Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chicken Keema Gobi: Chopped chicken curry with cauliflower

Keema, meaning "minced meat" in Hindi, is a simply made -- though requiring many different spices -- richly flavored curry from Northern India and Pakistan. The classical meat for keema is ground lamb. But that meat is both expensive and hard to find. I'm showing a chicken version, but ground lamb or beef could be substituted, since the aromatic spices are those for red meat.

Keema typically has a vegetable incorporated into it. Peas (keema mattar) are the most common, but cauliflower (keema gobi) is also frequent.

When our kids were young we made keema frequently, and called it "children's curry." For them we generally reduced the amount of hot pepper. But keema is not traditionally very hot, even in South Asia.

The recipe makes enough for 8-10 servings with Basmati rice. It's worth making the full lot and having some as leftovers.

Chicken Keema Gobi (Chopped chicken curry with cauliflower)

2 large or 3 medium-large onions, chopped
6 tablespoons canola oil
8 whole cloves
6 whole cardamoms
1 large stick cinnamon
1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled, sliced thinly and minced (with garlic)
4 large cloves garlic, minced (with ginger)
3 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons turmeric
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 large tomato, chopped, or 2 tablespoons tomato paste plus 2 tablespoons water
2 pounds ground chicken
3/4 cup yogurt, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cup water
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into flowerettes
2 tablespoons coarsely cut cilantro, plus extra for garnish

In heavy pot, fry onion with oil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until starting to soften. Add cloves, cardamoms and cinnamon stick. Continue to fry onions until becoming golden.

Reduce heat to simmer, and fry in the ginger and garlic, stirring frequently, for 1 minute. Add ground spices, and stir and fry 1 minute.

Add tomato or paste with its water. Stir and fry, until tomato breaks up and starts to dry.

Mix in ground chicken, raise the heat, and fry. Break up the meat as it cooks.

When color is fully changed from raw to cooked, add yogurt (beating it lightly so it doesn't clump). Add salt. Simmer 5 minutes, covered, stirring frequently.

Add water and cauliflower. Stir frequently, and simmer, covered, until cauliflower is becoming tender. Taste, and add salt as needed (probably about 1/2 teaspoon). Do not over cook cauliflower, as it will continue to soften.

Just before serving, stir in cilantro. Sprinkle with additional cilantro to serve.

Accompany with Basmati rice or nan bread.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thai ‘Panang’ Beef Curry (Gaeng Panang Nua)

For a cooking class recently featuring curries, I finally taught one with beef. Previously I found beef so slow to cook, that although we enjoy beef curries at home, I didn't teach them in class because there wasn't sufficient time.

Then, in the last year, I discovered the merits of a tender cut of beef that is not forbiddingly expensive. The "flatiron" steak, a recent meat-cutting development, is a lean section from beef chuck -- a tasty but normally tough piece of beef. It is long and flat, with the grain running lengthwise. The shape makes thin cross-grain slicing easy, perfect for stir-fries, among other things. Sliced slightly wider, the meat cooks quickly in a Thai curry. Best of all, the steaks range from 3/4 to 1 1/2 or more pounds, making them conveniently sized for a meal. They are often sold at reduced prices.

Panang curry is a little richer, and less hot, than the familiar Thai red curry. Its origins are in southern Thailand and include Malay influences, notably the chopped peanuts that are sometimes dusted on the curry before serving (which I have not done here). The curry paste can be homemade (but is tedious and requires hard-to-find ingredients; see a Thai cook book) or purchased in cans at Asian food shops. Thai cooks these days typically buy their curry mixtures fresh from market vendors specializing in seasonings.

The recipe serves six, and should be ladled over unsalted rice.

The traditional drink with curry in Thailand is lager-type beer (Singha in particular). I also like Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino (a new favorite) or fairly dry Riesling wines with Thai curries.

Thai Panang Beef Curry

1 1/2 pounds flatiron steak of beef, 2 small or 1 large
1 can (4 ounces) Penang curry paste (for a milder curry, use part of the can and freeze the rest for later use, wrapped tightly in plastic)
1 tablespoon oil
1 (14-15-ounce) can sliced or shredded bamboo shoots, drained and rinsed
1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened Thai coconut milk (available at Asian groceries); shake well before opening
1/2 can of water
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce, plus to taste (available at Asian groceries), or substitute salt to taste
2 teaspoons sugar
1 hot red chili pepper for garnish
Either 4 double kaffir lime leaves (sometimes available at Asian groceries) or 12 sprigs fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves

Trim steak(s) of any tough “silver skin” fibers from surface. Place meat flat on cutting board and slice crosswise 1/8-inch thick with a sharp knife. Cut any pieces over 3 inches into halves.

Heat cooking pot to high. Add oil. Then add sliced beef, and stir and fry until raw color has mostly changed.

Add the quantity of curry paste to be used, and stir and fry 2 minutes.

Add drained and rinsed bamboo shoots and continue to stir and fry 1 minute.

Add half the coconut milk and stir until boiling. Add remainder of coconut milk then the half can of water. When mixture returns to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

Add fish sauce (or 1/2 teaspoon salt) and sugar. Simmer two more minutes. Remove from heat. Taste the sauce and add a little fish sauce or sugar as needed, making the sauce slightly salty, because the meat and bamboo shoots will absorb more salt. The sauce should also have a mild sweetness.

If using kaffir lime, cut out central vein. Stack the leaves on cutting board and slice crosswise into very fine threads, or cut with kitchen shears. Stir half into the curry.

Serve the curry in an attractive shallow bowl garnished with thinly sliced red chili pepper plus either the remainder of the shredded kaffir lime leaves or the coriander leaves picked off their stems.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Fried Cauliflower: Calling an "Entree" by the Correct Name

Trendy American restaurants are getting better at their terminology. It used to be that main dishes in this country were called "entrees." But in culinary French, "entrée" literally means an entry dish, or first course, something that opens the dinner. The main dish in French is simply called "le plat," the plate.

Increasingly here, what used to be termed "entree" is now, more appropriately, called a main or "large" dish." What in French is called an "entrée," and frequently here was called an appetizer, now tends to be called a small dish or starter.

I guess that's progress.

Here's a real starter course specialty, a classic small dish. It's from the Lebanese-Syrian tradition, a "meze" or "mezza," one of the small dishes served before the main course. Or, if you're lucky, you can have an entire meal of many different meze, a real treat.

This dish is amazingly tasty despite its apparent simplicity. I first had it at one of Atlanta’s early Lebanese restaurants, the Bahou Container, sadly long gone. The method used in this recipe is direct frying, or baking, of the cauliflower pieces. Some recipes call for par-boiling before frying, and some use breadcrumbs or even batter on the cauliflower. I suggest a tahini sauce, like I first had with the dish, but sauces based on seasoned yogurt are also used.

Sautéed Cauliflower with Tahini-Lemon Sauce

The sauce:
3 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste, available at Middle Eastern and health food stores)
6 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Sumac, paprika or finely minced parsley for garnish (sumac is available at Middle Eastern groceries)

The cauliflower:
1 medium-large head of cauliflower
Oil (such as canola) for frying or roasting

Before cooking the cauliflower, mix the sauce. In a small bowl place tahini and beat it with a whisk until smooth. Add the water and whisk it in. The tahini thickens somewhat, at first. Whisk in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste and, if necessary, add a little salt to make the sauce slightly salty.

Rinse cauliflower. Remove leaves and thick stem and cut the rest into similarly sized (1 to 1 1/2 inch) flowerets. In a large bowl, lightly sprinkle cauliflower with salt and toss; salt lightly and toss twice more.

Heat a frying pan with oil about 1/2-inch deep. When hot, fry cauliflower pieces, part at a time, turning often, until golden in places. Do not over cook. Remove to paper towels to drain excess oil.

(Alternately, toss uncooked cauliflower with several tablespoons olive or canola oil, after the salting process. Place on baking sheet and roast in 375 degree oven 5 minutes. Stir and turn cauliflower pieces. Return to oven and roast until golden in a few places.)

Arrange still-warm cauliflower on a platter or shallow serving dish.

Accompany with a bowl of the sauce, lightly dusted with sumac, paprika or finely minced parsley.

Diners can either dip the cauliflower into the sauce or place cauliflower pieces on their plates and spoon sauce over them.