Tag Archives: indian

the curry comeback

I missed you guys!

I really like blogs. In fact, I have several I read every day, I enjoy catching up on daily musings and adventures of writers who feel like virtual friends. A Pear to Remember is not currently a site for daily recipes, and I decided recently that I am okay with that. Rather than disappointing myself with unrealistic expectations of time, or regularly pairing recipes with apologies, I’m going to visit to talk deliciously do-able cooking whenever I can–and that might not be every day. I just love living life, you know?

You see, I do get my blogging in: I also author a weekly WordPress blog at my new job, so you can find new recipes and Nutrition-talk here. I hope you’ll feel free to pop over and see what I’m cooking in my new career.

I don’t forget about you, no no—I’ve photographed many a dinner, anxious to share the secrets to recreating the magic in your kitchen. I even made homemade pumpkin spice lattes that are the best welcome home treat ever. Last night was the third time I made the dish in today’s post—you know I rarely make any recipe twice, so third time here is truly a charm. And I added a few special twists you will love. You do not need a dutch oven to make this rice, you can steam it right on the stove, or bake it in a covered dish—amazing baked rice has come from my Grammy’s vintage turquoise pyrex. But it does look pretty in Monsieur Pesto, oui?

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugFinal disclaimer before we get to the goods: I know a few dears out there are going to FREAK OUT at the word preceding “cauliflower” in the recipe name below. In previous Indian dishes on this site, I’ve tried my darndest to remind you that curry is really a verb meaning to mix. When the Brits got a taste of how spectacular Indian food is (my favorite cuisine, in fact), they—yes, the Brits—invented a spice blend to mimic Indian flavors. Curry powder, I made some last week when I ran out, can be as simple as turmeric + cumin + coriander + cayenne. Put it in a jar and people freak out. An alarming number of people have said to my face: Oh see, I don’t like curry. Well, if I can’t change your mind, this rice will change your world.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugAndrew will gladly call your house and tell you himself.

One-Pot Curried Cauliflower Rice

loosely based on a recipe from Everyday Food, serves 6

4 teaspoons vegetable oil or ghee (clarified butter—oh God!!)

1 large head cauliflower, cored and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (or 1 bag frozen florets)

1 medium yellow onion, diced small

2 cups basmati or other long-grain white rice (we used brown), rinsed well

4 heaping teaspoons curry powder (if it’s been in your pantry for two presidents, time for a new jar)

1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 3/4 cups low-sodium broth

1/2 cup canned coconut milk

½ cup other veggies in your fridge (I diced carrot and fennel), optional

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Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high. Add cauliflower and cook, stirring frequently, until browned in spots. Transfer to a plate.

Add 2 teaspoons oil and onion (plus any other veggies) to pot; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, 5 minutes. Add the rinsed rice, curry powder, and chickpeas.

Cook, stirring constantly, until rice is coated, about 2 minutes. Add broth and coconut milk (shake the can first!) and bring to a boil.

Scatter cauliflower over top (do not stir to combine). Cover and bake until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, 15 minutes (25 minutes for brown rice).

Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with cilantro and a pinch of salt for pizazz. We enjoyed ours with a side of fried paneer.

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a little chick[pea] told me…

…that you must try Indian food. When I brought my homemade Indian leftovers to work and opened the container to release cumin and tomato-scented steam throughout the teacher’s lounge, there were two, predictable, reactions:

reaction no. 1

“Oh my gosh, is that homemade Indian food? Oh I love chana masala, one of my favorites! That smells so good!”

reaction no. 2

[initially nonverbal; glances down the nose towards my reddish-brown pile of garbanzos, followed by:] “I’ve never liked curry. My mother never liked curry, either. I simply can’t stand the flavor of curry.”

the curry myth

I cannot count how many times I have been told “I don’t like Indian because I don’t like curry” everywhere I go. Interestingly, this remark always comes from the same demographic. I imagine post-WWII mothers in the kitchen, their daughters eyeing the cake in the oven while they learn important Lady Life Lessons: keeping one’s knees together in a skirt, crossing at the ankles, and lastly, “You might hear of a thing called ‘curry’, dear. Avoid it, it’s rather unpleasant.”

Curry is a meat, vegetable, or fish dish with spiced sauce and rice or bread. In Britain, where chicken tikka masala is the national dish, “curry” is often a generic descriptor for all Indian food. However, the word curry describes more of a soup or stew, it is not a particular ingredient. Curry powder is a spice mixture developed by the British to make Indian food at home. Curry powder can range from 5 to 20 ingredients, and you will not see it in today’s recipe. Think of seasoned salt or dried Italian seasoning: convenient? yes. traditional? no.

the yellow spice tumeric will stain, watch out!

Like the most recent post on my very favorite Indian dish, Palak Paneer, or spinach with fried cheese, this is a very mild dish you could make spicy if you like. I’m a wimp.

Chana masala is a Northern Indian chickpea stew with tomatoes; masala refers to spices in a thick sauce for rice or flatbread.

Unpretentious, economical (canned chickpeas, canned tomatoes, dried spices!) and even better the next few days.

Chana Masala

(slightly adapted) from Smitten Kitchen

1 tablespoon vegetable/olive oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced (on your microplane)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (on your microplane)
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced (optional; I use half a can of TJ’s mild fire-roasted green chili)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (I use a quarter of this because cayenne is extremely hot)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lemon (juiced)

fresh cilantro (optional)

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic, ginger and peppers and sauté over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes.

Turn heat down to medium-low and add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, cumin seeds, paprika and garam masala. Cook onion mixture with spices for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes with juices, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, then stir in salt and lemon juice. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro, if you’ve got it.

Serve over basmati rice (click here for a flawless recipe) and buttery flatbread (click here for our top freezer-section pick). And do write back about your culinary experimentations!

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eastern essentials

For readers already infatuated with Indian cuisine, skip ahead. Once you discover the sensation that is Indian food, you’ll see how silly for me to go about explaining things. Whatever misconceptions you might have about “curry”, “spicy food”, and other notions about unfamiliar combinations, you leave them right here in this opening paragraph and we’ll move on together. No looking back.

In your mental skillet, imagine olive oil glistening over the heat. Smell the garlic, onion, and ginger crackling and golden. Toss in some seeds and colorful spices–mild in every way but flavor.  Stir in tomatoes, chicken, eggplant, spinach—whatever your favorite entrée. Simmer into a sauce to pour over fluffy, fragrant basmati and scoop up with rich buttery Indian flatbread.

Basic ingredients, new combinations. Not spicy, but well-spiced.  Vibrant, unforgettable food that redefines flavor. Not so scary, eh?

Because we’re starting simple, I’m going to divide yesterday’s Indian feast into two posts. Let’s begin with Palak Paneer: creamy (though creamless) spinach and onion sauce with cubes of fried cheese. Tell me that appeals to abundant cultural palettes?

Though Indian cuisine embraces rich sauces and flavor more complex than any other, the ingredients are often in your freezer and pantry. This traditional recipe for Palak Paneer is phenomenal, and a new jar of Garam Masala in the spice cabinet might be the only ingredient unique to your dinner. Garam Masala is a spice blend with ground coriander, cumin, cloves, and cinnamon—most grocery stores now carry it with everyday spices.

Paneer is Indian cheese, whole milk that has simply been strained. It has little flavor (since it’s just cow’s milk) and does not melt, making it perfect for frying in olive oil and simmering in sauces. You can purchase it at Whole Foods, at some Trader Joes, and ethnic markets. If you can’t find paneer, you can use chicken or another protein, though the sauce alone is perfect with a side starch. I have not tried substituting Haloumi cheese (with very similar properties), and I bet it would be wonderful.

a fast method to chop cilantro: just scrape your knife along the stems in a downward motion

The nice thing about preparing Palak Paneer—at least the way I learned it in my Indian cuisine cooking class—is you blend all the sautéed ingredients, meaning you don’t have to spend your time on such precise chopping.Traditional Indian food is rarely finicky about technique or measurement, delightfully simple to make. One of many reasons to add it to your repertoire.

Palak Paneer (Spinach with Cheese)

loosely based on Rosy’s recipe from AllRecipes.com, and what I remembered from my Indian cooking class

2 tbsp. olive oil (or 1 tbsp. oil, 1 tbsp. butter)

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (on your microplane)

1/2 teaspoon toasted cumin seed

1 (3 inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced (on your microplane)

2 teaspoons garam masala

1 teaspoon salt

1 large onion, chopped

1 cup water, or as needed

10 to 16 oz. (give or take) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

1 pound paneer, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (Finnish Frying Cheese or Halloumi are great substitutes)

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

juice of half a lemon 

Before you start on the Palak Paneer, start cooking your rice so they’ll finish at the same time. Click here for my recipe on authentic basmati.

the sauce

Heat oil/butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in garlic and cumin seed; cook until the garlic softens, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger, 1 teaspoon garam masala, salt, onion, and water. Increase heat to medium and simmer until the water reduces a bit. Don’t hesitate to add more water to keep a sauce-like consistency.

Stir in spinach and cook until hot, about 5 minutes. Transfer to an immersion or upright blender and blend with the lemon juice, adding more water if needed.

the cheese

In the same pan (if nonstick), add the cubes of paneer to one tablespoon of hot vegetable oil. Using tongs, turn them as they develop a flavorful crispy crust.

how easy is that?

Add paneer to the sauce, heating an additional 5 minutes, or until hot. Pour into a serving dish and sprinkle with cilantro and remaining garam masala. Taste and add a pinch of salt, if needed. Serve over rice (here’s how I make it every time), or scoop up with Naan—traditional Indian flatbread. Pita, though not authentic, would work wonderfully. Andrew and I have not been impressed with any of the plastic-packaged Naan near the grocery store bakeries—uck, save your money. Trader Joes has the best Naan in their freezer section.

Next time: Chana Masala, chickpeas with tomatoes. Please, please share your questions and successes in the comment section. I know plenty of you out there excited for an excuse to try something completely new. Welcome.

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the Indian spice cabinet

Until this evening, Andrew didn’t realize we had an Indian spice cabinet. This is ironic, as it is the most violent of our cupboards. All our boring, twice-a-year spices (nutmeg, thyme, italian seasoning), reside above the drinking cups, aligned in an intricate Tetris fashion. My special Indian spices, on the other hand, have a designated tiered rack above the kitchen sink. And almost every time we open this cabinet, the coriander seeds or ground cumin jars nose-dive into the sink, shattering glass all over the kitchen. We’ve mourned many ethnic spices in recent months.

Tonight was one to carefully retrieve the exotic spices from this special location, in a first-time attempt to make Indian vegetable fritters. With curry-lime sauce. Yep.  

Since drooling over this recipe on Smitten Kitchen (the most inspiring food blog ever), I’ve vowed for months I would make them and gobble them up. Mine are not as pretty as Deb’s, but they were amazing. And let me tell you, anything that has Andrew knowingly DEVOURING vegetables (zucchini! sweet potato! carrot!) speaks to its flavorful brilliance.  

I had this idiotic idea (like I so often do creating in the kitchen) that I would grate the veggies (that’s russest potato, sweet potato, carrots, onion, zucchini) by hand. On a box grater. Well, the words “hand” and “box grater” explain the bloody bandage on my right thumb…  

 

I read that hand grating (vs. utilizing my beloved food processor)  produces coarser vegetables that stick together. After grating both potatoes, attempting the onion, and stopping the bleeding from my right hand, I surrendered.  

Not that I don’t love my food processor.  

While I mixed the eggs and flour, I drained the shredded veggies in a colander lined with cheesecloth. The cheesecloth made it easier to squeeze the water from the veggies.  

love my spices

 

  

Though the recipe called for four eggs, I don’t enjoy egg-y foods—and I wanted to cut down on the fat just a tad. I used two whole eggs and two egg whites, and the consistency worked just fine. I whisked in flour, coriander, turmeric, and cumin. Smells unbelievable.  

On the side, I cooked basmati and wild rice with cumin seeds. For fluffy, authentic basmati, visit a previous post on the very topic 

I skipped out on the ginger and peas (not a fan of the latter), but loved the cilantro in these fritters. The flavor and color were just—oh gracious.  

This is not the time to skimp on fresh herbs. If you like (no, love) cilantro like me, the full two tablespoons of minced cilantro is essential.  

cilantro

 

  

This thick, rich egg mixture is a fantastic glue for all the shredded veggies. While my rice was cooking, I heated my 12″ nonstick skillet. As you may recall from the last time I made potato cakes,  I liked the browning better with my regular skillets, but nonstick was preferable here to avoid using an entire bottle of oil.  

fragrant and beautiful

 

  

By this point, the carrots and sweet potato have dyed the other pieces to unattractive colors… no matter.  

I was surprised to see the instructions to salt and pepper the veggies at this point, and also immediately after frying. I used kosher salt to lessen the sodium amount, but did find that salting is really crucial, even with all the fragrant spices. The salt enhances the complexity of these fantastic fritters.  

A warning about tumeric if you haven’t used it before: the yellow stains absolutely everything—which is why I have a special plastic spatula (circa 1992) I reserve exclusively for my Indian cooking endeavors.  

Because Deb explains it all so well, I’m going to send you to her site for ingredient amounts and directions. I must tell you that these are a great introduction to either Indian food or Indian cooking, if your taste buds have not yet ventured that far East. Also, this curry-lime sauce is so remarkably simple and divine (really, a four-year-old could make it), I intend to make it frequently for a dipping-sauce staple. Additional support for the wonderful versatility of plain yogurt.  

These are a great appetizer idea that would reheat well in the oven. Though I cooled my fritters between paper towels, as directed, I would strongly encourage placing the fritters on a (cookie) cooling rack directly from the skillet. The fritters were delicious, but weren’t as crispy sitting between damp paper towels—I’ve read that a cooling rack is the solution, but forgot about it this time around…  

This post is a bit jumpy, but there’s so much to say about Indian food!! I promise to share other favorite homemade Indian recipes in future posts. These spiced fritters speak to the simplicity of most Indian cooking—this cuisine always tastes complex, but rarely requires intricate cooking technique.  

Click here to head over to Smitten Kitchen and check out fritter-making in further detail 😀  

  

Now the great debate over who gets these leftovers for lunch…

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fluffy, authentic basmati rice

Yesterday I promised to share the steps for perfect basmati rice accompany your roasted vegetables (or, ideally, your homemade Indian food–no pressure). For those of you who love Indian food and can’t get enough basmati when you’re out to eat, you’re going to love re-creating it at home. But I’m here to talk to the rest of you who don’t eat basmati. Maybe it’s because you don’t “do” rice, Uncle Ben has ruined it for you. Perhaps you’re haunted by nightmares of wedding food gone-by: lumpy, dry rice with overcooked chicken.

Basmati is a fragrant rice on its own. I grew up thinking white rice was only edible with piles of salt and two tablespoons of melted butter to mask the overwhelming presence of bland. But basmati is magical, I mean–it’s even an awesome word. Basmati is a long-grain rice grown in India, and though you can find it at most grocery stores, you want to be certain it is imported from India. Trader Joes has delicious, authentic basmati. Though I haven’t found it at my local  Giant, America’s Test Kitchen rated Tilda Basmati Rice as the best nationally-available brand. Just be sure it is from India. If you have an ethnic market near you, that’s an even better way to ensure big bags of authentic basmati.

What makes me so certain of my rice making skills? There are a number of methods to cook basmati, and I found some wacky ones on YouTube. I took a class on vegetarian Indian cuisine last winter from Shyli Nair, a former cook at the incredible Aditi Indian restaurant in Georgetown and Kingstowne.

Since I’m no culinary inventor (see Secrets to Success), I usually follow the instructions on bags of rice, boxes of pasta. It concerned me that my instructor was using plastic cups you might find at the water cooler of a doctor’s office to measure out her basmati and water ratios. For all I could tell, she wasn’t measuring. She said, “Okay, now fill your cup halfway with rice and then rinse it and then fill it more with water.” Oh dear.

This is the beauty of Indian cooking that I will talk about another time–there is a wide gradient between right and not-so-bad, and your basmati rice will likely turn out delicious no matter the variation.

All you need:

a pot with a fitted lid (not too huge, but not too small either),

olive oil (not Extra-Virgin, though you could use other oils here if you don’t have olive),

mesh strainer or colander,

liquid measuring cup,

cumin seeds (optional, but awesome),

one crushed cardamon pod (optional as well)

  1. RINSE YOUR RICE. new to me! I had been just cooking and eating basmati before this…but I learned you must always, always, always rinse basmati to remove the starch. pour your desired amount of basmati (1 cup, whatever) into a mesh strainer and rinse really well with cold water.
  2. SET THE RICE ASIDE. near the pot is handy.
  3. HEAT YOUR POT. if you presently have a habit of sticking things in your pan and then turning the heat on, 2010 is a good year to stop doing that. you need the heat on medium to medium-high; when you place your hand a few inches above the pot’s surface and feel the heat, then pour in about one tablespoon of olive oil.
  4. TOSS IN CUMIN SEEDS. only once the oil is shimmering and moving around on its own–this is how you know the oil is hot enough for cooking. if you’re not using the seeds, no biggie, just proceed to step 5. the amount of cumin seed is up to you, they add a very earthy quality to the final taste–I typically add less than a teaspoon. start step 5 as soon as the seeds start crackling and browning, avoid burning. add the cardamon pod here, if using.
  5. TOAST THE RICE. a shocker, I suspect. pour in your rinsed rice, if it’s still wet that’s perfect. keep stirring it around in the oil, not letting the rice stick to the bottom. stir until fragrant and slightly golden, just about 2 minutes.
  6. POUR IN TWICE THE AMOUNT OF WATER and stir. bring the water to a boil.
  7. COVER AND STOP WATCHING THE POT. seriously, leave it alone now. after many, many episodes of scrubbing a blackened pot, I now make the habit of turning my heat to the lowest or even warm setting. better to wait a little longer than burn the whole batch, I found. according to the bag of TJ’s brand basmati, it should only be about 20 minutes until your rice is done. this is true sometimes, but I found initially I was getting clumpy rice and by cooking it longer (30-35 minutes) it developed that fluffiness I adored about restaurant rice.

You really want to leave the pot alone, and if your pots have glass lids like mine this is easier to do. If you check that all the water has been absorbed, wait at least 30 minutes before checking. Take it off the heat for a few minutes before gently fluffing with a fork. some days I get so excited and fluff fluff fluff and then I’m thinking: why does this look like crushed rice, not long-grain?

Basmati is fantastic with Indian foods because you’re mixing it with tomato juices and rich sauces–and since these are all so flavorful, the rice doesn’t need any finishing touches. While I find the olive oil to add just enough flavor, if you taste it (see Needs Just a Dash of Something) and want a little more flavor happening, try: a little squeeze of lemon juice or lemon zest or fresh cilantro.

enjoy, and let me know how it turns out! 

 

 

 

 

Basmati can be found in both white and brown varieties, and I do love brown for its nutty flavor (not to mention it’s higher in nutrients). But here is white basmati with garlic naan and homemade palek paneer: a stunning spinach and cheese accompaniment.

For my recent post on palak paneer, learn to make it here.

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