Sunday, October 30, 2011

Malaysian Beef Curry

Similar to a “gulai,” a Muslim curry from northern Malaysia, with both Indian and Indonesian
influences. Ideally, serve this with yellow coconut rice.

For meat:
1 1/2 pounds “flatiron” steak or sirloin tip of beef or lean lamb
4 cups water
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 crushed or minced garlic cloves
2 medium-large russet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks

For masala:
4 tablespoons canola (not olive) oil
1 large onion, diced
5 whole cardamoms
5 whole cloves
1 large stick cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 inch fresh ginger, thinly sliced then finely minced with the garlic
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 cup crushed or finely chopped tomato plus 1 cup water

Start cooking meat: Trim meat and cut into 1/2-inch wide pieces about 1 1/2 inches long. Heat
water, coconut milk, cumin, turmeric and salt together in pot. Bring to a boil.

Drop in meat, part at a time, stirring. Make next addition when boiling returns. Simmer, covered,
stirring occasionally. Time required depends on the cut of meat used.

When meat is tender, add potatoes. Simmer until potatoes are tender (pierce with toothpick).

Meanwhile, in separate pot fry onions and whole spices slowly in oil, stirring frequently, until
beginning to turn golden brown. Add garlic and ginger, and stir and fry 1 minute.

Lower heat. Add ground spices and stir 1 minute. Add tomatoes and water. Simmer 5 minutes.

When meat and potatoes are tender, add fried mixture, scraping pan out well. Simmer together
10 minutes. Taste and add salt, if necessary.

Pumpkins are for more than jack-o'-lanterns

Jack-o’-lanterns were once large, hollowed-out turnips, carved hideously like a head. The original, though mythical, Jack-of-the-Lantern was illuminated by a burning ember from hell. It was to light the way for Jack, a rascal in Irish folklore who was condemned to wander the Earth, since although he had cheated the devil, he was too sinful for heaven. Jack’s wanderings became associated with Oct. 31, the ghostly night (the “eve” or “even”) before the religious feast of “All Hallows,” that feast now called All Saints’ Day.

The turnip jack-o’-lantern, lit by a candle, became a folk custom on “All-Hallows-Even” — “Hallowe’en” — in Ireland and Great Britain. Irish and British immigrants who came to America adopted the more convenient pumpkin for their jack-o’-lanterns.

For many pumpkins, jack-o’-lanterns are the only suitable role. Beautiful, round, orange, ribbed and big, but watery and bland, these pumpkins were bred for carving and lighting. They are best then composted.

The contemporary American pumpkin variety good for cooking, in my opinion, is the small “New England Pie.” But there are French and Italian heritage pumpkins worthy of the plate, too. And several American cousins of pumpkins, termed winter squash, are excellent in the kitchen.

Pumpkins and squashes are distinguished based on appearance, not botanical difference. Technically “fruit,” they come from four separate species of the genus Cucurbita, all of Middle-American origin. The four species each include both “pumpkins” and “squash.”

Available winter squashes for cooking in the manner of pumpkin include kabocha and butternut.

Kabocha squash resembles a European pumpkin, green, lightly ribbed and squat. They were grown in Japan for some 400 years, having been introduced there from the Americas by Portuguese sailors, and reintroduced to the Western Hemisphere in recent decades.

By contrast, smooth, tan-skinned and pear-shaped butternut squash is a 20th century development from Massachusetts.

These squashes have largely replaced the old-fashioned Hubbard squash. And, like Hubbards, both produce wonderful “pumpkin” pie.

Pumpkins and winter squash, with spices, are made into breads, cakes, pies and cookies or baked as a vegetable.

In France, pumpkins, herbed rather than spiced, are cooked into soups and gratins, and in Italy are stuffed into ravioli or worked into the pasta sauce.

For American Halloween, here’s a hearty, spiced soup creation of pumpkin or, preferably, winter squash. The recipe serves six.

Gingered "Pumpkin" Soup

1 medium (about 2 pounds) kabocha, butternut, or small “pie” pumpkin

1 medium-small onion, finely diced

1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced

1 large or 2 medium sticks celery, minus leaves, finely diced

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

11⁄2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

4 cups unseasoned chicken or vegetable broth

11⁄2 teaspoons salt, plus to taste

2 bay leaves

1⁄2 teaspoon savory or oregano

1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1⁄4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon minced parsley for finishing

Peel, seed and cut squash or pumpkin into 1⁄2-inch cubes.

In soup pot, fry onions, carrot and celery in olive oil, stirring frequently, until tender and just starting to brown.

Stir in garlic and ginger for 1 minute.

Add squash or pumpkin. Stir and fry 2 minutes.

Add broth, salt and dry seasonings.

Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until squash or pumpkin begins to break up. Add water if soup is too thick.

Mash vegetable somewhat with back of spoon.

Taste, and add salt as needed. Remove bay leaves.

The soup is best if made ahead, refrigerated and reheated to serve.

Stir in minced parsley before serving.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fresh Green "Salsa"

This salsa was suggested by one we ate at a road-side restaurant in Dolores Hidalgo, in Guanajuato state, Mexico. The mixture of green vegetables and herbs, combined with mashed avocado gave a fresh and creamy sauce.

I’ve toned down the amount of hot jalapeño chili, used green tomato rather than tomatillo, and added diced cucumber. The result was somewhere between a Mexican salsa, an Argentinean chimichurri and an Indian fresh chutney.

This was used to tone down an especially hot white chili I made for my wife’s church staff meeting lunch. It was not intended to be as hot as it turned out, but the habanero peppers I used must have been particularly intense.

Make the salsa an hour or two before use, keeping it cold. Stir and taste it for salt, adjusting if needed, just before serving.

Fresh Green “Salsa”

1 ripe avocado
1 long “European-style” (nearly seedless) cucumber
1 large green tomato or 3 medium tomatillos
1 small bunch scallions (green onions)
1 jalapeño pepper
1/2 cup coarsely cut cilantro leaves
Juice of 1 medium-large lime
1/2 teaspoon salt
A sprinkle of black pepper

Scoop avocado flesh into bowl and mash it coarsely with fork.

Rinse off all vegetables before preparing them.

Quarter cucumber lengthwise, line them up together and slice very thinly. Add to bowl.

Core then chop tomato or tomatillos fairly finely. Add to bowl.

Cut off scallion roots and remove any bad tops. Line scallions up and slice both white and green parts very thinly. Add to bowl.

Remove stem, seeds and membranes from jalapeño. Slice thinly lengthwise, then cross cut into fine mince. Add to bowl.

Add cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper. Mix well. Taste for salt and add some if needed.

Make at least an hour before using, keeping it cold. Mix again and check for salt before serving.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Meatballs with Spiced "Pumpkin"

In preparation for my newspaper column that will be published the Wednesday before Halloween, and which I will post to the blog after it's published in the Athens Banner-Herald, I was working with pumpkin (actually its close relatives, winter squash) and ginger.

The newspaper column will be on a gingered "pumpkin" soup along with a discussion of the origins of jack-o'-lanterns and Halloween and how pumpkins got involved.

In the process, I also came up with a savory dinner dish in which spiced meatballs are cooked in with squash or pumpkin.

This is a hearty dish that should be accompanied by noodles, brown rice, or roasted potatoes.

A spicy dry red wine, such as a Grenache or Garnacha, or a Syrah/Shiraz would accompany it well.

Spiced Meatballs braised with Butternut Squash and Apple

1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground ground beef
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup quick oatmeal
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large stick celery, diced
1 inch fresh ginger, finely minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 (2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, in 1/2-inch cubes
1 large apple, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup water
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Make meatball mixture: Combine meats, eggs, breadcrumbs, oatmeal, salt and seasonings. Knead well. Set aside.

Make vegetable "sauce": Gently fry onion and celery in oil, until softened. Fry in ginger and garlic 1 minute.

Add butternut and apple, and fry in, stirring frequently, 2 minutes.

Add water , salt, and spices. Simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, until squash and apple are becoming tender (test with toothpick).

Shape meat mixture into golf-ball sized meatballs, rolling them with moistened hands. Drop them as they are formed into the simmering vegetables. Cover and let simmer 10 minutes, gently shaking the pot from time to time.

Gently turn meatballs as they start to become firm, and when they are fully firm, stir under them to scrape bottom of pot. Simmer meatballs a total of 20 minutes.

Taste sauce, and add salt, if needed.

The flavors are best if chilled, then reheated. Serve with buttered noodles, salted brown rice, or roasted chunked potatoes.