zest and eggs. The bat­ter will be the con­sist­ency of double cream. Melt 30 g of but­ter in a fry­ing pan on a low to medium heat. Pour the bat­ter into the pan and allow to cook for a minute or so until brown on the bot­tom. Scat­ter the sul­tanas over the pan­cake and then turn over using two spat­u­las. With a wooden or plastic spoon, and while the pan­cake is still in the pan, slice it across and down into small squares. Melt the remain­ing but­ter and caster sugar into the pan and stir it around so that everything is coated. Tip the squares out onto a plate and dust with icing sugar. Serve with fruit com­pote of whichever kind you like best. 

Post the pan­cake you will be happy. Prop­ter, Kais­er­schmarrn is good. Ergo, Arthur deserves a lifetime’s supply.