The cruelest prison of all is the prison of the mind.
~Piri Thomas

Petit and piquant, piri piri (also known as bird’s eye or African red devil) is a cultivar of Capsicum frutescens, which is both a wild and domesticated chile pepper.

Piri piri rolls off the ever seductive Portuguese tongue which did not so gently settle into the lush, tropical lands of the República de Moçambique (Mozambique). Not unlike most European-African incursions, Portugal began to colonize these lands in the early 16th century. Mozambique’s natives and natural resources, particularly gold mines, sugar and copra plantations, endured serious exploitation. Indigenous peoples were subjected to harsh conditions, punitive laws, and restricted rights all the while “settlers” were lured to a land claimed to be flowing with milk and honey. Sadly, a familiar tune.

Independence from this colonial yoke was finally achieved in 1975, yet Mozambique was soon ravaged by civil war, economic woes and famine. Relative peace was reached, ending sixteen years of brutal strife and allowing the country to begin drifting toward some form of stability. Still, the civil war that devastated Mozambique’s economy and infrastructure left it one of the world’s poorest nations.

Ironically, Portugal’s PM, José Sócrates, has now requested a financial bailout for his own country, north and west of its former colony.

The country’s name was derived from Mossa Al Bique or Mussa Ben Mbiki who was a renowned, local Arab trader of yore. I must assume that had to be one in the same person.

Shrimp piri piri has been anointed as Mozambique’s “national dish.” But, what does that phrase connote in a world rife with regional and familial dishes, cross cultures, conquest, occupation and colonialism?

This piri piri swerves some from the basic, but is well worth the diversion.

SHRIMP PIRI PIRI

1/3 C extra virgin olive oil

1/2 t black mustard seeds
1/2 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
6-8 red bird’s eye chiles, seeds and ribs removed, chopped

1 t cumin seeds, roasted and ground
1/2 t ground turmeric
1 t garam masala
1/2 t ground clove
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t sea salt
Pinch of raw sugar
1/2 C apple cider vinegar

1 lb shrimp (16-20 count), peeled and deveined, tails intact

Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Lime quarters

In a large, heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the mustard seeds and cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Add the onion, reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened slightly, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and chiles and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2-4 minutes longer.

Add the cumin, turmeric, garam masala, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, salt, sugar, and vinegar. Reduce heat to medium low and cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and, when the mixture is cool enough, purée in a food processor or blender until smooth. If necessary, add more oil to achieve the desired consistency. Set aside and allow to cool. Then, pour over the shrimp and cover in the refrigerator for a few hours or even overnight.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium high heat. Add the shrimp and sauté, stirring and shaking the pan, until the shrimp are done, about 2-4 minutes. Serve promptly with cilantro and limes.

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Cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.
~Mark Twain

Another inexplicable food bias. Why does cauliflower so often cop attitudes ranging somewhere between ambivalence and disdain?

Cauliflower can rarely find a date for prom which, as always, is a waste of fine material. This somewhat nutty flavored cruciferous vegetable is whitish as it lacks green chlorophyll in the head (“curd”) because the leaves shield the florets from sunlight. The orange and purple varieties are particularly fetching. Cauliflower possesses a high nutritional density with a profile low in fat, high in dietary fiber, folate, water and vitamin C. Ironically, when coupled with turmeric (see below), cauliflower has been found to reduce the risk of aggressive prostate cancer. So, please take her to the dance whether raw, roasted or sautéed.

Gobi Masala is a scrumptious Andhra cauliflower dish. Andhra Pradesh is a state located on the southeastern coast of India, baring the second longest coastline on this subcontinent—often monsoon ridden and occasionally battered. Two major rivers, the Godavari and the Krishna, course across this climatically and historically diverse region. The state is often called “India’s rice bowl” as over three quarters of the crops are rice, and it also happens to be a brisk producer of chile peppers.

The cuisine in Andhra kitchens is varied and regionally dependent, but naturally includes rice, peppers and a wide array of curries and spices.

As with all provincial cooking, versions of gobi masala abound. Some cooks suggest parboiling, even frying, the cauliflower first…some incorporate more indigenous Indian spices and curry leaves…some add a wondrous paste of poppy seeds and cashews…and so on and so forth.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER CURRY

1 cauliflower head, cut into florets
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered

2 t coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds

1/2 C canola or extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C sherry wine vinegar
1 T curry powder
1/2 t garam masala
1/2 t turmeric
1 t red chile powder
2 t sea salt

Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Stir coriander seeds and cumin seeds in small skillet over medium-low heat until essences are released, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool then grind in mortar with pestle or spice grinder. Place ground seeds in medium bowl and whisk in olive oil, wine vinegar, curry powder, garam masala, turmeric, chile powder, and salt.

Pull apart onion quarters into separate layers and add to cauliflower in a large glass bowl. Pour spice mixture over florets and onions and toss well to coat. Spread cauliflower and onions in a single layer in a large baking dish or heavy roasting pan.

Roast vegetables, stirring occasionally, until just fork tender, about 25 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

GOBI MASALA

1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets

1/2 C canola or extra virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

2 tomatoes, cored, seeded and finely chopped

2 t coriander seeds
2 t mustard seeds
2 t cumin seeds
2 t turmeric
1/2 t garam masala
1 t red chile powder
Liberal pinch of sea salt

1/2 C plain yogurt
2 t cashews, ground

Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Stir coriander, mustard and cumin seeds in small skillet over medium low heat until essences are released, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool then grind in mortar with pestle or spice grinder. Add turmeric, garam masala and red chile powder. Set aside.

Heat oil in a heavy, deep skillet and add the chopped onions, garlic and serrano peppers and sauté until onions are light brown.

Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the spice mix and salt and cook until the onion-tomato-garlic-pepper mix fully absorbs the flavors.

Add the yogurt and cashews and gently sauté until well blended. Now, add the cauliflower florets and sauté turning occasionally to coat for 2-3 minutes. Cover and cook until just tender, about 5 more minutes.

Garnish with fresh cilantro.

A Devil’s Eggs

March 14, 2010

Boiled eggs. Are seasoned with broth, oil, pure wine, or are served with broth, pepper and lovage.
~Apicius, Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome

Demonic fingerlings. Seems enigmatic given that Lucifer’s ova not only pose as Easter fare but are served at so many under-the-nave-in-the-basement-low-ceilinged-linoleum-floored church functions.

As is often the case, the possibilities are boundless with eggs. But, consider they do embody the essence of life and epitomize fertility. Just let your culinary mind wander. Think chopped or minced crab, shrimp, proscuitto, serrano, chiles, mustards, horseradish, wasabi, celery, fennel, caviar, smoked salmon, cured olives, cornichons, sun dried tomatoes, kimchi, peanuts, pistachios, shallots, crème fraîche, and herbs galore—to name just a few.

CURRY

6 large eggs

3 1/2 T mayonnaise (preferably homemade, but prepared works too)
1 T scallion or green onion, minced
1 T jalapeño chile, seeded and finely minced
2 t minced mango or chile chutney, finely minced
1/2 T curry powder
1/4 t ground cumin seed
Pinch of garam masala
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Red radishes, finely chopped (garnish)

Place eggs in heavy, medium sauce pan, and add enough cold water to cover by 2″ or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Immediately remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain hot water off eggs and then carefully transfer eggs to a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Then dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Gently crack the eggs and peel under cool running water.

Cut peeled eggs in half lengthwise, spooning yolks into a bowl. Using a fork to mash, mix in mayonnaise, then scallions, jalapeño chile, chutney, curry, garam masala, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Using a pastry bag or heavy plastic bag, pipe filling into egg whites, mounding slightly. Easier yet, simply spoon the the yolk mixture into the open egg whites.

Cover and chill eggs for at least 2 hours, even overnight. When serving, top each egg with some chopped radishes.

CAPERS & TARRAGON

6 large eggs

3 T mayonnaise (preferably homemade, but prepared works too)
1/2 T dijon mustard
4 t fresh tarragon, chopped
2 T capers, drained well
2 t shallot, peeled and minced

Pinches of paprika (garnish)
English cucumber, peeled and finely chopped (garnish)

Place eggs in heavy, medium sauce pan, and add enough cold water to cover by 2″ or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Immediately remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain hot water off eggs and then carefully transfer eggs to a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Then dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Gently crack the eggs and peel under cool running water.

Cut peeled eggs in half lengthwise, spooning yolks into a bowl. Using a fork to mash, mix in mayonnaise, mustard, tarragon, capers, shallot, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Using a pastry bag or heavy plastic bag, pipe filling into egg whites, mounding slightly. Easier yet, simply spoon the the yolk mixture into the open egg whites.

Cover and chill eggs for at least 2 hours, even overnight. When serving, top each egg with a small pinch of paprika and some chopped cucumber.

CHIPOTLE

6 large eggs

3 T mayonnaise (preferably homemade, but prepared works too)
1/2 T dijon mustard
2-3 t canned chipotle chiles, finely chopped
Sea salt

Cilantro leaves (garnish)

Place eggs in heavy, medium sauce pan, and add enough cold water to cover by 2″ or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Immediately remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain hot water off eggs and then carefully transfer eggs to a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Then dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Gently crack the eggs and peel under cool running water.

Cut peeled eggs in half lengthwise, spooning yolks into a bowl. Using a fork to mash, mix in mayonnaise, then chopped chipotle chiles and salt to taste. Using pastry bag or heavy plastic bag, pipe filling into egg whites, mounding slightly. Easier yet, simply spoon the the yolk mixture into the open egg whites.

Cover and chill eggs for at least 2 hours, even overnight. When serving, gently lay 1 or 2 cilantro leaves onto the filling on each egg.

Only in art will the lion lie down with the lamb, and the rose grow without thorn.
~Martin Amis

TANDOORI LAMB LOIN CHOPS

10 lamb loin chops, about 1 1/2″ thick

1/2 C garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 C fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
2 T peanut oil

1/2 C scallions, chopped
2 C plain yogurt
2 T honey
2 t garam masala*
1/2 T paprika
1/2 T turmeric
1/2 T cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 T coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1/2 C packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 T sea salt
1/2 T freshly ground pepper

Put the garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse the machine on and off until the ingredients are finely minced. With the machine running, drizzle the oil through the feed tube. Add the scallions, yogurt, honey, garam masala, paprika, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cilantro, salt and pepper and process until smooth.

Pour the mixture over the chops and turn them to coat both sides. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Season the chops on both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Bring the marinated lamb chops to room temperature. Grill the lamb for 5 to 6 minutes on each side for medium rare. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb chops and the heat of the grill. Let the lamb rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

* See Garam Marsala post

Garam Masala

May 4, 2009

Garam masala, derived from the Hindi garam, “hot” and masala “paste”, is a richly hued and intensely layered blend of ground spices. Regional variances of this magical mix abound, so no one recipe should be considered authentic—but many should be deemed unique. To make matters more confusing (not vexing, but rather complex) garam masala is sometimes used as the luminary and other times as an accourtrement to the remainder of the core dish.

Garam masala is frightfully versatile: chicken, lamb, goat, fish, salads, vegetables, curries, soups, stews, and so on. Try it as a grill rub sometime, just for grins. Garam Masala can be stored for several months in an air tight container in a cool, dark place, and is a pantry essential (see A Cupboard Not Bare).

GARAM MASALA

4 T coriander seeds
1 T cumin seeds
1 T black peppercorns
2 T black cumin seeds
2 T ginger powder
12 cardamom pods
1 T cloves
4 cinnamon sticks, cut in half
1 T crushed bay leaves

Heat heavy skillet on medium and gently roast coriander, cumin, peppercorns, cumin, cardamom (in pods), cloves, cinnamon, and bay leaves—until slightly darker, stirring occasionally. Do not be tempted to speed up the process by turning up the heat as the spices will burn on the outside and remain raw on the inside. Allow to cool, and then add ginger powder.

Remove the cardamom seeds from the pods and mix them back with all the other roasted spices.

Grind them all together, to a fine powder in a clean, dry coffee/spice grinder.

This is an impressive crowd: the Have’s and Have-More’s. Some people call you the elites. I call you my base.
~George W. Bush

With all the recent sharp banter about Wall Street moguls, their dizzying business failures, shameless sybaritic bonuses, and recent unfettered use of TARP funds, it seemed only appropriate to suggest a recipe which has origins in the Mughal Empire. After all, mogul—jargon for a successful business magnate who has built a vast economic empire—derives from the word “Mughal.”

The rulers of the Mughal Empire were the masters of the Indian subcontinental universe from the mid 16th century to the mid 18th century. Major Mughal contributions included majestic architecture, development of the Urdu language, and a refined, imperial cuisine influenced by Persian culture.

Find a reliable local spice merchant for all of your culinary journeys.

CHICKEN MUGHLAI

The Paste
2 T cumin seeds
2 T coriander seeds
2 t mustard seeds
1 T dried chili flakes
1 (1 “) piece ginger, peeled
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled & roughly chopped
4 T whole almonds, roughly chopped
1/4 to 1/2 C water

The Brown
2 T ground cumin
2 T ground cardamom
1 T ground cinnamon
2 T turmeric
Sea salt

2 T grapeseed or canola oil
3 T unsalted butter
3 to 3 1/2 lb. free range, organic chicken, cut into 8 pieces, room temperature

The Braise
5 cardamom pods, bruised
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
1 T turmeric
1 t dried fenugreek leaves, crushed
4 cloves
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
1 C plain yogurt
1 C chicken stock
1 C heavy cream
3/4 C golden raisins (sultanas)
2 T garam masala
2 T honey
1 t salt

3/4 C flaked almonds, toasted

In a dry heavy bottomed skillet, roast the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Grind the seeds and red pepper flakes in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Place the ground cumin, coriander, mustard and red pepper along with ginger, garlic, almonds into a food processor; blend while adding just enough water to develop a paste. Place in a bowl and set aside.

Mix ground cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric together in a bowl. Salt the chicken pieces first then coat with the spice mix. Heat oil and butter in a large, heavy bottomed deep skillet or dutch oven over medium heat until hot and shimmering. The chicken should sizzle when it touches the surface. Add the chicken pieces and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes per side. Place in a dish, loosely tent and set aside.

Pour off just enough of the liquid in the pan so there is still a liberal coating on the bottom. Add the cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, turmeric, fenugreek, and cloves into the pan and stir some. Add the onions and garlic, cook until softened and translucent, keeping the heat at medium, and stirring frequently, to avoid sticking. Pour in the blended paste, and cook until the color intensifies some.

Add the yogurt, and then stir in the stock, cream, garam masala, honey and raisins. Put the browned chicken back into the pan, along with any collected juices from the resting chicken. The chicken should be covered in the braising liquid.

Cover and cook at a simmer for 20 minutes, testing to make sure the meat is cooked through by piercing the flesh with a fork to see if juices run clear, yellow.

Serve with the toasted, flaked almonds.

RICE PILAF FOR CURRY

2 T grapeseed or canola oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves
3 cardamom pods, bruised
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3
1/2 t cumin seeds
2 C basmati rice
4 C chicken stock

1/2 C sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish
2 to 3 T chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

In a deep heavy saucepan, cook the onion in the oil, adding the cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, and cumin seeds until the onion is slightly browned and soft. Keep the heat medium to low and stir frequently, about 10 minutes.

Add the rice and gently stir until glossy and somewhat translucent; pour in the stock and bring the pan to a gentle boil. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to low, cooking for 20 minutes.

To serve, fluff the rice with a fork, topping with the toasted sliced almonds and cilantro.