Archives for category: Curry

Been too long since my last post.

It’s not that I haven’t been eating anything good, just nothing too post-worthy, but also I’ve just been busy. Working, occupying Wall Street, taking care of Grandma, studying Japanese. Even for me food can sometimes take a back seat. But not for long!

My slump changed on Saturday when a friend brought over last-of-the-season squash blossoms from the farmers market. The first time I had these babies was in Rome when I lived there back in 2003. I seem to remember they were something of a speciality in the city, especially stuffed with mozzarella (and sometimes anchovies), battered, and fried. In fact, that’s the only way I’d ever had them, from Rome to New York to Vermont.

But in a bold and unexpected move, my friend decided to serve them raw. She brought over a mixture of avocado and tomato and assembled them at the kitchen table, neatly spooning them into the cleaned blossoms. I was waiting for her to nudge me out of the way at the stove and start frying – I assumed they must be fried! – but she had us roll them up and bite in, unadorned by batter or copious oil. The avocado was a soft and creamy contrast to the somewhat sturdy petals of the blossom and the tomato provided just the acidic bite to round out the flavors.

So sometimes zucchini can get a bad rap. I’ve heard it referred to as a swollen ovary, immature fruit, and just plain nuisance. (My goodness, would you kiss your mother with that mouth?) It seems the supply and demand ratio is a bit off come August–September, with an over-abundance leading otherwise perfectly civilized folks to “zucchini” their friends, neighbors, and total strangers by leaving bags of the stuff in cars and on doorsteps. It’s a pastoral version of “ring and run.”

For those that don’t know, squash blossoms are  just that – the flower that blooms from both the male and female squash, and typically we’re eating the flowers from zucchini specifically. As I mentioned, they’re often served stuffed and then fried or baked, but you want to remove the pistils first from the female flowers and stamens from the males.  I mean, who wants to eat reproductive organs with dinner? And you can eat the whole flower but avoid the hard and fibrous stem.

(Here’s a recipe from Saveur that I like.)

We served the stuffed blossoms as a first course to a meal that included white beans simmered with turmeric, coriander, and chile; a pork roast with a rub of cumin, black pepper, and fennel seeds; and sauteed kale with cayenne, lemon and garlic. I think these may in fact have been the only swollen ovaries I had all summer, and according to signs at the farmers market last week, they will be my last, until next summer. Serves us right I suppose, for all the slandering of excess zucchini all summer long, that we should be denied any for another year. Who you calling swollen?

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My friend Amy and I were finally able to shop at the co-op now that Irene was well in our past and the checkout line wasn’t snaking out the door. We had plans to make dinner together Friday evening but were unsure what to make. In the produce aisle Amy suggested an Indian curry. We had come for spices anyway so it seemed like a good idea.

Armed with Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick and Easy Indian Cooking, we decided on a variation of her Masoor Dal, or Red LentilTarka. Tarka refers to cooking spices briefly in hot oil, to bring out their flavors. The lentils cook down to a creamy, luscious consistency and the garam masala and dried red chiles bring the heat.

In addition to the red lentils, we had an armful of local eggplants and long thin okra. Feeling bold we decided to improvise an okra-eggplant curry. We sautéed a chopped onion in two tbsp of ghee then added about 4 c of chopped eggplant. After the eggplant was soft (maybe 10 minutes) we added chopped okra, a large pinch of garam masala and salt, and 3-4 c of chicken stock. We let that simmer down for a half hour or so, until thick, and served in addition to the red lentils.

Red Lentil Tarka
adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Masoor Dal

1 c red lentils (a.k.a. masoor dal)
4 c water or stock (vegetable or chicken)
1 slice fresh ginger, about the size of a quarter, chopped
3/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee (plus more if using onions and garlic)
1 pinch garam masala (recipe here)
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 dried red chile peppers
optional: 1 onion, chopped; 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped; 3/4 c diced tomatoes

Clean the lentils well and discard any small pebbles. Place the lentils in a three-quart pot with 4 c of water or stock and bring to a boil. Add the ginger and turmeric, turn the heat to low and cover leaving the lid slightly ajar. Cook for 20-25 minutes.

Approx. 10 minutes before your lentils are done, if you are using onions and garlic, heat approx. 2 tbsp of ghee or vegetable oil in a medium skillet. Add the onions and cook for 5-10 minutes, then add the garlic and tomatoes (optional, but they’re so good this time of year why not?) and cook for a couple more minutes. Transfer the onion mixture from the skillet to the lentils, leaving the oil in your skillet.

Add an additional 2 tbsp of ghee or oil to the skillet and heat on medium. When hot, add the garam masala, cumin seeds, and red hot peppers and cook for approx. 10 seconds. Quickly add the spice mixture to the lentils and cover with a lid. Let all the ingredients simmer together for another few minutes before serving. If the dal seems too liquidy at this point you can simmer for longer, uncovered, to let some of the liquid evaporate. Add the salt and season to your liking.

Serve with basmati rice and thick yogurt, raita, or pickled vegetables or chutneys.

This morning I was listening to a podcast I like, Lynn Rossetto Kasper’s Splendid Table. She off-handedly mentioned something about a curry using coconut milk, chiles, and chicken and with that I had tonight’s dinner puzzle solved.

I love a good, spicy curry, regardless of the weather. Today New York City was a ripe summer day, the humidity somewhere near 90% — perfect curry-eating weather as far as I’m concerned. When Yuji and I were in the Maldives in January we ate curry every day in 90-degree heat. Somehow it works.

You know how oenophiles will tell you to pair wine with whatever food you’re eating? A spicy wine with spicy food, a rich one with a rich meal, etc. Well perhaps it’s like that with curries and weather: a hot curry on a hot evening?

I was en route to the co-op this afternoon to stock up on groceries for the week. You take your chances when visiting the co-op on a Sunday. It can be hairy in there navigating tight aisles with Slopers reaching over you to grab their favorite goat-milk yogurt or stretching to fill a plastic baggie with pecan splendor granola. Today for some reason the co-op was pleasantly calm and air-conditioned. I dawdled in the bulk spice section, marveling at the bargains. I needed a lot of spices because I planned to make my own curry powder, or garam masala. For that you need coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, whole black peppercorns, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, whole cloves, dried red chiles, and turmeric.

Once home I began assembling, toasting, chopping, and stirring. While you can buy curry powder pre-made, making your own garam masala will improve the quality of your curry. You can make it as spicy as you want, using more or less chiles, and store the leftovers sealed in a glass jar for up to a couple of months. I based my curry on Tyler Florence’s recipe for Spicy Chicken Coconut Curry. It would be easy to make this dish vegetarian by substituting tofu for the chicken, or just adding more veggies.

Spicy Coconut Curry

For the curry powder:
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp cardamom seeds
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp whole cloves
2 dried red chiles (I leave the seeds in, remove to reduce heat)
2 tbsp turmeric

Toast all the ingredients except the turmeric in a small cast-iron skillet for 2-3 minutes on low-medium heat, just until they begin to toast and smell fragrant. Let cool then transfer to a coffee grinder and blend to a powder. Combine with the turmeric, set aside 2 tbsp for the curry and store the rest in an air-tight container. Yields about 1/2 cup.

For the chicken curry:
3 tbsp unsalted butter (Use ghee if you can get it)
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp curry powder (from above)
1 cinnamon stick
1 to 3 dried red chiles (depending on the heat you like)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cans unsweetened light coconut milk (13-15 oz. cans)
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 large eggplant or 2 smaller Japanese eggplants, chopped
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and 3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch strips
1/4 c cilantro leaves plus more for garnish
1 lemon, juiced
Mint leaves, for garnish

Melt the butter in a stock pot over medium heat, when warm and melted add the onions and ginger and cook slowly until the onions are very soft, about 10 minutes. After about 5 minutes stir in the garlic. Add the tomato paste, curry powder, cinnamon stick, and chiles and stir; season with salt and pepper. Pour in the coconut milk and chicken stock and bring to a simmer; cook until the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes, eggplant, chicken, cilantro, half the lemon juice, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust with more lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Garnish with more cilantro and mint leaves.

Oh and the other thing about curries, they taste even better the next day. Good thing I have lots of leftovers.

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