HOT AND SAUCY
A long time ago there was a little girl, plain and simple, who dreamed of flitting off to far-away places, distant fairy-tale lands filled with color and noise, the air heavy with the tantalizing odor of spices. Her Space Age World was defined by nothing more exotic than TV dinners and ice cream outings at Dairy Queen. Occasionally she would find herself in a real traditional Florida seafood joint, the atmosphere of Old Key West, wooden tables under ceiling fans lazily spinning overhead, river breeze rippling over the water and through the palm fronds as she nibbled on golden, sizzling hushpuppies and savored shrimp scampi. Her curiosity pulled her into the kitchen where Saturdays were spent pulling salt water taffy across the length of the room with her brother or watching as her sister spread rich caramel-colored sesame-studded syrup into pans, destined to make their way into her mouth as sweet, hard, Middle-Eastern candy.
The only “foreign” restaurants to be found in her small southern town were the local Chinese and Italian. Sticky and too sweet, the dishes offered at the Asian restaurant were altered for the American palate, yet titillated her taste buds none the less. Chopsticks and tiny, delicate goblets of hot tea, little brightly-colored paper umbrellas stuck jauntily in whatever dessert she ordered (and which always found their way into her Barbie wardrobe) matched the bright red lanterns strung up along the walls as if for a never-ending party. It all hinted at something magical and mysterious, different than anything she knew at home.
Entering Rocco’s Italian Restaurant and she stepped out of the world of strip malls and steamy Florida evenings and into a dark, joyous place filled with bustling waiters and a vibrant atmosphere. Wooden tables spread with the quintessential red and white checked tablecloths and candles stuck into the straw-wrapped Chianti bottles, everything that was to make us feel as if we were eating in the kitchen of an Italian nonna, and the piles of spaghetti swirled with rich, dark ruby-red sauce or a plateful of creamy cheese manicotti and she was whisked off into another world, a place in her dreams.
As she grew older and moved from small town to big city and bigger still and sampled more flavors, each accompanied by sounds and colors, foreign tongues and culinary wonders, her imagination was ignited and the yearning to travel and discover more grew inside of her, inspiring. Italian street fairs in Soho, hands wrapped around a soft shell crab sandwich and still-warm sfogliatelle as she watched the priests sway down the street, the children scampering underfoot, excited by all the drama, listening to the shouting and the babble. She discovered the magical world of Cajun cuisine with her new husband, cooking up seafood creoles, thick, creamy, spicy sauces, real bread puddings. The aroma of couscous and tagines filled her home, saffron-colored, savory and sweet. Weekend trips to the China Snack Shop in Milan, sitting elbow to elbow with the local Chinese community as they slurped up noodles or noisily sucked fresh crab meat out of the shells, watching her little boys gobble up grilled stuffed raviolis and beg for more. Bowls filled with hummus and baba ganoush laid out on the table next to hot felafel balls or strips of lamb in satay. Indian restaurants on Milan and Paris, dark and colorful, crisp white tablecloths and tiny silver bowls of golden chutney and pale green riata, steaming, soft breads, sauces tangy with yogurt or bitten by chillis, fragrant and overwhelming by their culinary beauty.
India, soft folds of fuchsia and saffron-colored silk, beautiful women draped in jewels, the Taj Mahal wrapped in romance. We westerners may have a selective, partial vision of this magnificent country, but it is truly a country that makes us dream. Spices from saffron to pepper to vanilla, chicken or lamb smothered in succulent sauces, delicate pilaf and desserts made from the most exotic of fruits and nuts, we do crave this exciting, diverse, flavorful cuisine. I bought my first Indian cookbook years and years ago, my fabulous Madhur Jaffrey’s “Indian Cooking”, one delicious perfect recipe after another. But I haven’t cooked out of the book at all for years, no matter that I regularly open it up and sit and ogle the photographs and read and reread the recipes one after another.
And then came twitter. Deeba of Passionate About Baking, Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey?, Sunita of Sunita’s World: Life and Food, Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen, Ria of Ra’s Collectibles, Finla of My Kitchen Treasures, Shaheen of The Purple Foodie and Asha of Fork-Spoon-Knife, my bevy of Indian lovelies, my wonderful girlfriends, each one an amazing cook and an inspiration. Staring at the photos on their blogs of the fabulous exotic Indian dishes that find their way from these magical kitchens to their dinner tables and my imagination was on fire, I was craving rich, luxurious Indian food and the book was pulled once again off the shelf and lying open on my kitchen counter: fresh coriander, bulbs of ginger, long, slender green chillis and bottles of lovely deep-hued spices, turmeric and coriander and cumin and I was ready to cook.
And when this Aloo Gosht was simmering in the pot, I posted a photograph for my beautiful friends to see and I was taken into the fold and awarded the thrilling title of “Honorary Indian”. Thank you for inspiring me, my friends!
ALOO GOSHT – DELHI-STYLE LAMB COOKED WITH POTATOES
From Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking, no changes ever needed!
Few tablespoons of vegetable oil
6 oz (175 g) onions, peeled and finely chopped
½ - 1 fresh green chilli, trimmed, seeded and finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2.2 lbs (1 kg) boneless lamb shoulder cut into large cubes
12 oz (350 g) fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, juices reserved with the tomatoes *
1 Tbs ground cumin
2 tsps ground coriander
½ tsp ground turmeric
¼ - 1 tsp cayenne pepper (I used ¼ tsp and it had enough bite to make it interesting but didn’t cover up the other flavors)
2 tsps salt
1 lb (500 g) firm potatoes, peeled and cut in half
30 oz (900 ml) water
* To peel tomatoes, make a slit in the bottom of each tomato with a very sharp knife and then drop them gently into a pot of boiling water to cover. Leave for just a minute or even less. You will see the skin where it was slit start to pull away. Scoop the tomatoes out of the water with a slotted spoon onto a plate and the skin will peel right away.
Put several glugs of vegetable oil (up to 7 tablespoons) in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and set over high heat. When hot, put the onions, green chilli and garlic in the pot and cook, stirring constantly, until the onion has browned slightly.
Add the chunks of lamb to the pt and stir it about vigorously for about 5 minutes.
Now put in the chopped tomatoes and their juice, the cumin,, coriander, turmeric, cayenne and salt and stir, cooking on high for another 10 – 15 minutes or until the sauce is thick and the oil seems to start to separate from it a bit (I didn’t see this separation, but the sauce was thick).
Add the potatoes and the water. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and cook on medium-low heat for about 1 hour and 10 minutes when the meat will be tender and the sauce thick.
I served this succulent Aloo Gosht over Madhur Jaffrey’s
PEELAY CHAAVAL or AROMATIC YELLOW RICE
15 fluid oz (450 ml) – measured in a measuring glass – Basmati rice
20 oz (600 ml) water + water for soaking rice
1 ¼ tsps salt
¾ tsp ground turmeric
3 – 4 whole cloves
1 inch (2.5 cm) cinnamon stick or ½ tsp ground cinnamon
3 bay leaves (optional)
3 Tbs (45 g) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Put the rice in a colander or sieve and run under cold running water for several minutes. Drain and put into bowl with 2 pints (1.2 litres) fresh water and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Drain.
Combine the drained rice, 20 oz (600 ml) water, salt, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves (if using) in a heavy pan and bring to a boil. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, turn heat to very, very low and cook for up to 25 minutes or until the rice is tender.
Remove from heat, place the cubes of butter on the rice, cover with the lid and allow to rest undisturbed for 10 minutes.
Gently stir the butter into the rice with a fork and remove the whole spices before serving.