Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fish Curry

I love my Kerala heritage and culture. And I especially LOVE this dish. It is easy to make, involves fish, is bright red in color, and is very spicy. What's not to love? I should actually title this post "Spicy Kerala Fish Curry". (Or "meen vevichathu", as it is known in Malayalam, my native tongue.) A very typical dish of the state of Kerala, from where my family hails, this is traditionally cooked in an earthen pot over a flame for a long time. I don't have an earthen pot so I just use my little dutch oven and that works just fine. Actually, this works out better because I always double or triple the recipe so we can enjoy the leftovers during the week. And, trust me, this is one of those dishes that always tastes better after a day or so.

Let me preface the rest of this post by saying that while I love this dish, I have had to modify it from the traditional recipe. Usually, the case is that I find myself short of some of the specialty ingredients used in the traditional version, except for which the recipe is identical. You may be wondering about these specialty ingredients I seem to be so afraid of - the truth is I am not afraid of them. I simply don't buy them because I use them for one or two things, then put them in the back of the pantry or refrigerator or freezer and promptly forget about them until the next purging of the kitchen - during which I grab armfuls of the expired stuff and throw them out. Such a waste. So I haven't stocked these things in years. In most cases I find substitutes that work well enough. However, since I so rarely do this, I am going to throw a curve ball your way for this recipe, where a substitute is just not going to be the same.  Missing ingredients notwithstanding, I dare you to try this recipe for yourself and tell me it's not superb  :)

Meen Vevichathu
(Spicy Kerala Fish Curry)

You will need:

1 lb good fish (cut into bite sized pieces)
3 teaspoons red Chilli powder (soak chilli powder in enough hot water to make a paste)
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped ginger root
- now I'm going to throw that curve ball in your face - go to your nearest Indian store, and ask them for something called "Kudam Puli", buy the smallest package they have - use two 1"pieces for this recipe, soak in a small bowl, in just enough hot water to cover it.)
4 tablespoons Vegetable oil (traditionally, coconut oil is used, but vegetable oil is just fine)
1 teaspoon salt - or more to taste
2 cups water, just enough to cover the fish.

Heat oil over medium heat in a dutch oven or medium sized pot. Add mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds, they will start to crackle and sputter in less than a minute. Then stir in onions, sautĂ© for two minutes, add ginger and garlic and fry for about two more minutes. Add the red chilli paste to the pot and fry until oil is floating on the top, about two more minutes. Add the kudam puli and the soaking water to the pot followed by two cups of water, or as much as is needed to cover the fish. Let it come to a boil, then add the fish pieces and then add salt and put the lid on the pot. Turn heat down to low. Do not stir! Let cook like this for about ten minutes or until the fish is fully cooked, and the oil is floating on top. Serve with rice and veggies. Enjoy!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Blueberry Martini

Blueberry Martini. Do it.  I'm slowly discovering that "summer" in the Seattle area lasts only about 5 minutes. Thankfully, a martini is just as good at any time of year.

Blueberry Martini

You will need:

For the blueberry sauce -
2 cups fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup white sugar

Mix blueberries, lemon juice, and sugar together in a food processor until smooth, then strain the pulp through a mesh strainer. Discard the mucky seeds and stuff. You'll be left with a smooth seedless blueberry sauce that has a syrupy consistency. This makes about 1 cup of sauce. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to one week.

For the martini -
2 tablespoons blueberry sauce (per above)
1 oz. very cold vodka
2 or 3 fresh mint leaves

Put a couple ice cubes in a martini glass. Pour the blueberry sauce into glass, and pour vodka on top. Serve garnished with mint leaves. Enjoy!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Stir Fried Radish

Radish. Yum! This crunchy vegetable tastes so good and fresh raw, that I hardly ever cook with it. But this recipe is really easy, and has those special Indian flavors. If you are looking to try something different with your summer crop of radish, do try this!

Stir Fried Radish

You will need:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
Radish, very thinly sliced, about 2 cups
1/2 cup white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 tsp lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
1/4 teaspoon Garam masala

Heat oil in a wide skillet on medium heat, then add the mustard seeds. When they start sputtering, add radish spread out in skillet evenly, fry on medium heat until slightly softened, about seven minutes. Then add the onions, garlic, chilli powder, coriander powder, cumin, lime juice and mix really well to combine. Sprinkle on salt. Then, add the garam masala and give it a good stir. Serve hot with rice. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Memories of Mac n' Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese occupies a somewhat delicate place at our dining table. My husband and I both have had ups and downs with this classic American comfort food. For him it involves recurring nightmares of the gooey glop that they dared to call Mac n' Cheese and served to him in his elementary school cafeteria. Forcing himself to try one bite before escaping the teacher's watchful eye to hide under the table pretending to tie his shoelaces while actually shoveling the remaining gummy mass on his plate into the pockets of his jeans, one fistful at a time, quite inadequately sheathed in layers of paper napkins. My first Mac n' Cheese experience was in my freshman year dorm, with the "mac n' cheese in a box" variety (brand shall remain unnamed), that resulted in a gluey mess of macaroni shells held together with  cheese-like product that was an unsightly shade of orangey-yellow. Maybe I did it wrong, but I won't go there ever again.

We have since moved onto more civilized versions of macaroni and cheese, and I now delight in its endless culinary variations. This Bacon Bleu version of Mac N' Cheese is definitely a favorite of mine, and is such an easy recipe too. A classic combination of flavorful bacon, and bleu cheese. I watched a lady on television make a version of this once and have adapted it to be my own which, in this case, means fewer calories. Anyone who has watched this particular lady with the butter knows why. I also added some sliced zucchini for color, and crunch.

A few notes on the recipe:
Bleu cheese is definitely strong, so I would recommend substituting part of it with something milder if you don't like bleu cheese so strong. Also, I use the term "crumbled bacon" below but the truth is:
a) I am terrible at crumbling bacon as most of it disappears into my mouth, and
b) I don't actually "crumble" it, more like rip it into one inch chunks.

Bacon Bleu Mac N' Cheese

You will need:

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup zucchini sliced to about 1/4" thick
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 cup bleu cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup freshly shaved Parmesan
2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Cook bacon, crumble into small pieces and set aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt, then add the macaroni and cook according to package instructions; drain and set aside.
In a saucepan over medium heat combine butter, salt, and pepper. Once butter has melted, stir in milk, flour, yogurt, bleu cheese and Parmesan. Then add zucchini and stir for about 1 minute, just until heated through. Then add cooked macaroni into cheese. Lastly, toss in the crumbled bacon and give it a good stir. Serve hot. Enjoy!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Most Awesome Summer Watermelon, Ever

Is it salad, is it dessert? Or is it happy hour? Call it what you will, this watermelon is delicious and certainly quenches that need for something cold and fruity on a warm day (of course, for those of the appropriate legal drinking age). Oh, right, did I not mention that this is infused with vodka?  :)

Summer Watermelon

Serves 4

You will need:

6 cups 1" chunks of watermelon
1/2 cup very cold vodka (we keep ours in the freezer)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, torn up

Whisk together the lemon juice, and sugar until sugar has dissolved. Then stir in the vodka. Pour mixture over the watermelon, then add the mint. Gently toss. Chill for at least half an hour before serving. Give it a good stir before dishing up. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Butter Chicken (Murg Makhani)

Butter, and Chicken.  Yes, it is really good.

This is an extremely popular Indian dish that can be as spicy or mild as you like, but is typically not very spicy. Certainly not so much that it will sear your taste buds right off. In fact, I made this for a group of friends a few months ago, and many in the group said it reminded them of Chicken Paprikash - quite similar in its use of ingredients. So, since this is a close cousin to the popular American dish (if you're familiar with it) you will know that it isn't that spicy. Do try it!

Butter Chicken (Murg Makhani)

Serves 8

You will need:

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" pieces
Juice of 1 lime
1 heaped tablespoon red chilli powder (adjust to suit your taste)
3 tbsps veg oil
2 onions chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ginger, finely chopped
10 whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons garam masala
2 tsps coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
4 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
3 tbsps butter, brought to room temperature
Salt to taste

Mix the chicken, lime juice, salt and red chilli powder in a large, non-metallic bowl. Cover and allow to marinate for 1 hour in the refrigerator. Whisk together the yogurt, garam masala, peppercorns, coriander, cumin and turmeric powders and add them to the chicken. Allow to marinate for another hour in refrigerator.
Heat the oil in a deep pan on medium heat. When hot, add the onions and fry until golden brown. Then add the ginger and garlic. Fry for a minute.
Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade mix (save the marinade! you will need it shortly) and fry the chicken pieces till cooked through, (for 1" size pieces this would take about 5 minutes on medium heat on my stove - the cooking time will vary for you). Now add the tomato paste, chicken stock, and reserved marinade mix to the chicken. Cook until the chicken is tender and the gravy has thickened and reduced by about half.
Then, melt the butter and pour it over the chicken, stir to combine. If desired garnished with cilantro, and serve hot with rice or any flatbread. Enjoy!