Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Curry Recipe for Laura the Winemaker

This is a Parsi recipe known as jardaloo murgh or apricot chicken and would go great with Malbec wine from Argentina, especially the Malbec made by Laura Catena.The Parsis or Zoroastrians, are one of the smallest groups in India but are prominent business leaders and gracious hosts,and an invitation to a Parsi dinner party is eagerly anticipated. One dish guests hope to be served is chicken jardaloo.  I learned this recipe for chicken cooked in sweet and tangy tomato sauce with dried apricots from Kitty Bombaywallah when I dined with her family in Mumbai. Cooking with dried fruits dates back to the Parsi's Persian ancestry and they brought this tradition with them when they migrated to Gujarat over a thousand years ago.  The apricots absorb the flavors of the sauce and plump up to succulent softness while the chicken cooks to tender juiciness. Parsi's enjoy wine with meals and often add a splash to their curries and gravies adding body and flavor. Chicken jardaloo is one of my favorite dishes to serve friends as they love the exotic flavor it exudes and I love the simplicity of cooking it. Serve with rice or crispy fried potato wedges.


The Chicken

3 to 3 1/2 pounds of skinless, bone-in chicken thighs or drumsticks (about 8-10 pieces depending on the size)
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt crystals
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon garam masala (warming spice blend), store-bought
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

The Apricot-Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions (about 1 pound), peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
4 large or 8 small garlic cloves, smashed, skins removed and minced
2 teaspoons peeled and grated gingerroot
1 pound tomatoes (2 large or about 4-5 plump plum tomatoes, chopped (or one 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes with juices)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 cup dried apricots (about 7 ounces) soaked in 1 cup of hot water 15 minutes and drained

 PREPARING THE CHICKEN. Blot the chicken dry with paper towels. Make several deep diagonal slashes to the bone on the thickest part of the thighs or drumsticks. Place in a large non-reactive mixing bowl and sprinkle with cayenne, garam masala, and salt. Using a rubber spatula, toss until well coated in the seasonings on both sides. Marinate about 30 minutes at room temperature.

COOKING THE CHICKEN. Heat the oil in a large wide nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently with a slotted spoon until soft and translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chicken and cook until the flesh changes from glossy pink to yellowish tinted milky-white, and firms, about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring and turning once or twice. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring and scraping up from the bottom of the pan, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes (or canned tomatoes) and about 1/4 cup of hot water, and cook, stirring occasionally 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered about 10 minutes, checking a few times to stir and add a little hot water if necessary. Stir in the sugar, vinegar and apricots; increase the heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered until the sauce is thick and shiny, about 10 minutes. When the thickest part of a thigh is pierced with the tip of a sharp knife the juices should run clear. If the juices are pinkish, cook a few more minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and dinner is ready.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Finally the Perfect Wine to Match Indian Food

Tonight I had the extreme pleasure of meeting and dining with Laura Catena, a winemaker from Argentina with an amazing life and story. We will get to that sometime but what I want to share is she served me the perfect wine to go with Indian food. She also has just had her book Vino Argentino, an Insiders Guide to the Wines and Wine Country of Argentina published by Chronicle that is a real page turner. You may have toured the winerys of California, France or Italy but this book will make you book a flight to Argentina to experience vineyards with the snow capped Andes in the background. But back to the wine for Indian food. It is Malbec. What Laura let me taste was her families wine (from great grandparents who settled Argentina from Italy). In her words Malbec is "the black wine with a dark color and intense fruity taste". The grape varietal is perfectly suited to Mendoza's sunny mountain soil and  climate and the slight sweet notes with dark, ripe, concentrated fruit flavors stand up to and enhance the spices in Indian food. I will soon be sending Laura a simple curry recipe that will just make her Alamos Malbec shine and my dish all the more good. Coming soon....

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In the Future Try Okra or How About Right Now?

Okra is believed to be native to the Ethiopian Highlands and is related to hollyhocks with yellow flowers and pods that grow pointing upward. It eventually spread to the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and India where the tapering ridged green pods are evocatively called ladies fingers as well as bhindi from the Sanskrit bhinadaka. Okra are a favored vegetable in India where the pods are prepared in many different ways and added to soups, stews, and curries. The okra dish pictured in yesterdays blog was inspired by Seema in Chicago who liked my roasted pumpkin recipe and said she had just cooked frozen okra. I've only cooked with fresh so I had to try--according to her the frozen--not thawed pods cooked up less slimy when added to a hot pan and what ever metaphysical occurance, it seems to work. No water needs to be added as the the melting ice is enough as the pieces of pod thaw in the pan. To make my dish I simply heated some olive oil in a skillet, added one chopped small yellow onion and one large minced garlic clove. I sauted them until soft and tossed in about 2 cups of the frozen okra, and added a little turmeric, lots of cayenne powder, salt to taste and a few pinches of amchoor (green mango powder) and stirred for about 8 minutes until the okra were soft and any liquid was just about dried up. If you don't have green mango powder use a squeeze of lemon to add a slight tartness. At the very end stir in some dried coconut chips or grated fresh coconut from a cracked coconut (more on how to do this in a later post). Serve garnished with fresh chopped cilantro and a cascade of coconut chips. It is good hot or served cold the next day for lunch. In the future when tired of the same old carrots, broccoli and potatoes, okra can add a new taste to your palette. So if you are an okra hater please give it a try. Soon.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More on okra

I just posted an Indian okra dish pic that will change your mind (maybe) about the slimy finger-shaped pod.

My Indian scientist friend inspired me to toss frozen chopped okra out of the bag! (horrors) into a pan sizzling with onions and garlic with some added spices plus coconut. Yum.  I'll send details tomorrow.

Okra is the Future

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Indian Roast Pumpkin

Now that fall is here, it's time to eat pumpkin! This dish was inspired by a dish I ate as a special at Gigi prepared by Chef Jeff McInnis. For my version, I bought a wedge of calabasa pumpkin, cut off the outer peel and scooped out the seeds and threads they are attached to, cleaned the seeds and cut the pumpkin into slices. Then I oiled a cast iron skillet and rubbed the slices in the oil and sprinkled them with fresh ground black pepper, sea salt, a litte ground cumin  and plenty of cayenne powder. I roasted the pumpkin  for about 30 minutes at 450 degrees and then sprinkled the seeds over the slices and added a few dots of butter and roasted the pumpkin and seeds for another 10 minutes. Serve the slices in a shallow bowl  spread a little thick, whisked Greek yogurt and enjoy! For a wonderful short film look up The Life and Death of a Pumpkin by Aaron Yonda on google or U-tube. You'll never feel the same about carving a Jack-O-Lantern after watching it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Turtle at the Dentist Office in Singapore

My second day after arriving in Singapore I started teaching graphic design at the Nanyang art school almost next door to the building Lisa and Bruce lived in. Every semester they have a guest teacher from England come and the one they had invited couldn't make it so I went and applied and got the job. My students were only a few years younger than me and at first were confused that I was more or less a peer. They mostly copied from books and magazines. I got the idea to take them on location to learn to draw from real life--a shocking turn of events but the school complied and on the second day we were in a hired bus and going around the island--to the bird park, botanic garden and tea house where men bring their prize song birds and hang them from hooks to listen to them sing while sipping tea and then we went to Chinatown, not the disney version that exists today but the real one with cramped lanes and rows of shophouse where one could see wooden gods being carved, a maker of Chinese opera masks, snakes in cages and a dim-lit Buddhist temple that smoked with giant coils of incense. The students were mind boggled and excited to try and draw from life and I was getting to sight see. On the third day we were back in the class room working on the previous days sketches when my back molar begab to tingle. By lunch it was throbbing pain and a student told me to put clove oil on it. It numbed the tooth for a moment but by the end of the day I knew I was in serious trouble. I staggered back to Lisa's. We found a dentist on Orchard Road and I wrote the address on a scrap of paper and took a taxi (Lisa didn't have a car). The cabbie dropped me off in the vicinity of the dental office as he didn't really know exactly where it was and I was wandering the steet in tears the pain was so bad when an Indian man asked me if I needed help. By now I was sobbing and could hardly speak so I showed him the scrap of paper and he took my arm and led me to the office biluding. I wished I could have thanked him, but the second I opened the door I collapsed and the dental assistant dragged me into a dental chair and immediately gave me an injection. Once I was numb the tooth was opened and the infection drained out. It seems I'd had some not so great work done on the tooth in San Francisco where I had a root canal. It hadn't been cleaned propberly before being sealed and the hot climate of Singapore had caused it to swell and put pressure on the sealed tooth cap. The Singapore dentist worked on me while I dozed off in a cloud of pain killer and when I came to I thought I was hallucinating. In the chair next to me was a large sea turtle! Do turtles have cavities, I wondered? It turns out it's shell had been been cracked by a boat propeller and someone had found it on a beach and brought to the dentist. When I left it looked like the operation to glue the shell was working and I'd like to think somewhere in the South China Sea a turtle is swimming around with a shell held together with dental bonding glue. I went back to teaching and was invited to several students homes to eat home cooked Indian, Malay and Chinese dishes. Meanwhile what about the job at FEP (Far Eastern Publishing Company)? A week had passed and I only had one more week on my tourist visa...then I'd have to take a bus across the causeway that connects Singapore to the Malaysian Peninsula  at the city of Johore Bahru. Woud I get another stamp to stay two more weeks in Singapore?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Taking a Risk to get a job: Happy Anniversary!

October 2nd has special meaning for me, not because it is Gandhi's Birthday (although it turned out to be a happy coincidence) but because it is the day I departed San Francisco on a Singapore Airline flight to Singapore many years ago on, get this, a one way flight with no visa (unheard of today). I simply planned to stay for as long as I wanted once I got a job. And, yes I had a sort of possible job offer. Before I became a professional writer I was an artist and illustrator. In high school I went to an art fair in Ravinia Park (near Highland Park) and met a just-out-of-college artist named Tom James. I liked his zany, colorful magic marker work and we chatted all afternoon. I told him my dad was an artist and gave him my address and phone number. He said he'd drop by the next evening. Well I never heard from him. He had kept my contacts in the glove compartment of his car and by the time he called my parents told him I was no longer living at home and was in San Francisco. He wrote me and I sent him some photos of the type of illustrations I was doing. Then one day a letter from Singapore arrived. I looked at the post mark with extreme curiosity as I didn't know anyone in Singapore. Finally I opened it. It was from an American woman named Lisa who was working at a Publishing Company in Singapore. She had gone home to Evanston, Illinois to see her family and went to a party at Tom James house. For some reason he showed her the photos of my work and she said she thought it was more original than the illustrators the company used and asked for my address. When I read her letter she said she couldn't promise anything but if I came to Singapore I could stay with her and her husband who worked for an oil company and she would set up a meeting with the publishing company. I sold most of my stuff and left what I wanted to keep, should I return, with a friend. I got a passport and bought a one way ticket and a group of friends took me to dinner the eveining of October 2nd. Their plot almost worked as at the last minute I remebered I had to catch a flight. Richard rushed me to the airport. I ran up the stairs to plane out on the tarmac just as the doors were about to close. I was the last on and made it by seconds. This was my first international flight and was about to change my life forever. I'll never forget finding my seat and calming down, thinking I could have missed it by a second. We stopped in Hong Kong for a few hours and I learned one cannot leave the airport unless it is their final destination. Then I finally arrived to Changi Airport on October 4th. Everyone on the flight went through customs. Except me. I was taken to a small room and grilled. I got the gist of where this was going when I learned they wanted to see an ongoing ticket. I quickly said I was meeting some girlfriends to go on a tour of Asia and they had the tickets. It worked but I got a 2 week tourist visa dashing my plans to stay as long as I wanted (a few years at least!). Then I made it through customs, got my luggage and found Lisa and felt the hot tropical blast of air as we stepped out of the airport doors. So I made to Singapore, but would I get the job? Thats another story to be continued....