Saturday, July 26, 2014

Be Careful What You Put In Your Spice Grinder....

I had originally intended this to be my first post. WHOOPS. Better late than never, right?

As I have eluded to in the past, I love to cook things from different cultures. Give me a recipe from anywhere in the world, and I will try to make it! I'm serious. 

I love Indian food, but didn't really appreciate it until I got to college. The only Indian food place I had been exposed to growing up was a very small spot in Bangor, Maine. It was far enough away that I probably went only 3 times in my life. 

Once I got to college, Boston opened my eyes to many things, including Indian food. But as I delved deeper I realized the limitations of what I knew. One of my boyfriend's best friends' (who I am now close to as well) family is from Tamil Nadu, a state in South India. It is ultimately because of him that my palate was educated further into the wonders of Indian Cuisine. I was exposed to things other than chicken tikka masala and naan. Naan is not generally served in South India (there is a plethora of other breads), and chicken tikka masala is actually not an Indian dish! It was born in England! Wow. 

Anyways, it is from our friend that I learned that regular chai (not masala chai) is not to be spiced, and is really just strong black tea with milk and lots of sugar. Chai literally just means "tea." I learned the importance of yogurt and pickles. It is because of him I now know that idli and vadai and dosai exist. These are all amazing things. 

When I lived in Berkeley California, I had access to some of the best and most affordable Indian food ever. Naan N' Curry and House of Curries have been some of the best North Indian style restaurants I have ever been too. This style of restaurant doesn't exist in LA...affordable and of quality. You order at a counter, are given a number to bring to your table, grab your own silverware and plates and cups, and a pitcher of water if you want. And chai is always FREE with a meal. I have not seen that in LA!

Upon the recommendation of our friend, Berkeley was also the first place I tried South Indian food, at Vik's Chaat Corner. Cafeteria style (almost) and amazing! It was there that I experienced Chana Bhatura for the first time (big, puffy, wholewheat bread that you break into pieces to scoop up the chana masala). I also lived around the corner from a great little dosa spot called Udupi Palace on University Avenue. Berkeley was a really great town for Indian food.

And here in LA, we have Paru's on Sunset. Absolute heaven. 

Another thing about the South Indian cuisine I've tried: It's mostly vegetarian. Of course, there's ghee, paneer, and yogurt. Gotta love those dairy fats.

One of my favorite Indian dishes, either in the northern or southern style, is chana masala, or chole. It's really just amazing. The North Indian style gets it's character from onions, tomatoes, spices and dry mango powder. Garam masala may also be added. The North Indian style is a bit "sour and tangy". The South Indian version gets it's character mainly from coconut and whole spices and is a bit sweeter, it does not have the "sour and tangy" quality that it's sibling does.

So I decided to make it. And I wanted to make it RIGHT. South Indian style is the one I prefer.

So, one trip to India Sweets and Spices later, I came home with all of this:
Left to right, top to bottom: Asofetida, tomatoes, chickpeas, onion, ghee, indian bay leaf, black mustard seeds, curry leaves, green chili, turmeric (powdered and fresh), garlic, ginger, cilantro, dried unsweetened coconut, spice mixture (chili, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, cumin, coriander, cloves.)
And then I got started. The recipe I was trying to follow was based off of this one.

First thing was first, I laid out all of my ingredients (see above.)
I love the way these spices look!!
The first step here, is to prepare your chickpeas. I would have liked to have started with dry ones, but I didn't plan enough ahead, and just used canned ones instead (I used 2 cans). I highly recommend you use dry. Soak 1 cup of them overnight or for about 8 hours. Since I used canned ones, I just drained and rinsed them and set aside. If you are using dry, the recipe wants you to pressure cook them after soaking. I don't have a pressure cooker, I probably would have just cooked them until al dente, and set aside. 

Next, you get together your batch of "roasting spices" (also referred to as "roasting masala"). Dry roasting brings out the flavors of the spices in a big way that really makes a difference in the final dish. If you have a chutney grinder, which is a dry/wet grinder that this recipe called for, dry roast the spices and coconut together, add some water, and grind it into a fine paste in said grinder. I had heard of this before because it's also used to grind lentils and rice to make idli and dosas, etc. I don't have one of these, unfortunately!

In a dry pan (I used our trusty Lodge dutch oven), add 1 inch of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp of fennel seeds, 1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds, 1 tbsp of coriander seeds (I only had ground), 1-2 red chilis (or more), 2-3 cloves, 2-3 green cardamom pods. It also called for black cardamom, but I did not have any luck finding that at the market. Dry roast all of these together until fragrant. 
Dry roasting the spices. 

Then, add 3/4 to 1 cup of grated coconut. The recipe called for fresh, but I just used unsweetened dry. I added a little more coconut to account for not using it fresh. I did not measure the amount that I added, though, sorry!
Add the coconut to your masala mix. 
Roast the coconut with the spices until the coconut is browned. Make sure to keep stirring the mixture so that it doesn't burn. Once the coconut is browned, take the mixture off the heat to cool. Once cooled, put it through a spice grinder.  

In my case, I used a coffee grinder that we got specifically to grind spices. And...I broke it. The piece of cinnamon I used was WAY too hard, and it got caught somehow and broke it. I finished grinding the spices in another grinder, and added some ground cinnamon.

After grinding the spices, add enough water to make a paste and set aside.
Grating the turmeric! Smells amazing, but stains everything...careful!

crushing the ginger and garlic. It helped to to slice them up a bit first.
Use a mortar and pestle to crush a 1/2 inch of ginger and 2-3 cloves of garlic. Set aside.

Black mustard seeds, ghee, and bay leaf. 
Chop up a medium onion and 3-4 smallish tomatoes. Keep them separate. 

Then, put 3 tbsp of ghee into a pot. I reused my dutch oven from earlier (I washed it, of course!). Once hot, fry 1/2 tsp of black mustard seeds in it. Once they are sputtering, add the bay leaf to fry as well. 

Add the chopped onion to the pot. Sauté until soft. Then, add 10-12 curry leaves (I used dry), a pinch of asafoetida (let me tell you, asafoetida is REALLY stinky, and does not smell appetizing at has foetid in it's name for a reason. It kind of smells like B.O. or burnt rubber. I had to quarantine the little jar inside of a closed mason jar with some baking soda so it doesn't make my kitchen smell awful, but the result is a tasty flavor reminiscent of leeks), and the crushed ginger/garlic mixture. Then add the turmeric, I used powdered and grated. Cook until the smell of raw garlic/ginger disappears.
Adding the onions, curry leaves, garlic ginger paste. 
Then, add the chopped tomatoes. The recipe called for 1 medium, but I used about 4 smallish ones. Sauté for about 2-3 minutes while stirring so they do not stick.  
Add the tomatoes!
Then, add the masala spice paste; stir and mix well.
Adding your masala!
Then, add your ckickpeas and one (or more) split green chiles. Sauté for 2-3 minutes. Then add water, or chickpea "stock" (leftover from pressure cooking or what have you). I added enough water to cover a bit.
It's all starting to come together!

Then, bring to a boil and simmer, until sauce becomes thick. I crushed a bunch of chickpeas with a bean masher to help create a nice gravy.

Cook until the flavors come together and you've a nice gravy going on. 
Then, add chopped fresh cilantro. Check for seasoning! Serve over rice and with any Indian breads you might require. May I perhaps suggest a sweet lassi with it as well? 


Recipe: Serves 4-6 easily. 
For more details that are not included in this post, here is the recipe I referenced.

Spices to be dry roasted for the masala:
¾ to 1 cup fresh grated coconut
1 inch cinnamon
½ tbsp fennel
½ tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1-2 dry red chilies (3 or 4 chilies would make the dish very spicy)
2-3 cloves
2-3 green cardamom

Everything else:
2 15.5. ounce cans of chickpeas, or 1 cup dried.
3 tbsp ghee
1 small bay leaf
½ tsp mustard seeds
10-12 curry leaves
1 green chili, slit
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
¼ or ½ tsp turmeric powder
a pinch of asafoetida
½ inch ginger + 2-3 garlic - crushed or made into a paste in mortar-pestle
1.5 to 2 cups of the chickpea stock or water
salt as required
some coriander leaves for garnishing

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