Beware star system lest your taste buds be toast
Partial to ethnic food? You're living in a culinary wonderland, in Snohomish County.
In one week on the town you can "eat" Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Greek, Japanese, Italian, French and German.
But a lot of local residents hesitate before ordering a plateful of curry, sauerbraten, vindaloo, spanakopita, soulvaki, squid tacos or goat-meat burritos.
And the indecision doesn't end there. Because once you have selected an item from the Indian, Mexican or Asian menu, the waitperson will inevitably ask, "How many stars?"
They aren't referring to the kind of stars you get when hit with a frying pan. They want to know how "hot" or spicy you prefer your food.
Don't you dare respond, "one" or "none" before considering the culinary choice. Violaters of this basic culinary rule should be consigned to only those dishes that have "Mac" or "burger" in the title, served in the back seat of a 1998 Ford idling in a parking lot.
Even if you rely on the star system to protect your innards, pitfalls remain.
I can recall visiting a restaurant that rated its curries from one to five. However, the difference proved to be an experience of biting down on a cherry bomb (one star) or a stick of dynamite (three stars). And that is no choice at all.
Fortunately, your obedient correspondent has created a foolproof rating system.
If you can finish a bowl of spicy soup before you have to blow your nose, it rates one star. Two honks, two stars. See how easy? A four means you developed a bad case of hiccups with the first spoonful.
To transform this formula into real food, try constructing a pot of:
One Star Shrimp Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
6 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup frozen green peas
4 small potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
cayenne to taste
2 teaspoons salt
4 ounces cream cheese
1 cup milk
1/2 cup tiny bay shrimp
Heat the oil in a soup pot, and sauté the chopped onions and the garlic for about five minutes. Remove and discard garlic.
Dump in the water, tomato sauce, carrots, peas, marjoram and the potatoes, peeled and diced, and simmer 20 minutes.
Mash the cream cheese and add to the soup. Toss in the shrimp and simmer 10 minutes. Beat the eggs in a small bowl. Gradually add at least a cup of the hot soup. Pour the egg-soup mixture back in the pot, still stirring. Add the milk and reheat.
This mess should serve four or more.