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Archive for the ‘Indian’ Category

Surprisingly, the stands at my Greenmarket last weekend were still offering corn on the cob. I couldn’t resist one final end-of-season batch, though the ears all looked a bit dry and weather-battered. I felt they needed something to liven them up, so I went on a recipe hunt in my cookbooks.

Not much luck at first. Even in American regional cookbooks, the recipes were for rather heavy puddings or fritters, and books of most other countries had none at all. Then I hit gold in an unexpected place. At Home with Madhur Jaffrey, my newest Indian cookbook, has “Corn with Aromatic Seasonings”: a stir-fry, billed as working well with most Indian meals and also Western-style roasted or grilled meats.
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Preparing the ingredients is always the most work in making Indian dishes. Three ears of corn, shucked, made two cups of kernels – just the right amount for half the recipe.

 

Here are all the measured aromatics. Clockwise from the top, a bay leaf, whole mustard seeds, chopped fresh ginger, chopped fresh jalapeño pepper, a piece of cinnamon stick, two whole cloves, and two cardamom pods.
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The actual cooking went like a breeze. I heated olive oil in a frying pan and tossed in the whole spices.
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In a few seconds, when the mustard seeds began to pop, I added the ginger and jalapeño.
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A few quick stirs, and in went the corn.
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After about two minutes, I added half a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of heavy cream.
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Then about three more minutes of stirring, until the corn had absorbed all the cream, and the dish was done. I served it alongside simply grilled pork spareribs.
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And very good the corn was. None of the individual spices dominated in it; all blended to make it a lightly piquant, full-flavored dinner vegetable. Jaffrey says the dish can be made with frozen corn too. It went very well alongside the spareribs, and I can see it working equally well with a steak. This dish could be starting a long career with us.

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Many years ago, when I started being interested in Indian cooking, basmati rice intimidated me. The first Indian cookbook I bought had a whole page on preparing it for cooking, then 2½ more pages on cooking it. Were they serious? Picking out foreign particles, washing in 9 waters, soaking 30 minutes? Too much work! I simply used American long-grain rice in Indian recipes and was happy enough with it.

Over time, several things converged: I became a more expansive cook, basmati rice packaging became cleaner, and recipe directions became more relaxed. (Now they typically say to rinse basmati in a few waters, or four waters, or until the water runs clear.) Gradually, I’ve come to appreciate the uniqueness of basmati’s long, slender, nutty grains.

My newest Indian cookbook is At Home with Madhur Jaffrey. I bought it after my friend Joan, who does a lot of Indian cooking, sent me an email saying, “I love this book. The recipes are homey, relatively simple, pretty foolproof, and delicious enough to serve to guests. (No standing at the stove brown-frying sliced onions for 30 minutes.)”

I can certainly agree about one of the first recipes I’ve made from the book: a pilaf of basmati rice. A half recipe’s worth was lovely in an everyday supper for two. There were only a few other ingredients: sliced onions, slivered almonds, golden raisins, a piece of cinnamon stick, and chicken stock from a bouillon cube.
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Of course, I did have to prepare the rice properly. My latest batch was perfectly clean, but it had a lot of starch that needed to be rinsed away. My system is to put the rice in a sieve, lower it into a bowl of cold water, stir the rice around gently, lift out the sieve, change the water, and repeat as often as necessary.
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That arrangement takes a few more rinses than pouring the rice directly into a lot of water and swirling it around lengthily, but I find the rice in the sieve easier to retrieve.

While my rice was having its 30-minute soak, still in the sieve in the final bowl of water, I began cooking the other ingredients. Here, the onions and the cinnamon stick are sauteeing over fairly high heat in olive oil – which Jaffrey accepts as a substitute for ghee.
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When the onions began to brown, I added the almonds; browned them, added the raisins and then the drained rice. I meant to take a picture of that stage, but I had to move fast just then and couldn’t get to the camera until the chicken broth went into the pot.
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I added just a little salt, because the chicken stock was pretty salty; brought the pot to a boil; covered it tightly; and cooked it undisturbed on the lowest possible simmer for 25 minutes. It was perfectly ready, and fluffed beautifully.
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That started as one cup of rice, which the recipe indicated would serve two or three people. Since rice triples in volume, I knew it would be too much, and it certainly was: It looked ample for four. But I’d planned to make the pilaf the centerpiece of the meal, along with only small leftovers of a braised chicken dish. So we ate as much as we could of the delicious pilaf, and I froze the rest for future enjoyment.

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The herbs I planted on my building’s roof garden, which I mentioned in my last post, are doing well.

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Picking them has been perilous for a few weeks, because of a militant mockingbird that attacked anyone who stepped out onto the roof, which he considered his territory. At last, his babies have fledged and left the nest he was guarding up there, and I can tend my tiny herb garden in peace.

The herb that most needs frequent cutting back is the dill, which has been flowering so fast, it’d soon be setting seed and dying off. To help redirect its attention to new shoots, I snipped some of its feathery-leaved flowering stems to use in two recipes I made for the first time this week.
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Dakhini Saag: Spinach with Dill

This dish from Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India is a specialty of Hyderabad, a city in southern India. Jaffrey says it’s “a simple but very flavorful spinach dish.” Given the number of ingredients listed in the recipe, I wasn’t sure I’d regard it as simple, but by the same token I could see it was certainly going to have a lot of flavors. It looked like fun.

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To begin, the spinach had to be wilted in boiling water, drained, cooled, and squeezed. Then I called my bespoke knife man into action, and he gallantly rose to the occasion. Clockwise from lower right, here are the spinach, chopped; sliced fresh spring onion; diced heirloom tomato; sliced Spanish onion; chopped dill; chopped garlic; salt, cumin seeds, turmeric, and red chili powder.
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Actually, once those components were prepared, the dish really was quite simple to make. First, I sauteed the cumin seeds, Spanish onion, and garlic for a few minutes over medium heat.
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Next, I lowered the heat, added the spinach, dill, salt, turmeric, and chili powder, and cooked all that for two minutes.
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Last, I stirred in the diced tomato and spring onion.
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Another two minutes’ cooking made the dish ready to eat.

And very good it was.The very first taste was purely moist, tender spinach, but each forkful opened in the mouth to reveal the flavors of the seasonings – mainly dill, but also subtle accents of spring onion, cumin, and chili. (The tiny cubes of tomato, being of necessity hothouse, served mostly for appearance.) A nice middle choice between plain spinach and a composed dish.
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Jennifer’s Dill Bread

Long ago, my friend Jennifer, with whom I’ve shared many recipes back and forth, gave me her hand-written one for dill bread. It had her small variations on a recipe that a family friend had given her even longer ago. I saved it in my big recipe binder, but this folksy American yeast bread made with cottage cheese never quite caught my interest enough to try. Now, with my dill needing to be used, it seemed to be time.

The recipe directions were simple in the extreme – they started with “Soften yeast in water. Combine all except flour.” The “all” was cottage cheese, sugar, salt, baking soda, minced onion, softened butter, an egg, and dill weed.
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Next was to add “enough flour to form a stiff dough.” Here, I had to go astray. The ingredient list said 2¼ to 2½ cups. In my heavy-duty mixer with the dough hook, 2½ cups of flour produced only a thick, heavy batter. I added more flour. And more. And more. (I think there was too much whey in my cottage cheese.) This is apparently supposed to be a no-knead dough, but mine was thoroughly kneaded by the time I achieved a dough thick enough to hold together in a ball.
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It rose nicely in a gently warmed, turned-off oven, though with all that extra flour, it took longer than the expected one hour to double in bulk.
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I punched the dough down, shaped it into a ball, and was then supposed to put it in an 8-inch round casserole to rise again. I don’t have a dish that size, so I substituted a buttered 8-inch pie tin and prayed that the free-standing loaf would support itself as it rose in the turned-off oven. It did.
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A bit over an hour of baking at a more moderate temperature than I usually use for breads (350°) produced a plump brown loaf. The final touch was to brush the crust with butter and sprinkle it with sea salt.

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Sliced, it revealed a soft, light crumb with a wheaty sweetness and a gentle fragrance of dill. (Might have been dillier if I hadn’t had to add so much extra flour.) It was good as a dinner bread, good for sandwiches, and good for morning toast. Although it will never replace my all-time favorite White Bread Plus from Joy of Cooking, this folksy recipe made a versatile and tasty loaf.
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Parsi Scrambled Eggs

Eggs are wonderfully versatile foods. I’m always amazed to learn of someone who actually doesn’t like eggs. I feel sorry for people who can’t eat them often, or at all, because of the cholesterol in yolks. There are so many good ways to prepare eggs, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner! And I’ve just come upon a new egg recipe that can serve for any of those meals.

It’s Parsi Scrambled Eggs, from Madhur Jaffrey’s fine cookbook Vegetarian India. The Parsis, a relatively small ethnic group in modern India, are Zoroastrians – a very ancient sect. According to Jaffrey, eggs are a prominent feature in the carefully preserved Parsi culture and cuisine. This scrambled egg specialty is called akoori.

The dish cooks very quickly, so all the ingredients need to be set out in readiness.

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First, you saute finely chopped onions in butter for one minute.
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Stir in cumin, turmeric, chopped hot green chile, grated fresh ginger, and chopped cilantro. (I had no fresh cilantro on hand, but from my last batch I’d made some plain cilantro pesto and frozen it in an ice cube tray. One defrosted cube worked perfectly well.)
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After two minutes you add cut-up cherry tomatoes and cook for one more minute. I used a multicolored selection of flavorful grape tomatoes from Mexico.
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Then add the eggs, beaten to a froth with a little milk, salt, and pepper. Stir very gently, inward from the edges, so that they form large, soft curds.
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The eggs need to be eaten immediately, while they’re still warm and moist. Jaffrey says to serve them with bread, toast, or Indian flatbreads. For this evening meal, I used parathas, which I buy frozen from Kalustyan’s international market and Tom toasts for me in a skillet.
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This was a charming little dish. Delicately seasoned and, despite the green chile, not extremely spicy. The blend of ingredients was very pleasant: gently warming, comforting, and quite pretty. Because my eggs were jumbos, I think they might even have liked a little more of all the flavorings. I’ll try that next time.

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Despite the excessively hot weather we’re having, summer must be starting to wind down: The first local cauliflower is appearing in my Greenmarket. Unseasonable as that seems, I was glad to see it. There’s a dish I’ve been interested in trying for which I’d need a small cauliflower. This little bronzy-green head just filled the bill.
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The recipe I had in mind, from Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India, is called Cauliflower with Peas. Cauliflower has a strong affinity for Indian spices, as I know from enjoyable meals in Indian restaurants, and this recipe uses a good range of them – mustard seeds, turmeric, chili powder, coriander, and asafetida. (Shameful confession here: In every Indian dish I’ve ever made that calls for a pinch of asafetida, I’ve skipped it. And so I did again this time. I haven’t missed it.)

My one-pound cauliflower produced a generous half pound of florets, which I matched with a third of a cup of green peas. The remaining ingredients, all classically Indian, are a fresh hot green chile, a small tomato, grated fresh ginger, and a little chopped cilantro. Indian cooking moves fast, so I had to slice the chile and chop the tomato before going any farther.
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Once all was ready I heated olive oil in a nonstick skillet and threw in the mustard seeds. As soon as they began to pop I added the chile slices and gave them a few stirs.
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Next in went the tomatoes, salt, turmeric, chili powder, coriander, and ginger, to be stir-fried for a few minutes.

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Finally, the cauliflower and peas, plus a little water.
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This was to simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until the cauliflower was tender. Well, my cauliflower was not about to be rushed. I had to add three more doses of water and keep things simmering for almost 15 further minutes until the vegetable softened.  Early-season cauliflower are apparently pretty dense.

In an Indian meal the dish would have been ready to serve now, sprinkled with the chopped cilantro. But Jaffrey had offered a very different alternative in her recipe headnote, which I couldn’t resist trying. “I often mix it with cooked penne pasta and some grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese,” she said.

So I slid my covered skillet to the back of the stove, got some water boiling, and cooked up a batch of penne. Ecco! and namaste.
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It was a very pretty, very fragrant dish. It was also somewhat dry, though, with not enough moist sauce to be absorbed by and flavor the pasta. A big splash of olive oil along with the grated cheese on each dish helped, but essentially the two main components didn’t do anything for each other. The cauliflower itself was fine, with a strong kick from the serrano chile. The peas, tomato, and cilantro mostly blended into a spicy pulp that clung nicely to the florets. But the pasta just sat among the vegetables and appreciated the olive oil and Parmigiano.

Well, no harm done, but no kitchen magic in that combination, either. I’d be happy to make the cauliflower preparation again in the context of an Indian meal, where I think it will be excellent, but I won’t try to bridge the two-cultures gap this way again.

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Goan Avocado Salad

Avocados are an extraordinary fruit. Highly caloric – an average-sized Hass avocado runs about 250 calories, 80% of which are from fat – but also chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and the fat is mostly unsaturated. I love avocados, but I’d never made them a regular part of my diet: The only way I prepare them is as guacamole, for Mexican-style meals.

With guacamole vaguely in mind, I picked up a big avocado recently. It sat in my fruit bowl for several days until it fully ripened, and when it was ready I realized I actually wasn’t in the mood for anything Mexican. It was time to try something else with the avocado, and I soon decided what it was to be. In my big recipe binder was an item I’d cut out of a magazine years earlier – a recipe for Floyd Cardoz’s Goan Avocado Salad.

Cardoz was then the owner-chef of Tabla, one of the early restaurants in the Danny Meyer group. Probably thousands of people, including myself, still regret the loss of Tabla and its Bread Bar, which introduced New York to a style of Indian cooking that it had never seen before. The aromas that met you when you entered Tabla were a revelation in themselves.  One of the best loved dishes there was this avocado salad.

The recipe’s preparation is very easy. The avocado, cut in half-inch pieces, is dressed – from left to right in the photo below – with olive oil, onion, tomato, cilantro, cumin, cayenne, and sugar.
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You gently mix everything together in a bowl, press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to keep the avocado from discoloring, and put the bowl in the refrigerator for two to three hours.
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The recipe calls for serving the salad with chips made from naan, the Indian flatbread. I substituted the pitas I had on hand, cut into triangles and toasted lightly, which could be used either to scoop up the salad or to nibble on the side.
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The salad was excellent. After all this time I can’t recall if it resembled the version served at Tabla, but it was fine in its own right. Though it shares many ingredients with guacamole – avocado, onion, tomato, cilantro – the proportions are different, and the cumin and cayenne spicing, rather than fresh hot chile, give it a whole different character. Also, since the avocado is chunked rather than mashed, the mouthfeel of the dish is quite different from guacamole. It’s pleasant to eat with a fork or spoon, not just as a dip for chips. The toasted pita, by the way, went perfectly well with it.

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I’m very fond of Indian food, but I don’t cook it often. The recipes are usually quite complex, and the flavors seem to want to be matched with others of their kind. Thus, making a full Indian meal is a lengthy, fairly hectic procedure, with many steps to be taken at almost the same time.

In an attempt to break out of that rut, I decided, the other day, to put just one Indian dish on an otherwise-familiar American-style dinner plate: a vegetable to accompany a veal chop. Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India gave me a trove of recipes to choose from, including one that’s the simplest Indian dish I’ve ever seen: Aloo Gobi, or stir-fried cauliflower with potatoes. Granted, it calls for 10 ingredients, but there are really only a few cooking steps. It seemed ideal.

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For my half recipe, I first had to boil a potato. (Jaffrey says day-old leftovers do fine in the dish, but I didn’t have any.) When it had cooled, I cut it into ¾ inch dice. And I cut up half a small head of cauliflower to make a heaping two cups’ worth of florets. Then I stirred up a fragrant spice mixture: ground cumin, coriander, and turmeric; grated fresh ginger root. red chili powder, salt, and water. Those were all the ingredients.

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I heated my ancient, disreputable looking (but well-seasoned) wok on a stove burner, quickly sizzled some whole cumin seeds in oil, and added the cauliflower and potatoes.

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These were to be stir-fried for 10 minutes “or until the vegetables are well browned in spots.” Mine took almost twice that long to brown even minimally. I poured on the spice mixture, kept stir-frying for 1 minute, added some more water, and continued cooking gently. Per the recipe, the vegetables should have absorbed all their liquid and been tender in 2 to 5 minutes. Mine were not. Again, they took about twice that long, and the potato was mushy before the cauliflower was soft. Maybe it was supposed to be that way, since the potato had been fully cooked to begin with?

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Meanwhile I’d also been cooking the veal chops, using a technique that Tom Colicchio, in Think Like a Chef, calls pan-roasting. I browned them slowly in a little butter for 3 minutes on each side, cooked for 5 more minutes on each side; dropped in a big lump of butter and cooked for a final 10 minutes, turning and basting the chops with the butter. Very restaurantish, all that butter!

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The chops then had to sit off the heat at the back of the stove for 10 minutes, to draw their juices back in. That rest period made it easier to finish the vegetables and have them ready to serve when the chops were.

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Then came the taste test: inspired combination or culture clash? More like the latter, I’m sorry to say. The aloo gobi and the chop shared a plate amicably enough, and both were good of their kind, but on the palate they didn’t do anything for each other. The veal wasn’t enhanced by the spiciness of the vegetables, and the aloo gobi hardly seemed to recognize the flavor of the meat. Both would have been more pleasing with accompaniments in their own style. (Jaffrey suggests rice, a dal, and a raita alongside aloo gobi.) Beloved Spouse thinks the vegetables would have worked better with a moist braised meat – say, lamb or goat.

Well, it was a learning experience for me – to save Indian cooking for days when I have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen, and perhaps when I have a few extra helping hands. However, there’s one potential benefit to the experiment: Since we didn’t finish all the aloo gobi, I’m saving the rest of it to try as a samosa filling.

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Two Vegetarian Indian Dishes

Readers who are familiar with my blog know that I don’t write only about my successes. If I try a recipe and it doesn’t work, I say so, and go on to consider jaffrey vegetarianwhy it didn’t: Was it my fault or the recipe’s? And what can I learn from the experience? Today’s post is about two such non-successes. Unfortunately, these are recipes from an author I respect and a book of hers with which I’ve previously had very good results: Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India.

It happened that I would be dining alone one recent evening, Beloved Spouse being out for a business dinner, so I could indulge my predilection for chicken. To liven things up a little, I thought I’d accompany my two broiled chicken thighs with a simple Indian vegetable dish and precede them with an Indian appetizer. Here’s how that worked.
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Everyday Carrots and Peas

This recipe looked like an attractive way to spice up humble vegetables. The cooking time seemed extremely brief for carrots, but I wanted to give the recipe a chance. So I defrosted half a cup of good tiny peas, cut a raw carrot into half-inch dice, and proceeded to measure out one-quarter of the indicated seasonings.

The instructions then were to heat olive oil (an approved alternative to ghee) in a frying pan. Sizzle some cumin seeds in the hot oil. Add the peas and carrots, and stir-fry them for 3 minutes. Stir in turmeric, red chile powder, freshly ground coriander, and salt. Lower the heat add a little water, cover the pan and cook “for 3-4 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.”

That last bit was the killer, as I feared it would be. After 4 minutes, the pan was dry, the peas were looking worried, and the carrots were still rock-hard. I kept adding small amounts of water, but it took almost 10 more minutes before the carrots were pierceable with a fork. And by then the peas were pretty mushy.
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The dish wasn’t a disaster: The peas and carrots were edible, and tasty enough in themselves. But neither vegetable had a proper texture – one still too firm, the other too soft – and the spices were barely discernible. Maybe they’d have been more prominent in a shorter cooking time, but then I would have had raw carrots. Maybe I should have used a very young, tender carrot, instead of the mature one that I had, but the recipe didn’t specify age – and even so, carrots don’t cook fast.

If I ever try this recipe again – and I might, because I do like the concept – I’ll probably parboil the carrots and double the spices.
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Simple Hard-boiled Egg Curry

This experiment was a total failure. Simple the recipe definitely is, and the book’s photo is quite intriguing:

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The only spices involved in the preparation are turmeric, red chile powder, salt, and black pepper – not what I’d thought of as enough to consider a curry. But Jaffrey says the dish is “beloved in the Telangana region of Andrha Pradish,” so who was I to cavil?

Once hard-boiled and peeled, the eggs are to have deep longitudinal slits cut in them – presumably to let the spices sink in. Ghee or butter is heated in a small frying pan; the spices are stirred in; then the eggs, which are to be rolled around “for about a minute, or until they are golden.” Serve right away.

Well, here are my eggs after two minutes:

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Not as who should say golden, eh? And here they are after 10 minutes of dutiful rolling around:

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Pitiful. At that point I thought I’d better take them off the heat before they turned to leather. When I cut them open, none of the color had seeped in through the slits, nor had any of the spice flavors. Just plain HB eggs, with a toughened outer skin. I ate them for my appetizer anyway, but they weren’t worth even the minor effort they took.

I wonder if the color of the eggs in the book’s picture was due to Photoshop. Either that, or there had to be some drastic errors in copyediting or proofreading the recipe. Those could also apply to the timing given for the peas and carrots, as well as the spice quantities indicated in both recipes. Improbable, but what else could it be? There was the possibility that my spices were too old and had lost their power. But that wasn’t it: When checked afterward, they were fully as aromatic as they ought to be.

Leaving aside why these recipes didn’t work, the lesson I need to learn from this experience is to put more faith my own culinary instincts. (Soft cheers in the background from Tom, who has been telling me this forever.) I knew carrots need longer cooking; I’d been surprised by the tiny quantities of spices called for; and I couldn’t see how flavors could permeate eggs in one minute. I should summon the courage to make my own changes in cases like this. As in every other field, just because something is in print doesn’t mean it’s right.

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Long ago, when I first started doing Indian cooking, I couldn’t see the attraction of basmati rice. My only Indian cookbook insisted the so-fragile rice had to be washed in nine separate waters, soaked for exactly thirty minutes, and cooked only in one of three minutely specified ways. It seemed like far too much trouble to go to for rice – which, at the time, was only a minor dish in my culinary repertoire. What can I say? I was young and ignorant – and wrong.

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jaffrey vegetarianMany years and five more Indian cookbooks later, I’ve learned to appreciate the long, slender, pointy grains of basmati. Gone are the nine washes: A few rinses are all that’s called for now. Maybe the US is importing a cleaner, better grade of rice? Basmati still requires more care than ordinary long-grain rice, but its flavor and texture more than reward the effort. I used it in an excellent dish this week from my newest Indian cookbook, Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India.

I chose the recipe, Rice with Dill and Peas, partially to showcase the fresh English or shelling peas that I’ve been enjoying from my Greenmarket for the past few weeks. In a large pot, I browned thinly sliced onions in olive oil and gently stirred in the soaked and drained rice, garam masala, chopped fresh dill, salt, and water. I brought it all to a boil, covered the pot tightly, and put it in the oven for 25 minutes. I took it out, quickly tossed in a handful of blanched fresh peas, returned the tight cover, and baked for 5 more minutes. Out of the oven, the pot sat undisturbed for 10 minutes, after which I fluffed up the rice and served it.

rice peas dill

It was lovely. Perfectly done, with neither dryness nor excess liquid. You couldn’t taste the dill as such, but it, the onions, and the garam masala subtly blended into the flavor of the nutty, aromatic rice. The peas made an attractive color and textural contrast and added just the smallest touch of vegetable sweetness.

Following Jaffrey’s suggestion, I’d made a Carrot Raita to serve alongside the rice. This was a departure for me, nothing like the raita I usually make, which is soft curds of yogurt, grated cucumber, ground roasted cumin seeds, and chopped fresh mint. This one was a dense relish, made with a thick Greek-style yogurt, a lot of coarsely grated carrots, chopped green chili, chopped cilantro, sugar, and salt, with a final lacing of whole mustard seeds and coriander seeds sizzled in olive oil.

carrot raita

The raita was quite sweet from the carrots – actually a bit sweeter than we’d have liked – but it had an intriguing flavor, and it partnered excellently with the rice and peas. Because it was so thick, I thought maybe I’d chosen the wrong kind of yogurt (though it was made by Kalustyan, which ought to know!), but later research told me that Indian yogurt is indeed like that, so I guess I did it right. Next time I’ll just skip the sugar.

To round out the evening’s dinner, I added a small meat dish: a goat curry that I like to make, based on an easy lamb recipe from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking.

goat curry

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I can’t imagine my pantry without dried beans. They’re an all-around useful, nourishing, delicious culinary staple. I always have several kinds on hand, and this week I added a new, extraordinarily good variety to my collection – of which, broadening the definition just a little to include pulses, I already had six kinds on my pantry shelf:

L to R: Santa Maria pinquitos, chickpeas, Midnight blacks, Castelluccio lentils, yellow Indian lentils, Domingo rojo reds

L to R: Santa Maria pinquitos, Umbrian chickpeas, Midnight blacks, Castelluccio lentils, yellow Indian lentils, Domingo rojo reds

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ChiliSanta Maria pinquitos are my all-time favorite bean for chili. I’ve written enthusiastically about them before, here and here. They’re small but they can hold their own among any strong or spicy flavors.

 

 

servedI love the flavor of chickpeas, and I use them in many guises, some of which I’ve written about here and here. These are an artisanal variety from Umbria.

 

 

black bean soup 2Midnight is a robust black turtle bean, which I usually use in Mexican dishes, such as here and here. They make especially good soups.

 

 

pasta with lentilsCastelluccio lentils are the best lentils I’ve ever tasted. A favorite way to serve them is in my own pasta with lentils recipe, and I’ve also written about them here and here.

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Yellow Indian lentils are actually skinned and split mung beans. I keep them for making moong dal, a mild, pleasant side dish in Indian meals.

Domingo rojo is a dark red bean that I bought last fall from Rancho Gordo. It’s supposed to be especially good for red beans and rice. I’ll be trying it one day soon.

CassouletNormally I also have white beans in the pantry: Great northerns or marrows, for cassoulets and plain American baked beans, but I’ve already used up this winter’s supply of those. And once I brought back from France some Coco de Paimpol, which is probably the world’s best cassoulet bean.

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SolfinosAnd now I have a new treasure to add to my collection: Solfino beans, an ancient variety from Italy’s Marches region. These are a very rare, pale yellow heirloom bean. I’d tasted them years ago when they were briefly being grown in Tuscany under the name Zolfino, but apparently they didn’t do well there and almost went extinct.

There’s now one artisanal grower of them in the Marches, back where they originated, and when I found some in a local specialty shop, I snatched up a bag. The back label gives a whole history of the variety: fragile, difficult to grow, picky about soil and water, low-yielding, requiring mostly hand tending.

All that makes them ghastly expensive (I paid $17.95 for 500 grams), but they are extraordinarily good. I prepared my precious Solfinos very simply, in order to really taste the bean itself: gently boiled with just a little garlic, fresh sage, and olive oil.

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I served them dressed with nothing but extra-virgin olive oil and salt. That was all they needed to bring out their subtle, rich, warm, and yet delicate flavor – hard to describe but heavenly to taste.

solfino 3

 

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