TND – There are worse hobbies

May 24, 2011

It’s possible that my spice collection has gotten a little out of control. Between them the sweet spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, etc.) and the savory spices (cumin, thyme, paprika, and about 40 more) take up nearly an entire shelf in my pantry. It’s gotten to the point where the only spices I don’t have are the ones I don’t know about yet. And actually, as of about 3pm on Sunday afternoon that’s not even really true anymore because I now have a bag of dried fenugreek leaves and while I theoretically know of a lot of things to do with them I’m still a little unclear as to what they are exactly, or what flavor they’re imparting to a dish.

I know that in seed form fenugreek is intriguingly prismatic in shape, and in dried leaf form it smells familiar but I can’t quite place why. I looked fenugreek up online, but after a whole series of links and opened tabs I remain somewhat unenlightened. I do, however, now know that it’s believed to be good for increasing milk production in women, is used in Ethiopia as a natural remedy for diabetes, and in China as a tonic for the kidneys. It is also, apparently, used to make artificial maple flavoring, despite the fact that on its own it’s quite bitter. Go figure.

The dried fenugreek leaves in this week’s Dinner recipe are entirely optional, and after having used them I still couldn’t tell you what they’d done for the dish other than speckle it charmingly with bits of green that certainly look terribly authentic.

Mostly it was an excuse for me to go back to the Indian grocery store in Central Square and stare in glee and awe at the shelves and shelves of herbs and spices I don’t recognize and wouldn’t know what to do with it I bought them.

It’s possible that some of the things on offer there are actually things I know, just under a different name. I almost didn’t find the dried fenugreek leaves because while the seeds were labeled as fenugreek, the dried leaves were labeled methi kasuri, which is what they go by in India (and, you know, fair enough, it is an Indian grocery store). I owe a thanks to the helpful Indian youth (? – well young man of non-European/American descent at any rate) who figured out what I was looking for, and then slowly repeated it for me twice until I figured out what combination of letters I was looking for on a package.

So far I’ve managed to limit myself to either things I’ve heard of even if I’m unclear as to why I need them for a recipe – fenugreek leaves – or things I vaguely know what they taste like/why I’m adding them to a dish – amchoor powder and anardana. I’d be more worried about my out of control spice collection except that there are worse and more expensive things I could have taken up collecting (Fluevog shoes for example) than unfamiliar spices that tend to run me $2.99 a pop. Mostly what I’m taking from this is that I need more cupboard space, but when is that ever not true?

Chicken Tikka Masala
Roasted Cauliflower
Spiced Coconut Spinach
Mango Raita

Chicken Tikka Masala (courtesy of Aarti Sequeira)
(serves 4)
The original recipe only calls for 1lb of chicken thighs. I ended up using 3+ lb of chicken thighs because the idea that 1lb of chicken thighs would feed 4 people (particularly 4 people at Dinner) didn’t strike me as realistic. However, I only doubled the sauce because I like a higher meat to sauce ratio and my chicken tikka massala was plenty saucy with that ratio. In fact there was so much sauce leftover that when I parceled out leftovers last night I not only packed up another 2-3 servings of curry, but I also froze enough sauce to make another 2-3 servings of curry provided I cook more chicken to go in it. This will make a lovely fairly easy meal for my roommate and me sometime in the next month or so.

1 cup plain yogurt, whisked until smooth
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, put through a garlic press or finely minced
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 ½ lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into large bite-size chunks

In large bowl whisk the yogurt, ginger, garlic, salt, and pepper together. Poke chicken with a fork, then add to marinade. Fold to cover and marinate at least 30 minutes, at most refrigerated overnight (I put my chicken in to marinate before I left for work on Monday and cooked them when I got home about 12 hours later).

Note: This smelled unbelievably good. And then when I threw it on the grill to char it smelled even better. I would use this as a marinade for meat even if I wasn’t planning on making the sauce to go with it.

1 ½ Tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch thumb ginger, peeled and minced
2 serrano peppers, minced (seeds removed if you don’t want it spicy)**
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp garam masala
8 Roma tomatoes, diced (or a 28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes drained & roughly chopped)
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
2 cups water (scant)
1 Tbsp dried fenugreek leaves, optional
½ cup heavy cream (or 1/3 cup plain yogurt + 1/6 cup heavy cream)***

Place a large skillet over medium heat, and add the butter and olive oil. When butter has melted, add the garlic, ginger, and serrano pepper. Saute until lightly browned around the edges.

Add the tomato paste and cook until the tomato has darkened in color, about 3 minutes. Add the paprika and garam masala, and saute for about 1 minute to draw out their flavors.

Add the tomatoes, salt, and water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer, and cover. Cook for 20 minutes. Take the pan off the fire, and allow the sauce to cool for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, fire up your broiler, and cover your broiler pan in foil. Pull the chicken thigh chunks out of the marinade and place on the sheet. Place under the broiler, and cook about 7 minutes on each side, until charred and cooked through. Alternatively you can cook the chicken on a grill pan for 5-7 minutes per side. Don’t worry if the chicken is still a little uncooked, but very charred on the outside; you can finish cooking the chicken in the sauce.

Pour sauce into a blender/food processor (or use an immersion blender), and process until smooth. Pour back into the pan, and bring back up to a boil. Add the chicken and fenugreek leaves, if using. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Add cream and stir. Garnish with minced fresh cilantro if you like, and serve over rice, with naan or a crusty piece of bread!

* If you want the (original) more decadent version of this recipe double the amount of butter and olive oil and use all heavy cream. I was doubling the recipe and just quailed at the thought of using 6 Tbsp of butter, plus olive oil, and a full cup of heavy cream. I ended up using a 2 : 1 yogurt to cream ratio because I wanted to cut some of the fat content, but I still wanted a little bit of the rich taste of the cream (plus, I thought all yogurt might be too tangy).

** I was doubling the recipe and seeded 3 of my serranos and left one with the seeds intact. This resulted in the exact level of spiciness that I enjoy, but your mileage will vary depending on individual taste/tolerance for heat.

** If you are going to use a mixture of plain yogurt and heavy cream there are couple of things to bear in mind.
(a) Use the highest fat content yogurt you can find, the lower the fat content of the yogurt the higher the risk you run of it curdling when you add it to the hot sauce.
(b) To mitigate the risk of curdling temper your yogurt before you add it to the hot sauce – by which I mean, whisk a ladle or two of the hot sauce into the yogurt and then stir that into the sauce.
(c) Don’t boil the sauce after you add the yogurt/cream mixture. Bring it up to a very low simmer to make sure that the sauce is heated through and then serve (2-3 minutes max). I made my sauce the night before, but held off on adding the yogurt/cream until just before I served on Tuesday night.
(d) You could use all yogurt, but cutting the yogurt with some heavy cream also helps decrease the risk that you end up with a curdled sauce.

Roasted Cauliflower

Spiced Coconut Spinach & Asparagus
(serves 2-3)

I got to Wilson Farms this weekend to discover that despite the miserable weather we’ve had this May (seriously miserable – it’s currently 52 and raining and everyone is back to winter clothing) local asparagus and rhubarb had somehow managed to ripen. I promptly reworked dinner plans for Sunday night to involve grilled asparagus and honey roasted rhubarb. My roommate gave me a horrified face when I inadvertently confessed that the original dinner plan had been pancakes and bacon, because she doesn’t quite share my passionate love of rhubarb (although she panders to my obsession by bringing me home seriously excellent roasted rhubarb from a local store in Brookline, because she’s awesome like that). Anyway, the asparagus in this recipe is optional and season dependant, but if you can get it I recommend it (and not just because I think that asparagus should be eaten at every opportunity during its all too short growing season).

1 shallot
1 large clove of garlic
¼ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt (I used kosher salt)
1 tsp ghee, clarified butter, or sunflower oil (I used olive oil)
¼ tsp yellow mustard seeds
¼ tsp whole cumin seeds
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup finely sliced asparagus – optional
½ lb spinach, well washed, and chopped
squeeze of lemon
1 ½ Tbsp unsweetened coconut, lightly toasted

Place the shallot and garlic on a cutting board, sprinkle with the salt, and chop/mash everything into a paste (or if you’re making 4x the recipe, throw it in the food processer and pulse).

Heat the oil in your largest skillet over medium heat. Add the seeds, cover with a lid, and let them toast a bit. Remove the lid, stir in the red pepper flakes and let cook for a minute. Stir in the asparagus if you’re using it, let cook roughly another minute, then stir in the garlic-shallot paste and all of the spinach. Keep stirring until the spinach starts collapsing a bit, and brightens up – barely any time at all – perhaps a minute. Finish with a bit of fresh lemon juice and the coconut.

* This isn’t a practical method when you’re cooking for 6-8, so I wilted my spinach first and allowed it to drain. Then I did the bit with the seeds and the sautéing the asparagus, added the spinach back to the pan and allowed it to rewarm and get coated with the spices/oil, then added the coconut and lemon juice.

Mango Raita
1 ripe mango, diced fairly small
2-3 cups plain greek style yogurt (use any fat content you want here)
Handful of mint, minced
Salt/pepper/garam massala

Mix all together and season to taste.



  1. […] in May I made Spiced Coconut Spinach (with Asparagus). I’ve made a lot of variations on this recipe since then, and at this point it’s so amended […]

  2. […] This is basically a riff on Spiced Coconut Spinach (recipe previously given: There Are Worse Hobbies) […]

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