Monthly ArchiveJanuary 2011
Seasonal Cooking 17 Jan 2011 08:06 pm
Read the recipe
In Indiana in the ’70s there probably weren’t many white kids who regularly ate curry at home, but I was one of them. My mom was from a missionary family and grew up in Maharashtra, India. On special occasions she’d make a big pot of her special curry and serve it up with papadum, tomato chutney, spicy mango pickle from a jar and piles of white rice. We kids always requested it for birthday dinners, and our eager dinner guests would swoon from the heady aroma of spices.
But even if I was a little more savvy about Indian food than some of my fellow Hoosiers, of course I was still very naïve about it. To me, Indian food simply meant the dish my mom made: big chunks of beef and potatoes stewed in a brown gravy spiced with curry powder. It wasn’t until college that I began to learn how vastly many different kinds of dishes can be can be called “curry.” In Indian restaurants I found dishes made from lamb and chicken, from any number of vegetables, from fish. Later, in cookbooks, I even found curries made from eggs.
In my cookbooks there are recipes for hard boiled eggs in spiced sauce, for eggs scrambled in spiced butter, for Parsi-style omelets, and for eggs baked in a casserole with cilantro and cumin. My favorite method though is to poach the eggs in a spicy broth and serve them with a sauce made by thickening the broth with yogurt. I made a version of this recently and served the eggs atop a warmed pita spread with roasted eggplant, alongside a dish of coriander-spiced potatoes. It was filling and satisfyingly spicy, and a small step away from being entirely vegetarian: with vegetable broth in place of chicken stock the dish is entirely meat-free. For familiarity’s sake I’m calling the dish “curried eggs,” even though I know that ‘curry’ is really a westernized term, mostly used to describe the flavors of South Asian food by those who live in other parts of the world.
And I’m calling it ‘curried’ even though the dish contains no curry powder. Curry powder is also a westernized creation, a pre-mixed blend of cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, fenugreek, turmeric, etcetera that’s essentially a short cut to creating an Indian flavor. By most accounts it’s not used by Indian cooks. Instead, they cook with the individual component spices, varying them according to their preferences, their region, or the dish they’re making. As one cookbook author states it: “the Indian cook keeps the spice box handy near the stove, so that he/she can use the spices much the way a painter uses a palette, as mood and family preference dictate.”
In this spirit my curried eggs are spiced with a combination of garlic, ginger, cumin and turmeric. I’ve only recently kicked the curry powder habit, and have just begun learning how to blend my palette of spices, so I don’t know if this combination is a correct or acceptable one. It was awfully tasty though, so I think I’m off to a good start.
Seasonal Cooking 02 Jan 2011 05:55 pm
I spent Christmas this year with my brother Joe and his family in Vermont. It was a laid-back and very relaxing holiday. Joe, my sister-in-law Nancy, my nephew Andy and his girlfriend Casey all pitched in on a fuss-free but very delicious Christmas dinner (John, my other nephew, was at work fitting boots for the skiers at Smugglers Notch). Here’s what was on the menu:
|Whether you call it pan sauce or just plain gravy, to me it’s just not a holiday dinner without it. Particularly in winter (and in Vermont it gets cold!) the floury thickness and full flavors of a good beef gravy are deeply satisfying — exactly what we mean by food that sticks to your ribs.
I recently wrote a brief overview of gravy-making for Epicurious, so I won’t go into too many details here. For this batch I deglazed the roasting pan with red wine, added some dried marjoram I found i the cupboard, and since we had no beef stock on hand I filled out the drippings with canned chicken stock. That worked just fine. I used a beurre manie to thicken the sauce – the first time I’ve done so. I was very happy with the richer, silkier, and lump-free sauce that resulted.
In my haste to get to the dinner table I forgot a very important gravy-making step: pouring the juices from the carving board into the sauce. By the time I’d realized my mistake the the gravy was already in its serving dish, so I decided to use the bloody red liquid as a garnish. I liked the way it looked, although it may’ve been more appropriate for Hallowe’en than for Christmas.
|The roast, a sirloin tip that Joe cooked to a perfect medium, was one of the last remaining cuts from Delicious, a heifer Joe raised for beef last year. Delicious’s days were spent days on a nearby farm, happily grazing in a patch of lovely Vermont pasture with other cows destined to become Christmas roasts. Her name was given to her by my nephew John, and she lived up to it unfailingly.|
|Nancy prepared theaw fluffy and flavorful mashed potatoes. Her method: cube the potatoes and boil them with garlic cloves, and plenty of ‘em. Drain the liquid and whip everything together. They were perfect|
|Joe went down into the root cellar and came up with a gorgeous buttercup squash, one of this year’s crop from his garden. He prepared it as simply as could be: he sliced it in half, scooped out the seeds, place it on a baking sheet, poked the skin with a fork and roasted it in the oven until it was soft. Then he scooped it into a serving bowl and stirred in some butter. A little butter is all you need for garden-fresh ingredients like these.|
|We also served up some old-fashioned dried sweet corn, a favorite in my family and a nod to our Pennsylvania Dutch forbears. I’d brought back a sack of the dried kernels from my recent trip through Northeast Indiana’s Amish country. They’re prepared by by simply soaking the dried kernels in boiling water, then cooking them with butter and milk. The finished dish tastes sweet and nutty and fits perfectly as part of a holiday dinner.|
|Also on the table was a plate of the spiced, candied apple rings I made recently (one of my very first forays into home canning). They were always a part of holiday dinners laid out by my grandmother when I was small. My Grandma actually bought hers at the grocery store – later in life at least. But her recipe box contains a recipe for them, so I’d guess she made them from scratch once or twice. I like to think I’m reviving a tradition from my grandmothers younger days by making these.|
|This pie was a collaboration between Joe and me – I made the crust, Joe made the filling. It was taken from the Epicurious recipe for Maple-Hazelnut pie. It was just like a pecan pie, but with hazelnuts substituted for the pecans, with maple syrup in place of some of the corn syrup, and with bourbon added for an extra flavor edge. We modified the recipe a bit by toasting the hazelnuts to freshen them up an by adding a few drops of maple extract to strengthen the maple flavor.|
Other dishes not pictured: Brussels Sprouts that Casey and Andy cooked with garlic and balsamic vinegar; Joe’s buttermilk dinner rolls; mini Yorkshire puddings cooked in butter since the roast was too lean to produce much in the way of pan drippings.
I loved this dinner because it was elegant and festive and just about entirely stress-free. I also love that everyone chipped in. The only thing missing was my nephew John, away in the mountains. John – you were there in spirit when we toasted you with raised glasses of champagne!