November 11 – November 17, 2019
Monday: Chili with Cheesy, Jalapeno Cornbread (Reichlen, WSJ)
Tuesday: Potato and Green Pea Curry (M Street, printed recipe)
Wednesday: Leftover Chili with Billy and Emily
Thursday: Pork Chops in Lemon-Caper Sauce (NYT – from “The Jemima Cookbook”)
Alas – took no pictures – best dinner of the week, with bread pudding for dessert
Friday: Dinner at Mere and Hoddy’s – Jambalaya
Saturday: Cornerstone with Greg and the Kids and Megan Stewart
Sunday: Spaghetti with Pat LaFrieda’s Sunday Sauce
Niece Megan Stewart visited the ‘burgh last week and we had a chance to dine with Meg as well as Greg, Kellie and Mike at the Cornerstone on Saturday with Billy and Emily joining us for cocktails. Beautiful Megan is thinking about her next career move and just may end up in Pittsburgh. This would make us happy.
To descend from the significant to the culinary . . . Even if you’re not particularly into vegetables or spices, here is why you should read this blog:
Have you ever been to a good diner on the morning after a late night? As you drag your aching body and fuzzy mind into the red leather booth and prop your elbows on the formica table top and then prop your head on your hands, the smell of bacon and eggs and hot coffee and buttered toast begins to bring you back to life. And the actual eggs and bacon and toast which arrive after you’ve had a cup or two of coffee and gulped several large, plastic glasses of life-giving water, completes the resurrection so that you can now enjoy the hash of potatoes, peppers and onions that accompanies the plate. That flavor – those potatoes, onions and peppers fried in olive oil with a little salt and pepper and maybe oregano – is special. Even Argentinian cowboys, who dine almost exclusively on steaks will eat vegetables with that flavor.
Well, a good vegetable curry is simply that flavor as interpreted by Indian cooks. I’ll bet you can find bleary-eyed Indians all over the sub-continent, reviving themselves after a night of activities the Buddha would have frowned upon, with just such a dish, as they gawk at sacred cows wandering through the streets of Mumbai or the villages of Uttar-Pradesh.
Now Beez and I, while not adamant about it, like to eat a vegetarian dinner once a week. And last Tuesday, after cooking Steve Reichlen’s deep dark flavored chili on Monday, along with the solid, buttery warmth of jalapeno and cheese cornbread, we felt the need to lighten up. As luck would have it, while walking Rusty that afternoon, I was listening to Milk Street Radio when one of their regulars spoke about a recent trip to India and how it changed the way he thought about curries. He had thought that curries were simply stews seasoned with a certain group of spices. But he learned that there are thousands of different curries, some wet like stews, some dry, some vegetarian, some with meat, some with red spices, some with green. The underlying structure which makes them all curries is the order in which the ingredients are cooked:
First, heat up a fat (in India, that’s usually oil or ghee), then add whole spices – (e.g., cumin or coriander seeds) to toast them, then wet spices or aromatics like ground ginger or minced garlic or onion. After those have cooked down a bit, dry (ground) spices are added (various peppers, turmeric, garam masala, e.g.) and allowed to bloom in the mixture. Only at this point, the fifth step if you’ve been counting, do you add vegetables and/or protein, in stages based on how long they take to cook. After everything is cooked, there is an optional sixth stage, where more of the dry spices are added to kick up the dish. (At that point, these spices, not having cooked with the dish, will impart a different flavor.)
Just like that short-order cook in your local diner, who knows to add the peppers to the hot oil on the flat-top first (they cook the longest) and then the onions, and then the seasoning and, finally, the diced, par-boiled potatoes, an Indian cook’s curry technique assigns an order and a cooking time for every ingredient:
- Heat fat. 2. Add whole spices to toast. 3. Add wet spices and aromatics (onions, whole peppers, etc.) to soften and cook. 4. Add dry spices to bloom. 5. Add vegetables and proteins in stages, based on their cooking times. 5. Finish with more spices if desired.
Now, none of this would matter any more than latest curling results from Nova Scotia if the result of this technique didn’t taste good. But it does – exceptionally so. And if I were you, I’d reread those steps and then go and cook yourself a curry. You can use any vegetables and proteins you like, and there is an array of hot and savory spices with lots of alternatives.
And here’s what we cooked after hearing about curries, mainly because we had nearly all of the ingredients on hand.
POTATO AND GREEN PEA CURRY (ALOO MATAR)
(adapted from Milk Street Radio)
Timing: 45-50 minutes
¾ cup sunflower oil (the recipe calls for coconut oil, but we didn’t have it)
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
4 medium garlic cloves, finely grated (we used 2)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 can of diced tomatoes (14.5 oz.)
2 ½ pounds of russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (you can keep them in water to avoid browning)
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 ½ cups frozen peas – thawed
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
You can put the following spices into the same bowl, ready to add to the curry:
1 tablespoon of sweet paprika
1 tablespoon of ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon of cayenne (trust me, this is enough, with the ginger the garlic and the garam masala to make the dish pleasantly hot for Beez – I would add more if cooking for Billy or me)
1 tablespoon garam masala (you may have to go to the store for this – we had it in the pantry, and it is a necessary and wonderful addition)
Thaw the peas. If they’re frozen when you begin to prep, put them under running (cold) tap water.
Grate the ginger and garlic and chop the onion and cilantro.
Measure out the rest of the ingredients
In a Dutch oven, over medium, heat the oil. When the oil shimmers, add the cumin seeds and cook, stirring for about 30 seconds.
Stir in the onions and cover. Cook, stirring two or three times, for about 4 minutes.
Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds, then add the paprika, cayenne, turmeric and garam masala and cook another 30 seconds or so. Now add the sugar, the tomatoes with their juice and 2 cups of water.
Bring all of this to a simmer, stirring a few times.
Now stir in the potatoes and 1 ½ teaspoons of salt.
Return to a simmer, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender – about 20 minutes (it took us less time).
Uncover the pot and keep cooking, stirring often (you want the liquid to reduce) until the potatoes are completely tender – another 6 minutes.
Remove from the heat, stir in the peas and let stand, uncovered for about 5 minutes.
Now stir in the cilantro taste and re-season as needed with salt and pepper.
Serve – a nice piece of warmed naan would be a great side.