Saturday, April 24, 2010

Malay Beef Curry -- for the Birthday of a Daughter born in Malaysia

The other evening as I was making this "kari lembu," in honor of Anna's birth way back when we lived in Malaysia, the rich and reminiscent spice and coconut fragrances reminded me that I cook Malay curries very infrequently, despite their popularity in the family.

Then as the hours and cooking steps dragged on, I recalled why. Malay cooking can take forever.

Perhaps the most difficult dish is one of the family's most appreciated, rendang, a curry so slowly simmered down and dry it's like pulled beef barbecue in coconut and spice. Even the kari lembu for Anna's birthday, which has a wetter sauce, takes multiple hours.

In Malaysia these curries would be festival dishes, or restaurant cooking, not everyday fare. But they also come from a different era, before television and cars in every family, when there was time to cook and few other distractions.

I put this recipe in the blog more as an archive than with any expectation that my kids, even the three Malaysian-born ones, will be making it often. My recall of how to make it was helped by a recipe in a 1962 cookbook from Kuala Lumpur.

This is a double recipe (2 katis of meat, a kati being 1 1/3 pounds), since it's an entertainment dish and it's just as much work to make a smaller batch.

Kari Lembu -- Malay Beef Curry

2 3/4 pounds stewing beef, cut in 1 1/2 to 2-inch pieces
2 large stalks lemon grass, cut in 2-inch lengths and bruised
2 large cloves garlic put though press or finely minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
5 tablespoons ground coriander
5 teaspoons ground fennel seeds
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons water
2 large onions, chopped
4 tablespoons canola oil (the original is coconut oil)
1 whole star anise
8 whole cardamoms
6 whole cloves
1 small stick cinnamon
1 tablespoon shredded fresh ginger
2 1/2 cups water
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut in 2-inch chunks (alternatively 1 pound potatoes and 3/4 pound young okra)
1 (14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons tamarind pulp softened in 1/2 cup water and strained
1 tablespoon sugar

Marinate beef with the next 12 ingredients, mixing well.

In a large pot, fry onions in oil, stirring frequently, until dark golden color. As onions turn golden, add whole spices and ginger. Fry gently several more minutes.

Add beef and its marinade and cook, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of pot, until raw color is gone.

Add water. Simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, 30 minutes, or until beef is starting to become tender.

Add potatoes. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.

Shake coconut milk can well. Open add coconut milk to curry. Add salt. Simmer until beef and potatoes are tender.

Taste, and add salt if needed.

If using okra, slit them down the side and mix well with tamarind juice, getting some into the slits. Add okra, if used, tamarind juice and sugar.

Simmer until okra becomes tender. Taste and adjust salt.

Serve with unsalted rice. Accompany with cucumber, cut in 1/2-inch cubes, plus roasted lightly salted peanuts.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dutch Split Pea Soup with Smoked Sausage

Here's a recipe I presented in a recent newspaper article (April 18, 2010) on the history of soups. It was in my every-other-week Athens Banner-Herald column, Le Gourmet Fauché. Over the next several weeks, I'll put the other recipes on the blog.

In Holland, this centuries-old soup is usually simmered with a ham or other smoked pork bone. Celery root (“celeriac”) is preferred over celery. After cooling and reheating, the soup can be very thick, like porridge. A traditional garnish for pea soup is “rookworst” [ROKE- vourst], a ring-shaped, smoked pork and beef sausage.

Dutch Split Pea Soup with Smoked Sausage

1 pound (2 1/4 cups) green split peas
6 cups water
1 large bay leaf
1 medium-large onion
2 medium-large carrots
A small celeriac or 2 sticks celery
3 cups broth made from the vegetable trimmings and peels
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 1/4 teaspoons salt, plus to taste
1/2 teaspoon dry savory or oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, plus extra
Small pinch of thyme
14 ounces to 1 pound smoked sausage

Rinse peas. Place in pot with water. Bring to a boil. Skim off foam.

Add bay leaf. Simmer, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pot, until peas start to break down.

Meanwhile peel onion, carrots, and celeriac, if used. Make broth with peels, leaves of celery, if used, plus 3 cups water, simmering 20 minutes.

Coarsely dice the vegetables. Fry them with oil until wilted. Add to simmering peas.

Strain broth into soup. Add salt, dry herbs and pepper.

Simmer until peas disintegrate and vegetables are tender. Add water, as needed, to make the consistency of heavy cream.

Slice sausage into 1/4-inch discs. Add to soup. Simmer 5 minutes.

Taste and add salt if needed. Stir in a generous sprinkling of ground black pepper.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Spaghetti Sauce with Meatballs -- Easy and Eminently Italian American

When my grand kids come to visit, there is one favorite food. But their parents, and Christina and I, enjoy it too. The kids' choice, spaghetti and meatballs, is one of the common, and beloved, "Italian" dishes from my childhood. It is also surprisingly easy to make.

But it's not really Italian. It's actually more Italian American, something poor immigrants from southern Italy made with the ingredients available in New York and Philadelphia and New Jersey and New England.

Certainly meatballs, "polpette," are eaten in Italy, at least in southern Italy. But they're not nearly as common as their American reputation would suggest, and are not cooked in tomato sauce and do not accompany pasta.

Nonetheless, spaghetti sauce with meatballs is satisfying, plus it's economical and easy to make. Perhaps that's why it became an Italian American specialty.

While the sauce is simple, which tomatoes are used makes a big difference. I like canned "crushed" tomatoes -- canned without seasonings other than salt. Petite diced also work, but the kids don't like "lumps" in their sauce.

I find that of the American tomatoes, "Hunts" and Kroger's own brand are the best, the latter being the cheapest. Good Italian canned tomatoes are pricey. I've tried the economy brand at Kroger, but they are very watery.

Canned tomatoes need some sugar, since they are a little tart. American tomatoes do not seem as sweet as those from the Mediterranean.

There are two optional seasonings for the sauce. One is a small amount of whole fennel seeds, which I learned to enjoy from my Sicilian friends where I grew up, and which hints at the seasoning Italian sausage would give to the sauce if I used it. The other is a few leaves of fresh basil (never dried basil) stirred in at the end of cooking the sauce. That's an option in the summer when basil is common.

I never use black pepper in the sauce, since it was absolutely proscribed by my mother. On the other hand, there is black pepper in the meatballs.

Any of several meats can make good meatballs. I typically use ground turkey (as a substitute for veal) mixed with either pork or beef. My mother typically used ground beef or a mixture of ground pork and beef.

Here's my simple recipe. This makes enough for several meals, but the leftovers are popular, either for more pasta or for meatball sandwiches. The grand kids will love it. But so will high school and college students.

Which pasta to use is personal preference. Vermicelli or thin spaghetti (spaghettini) would have been the choice during my childhood -- and is the choice of my grand kids. But a short pasta, like penne or rigatoni, works well too.

Spoon on plenty of grated Romano or Parmesan cheese when serving.

This dish calls for a hearty red wine, if served to adults. A California red Zinfandel or not too pricey Cabernet Sauvignon, or an Italian Montepulciano d'Abruzzo go well.

Meatball Sauce for Pasta

Make the meatball mixture first:
2 eggs
2/3 cup quick oatmeal
1/2 cup dry unseasoned breadcrumbs
1 large clove garlic, finely minced or put through press
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dry oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 1/2 pounds ground turkey, pork or beef

In large bowl, beat eggs with all ingredients except meat. Then mix in meat and knead well with your hands. Hold until sauce is ready.

Prepare the sauce:
4 large cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds (optional)
2 large (28-ounce) cans crushed unseasoned tomatoes, Hunts or Kroger brand preferred
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Large pinch thyme or oregano
Large pinch crushed red pepper
6 fresh basil leaves (optional)

In large wide pot (not cast iron), gently fry garlic, and fennel if used, in oil until softened but not golden.

Stir in tomatoes and all other ingredients other than basil. Bring to a simmer and simmer 5 minutes.

With hands, roll meat mixture into similarly sized balls of your preferred size, anywhere from 1 to 2 inches in diameter. (The Sicilians I grew up with liked the smaller size). As you form them, drop them into the simmering sauce.

When all the meatballs are made, gently shake and swirl the pot to partially cover the meatballs. Some will be only partially submerged.

Cover pot. Simmer 15 minutes, shaking and swirling pot occasionally. Meatballs should firm up by then. Gently stir meatballs and sauce, scraping bottom of pot.

Simmer 15 additional minutes -- 20 minutes if using beef -- stirring occasionally.

Taste sauce and add salt if needed. Stir in basil leaves if used.

Remove from heat. Reheat to serve over freshly boiled pasta. Sprinkle with grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.