Posts Tagged ‘Indian’

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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Posted in Indian | 32 Comments »

Chicken tikka masala + a happy birthday

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

Chicken tikka masala plated

I wonder if I still know how to write – of course I know how to type letters and words, which then make sentences and so on, but I mean really write? Or maybe I just wonder if I can still write like myself – like the self that used to fill pages and pages with words that were pictures that were the stories that painted my life and reflected my soul. Education, society, convention, adulthood, the uncontrollable in life have all taken stake in the empty pages of the journals I have kept toting around for the last decade. So, I’m not quite sure how I feel about all this writing, but what I do know is that I just ate a fat fried brown organic egg on a plate with leftover maple syrup on it from our last minute dinner of french toast (yes, I took a break after cooking nonstop the past couple of days), and it was one of the best eggs I’ve ever had. I also know that Tuesday was my dear friend S.’s birthday, and she loves Indian food and chocolate, so that’s what she got, because it was her birthday, after all.

Ginger, spice, lemon, yogurt in sunlight

S. is the therapist I interned under during my last two semesters of grad school.  She runs her counseling practice out of her nineteenth century Victorian home on Main Street in downtown Smithfield, Va (like Smithfield Ham, yes).  I would sit in on client sessions with her for training in addition to seeing clients myself and do various odds and ends administrative tasks such as scheduling and confirming appointments, helping with treatment plans, and making deposits.  I drove forty minutes to be at S.’s house at 7am in the morning two days a week to do required supervision, which with S., amounted to doing yoga in our pjs in her bedroom before the first 8am client or walking up, down, and around Main Street (still in pjs) in countless repetitions, discussing cases, or whatever else was deemed urgent at the time.

Mixing spices into yogurt

I started bringing my stovetop espresso maker with me in the mornings and cappuccinos after the 8am client became a morning ritual.  Soon S. became obsessed with my little espresso device and proceeded to buy at least six different types of stovetop espresso makers.  You really can’t compete with S., she always wins. Some days I would come home exasperated saying to my husband, “You won’t believe what S. said to me today! The audacity!”  His response, “I would have said:  this, or that, or whatever,” and I would say, “No, first of all, she is evaluating me; second, I really think we can be friends once this is all over with.”  It has been three years since that internship, and S. is a treasured friend – so thankful.

Cutting ginger into a cube for gratingUsing latex gloves while cubing raw chicken

Last year I made chicken curry for S.’s birthday and packed it up in the car along with four month old little J., and took the birthday dinner to her house. This year, we decided to celebrate at my house, since taking a 16 month old child to someone’s house for dinner and having to leave at 7:30 due to your child’s escalating hyperactivity and exhaustion is not exactly a recipe for a relaxed, celebratory dinner amongst adults.

Ingredients for chicken tikka masala tomato cream sauce

I decided to make chicken tikka masala from a recipe I’ve been using for several years. There are many variations to the spicing in this dish, and I cannot attest to them all since this is the only recipe I’ve tried so far, but I can attest to this one saying it is very good and tastes similar to the chicken tikka masala I’ve tried at many Indian restaurants. Chicken tikka masala is not a completely authentic Indian dish, but rather a Brit-Indi (my made up word) creation. Chicken tikka is a traditional yogurt spice marinated and grilled Indian dish that the English adapted to their tastes by dousing in sauce. Normally, I tend to be a purist in these types of matters (except I really do like Tex-Mex), but this match really works, so why argue?  The Brits love their Indian food, and I hear that this tops their list of favorites.  It certainly is at the top of mine.

Blooming spices in butter

An important step in Indian cooking is sauteing the spices (called “blooming”) in oil or butter until fragrant before adding other ingredients. This wakes the spices up by toasting them and allows their flavors to infuse the oil and thus the flavor of the rest of the dish.

Pouring cream into tomato sauce

One of the most intimidating things about cooking a new type of dish for me is having to go out and buy a bunch of ingredients and spices I do not have on hand and do not normally work with.  I remember it took me several months to try this dish for that very reason.  Grate fresh ginger?  Marinate chicken in yogurt – really?  Grill on skewers and then put in a spicy tomato cream sauce? Yes, really, and it is wonderful. I’ve found that grating ginger is quite simple if you cut the sides away to make a manageable, skinless block with which to work.  I also like to use latex gloves when handling raw meat. Who wants to touch raw meat? Not me.

Grilling chicken tikka skewers

I must really love S., because it has been especially cold in Va. this week, and I still went outside and grilled the chicken on our old little Weber. Of course I shouldn’t forget that it is S. who mail ordered fake grass spray and painstakingly sprayed dead brown spots green all over her lawn in order to throw me the most lovely garden baby shower not too long ago.  I told you, you can’t compete with S.

Chicken tikka being added to masala sauce

The grill flavor and charred chicken bits add both complexity and texture – I like to sear the outside of the chicken and leave the insides a little undercooked to finish cooking in the pan with the sauce, thus ensuring the chicken remains tender and not overcooked. For starters, we had roasted red pepper hummus with cilantro and pita chips, and for dessert, a decadent chocolate cake I made the night before. Incidentally, my husband and I try to let our son taste everything we eat, providing it is safe for his age, and as it turns out, roasted red pepper hummus and cilantro is a big hit.

Roasted red pepper hummus with cilantroChocolate birthday cake

S.’s friend M. also came.  Here are S. and M., with S. in the foreground – both looking as young and beautiful as ever.  Happy birthday, friend.

S. and M. on S.'s birthday

Chicken tikka masala
Adapted from

1 cup yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1.5 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1.5 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1.5 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
4 long skewers
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, ribbed, and finely chopped (add reserved seeds and ribs for more heat at end if desired)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup heavy cream (I often use half & half)
sea or kosher salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. In a large bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, black pepper, ginger, and salt. Stir in chicken, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Do not marinate for longer than 1 hour, as chicken can become over seasoned. If using wooden skewers, cover in water during this time to help prevent burning when on grill.
2. Preheat a grill for high heat.
3. Lightly oil the grill grate. Thread chicken onto skewers, and discard marinade. Grill until juices run clear, about 5 minutes on each side.
4. Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic and jalapeno for 1 minute and then stir in 2 teaspoons cumin and paprika and saute until fragrant, about 1 more minute. Stir in tomato sauce and cream. Simmer on low heat until sauce begins to thicken, about 15-20 minutes. Add grilled chicken, and simmer till chicken is completely cooked and warm, 5-10 minutes. Taste and add salt to taste, if needed. Transfer to a serving platter, and garnish with fresh cilantro. Serve with basmati rice and whole milk yogurt to cut heat, if needed.

Note: I like extra sauce to mix with rice, and usually increase the sauce recipe by one half.

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Posted in Indian | 14 Comments »