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.

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