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    "Curry Cuisine"
October 22, 2009 - Volume 1 - Issue 20
       In This Issue
Intro to Indian Cooking
Three Key Questions
Curry Techniques
Curry Companions
Smart Indian Cooking Tips
Q & A's
Cookbook Review
Recipes for Three Easy Indian Dishes
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     Curry Cuisine
Six Spices

Mention "curry" and our mouths begin to salivate. We inhale deeply in anticipation of the rich aromas that will permeate the kitchen as the curry develops its layers on the stove. Either mild or hot, curries are a pillar of Indian culinary traditions. As our palates "go global" in search of the exciting and novel, curry flavors satisfy both culinary curiosity and gustatory satisfaction. In this issue we open the door to just a few basics of Indian cooking techniques, ingredients, and flavors that we think will pique your interest to learn more. We begin with some basic answers about curry, followed by some essential techniques. We finish with a unique cookbook that removes the "it's too complicated" barrier that often accompanies forays into ethnic cooking explorations. The featured book, 5 Spices, 50 Dishes, focuses on the essence of Indian flavors by utilizing accessible ingredients and methods; it's an excellent primer for any Westerner desiring a global flair, or merely fabulously tasting good food!

     Intro to Indian Cooking
Lamb CurryIndia is a big country with many regional specialties as in our own country, and certainly many more than one can grasp in a brief overview. The specialties arise from the land and climate, and take advantage of the food that flourishes best in each area. Further, India's rich history as a melting pot of many peoples and migrations has greatly influenced its cuisine over the centuries along with its multiple ethnic and religious traditions.

A very broad categorization of Indian cuisine might start with a delineation of Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Indian food traditions - (apologies to our Indian friends for this simplistic explanation). Within each region are distinct cuisines: Andhra, Bangladeshi, Bengali, Gujarati, Karnataka, Malayali, Nepalese, Oriyas, Pashtun, Punjabi, Sindhi, Sri Lankan, Tamil, Telugu, and on and on. As spices of the Far East headed to Europe and the New World centuries ago, the return trip brought tomatoes, potatoes, squash and chiles to the Indian subcontinent turning them into culinary staples for Indian kitchens. Old and new together have created today's unique and pleasing fusion of flavors.
    Three Key Questions
Spice BowlsWhat is curry? Just one category of Indian recipes, "curry" is actually a generic term most easily translated as "sauce" or "gravy." From that broad definition, the specifics explode into an array of pleasures. To our initial frustration, there is no single list of spices or ingredients that define "curry." Curry can refer to the spiced sauce, or to an entire dish made with a spiced sauce. Resolution on the definition is best reached by understanding "curry" in its broadest sense - "a spiced dish with southern Asian origins." To confuse matters a bit more, curry is also a plant whose leaves are often used in fresh form. Curry leaves may be part of a curry dish, but are not responsible for the classic taste of curries.

What is curry powder? - Curry powder is a spice blend that attempts to shortcut the assemblage of spices for a curry dish. Spice purveyors mix their own blends of curry powders. Again, there is no one list of ingredients or proper proportions comprising curry powder. There are certain themes across the unique blends that almost always include: turmeric, cumin, coriander, and fenugreek, then perhaps proprietary amounts of garlic, cloves, fennel seed, ginger, cinnamon, clove, mustard seed, cardamom, mace, nutmeg, black pepper, red pepper, or any number of other spices. A curry powder is handy, but obfuscates the breadth of flavors possible in making curry dishes from individual spices according to the needs of the specific recipe.

Spice CollageWhat is garam masala? A literal translation of garam masala is "hot mixture," where "hot" refers to an intensity of taste, rather than heat as produced by a chile. There are hundreds of garam masala mixtures, each unique to the cook or family tradition. A garam masala mix of spices varies regionally, but might include peppercorns, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. Garam masala is usually added at the end of cooking to maximize the flavors. Unlike curry spice blends, garam masala does not commonly feature turmeric, coriander, fenugreek, or mustard seed to the extent that curry powder does. Garam masala has distinct uses in both its roasted and unroasted forms.

In addition to key spices, flavor-filled fresh herbs and vegetables underpin many curry recipes, especially onion, garlic, ginger and fresh chiles. The spices and aromatics combined with oils, coconut milk, or vegetable liquids form the curry sauce that deliciously coats vegetables, legumes, meats, or poultry.

     Curry Techniques
Most Indian cookery is accomplished on the stovetop with very little use of the oven. It holds many similarities to wok cookery in that regard. The techniques of Indian cooking focus on the layering of flavors and the optimization of each ingredient. This is most obvious with the preparation of spices:

Dry Roasting SpicesDry-roasting of Spices - Many Indian recipes call for the roasting of spices.  Like nuts, many whole seed spices such as coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and others, benefit from roasting; the flavors are brought forth and the golden toast transforms and deepens the inherent flavors. To dry roast spices, use a small, heavy-bottomed skillet. Heat the pan over medium high heat.  Add the seeds and stir frequently to achieve even browning. The color of the seeds will deepen and exude their aroma. If you "over-roast" the spices (a.k.a. "burn") throw out that batch and start over!

Oil-roasting of Spices - Some spices respond to hot oil with a special blooming of their flavors, especially coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and peppercorns. This process of oil-roasting is known as tadka or tarka. Heat a high temperature-tolerant oil such as canola or peanut oil in a high quality skillet. Mini Food ProcesorTest the heat of the oil with a drop of water. When the droplet sizzles and skips, add the seeds. They too will sizzle and spatter as they quickly roast. (A splatter screen is very useful at this moment!) Watch very carefully as the seeds will brown quickly. Remove the pan from heat and transfer the seeds to a small plate lined with a paper towel. Once cooled, grind the spices and proceed with your recipe.

Grinding Spices - As with all spices, buy small quantities that will be used within a relatively short time period. Store them in a dark, dry location in your kitchen. Whole spices hold their flavor longer and with greater potency than ground or powdered spices. In Indian cooking, whole spices are frequently preferred for the added flavor yielded in the roasting step. Whole spices are roasted then ground just as they are needed in the recipe. Spices may be ground with a mini food processor, mortar and pestle, a coffee grinder, or a mechanical spice grinder.
Garlic Peeler
Aromatic Roots - Onion, Garlic, Ginger - Many, many Indian dishes begin with a diced onion quickly followed by a paste of garlic and ginger.
  • Onion Dicing - a sharp knife and cutting board are tried and true, but you might like to experiment with other onion tools that dice whole onions with one motion.
  • Garlic Prep - With the too-simple-to-believe garlic peeler and twisting garlic mincer, preparing larger quantities of garlic is easy and quick.
  • Ginger - Use a ginger grater or a microplane to zest peeled ginger into a pulp while leaving behind the stringy fibers.
Pressure CookerPressure-cooking for Legumes and Meats - Modern day Indian cooking often deploys a pressure cooker to make quick work of stewing meats and cooking dried legumes. Unlike your mother's pressure cooker, today's pots are safe and a true time saver. The two hours it previously took to soak and cook lentils or split peas now consumes a total of 15 minutes with the help of a pressure cooker. You'll quickly find that your pressure cooker is your new favorite pot -- Indian dishes are but one use for this re-engineered time saver.
     Curry Companions
Integrating a curry dish into your menu can be accomplished as an eclectic event, or as part of a themed meal with traditional accompaniments.

Indian MealCurry over Rice - A classic presentation of a curry dish is where the sauce is ladled over a bed of rice. Basmati rice is the choice for Indian dishes. Basmati rice is a long-grained rice with a wonderful fragrance when cooking and a distinctive, nutty flavor when eaten. Available in both white and brown forms, basmati rice cooks up as separate, individual grains. Rice may be steamed on the stovetop or in a rice cooker. Biryani, a whole category of spiced, rice-based Indian dishes, goes well with curry dishes and is another topic to explore as you try your hand at Indian cooking.

Indian Breads - Reliant primarily on stovetop cooking, Indian breads such as chapatti, poori, naan, and roti, are cooked on griddles and skillets in quick flatbread fashion. Torn portions of the bread are used to scoop up the curry. You'll love experimenting with Indian breads along with investigating curries.

BiryaniRaita (raithas) - Hot, spicy dishes call for relief occasionally. Chilled Indian raitas offer a respite with their yogurt-based dressing. Yogurt, plain and unsweetened, is a staple of Indian cuisine. Finely diced cucumbers, onions and other vegetables are added to the yogurt along with, of course, a few spices.

Chutneys/Pickles - Among our favorite components of an Indian meal are chutneys and pickles. Chutneys - loosely akin to salsas - might be for dipping or drizzling. They are an essential side dish and complement to an Indian meal. Indian pickles, another side dish, can be made of any number of fruits or vegetables marinated in oil, lemon juice, and spices.

     Smart Indian Cooking Tips
Tip #1:  If you're seeking to incorporate more plant-based menus in your diet, Indian cuisine is a natural source of inspiration. It's reported that less than 30% of Indians are regular meat eaters. You'll find many delicious recipes that will enhance and expand your enjoyment of all kinds of fruits and vegetables with Indian cooking.

Three DishesTip #2:  Shop at health food/natural food stores or ethnic food aisles for some of the ingredients required in more complicated Indian recipes. But don't let unfamiliar ingredients hinder your explorations! As noted in the cookbook reviewed below, many delicious Indian flavors and great dishes are available with commonly available ingredients.

Tip #3:
  Ghee is a common ingredient in Indian cooking and easily available in jarred form. Ghee is butter that has been clarified and "toasted," and has a very concentrated butter flavor. To make your own ghee, melt butter at a medium temperature until foaming occurs and the white milk solids separate from the oil.
Skim away the foam. Allow the butter to continue heating until the white Chaimilk solids turn a golden brown; monitor carefully during this stage. The process steams away any water present in the butter. Strain away the browned particles reserving the clear oil. Ghee may be stored at room temperature for up to six months and in the refrigerator for up to a year. Use as you would any flavorful oil, not just in Indian cooking.

Tip #4:  Curry is not restricted to Indian dishes, Thai curries and Vietnamese curries share the same "spiced sauce" definition, but with their own regional twist. Thai curries often begin with curry pastes based on red, green, or yellow chiles and developed with unique blends of spices and herbs. Vietnamese curries are thinner in consistency than most Indian curries.

Tip #5: Enjoy Indian spice flavors with a warm chai. A mix of sweetened milk and tea is steeped with spices, (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and other variations). Many find drinking chai to be a very soothing, relaxing experience with positive health effects.

     Q & A's
Q & A
Q:  What is coconut milk?Coconut
Coconut milk is the liquid contained in the pulp of a coconut. Once opened, the white portion of the coconut is grated with a coconut grater, or the "white meat" chunks are removed and processed to a pulp in a food processor. The pulp is squeezed dry with the juices - the coconut milk - saved. The water in the center of a coconut is known as coconut water and may be used in cooking, but is not the milk and not very flavorful. Coconut milk is also available in most supermarkets along with other ethnic foods. It's important to distinguish canned coconut milk from canned crème de coconut which is sweetened and not suitable for most curry recipes.

Q:  What is vindaloo?
A vindaloo is a common Indian entrée typically with some red chile fire power. Traditional vindaloos are made with pork and stem from Portuguese traditions. Modern vindaloos may replace pork with chicken, beef, or lamb, and often include potatoes. A type of curry, a vindaloo has a vinegar component along with a fiery spice mixture. The meat in a vindaloo is frequently marinated in the spice mixture for extra flavor enhancement.

TumericQ:  What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a common Indian spice made from a rhizome (root stem) and is related to ginger. The roots are boiled, dried, and powdered. India produces and consumes the majority of the turmeric crop. Turmeric is responsible for the intense yellow color of most curries and is a common thread across the many curry variations. Take care when using turmeric as it easily stains clothing, countertops, and porous utensils a lovely yellow color. The yellow of the stain is dissolvable with alcohol or oil. The ultra-violet component of sunlight will also help to remove stains from clothing.

Q:  What are pulses?
Pulses are a common Indian term for legumes of all types. With the heavy emphasis on vegetarian eating in Indian, pulses are an important nutritional component of the diet. Pulses include red lentils, brown lentils, yellow and green split peas, chickpeas and beans of all types. Preparations of pulses are often termed "dals," or "daals."
     Cookbook Review
5 Spices, 50 Dishes, Simple Indian Recipes using Five Common Spices by Ruta Kahate. Photography by Susie Cushner. Copyright 2007. Published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA.

CookbookA perfect introduction to Indian cookery for the layperson! With the angle of using only five common spices, much of the intimidation of Indian cuisine is taken away. We're no longer put off by unfamiliar spices and trips to specialty markets in search of ingredients. Rather, by assembling and adapting recipes with commonly available spices and ingredients, the novice is enabled in the basics of this cuisine. The result of these introductory lessons is a collection of easy, tasteful dishes, and a curiosity and confidence to take the next steps in developing a competence in this marvelous cuisine. Ms. Kahate presents her instructions in a logical manner without being overwhelming. She groups her recipes in logical groups: Vegetables, Dals, Beef and Lamb, Chicken and Eggs, Seafood, Salads and Raitas, Rice and Bread, Sweets, and a standalone chapter on "A Perfect Cup of Chai." You'll enjoy your culinary travels to the other side of the world from the comfort of your own kitchen!

     Recipes for Three Easy Indian Dishes
Recipes excerpted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes, Simple Indian Recipes using Five Common Spices by Ruta Kahate. Copyright 2007. Published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Steamed Cauliflower with a Spicy Tomato Sauce

CauliflowerQuick and easy, this incredibly flavorful sauce came together while the cauliflower steamed. Using classic spice roasting techniques, the kitchen fragrances abounded. The flavor layers built on one another with the addition of garlic, ginger, and crushed tomatoes. The result was a beautiful presentation and the tastiest cauliflower we've ever had!

Click here to view the full, illustrated recipe.

Click here for a printable version of the recipe.

Everyday Yellow Dal

DalHigh protein, inexpensive and marvelously delicious, this yellow dal deserves to be a regular in your repertoire! Spices are bloomed in hot oil, and a savory mixture created with the addition of plenty of onions and garlic. Traditional flavors are showcased well in this satisfying mélange of color and taste. Next time we plan to try our pressure cooker so that the soaking step is eliminated and the cooking time cut to one-third the time.

Click here to view the full, illustrated recipe.

Click here for a printable version of the recipe.

Goan Shrimp Curry with Eggplant

ShrimpThe featured spices rearranged for this curry were enhanced with the addition of coconut milk. This recipe has its roots in the coastal Goa region of western India where seafood dishes are the natural cuisine. Once again, the tantalizing flavors dazzled our taste buds and more than satisfied our hunger. With a one skillet preparation the dish came together in less than one-half hour. This recipe would be equally good with any number of vegetables. Another keeper for the quick supper repertoire!

Click here to view the full, illustrated recipe.

Click here for a printable version of the recipe.

Go global in your kitchen -- it's worth the trip!
Lorraine, Katie, and all of the Staff at Beyond Pots and Pans