When you buy squid or shrimp in the grocery store around here (even at the fish market), it’s usually bagged frozen stuff that the shop has just thawed that day. This is why we usually buy big bags of it ourselves, so we can thaw it out in small quantities as we want it. We never have any lack of ideas for the shrimp, but somehow the squid wasn’t getting used very quickly. I spent some time hunting out recipes for pre-cut rings and tentacles, especially Chinese, which I thought would be particularly well-suited. I found surprisingly few Chinese recipes for squid, but lots for clams, and it occurred to me that if clams in black bean sauce was such a fixture, why not squid in black bean sauce? Why not on noodles? And a dinner concept was born.
So far I’ve been making it up as I go along each time, but maybe at some point I’ll settle on a particular recipe – or maybe not. I tend to cook by the “spoonful of this, spoonful of that” method in any case. If you have squid in the house, and you can remember to thaw it in time, this is a fantastic, blazingly-fast weeknight dinner – certainly no more than half an hour from start to finish, if you prep while the noodles are cooking. And you could use considerably less chile than I do, if you don’t happen to like having your sinuses cleared by your dinner. But what I really love is the contrast of texture between the squid and the noodles, and the saltiness of the black beans. Everything else is flexible.
The way I’m doing this at the moment (subject to change as I experiment, but this is way tasty): first I cook and drain the noodles – we’re really liking udon with this, but any kind of slithery noodle would work – and toss them in a large bowl with some of the sludge from our homemade hot chile oil and a splash of soy sauce. Then I get all my condiments, squid and vegetables ready to go, as none of this takes any time at all to cook. I heat peanut oil in the wok, and toss in chopped garlic and scallions. As those sizzle, I add a spoonful of chile-garlic sauce and a spoonful of fermented black beans. Then I add the squid and start stir-frying briskly, adding a splash of rice wine. As soon as the squid turns opaque (perhaps a minute), I turn it out into the bowl of noodles. Then I put the wok back over the heat and toss in a bunch of chopped greens, like bok choi or beet greens, and stirfry with a bit of soy sauce until wilted, then scrape those into the noodles as well. Serve hot. Slurp.
This is a favorite meal of ours for those nights when we don’t have a lot of time, we hardly have any fresh vegetables in the house, and we want something with a lot of flavor and a definite comfort factor. Kheema is like the Indian equivalent of chile con carne, or sloppy Joe mix, or spaghetti sauce. There are many different versions – probably as many as there are cooks who make it – and it can be tweaked to accommodate whatever you have in your pantry, as long as you have 1. ground meat 2. chile peppers (fresh or dried) 3. canned tomato and 4. spices. Onions and garlic are helpful, but not absolutely required.
My favorite kheema recipe for when we have no fresh chiles in the house is from Madhur Jaffrey’s first book, An Invitation to Indian Cooking. It’s warm with onion and whole sweet spices as well as dried red chiles, and tastes wonderful. But our current favorite kheema is from the Parsi cookbook My Bombay Kitchen. It uses whole slit green chiles as well as cayenne pepper, so it has a complex spiciness, and it can be made as thick or soupy as you like, depending on how you’re serving it. We usually ladle it over white rice, but the last time we made it I griddled some fresh chapati and we spooned the kheema into the breads with yogurt and chutney. It could also be eaten straight out of a bowl, maybe with tortilla chips. Why not? Not to mention the possibilities of using it for stuffing samosas, or topping pizza.
And for breakfast, I can recommend making a sort of huevos rancheros with leftover kheema and runny fried eggs over sourdough toast or chapati or tortillas. Oh, yeah.
A note about the recipe: there are a few odd ingredients here, but please don’t be scared off by them. We keep curry leaves in our freezer, but the kheema will be perfectly fine without them. And don’t worry about the dhana jiru or the sambar masala – we happen to have both of those, because Jon loves to make spice blends at home, but you can either leave them out, or do what I do, which is to look up the blend, see what the major flavors are, and just add a few of the more important-sounding ones. I’ve indicated a few possible options in the recipe.
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This stroganoff was one of those dinners that naturally arises by examining a number of random leftovers: in our case, a container of lebni, a bag of mushrooms, some partial leeks and a bunch of fresh dill left from our post-Easter brunch. Combine all that with some sliced seared steak and some egg noodles and you have a really good quick beef stroganoff.
I don’t think it would have occurred to me to use lebni in a stroganoff, but I liked the effect. It’s similar to sour cream but has a denser texture and is slightly less tart. It worked great with the mushrooms and dill. Come to think of it, that would be a really nice dip or spread right there – maybe I’ll try that next time I have these particular leftovers in the house.