Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Day 146 - Chicken Curry and Stewed Okra and Tomatoes

After my experience (or I should say three experiences, since that's how many times I've made it already) with the Indian-Spiced Split Pea Soup, I've been excited to give Martha's Chicken Curry recipe a go. It involves 8003 ingredients, though - not the kind of thing you just whip up on a whim. Today, I finally sucked it up, got my butt over to the Indian spice store (amazing), and bought me some fresh curry leaves, coriander seeds, and brown mustard seeds, and now I'm in business! I invited Adinah over for this meal, in honor of her impending birthday (on Saturday, she turns fxxty %x!e#), and I was crazily behind when she arrived. It was about an hour and half before we had anything to eat. Cooking Indian food from scratch is labor-intensive!

Chicken Curry (p. 201)

Literally. 8003 ingredients. My mother recently revealed that for her, choosing recipes depends entirely on how few ingredients are involved. This recipe would have been eliminated so quickly, it would take your breath away.

But I'm always excited to attempt to achieve some traditional, exotic, multi-culti dish, even if it does take 8003 ingredients. Or maybe it's even particularly because it takes 8003 ingredients.

The first thing that happens here is making garam masala, that popular Indian spice mixture. I doubled the ingredients for this, because I thought it would be nice to have some extra lying around. But after I ground it up, I was left with only 1/4 cup, which is what Martha said I should have for this recipe (using half the ingredient I'd used). Hmmm. Either the book is wrong and I should have had 1/8 cup, or the recipe measurements were off by 200%. What to do? Do I add the whole 1/4 cup to the dish or do I add only half of it? I ended up adding it all. I figure you can't have too much flavor. But still, I wonder, why was that measurement so far off?

I think the most fascinating thing about this recipe was the making of the onion paste. You puree onion, garlic, and ginger, and sauté it in oil with mustard and cumin seeds. (Why aren't my mustard seeds popping any more? You sauté them in oil, and they're supposed to pop. They popped the first time I made the split pea soup, but since then, there's been no popping. Is my oil not hot enough? Or too hot?) Martha says to cook the puree until it caramelizes, but how do you judge caramelization with a puree?

The fascinating part was the color this took on as it cooked. When it started (as raw onion, garlic, and ginger), it was just what you'd expect: off-white, maybe a tinge of yellow. But as it cooked, it got greener and greener. About 30 minutes in, it looked like the picture below. After 45 minutes, it was even darker green and drier. Then, once the turmeric, tomato paste, chicken stock and garam masala went it, it became that rich, brown, Indian food color.

It isn't until the last half hour that you add the chicken thighs and diced potato. I read this recipe three times wondering if I was supposed to cover the pot at this point, but there's no mention of covering. My recommendation? Cover the pot. I let those thighs cook uncovered for a half hour, but they were nowhere near done! Once I covered it, things moved along. This pot wants to be covered, I say!

Eeek, what bad form, making my guest wait so long for food!! Thank God it was Adinah! Look, she's smiling, even after I made her pose for a picture before letting her eat after starving her for an hour and half!

In the end, the dish was good. I wish I could say it was great, but it was just good. A couple of things I could have done better: I failed to salt the sauce when I should have, and I missed my opportunity. Once the chicken went in, it was too hard to stir and incorporate, so I salted it a little but not fully. And ultimately, it was very undersalted.

It was also not spicy enough, which is crazy coming from me, because I have spice-o-phobia. (My scalp sweats profusely when I eat spicy food. Not cute.) The recipe calls for three small ground-up dried chiles - I have small dried chiles, but they are super spicy, and I thought that would be the death of me. So I put in one big not-too-spicy dried chile. It was a lot of ground chile, but it didn't deliver much heat at all. I was surprised... If I were to do this again, I might try a combo of the two kinds of chiles.

If I weren't going full steam when the garam masala confusion happened, I might have done some internet compare and contrast to see how much one usually uses in a dish like this. I did a little poking around after the fact, and I think it would have been closer to the standard usage if I had used 1/8 cup. It's possible that the sauce was muddied with too much garam masala....

The accompaniments saved this dish, flavor-wise, along with some added salt. Served over basmati rice, with a generous sprinkling of salt, a squeeze of lime, some fresh cilantro, and plain yogurt, it began to taste like true Indian food. But when tasted alone in the pot, it fell short.

Hmmm. Can I bear to do this one over again?? I probably should, but I should do it soon, while I still have the fresh curry leaves! (FYI, they are optional in the recipe, but they have a really amazing scent that you should experience.)

Jeff: B+ (For missing the salting turn-off, under-spicing it, and keeping my guest waiting so long)
Martha: B (Some inaccurate/missing directions foiled an already complicated meal)

Stewed Okra and Tomatoes (p. 345)

The list of things I won't eat is pretty short (bell peppers and raw onions). And the list of things I don't care for is not that much longer. But okra would be pretty close to the top of it.

YUK! Slimy texture, little beebees floating around in it, that grassy taste. Pyuch.

But I needed another vegetable dish for this meal, and I knew I'd have to make this one sooner or later.

Turns out... not so bad! I actually almost enjoyed it! It's a very straightforward preparation: sweat some onions and garlic, add chopped tomatoes, then the sliced okra, partially cover for an hour, throw in some fresh herbs, and Scene. Very fresh tasting, pretty good! I think one of the keys is to not cook the okra to death. This okra was soft and cooked-through, but still on the greener side of khaki. Once it's brown, I ain't goin' anywhere near it.

But for okra to be at all appetizing to me is a pretty big feat. And for that I have to give Martha some props.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

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