Back when I was a freshman in college, I took a class on the history of India. Partway through the term, our professor hosted a dinner party at her house, featuring traditional Indian foods. I volunteered to be part of the cooking team, and learned how to make chai, pop mustard seeds and fry potatoes. The rest of the class arrived later, ate a vast quantity of everything, drank chai and all fell asleep on the professor’s living room floor. I think some of us had to be carried back to our dorms.
Inspired by that experience, for a number of years now we’ve hosted an event at our house, formally dubbed the Quasi-Annual Skagit County Indian Feast & Hike (QASCIFH?) As you might expect from the name, it involves a hike followed by a lot of home cooked Indian food. We’ve found that a brisk walk in chilly weather helps work up a good appetite and keeps us awake longer. We don’t usually go far – maybe 2 to 4 miles – but it’s a fun outing, with the prospect of good food at the end.
We usually hold this event early in the year, when weather is uncertain, but usually it works out pretty well – we’d never had to cancel on account of weather. Enter spring 2008. The day of the party it snowed. And hailed. And rained. And snowed some more. We all stood inside staring out at the ice pellets as they poured down and skittered across the sidewalk, and decided that drinking wine and eating pappadums was the better part of valor. So no hike this year, save for a small excursion around the block during a sunbreak.
Dinner worked out well, though. We did our usual spread of dishes, with lots of vegetables, one good meat dish, plenty of chutneys, and plenty of starch. I usually make chapati or poori, but I was suddenly struck by how much food we had already made and decided to put away the dough for later. No-one was in danger of starving. There were pappadums, chutneys, raita (made with Greek Gods yogurt – oh, my), naan, basmati rice, red lentil dal, roasted potatoes with cumin and mustard seed, saag paneer, gingered cauliflower, spiced pork, chai (our neighbors bring this – we always seem to go through gallons of it), and lots of wine. Last year I made the mistake of making rice pudding, and everyone was too full to eat it, so I didn’t attempt any dessert this year.
The pork that we made was from our favorite little Indian cookbook, Madhur Jaffrey’s Spice Kitchen. The original recipe, simply called Easy Kebabs, calls for lamb. We love it that way, but the lamb selection wasn’t very good at the store when we were shopping this time. We used boneless pork country style ribs instead, and apart from being ever so slightly tough, it worked beautifully – the flavor is bright, gingery and just a bit hot, with a fantastic salty gravy.
adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Spice Kitchen
- 2 lbs boneless pork or lamb
- 4 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
- 2 tsp pressed garlic
- 4 serrano chiles (or other chile peppers – this time we used a mix of fresnos and jalapenos)
- 1/2 tsp cayenne
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- black pepper
- 2 Tbsp canola oil
- 1 tsp garam masala
Rub the meat with the ginger, garlic, chiles, cayenne, salt and pepper. Marinate for two hours or so. Heat a heavy skillet or Dutch oven, add the canola oil, then add the meat. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes (it will simmer in its own liquid – no need to add water). Take off the cover, add the garam masala and boil away the liquid, frying the meat a bit in the oil that remains in the pan.