I picked up a wonderful book last month with my Village Books birthday discount, called Fat. It does my heart good (while, no doubt, clogging my arteries) to look at all the beautiful pictures of pork fat and cracklings. And shortbread. And bacon sandwiches. Mmmm.
I was feeling oddly guilty about having not made anything from the book yet, and decided that I would pick one thing to try, just to start out: butter chicken.
It was pointed out to me that, despite the number of times our household has eaten Indian-spiced okra in the last year, I have so far failed to do a post on it. Well, let’s just fix that, shall we?
I was not an okra eater, growing up. It’s a hard vegetable to grow in the Pacific Northwest, even east of the mountains – it just needs too long of a growing season – so it’s not very common as a fresh vegetable in the stores. I was fed a bowl of okra gumbo in New Orleans when I was nine years old, and thought it was the nastiest, slimiest thing I had ever eaten. I didn’t try it again for years.
I believe it was my father who first found a recipe for spiced, pan-fried okra in a Julie Sahni cookbook and fed it to us. We fussed and made dubious comments, but then ate some…and kept on eating, because this is incredible, unexpectedly delicious stuff! Instead of being slimy and glutinous, the okra cooks dry and becomes a little crisp, a little tender, delicately flavored and with a delightful pop from the seeds. Cooking it Indian style often means adding a dry spice mixture of cumin, coriander, and cayenne, and sometimes rings of green chile pepper, which go really nicely with the okra’s flavor. We’ve tried several different recipes, and it’s delicious no matter what we do. The two of us can finish off a pound of frozen chopped okra fairly quickly this way. Who knew? Now I’m an okra fiend.
Honestly, even if you think you hate okra, try this. Really. You might be surprised.
We wait with great anticipation all year long, waiting for the summer to bring both grilling weather and fresh local eggplant. Once it’s here, we make this recipe repeatedly, regardless of the flavors of the other food we’re eating – it’s just so good.
The recipe is from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking, although I don’t believe we’ve ever made it quite like the original – it calls for using very small baby eggplants, stuffing them and frying them whole. We prefer slicing slightly larger eggplants (Japanese or Italian, doesn’t matter), coating them in the spices and oil, and grilling them until soft. So all we’ve really borrowed here is the spice blend, and it’s a good one. Continue reading
We had already decided to have hamburgers for dinner, one night last week. The plan was to get some sort of interesting cheese and a big salad, and some form of roasted sweet potatoes, which we love. At the last minute I remembered a post I’d seen on Smitten Kitchen a little while back, for sweet potato wedges tossed with an interesting sweet and hot spice mix. The premise was almost identical to my usual approach, which is to toss sweet potato chunks with olive oil, coarse salt, pepper and sometimes paprika or cumin. However, I adore coriander and fennel, so when I saw this recipe I was sold. I pulled up the post from work and read the recipe to J over the phone, and he got the spices ground up and the oven hot (to 425°) before I got home.
Local asparagus still isn’t here, but when I stopped by the co-op yesterday to pick up something for dinner they had the most beautiful bundles of organic Mexican asparagus – I couldn’t resist. We were feeling a little hankering for Indian food, so I roasted a pork tenderloin that I had rubbed with salt, pepper, cumin and paprika, and cooked the asparagus with ajwain, fresh ginger and amchoor (green mango) powder, like the green bean recipe from Madhur Jaffrey.
In case you were wondering, this is what ajwain looks like, piled up next to some (larger) cumin seed. We bought our current supply at a small Indian grocery in the Pike Place Market. Continue reading
I do lots of the cooking in our house, and I like it that way, but still – I love it when J cooks. Not only does it mean I can sit around with a drink and watch someone else work – always enjoyable – but he often tackles recipes that are a lot more complex than I usually feel like dealing with. He loves measuring spices for Indian curries, is a great baker, and doesn’t mind following long detailed directions. I tend to look at this sort of recipe, think “what’s all this nitpicking detail for?” and ignore half of it. He doesn’t, with the obvious result that a lot of his cooking tastes more complex and authentic than mine. Not that he complains much about my cooking 🙂
So on Sunday when I was at work, he undertook to make a couple recipes out of James Oseland’s Cradle of Flavor. I loved this book when I bought it so much that I actually sat on the couch and read it cover to cover, it was so evocative of the sights, smells and tastes of Indonesia. We made a special trip to Uwajimaya (a 100-mile round trip) to stock up on every single weird-sounding ingredient: pandan leaf, sweet soybean paste, fermented shrimp paste, galangal, water spinach, fresh turmeric, et al. It was great. But lately we haven’t been cooking out of it, and when we were in Uwajimaya again on Saturday the water spinach looked good, so …
Stir-Fried Nyonya-style Water Spinach
from Cradle of Flavor by James Oseland
One disadvantage of this otherwise rather nice town is that there is not a single Indian restaurant. During the time we’ve lived here there have been two: a decent enough place attached to a motel that turned into (yet another) Mexican restaurant a couple years ago, and a really great place with a real tandoori oven, which turned into an office furniture shop. Now there’s nothin’. This is part of the reason we cook so much Indian food at home. Besides, it’s fun.
We had friends over last weekend, and fixed up a pretty standard set of dishes to take care of any Indian cravings: red lentil dal, basmati rice, spiced okra, flatbread and chicken curry. The bread and the curry were (pretty safe) experiments: I made paratha for the first time, and the curry was the Chicken Simmered in a Tomato Sauce (very straightforward title) from Meena Pathak’s book.
One of J’s very favorite things to cook is a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s Spice Kitchen (a super nifty little book) called, appropriately, Delectable Pork. It consists of pork chunks braised in highly flavored liquid which is then reduced to nothing but a very highly flavored coating on the pork. The meat is tender and spicy and goes great with rice, chapati, yogurt, vegetables…it would probably make a great sandwich, too, although I haven’t tried that yet. When J made this for dinner last Monday, he discovered we were out of rai masala, which is a key flavor component, so he made more:
One batch of rai masala is made by toasting:
- 2 Tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
- 1 tsp brown mustard seeds
- 1 tsp whole peppercorns
- 1-2 hot dried red chiles
- 5 cloves Continue reading