Tag Archives: curry

Bite Me

Speaking with your mouth full is not encouraged.  Just the same for spewing debris from an overflowed mouth. Minding your manners can prove exhausting.  Particularly when everything you’ve come to know goes out the window. 

I was raised in a household where sneaking a rest on an elbow during a meal was comparable to committing arson.  Speaking of arson, the stares I’d receive down my mother’s nose in response were enough to burn a hole in your conscience.  Not normally an advocate of fear-mongering, I suppose in this case it proved effective.     

One inconsistency in my mother’s no-nonsense policy was the regular schedule of visits to a local sandwich joint.  Primanti’s sandwiches put Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the (glutton-based) culinary map, and they’re a primary reason why I’ve purchased a flight home this summer. 

Let’s see what you’re made of.

French fries and coleslaw on a sandwich? Indeed, my friend, you will not be disappointed.  Prove your dedication by adding an egg inside as well. 

When we’d make our visits to Primanti’s, the biggest challenge was not deciding between pastrami or capicola, as you might assume.  Rather, it was figuring out how best to dislocate your jaw to enjoy the monstrous delight.  Not normally a stiff-upper-lip accredited form of dining, the experience was an exception to the table rules.  Filling your mouth to capacity was encouraged. 

A lot was in the handling.  Once you raised the sandwich for the initial bite, it was time to demonstrate your commitment.  You must not release the hold until down to the very last morsels.  Disregard, and disaster would ensue.  The delicate balance would crumble into an intimidating pile of slop.  It was in your best interest, as dining with forks at Primanti’s is viewed as rather pretentious. 

This regular exercise in grip-centered technique proved useful when I found myself at my first teacher’s dinner in Korea.  A mainstay of employment in this country, the outings are considered just as much an obligation as showing up on time for class.  Explained to me as crucial for developing working relationships, nothing says bonding like acting as crutch to a stumbling deskmate. 

It sent me into a tizzy when slurping was a sign of enjoyment and I was faced with the almighty lettuce wrap.  Seeming impossible to consume in one bite, thankfully, I came with experience.      

Wrapping up morsels of food in crispy lettuce blankets is kind of a staple of the Korean diet.  It eliminates the need for plates, and adds a nice amount of freshness.  Referred to as ssam, there’s often a basket of leaves present on the table. 

Like Primanti’s, the art of ssam congestion is a delicate one.  Nimble fingers are a bonus, and a lot is contingent upon finding the right balance between fill capacity and leaf surface area.  Forget attempting multiple bites, you only end up with mangled gristle looking unsightly on your chin. 

My personal plan of attack is the bag o’ gold method.  I find it works best to gather the loose edges in one cluster around the center of the leaf.  With a wide open mouth, I then shove the whole bit, bag first, into my mouth.  It’s a one-handed technique, and you may want to set aside a good minute for chewing. 

Like Primanti’s, don’t waver once committed to the bite.

With weekend dinners out not proving enough to keep my techniques sharp, I decided to whip up something  at home.  It’s becoming crucial that my jaw is in shape for my visit(s) to Primanti’s this August.  I came up with a variation of curry chicken salad that’s perfect for the picnic-friendly weather.  It’s spiced up with ginger and orange, and perfect to keep in the fridge for an urge to practice on short order.    

The challenger

Curry Chicken Salad Ssam 

Serves 4

4 cooked chicken breasts, shredded (about 4 cups)

2 cups julienned carrots (about 1 large carrot)

2/3 cup sliced green onions

1 small container plain yogurt (3 oz./85 grams)

2 Tbsp mayonnaise

1 Tbsp orange zest

1 Tbsp orange juice

2 tsp finely minced ginger

1 tsp curry powder

Lettuce or cabbage leaves (any variety)

1.  Combine chicken, carrots and green onion in a medium-sized bowl.

2.  In a small bowl, mix remaining ingredients until smoothly blended to make the dressing. 

3.  Pour dressing over chicken mixture, and stir until evenly distributed. Serve as wraps in leaves of your choice.

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Finding the Curry-age

I’ve always been super intimidated by Indian cooking.  Before visiting the country, it was hard to get a real grasp on kormas versus koftas, and dosas and dal. Something about the foreign charm of ghee and cardamom kept my kitchen rather bland and the Indian restaurant well patronized.

Hello, gorgeous.

In attempts to discover something outside of my standard tikka masala,  I’d time my visits to the lunch hour so as to sample the buffet.  The real deal clincher was the continual output of fresh naan bread, washed down with pitchers of mango lassi.  Needless to say, my lack of self-discipline quickly confirmed a ticket on the fast train to uncomfortably full. Not to mention the fast train to porcelain heaven.

Subsequently, with my mother at my side, we staged a personal intervention and put a ban on ever again going all-you-can-eat.  It was just toooo delicious.  When we found ourselves in the restaurant alongside buffet buccaneers, we simply had to breathe deeply and look the other way.  Our fate was sealed, and we calmly ordered controlled portions from the menu.

This seemed to perplex the curious Indian servers, as whatever we ordered often times was included on the buffet.  Before putting in our order, the slew of waiters standing at attention would one-by-one try their hand at defying the laws of surface tension.  They’d miraculously fit one extra drop in our water glasses and reiterate, “Madam, the buffet?” Yes sir, we’re crazy (as well as pathetic).  Can I have a “100-calorie pack” for dessert?

Since returning from my trip to India, I’ve been trying to muster up the courage to recreate the deliciousness that was each meal.  The other day, I caught a whiff of the spice blend I smuggled home while cleaning the cupboards. Okay, I lie.  While cramming things in, it fell on my head.  Either way, things were set in motion.

On our next to last eve in India, we were lucky enough to share a kitchen with Shivani. I was a little reluctant after realizing she was the wife of one particular shop owner.  This guy had sent me on a mission for small bills, then upped his price and refused to bargain as soon as I was cash in hand.  Regardless, she was the only cooking class in town and had many rave reviews. 

Cooking with Shivani

We were greeted at her home where she had a table set up and layered with ingredients.  First on the agenda was chai while we discussed our menu for the day. We learned to make many things, but most importantly, Shivani made Indian food approachable.  I took what I learned, added a subtle twist, and finally achieved masala enlightenment.  Here’s a run-down of the basics. 

Tofu Paneer/Chicken and Lentil Masala

Serves 4

Every Indian “gravy” starts with a base of browned butter and caramelized onions.

3 Tbsp butter

hot spices: 7 black peppercorns, 5 whole cloves, 1 black cardamom pod (lightly crushed), 1 tsp whole black cumin seeds

1 large onion, diced

I had always been under the impression that most Indian foods began with ghee.  This isn’t necessarily the case.  Shivani started her gravies (referring to the saucy base of any “wet” curry) with plain ol’ butter.  Basically, you just start out by melting the butter in a medium-hot pan.  Pay close attention, and when the butter begins to get the golden tone, toss in your “hot” spices.  Wait just a minute until they pop.  Next, add your onion.  Shivani liked to start with red onion, but for my dish I used yellow and it worked just fine.  Once the onion is in the pan, turn down the heat a bit and allow to gradually brown.

Golden goodness

To avoid a case of Dehli Belly, simmer until the butter separates from the curry. 

3 Tbsp ginger/garlic paste (I was at a loss for equipment to make a proper paste and just used finely minced)

2 Tbsp garam masala (Indian spice blend)

1/2 tsp salt (unless included in your garam masala blend)

1 can diced tomatoes

3/4 C water

When the onions have come to a nice even brown, turn the heat back up to medium-high and toss in the ginger/garlic paste.  Saute quickly.  Next, add garam masala, salt, tomatoes, water and bring to a simmer.  Allow the mixture to simmer until you can see little bubbles start to form across the surface.  Around the ring of the bubbles and at the edge of the curry, you should see a clear liquid starting to separate from the gravy base.  This is the butter.  Once this happens, your bowels are safe and you’re ready to move on.

Starting to separate

It’s gravy, baby. 

1/4 C plain yogurt

2 tsp lemon juice

1 C green lentils, cooked

1 lb. tofu or chicken (I seasoned with tandoori spices and seared)

When you’ve made it this far, pat yourself on the back and crank up the sitar.  You’re almost there.  All that remains is just stirring in the final ingredients and heating the dish through.  I promised to veer away from chicken, so I’m going to recommend adding in tofu as a stand-in for paneer.  While I’m not exactly sure what it is that separates the two, it worked just fine.  If your sauce seems a bit dry, feel free to add more water at this point and just allow to simmer to thicken.

Voila!

Congratulations!  You’ve just made your first Indian curry.  Truly just a matter of getting your hands on the spices, once you’ve done that, you’re good to go.  Now on to perfecting the naan

Special thank you to Tak Shivani for sharing her culinary secrets.  If you’ll be in the Pushkar vicinity, I highly recommend her course.

Shivani’s Sanjha Chula Flavours

www.pushkarcookingart.com

takshivani@yahoo.com

+91-9414656185

Pushkar, Rajasthan

India

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A Side Trip to Suwon

With snow mounded in the streets, I’ve been summoning my inner Betty Crocker for ways to make the  evenings a little more toasty in my abode.  An earlier mission for cooked pumpkin (sans my good friend Libby) left me with some extra and, as a by-product, I came up with this tasty stew recipe. 

If you’ve been paying attention, by now you’ve heeded my suggestions and Ma and Pa have put the inaugural care package in the mail. If you missed the memo, or, for those of you who are a little hesitant about indenturing your contact list, here’s an alternative.  You can find most of the rare ingredients called for in a sketchy back alley just across from Suwon Station.  No, I’m not saying 3 hairs from a Thai ladyboy’s back are the secret garnish.  I was referring to the lentils and spice.

After winding through the maze of market streets, if you persevere like Sir Edmund Hillary, on the second floor of a dimly lit building you’ll find the Swoyambhu Restaurant. Run by a transplanted Nepalese family and serving Indian and Nepalese favorites, this place really delivers.  As if the luscious butter chicken and delicate samosas weren’t enough of a draw, next to the counter you’ll find a stash of ingredients that will have you feeling light-headed.  Curry and lentils are plentiful, and they even have dried chickpeas to boot. The packages are large enough to curb at least a couple months of cravings, and once you taste this recipe you’ll be glad you decided to ration.   

Curried Chicken and Pumpkin Lentil Stew

Serves: 3-4

1 Tbsp Olive Oil

1/2 Onion, diced

2 Chicken Breasts, cooked and shredded

1 Cup Lentils of any variety (I used green), rinsed

1/2 Can Diced Tomatoes

1 Tbsp. Curry Powder

1/2 tsp Paprika

1/4 tsp Ground Coriander

1/4 tsp Tumeric

2 Chicken Bouillon Cubes

3-4 Cups Hot Water

1 Small Pumpkin, cooked (I sliced the pumkin in half, scooped out the seeds, then cooked in the microwave until soft about 6-8 minutes.  Once cooked, I scooped out the cooked flesh and roughly chopped it.)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and sautee until translucent.  Next, add the chicken, lentils, tomatoes, and spices.  Cook just enough for flavors to meld together and to heat through. Dissolve the chicken bouillon in hot water and add to pot.  Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then turn down the heat to simmer for about 15 minutes or until lentils are fully cooked.  Stir in the pumpkin to finish and season to taste.

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The Tastier Side of Smuggling

WANTED: Individuals with a yearning for adrenaline, a flexibility to adapt to a changing environment, and an ability to work well under pressure.

No, I am not seeking recruits for Human Resources.  I’m talking about mules.  Those willing to conceal in pursuit of  palatable bliss.  

While some have remarked on my emerging transit ring as a bit of a farce, I see the actions I’ve taken as nothing less than crucial.  In Korea, along with ovens, tacos and the evasive cranberry, a proper selection of spices tends to be something of a former life.  In my mind,  not much transcends the explosion of flavor brought on by just the right amount of garam masala.  Give me coriander with a sprinkling of tumeric and I’m in heaven.  With my eye on the prize, I summoned my inner ingenuity. 

Armed with forgotten favors and blackmail, I have lured many into my service.  One by one, they surrender their bounty and then are free to go.  City dwellers bring the Starbucks.  Lime juice is taken on by the loving family back home.  Despite the efficiency of this system, I still yearn for the rush myself.

When the destination for my summer vacation was determined to be Bali, I was giddy at the thought of towering volcanoes and white sand beaches.  Little did I know what the true highlight would be.  While grabbing a quick bite at a cafe in Seminyak, I noticed a steady stream of patrons filtering in and out of a neighboring shop.  Like felines drawn to catnip, all who entered seemed to be blinded by the light.  I soon understood.

Using the restroom as a cover, I excused myself from the table and slipped next door to investigate.  What I found nearly took my breath away.  Garbanzo beans, couscous, Campbell’s Soup, and prosciutto covering the shelves.  In the corner, I spotted Kinder chocolate.  By the time I found the Indian section, I had lost all self-control.  Among the gems, I uncovered Tikka Masala Paste. Now, perhaps I should have considered the weight of the glass jar in my carry-on.  And perhaps I should have prioritized the curry paste, cans of soup, and satchels of dried legumes.  But, do smokers consider the pros and cons of a cigarette before stuffing each one in their mouth? I could make do.

Following a return journey complete with a few nervous bag scans, I stepped into my apartment and wiped the sweat from my brow.  I had made it.  Carefully, I put the Tikka Masala Paste to rest in my cupboard for when the curry itch surfaced once again.

The spicy booty

Now, with a trip to India quickly approaching, I have been stricken with a bit of India-fever.  Sitar music to start the day and a Bollywood classic before bed have fallen into routine.  When the suggestion of curry came up for dinner last night, I was quick  to pony up my secret stash.  The only thing outstanding was naan bread.

Through my stint as boss, I have learned that the best return comes from diversified income.   When I knowingly give multiple mules the same assignment, it is not because I am greedy,  it is only to ensure my bottom line.  In this vein, the need for naan was stratified amongst my acquaintances.  One friend took on  homemade  while another  picked up a package of Paratha  from the local Home Plus.

By the time we convened, a little pillow of dough was resting under a paper towel and the Paratha were ready to go. *After a little clarification  over what the Americans deem “broiling,” the homemade was stuck in the oven and the packaged was slipped in a stove top pan to be charred.   Realizing after the fact that the bread  perhaps should have been stretched out a bit more, the homemade end product  was a little doughy but certainly served the purpose.  The Paratha, on the other hand, was just dreamy. When unwrapped, each slab of dough generally resembled an uncooked tortilla.  When heated on both sides in a pan, the result was crispy yet chewy buttery goodness.  Not greatly distinguished from naan by Wikipedia (an Indian flat-bread that originated in the Indian subcontinent), as far as I’m concerned this discovery has become a new staple.  If only more trips to Bali were in the cards to counter.

The selection

No-yeast Naan Bread

Ingredients:

 

Directions:

  1. Mix together dry ingredients.
  2. Heat oil in pan.
  3. Add milk, egg and yogurt to pan and heat until just warm.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry.
  5. Mix the dough, knead just until held together.
  6. Let rest, covered up to 45 minutes.
  7. On floured surface pat out into two patty shaped surfaces, about 1/2 inch thickness.
  8. Broil under medium heat, turning once.
  9. They will bubble and go slightly brown.

Read more: http://www.food.com/recipe/no-yeast-naan-bread-21155#ixzz1fqdOPVbh

*UPDATED 3/20/2012: After taking a cooking class in India, I learned that the method we used to cook this naan was by no means the best.  The proper technique would be to make the dough into flat patties, then place on the stove top in a lightly oiled pan.  Move around constantly as browning so that it doesn’t stick.  When the initial side starts to brown, flip and proceed with other side.  Next, remove the naan from the pan, and char for just a second on each side over an open stove flame. 

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