Sunday, October 30, 2011

recipes: an Indian culinary adventure

whole spices (photo: mine)

Lately, I’ve had a hard time trying to come up with ideas for my weekly menus. To be honest, I've been bored with cooking. Even looking through my binders full of recipes clipped from a gazillion magazines didn’t help. So, last week when I took my son to the library, I wandered over to the cook book section and randomly pulled some books off the shelf—all of them with recipes and cuisine from countries other than America.

My first foray? Indian food. And the first thing I discovered? I had to get some new spices, most of which I got at World Market. And the second thing? There is nothing like cooking with whole spices. Not only does the food taste amazing, but my house smells divine.

Murgh Kurma (photo: mine)
Two of the recipes came from Indian Home Cooking: A fresh introduction to Indian food, with more than 150 recipes by Suvir Saran (whom, I discovered, is pretty famous). The first recipe I tried was Murgh Kurma (page 116), a “braised chicken in white sauce with garam masala.” You can find the recipe on this blog, and I stuck to it pretty closely. I loved the scents of the whole spices heating in hot oil—this recipe used a cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, whole cloves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, and dried red chilies. These are then mixed with minced red oinions, garlic cloves and fresh ginger, and then stirred over medium high heat for about 15 minutes. Then you add some ground coriander and a cup of plain yogurt, then cubed chicken breast, some water, a half teaspoon of the most amazing garam masala and heavy cream. Conscious of lowering calories and fat, I used less oil, nonfat greek yogurt and substituted a ¼ cup evaporated milk mixed with ¼ cup of nonfat Greek yogurt for the ½ cup heavy cream. I didn’t have any dried red chilies, so I substituted dried chili powder and added it when I put in the onion, garlic and ginger mixture. My end result didn’t turn out as creamy white as the picture in the book (or on the blog), but—oh, my goodness—was it yummy. Even my kids liked it!

Turkey-Paalak Ka Keema with basmati rice (photo: mine)
A couple of days later, I had some ground turkey that needed to be used and, while I love spaghetti, I wasn’t all that excited about making it--again. So, I found a recipe in Saran’s book for Turkey-Paalak Ka Keema—or ground turkey with spinach and whole spices (you can find the recipe here). Again, I followed the recipe pretty much exactly. It was much simpler and took a lot less time than the recipe above. Essentially, it combines the whole spices (cinnamon stick, whole cloves, cardamom pods, and dried red chilies) with ginger, a whole onion, green chili, 10 ounces steamed fresh spinach (pureed in a food processor), a pound and a half of ground turkey, a cup of yogurt and that amazingly intoxicating garam marsala. Again, it was amazingly yummy!

basmati rice (photo: mine)
With both of these dishes, I wanted a quick basmati rice side dish, so I tweaked Anyhow Prawn Pulao by Mallika Basu at Quick Indian Cooking:

1 cup basmati rice  
½ large sweet onion (minced) 
1 tomato (roughly chopped) 
½ inch ginger (minced) 
2 large garlic cloves (minced) 
½ teaspoon turmeric powder 
½ teaspoon chili powder 
½ teaspoon cumin seeds 
1 cardamom pod 
½ inch cinnamon stick 
1 tablespoon olive oil

First, I assembled all the ingredients so they were ready to go because I was making this dish along side the  main dishes above. I boiled the rice, drained, rinsed and set it aside. I heated the oil over medium high heat and added the whole spices until the cinnamon stick started to unfurl. Then I added the minced onion, garlic and ginger and sautéed it until the onion started turning brown. I added the tomato along with the chili powder and turmeric (which not only has an incredible scent but also an amazing color). After a few minutes, I added the rice and heated it through, stirring it often.

As a note, I really enjoy Basu’s website—her goal is to make authentic, healthy Indian home cooking accessible and easy for a busy world. I will definitely be returning. (Her cookbook isn’t available in our library system, so I may be purchasing that one.)

I’m so glad I wandered over to that library section—I’ve really enjoyed my recent culinary travels. I’m definitely not bored with cooking anymore.

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