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Never thought grinding peppercorn can be therapeutic. It may be the combination of doing something repetitive while exerting a bit of force that makes it so.
And though it appears to be a mindless task, there is an end goal - produce both finely and coarsely ground pepper.
With an old and trusty stone mortar and pestle, I set about my task taking comfort in the grinding sound as I crushed the black peppercorns and watched it crack then open then slowly be reduced to smithereens.
Yes, there was a bit of an aggression there, even if I wasn't consciously aware of it initially. But as you keep moving the pestle round and round some unknown pent-up emotion just seems to fade away as the peppercorns change form.
It was enjoyable to do this by my lonesome - no talk, no distracting sound like the television, no one looking over my shoulder. Just the sound of stone on stone and bits cracking.
I appreciated the fact that the weather was muggy, with rain falling every now and then. It wasn't as hot and I wasn't dripping with sweat like I do on most hot days when cooking.
When I finished the first batch, I transferred the crushed peppercorn to a small sieve so I can separate the coarsely-ground pepper from the fine. Then it's into two separate bottles.
Three more small scoops go into the mortar and I do it all over again. Quite satisfying and relaxing once it's all done and I have a fair amount of freshly-ground pepper.
I needed ground pepper for the squash balls I wanted to try. It was inspired by a post of @TheSaltyLemon in noise.cash. Usually, I make these things without a recipe, and just wing it.
But this time, since I have not tried using squash, I decided to measure out everything I would use to have a base recipe of sorts. Even if I tweak it later, I have an idea what I did beforehand and make the adjustments accordingly.
I should've gone with my instinct to squeeze the grated squash to remove, or at least reduce, its liquid content. But I did not so...
Aside from the squash, I needed corned beef both to add flavor and somehow bulk up the veggie balls. Good thing there's the corned beef in 60 gram pouches. Perfect for test cooking.
I thought of using just one pouch to add to 250 grams of grated squash. But my niece, who decided to join me in the experiment, suggested to use two pouches, and she was right.
To season, it's a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of my freshly-ground (fine) pepper, and since it's a favorite spice of mine, a teaspoon of ground cumin.
I decided to first saute one garlic clove, and a small onion (about 40 grams), both minced, then pre-cook the corned beef and squash.
As we left the mixture to cool, niece tastes it, then again suggests adding some Italian seasoning. I know, it's a bit fancy, but we had some on hand and it could elevate the taste. So, a teaspoon of that, too.
I added four tablespoons of flour to act as binder.
By this time, the mixture appeared soggy and I was worried it wouldn't form into balls, or hold its form as it's cooked.
We tested one ball, deep-frying it. It held its shape, but it turned out too soft upon tasting. But on the plus side, it did taste fantastic.
Niece was quite excited with the balling, but she ended up over-mixing everything, so it turned out more soggy. She did end up making them into proper balls, but when it was time to cook, they didn't hold shape (sigh!)
The first three that I deep-fried ended up first looking like nuggets, then finally gyoza as it cooked longer and we had a laugh there.
What if I stopped deep-frying and just pan-friend them? They were already soggy to begin with and cooking them in a lot of oil made them even more soft.
When I dropped them in the pan, they still lost the ball shape so I decided to just make them into slider patties. They cooked better and held shape.
About 16 slider patties came out of that recipe. Remember, sliders are about two-and-a-half inches in radius. And you need about three to four patties to be filled, whether eating it with rice or bread.
Yes, I was told it tasted good with pandesal because it was soft, and in contrast, the bread added some crunch to it.
I still have some squash, and will be trying to make real balls, but without pre-cooking. So it's just mixing all the ingredients then forming the mixture into balls, and frying them.
And oh yes, I will squeeze excess liquid from the grated squash because it will help to keep it from getting soggy or soft.