12 Days, 101 Almonds

January 1, 2008 at 3:04 PM (almonds, animals, birds, chicken, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, India, pheasant, various nuts like me)

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For those of you who read my post-Thanksgiving-Day post, you might have been left wondering what would happen with Christmas. Well…. (!) my sister had planned a dinner party for Christmas Eve (December 24th), and, on the night before, made it quite clear that D was again not invited. So, I made it quite clear, as pleasantly possible, that I, therefore, wouldn’t be attending. I hung up the phone with a sigh, and then marched promptly to the deep-freeze from which I extracted two pheasants and two pounds of ground lamb to thaw.

And then, the next afternoon, a miracle happened (praise jesus, hail mary, and that good-looking Magi): the Christmas spirit somehow got a hold of her shrunken, little heart. She called to say that she had thought things over and decided that she’d been wrong, and that she couldn’t imagine Christmas Eve without her only brother…so… D was now very welcome to join us for the festivities! Those special meats I then temporarily exiled to the refrigerator to cook later.

She made a simple, but very good meal of roasted ham, green beans with a German-style, sweet-sour bacon dressing, potatoes au gratin, and freshly-made bread. My mother brought a salad of mixed greens tossed with pears, pecans and Danish blue cheese. Dessert? Well…I usually fill the role of that final course, but, since notice was so short, we had to make do with cookies. Very nice cookies mind you that I loved so much that I procured the recipe, of course.

After dinner came egg nog and hot coffee, (or, as I did, a mixture of both. I truly believe that alcohol and coffee were made to go together, as one loosens the lips and the other keeps one alert-enough to enjoy the consequences), and the exchange of gifts. (I also have a theory that dinner comes before the gift-giving ceremony so that no-one is required to look directly into the eyes of someone whose gift didn’t exactly tittilate).  It is always great fun to watch suprised faces and hear sometimes-well-rehearsed exclamations as the wrapping-paper is stripped away: Thank you so much! It’s lovely! You shouldn’t have… How interesting! What is it? Oh…yes, I see…hmmmm. Thanks! The lit-and-decorated tree sits silently in the corner; if it had eyes, they would be rolling…

But let us not forget the ground lamb and the pheasants. Pheasants you say? Yes indeed. We were raised eating game meats because my father was an avid hunter. Beside pheasant, partridge, squirrel, deer, and rabbit made occasional appearances on our dining-table…but it was all chicken until we were old enough to figure out that some of these creatures didn’t have wings! Then came a late-childhood repulsion of these meats by my sister and I (with a similar sentiment toward beef by yours truly), followed by our father’s retirement from hunting. Years went by, until very recently when a hunting-friend of my mother’s made a holiday offering to the family of four frozen fillet’d pheasants (the alliteration is seriously not intended!) My sister wanted nothing to do with them, my mother wanted only one, and the remaining three were mine to do with as I pleased. I gave away one to a friend. And that would leave two that I thought should be cooked in a very special way.

In one of my old cookbooks is a recipe in the poultry chapter called 101 almond curry. I used to make it now and then- not often, because it tends to be time-consuming. At some point I had marked “4 hours” next to the recipe, but I think I managed to finish it sooner than that this time. It’d been several years since the last time I made this, because my ex, S, was quite fond of it, fond of any dish containing nuts in fact (like pista murgh or any korma), so I’d conveniently “forgotten” about this dish until recently. I never knew from what state of India this recipe might be from, but this time around I had a clue: so much like salan this seems, I thought. Not peanuts but almonds…with coconut and poppy-seeds…and that very regal touch of saffron at the end..could it possibly be from Hyderabad? I would guess that it is, and ask my readers to share their thoughts. (especially I’d like to know the “real” name: murghi ka salan of 101 almonds? 🙂   )

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What it definitely is, is rich…so, not a dish for everday dining- best left for a special event- and, as I’ve said, it is time-consuming. The onions alone will take about 30 minutes of constant stirring to brown nicely and evenly. If you are able to plan in advance and do the recipe in parts, well, all the better! The original recipe calls for making a paste of the raw, blanched almonds with the coconut and spices and then frying it in a large amount (10 T!) of ghee/oil, but as I’ve learned, this paste tends to stick to the pan. So, as other salan veterans will attest, it is much better to fry/roast the ingredients separately and then form a paste of these afterward. The flavour will be the same and you won’t pull your hair out trying to keep a raw nut-paste from sticking.

Chicken with 101 Almonds

(except that I used 2 young pheasants instead of chicken and except that title will only do until the real one makes an appearance)

One 3lb. chicken (2 young pheasants will work too)*

8 cloves of garlic

1/2″ piece of ginger

ghee/oil as needed (original recipe calls for 12 T; I used less)

4 large onions

101 raw almonds (yes, these must be counted- quite romantic)

2 T shredded coconut

1 T coriander seeds

2 1/2 t cumin seeds

3 t poppy seeds (preferably white, but I used black– hence, dots!)

1 or 2 red chiles

1/4 C tamarind paste/extract, or to taste

1 1/4 C thick coconut milk

2 pinches of saffron threads

salt

1)Remove the skin from the bird(s), rinse and pat dry; Cut into pieces roughly 1″X2″; make a paste of the garlic and ginger and smear this on the pieces; leave for at least one hour.

2)Mince the onions finely, then fry in 4-5 T ghee/oil, stirring constantly, until a rich medium brown; remove and set aside.

3)Cover the almonds with boiling water and, when cool enough to handle, remove the skins, pat dry and fry these in a tablespoon or two of fat over med-low heat until golden; remove and set aside.

4)Leave only a smear of ghee/oil in the pan and fry the coconut until fragrant and golden (coconut browns quickly so be careful); remove and set aside.

5)Fry/roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, poppy seeds and chiles separately in the now fairly-dry pan- not too darkly, just light to medium until fragrant; remove and set aside.

6)Soak the saffron in about 2 T of the coconut milk.

Now comes the fun part when all of these pieces come together!

7)Make a paste one of two ways: By hand using a mortar-and-pestle/sill-batta: grind the coriander, cumin, poppy-seeds, and chiles finely, add the coconut and grind, then the fried onions, and finally the almonds and form as smooth a paste as possible, using a spoon to turn when it stops flowing. By grinding machine/food processor: grind the almonds well, using a little coconut milk to keep the contents moving, then add the coconut, onions, and roasted spices which you have already ground to a powder; keep the machine running, stopping now and then to scrape the sides, until a smooth paste is achieved.

8)Fry the chicken (or pheasant) pieces in hot ghee/oil, turning occasionally, until nicely-browned in spots. Add 4 C water and the paste from above; bring to a boil and simmer until tender and the sauce is thick and clings to the meat, stirring occasionally; add the plain coconut milk and tamarind liquid and simmer 10 minutes more; add salt to taste, and, finally, remove from heat, pour the saffron-infused coconut-milk over the top and serve with plain steamed rice.

I imagine this could be garnished with a few sliced, roasted almonds and coriander leaves, though I’m only guessing.

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(pretty trees)

And that ground lamb? For quite awhile I had been dying of curiosity to know what Kashmiri mutsch tastes like, but found it difficult to procure goat-meat in my area. So, even though I used lamb, and Punjabi garam masala instead of Kashmiri (not a total sin; the recipe suggests it), I would still say it was quite successful! Yes, it was a double-batch, and it is mostly devoured now, but I still can’t pronounce it. It is very much like spicy, casingless sausage in a thin, but quite potent, sauce to have with rice. Very very nice, and great fun to make! Mine didn’t come out looking quite like Anita’s perfect little darlings, no…I don’t know how she does it really…mine came out looking more like..uh…tamarind pods. Yes. Well. [clears throat] A friend, J- fond of lamb, Greek, loved it…I think he stayed longer- another night in fact- thinking I was going to give him more. My mother? Not fond of lamb (she stated this over and over as she kept taking halves of mutschgand to make sure). D? Loved it, but, then again, he’s a bit like a baby bird waiting for worms as he’s been pretty much living on X-mas cookies the last few days. He says it’s all the rage. I’ll keep looking for goat (I have some ideas of where to look), but, if not found, then ground turkey is definitely in order! (I think I could make money selling this stuff, honestly). A big thanks to the Mad Tea Party!

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Happy Gregorian-calendar new year to you all!

*or 4-5 pigeons/squabs, or about 101 humingbirds…

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