27 August 2009

(Mostly) Balti Night, Take One

The "Brit-Indi" food you get at Haggerty's is only one side of the coin. At the same time as Indian curry houses in England first began proliferating in a big way, a Pakistani population that had begun settling in Birmingham (England, that is) after the partition of India started what have come to be known as Balti houses. Baltis and Indian curries seem very similar in spirit, but a number of things set them apart. Unlike Indian curries, a balti is prepared in a wok. In fact, "balti" is said to derive from a word meaning "bucket" or, perhaps said semi-facetiously, "hubcap." Another difference between the two is that your average balti is not about tongue blistering heat. You also see ingredients going into a balti that would not ordinarily find their way into a "Brit-Indian" curry, such as lemon juice and star anise.

Balti is a one pot event, served in a large steel serving dish—a karahi—that is hot enough to sizzle butter when it comes to the table. It's not served with rice, but is instead accompanied by an extra large naan or chapati.

There are a lot of great vegetarian routes to take in this style of cooking, but we happened to use lamb on this evening.

A Lamb Balti

Step One: Making the Spice Mix

  • 4 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
For the cumin and coriander, it's best to start with whole seeds, toast them in a skillet until fragrant and then grind them yourself in a mortar or spice grinder.

Step Two: Making the Garam Masala
  • 1 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 3/4 tbsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp. whole cloves
  • 5 cardamon pods
  • about 1 1/2" to 2" of cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 of a whole nutmeg
  • 1 -2 star anise, which is supposed to be a balti specific addition to garam masala.
Garam masala is one of those spices that is better when made fresh. Just toast all of the above until it is fragrant and then and grind it into a fine powder.

Step Three: Pre-Cooking the Lamb and Making The Sauce
  • 2 lbs. lamb cut into 1" cubes (should be a lean cut, like meat from the leg, which is what we used here)
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • half of the spice mix above
  • 2 tsp. tumeric
  • 1/2 a green pepper, diced
  • a thumb sized bit of ginger, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. dried methi (fenugreek)
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
Saute the onions in a sauce pan, then add 1/2 pint of water and everything else but the lamb. Bring that to a boil, add the meat, and then simmer, slowly braising the meat for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is tender. Remove the lamb and puree the sauce.

Step One Hundred and Thirty Seven: Make Balti Happen Now
  • the par-cooked lamb from step three above
  • olive oil
  • a thumb sized piece of ginger, grated
  • 6 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 onions chopped
  • 2 jalapenos, finely diced
  • 1 to 2 cu. frozen peas (we had fresh peas, but their season has already passed)
  • some potatoes, par-boiled and cut into chunks such as for a stew
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tsp. tomato paste
  • the other half of the spice mix from step one above
  • 3 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • some, but necessarily all of the sauce from cooking the lamb in step three above
  • salt, if it needs it
Heat 5 or 6 tbsp. of olive oil in a wok. Stir fry the ginger and garlic for a bit before adding the onions. Stir fry the onions until softened, then add the chilis and green pepper, tomatoes and tomato paste. Let the heat come back up and then add the spice mix, lemon juice, sugar and most or all of the balti sauce you want a curry like consistency, not soup, so you have to gauge how much to add by looking at the remaining ingredients). Bring all that up to a simmer, then add the lamb and potatoes and some salt. Simmer for minutes, adding more balti sauce if you need it. Add the peas and bring it back to a simmer. Done!

All of the above is based on stuff I read in three books: Lowe & Davidson, 100 Best Balti Curries (1994), Pat Chapman, Curry Club Balti Curry Cookbook (1994) and one other book I can't find right now.

To make it a real balti night, we should have made our own naan or chapati; but we made a paratha instead, stuffed with onion and cauliflower.

We made a tomato relish to put on the paratha and it was just about the best damn thing I've ever put on bread

Hot Tomato Relish!
Adapted from Julie Sahni, Classic Indian Cooking (1980)
  • 4 tomatoes, cut into chunks or a large dice
  • 1/2 cup of a light vegetable oil
  • 1/3 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 4 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 – 2 tsp. red pepper
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
Toast the cumin seeds in the oil in a sauce pan over medium heat until the cumin darkens. Add the garlic and jalapenos and cook for one minute further. Add everything else and let it all cook over medium heat for 2 – 3 minutes before turning it down to low and simmering for one hour. Stir occasionally and gently. Puree most of the sauce, reserving some chunky bits of tomato and jalapeno to mix back in. The end product should look like the bright red relish in the picture below.

In the bottom left corner of the picture is a green mango pickle we made a long time ago. It's also pretty amazing stuff.

17 August 2009

What do you do with green tomatoes other than make fried green tomatoes?

I know there are good things to do with them and I suspect I might get some more from the CSA this week. Any ideas?

And for what it's worth, this seems to be the best concoction I've hit on yet for flavoring the the coating:

  • about 2:1 Corn meal to besan (chickpea flour),
  • ground mustard,
  • salt, pepper,
  • paprika,
  • garlic powder, and
  • a bit of cayenne.

13 August 2009

Corn Fritters

If you have some left over ears of corn you steamed up for dinner last night and you want some ideas for what to do with them, I humbly suggest these wonderful …

… Corn Fritters

The dry ingredients are:

  • 1/2 Cu. besan (chickpea flour)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • some salt
  • some pepper
The wet ingredients are:
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbs. coconut milk
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • a little bit of Sriracha
  • 1/4 Cu. chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/4 Cu. chopped red onion
  • A handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 to 1-1/2 Cu. corn kernels (sliced off a few left over ears of corn your steamed for dinner the night before)
That should make about six fritters of the size in the photograph.

12 August 2009

The Farmer's Cart at the Portland Farmer's Market

Simon at Thirty Acre Farm now has the Farmer's Cart offering breakfast sausages and pulled pork sandwiches for lunch at the market on Wednesdays.

(That's not Simon.)

A Kitchen Knife Recommendation

Posts about kitchen knives are generally reserved for the die-hard, pocket protector wearing, forum troll geek, but I'm going there anyway.

Years ago, when I worked in restaurants in Portland, I was always saddled with some ugly plastic handled thing from a kitchen supply store and, let's face it, that's really good enough for just about anyone. Later in life, when I could afford one, I bought a German made santoku and I thought I would never look back. The least you will pay for knife like that is over a hundred clams, which is already just plain self-indulgent even if it's the most important thing in the kitchen. But from there people will go on to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars for hand forged samurai swords blessed by tengu in enchanted, ancestral forests and hammered in precise, cosmic musical rhythms by dancing wu li masters. Here's an acceptable lower middle ground for people like me:

Tojiro-DP Gyutou ($56.50 at Korin).

I love this knife more than any fancy German made knife I've ever owned that cost twice as much if not more. It's a pleasure to handle and sharp enough to cut things (including me, unfortunately) just by brandishing it in their mere vicinity. The one flaw is that it scratches easily and needs to be handled with somewhat more care than its distant bomb proof, drive-a-Panzer-tank-over-it German cousins. Using a Japanese water stone, I've been able to keep this knife as sharp or sharper than the day I pulled out of the box.

And while I'm being needlessly geeky and judgmental, I'll add that the answer to the question of where to take your knives for sharpening if you in live in the greater Portland area is to not take them anywhere, but to buy a proper stone and learn to do it yourself. Freeport Knife Company has yielded very poor results for me. LeRoux doesn't even sharpen knives. If you really just can't bring yourself to do the deed, Now You're Cooking is a good choice, but otherwiswe tune in to youtube for some "classes."

Random Food Geekery on the Web

s.andwi.ch compiles your sandwich into QR Code and allows you to publish it to various social bookmarking sites.

And I offer you: Thyme Cube! [ N.B.: For those who don't catch the reference, see the original Time Cube.]

11 August 2009

The BBQ Tempeh Smackdown, Laughing Stock Farm and a Micro Book Review

Our CSA this year is Laughing Stock Farm in Freeport. Hi Lisa and Ralph Turner! So many local farms offering CSAs have had a rough go of it due to the endless rain earlier this season. One nearby farm had to go so far as to refund a portion of its members' share cost. We've really appreciated Laughing Stock pulling through in spite of it all. The picture is of a dinner we made from our week's share a while back: baby carrots, chard, peas, romaine and some sungold tomatoes.

And now for the BBQ tempeh smackdown.

BBQ Tempeh from Angelica
The BBQ sauce from the Angelica Home Cookbook is a mix of sundried tomatoes, cider, maple syrup, tamari and other intense stuff: this is the winning vegan BBQ.

BBQ-ish Tempeh from 101Cookbooks
Heidi Swanson's suggestion for baking tempeh for her "TLT sandwiches" with adobo sauce and balsamic vinegar is a close second in the smackdown.

BBQ Tempeh from the Vegan Soul Kitchen
Grilling tempeh is always a bit iffy, but we tried the BBQ tempeh recipe in self-profesed "eco chef" (but like me, not actually vegan) Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen and it was pretty good. You might try adding less tamari than suggested and substitute maple syrup for the agave.

As for Vegan Soul Kitchen, I haven't decided how I feel about the book. A lot of it feels like a gimmick—the suggested songs to listen to for each meal, for example—and a lot of it feels pretty run of the mill if you've done the least bit of vegan cooking recently; but it still has a few interesting ideas in it that make it worthwhile—the seemingly endless watermelon ideas for one. For more complete thoughts on the book, Avery gave him a mention on Commune Tested and there's a good review at The Root.