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.

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homemade tinctures

tinctures

Guest post by our house mixologist, Jon!

I first discovered cardamom as a freshman in college. I was making a recipe from the Tassajara Recipe Book for an apple-cardamom quick bread. A trek to the More-4 (the grocery store in Northfield at that time) proved successful, and I immediately fell in love with the spice.

Fast forward a couple decades to my current fascination with the world of cocktails. Bitters are a key ingredient in many cocktails (some would argue that a true cocktail, by definition, has bitters in it). I started with Angostura, of course, and then tracked down bottles of Peychaud’s and Regan’s Orange Bitters #6. And then I heard about Scrappy’s. Scrappy’s is a local company (in Seattle), and they make…cardamom bitters!

I must have some of these cardamom bitters, I said to myself. And I’ve kept saying it to myself for the past year. You see, the only places I’ve found that carry Scrappy’s? They’re all out of the cardamom bitters. The bars where I’ve been able to taste it? They’re running low. From what I can tell, Scrappy’s cardamom bitters have been a victim of their own success. Supply can’t keep up with demand.

Meanwhile, life has gone on. I’ve looked up recipes on how to make bitters (including Jamie Boudreau’s ridiculous recipe that makes over 5 liters of the stuff), but the time was never right. And then a couple of weeks ago, the snow fell. And fell. And fell. School was cancelled for a week. Our one significant outing took us by a liquor store that had one bottle of Everclear, and I bought it.

And the experimentation began!

I started by following the recipe for a cardamom tincture in Left Coast Libations. That recipe says to steep 1 Tbs of decorticated cardamom seeds in 2 oz of neutral grain spirits (Everclear) for 4 to 6 weeks, shaking everyday. I was prepared to believe it, but the mix was noticeably colored after just a few days, and I just had to taste some after a scant week – already very strongly cardamom scented and flavored. I forced myself to leave it for most of another week, while I got a second tincture going. This one was coriander seed, in the same quantities, and I let it steep for just one week.

The original plan was to have equal quantities of the two, with which I could then experiment with blending until I found just the right proportions. A mishap while filtering cost me about a quarter of the cardamom tincture, though, and I didn’t really want to waste what I had left fussing over ratios. Okay, okay. I got impatient. I mixed my remaining 1½ oz of cardamom tincture with ½ oz of the coriander, and called it good. It may not truly be “bitters,” since it has no gentian, or milk thistle, or any of the other bizarre ingredients used to add bitter flavor, but it is good. Very good.

At this point, the only way I’ve tried the finished cardamom-coriander tincture is by adding a few drops to a glass of seltzer (which frankly, is a really nice way to enjoy them).  I bet they’d be good with rum, and they’ll make an exciting change to an otherwise classic Manhattan. The remaining coriander tincture I envision using in a gin-based drink – perhaps with Hendricks and cucumber. We’ll report our findings.

shades of beige

lunch

I wasn’t going to post on this dinner, as it’s really unpreposessing-looking (brown meat, brownish-yellow cabbage, brown pickle – all we needed was a reddish-brown dal to make the plate truly unappetizing). And I’ve already talked about the pork stewed with ginger, chiles and rai masala (a regular dish in our meal rotation). But I don’t believe I’ve told you about this cabbage dish, which is easy to make and amazingly good, especially with a side of yogurt and a good Indian pickle. Despite its looks, it’s worth trying – sweet and a little spicy, with a lingering fennel note and just a hint of bitterness from the fenugreek. I generally make it a little differently each time, depending on my mood and what we’re serving it with. This is the version I made last night.

shades of beige

Buttery Cabbage with Fennel and Green Chile

Loosely adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Spice Kitchen

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 small green cabbage, cored and finely sliced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed
  • 1/4 tsp mustard seed
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seed
  • 5 fenugreek seeds
  • a clove or two of garlic, chopped
  • 1 green chile (we use serranos), chopped
  • 1 nugget fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • pinch garam masala
  • juice of half a lemon

Heat the oil in a large skillet (one that has a well-fitting lid) and add the cumin, mustard, fennel and fenugreek seeds. When they have begun to toast, add the onion and saute until it softens. Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric and chile and cook for a minute or two, then dump in all the shredded cabbage (this is why you needed a large skillet). Saute until the cabbage wilts and combines with the onion and spices, then add some salt and the butter. Stir it all up as the butter melts, then put in a splash of water, cover the pan and lower the heat. Let it simmer 15-30 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure it hasn’t boiled dry.  Then take off the lid and slowly saute again, stirring frequently, so that the liquid boils off and the onion and cabbage caramelize a bit – another 15-30 minutes. Sprinkle in the garam masala and lemon juice, taste for salt, and serve.

saucy peas

peas in spiced tomato cream sauce

Not the prettiest dish in the world, but extremely good. And easy!

spices

jalapeno

The sauce, a mixture of tomato, cream, green chile, cilantro and spices, is straight from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, but she wants you to serve it with prawns. We made it that way for a while, then hit on the idea of stirring in lightly cooked peas instead of shrimp. We’ve done it this way ever since.

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kheema

kheema

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.

breakfast

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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panir-stuffed chicken

panir-stuffed chicken

Stuffing cheese into a chicken thigh doesn’t necessarily sound like a wise idea, but when the cheese in question is panir, a dry non-melting Indian cheese, all is well. We found this dish in a recently acquired cookbook, Modern Spice (on clearance at Village Books!), which is full of wonderful recipes that fuse Indian flavors with the American pantry. In this case bone-in chicken parts are stuffed with Indian herbs and spices mixed with Indian cheese, but baked in the oven instead of being simmered in liquid on the stovetop, as with so much Indian cookery. The chicken gets crispy on top, and the stuffing takes on the flavor of the bird as well as that lovely cheesy toastiness and a kick of chile heat.

Panir is crucial to this recipe, since no other cheese behaves quite like it (maybe halloumi?), but if you can’t find panir you could still make all the other ingredients into a rub for roasted chicken parts. What’s not to like about butter, chiles, ginger, garlic and cilantro?

A fusiony sort of dish like this didn’t seem to need a traditional Indian accompaniment, so we recreated a salad we invented on our Paris vacation, caramelizing finely diced fennel in a skillet and stirring in chopped ripe tomatoes. Pure essence of summer, it played beautifully off the spicy cheese and chicken. With a bright Sangiovese rosé, this was a very successful summer-to-autumn transitional dinner.

panir stuffing

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Saturday night grill

grilled corn

The weather was beautiful on Saturday, and I had been at work all day, so I was very happy to come home to a glass of rosé and dinner on the grill. Jon had picked up some gorgeous sweet corn from Dunbar Gardens, and there was a ribeye from an upriver Angus farm, as well as some eggplant left over from the last farmer’s market, which I decided to make into another batch of caponata.

grilling corn

Jon rubbed the corn with oil and a dry spice mix before grilling (see his recipe below). I love corn done this way, with just a little char and plenty of salt and hot pepper. He had run out of New Mexico chile powder, so he substituted a little extra cayenne and some dried chile flakes. The corn had quite a kick.

pitting olives

For the caponata, I tried something a little different. First, I used Castelvetrano olives, an unpitted green olive with a meaty texture and wonderful nutty flavor. We happened to have a few left, and I didn’t want to waste them, so I got out the Oxo cherry/olive pitter from my IFBC goodie bag. Astonishingly, it worked like a charm! A very handy little gadget.

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orange and sichuan pepper ice cream

oranges

When I first brought home a library copy of David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop (shortly before we bought our own copy – it didn’t take long), one of the very first recipes we opened it to was this one: a custard-based ice cream with orange zest and crushed Sichuan peppercorns, wow! Jon’s been wanting to make it ever since, and we finally got our chance. We had friends over (fresh ice cream wants an audience) and made Chinese pork ribs and scallion breads, followed by this ice cream for dessert.

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a new bulgur pilaf

dinner

This has been a great season for cabbage. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as much cabbage as I have this winter. This is partly due to an influx of wonderful new recipes, but also just an increased appreciation for the flavor of properly cooked cabbage. Plus, it’s way cheap.

tonight's cabbage
ground allspice

The latest installment of “cabbage — it’s what’s for dinner” takes the form of a bulgur pilaf. I love bulgur, for its chewiness, nuttiness, and most importantly, easy-to-cookness. This pilaf accents the sweet earthy flavors of bulgur and cabbage with sumac, allspice, green onion and pine nuts. The sumac provides a cool sour note that makes this a little different than your (meaning my) usual workaday bulgur pilaf. And freshly ground allspice just makes your kitchen smell wonderful. Continue reading

doro wat

lunch

Man, this made the house smell good. I love Ethiopian food, and as far as I know the nearest restaurant is 60 miles away, so we have to make it ourselves if we want it. This is a very simple recipe for doro wat, or chicken stew, and the only weird ingredient is the berbere powder (recipe below) – which is totally worth making yourself and keeping on hand, because it’s one of the most delicious things to add to melted butter and onions ever. Continue reading