Wednesday, January 21, 2009

He's Just Not That Into Food

Above photograph stolen from the New York Times

There are many things about Barack Obama that I really like, a couple things I don't like, and one thing that truly makes me nervous about the fate of this country: he is a notoriously finnicky eater. A Newsweek article a few months back noted that most presidential candidates gain weight on the campaign trail, understandably, since it is really just a tour of America's folksiest barbecue joints and roadside diners. But President Obama, who, according to this same article, once requested his pancakes "to go" (we can easily assume he skipped the drippy syrup and butter, if he touched them at all), actually lost weight during his campaign. Yeah, yeah, the man has a lot of nervous energy, even melancholia, which probably has a lot to do with his success. But think about it: if he gets his pancakes to go and eats pretty much the same thing (salmon, rice, vegetable) every night, what will he do at foreign policy dinners? "Thanks, Vlad, but I'll pass on the potatoes. Gotta watch the carbs. Yeeahh, doesn't vodka come from potatoes, too? Do you have any unsweetened iced tea?" I sense a looming international fiasco! Then again, maybe Putin and Obama could make peace over a smoke.

Much talk has been made lately about Obama's 2001 appearance on Check, Please!, a Chicago public television show dedicated to local restaurant reviews. The blogs are now pinning Obama as a bona fide restaurant critic after a merely skin-deep discussion of Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop, located in his old legislative district. When asked what he ordered at his last visit, Obama replies, "the Southern Sampler, just because I couldn't make up my mind." Though he claims to "eat there quite a bit," he seems unattached to the cuisine. For him, the camaraderie this unassuming neighborhood diner creates is far more remarkable than any particular entree.

Fine, but thinking about Obama in relationship to food became most troubling when Sanders and I began planning a menu for the inauguration party we hosted yesterday. To represent Obama's adopted hometown, Sanders was in charge of Chicago-style hot dogs and Polish sausages. (We should've also represented Obama's newest adopted hometown with half-smokes, but that's an embarrassing subject for our new president.) I had a harder time deciding what to make. Internet research on Obama's favorite foods revealed...only that he's not that into food. So I decided to delve into recipes from Hawaii and Indonesia, two places where he spent portions of his childhood and teenage years. I admit I was getting a bit precious about this menu-planning, but that's just what I do. The food had to be cheap, seasonable, and able to feed a crowd, so most Hawaiian recipes I found were out: too much fish, too many exotic fruits, and too much Spam, oddly enough. But I did come across a great Indonesian (not sure how authentic it is, but it is at least Indonesian-inspired) recipe on my new favorite food blog, It was unusual enough to be a conversation-piece, and tasty enough that a few people asked me for the recipe. I plan to make it again this week, not only because I now have many of the ingredients left over, but also because I can't stop thinking about it. I do not know if President Obama would ever eat it, but that wasn't really important to me in the end. I'm contented that, despite his picky habits, Barack Obama inadvertently expanded my culinary horizons!

Recipe: Vaguely Indonesian Red Rice Salad

Adapted from Serves 8, with reservations. I tripled it for the party, and with only about 15 people at my house, there were no leftovers. If you are planning to serve this as a main course -- it's certainly filling enough for that -- the amounts below provide for about 4 servings. Red rice is not available in most grocery stores, so now's your chance to explore the Asian market. H Mart in Wheaton sells 4-lb. bags for $5.99. You could also use basmati rice, but the red is just so purty. Heidi at 101cookbooks uses macadamia nuts and basil. I am too cheap to buy macadamia nuts, so I used peanuts, and basil this time of year is so wilted and pitiful that I used cilantro instead. Also, if you are doubling or tripling this recipe, I would not double or triple the amount of soy sauce. I learned this the hard way. A quarter-cup, which Heidi uses, is plenty, even when the recipe is doubled.

As always, the recipe below is modified a lot according to my own tastes and budget, and my modifications are in parentheses. Despite the long ingredient list, this dish is actually very easy.

2 C water
1 C red rice
2 T oil (I used 3 or 4 tablespoons, as vegetables got dry too quickly)
4 shallots, chopped (I had only two shallots, so I added one small onion)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large red chili, seeded and chopped (I used a dried chili, and did not seed it)
1-in. piece of grated ginger root (I used 2 T ground ginger, but I LOVE ginger)
1 t ground coriander
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and chopped
1/2 C coconut milk
1/4 C soy sauce (this was too much soy sauce for my taste, so I used about 2T instead)
1/2 t molasses (mine was about 3 years past its prime, so I omitted)
4 large eggs, boiled and peeled (forgot about these, didn't hurt)
1/2 C julienned basil (I used cilantro)
1/4 C macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped (I used peanuts)
1 lime, quartered

Bring water to a boil in a medium stockpot. Rinse and drain the rice, and add to the boiling water. Keep heat high until it returns to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 45 minutes or until water is absorbed. Reduce heat to low and let stand for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

In large wok, saute pan, or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high. Add shallots, garlic, chile, ginger, coriander, carrot, and green beans. Stir-fry till vegetables are crisp-tender. Add coconut milk, soy sauce, and molasses and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add rice. Stir in basil and macadamias, then toss everything together. Before serving, arrange hardcooked eggs on top. Serve with squeeze of lime and arrange lime wedges on top, if desired.


Mike said...


I'm ready for thirds...

Ginger said...

This makes me feel better. Pres. Obama is so perfect it's's nice to know that at least he's a pain-in-the-ass about food.

Your inauguration party was great, and I just tried to recreate that heavenly black bean dish. Not quite as good as yours, but not bad, either.

Thanks for feeding us!

DEO said...

Thanks!! It was great to see you and Sean and that adorable Mackenzie! I want. Glad you liked the bean dish -- sounds like you figured it out, but the basic gist of it is:
1) Simmer the beans, mixed with lots of cumin, coriander, red pepper, garlic or garlic powder, a bay leaf and a chopped onion on low heat for a couple hours, till very soft. Chicken broth is ideal, but I didn't have any last time and used water.
2) Chop the sweet potato(es) into bite-size pieces, toss with nutmeg, cumin, and red pepper and bake at 400 for about a half hour.
3) Cook the barley or rice in another pot.
4) Mix it all together and add salt and pepper. Yum!

kazari said...


I cook a lot of Indonesian dishes, but I haven't tried anything like this one. A favourite is Nasi Goreng - a really spicy fried rice with fried eggs on top.

Sounds like you had a great party : 0

DEO said...

Hey Kazari -- thanks for your comment! I have very little experience with Indonesian food, so thanks for that recommendation. Love your blog!!