Ma Po Doufu: a Truly-Divine, Vegan Version

March 17, 2008 at 5:00 PM (Arusuvai Friendship Chain, China, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, fungi, legumes/pulses- whole or split, seeds, soy, Szechuan, various nuts like me, walnuts, pecans, and hickory-nuts)

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This is a lovely dish from the province of Szechuan, China, with an equally loverly story attached to its origin which may be read here. Only a handful of Chinese restaurants abroad ever offer this dish, for it isn’t a quick stir-fry: it is a simmered, stew-like dish with a bit of preliminary prep-work involved. Traditionally, a small quantity of ground pork (or beef) is included, and hitherto I have followed suit.

When I received an Arusuvai Friendship Chain gift of extremely-fresh, Szechuan peppercorns sent by the ever-talented Musical, I set to work almost immediately to prepare this long-time favorite which prominently features this tongue-numbing spice. I sat there, nibbling daintily away at a plateful with freshly-steamed rice, resisting an urge to shovel it in greedily (it is so delicious…) when a few thoughts struck me: truly, it is the finely-balanced sauce which dominates the flavour….the ground pork lends a gentle sweetness, but mostly the pieces serve as a textural counterpoint to the soft bean-curd…

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And then, within a span of a few days, two jolting pieces of information crossed my path: first, I discovered the PETA videos posted on Youtube.com (I won’t go into detail here, but it would be sufficient to say that I saw things which I will not soon forget); second, the family chiropractor sent us his usual monthly newsletter. Most often this contains useful tidbits that he gleans from his personal wanderings in Ayurveda-land, but this time he included a brief summary of the findings of recent research that linked the consumption of animal protein to inflammation, and specifically a link to various forms of arthritis. And then…Jai of Jugalbandi wrote this post– furthur cementing my new convictions. So, I decided to make my consumption of animal protein an even rarer occasion than it already is. And I began to think of a new way to make ma po tofu

Over the years, I’ve tried a few different recipes, but I really liked the one found in Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking. It’s so delicious. And I knew it would be delicious still without a half-pound of pork. But what to add in its place? TVP (textured vegetable protein) is an obvious choice; it closely replicates the chewy texture of meat, but… I don’t like to rely on a factory-made product too much, nor does it add a whole lot in flavour…

Mushrooms. I’ve sometimes added various types of mushrooms to this dish anyway… they’re somewhat chewy…they would add a subtle flavour… but how will I convert them into little pieces like that? The ways are endless… Walnuts. Coarsely-ground. Delicately-sweet, and they are also used frequently in China. Use both.

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But first, who will I pass on the Arusuvai “torch” to? Hmmm…good question. Truly, no-one answered my riddle correctly. However… two people were quite close:

Linda of Out of the Garden answered “tofu” correctly (but seasoned differently)…and

Zlamushka of her own Spicy Kitchen answered “Ma…” correctly (but named another Szechuanese dish).

Since these two were the closest, I invited them to be my recipients of a little suprise…and they have both accepted the offer. Congratulations to both of you!

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And now, Mushroom Meal!!!:

I took 1/2 pound (8 oz.) of plain old “button” mushrooms (they’re popular for a reason) and shredded them into a moist heap. But, not wanting shreddy-strands in my dish, I dehydrated this (I used an electric food-dehydrator, but an oven on a low-heat setting will work as well). Then, I took these dried shreds and smashed them into a coarse, granular powder in a mortar…the restrained use of an electric mixer/grinder or food processor will do the job just as nicely. We all end up with about 2-3 tablespoons. I suppose the same could be done to already-dried (stems removed) shiitake/Chinese black mushrooms- though I think their flavour would be too dominant here- but perhaps another milder-flavoured ‘shroom?…

Ma Po Doufu/Tofu

(Pel’s vegan version based on Mrs. Kuo’s)

3 blocks of firm tofu (original recipe calls for 4- 3″X3″ blocks…generally, American blocks are a bit larger)

hot water

2 T peanut (or other) oil 

4 slices of peeled, fresh ginger; minced

1/2 C coarsely-ground raw walnuts

2-3 T mushroom meal (dried, coarsely-ground mushrooms– see above)

Seasonings: 

1 T Chinese cooking-wine, or dry sherry

1 T hot bean paste (AKA Szechuan bean paste)

1 T dark/sweet soy sauce

1 t or more, to taste, red chile oil* (optional)

 

1 C lightly-salted chana broth (liquid from cooking chickpeas/garbanzo beans) or other vegetable-stock

Binding sauce: 

2 t cornstarch dissolved in 1 T cold water

1 T dark/sweet soy sauce

2 t roasted sesame-seed oil

Finishing: 

2 whole spring onions (I used more cuz I like ’em: 6), thinly sliced

1/2 t (or more if you like) lightly dry-roasted and crushed Szechuan peppercorns

 

1)Cut the bean-curd into 1/2″ cubes; cover with hot water and drain just before adding.

2)Heat the peanut oil in a wok over med-low flame; add the ginger and fry until fragrant; add the walnuts and fry just until they begin to smell roasted.

3)Add 1 C of hot water and the mushroom meal; bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally at first and then more frequently, until the mixture is fairly dry and the mushrooms have reconstituted- about 20 minutes.

4)Add the seasonings and stir well; add the chana or vegetable broth.

5)Drain the bean-curd and scatter these into the pan; stir very gently to even these out; bring to a gentle boil, cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes over med-low heat, stirring once during this time.

6)Stir the binding sauce well, then pour in a spiral over the contents of the pan; stir gently until the sauce thickens; turn off heat.

7)Gently fold in the spring onions;

8)Turn onto a serving-platter and sprinkle the ground peppercorns over the top; serve with hot steamed rice. You will assuredly enjoy! (Did I mention this is delicious?)

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*Red chile oil can be bought, or simply made this way: heat 1 C oil until quite hot; remove from heat and add 6 T (3/8 C) ground red chiles (stand back, the fumes will irritate your breathing apparatus), stir gently for about a minute, then add 1 C more of oil to halt the frying. Allow to cool completely, strain through a musin cloth or several layers of cheesecloth and pour into a bottle. Besides being a useful cooking-sauce, it can also be used as an ingredient in dipping-sauces and salad-dressings… hotness yum!

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Chickpeas and Panir with Tomatoes and Garlic

February 11, 2008 at 1:22 AM (channa/ gram, cheese, chiles and other capsicums, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, India, legumes/pulses- whole or split, milk and milk products, onions garlic leeks shallots and other alliums, panir, Punjab, tomatoes, vegetables/ fruits)

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     The last few days I’ve been “laid up” with a back injury- nothing too serious- just a few strained muscles, and I am doing pretty well right now. But, during that time, I needed something fairly quick and easy to make as a main protein source, so I thought of making an old Jaffrey standby: chickpeas and potatoes in tomato and garlic sauce. It has no long onion-bhuno-ing step; instead, a massive amount of garlic paste is fried in oil, tomatoes are added and slowly simmered…(well, at least it’s an easier bhuno-ing that didn’t require me to stand for too long!), and then a fairly brief cooking of the sauce with the chickpeas. Instead of potatoes, I thought of using panir as I had pre-fried a home-made batch of it a day or two before my injury and tucked it away in the fridge. The rest I did in parts as I could tolerate it- but I must confess to you that I ended up reclining on the floor to peel the garlic!

     Since I was a little bit in want of fun, I decided not to follow the rest of that original recipe exactly; instead, I took a cue from one of my favorite bloggers- the famous Musical and her equally famous Kitchen. Musical is always playing around with new ingredient combinations and trusting her instincts to concoct interesting mixes of spices- all the while managing to create some really delicious dishes. So I thought “why not?” and took her cooking-is-as-easy-as-breathing approach, and, amazingly, my experiment turned out! It tasted so good that I decided to share it with y’all… and especially this is for other garlic-tomato-chile combo lovers out there! (You know who you are!)

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Chickpeas and Panir with Tomatoes and Garlic

2 C dried white chickpeas/ kabuli chana

3 T oil/ghee

1 t cumin seeds

pinch of hing

18-24 cloves of garlic, pasted- about 3 T

2 C tomato puree

2 t coriander seeds (dry-roasted)

1 t cumin seeds (dry-roasted)

1 t ground red chiles, or to taste

1/2 t turmeric

1 1/2 t amchoor (or lime juice to taste)

2-3 C panir cubes, lightly fried in oil and drained

2 t kasoori methi, finger-crushed

6 green chiles (I used serranos), sliced into 1/8″ rounds (de-seed if you prefer it milder)

3 C broth from the cooked beans

salt to taste

1)Rinse chickpeas well, then cover in plenty of water to soak 12 hours; drain, then add fresh water to cover by an inch or two and cook for 5 minutes at 15 lbs. in a pressure-cooker, allowing pressure to fall on its own and cool- or simmer in enough water to cover until tender. Drain, reserving 3 C of broth.

2)Dry-roast coriander seeds and 1 t of cumin seeds until medium-brown; cool, and grind to a powder.

3)Heat oil or ghee over med-low, add the remaining teaspoon of cumin seeds, fry for a few seconds, then add the hing, followed by the garlic paste; fry, stirring continuously until the raw smell disappears (keep your face away actually!)- about 2-3 minutes, until garlic is a pale brown and has lost most of its moisture.

4)Add the tomato puree, stir well and slowly fry, stirring occasionally at first and more frequently as it reduces, until the oil returns and appears at the edges.

5)Add the dry-roasted spices, turmeric, ground chiles, and amchoor; fry for about 2 minutes more.

6)Add the cooked chickpeas, panir, kasoori methi, sliced chiles, and reserved broth; mix gently, bring slowly to a simmer and allow to cook uncovered for 30 minutes or so, stirring occasionally; add salt to taste. Serve with any flat-bread of choice- para(n)thas are always good. 😀  But I was feeling perky today so I made pooris; I was thrilled because they all puffed up like balloons and one of them was actually round! 🙂

 

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(clockwise: chickpeas and panir…, bitter melon stir-fried…, a round poori, homemade karela ka achaar, Bihari-style saag/pureed green stuff)

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Mole Poblano

January 6, 2008 at 8:19 AM (animals, aromatic mixtures, birds, chicken, chiles and other capsicums, chocolate, dishes by main ingredient, Jihva entries, Mexico, Puebla, seeds, turkey/ turkish fowl, vegetables/ fruits)

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A few months ago I held a quiz, and the grand winner of that rather tricky quiz was a very dear blogging-friend of mine who somehow managed to choose her own prize! Luckily, the poor thing seldom has visitors to her blog and, thus, has no need to run and hide in shame.  😀  Nevertheless, fair is fair and the agreed-upon prize (did I say that?) was that I would cook and post any dish of her choosing. Sounds easy eh? Not! She chose a dish that I have made but once before, and in that a most time-consuming, complicated, and basically the greatest pain-in-the-ass recipe I’ve ever cooked in my life… mole poblano… There might be people out there who could attest, in queso blanco-like modesty, that, in the end, it is worth all of the effort.

The word mole is used in Mexico to denote a complicated sauce, and is decended from the Aztec word molli which means a sauce or mixture containing chiles. Mole poblano is the most well-known of them, and is the basis of the holiday dish, mole poblano de guajolote (Pueblan mole of turkey), but it is just as often, if not moreso, used to cook chicken (mole poblano de pollo), and sometimes pork or other meats. There is a fanciful legend in Mexico about the dish’s origin, and it goes something like this:

“…in the 16th century the nuns of the convent of Santa Rosa in the city of Puebla heard that the archbishop was coming to visit them. They went into a panic because the convent had nothing suitable to offer such a distinguished visitor, but after a while they rallied, prayed and- with heavenly guidance- began to grind and chop everything edible that they had in the kitchen. Into the mix went (among other things) many kinds of chile, almonds, tomatoes, onions, garlic, bread, tortillas, bananas, sesame seeds, sugar, raisins, lard, toasted avocado leaves and innumerable herbs and spices. All were finely ground and cooked for hours. The final touch was a small quantity of chocolate, which gave the mole its subtle flavour. While the sauce was simmering in a great pot the nuns killed their one and only turkey (which was intended for the local bishop), cut it up and cooked the meat. When the archbishop arrived, they served the turkey with the miraculous mole poured over it. The noble guest was, of course, delighted. The angels who guided the hands of the nuns had created the most delicious dish that he had ever tasted.” *

In truth, mole poblano is a very Aztec dish, with a few Spanish ingredients whirled into the mix. While quite likely that the nuns in the convents of post-conquest Mexico did indeed improve upon the dish, it almost certainly was in existence long before that time (there are, besides the Pueblan-style, many other types of moleguaca-mole, for example, being quite familiar to many- all considered classics of Mexico’s various cuisines and definitely worth furthur investigation). I have tasted mole poblano many times, in various Mexican restaurants, as it has long been a favorite: I fell in love with its intoxicating, nearly-indescribable, subdued chocolate-laden bouquet from the first bite! As other afficionados will attest, nothing else in the world is quite like it…

Here is my quite-recent rendition of mole poblano, which I have based upon several recipes that I had gathered, the most-admired from The Taste of Mexico by Patricia Quintana. I ended up with 27 ingredients for the sauce alone (33 after I cooked chicken in it), but the resulting tasks are quite easily accomplished in parts. I’d recommend taking three days. I divided the ingredients into categories with similar treatments, with my own steps explained afterward. You may choose a different order entirely, of course. This recipe makes enough sauce for 20 lbs. of turkey or chicken. Obviously this is enough for a banquet, but since it is almost as easy(?!) to make a large amount (and freeze what is unused for later meals) as it is a small one, I chose to go ahead with it, but you can divide it for smaller portions if you wish. I chose to thin the sauce as it simmers with just water, leaving the sauce neutral to re-thin and simmer again later with various meat stocks, or to keep as is for vegetarian meals. Lard is the traditional fat used for frying the various ingredients (and it does lend a unique flavour to foods cooked with it), but I chose to use peanut oil, again for neutrality and also to reduce the saturated fat content. Use as much as you feel necessary, keeping in mind that 2-3 cups is traditional for this quantity. I managed to use around 1 cup.

Mole Poblano

Chiles:

30 dried mulato chiles

16 dried ancho chiles

6 dried pasilla or pasilla negra chiles

2 dried chipotle chiles

1)Remove the seeds and membranes of the mulato, ancho and pasilla chiles; tear into small pieces. Take these pieces and roast lightly- in batches of three large handfuls or so- until they blister and turn a shade darker- in a pan set over med-low heat, pressing with a spatula, turning, pressing…about 10 turns. I will warn you that the chile-fumes can be quite irritating to the mucous-membrane; open windows if possible.

2)Transfer to a large bowl along with the chipotle chiles and pour boiling water over them to cover, plus an inch or two; set a plate or bowl atop the surface to keep the chiles immersed; soak 30 minutes.

3)Mexican chiles sometimes tend to have traces of dirt still clinging to them (especially ancho chiles), so when removing these pieces from their soaking-liquid, I grab a few at a time and swish them a bit in the water to reduce this to a minimum; transfer to the container of a food processor and puree until very smooth, decanting some of the soaking-water off the top (the dirt settles at the bottom) to add to the container to facilitate easy movement of the mixture. Pass this puree through a metal sieve using a wooden spoon (or use a food-mill/Foley) to attain a smooth sauce, free of annoying bits of chile-skin.

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Nuts:

3/4 C raw almonds

1/2 C raw peanuts

1/2 C raw pepitas (pumpkin seed kernels)

1)Take 3 T of oil and fry the nuts separately, in the order given, over med-low heat until fragrant and golden; drain together on paper or in a metal sieve.

2)When cool, grind very well into as smooth a paste as possible. (I used a mortar-and-pestle for the initial grind, then pureed it furthur with later ingredients)

Dried fruit:

1 C pitted prunes

3/4 C raisins/sultanas

1)Using about 2 T of oil, fry the prunes over med-low heat for a few minutes to carmelize; remove and drain.

2)Fry the raisins in the same oil until they swell like little balloons; remove to drain with the prunes; pour boiling/hot water over them to cover and allow to soak for, well…awhile

Fresh fruits:

1 1/2 ripe plantains

3 ripe tomatoes

10 tomatillos, husks removed

1)Peel and slice the plantain into 1/4″ slices. Fry in a tablespoon or two of oil over med-high heat until lightly browned; remove and set aside.

2)If you have a gas range, line a burner with foil to catch drips and with it set on high, fire-roast the tomatoes and tomatillos directly on the grate, using a pair of tongs to turn occasionally and char to black as much of the skin as possible on each (I used a wok-ring to contain mine). Traditionally, this is done over an open fire, so if you have one, then by all means…this can also be done in a very hot oven by placing the fruits on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet to roast until the skin is charred.  In any case, immediately remove to a covered container- the steam helps to soften the skin. When cool, rub off as much of the charred skin as possible under gently-running water; remove the stems and cores of the tomatillos; add to the bowl containing the fried plantains.

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Breads:

1 stale croissant or 2 slices of bread or equivalent (a roti or parantha would be fine), broken into pieces

2 corn tortillas, broken into pieces

1)Fry these separately in the oil left over from the previous fryings until crispy-toasted. Remove to the bowl of fruit.

Spices:

3/4 C white sesame seeds

5″ of true cinnamon, broken into pieces

1 t coriander seeds

1 t anise seeds

1/2 t whole cloves

1/2 t black peppercorns

dried avocado leaves (I could find no reference for how much to use and therefore didn’t include)

1)Wipe the pan of excess oil and roast the sesame seeds, stirring constantly, over a med-low flame until a deeper golden hue is attained. Remove to a bowl to cool.

2)Roast the remaining spices together over a med-low flame, again stirring constantly, until the coriander seeds turn just a shade darker and the mixture is quite fragrant. Remove to a separate bowl to cool.

3)Grind the sesame seeds to a fine paste; grind the other spices to a fine powder.

Alliums:

2 heads(entire bulbs) of garlic

4 onions

1)Separate the cloves of garlic but leave the peels intact. Set them in one layer in the pan over med heat and roast until black and charred in spots, turning every few minutes. Remove and cool, then peel carefully.

2)Cut the onions in half, and then into 1/8″ slices; fry in 4-5 T oil over high flame, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown. Reduce heat and continue browning, never letting the utensil rest, until dark brown (not black) and crispy. Remove to cool.

The end is near with that final touch:

1)Place the chile-puree in a large stock-kettle.

2)Puree the nut-paste with the dried fruits and their soaking-liquid until smooth, adding more water if necessary; add to the kettle.

3)Puree the fresh fruits and the breads, adding water if necessary, until smooth; add to the kettle.

4)Add the ground spices to the kettle.

5)Puree the garlic and onions with a bit of water until smooth; add to the kettle.

6)Mix together well, adding some water if too thick to stir easily; bring gently to a boil over med-low heat, stirring occasionally, and then add:

3/4 C piloncillo, grated (Mexican raw sugar), or other sugar

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, grated

salt to taste

Continue to boil gently, stirring occasionally, and season sparingly with:

1/4- 1/2 t Mexican oregano (not the same as European/Greek oregano)

Rub the dried herb between your fingers to crush before adding; it has a flavour not unlike ajwain, but with a strange, round, vanilla-like undertone which complements the chocolate note well. Be careful not to overdo it though…keep it subtle.

At this point, after perhaps 20-30 minutes, I decided to turn off the heat, let it cool and divided it into 8 portions (1 quart each). I froze 6 of them with labels stating the following: enough for 2.5 lbs. of meat, thin with stock, simmer 3-4 hours.

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The remaining two portions- enough for 5 lbs. of meat- went thus:

5 lbs. (bone-in) chicken

1/2 onion, roughly chopped

5 cloves of garlic, sliced

1 small carrot

1/4 of a celery stalk

2 bay leaves

3 black peppercorns

salt

1)Place all ingredients in a stock-pot and bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer 30 minutes; allow chicken to cool in the stock, then remove.

2)Strain this stock, combine this with enough mole poblano for 5 lbs.(see note below), bring to boil, and lower heat to maintain a gentle boil for 3-4 hours and reduce until thick, stirring frequently, moreso as it thickens.

3)If you wish, remove the skin from the chicken pieces, and, again if you wish, shallow-fry to brown in hot oil (it is likely traditional to brown leaving the skin intact). Place the chicken pieces in the mole and simmer for 30 minutes, covered.

4)Remove to a serving platter and sprinkle with:

A few tablespoons of sesame seeds, toasted as above

Serve with hot tortillas, arroz rojo(red rice pilaf), frijoles(refried beans), salsa picante(hot sauce), and, as I have often been served, pico de gallo (a fresh relish made of tomatoes, onions, green chiles, cilantro, lime juice and salt..maybe some roasted cumin- I forget).

Note (as if there weren’t enough): The mole is usually thinned with a richer stock (ie: return the bones and scraps to the stock and simmer at least 3 hours longer) when cooking meats; I was tired, but I actually liked the diminished chicken taste to better enjoy the other flavours. 

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“I’m not really interested in how it’s made; just let me eat it, eh?” -Danny

 

Anita– I seriously loved working on this recipe- great fun with a dish people seldom attempt at home anymore- even amongst Mexicans. Congratulations! and enjoy…

Special bonus! The halved recipe (for 10 lbs. of turkey or chicken):

15 mulato chiles, 8 ancho chiles, 3 pasilla negra chiles, 1 chipotle chile, 3/8 C almonds (1/4 C + 2 T), 1/4 C peanuts, 1/4 C pepitas, 1/2 C prunes, 3/8 C raisins, 3/4 of a ripe plantain, 1 1/2 ripe tomatos, 5 tomatillos, 1/2 of a croissant (or 1 slice of bread or half of a roti, etc), 3/8 C sesame seeds, 2 1/2″ of cinnamon, 1/2 t coriander seeds, 1/2 t anise seeds, 1/4 t whole cloves, 1/4 t black peppercorns, 1 head of garlic, 2 onions, 3/8 C piloncillo, 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, salt, a pinch of Mexican oregano, oil or fat, and water as required…note that the quantity of chicken used above is for a quartered amount (5 lbs.)- use half of this quantity of sauce and freeze the other.

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This is my entry for Jihva for Ingredients- chocolate, hosted this month by Deepz of Letz Cook. JFI is a monthly tradition, created by Indira of Mahanandi

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*Excerpt taken from Latin American Cooking, Jonathon Norton, co. 1968.

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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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Puneri Aamti

December 8, 2007 at 3:15 AM (dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, India, Jihva entries, legumes/pulses- whole or split, Maharashtra, Pune, toor/toovar/arhar)

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I think this dish is usually called kataachi aamti, and I would assume that this version hails from the city of Pune in the state of Maharashtra. This heavenly, thin dhal- at once extremely aromatic, sweet-sour, and spicy-hot- is sipped from small bowls or cups, and appears to be very closely tied to the enjoyment of a sweetly-stuffed roti known as puran poLi, which is more-often made with chana dhal or moong dhal. When preparing the sweet dhal stuffing for puranpoLi, the thin liquid from cooking the dhal is reserved for making this aamti, as well as a little of the sweet, coconut-infused stuffing for added body. This version is, instead, made of toor dhal, and enjoyed on its own, though recipes for puranpoLi also made of toor dhal do indeed exist!

I am sending this over to Linda of Out of the Garden, for her parade of toor dhal dishes for this months’s JFI. Or, is it a tour of toor?

Puneri Aamti

1 C toor dhal
1/2 t turmeric
1 t ground red chiles
2 t goda masala
1/3 C tamarind extract
1/3 C gur
2 T finely-grated coconut
salt to taste
2-3 t oil (recipe originally calls for 4 T)
1/4 t whole cumin
1/4 t mustard seeds
a pinch of hing
10 karipatta
1/2 C chopped coriander leaves

1)Rinse toor dhal well (soak for an hour or more if desired- decreases cooking time), add turmeric and boil in enough water until quite soft; add ground chiles, goda masala, tamarind extract, gur, coconut, and salt to taste; simmer for 10 minutes or so, adding water as needed to make a thin preparation.

2)Heat oil, add cumin seeds, mustard seeds, hing and curry leaves; when the mustard seeds start popping, pour over hot dhal; simmer a bit longer, then add coriander leaves, remove from heat and cover for a few minutes; stir well and serve in small bowls for sipping, with puranpoLi, or ladled over plain rice.

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Pindi Chole/Chana (Ek)

December 4, 2007 at 6:24 PM (channa/ gram, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, India, legumes/pulses- whole or split, Pakistan, Punjab, Rawalpindi)

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    Yes, I know I ought to be blogging about pecan pie, mashed potatoes, Lithuanian mushrooms and beets, Hungarian lima beans, or…uh…..mole poblano…but, after all the leftover turkey (which was subsequently made into soup and turkey salad sandwiches) and, in short, the slew of western food which has totally thrown my system out of whack, I’m back to cooking food that I crave and enjoy on a daily basis…for a bit at least, so bear with me if you’re hanging on for one of those aforementioned recipes!

    I had never heard of Pindi chana until a few months ago, when a locally-owned-and-extremely-large grocery store had a sale on packs of Kitchens of India convenience food for $1.50 each. No biggie really, except each one also contained a free CD of Indian classical music- a possibility of four different ones! Wowee!!! Well, I thought it would be fun to try and get all four, and in the process I tried every dish in their line. I wasn’t terribly impressed with any of them (kind of bland), but one of them wasn’t too bad after I “doctor’d it up” with some garam masala and extra ground chiles…anyway, I eventually managed to find all four CDs (you can sleep easy now my readers), and then I made a point of doing some research on this dish called Pindi chana

    Or Rawalpindi chanaRawalpindi is a city in the Punjabi province of present-day Pakistan, with an extremely long history of several invasions and changes in power. The city contains many fine examples of architecture- ancient Buddshist, Hindu, and impressive Moghul shrines, two lively bazaars to wander about, as well as countless restaurants, food-stalls, and street-vendors from which to sample the local fare.  

    And I imagine that the variation in chana recipes is endless…which is what I discovered when I went Pindi-chana-recipe-hunting. Some said that kala (black) chana should be used, others said kabuli (white)…some said that it should be made with amla (Indian gooseberries) for souring and to achieve a dark colour, some said tea bags are the thing. Some used tomatoes, some stated that tomatoes shouldn’t be used at all. And then, there is a dispute over onions: only raw to accompany the final dish, and then no…browned as part of the masala, as well as raw for a final sparkle. Oh, it just goes on and on….the only thing I know for certain is that I won’t know anything until I visit this city, which I would really like to do someday. And when I get there, I’ll be sure to try every offering of chana I see and report to you here what I find out. But, I couldn’t possibly believe that just ONE recipe is being prepared all across a city of 3 million….can you?

    I decided to try a recipe which Ashwini of Food for Thought stumbled upon in a most unlikely place: the booklet that accompanied her new pressure-cooker!  I chose to try it first because it was the most different from all the others that I had read. After the first whirl, I found that it also tastes absolutely different from any other chana/chole recipes I have ever tried, and I like it very much, so much so that I’ve made it four times now! That’s blog-worthy I think.

    Over the course of these recipe-runs, I found myself making a few changes in method- nothing that compromises the original intention of the recipe, no- namely a way to do both a brief oil-extraction of the masala while avoiding the overcooking of the chickpeas, and waiting until the end of the cooking to add the garam masala to avoid evaporating off all of the precious (and volatile) oils of elaichi…

Pindi (Rawalpindi) Chole (Chana)

2 C dried Kabuli chana (white chickpeas)
2 heaping teaspoons of black tea, coarsely powdered*
2 badi/moti/kala elaichi
5 cloves, ground**
3 small sticks of cinnamon (I use about 3-4 inches of cinnamon- like a finger-length)
3 T ghee and/or peanut oil (the original recipe uses 8 T…use any amount you prefer)
4 green chiles
1/2″ of fresh ginger
1 T whole cumin
1 1/2 T whole anardana
1 1/2 T coriander seeds, ground
1 T amchoor
1 1/2 t black pepper, ground
salt to taste
1-2 t garam masala
coriander leaves
sliced onions

1)Soak the chickpeas for 24 hours; drain, rinse once and drain again; place these, along with the tea, kala elaichi, cloves, cinnamon, and water to cover 1-2″ in a pressure-cooker; cook for 12 minutes at 15 PSI; remove from heat and allow to cool and pressure to fall (or cook in a large saucepan until tender). Drain, reserving liquid. Remove and discard kala elaichi and cinnamon.

2)Meanwhile: halve the chiles, de-seed, then quarter lengthwise; cut across into 1/8″ strips. Peel the ginger, then slice into thin rounds; stack the rounds and cut into fine shreds. Dry-roast, separately, the cumin and anardana seeds; grind and combine with the other dried spices, reserving the garam masala alone in another bowl.

3)Heat the oil to smoking, then add green chiles and ginger; stir once and add the ground spices; stir once again and add the reserved liquid from chana; keep at a slow boil, stirring frequently as it reduces and lowering heat as you go, until thick enough to coat the stirring-spoon.

4)Add the drained chickpeas and salt to taste; stir carefully over gentle heat until fully-hot. Remove from heat and stir in the garam masala.

5)Serve topped with sliced raw onions and coriander leaves. What is this served with? I don’t know…I usually eat it with rice. And I must say that the flavour is even better the day after it is made!

*The original recipe calls for 1 tea bag. I thought it should be darker still, plus I mostly buy loose tea so that I can pretend to read fortunes in a cup. The extra fiber doesn’t hurt either, and I do recall reading about a tea-leaf salad somewhere

**The original recipe calls for 5 whole cloves to be cooked with the chana and then fished out afterwards. I got tired of trying to find them and decided to grind them up.

P.S. You may be wondering (or not) if I’ll be trying other Pindi chana recipes in the future and blogging about them? You bet! But the story will always go from free CDs to Ashwini’s complimentary booklet from a pressure-cooker, and then onwards…

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