Saturday, January 09, 2010

Chicken, Cashews, Beets, Ginger, Garlic, Serrano, and Magic Hat

    Tonight I made dinner from my newest cookbook, 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate. I got this book as a Christmas present, and have been poring over it ever since, planning what I would make when I had the kitchen to myself. (I am house-sitting.)
    The concept behind this book is that you can make authentic Indian food without buying a bunch of unfamiliar ingredients or spending hours in the kitchen. I think this is brilliant; most people don't make biryani every night, but most ethnic cookbooks are heavy on recipes like that--complicated food you might order at a restaurant. It keeps the ethnic food as unfamiliar; it lets the foreign stay foreign. (I guess it also makes it special.) I like books like this which bridge gaps by showing the reader how to incorporate parts of the "foreign" or "special" into their normal routine.
    Anyway, most of the 50 recipes are not just easy enough to make everyday, but also tasty enough to serve to company.
    The other important thing about this cookbook is that the recipes use no spices other than the following five: cumin, mustard, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne. (This does not include fresh, readily available ingredients like garlic and ginger.) So this means it won't tell you what to do with that impulse-bought kalonji or fenugreek, but it also means no special trips to Subzi Mandi for asafoetida or mango powder. There may have been a time when I would have disdained such a cookbook; I used to seek out ethnic cookbooks that were super authentic (although the definition of that is open to debate), involved unusual ingredients, and yielded new challenges for me. Now I like to try new things without messing up the kitchen and spending my life preparing dinner. Anyway, my point is that this book is designed for those inexperienced at making Indian food, and I'm a little past that. But it's nice to take a break from biryani, tamarind shrimp, and sambar. It's nice to begin again with something simple.
    Tonight, I made Chicken in Cashew Nut Sauce (Dish 25) over Lentil Rice Pilaf (Dish 45) with Sauteed Beets with Mustard and Lemon Juice (Dish 9) on the side. The headnotes for the chicken state, "This recipe may challenge your perception of Indian food--it's neither spicy nor a curry." That got my attention. Something new!? Also, the sauce's origin was described as "the old princely kitchens of North India." Princely!? I had to try it.
    The one food I am picky about is chicken; when I want to give a brief version I just tell people I don't like it. I usually don't! If a dish has other things that I like, which hide the chicken, then I don't mind it. It's very rare that I like chicken. I realize this is weird. Anyway, Dish 25 is an exception--made with plain Jane chicken breasts, I might add. It's delicious, especially with the pilaf.
    For the most part, I followed these recipes to the letter. The biggest change I made was that instead of boiling the beets for Dish 9, I roasted them. I just prefer roasted beets (and then I can stick them in the oven, forget about them for an hour, and call it "cooking.") These too were great.
    These three dishes lacked the flavors that tend to stand out and make a dish obviously Indian food; what I mean is, these things tasted interesting but also different. I think they might be accepted by people who claim they don't like Indian food. The stronger spices, like cumin, blended into the rest of the dish rather than overpowering the other ingredients.
    I am looking forward to trying more of the 50 recipes (plus the bonus desserts. I am eyeing up a saffron-yogurt-y thing. At the produce market today, I bought cabbage, eggplant, squash, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and dill. On my To Try list I have Chickpea Curry with Dill, Butternut Squash in Coconut Milk Curry and/or a raita that uses squash, Crispy Okra Raita, Eggplant with Peanut Sesame Masala and/or an eggplant raita, Onion and Yogurt Egg Curry, and Cabbage Salad. I doubt I'll make all of this in one week, but I'll write up what I do make (and how it turns out.)

1 comment:

ellen said...

here's a belated response to the comment you left on my blog - of course i remember you! it was a good day when i learned you were tiff's roommate and a fellow republican party crasher.

so, this is when i tell you that i have kind of been reading your blog for a while, and that i'm loving the cooking entries. a couple days got a package of spices from my parents and reading this has made me feel more inspired to use them... now to make my first dal in 5 months.