Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Seasoning oil in Indian cuisine

Inspired by Elisa's incredibly delicious last post, I thought I would share a trick I've picked up about cooking Indian food: seasoning the oil you fry with.

You let some oil get really hot (a high burning point is essential). Then you add some whole spice, like mustard seeds or cumin seeds. Then you cover the pot, and wait for the pops. The moment the popping stops, remove the lid, and then begin the dish you would cook with the oil.

This technique requires a bit of bravery, as it's easy to get scared that you'll be burning the spices, but the pops are your guide to success. It frees up a whole new range of flavours to cook with. A toastier, smokier cumin, for example. The taste you get from mustard seeds is wholly unique. A salad of grated carrot, dressed with oil seasoned with mustard seeds, and maybe a little salt and lemon juice, is a tremendous simple dish.

Here is a recipe for eggplant and tomatoes that makes use of this technique.

4 thin, purple Japanese eggplant (sold in Shalimar at Central Sq.)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 cups chopped tomato fresh or canned
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger
1/2 - 1 teaspoon of salt (to taste)
Spice mixture:
2 teaspoons coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
water as necessary

1. Chop the eggplant into 1/4 inch rounds and cook through. Frying, grilling or roasting would all be fine, depending on how you want to trade richness against health. If you fry, do so until lightly golden.

2. On a medium hot flame, get a tablespoon of oil real hot in a frying pan. Add the mustard seeds and fennel seeds, and cover the pan with a lid. Wait until the popping stops, and then remove the lid.

3. add the ginger and garlic, and stir fry until the garlic is golden brown.

4. add the spice mixture, fry for about ten seconds, and then add the tomatoes. Cook for five minutes until the tomatoes turn a little orange and start to fall apart.

5. Add the eggplant to the mixture to heat through. Add water at any time if the mixture is getting dry.

Monday, July 21, 2008

saag paneer

this is a very yummy version using fresh spinach. it's delicious. the cooking takes only about 15 minutes, but the prep takes about 45—you must get all the ingredients ready beforehand. i like to combine all the ingredients that will be added at the same step in one bowl, so when the moment comes i can dump them in and move on quickly. if you don't have all of these spices, i suggest you go to harvest, the co-op in central square. there you can buy spices in bulk, which is great: if you don't cook indian food very often, a quarter's worth of cumin seeds will probably do you just fine. (if you can't tell everything apart by sniffing, though, make sure to label the little bags.)

adapted from this excellent (though overly rich, i think) recipe. serves four.

heat 1-2 tbsp. of peanut oil over medium-high heat, and fry the cubed paneer until it is a light golden color on a couple of sides. drain on a paper towel. (this is optional—the paneer is also tasty unfried.)

in a big pan, heat 1 tbsp. of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. add 1 onion, chopped in a medium dice, and cook a few minutes until it is soft and golden. then add, all at once:

1 cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1 hot green pepper, de-seeded and minced
1 tomato, chopped

cook for 2-3 minutes. fish out all of the cloves, cardamom pods, and bay leaves (because it is no fun to find yourself chewing on a bitter clove down the line). then add 3 bunches of spinach, de-stemmed and washed thoroughly, turning frequently to let the spinach cook down. when all the spinach has wilted and turned a bright green, add these spices:

1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. garam masala
tiny pinch ground cardamon
tiny pinch ground clove
1 tsp. salt (or less or more, if you like)
a couple of grinds of black pepper

mix well and cook everything for another 3 minutes over medium heat. then add:

2 tsp. tomato paste
1/3 cup half-and-half (richer version) OR 1 cup whole-milk plain yogurt (lighter version)

mix well, turn heat down, and simmer gently for another 5 minutes or so. before serving, mix in the paneer and sprinkle a generous amount of freshly chopped cilantro on top.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Carrottes rappées

Fancy French name; simple yummy salad.

Serves 1; multiply accordingly.

2-3 medium carrots, grated with a medium-large grater*
several walnuts, chopped
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. olive oil
good salt and coarse pepper

Combine the first two ingredients in a bowl. Mix together the last three ingredients in another bowl, pour on top of ingredients in first bowl, and mix together.

*If you grate them too finely, they become too juicy and lose their nice firm texture.