September 30, 2008

Clam curry, Two ways (Goan Red Clam Curry and Spicy Coconut-Lime Clam Curry)

Success with clams! Finally. The few times I ate clams before, they were sandy or rubbery or both. I decided I would give them one final try. So, after 5lb bag of littleneck clams and two clam curries later, I am happy to say that I will be making them again.

Madhur Jaffrey's Goan Clam curry tastes like a tart and hot tamarind stew (pulusu). The Coconut lime curry seems like an Indianized version of tom yum soup. Both are delicious and comforting.

Goan Red Clam curry
900g or 2lbs of small clams
3 tbsp corn or peanut oil
210g red onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp very finely grated, peeled fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp cayenne pepper (or any hot chili powder)
1 tbsp bright red paprika (or kashmiri chili powder)
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
thick tamarind paste - to taste
½ tsp salt
300 ml coconut milk, well shaken

Pour the oil into a large, wide, lidded pan, and set over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, put in the red onions. Stir and fry for about 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent, turning down the heat as needed. Add the ginger and garlic. Stir for a minute. Now put in the cayenne pepper, paprika, turmeric, cumin and coriander. Stir for 10 seconds.
Add 500ml water, the tamarind, salt and coconut milk. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently for a few minutes. Add the clams and return to a simmer. Cover and simmer for about 7 minutes or until the clams open up. Serve hot with rice.

Coconut Lime Curry
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
5 large shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 1/2 cups bottled clam juice
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup diced canned tomatoes with juices
1 jalapeño chile, seeded, chopped
1 teaspoon grated lime peel
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 green onions, sliced

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add chopped shallots and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 teaspoon turmeric and 1/4 teaspoon cumin and stir 1 minute. Add clams, clam juice, coconut milk, tomatoes with their juices, jalapeño and lime peel and bring to boil. Cover and cook until clams open, about 7 minutes (discard any that do not open). Stir in lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer clams and sauce to bowl; sprinkle with green onions and serve with crusty bread.

Tips for cooking with clams:
  • Buy, store and prepare clams with care.
  • To rid the clams of sand and grit, wash them well and soak them in cold salted water for at least 30 minutes.
  • Fish out the clams as they open up in the cooking pot so that they don't turn rubbery.

March 17, 2008

Fennel and Orange Salad

Raw fennel is crunchy like celery but has a sweet licorice flavor. This dish is Sicilian in origin and has the sweet exotic flavors that are typical of the local cooking (or so my cookbook Italian Cooking for Dummies says:).

This is a refreshing citrussy salad. You can find instructions on how to section an orange here. It important to peel the segments (and not just use the segments with the skin on) so that the orange juice from the segments can mingle with the rest of the ingredients.

Fennel and Orange Salad
1 large fennel bulb, stems discarded, bulbs halved, cored and thinly sliced
3 oranges, peeled and sectioned
2T olive oil
2t white wine or apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1T chopped parsley (optional)
8-12 leaves lettuce to serve (optional)

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients (except the lettuce) and let the mixture marinate for an hour.
Serve salad over lettuce leaves and garnish with fennel fronds.

March 9, 2008

Seeni Sambol - a Caramelized Onion Side

Seeni sambol is a caramelized onion relish from Sri Lanka. It is used both as a condiment and as a side dish. The traditional accompaniment to this is a thin flat bread called Rotti, but it can be served with any store bought bread of your choice for a light lunch or a snack. Seeni means sugar in Tamil and sambol is the generic term for a spicy condiment. This dish is mildly sweet from the sugar, but has a good deal of heat from the chilli powder and spices.

There are two specialty ingredients in this recipe. Although both are optional, one of them is definitely worth a try. The first is Pandanus or Screwpine leaves (called Rampe in Sri Lanka). This leaf is used a lot in Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian sweet and savory dishes. It has a strong aroma - very reminiscent of fragrant Basmati and Jasmine rice. Cook once with it and it becomes obvious why it is added to the pot of cooking rice in these regions. It certainly changes my mood - I want to use it just to smell that amazing aroma in my home. It's most definitely worth a try just for that! I didn't know that the flowers of the screwpine are used to make Kewra water, a fragrant water used most frequently in desserts in India. The leaves are available frozen and sometimes fresh in Asian grocery stores.

The other specialty ingredient is a dried tuna fish - called Maldive fish. My guess is it lends a certain roundness to the dish.

Although umami is only a bit player in Japanese cuisine, reams of breathless prose have been produced here on this elusive fifth taste, which is supposedly linked to the profoundly pure, deep-sea flavors of kelp and dried tuna. (Source)
The strong fishy smell deterred me from using more than a minuscule amount, but I believe most of its fishiness cooks away when treated properly (like anchovies). Vegetarian can omit it completely. Good substitutes would be fish sauce or dried shrimp paste.

The trick to caramelized onions in any recipe, not just this one, seems to be to start them in a hot heavy bottomed skillet with a generous pinch of salt to get them going. After the onions start to turn color, turn the heat to medium low and cover partially to retain moisture if need. The onions should be plump and juicy when done, so we don't want too much moisture loss in the cooking process. When done, deglaze the bottom of the pan with a few teaspoons of water to get the good stuff off the bottom of the pan.

Seeni Sambol
3 large red onions peeled and sliced into half moons
1 tbs maldive Fish

1 inch ginger root, crushed

2-4 cloves garlic, crushed

1-2 tbs crushed red chilies

3 cardamoms

4 cloves

1 small sprig curry leaves

1-2 pieces pandan leaves (optional)

1 piece lemongrass, cracked well with the back of the knife(optional)
1 piece cinnamon
Salt to taste

1 tsp tamarind paste

1 tbs brown sugar

2 tbs vegetable oil

1. Mix the first 12 ingredients well.
2. Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet and add the mixed onions. Stir occasionally.
3. When the onions start turning color, turn down the heat. Keep stirring occasionally. Cover the skillet if need. 4. When the onions are almost caramelized, add the tamarind paste and brown sugar and cook until the tamarind is no longer raw.
5. Taste and adjust salt if required.

March 2, 2008

Chinese Winter Melon Soup

On a recent trip to the Asian grocery store, I picked up a slice of winter melon and dried wood ear mushrooms. A friend suggested that I make a soup out of it, so I adapted this recipe and found that I really liked this simple soup. The melon and wood ear mushrooms are both mild tasting, but lend so much flavor to the soup. A good quality stock really makes the soup shine. I used a store bought stock with good results. Dried shiitake mushrooms or any other dried mushrooms would work just as well in place of the wood ear mushrooms.

While writing up this post, I found out that winter melon is not uncommon in India (Hindi: petha, pethakaddu, Tamil: neer poosanikai, Bengali: Chal kumra, Malayalam: kumbalanga, Telugu: booDida Gummadikaaya, Kannada: boodagumbala). Now that I know it is used in Indian recipes, I have to give some of those a try sometime. This is my entry for Weekend herb blogging hosted this week by Anna from Morsels and Musings.

(This picture is reproduced with permission from Marc at Mental Masala)

Chinese Winter Melon Soup
2-3 cup winter melon (1/2 pound)
Water to boil winter melon
2-3 cups chicken broth
handful chinese dried black mushrooms
5-6 slices ginger
1/4 cup cooked ham, diced (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 green onion, green part only, washed and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
a handful of cilantro to garnish

1. Wash the winter melon, remove the green skin, seeds, and the pulp. Cut into 2-inch pieces. (Peel the skin thickly as the melon closer to the skin will be harder)
2. Reconstitute the Chinese dried mushrooms by soaking in hot water for 20 - 30 minutes until softened. Drain and rinse.
3. Place the winter melon in a pot of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for approximately 15 minutes.
4. Add the mushrooms, ginger and cooked ham. Add seasonings as desired. Simmer for about 20 minutes more or until the winter melon is translucent and tender. Add green onion and cilantro for garnish. Serve hot.

March 1, 2008

A Meme

Coco over at Ambrosia tagged me for a meme. So without much ado, here goes!

1. I loved oysters from the first time I tasted them. They have to be the food of the Gods.

2. Food and cooking are fairly recent passions - I have only gotten into it as a serious hobby in the past 5 years or so.

3. For a long time, I never thought I would get into making desserts. My focus used to be the main meal or appetizers - but I wouldn't touch desserts with a 10 foot pole. I figured they were just too unhealthy - and I never had a sweet tooth anyway. Then - one day (recently) I tasted a homemade dessert - and haven't been able to stop since.

4. I like photography - and hope to take interesting pictures someday. I'd like my pictures to convey a mood, or to simply have the observer intrigued.

5. Memes make me a little nervous. It's the part where I have to tag 5 other people that bothers me... So if you would like to be tagged, let me know!

Here are the rules for the Meme..
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them)
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

February 25, 2008

Lemon Creme Brûlée with Fresh Berries

I was searching for a different Creme Brûlée recipe for a dessert potluck party when I found this one from Bon Appétit. I was immediately interested - lemon zest flavoring a creamy custard sounded so refreshing. And it had great reviews from many people.

I decided to scale the recipe for about five people - that way I could use up that pint of cream. The only mistake I made was using too little lemon zest. I zested the only 2 small organic lemons I had (about 1 1/2 teaspoons) - the zest of three or maybe even four small lemons would have been better. I know - that seems like a lot of lemon zest - and it will even smell like a lot when you are infusing the cream. But the recipe needs it - the reviewers were right. I'm going to try to get my hands on some lemon oil for the next time around - if it comes with recommendations from David Lebovitz, it must be worth it. I would also omit the vanilla completely. I find that the vanilla completely masks the delicate flavors of the lemon - and that's the point of the whole recipe.

This is my contribution to this month's Jihva for Ingredients, lemons & limes, hosted by Coffee over at The Spice Cafe.

Lemon Creme Brûlée
Servings: 5 to 6

For Custard
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
3-4 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 large egg yolks

For Crème Brûlée
4 tablespoons sugar (regular white granulated sugar works best - I found brown sugar tends to burn before it caramelizes)
Fresh berries
1/8 cup (or less to taste) Chambord (black-raspberry liqueur) or crème de cassis (black-currant liqueur)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Arrange 5 or 6 ramekins in 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan. Combine cream and lemon peel in heavy small saucepan and bring to simmer. Whisk sugar and yolks in large bowl until thick, about 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in hot cream mixture, then add salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Strain custard, then divide among cups. Pour enough hot water into baking pan to come halfway up sides of cups.

Bake custards until just set in center, about 30-35 minutes. Remove custards from water bath; chill uncovered until firm, at least 3 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

Just before serving, top each ramekin with about a tablespoon of sugar dividing equally. Broil or torch until sugar melts and browns, about 2 minutes. Chill until topping is hard and crisp, at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Combine raspberries and liqueur in bowl. Let stand at room temperature at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour. Spoon berry mixture atop custards.

Key points for making Creme Brûlée:

(For all the following, the reference is Harold Mcgee's epic 'On Food and Cooking')

  • The custards needs to cook in a narrow range from 175-185°F; exceeding this range by 5 or 10°F can cause the custards to become grainy. Cook the custards in a thin metal baking pan in a water bath. The water bath keeps the oven heat in check so the custards cook gently. (Water can't exceed 212F, and evaporative cooling keeps the water temperature lower at 180°F in a metal pan) A glass baking pan will retain more heat than a metal one (185°F)and reduces your margin of error somewhat.
  • Don't omit the salt - it's plays a key role in the custard formation.
  • This dessert is all about the texture, so it's necessary to strain the mixture before baking. Don't bother adding fresh berries or fruit into the custard - there will be pockets of liquid in the finished dish from the fruit. Pre-cooking and using some flour/cornstarch may help reduce that - but why spoil the texture?
  • Only cook the custards till the center jiggles slightly. They will finish cooking outside the oven.
  • A propane torch is invaluable for making the caramel topping. The caramel should be hard enough to shatter when rapped with a spoon. You should hear a satisfying crunch when it's cracked. If you don't hear that on your first trial ramekin, add more sugar, caramelize and refrigerate uncovered for a few minutes.
  • If using a broiler, chilled custards are particularly important so that the custards won't start cooking again. An ice bath would help too.
  • Scalding the cream is not strictly necessary - in this recipe its needed for the infusing the lemon peel. But it can be skipped if using lemon oil or other extracts. The custards will take a bit longer to set in the oven, but the recipe will work just fine otherwise.
  • Meeta provides more useful tips and tricks for making Creme Brulee, invaluable for first attempts.

February 17, 2008

Pots De Crème and other experiments...

Pots De Crème

After reading about how much Molly at Orangette liked a Pots De Crème recipe from an old issue of Gourmet magazine, I just had to give it a try. The recipe called for muscovado and demerara sugar - I couldn't find them at a couple of local supermarkets, so I went ahead and used brown sugar instead. Delicious. The custard seems similar to that for a Crème Brûlée. I tasted a bite after the ramekins had cooled to room temperature - and found I could not stop. These desserts can disappear in a jiffy. They are smooth and silky, and even though I had only used brown sugar, had some complexity in the sweetness. Since the recipe is so basic, just cream, eggs and sugar, every ingredient needs to shine. I can see why bothering to find quality ingredients and the specialty sugar can be worthwhile.

Green Mango Rice

I crave green mangoes every now and then. (Its also been years since I ate sweet luscious Alphonso mangoes, but lets not go there now). This stir fried Green Mango Rice is a keeper - coconut, green chillies, cilantro and mangoes play along nicely in this recipe. A different version of the classic sour rice preparations from South India, like lime rice and tamarind rice.

Appey Pancakes - Savory vegetable pancakes

I was looking for a quick and light meal - Appey made with rava and yogurt fit the bill. I added shredded carrots to my version for some extra nutrition. I didn't have the specialty pan to make these, so mine look more like savory vegetable pancakes. These would make a very nice breakfast, but I had these for dinner, and was left sort of still hungry - but that's still good for a diet dinner:)

Salt Baked Fish

I have seen versions of whole fish baked in salt in a number of places. So a whole red snapper got baked up in a dome of salt with a few crushed spices of my choice. Because the moisture is trapped inside the salt casing, the fish ends up juicy and tender. Easy to make - and definitely worth it. A word of caution though - this recipe has nothing but salt, the spices add very little to the dish - so its all about the fish, and not much else. I served this with some olive oil and lemon wedges.