salmon curry for one

 

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I was on my own for dinner tonight, a situation that often leads to macaroni and cheese and/or tuna. Trying to be a bit more original, I tried something from 660 Curries that didn’t sound too difficult – a defrosted piece of salmon, braised in a sauce of coconut milk, curry leaves and balchao masala (a fiery, vinegary flavor paste that we made up some time ago and now keep in the freezer in tablespoon-size portions). I added some peas for greenery and dumped it over jasmine rice. Not thrilling, but not bad, and with a glass of wine and Netflix it did the job.

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Bhel Puri

plateful

Last weekend we squeezed in another supper club get together. This one was a South Indian theme, so we had a nice spread of curries.

the spread

We served all the main dishes family style. There was rice, Goan shrimp curry, Keralan chicken, a pot of mixed vegetable curry with sweet potatoes, and our contribution, a coconut milk curry with cauliflower and fresh spinach. We also brought several chutneys, which were made for our appetizer, bhel puri, but also worked nicely with everything else. Continue reading

fenugreek leaves

fenugreek leaves

I’ve written about fun things we’ve cooked with fenugreek leaves before, but always using dried, which is all we’d been able to find at our usual haunts. On a recent foray to the Lynnwood H-Mart for kimchi supplies, while hunting through the vast produce area for scallions and ginger, Jon spied pre-packaged bunches of fresh fenugreek. We bought a pack (only 99 cents!), immediately searched through our cookbooks to find an appropriate recipe, and the following evening we made a curry of cubed lamb simmered with warm spices and the fresh fenugreek, served with rice and fried red onion slices. It was SO GOOD.

lamb fenugreek curry

The lamb, simmering in its gravy, was one of the best-smelling things we’ve ever had in our kitchen, and that’s saying something. Fenugreek is one of those things that makes curry taste like curry, and the overall effect was of wonderful savoriness. Continue reading

rockfish curry

It was a dark and stormy night last night. Here’s what we had for dinner: a rather ugly yellow plateful, true, but very delicious. Following a recipe from 660 curries, I coated rockfish fillets with turmeric, fried them in panch phoran spices (fenugreek, fennel, nigella, cumin, mustard seed), then simmered them with plain yogurt and red onion. This all went over steamed basmati rice and some simple sauteed cabbage with a few spices. The fish had a wonderful fragrance, and all the whole spices exploded in our mouths as we ate. We drank some Chinook Semillon that we had left over from the previous night, then sat by the fire and listened to the rain hammer against the windows.

squid curry

dinner

I’m always looking for things to do with squid. Since we discovered that we could buy big bags of frozen, pre-cleaned rings and tentacles, it’s been a really handy thing to always have available. It thaws quickly and makes a great protein for those days when I really don’t want to go to the store (which has frequently been the case of late). I usually do something Chinese flavored, like the squid noodle I often make, but a couple of days ago I decided Indian flavors would be fun to try. I found a recipe in West Coast Seafood for a squid curry with coconut milk, which included the comment “this fiery southern Indian squid curry is not for the faint of heart”. Um, what? It has one tablespoon of green chile in it. Unless you have a Minnesotan palate, it is not fiery – in fact, when I ate the leftovers for lunch I added rather a lot of habanero sauce just to get it properly spiced. It was, despite this, pretty tasty. Continue reading

another day, another vindaloo

dinner

We had vindaloo for dinner last night. We were going to make our usual one, bright with vinegar and extremely hot, but then our eyes caught on a recipe in the same book (660 Curries, of course) for a different vindaloo with thin strips of pork and a bit of coconut milk to cut the heat (he explains that the coconut milk is totally inauthentic, but balances the chiles nicely).

making curry paste

The paste was made of onion, garlic, ginger, green chile, dried red chile, turmeric and cumin, and was incredibly fragrant.

add the curry pastesimmering the curry paste

All we needed to do after making the paste was saute some onion, pour in the paste to simmer, then stir in coconut milk and thin-cut pork and cook ten minutes. We ate it with basmati rice and mashed eggplant with sweet onions. Fantastic – will make this one again.

fenugreek chapati

poof!

Speaking of 660 Curries (I never seem to shut up about it, do I), I recently tried a recipe from the back of the book, where he puts the curry accompaniments. It was a basic chapati, or roti, recipe, but with the addition of fenugreek leaves. These are one of those specialty items that we bought some time ago but then seldom used, so I was thrilled to find something new to do with them. And I was startled at how good it was – the leaves perfume the chapatis with a fresh green scent, and also seem to make the dough softer and better to eat. Amazing. I make chapatis all the time, but this variation is going to become part of the regular rotation.

chapati dough

I don’t measure too carefully when I make chapati. To make breads for the two of us (about 6 small chapati) I generally use about a half cup of whole wheat flour, a half cup of all-purpose, a pinch of salt, and maybe half a cup of warm water, then adjust with more flour or water as necessary to make a smooth dough. For the fenugreek breads, I added 1/4 cup of dried fenugreek leaves, soaked in cold water for 15 minutes then drained before mixing into the dough. If I had fresh or frozen leaves (which I’ve never seen anywhere), then it would have been half a cup of chopped leaves. I kneaded the dough for a bit, rolled it into a ball and let it rest about half an hour under its mixing bowl.

rolled out

When the rest of the dinner was ready, I cut the dough into six pieces, rolled them out into thin circles, plopped them onto a hot griddle, turning once, then put them directly onto a gas flame to poof them up. We usually just cook them entirely on the griddle, but since I had a spare burner available I thought I’d try the direct-on-flame approach, and it worked really well. So often when we cook Indian food, though, every burner is in use, so this may not happen again soon.

The breads rested in a basket lined with a clean dishtowel while we set the table, and were perfectly soft and chewy. It was difficult not to overeat. Plus the house smelled wonderfully of fenugreek all evening.

cardamom chicken

cardamom chicken

We went over the mountains to my parents’ house this weekend for band practice. When my father and I put our heads together to come up with an interesting but soothing dinner, this is the recipe that turned up: chicken legs rubbed with cardamom and other spices, pan-fried with onions, then braised until tender. If you don’t care for cardamom, avoid this one, but if you like its fragrant pungency as much as we do, then by all means try it. Yet another winner from the book 660 Curries, this is a great thing to do with cheap drumsticks – although it would also be swell with boneless chicken thighs. The sharpness of the cardamom could be quelled a bit by adding some yogurt, cream or other dairy product.

chicken with spice rub

We seeded cardamom pods by hand, then blitzed them to powder and mixed them with other spices. This got rubbed all over skinned chicken drumsticks, which then marinated for half an hour.

browning chicken and onions

The chicken went into a large skillet with diced onion, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks, and we sauteed it until the onion was soft and the spices were all sticking to the bottom of the pan. We added water, covered the pan and let it all simmer for half an hour.

cardamom chicken

We tossed a handful of fresh cilantro in, then lifted out the chicken legs, bay leaves and cinnamon and set them aside.

spinach

We cooked down the liquid a bit, wilted baby spinach in it, poured everything over the chicken, and voila! A warmly fragrant dinner for a February day.

view from North Road

Cardamom-scented chicken legs

adapted from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer

  • 2 Tbsp fresh ginger, microplaned
  • 1 Tbsp garlic, pressed
  • 2 tsp cardamom seeds, ground
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (half of what the original recipe called for, but it was plenty spicy)
  • 1 tsp salt (we actually forgot to add the salt, but it hardly needed it)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 8 chicken drumsticks or thighs, skin removed
  • oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 4 bay leaves, fresh or dried
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 8 oz baby spinach (optional)
  • yogurt or heavy cream (optional)

Combine the ginger, garlic, cardamom, cayenne, salt and turmeric and smear the resulting paste over the chicken pieces. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Heat a few spoonfuls of oil in a large skillet with a well-fitting lid. Add the onion, chicken, bay and cinnamon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and the chicken has browned, about 20 minutes.

Add a cup of water, scrape the pan bottom to deglaze it, bring to a simmer and cover the pan. Cook gently about 30 minutes, stirring once in a while. Stir in the cilantro.

Remove the chicken to a platter and boil down the sauce in the pan until it thickens a bit. Toss in a pile of spinach leaves to wilt, if you like, and perhaps a half cup or so of plain yogurt or cream. Serve the greens and sauce with the chicken legs and some steamed basmati rice.

tandoori attempt

dinner

Many years ago there was an Indian restaurant in town that really knew its way around a tandoor oven. It closed, of course, leaving us deprived of tandoori chicken and naan. I’ve started experimenting with naan recipes, but I’ve only just gotten around to trying out tandoori chicken at home. Turns out it’s a little tricky.

grilling

Various recipes (I consulted a lot) give very mixed messages. Some tell you to use a very hot oven, others to use a regular temperature oven. Others say to grill over the hottest coals you can manage, others to grill on indirect heat. My own thinking at this point is that a tandoor is rather like a pizza oven – extremely high heat, but without direct exposure to the heat source. The chicken is supposed to cook quickly but not burn. We tried grilling our chicken directly over coals and had trouble getting the meat to cook through without completely charring the outside – I think next time we’ll try a longer, slower technique.

grilling

The main thing that all the recipes had in common was the yogurt-and garam masala-based marinade (made with yogurt drained of some of its whey), rubbed into de-skinned and heavily slashed chicken pieces. I used a marinade from Sanjeev Kapoor’s new book How to Cook Indian, and while it was tasty it seemed far too mild, hardly flavoring the meat at all. In future attempts I will probably get it marinating further ahead of time and add quite a bit more salt.

tandoori chicken

Despite all the difficulties, it made a great dinner, and some really fantastic chicken sandwiches for several days afterwards. More experimentation is certainly called for – anyone else had good luck doing tandoori at home?

saag murgh

dinner

Yet another highly successful recipe from 660 Curries! Saag murgh (chicken with spinach) is a classic Indian dish, and this version kicks it up a little by substituting mustard greens for part of the spinach. Our local grocery, somewhat bafflingly, nearly always has exuberantly fresh mustard greens in its produce department, so this was an easy dish to put together.

mustard greens

spices and yogurt

marinating

Bone-in chicken would give the most flavor, but I used boneless skinless chicken thighs (as I often do – they’re easier to take to work as leftovers). A marinade of spices, cilantro and yogurt gave it excellent flavor.

cooking the chicken

I browned the chicken, took it out of the pan and fried some onions, then added the mixed spinach and mustard greens and used their liquid to scrape up the fond in the pan. The chicken went back in for a long simmer amid the greens. I tried pureeing the greens (minus the chicken) before serving but made the mistake of using the blender instead of the food processor, and nearly exploded the lot. I settled for “pleasantly chunky”, which was still just fine for scooping up with chunks of chicken and fresh Afghan-style naan.

Afghan snowshoe naan