EVENT: A Taste of India
VENUE: Cara’s Apartment, Park Slope
PARTY SIZE: 2
TYPE: In-from-the-cold Weeknight Dinner
MENU: Chana Bateta; Spinach Paratha; Sauteed Corn with Mustard Seeds; White Basmati
This post might seem like it’s about cooking an Indian vegetarian feast that’s perfect for winter nights. But it’s really about the odd powers of twitter to educate you when you least expect it.
The real story goes something like this: I’d been reading a stolen (from my mom, with her knowledge) version of a really lovely little cookbook called 5 Spices, 50 Dishes, by Ruta Kahate. The premise is that if you own black mustard seeds, cayenne pepper, cumin, coriander, and turmeric, you will have quite a broad range of simple Indian dinners at your fingertips. (You’ll also need serrano chiles at your fingertips to proceed.) But the reason I was reading the book, not cooking from it, was because of these spices, I had only two: coriander and turmeric. When Alex sweetly suggested he replenish my spice collection, as part of his gratitude at my feeding him, I quickly made him a wish list. Suddenly, everything in the book was just waiting to be cooked.
I started with two coconut curries for a dinner party last week, and I found that after the first–shrimp with eggplant–I got the gist of cooking with these spices. This seems, after all, to be what the book is all about. So as I moved onto the second–meatballs in a masala sauce–I began to improvise. Chicken instead of lamb, a little less coconut so as not to overwhelm the flavors of the spices, a bit of sugar to bring out the tomatoes. Before I knew it, I had created a sauce that tasted not unlike the sauce from chicken masala, only with coconut milk instead of yogurt or cream.
On the Monday after the snowy, pre-Christmas weekend, I was feeling thoroughly chilled, as though I needed to be heated from the inside out. Beyond that, my body felt exhausted, wanting nourishment and craving peasant food like chickpeas and potatoes. I started to wonder about how this new masala-ish sauce would taste coating beans and potatoes. Good, I thought, and I started in. When the first smells of spice started to permeate the apartment, delighted, I turned to twitter. This was a creation our followers ought to have a clue about before it appeared on the blog.
Home from Christmas shopping, I wrote. Making Spinach Paratha and Corn with Mustard Seeds to go with Chickpea-Potato Masala. Good cold weather food.
The dish of my fantasies already existed. How…odd.
rom my kitchen, where 5 spices and 1 tweet can create Indian magic, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds (black or brown, not yellow)
2 shallots, sliced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
1/3 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes (about 7 ounces), cut into an approximate 1 1/2″ dice.
1 can chickpeas
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, plus a few springs for garnish
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Combine the diced tomatoes and tomato paste in a mini food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.
Heat the oil over high heat in a large cast iron pan until smoking. Add the mustard seeds and cover immediately, and wait til they stop popping (15 seconds). Turn the heat to medium and add the shallots, garlic, and ginger. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring nearly constantly, until the shallots are quite golden. Add the cumin, coriander, and cayenne, and cook for another minute or so, to toast the spices. Pour in the pureed tomato, and cook down for 3-4 minutes. It should be reduced to an almost paste-like consistency.
Pour in the coconut milk and the salt and sugar and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and return to a boil, then turn the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook until the potatoes are soft–easily pierced with a knife–then uncover and add the chickpeas with some of the liquid from the can. Cook for 5 or 10 minutes, until heated through. Add the cilantro and cook a minute more.
This tastes best made ahead, so if you have time, cool it, then transfer to the fridge until ready to eat. Then reheat until piping hot, add the vinegar, stir to distribute, and serve, garnished with fresh cilantro.
Makes 4 breads
3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cooked spinach, drained well (frozen is fine, just microwave to defrost, then press out all the water)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons water, or more as needed
flour for dusting
1 stick butter or 1/3 cup oil in a bowl with a brush for cooking
Put both flours, cumin, salt, spinach, chiles flakes, and oil in a large shallow bowl or the bowl of a food processor. Add the water in a stream, and process or mix as the dough begins to crumble together together. Gather the dough and knead for a minute or two, dusting with flour if it sticks. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes.
Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Working with one at a time, place one ball, lightly dusted with flour on work board. Roll the dough into a 6-inch circle, dusting often to prevent sticking.
Brush top with oil and fold the circle in half. Brush the top of the half circle with more oil. Fold again to make a triangle. Dust with flour and use the rolling pin to stretch it into a 7-inch triangle. Roll all the breads the same way and keep them covered with plastic wrap.
Heat a large frying or cast-iron pan over high heat until hot. Add one bread, and reduce heat slightly. Cook until the underside of the bread is spotted, about 2 minutes, then turn and cook the other side the same way. Meanwhile, brush the baked side with oil or take a stick of butter and run it across the hot surface. Flip the bread. Brush the second baked side with oil or repeat the buttering, and flip the bread again. Cook bread until nicely fried and brown. Remove and keep warm in the oven as you cook the remaining rolled breads the same way.
Corn with Mustard Seeds
Adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes
Garnish this with a tablespoon or two of finely chopped cilantro if you have it.
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 cup corn (frozen is fine in winter, just defrost it)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a skillet, heat the oil over high heat until smoking. Add the mustard seeds and cover immediately. Cook until the seeds stop popping, about 15 seconds. Lower the heat and add the corn, turmeric, and salt. Cook until the corn is hot through.