People rarely sit on the fence when it comes to liking or disliking Indian food. They either really dig it or don’t want to go near it. And a small percentage of those who don’t want to go near it have never even tasted it.
My parents used to fit into that last category.
I figured the earth would stop spinning on its axis before they would be adventurous enough as to give Indian food a try, but thanks to a little goading on my uncle’s part recently they were - and they liked it.
Last time I checked the earth was still spinning.
But I can't poke too much fun at non-adventurous eaters simply because I’m a hold out when it comes to one particular cuisine – sushi. I know it’s a shock especially for someone like me who loves food to be a sushi holdout, but in my book raw fish = fish bait.
I hear such wonderful things about this puzzling foodstuff from friends and from Ariel whose boyfriend got her hooked on sushi that I’m inclined to give it a try one of these days. But that’s a story for another blogging day.
I love Indian food for its unique combination of spices like exotic fenugreek and kalonji seeds; cinnamon and clove, two spices that Americans rarely reach for outside the holiday run from November to December. And, then there’s cumin and cilantro, a spice and an herb most commonly used in dishes from south of the border. That's just to name a few.
Rarely does the average American recipe call for the same quantity of individual spices for a single recipe, salt and pepper don’t count.
The beef curry and carrot sambal dishes posted below call for five different spices; if you make your own garam masala that would increase the count by an additional nine spices.
If you aren't an Indian food convert yet you soon will be.
Try it, you'll like it.
Dry Beef Curry 4 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oi 2 fresh green chilis, seeded and chopped 2 onions, chopped 2 lb. 4 oz. stewing or braising steak, diced 7 oz. canned tomatoes, drained salt 2 teaspoon ground coriander 1 ½ teaspoon garam masala 1 teaspoon ground cumin 3 tablespoons curry paste (see recipe below) 1 ¼ cups coconut milk 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, to garnish
To make the curry, heat the ghee in a large heavy- bottom pan. Add the chilis and onions and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are light golden. Add the steak and cook, stirring frequently for 10 minutes, or until browned all over. Stir in the tomatoes and season with salt to taste.
Mix the ground coriander, 1 teaspoon of the garam masala, the cumin, the curry paste and coconut milk together in a bowl, then add to the pan. Stir well, half-cover, and let simmer over low heat for 1 ½ hours. Remove the lid from the pan and continue to simmer for an additional 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender and the sauce is very thick. If it dries out too much, add a little water. Transfer to a warmed dish, sprinkle with the remaining garam masala and chopped cilantro.
Carrot Sambal 1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil 1 ½ oz shredded coconut 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds 12 oz. carrots, grated 4 tablespoons lemon juice ½ cup golden raisins 4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
Heat the ghee in a small skillet. Add the coconut and mustard seeds and cook over low heat stirring constantly for 2 minutes or until the coconut is starting to brown. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the carrots, lemon juice, golden raisins, and mint. Mix well.
Curry Paste 4 tablespoons coriander seeds 2 tablespoons cumin seeds 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds 1 tablespoon fennel seeds 2 curry leaves 2 dried red chilies 2 teaspoon ground turmeric 2 teaspoon chili powder 5 tablespoons white wine vinegar 2 tablespoons water ½ cup vegetable oil, plus extra for sealing
Grind the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, curly leaves, and dried red chilies in a spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the turmeric, chili powder, vinegar, and water to make a smooth paste.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large, heavy-bottom skillet, add the paste and cook over low heat, stirring constantly for 10 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed and the oil rises to the surface.
Let cool, then spoon into a glass jar with a lid. To preserve the curry past, heat a little more vegetable oil in a clean pan, and pour it over the surface. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Sandra’s Kitchen Notes:
The recipes above can be found in “The Best Ever Indian” cookbook. The introduction section with its detailed explanations of Indian spices, cooking techniques, and curry recipe is alone worth the price of the book (which won’t break your bank account to begin with).
If you have challenges locating the curry leaves for the curry paste, no worries. I bought curry leaves from my local Indian grocery then promptly forgot to include them. The curry was tasty enough without them. Making your own curry paste is half the fun of Indian cooking so go for it.
Anytime I use whole spices in Indian cooking, I toast them for a few minutes to release their oils and heighten their flavor. Be sure to let them cool before grinding.
Many people have asked where they can go to find out what parties are going on around town and how they can be invited. With most events, all you do is call or email the contact listed, ask to be put on their invitation mailing list.
I’ve always told my girls that I am determined to never grow old; age is a number, old is an attitude.
Then, overnight, it seemed that reading anything clearly closer than an arm’s length away was difficult no matter how hard I strained to focus. This included my computer screen, the dinner menu, signature lines on credit receipts (not to mention the preprinted total), books, the back of DVD covers, and my cell phone screen.
A visit to the eye doctor this week confirmed my dreaded suspicion. It’s time for reading glasses.
I sulked for a couple of days, but decided I could deal.
A couple of days later I was shopping and asked a salesperson to point me in the direction of the “record” section – yes, like vinyl; remember 33 1/3 RPMs?
The request flowed forth like I had purchased a record just the day before instead of more than 20 years ago. Where did that come from?
She had no clue what I’d asked for so I quickly corrected myself with the word choice of “music” and she pointed me in the right direction.
I returned home from my shopping outing that evening, treated myself to a much-needed bubble bath and reflected on both of these life moments.
One had snuck up on me subtly, like watching grass grow – you don’t notice its slow, daily ascent from the earth until you wake up one day and it’s time to mow that sneaky grass. The other had been a surprise attack except it was friendly fire, a faulty neuron connection or something.
Aging isn't always fun and it had been a double-whammy-age-reminder in one week.
Regardless, I want to be one of those octogenarians (and beyond) for whom age isn’t an impediment to living life to the fullest. And some have even picked up their hobby late in life like Gordy Shields - I hope you’re still going strong Gordy.
As for me, I’m learning to play golf, want to learn to play tennis, I’ve dabbled in gardening, and I’m a self-taught candle maker. I need to use my gym membership more often, but hey, nobody’s perfect. I can still share clothes with my teenage daughters so I’m not complaining.
I am determined to enjoy life's journey, abide in each moment, and take scads of bubble baths along the way.
On my Indian-spice-buying-fling a few weeks back I picked up a bag of star anise; it was an impulse purchase since none of the recipes I had looked at called for this rather mysterious, star-shaped spice.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find an article in the January 2006 issue of Bon Appetit magazine devoted entirely to star anise.
One recipe in particular was calling out to me on this sunny, but nippy Saturday morning – Star-Anise Scones.
I’m delighted I answered the call.
The flavor combination of the freshly ground star anise and lemon peel was both warm and fresh, a perfect compliment to the chilly, bright morning.
Star anise and anise seed are unrelated although they share a common chemical compound that gives them a similar licorice-type flavor. Star anise is the product of a small evergreen tree in northeast China, anise seed is the product of the anise herb plant.
Reputed to have curative powers, star anise is used in some homeopathic treatments. There may be some truth to this as star anise is also the source of a primary ingredient in Tamiflu, a flu drug.
Some cooks are now choosing to use star anise as a substitute to anise seed.
Based on my first experience with the mellower, sweeter star anise I might prefer it to the harsher flavored anise seed as well.
Coupled with a good cup of coffee, it felt like it cured something for me this morning.
Star Anise Scones 2/3 cup (about) heavy whipping cream, divided 1 large egg 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon peel 2 ¼ cups cake four 3 ½ tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon baking powder 2 teaspoons freshly ground star anise ½ teaspoon baking soda ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter ½ cup raisins
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream 2 tablespoons raw sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk ½ cup cream, egg, and lemon peel in medium bowl. Whisk flour and next five ingredients in large bowl. Using pastry blender, cut butter into flour mixture until coarse meal forms. Add raisins and cream mixture. Stir until moist clumps form, adding more cream by tablespoonfuls if dough is dry. Turn out onto floured surface; knead just until dough comes together.
Pat dough into ½-inch thick round. Using a pizza wheel, cut dough into 8 scones. Transfer to baking sheet.
Brush tops of scones with 2 tablespoons cream; sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 16 minutes. Transfer to a rack; cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Sandra’s Kitchen Notes:
I used a pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour (and modified the directions accordingly). The original recipe called for grating the butter and then using your hands to mix the butter into the flour; that just seems like a lot of extra work for no good reason.
I used plain flour instead of the cake flour as called for, but sifted it first to give it the lighter texture of cake flour.
I cut the dough into the traditional scone shape using a pizza cutter. The original recipe called for a 2-inch round cutter.
I didn't use raisins, but I will next time. So if you're not a raisin fan, no worries.