TND – Obvious Answers, Optimism & Guinea PigsApril 28, 2011
There are days when the obvious answer just completely escapes me. I have spent hours trying to track down a phone number on the internet and never once had it occur to me to just try calling information for the number. Conversely, I’ve spent the past month fruitlessly searching for amchoor powder and toor dal at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Penzys, Wilson Farms, Stop-n-Shop, and Food Master. I had reached the point of trying to decide if I was curious enough to buy some online if the shipping was going to be twice the price of the product when it belatedly (as in, Wednesday morning) occurred to me that I could google Indian grocery stores in the Boston area and solve my problem that way.
This, indeed, proved to be not only true, but also that there was an Indian grocery store within lunch hour errand distance of my office. I accordingly took myself off to Central Square at lunch and returned victoriously clutching a packet of amchoor powder (sour mango powder) and anardana seeds (dried pomegranate seeds). I also saw toor dal, about a thousand kinds of pickle, curry leaves, and bitter melons. I forgot to look, but I suspect they probably also had kefir lime leaves and fenugreek leaves. My excitement at the discovery of this store cannot be textually rendered (it’s possible there were (muted) noises of excitement as I perused the shelves).
I get in food ruts where I eat at the same five restaurants, and I make the same 15-20 recipes over and over again, so I like it when something comes along to shake me out of my routine. Lately I’ve been on an Indian food kick aided and abetted by a couple of new(ish) shows on the Food Network, and the Food Network’s crunchier little sister, The Cooking Channel. After years of watching the standard variety of cooking shows I have actually reached a saturation point on Italian/French/American cuisine. There are only so many ways you can roast a chicken, cook pasta, or bake a cupcake. Non-Western cuisine has, heretofore, been woefully under represented on cooking shows. This is a pity because I love ethnic cuisine (even if I’m not in love with the term) and I’d like to not be required to go out to eat it.
The Food Network continues to be fairly dominated by the Western culinary canon, although to its credit it is tentatively testing the waters with Aarti Parti (American-Indian fusion), and as far as I can tell the show is doing pretty well. I certainly watch it religiously (I even set a series recording for it so that I’d be sure not to miss it), and routinely make the recipes that she demonstrates which is more than I can say for any other show on The Food Network. The Cooking Channel, on the other hand, is positively racing after edgier cuisine, and in amongst repeats of Two Fat Ladies it’s running some interesting shows on non-Western cuisine. I know that there are several shows demonstrating how Chinese and Vietnamese can be made at home, but far and away the shows I’m most excited about are Spice Goddess (low key healthy Indian food – also her life story reads like a novel), and Indian Food Made Easy (pretty much what it sounds like – Indian food demystified).
Indian food has always seemed very daunting to me – so many ingredients, so many steps, so many things to be ground and toasted. Plus, the Indian food I’m familiar with is what gets served in Indian restaurants, and while I love korma and tikka masala sauces they tend to involve more cream and coconut milk that I’m willing to commit to on an every night kind of basis. One of the things I’m really enjoying about these new cooking shows is that they’re demonstrating a kind of Indian cuisine that I’ve long suspected must exist, but have never actually seen on a menu – which is to say, lighter, faster, fresher (read non-dairy based) dishes. Also, vegetables (have you ever noticed the dearth of vegetables on your average Indian restaurant menu?).
These shows are obviously gearing themselves to a Western audience. I suspect they’ve ratcheted the spice level down about twelve degrees, and they’ve picked recipes that you can get on the table in a reasonable amount of time after you get home from work. I’m all in favor of this trend because (a) I’m a wuss about spicy food, and (b) because I get home at 7pm and usually want to sit down to eat around 8pm. I’m also addicted to these shows because it’s a new flavor palate for me to explore, and they’re getting me to experiment with ingredient combinations I wouldn’t have thought of on my own (eggplant and mango, for example).
Last night I made an Indian summer stew with dried coconut, butternut squash and toor dal (well I actually used yellow split peas which I determined was an adequate substitute before I tracked down the Indian grocery store of wonders). I also attempted gobi (cauliflower) parathas. Chapatis and parathas are one of those things I’ve always assumed required either equipment I didn’t have, skills I didn’t possess, or both. However, having watched several shows where people whipped out parathas in short order I was willing to give it a try. What I created last night would in no way earn me points with an Indian mother-in-law, but they were tasty and I assume I’ll get better with practice.
Now I’m just waiting for one of the food networks to get on board with other less common ethnic cuisines – Moroccan? Persian? Ethiopian?
Cajun Chicken Salad
Sweet Potato Biscuits
Cajun Chicken Salad
This entry would make so much more sense if I’d actually made Indian food for Dinner. However, I was promised 70 degree weather on Tuesday and was foolishly optimistic enough to believe the weatherman so I planned salad. It turned out to only be in the 50s, but the salad was tasty anyway. It was also a nice antidote to the indulgences of Easter weekend.
Recipe previously given: Cajun Chicken Salad
Sweet Potato Biscuits
I freely confess that I use Dinner as guinea pigs for recipes that I want to try, but that are too involved for me to commit to on a random weeknight dinner. Anything that requires me to cook 12 oz of sweet potato, cool it and then puree it is, by definition, too involved for a weeknight dinner. This is, incidentally, how you know it’s an America’s Test Kitchen recipe. It’s meticulous. It works. It’s good. And it is entirely too time consuming for anyone who works to whip out on a normal weeknight. That said, this will definitely reappear on my table because it hit that perfect balance between savory and sweet.
If I’d been smart I would have measured the volume of the sweet potatoes after I cooked them so that next time I could just substitute an equivalent volume of pumpkin (or squash) puree and skip the whole cooking/cooling/mashing the sweet potato process. However, I wasn’t that smart this go around, but next time I will be sure to remember (and more importantly, write it down). I’m sure it’s better with freshly cooked sweet potato, but most nights I need something a little more streamlined and I think canned pumpkin will work just fine and won’t require me to get an extra pot and immersion blender dirty.
(makes 16-20 biscuits)
12 oz sweet potato, peeled & cut into ½” segments & cooked
7 ½ oz all purpose flour
2 ¾ oz whole wheat flour
3 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp baking power
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
4 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp butter, melted
¾ cup buttermilk
Cinnamon for dusting
Heat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk dry ingredients together. Cut in 4 Tbsp butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Mash/pulse sweet potato, buttermilk and brown sugar together until very smooth.
Mix sweet potato mixture into flour until dough comes together.
Flour your counter/board and then turn dough out onto it. Pat dough into a 9” circle (about ¾” thick).
Cut out 2 ¼” biscuits (about 16). Brush with melted butter, dust with cinnamon (optional – but when have I ever passed up an opportunity to include cinnamon?) and bake 12-15 minutes.
Notes: This is a very sticky dough so flour your counter generously – I ended up working in a little more flour as I was patting it out to keep the dough from sticking to the counter. I also recommend a small bowl of flour that you can dip your biscuit cutter into in between cutting out biscuits so that you don’t end up having to try and pry the biscuit out of the cutter.
The recipe says it makes 16 biscuits. I made 1 ½ x the recipe and ended up with 32 biscuits. I’m not sure if my biscuit cutter was smaller or whether they didn’t reroll dough. Either way, I only end up with three biscuits leftover.