Archive for March, 2010

A homemade tomato sauce, spring vegetables, and garden beginnings

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Spring Pasta by lkwm on dRc

“I would like to have a garden,” my husband said to me shortly after we were first married.

“Whatever for?” I thought to myself; “There is a grocery and a farmer’s market less than a mile down the road where I can easily buy anything we need, and I have little interest in tilling the ground in my spare time.”

So, like the congenial newlywed I was attempting to be, I said little, and figured this too would pass, as well intended ideas often do.

Cabbage in sunlight

However, come early spring of that first matrimonial year, lo and behold, Brian went out and bought stacks upon stacks of seed starting trays, a pile of organic starter soil bags, and a whole host of seeds – many of which I had never heard nor seen the likes of in all my days.

Yellow pear tomatoes, purple okra, champagne bell peppers, and the most delectable yellow cucumbers, were just a few introductions made.

He pulled out old, dusty card tables and set up camp in the basement, since he was duly cautioned against “starting seeds” in the proper living spaces of my our new nest, with large florescent lights clipped to the innards of our floor joists, lit to nurture and grow the nascent seedlings.

Spring pasta

“What is it that makes you want to start the plants from seed?” I asked, all the while thinking to myself, “The nursery down the street is full of perfectly happy little plants already weeks ahead of these babies, ready and waiting for someone to give them a loving home in the fertile soil of their garden.”

It’s fun to watch things grow,” Brian replied, “Isn’t it amazing that we put the tiniest little seeds in the soil, gave them light and water, and now they are already seedlings? Look at how they lean towards the light. Don’t you just love them?”

Garden broccoliGarden broccoli

Before long, the weather was warming and the seedlings were growing impatient for a new, roomier home in the great outdoors. I still have vivid memories of standing out in our yard that first spring, virgin soil beneath my feet, shovel in hand, fighting back tears as I painstakingly tried to “turn” the dirt beneath.

It is important to know how to grow your own food,” I could hear Brian saying.

Since that time, we have grown wiser, and now Brian rents an actual tiller each spring to help with the hard labor. He calls the garden “Laura’s garden,” but really it is his, and always has been.

Sure, I make trips to the nursery with him, pick the heirloom seeds I want, and the ten new varieties of tomatoes I am compelled to try each summer, I pick some produce, but mainly, I eat the garden – which is why Brian says it is mine.

Garden broccoli in hand

The garden expands each year, last year covering a good 750 square feet with radishes, turnips, corn, tomatoes, eggplant, okra, oodles of hot peppers, mustard greens, lettuces, onions, potatoes, carrots, squash, green beans, bell peppers, sunflowers, all the herbs you could dream of, butter beans, kale, Swiss chard, honeydew, strawberries, watermelon, peas, broccoli, spinach, cucumbers, zucchini…even luffa.

We still have plants growing from the seedlings of that first garden – Greek oregano, sage, cayenne peppers, yellow and orange pear tomatoes.

It’s taken time and perspective to grow on me, but our garden is something I now cherish and eagerly anticipate each year as the last frost of winter gives way to warm sunny spring days. This year we were surprised with forgotten carrots, broccoli, and cabbage emerging from beneath the winter leaves. I have never tasted such sweet carrots, such tender, mild broccoli.

Brian is right, there is nothing like the taste of food from your own garden.

Garden carrotsGarden carrots

With so many spring vegetables coming into season, and planning to take a meal to a friend who just had a baby, I decided to make a pasta with homemade tomato sauce and spring vegetables.

The sauce is a simple saute of onion and one lone carrot in a good glug of olive oil, followed by a gentle simmer with satiny smooth textured San Marzano tomatoes. You could stop here and have yourself one beautiful homemade tomato sauce. But since it is spring, and spring’s bounty is at hand, why not add fresh artichokes, asparagus, spinach, fava beans, and young English peas, simmer another quick spell, and toss it all with a favorite pasta and gratings of fresh parmesan? It just seems like the “fitting” way to do tomato sauce this time of year, as my grandma Ruth would have said.

This sauce tastes bright from the carrot, tomatoes and vegetables, but still maintains a full bodied flavor due to the infusion of olive oil into the onions. I loved it, and I hope you do as well.

Spring pasta

Tomato sauce with olive oil, onion, and carrot

1 28 oz. can whole Itailian Roma style, plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzanos*
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea or kosher salt to taste

Saute onion and carrot in the olive oil till soft and onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add Tomatoes and simmer for at least 20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened to desired consistency, breaking tomatoes apart with a wooden spoon. Serve over warm pasta with freshly grated pecorino romano cheese

Pasta with spring vegetables
Adapted liberally from Williams Sonoma’s Savoring Tuscany

1 lb. pasta, preferably rigatoni*, cooked according to package directions to al dente, adding 1-2 tablespoons coarse or rock salt to boiling water, pasta water reserved
1 recipe for Tomato sauce with olive oil, onion, and carrot
1 or 2 large fresh artichokes, tough outer leaves pulled off and cut down, hair removed, and heart cut into slices (optional)*
1/2 cup of shelled English peas
1/2 cup young, tender shelled fava (broad) beans or lima beans
1 1/2 cups stemmed spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
12 asparagus spears, tough ends removed, cut into 1 inch pieces
Sea or kosher salt to taste
freshly ground Parmesan cheese

Prepare the tomato sauce according to the above recipe, adding the artichoke pieces (if using) into the simmering sauce at the same time you add the tomatoes. Begin cooking the pasta, taking care to salt the water and reserve at least half a cup of pasta water once pasta has finished cooking.

Once artichoke slices are tender (10-15 minutes), add the other vegetables and cook in the sauce another five to ten minutes, or until vegetables are cooked and tender.

Toss the sauce with the warm pasta, using small additions of the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce and achieve desired consistency. Wait to season with salt and pepper (I prefer this sauce without pepper, as the vegetable flavors seem to stand out more this way) until finished adding desired amount of pasta water, as the water should be somewhat salty itself. Serve with the cheese sprinkled on top.

Notes: You may use any pasta for this recipe, though rigatoni or other “forkable” pasta is preferable to the spagetti you see in my pictures. I made it with rigatoni the first time, but was too rushed to take pictures, and only had spaghetti noodles in the house the second go round.

Look for Italian San Marzano tomatoes in the specialty Italian section of your grocery store. I have tried many Italian Roma tomatoes, and none break down and create a smooth, satiny sauce as well as the San Marzanos.

The fresh artichokes are nice in this dish, though they take a bit of work, so you may omit them if desired. I would not substitute canned, since canned artichokes are preserved in vinegar and would alter the entire flavor profile of the sauce. I did add some mushrooms in at the same time as the artichokes the first time around, and they were very good. Really, you could add just about any vegetables you like – or chicken (I added lemon rosemary chicken in the first batch) or shrimp, for that matter.

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Posted in Main Courses - Vegetarian | 26 Comments »

A simple garlic broth with tortellini, tomatoes, and fresh garden herbs, and a lifelong friend, Amy

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Garlic herb soup with tomato and tortellini

There is something very special about the friends, and the foods, of our youth. We tend to carry them close to our hearts, and it is often these tastes, and these friends, that in old age if someone were to ask, “What meal do you wish to be your last?” or, “What friend do you want near?” that would prompt thoughts of cherished dishes from childhood, and of the dear friends kept close from our youth. During a time when we were more naive, more vulnerable, and exploring our identities without the expectations of adultishness holding us back, someone saw something raw, something beautiful, something lovable about us – and chose us. A friend. An Amy.

The story of this soup, of Amy, and of my interests in cooking and art intersect in a beautiful weave that I am happy not to unravel. Although I was acquaintances with Amy early in college, it was not until she lived a few dorm rooms down the hall during our junior year that I truly got to know her. I can still remember her room – light, with a pale soft sea green comforter and white billowy pillows, everything perfectly in its place, it breathed beauty and effortlessness, so unlike my own room – always struggling to keep its clothes in its drawers, and with papers overflowing binders and tucked every-which-way into book sleeves.

Garden rosemaryGarden rosemary

Everything about Amy breathes artistry. Art comprises the essence of her being, and always has, from what I can tell. Wherever Amy goes, whatever Amy does, she creates beauty. She is purposeful, methodical, deliberate, inspiring. Very few people have influenced me like Amy. She is a photographer, a designer and painter, a video editor, a world traveler, a uniquely creative cook, and most importantly, and often undeservingly on my part, a lifelong friend.

And it is Amy who first made me this soup about a decade ago when we became roommates the summer after that junior year in college, and I still make it several times a year. I’d say this is a lifelong soup.

Garlic smashed

The base of the soup is a simple garlic broth created by crushing and sautéing a whole head of garlic in a bit of olive oil, just until the garlic has infused the oil and is no longer raw, but not yet brown, and then vegetable or chicken stock is added, along with a few sprigs of fresh herbs such as thyme, sage, and a handful of fresh parsley.

We keep an herb garden not far from our kitchen out the back door, where I tend to use whatever fresh herbs are thriving and available. In this case, rosemary, oregano, and sage.

Tortellini

From here, the soup can take many forms. You can add a wide variation of vegetables, greens, beans, pastas, chicken or tofu, or even a bit of saffron, but the addition of tomatoes and tortellini is how Amy introduced it to me, and thus it has become my way.

At its heart, it is a variation of the classic Italian dish “Tortellini en brodo” or “tortellini in broth” and it is one of the most satisfying meals I can imagine. Chewy al dente tortellini filled with little wedges of soft cheese are nestled next to a savory broth, richly flavored from the infusion of garlic, ripe tomatoes, and fresh Italian herbs. Finished with sprinklings of fresh parsley, gratings of a nice aged parmesan reggiano, and a hot out of the oven tear of crusty bread, and at this moment I cannot find room beside my adoration for this soup to think of a meal I love more.

Garden OreganoGarden sageGarden SageGarden oregano

At an influential time in my youth, it was Amy who first introduced me to such things as making homemade pasta, cooking with and growing my own fresh herbs, using lavender as a spice, and unique twists on traditional favorites such as sweet potato quesadillas and mango salsa.

It was Amy who sparked my interest in photography, it was Amy who made up crazy silly songs with my brother and me and then animated my stuffed bear to sing along, and it was Amy who was there when my father died at the end of that summer in college; it was Amy who was still there six months later, not afraid to stand in the shadow of death or look me in the eye, and hold me as I cried… And it is still Amy who is there. Thank you, friend.

Beautiful Amy Amy in field of flowers. Photo courtesy of Amy’s sister in law, Cara Lavarone.

Simple garlic broth with tortellini, tomatoes, and garden herbs
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home (Tomato garlic soup with tortellini)

8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
3 cups diced tomatoes or 5 medium fresh tomatoes (about 4 cups chopped)
12 ounces fresh cheese filled tortellini
3 tablespoons minced fresh garlic (1 large or 2 small heads)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 sprig fresh sage
1 sprig fresh thyme
several sprigs fresh parsley and more, chopped, for serving
sea or kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese

In a covered pot, bring the stock to a boil. In a soup pot on low heat, gently saute the garlic in the olive oil until golden, taking care not to let it brown. Add the boiling stock. Stir in the paprika. Tie the sage, thyme, and parsley into a little bundle with string, and add the “bouquet” to the pot (you may also chop the herbs and add straight into the soup – this is what I do). Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, add tomatoes, and simmer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Adjust for salt and pepper to taste.

In a separate pot, cook tortellini until al dente, usually 4-5 minutes (check package directions) for fresh tortellini. When ready to serve, place tortellini in individual bowls and ladle the soup over them. Serve topped with grated cheese and chopped parsley.

Note: You may omit the tomatoes and/or the tortellini and add other pasta, vegetables, greens, potatoes, peas, chicken – so many possibilities! Also, this easily serves 6-8 people, so I often freeze just some of the broth to pull out and cook with a new package of fresh tortellini for an easy and delicious last minute meal.

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Posted in Main Courses - Vegetarian | 16 Comments »

Yellow layer butter cake with guittard ganache frosting

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

ATK's Yellow cake with Guittard ganache frosting by lkwm on dRc

By nature, I am an introvert, so I tend to keep a few friends close, and tend to find long distances challenging. I am working on this, though I imagine it used to be easier for people to make friends and stay in touch with one another, since historically people tended to live in one place for longer, many times being born, raised, and carrying on the next generation within the same few square miles of their own birth place. Life was also less convenient. Washing and drying clothes, growing and preparing food, and supplying one’s household with basic necessities all required some degree of working outdoors, and invited interaction with one’s neighbors. Life demanded more direct human interchanges than is often required present day, which in turn, created rich, interdependent local communities. You needed your neighbors, and they needed you, and over time, friendships were cultivated.

Flowers falling by lkwm on dRcFlowers askew ll by lkwm on dRcLooking down on flowers by lkwm on dRc

Though perhaps requiring more conscientious efforts, these sorts of relationships surely live on in the present day, going beyond more casual definitions of friendship in dedication and tolerance, and ultimately still forming the foundations of thriving modern families, communities, and cultures. Friends of this sort do special things things for one another.

Things like throwing one another baby showers, giving up whole Saturdays to help each other replace defunct 1980s water heaters, helping lay new hardwood floors over quite acceptable old hardwood floors, saving a friend from woeful design errors and painting bathrooms in the corrected shade for the friend, ordering perfectly cut custom glass shelves for a friend’s bathroom and driving them over at 11:00 p.m. on a work night so there will be a spot for towels and toiletries for an impending parental arrival the next day, helping with wiring until past midnight, and other special things like making each other homemade birthday cakes.

Guittard discsGuittard discsGuittard disks on silk by lkwm on dRc

My husband and I first met Sheila and John in 2007 when I completed my graduate internship at Sheila’s counseling practice, and since that time they have become dear friends. Life is busy, and there are times we do not see each other for several weeks at a time before one set or the other of us will forge the 30 minute drive separating our homes, and remember why we should never let such time spans pass again.

Buttered and floured by lkwm on dRcButtered and floured by lkwm on dRcButtered and floured by lkwm on dRc

The men do what Sheila and I have come to term “work exchanges. Jon will come over to our house and help Brian, my husband, with some project, such as cutting and putting up a stairwell banister, or installing accent lights throughout our kitchen, and I will cook dinner for everyone (Indian, Italian and all things dark chocolate are always favorites) and Sheila and I will watch chic flicks late into the night, with the men sometimes pausing to join us for a show, and always stopping for food.

We do the same thing at Sheila’s home. She will cook some gorgeous, elaborate meal and dessert (I have come to learn she is incapable of doing it any other way) and we will sit tending to my little boy and leafing through cookbooks and design magazines while the guys hammer away on some project talking nanotechnology or some other foreign language. I love these days.

Flowers laying by lkwm on dRc

For Jon’s birthday this year, Sheila decided we should all go out for Thai and then back to her house for dessert, so I offered to try another yellow cake recipe (which I secretly eagerly volunteered for since I had just bought new cake pans – I get excited about this sort of thing). I say “another”, because since I’ve been thinking about being a better friend over the past several months, I have started making a conscious effort to make birthday cakes more often for people. It is a small gesture, but since I love to bake, it simply fits for me to fill this role, which brings me back to my hunt for my own personal religious yellow cake recipe. I have tried at least five recipes over the past year, with many turning out dry, or too eggy, or even almost a bit like sweet cornbread – all in all, just not what I have been looking for in a classic yellow cake.

Eggs vertical by lkwm on dRcEggs vertical by lkwm on dRcEggs horizontal by lkwm on dRc

But this one turned out just right. It is moist with a tender and delicate crumb, tastes deeply of butter, is beautifully hued from the four eggs, and is not overly sweet. Just about any favorite frosting would pair nicely with this cake. I chose a chocolate cream frosting, using Guittard 61% cocoa disks, which turned out to essentially be an incredibly smooth and luscious ganache – think heavenly, moist, butter laden yellow cake covered by the insides of a decadent chocolate truffle, and that’s what you’ve got here.

Swirls by lkwm on dRcBattered up by lkwm on dRcBattered up by lkwm on dRcBattered up by lkwm on dRc

In other news, I am starting to read novels again, which I haven’t done since my son was born and since finishing the last Harry Potter book. I have begun with The Keys of the Kingdom by A.J. Cronin because my brother recommended it and because it was on the top of my book pile. I’ll let you know how it goes. My favorite quote so far:

Decisively, Monsignor Sleeth closed the gilt-edged book. “To say the least, you seem to have lost your command of souls.”
“But…” Calmly: “I don’t want to command anyone’s soul.”

Cutting the cake at Sheila'sHappy birthday John! by lkwm on dRcThe cake and the lady by lkwm on dRcFor later by lkwm on dRcSheila sheila sheilaLast bite by lkwm on dRc
Yellow layer butter cake
adapted from American Classics by the editor’s of Cook’s Illustrated

4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sifted (6 3/4 ounces) plain cake flour
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted organic butter, softened, each stick cut into 8 pieces

Adjust an oven rack to the lower middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9 inch cake pans with vegetable shortening (I use a natural oil spray) and cover the pan bottoms with rounds of parchment paper or wax paper. Grease the parchment rounds and dust the cake pans with flour, tapping out the excess.

Beat the eggs, milk, and vanilla with a fork in a small bowl; measure out 1 cup of this mixture and set aside. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on the lowest speed to blend, about 30 seconds. With the mixer still running at the lowest speed, add the butter one piece at a time; mix until the butter and flour begin to clump together and look sandy and pebbly, with pieces about the size of peas, 30 to 40 seconds after all the butter is added. Add reserved 1 cup of egg mixture and mix at the lowest speed until incorporated, 5 to 10 seconds. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the remaining egg mixture (about 1/2 cup) in a slow steady stream, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Beat on medium-high until thoroughly combined and the batter looks slightly curdled, about 15 seconds.

Divide the batter equally between the prepared cake pans; spread to the sides of the pan and smooth with a rubber spatula. Bake until the cake tops are light gold and a toothpick or skewer comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. (Cakes may mound slightly but will level when cooled.) Cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the pan perimeters to loosen. Invert one cake onto a large plate, peel off the parchment, and reinvert onto a lightly greased rack. Repeat with the other cake. Cool completely before icing. Store iced cake in the refrigerator, but bring to room temperature before serving (bringing to room temperature took about four to five hours for my cake).

Guittard ganache frosting (Chocolate Cream Frosting)
adapted from American Classics by the editor’s of Cook’s Illustrated

16 ounces 61% or 70% Guittard bittersweet chocolate, or other bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine*
1 1/2 cups heavy organic cream
1/3 cup light corn syrup*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; pour over the chocolate. Add the corn syrup and let stand 3 minutes. Whisk gently until smooth; stir in the vanilla. Refrigerate 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes, until the mixture reaches a spreadable consistency (mine got a bit hard, so I microwaved it for a very few seconds and it was perfect. Also, if you heat cake with this frosting on it, the frosting will almost immediately turn to fudge sauce – delicious fudge sauce, but not icing anymore)

* I used 61% Guittard, but would likely go even darker next time around. This had a very smooth, rich chocolate flavor, but if you love dark chocolate, like me, you could go darker. This recipe makes a large amount of frosting and it is rich, so next time I might use 3/4 of the icing for the cake and save the rest to heat up as a sauce to serve over ice cream alongside.
* The corn syrup makes the icing smooth and spreadable, I would not substitute another ingredient.

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Posted in Dessert | 35 Comments »

Julie sahni’s gosht kari (meat curry) + an Indian summer

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Perfect curry by lkwm on dRc

We all have markers in the timelines of our lives. Events, moments, aromas, tastes, that etch their way into our memories, sometimes without our fully knowing why, shaping us and creating personal reference points for judging life, people, and the future. And we come of age, ideally coming softly, over a period of years filled with nurturing love and encouragement, where a modicum of innocence is allowed to remain and the ideals of youth are elevated and not blighted. Yet sometimes, our eyes are opened quite suddenly, and we are forever changed from that moment forward. I was 18 in the summer of 1997 when I went to India for the first time, and as it happened, it became clear it was to be this latter sort of a coming of age.

Playing with children in India by lkwm on dRc

I left for India two days before my high school graduation ceremony, forgoing walking with the four honor cords I had vainly and diligently pursued and attained, to live for two months within a small South India village named Tuniki Bollaram as part of a cultural exchange. While I had spent the previous summer in Bolivia, and the prior holiday season in Mexico on similar trips, I was not prepared for India.

Patting meat dry by lkwm on dRcOnion cut by lkwm on dRcBrowning meatll by lkwm on dRcFrying onions ll by lkwm on dRc

A culture of epic history and complexity, colors vivid flashing, noises Loud, tantric rhythmic music, crowds, yes crowds and ShOuTing, and beeeeping, HONKing, bike bells, rickshaws and mopeds, cows and elephants in the streets, watch out for the cobras!, florescent green rice paddies, Lushness, barrenness, all of life in one place, a people of unparalleled generosity and warmth, and the food…oh yes, the FOOD! Tandori, Biryani, Vindaloo, Korma, Masalas, Curries, curries, so many beautiful curries! Yes, it was a summer of love found, love lost, and seeds of love sewn.

Jayashri and me by lkwm on dRc

That summer while I was 7300 miles away struggling to make sense of an incredible people and culture that challenged my most fundamental worldviews, at home I learned my parents had said their final goodbyes to one another, my brother was in crisis, and my dog had died. Dogs shouldn’t die.

I was depressed, and found myself depending on gigantic green Shaklee vitamins (worked quite well, actually) to get me through each day without bursting into tears at every alone moment. And to add insult to injury, I didn’t even like Indian food in the beginning. The spices were so new to me and the smells and flavors – especially cardamom (ironically), I just couldn’t embrace it. Then I met Jayashri.

Potatoes quartered by lkwm on dRcGarlic and ginger in mini chopper by lkwm on dRcAdding spices by lkwm on dRcBeginning simmer with tomatoes and water by lkwm on dRc

Jaya, as she referred to herself, was the village schoolteacher. She and her husband commuted an hour each way every weekday from their home in Hyderabad to teach the young village children of Tuniki Bollaram. She was so very kind, always holding my hand as we spoke, and I felt her a kindred spirit, as Montgomery’s Anne would have put it. We talked about our cultural differences, arranged marriages, dowries, Hinduism, the caste system, many commonalities, and eventually food.

Preparing meal in India by lkwm on dRcPrayers by lkwm on dRcIn an Indian kitchen by lkwm on dRcBlooming spices by lkwm on dRc

One day Jaya invited a few of us to come to her home in the city where she prepared for us an expansive Indian spread of dishes. It is difficult for me to describe this experience as I have mentioned that I had not yet found my love for Indian cuisine. But it was this day, with Jaya’s homemade Indian food set before me, that planted the seed and let me know that I could and eventually would come to love this food in a near passionate manner.

Each dish was unique and aromatic, nestled in a perfect silky orange, red, or cream sauce with layers upon layers of spices and slow, delicately simmered meats and vegetables. The food was beautiful on the palette and to behold. Art really. I knew I was tasting Indian cooking in its purest state and I knew it was divine, yet the coming of age was just beginning, and my appreciation was not full. Yet the seed was planted, only to grow exponentially over time. And Jaya, dear Jaya was my friend that summer, opening and drying my eyes in so many ways she never knew…

Bundled up by lkwm on dRcItems for sale by lkwm on dRcEasy carrying by lkwm on dRcGirl with flower dress by lkwm on dRc

Only Julie Sahni and such an authentic recipe as this could inspire me to go into my cold basement on this sunny day in Virginia and dig through long abandoned boxes to drum up these photos from that summer of 1997. I ordered Sahni’s cookbook as a Christmas present for myself this past year and I now understand the esteem given Sahni.

The first time I prepared this dish a few weeks ago (and again since), I felt a pride and excitement over its perfection unparalleled with any other dish I have prepared in my kitchen to date (I do not say this lightly). It is as good, I believe better, than any curry at all the delectable Indian restaurants I’ve visited domestically and abroad.

For me, gosht kari is the quintessential Indian dish and it translates beautifully in any culture and kitchen. Lamb or beef is seared and onions are fried to a rich brown hue, fresh garlic and ginger are added, turmeric and fragrant spices are bloomed, ripe tomatoes are simmered down next to quartered potatoes, and it is all finished with an infusion of fresh cilantro. Sahni is a master.

Adding seared meat into spices by lkwm on dRc

Julie Sahni’s Gosht Kari (Classic meat curry)
barely adapted from Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni

8 tablespoons light vegetable oil
3 pounds lean boneless beef, preferably beef round, or lean boneless lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
3-4 meaty beef bones (if using beef) or lamb bones (if using lamb) (optional)
4 cups finely chopped onions
4 cups boiling water
4 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
3/4 teaspoon red pepper, or to taste
2 cups finely chopped or pureed fresh ripe tomatoes, or 1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes, chopped or pureed (if you use salted canned tomatoes, reduce overall salt and add final salt slowly to taste)
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
4 medium-sized potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and quartered
3-4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)

Heat 4 tablespoons of the oil over high heat in a large heavy bottomed pan. Pat the meat pieces dry of all juices on the surface using paper towels. It is important not to crowd the meat in the pan and if using the full recipe, you will need to brown the meat in at least two batches or two pans. Drying and not overcrowding will ensure that the meat will sear properly by preventing cooling of the pan from overcrowding and steaming the meat from excess moisture. When the oil is very hot and shimmering, add the meat pieces (and bones, if using), and brown them, but do not cook through. As each batch is browned, transfer it with a slotted spoon to a bowl.

Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil to the pan , along with the onions. Reduce heat to medium-high, and fry the onions until they turn dark brown (about 20 minutes, and yes, it does take this long and it is worth it!), stirring constantly (I gave them a stir about once a minute till the last few minutes when I stirred constantly) so that they do not burn.

Add garlic and ginger, and fry for an additional minute. Add cumin, coriander, turmeric, and red pepper, and continue frying until the spices become fragrant (10-15 seconds). Return the browned meat (and bones) to the pan, along with the tomatoes, salt, and four cups of boiling water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, covered for 1 1/2 hours. Add potatoes, and continue simmering, covered, until the potatoes are tender and the meat is cooked through (about 30 minutes). Turn off heat, and let the meat rest for at least 1/2 hour, preferable 2 hours. When ready to serve, remove bones and discard, check for salt, and simmer again until heated through. Fold in the chopped coriander leaves (cilantro). Serve with basmati rice, plain yogurt and your favorite Indian bread and side dishes.

Sahni’s notes: Sahni mentions a couple of important keys to this classic dish. First, the quality of the tomatoes is very important and she mentions fresh beefsteak tomatoes that are on the verge of overripe as being ideal. However, I used organic canned and thought it was great. Another important aspect of preparation is the frying of the onions. Twenty minutes seems like a long time to stir fry onions, but you want them to turn a deep brown and become the flavor base and thickener for the entire sauce – this frying process is critical and you should not cut back on oil.

My notes: I followed this recipe closely, however, I have a few notes that may be helpful: I used regular vegetable oil; beef round cut into about 1 1/2 inch cubes; no beef bones (in one batch I subbed some mild all natural beef broth to try to make up for the lack of bones for part of the required boiling water, but not the second time and there was no immediate noticeable difference); I would recommend starting with two teaspoons of salt and then adding the last teaspoon slowly to taste after the potatoes have cooked (potatoes love to “de-salt” a dish) – especially if you are using canned tomatoes that are already salted, I used about three red potatoes to meet the 1lb. quota; for tomatoes I pureed Muir Glenn organic canned diced tomatoes; 3/4 teaspoon of red pepper will create a nice medium to medium hot heat that I find just right, but if you get less excited about spiciness, start with less and add more later if desired; Sahni says you can sub dried cilantro for fresh, but I wouldn’t. To me, dried cilantro has very little resemblance to fresh and the fresh adds so much brightness to this dish; finally, the length of cooking time is important for tenderness of the meat and depth of flavor of the dish, though I did not wait more than 30 minutes after the potatoes were done to eat and it was great. I hope you enjoy this spectacular dish! Sahni is a master.

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