Wednesday, May 21, 2008

But the Oh-So-Wonderful "Indian" Meal!

Okay, so now I’m feeling like I need to take back all the mean things I said about The Wonderful World of Indian Cookery (that’s just like me. I finally give my mean streak free rein, and she goes off and makes a fool of herself). Well, not exactly take back all of it, but maybe eat a few of my words with some cardamom and tumeric. You see, it may not have been very authentic, but thanks to the ideas I got from that very annoying cookbook, Bob and I had an absolutely awesome “Indian” meal the other night. As far as meals I’ve cooked throughout my life, this one was definitely one of my masterpieces. I wish we’d had others here to witness it. Not Indian witnesses, though. Hell, we’re Americans. What do we know about how Indian food really ought to taste? All we know is that we both loved it. Bob’s comment was, “I hope we have a lot of this left over.”

Once I discovered that “curds” meant “yogurt,” I managed to find a number of recipes in the book that I thought I might be able to make with just a few minor adjustments. So, I searched for the one recipe in the whole book that seemed easy enough to follow to the letter and then chose a couple of others to adapt to go along with it. (Sorry you vegetarians) we haven’t had much meat lately, so I chose a meat-based main dish to go with the mint chutney (pudine ki chutney) recipe that could be made exactly as instructed. I chose a potato-based side. I was going to make a salad, but, as you’ll see, the chutney pretty much became the salad.

This chutney was the first thing I made, and I did just as the recipe told me to do (assuming the “electric grinder” to which she referred is a food processor. In the recipe I’ve included at the end of this post, I note to process rather than to grind). Mine never turned into a paste as the recipe indicates it should – guess that’s one of the things that comes “with practice.” What I had was more like pesto before the oil and nuts have been added to get a paste. I suppose I could have added some oil and nuts to see what would happen, but that would have been changing the recipe too much. Besides, who cares about consistency when something smells this delicious? My eyes and mouth were both watering (always a good sign).

I never would have dreamed of mixing so much mint with so much cilantro on my own (see? I told you I need cookbooks for guidance), but this was a match made in heaven. When I tasted it, I’m sure I awakened some buds on my tongue that have been comatose for at least twenty years. But what was I going to do with it? It wasn’t exactly what I think of when I think of “chutney” – you know, a sort of viscous condiment with chunks of fruit and vegetables. Maybe what it really wanted to be was a topping for chopped onions, scallions, and celery (okay, so it wasn’t exactly a topping. What I actually did was mix one small, coarsely chopped onion, 2 large chopped scallions, and 2 large, chopped celery stalks into it to make more of a salad than a chutney). It was probably completely un-Indian served this way, but I promise you, it was scrumptious, if you happen to be a fan of cilantro. Bob and I like our food very spicy, so I used two jalapeno pepper for the “green chili peppers to taste.”

Next I made minted yogurt with potatoes (alli raita). I’m a big fan of cucumber raita. When I read this recipe which was obviously potato raita, I thought, “Hmmm…I wonder if that can be anywhere near as good as it is with cucumbers.” Trust me. It can be. I’m now a potato raita convert. Who would have ever thought potatoes and yogurt could go so well together? (Well, actually, I would, because I’ve made potato yogurt soup, but never with an Indian interpretation that includes mint, and this could easily be pureed and made into a delicious cold soup for a very hot summer day). If you’d rather stick with the raita more familiar to an American audience, I’m sure you could seed, peel, and chop three large cucumbers and use them instead of the potatoes.

I didn’t do too much adapting of this recipe, other than combining steps I felt could be combined. However, her recipe said to peel the potatoes after boiling. I’d never recommend that, unless you’re really into tears of frustration. Cubing, as she suggests to do after cooking, is probably preferable to do before cooking, as well. I cut them into chunks before cooking to help them cook faster. I suppose in cooking school students learn the formula for making cubes out of foods that tend towards the circular and oval rather than the square or rectangular, but I’ve never been to cooking school. Thus, once they were cooked, I just cut them into bite-sized chunks that any mathematician would tell you are not cubes. They taste just as good as cubes, I’m sure.

Finally, I made the meat cooked with spinach (palak gosht). I have to admit that I pretty much completely changed this recipe, doing not much more than maintaining its core flavors. My first thought was, “forget this generic ‘meat.’ This recipe should be called ‘ground beef cooked with spinach.’” It was superb as is in the recipe that follows, but I’ve now got a hankering for ground beef with raisins and almonds. I’ll add a half cup or so of raisins with the tomatoes to cook them to their proper plumpness. At the end, I’ll add a generous quarter cup (my math authors would hate me for using such language. A quarter cup is a quarter cup, after all, but I hope you know what I mean) of slivered almonds. For some reason, the flavors just seemed to beg for the sweetness of raisins and almonds, but still, it was wonderful with spinach (and a great way to eat your leafy greens).

Boy, that was fun! Maybe I should write about cooking more often. Meanwhile, here are the recipes for you. (By the way, if you’re vegetarian, I’m sure you could substitute chopped tofu – especially the “steak” kind – for the beef, which is something else for me to try).

Ground Beef Cooked with Spinach

4 T cooking oil (I used safflower)
3 cloves
1” stick of cinnamon, broken
½ t ground cardamom
2” piece of ginger, peeled
4 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno, seeded
1 large onion
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, lightly pureed
½ t ground tumeric
2 t ground coriander
salt to taste
1 lb ground beef
10 oz. fresh baby spinach
chopped fresh cilantro and unsalted butter

Process the ginger, garlic, jalapenos, and onion until finely chopped. Heat oil on medium high heat in large frying pan with cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom. Add the finely chopped vegetables and fry till soft. Add the tomatoes and heat for ten minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add the tumeric, coriander, and salt. Stir in beef. Heat till beef is brown. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer 25 minutes or until most of the liquid has boiled off. Stir in spinach. Heat till spinach has wilted and sticks to the beef. Serve topped with chopped cilantro and a pat of butter.

Minted Yogurt with Potatoes

3 medium potatoes, peeled and boiled
2 ½ cups of yogurt, lightly beaten
1 ½ T chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic
1 jalapeno, seeded
Salt to taste
1 ½ t sugar
1 ½ T fresh mint, chopped

Cool potatoes completely. Cut into bite-sized chunks. Stir into the yogurt. Process the cilantro, garlic, and jalapeno. Mix these ground ingredients into the yogurt and potatoes along with the salt and sugar. Stir in the mint. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Mint Chutney

1 ½ cups of fresh mint, packed
1 ½ cups of fresh cilantro, packed
green chili peppers to taste, seeded
juice of 1 ½ limes
1 t sugar
Salt to taste
1 clove garlic
1” piece of ginger, peeled and cut up

Process all ingredients together until well-combined. Add water as necessary to process to a smooth paste. (Don’t panic if it never becomes a paste. Just use it in the recipe below.)

Mint Chutney with Celery and Onions

1 recipe of mint chutney
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2 large scallions (I’m lucky enough to be able to buy these from local farmers, and the ones I buy are much thicker and bigger than what are typically sold in supermarkets. If you’re using supermarket scallions, you’ll probably want to use 4 rather than 2)
2 large celery stalks, chopped

Stir onion, scallions, and celery into mint chutney. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cross-posted at Soup's On!


ZoesMom said...

Wow! I'd like to give that meal a try. I am impressed that you had the gumption and it does sound like the results were impressive.

Emily Barton said...

ZM, come down, and I'll make it for you, or maybe when I come up there and stay with you, I'll take over your kitchen.

Rebecca H. said...

How fun this sounds! You're almost making me want to learn to cook :)

Anonymous said...

Three cheers on your success! I just ate dinner and you made me hungry!

ZoesMom said...

My kitchen is your kitchen!

Anonymous said...

Emily! I loved this post. How adventurous you are. I love that you cook by instinct and by improvisation (clearly based in experience). It takes real confidence to do so. Your Indian meal sounds just delicious. And yes, you do have a knack for writing about food. Thanks!

Emily Barton said...

Dorr, nah, don't bother. If you've got someone who will cook for you, and you're not into it, that's much better.

Stef, maybe your Bookman can figure out a way to use the flavors in a vegan meal.

ZM, you're on.

TJ, so glad when I wrote that I didn't know a real chef (other than by brother who's very patient and kind when it comes to my forays into cooking) was going to be reading it. Now I'm basking in high praise coming from someone who obviously really knows his way around a kitchen.