Monday, June 29, 2009

Dansak: a Parsee treat I just tasted

For Fathers' Day, my daughter Rachel took me, along with Christina and Rachel's husband Steve, to one of my earlier favorite Indian restaurants, Mirch Masala in Decatur. The quick news is that the food is as good again as it once was before drifting for a while.

A dish on the menu that caught my eye was Dansak, a chicken and lentil-based curry that comes from the Parsee people of Eastern India. This prosperous minority community descended from the Persians who fled to India with their ancient Zoroastrian religion a millenium ago as Islam swept over Persia. I've often read about the dish, now a regional Indian classic, but never actually tasted it till that night.

Being surprised and excited at how rich a dish with lentils in the sauce can be, I came up with a way of making it. It was guineapigged yesterday on a visiting niece and her boyfriend, then today on the St. Bart's staff meeting. Since it was well received, here it is.

The recipe serves six, with leftovers.

Dansak -- Parsee Chicken and Lentil Curry

1 cup red ("Egyptian" or "masoor dal") lentils
3 pounds chicken thighs, with skin and bones
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
5 teaspoons turmeric, divided
3 teaspoons salt, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 cup canola oil
1 inch fresh ginger, pounded or minced finely with garlic
4 cloves garlic, pounded or minced finely with ginger
2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste (1/4 of a 6-ounce can -- freeze the rest)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups water
Chopped cilantro for garnish

Rinse lentils. Soak in a bowl in plenty of warm water, at least 30 minutes.

With cleaver on cutting board, strip skin and excess fat from chicken (make broth with them for other use). Chop thighs through bone into three pieces, and cut part of meat off the largest piece. Mix chicken with lemon juice, 2 teaspoons turmeric and 1 teaspoon salt. Let marinate, mixing occasionally, as sauce cooks.

Slowly fry onion in oil until becoming golden brown, stirring occasionally. Fry in garlic and ginger over reduced heat, 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste.

Add remaining 3 remaining teaspoons turmeric, the cumin, coriander, fennel, cayenne and black pepper. Stir and fry gently until fragrant, several minutes.

Drain lentils, and add to onion-spice mixture, along with 2 cups water. Simmer, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pan, until lentils are becoming tender (15-20 minutes). Add a little water if too dry.

When lentils are becoming tender, add marinated chicken plus 2 teaspoons salt. Simmer everything together, scraping bottom of pan often. As juice comes out of chicken, the sauce will become soupier. But if too dry, add a little water. Simmer until chicken is tender, about 20 minutes.

Taste, and add salt, if needed. Cover pan, turn off heat, and let curry cool slowly - which will finish cooking the chicken. Reheat to serve, checking salt and adding some if needed.

Accompany with basmati rice and plain yogurt. Sprinkle curry generously with chopped cilantro.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Roasted Zucchini Hummus: Getting ready for the annual zucchini glut

I did the cooking demonstration yesterday at the Athens Farmers' Market. Because zucchini season is nearly upon us, I developed and showed a recipe to exploit that vegetable, which can so be delightful for a while then piles up in the field and the fridge. I'll use the recipe, along with its accompanying wine-herb polenta, in an Athens Banner Herald column in a few weeks.

Zucchini isn't even "in" big time yet in north Georgia. But in addition to the one for the Farmers' Market, I've come up with two other zucchini creations, which will also find their way into the newspaper this summer.

My editor had expressed interest in zucchini recipes -- almost desperate interest. She's a Community-Supported Agriculture ("CSA") member plus her husband gardens. She hates to waste local organic produce. It sounds like she gets swamped with zucchini, as she did with lettuce some weeks back.

Here for my blog readers is one of the new zucchini dishes. If you try it, please tell me your reactions and suggestions.

Since this is an appetizer, I am not putting out wine recommendations. Only that with appetizers that contain lemon juice, as this one does, the wine should have some acidity, as do most white Sauvignon Blanc and red Grenache (Garnacha) and Malbec wines.

Roasted Zucchini Hummus

1 pound young, narrow zucchini
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt plus to taste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dry
1 small clove garlic
2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste), available at Middle Eastern and whole foods groceries
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 moderate sprinkles black pepper

Set oven for 375 degrees.

Cut off stems and bottom tips of zucchini. Cut squash into 1-inch lengths. On cookie
sheet, toss pieces with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and oregano.

Roast 5 minutes on upper shelf of oven. Turn pieces, and roast until tender with a tiny amount of browning on squash (about 20 minutes). Cool.

Scrape squash and oil into bowl of food processor. Add garlic, tahini, lemon juice, pepper, and the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Puree well in processor, scraping down the bowl several times. Taste, and add salt as needed.

Chill in serving dish at least 30 minutes, covered with plastic wrap. The "hummus" can be stored up to 4 days, refrigerated. Stir before serving.

Serve with bread, pita or bagel chips, or plain crackers that aren't heavy with salt.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Balkan Pork Stew with Eggplant: Enjoying summer's excess

In late summer, I'll be doing a newspaper article on eggplant, an underappreciated vegetable in the US but which is very popular elsewhere. I write an every-other-week food column for the Athens Banner Herald, but occasionally I do a bigger piece. The article will include a number of recipes for preparing that vegetable, which floods Georgia markets for several months.

Over the next few weeks, I'll get recipes into the blog as I develop and test them, to put them "out there" for people to try and comment back, before I get the full newspaper article together.

Here's a way of using eggplant to create a rich sauce for a hearty stew of the type made in the Balkan countries. The stew itself is based on pork, a reasonably economical meat right now. As with much of the food in the Balkans, this stew has both Slavic and Greek/Turkish influences.

The stew should be served with a starch as a side dish. Polenta would be more Croatian, Italian, and Romanian; noodles would be more Slovenian and eastern Slavic; rice would be more Greek and Turkish, especially a mildly seasoned pilaf; potatoes would be more Austrian and German.

A dry red wine would go with this dish. The recipe serves six.

Let me know what you think.

Balkan Pork Stew with Eggplant

1 medium (3/4-pound) purple eggplant
2 pounds lean pork (butt, leg, loin as last choice)
3 tablespoons rendered pork fat or olive oil for frying
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium-large tomato, diced (or 1 tablespoon tomato paste)
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 cup red wine
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon oregano, fresh and minced, or 3/4 teaspoon dried
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt plus to taste
Minced parsley for garnish
Sour cream for serving

Peel eggplant and cut in roughly 1-inch chunks. To remove bitterness, soak in large bowl of salted water (2 teaspoons salt to 8 cups water) for at least 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Cut meat in 1-1/2-inch pieces.

Either fry some of the pork fat trimmings in the stew pot (and remove cracklings), or use olive oil, for frying the meat. Heat 3 tablespoons of rendered pork grease or olive oil in stew pot and add meat.

Quickly fry meat over medium-high heat, scraping under meat frequently and turning it until raw color is completely gone. Add onions and garlic, and fry, stirring frequently, until onion is quite softened.

Add tomato or paste, and fry 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until tomato starts to break down. Add a little water if mixture seems too dry.

Add bell pepper, wine, spices and herbs. Stir, reduce heat. Simmer, covered, until meat is starting to become tender, 20-25 minutes. The liquid should be thick, but stir often, scraping bottom of pot. Add a little water, if necessary.

Drain eggplant, and add it to meat. Simmer, covered, stirring frequently, until eggplant breaks down into the sauce, leaving only tiny chunks.

Taste, and adjust salt.

Serve with polenta, noodles, rice, or potatoes. Sprinkly with a little minced parsley for garnish.

Accompany with sour cream to be dolloped on top.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Chicken (or Pork) in Caramel Sauce: Memories of Vietnam

Some years ago, I participated as an instructor in a public health training course in Hanoi, Vietnam. I shared lunches with the students at the training center. There I enjoyed a delicious meat dish -- though in small quantity with lots of rice -- every day. Sometimes it was made with chicken thigh, other days with pork. There was usually a vegetable stewed with the meat, my favorite of which was young turmip. But what was common every day was the luscious, mildly sweet sauce. This was the northern version of Vietnamese stewed meat in caramel sauce.

The dish is somewhat similar to the Chinese “red cooked” stew of chicken or pork but with Vietnamese touches, including the caramelized sugar and the fish sauce. It can be made with bamboo shoot chunks rather than turnip, or carrot or potato, added at appropriate times in the cooking to reach tenderness. Or there can be no vegetable, if preferred.

The dish is served topped with a little chopped cilantro and accompanied by unsalted white rice. Jasmine would be good (see blog posting of 1/28/08). The recipe serves six.

In Vietnam the drink would be beer (though not for the students at lunch!). A fairly dry Riesling or rosé would go well, too.

Vietnamese Chicken (or Pork) in Caramel Sauce with Turnip

1-1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or lean pork from shoulder or leg)
4 tablespoons palm or brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 cup water (water from coconut or even lemon soft drink was sometimes used in Vietnam)
1 large clove of garlic
2 scallions (green onions)
1/2-inch fresh ginger
2-1/2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (available in Asian groceries)
1 teaspoon black soy sauce (available in Asian groceries)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 slices hot chili pepper or 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 medium white turnips or daikon radish (about 1-1/2 cups when cut up)
Cilantro or scallion (green onion) for garnish, optional

Trim away fat or tough parts of meat. Cut meat into 1-inch pieces and set aside. In heavy pot, heat sugar and 2 tablespoons of water over medium heat until bubbling. Heat without stirring until melted sugar turns a milk-chocolate color. Add 1 cup of water, and stir to begin dissolving the caramel.

Crush garlic, slice scallions 1/4-inch long (including greens), and slice ginger 1/8-inch thick. Add all these to pot. Add fish sauce, black pepper, and hot pepper. When boiling, add cut up meat, and stir until the meat color changes. Reduce heat, and simmer until the meat starts to become tender (about 5 minutes for chicken thighs, 30 minutes for pork).

Add a little water, if needed, to keep liquid just below surface of the meat. While meat is cooking, peel turnips or daikon radish and cut into 3/4-inch pieces. When the meat is becoming tender, add turnips to pot. Simmer until turnips are tender, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring carefully. Taste sauce and, if necessary, add salt to taste.

The flavor is enhanced if dish is prepared ahead of time, refrigerated and reheated to serve. Taste sauce and adjust salt, if necessary.

If desired, the dish can be garnished on top with coarsely chopped cilantro leaves or sliced green tops of scallion.

Serve with unsalted white rice.