Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
~Søren Kierkegaard

Around 380 BCE, in a book of The Republic, Plato presciently wrote the myth of the Ring of Gyges, in which a noble shepherd pocketed a “magical” ring found on the hand of a corpse in an abandonned cave that rendered him invisible to suit his whims. Gyges (sometimes pronounced jahy-jeez and other times jee-jeez) used this newly found trinket to infiltrate the royal household, and was even invited by the King of Lydia to secretly view his queen in the buff. He then could not help but seduce her and abruptly assassinated the king, ultimately usurping the throne. The basic notion behind Plato’s fable is that anonymity and disinhibition can corrupt even the most virtuous folks. So, if social reputation and sanctions are removed (now e.g., cowering behind a screen) moral character with any sense of empathy or contrition simply disappears too.

The once ancient Gyges effect with its namelessness, facelessness and/or faux appellation worlds appertains today in the form of trolls, thoughtless naysayers, online ragers, discord sowers, cyber-harassers, ranting yelpers, yik yakkers, social media/app abusers, inflammatory commentators, aggressors, droners, truculent ones, hackers, cyberbullies, belligerents, hate mongers, disrupters, and keyboard antagonists (to name a few). They all tend to enter a universe without filters or open discourse, actually pretending that there is not a real human enduring their assaults. To them, these are merely raging words on a formerly blank screen where there is just a desire for impact, for contemptuousness or resentment without any shared humanity or sense of responsibility. Shameless, in so many ways. Whatever happened to compassion and empathy?

A kind suggestion. Instead of hiding behind a screen of whatever sorts, please look intently in a mirror — a cold, hard stare — and closely conceptualize your face before even thinking about ranting online or elsewhere. Then instead, perhaps gently make a bowl of rice or some dessert. Be cool, be calm and savor each scent, each bite. So, “feed” a troll contrary to common advice.

But then, ponder while munching — how do we see real faces again?

BASMATI RICE & CORN PILAF

2 C Basmati rice

4 T unsalted butter or ghee (divided)
2 t garlic, minced
1 T ginger, grated
1/2 t turmeric
Pinch saffron
1/2 t coriander seeds
1/2 t cumin seeds
8 whole cloves
1/2 t black peppercorns
2 cardamom pods

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 C corn kernels, freshly shaven off of ears

Sea salt
1 C golden raisins
2 C chicken or vegetable broth

2 T cilantro, chopped
2 T scallions, chopped
1/4 C roasted cashews

Put rice in a medium bowl and cover with cold water. Swish with fingers, then pour off water. Repeat 2-3 times, until water runs clear. Cover again with cold water and soak 20 minutes, then drain.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter or ghee in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Add garlic, ginger, turmeric, saffron, coriander, cumin, cloves, peppercorns and cardamom, and stir to coat. Let sizzle a bit, then add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter or ghee, the rice and the corn, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook for 1 minute. Add raisins and chicken or vegetable broth and bring to brisk simmer. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary.

Cover, reduce the heat to low and let cook 15 minutes. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes off heat. Fluff rice and transfer to serving bowl. Strew rice with cilantro, scallions and cashews. Consider serving with raita. (See the August 5, 2012, post for a raita recipe or just simply type raita into the search box on the right hand side of the screen).

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In writing, you must kill all your darlings.
~William Faulkner

Over the past few years, this site has become some form of writing, albeit ramblings or recipes. That medium allows me to fictionally, even idiomatically, lead those beloved, downy lambs to slaughter.

To do so, first ascertain a venue and gather the tools of the trade. Create a block and tackle from an overhead beam or improvise some sort of frame from scaffold poles. Then, garner a gambrel (an a-frame for hanging carcasses), meat hooks, a sharp 6″ blade, a small hook-shaped knife, a butcher’s saw, and a shotgun. Later comes separation, the act, hoisting the carcass, skinning, evisceration and butchery. The bloody details, angles, etc., are purposely spared, so precise imagination must suffice.

In the end, at the juncture of animal and human worlds, emerge blessed lamb chops. Numinous provender for us omnivores.

GRILLED LAMB CHOPS WITH YOGURT & SAFFRON

Lamb marinade:

1 t saffron threads
2 T warm water

2 C plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1/2 C fresh lemon juice
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 T fresh black peppercorns
2 t orange zest
2 t honey

8 rib lamb chops, doubled (each 2″ thick)

Saffron baste:

1/2 t saffron threads
1 1/2 T warm chicken stock

3 T unsalted butter
3 T fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chutneys (optional)

Prepare the marinade. Place the saffron in a large, deep glass bowl and grind to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. Add warm water, stir, and let stand for 10 minutes.

Then, add the yogurt, lemon juice, onion, garlic, peppercorns, orange zest and honey to the dissolved saffron and mix well. Pour over and marinate the lamb chops in a large heavy plastic bag and allow to rest, turning occasionally, in the fridge overnight.

Preheat the grill to medium high. As a reminder, hold an open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands retraction. Two (2) to three (3) seconds = medium high.

Meanwhile, prepare the saffron basting sauce. Place the saffron in a small, heavy saucepan. Add warm stock, stir, and let stand for 10 minutes. Add the butter and lemon juice to the dissolved saffron and stir over low heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is blended and heated through. Remove from heat and set aside.

Remove the chops from the marinade, bring to room temperature on a cutting board, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the lamb chops on the hot barbeque grate and then grill, turning once, until cooked to your liking (about 5-6 minutes per side for medium rare). Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb chops and the heat of the grill. Brush the chops a couple of times as they cook with the saffron basting sauce.

Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes on the cutting board, then transfer the chops to plates and serve promptly, preferably with dollops of differing chutneys to the side.

Fueled by scorching temperatures, a severe to extreme drought has settled over much of the continental United States. The most brutal heat wave in many decades, readings above 100 F have become commonplace. The Midwest is evolving into a dust bowl, while the Southwest and Rockies are becoming tinder boxes, and lakes and rivers across the South are withering up. More than half of all counties have been designated primary disaster areas this growing season. Almost four million acres of conservation land were opened by the Department of Agriculture for ranchers to use for haying and grazing. Crops and pasture lands throughout much of the country have taken more than a drubbing — they have simply become a debacle with little relief in sight. Somber days in the breadbasket as the drought has touched so many, so much.

Beat the heat fare should be trendy this cruel summer. A cooling concoction with infinite variations, raita is a traditional Indian-Pakistani-Bangladeshi condiment used as a salad, relish, spread, dip or side dish. Other versions include tomato, diced veggies, avocado, chutney, beet, masala, potato, sweet potato, onion, chile, chickpea, etc.  Although always finely mated with Indian dishes, versatile raita need not be relegated to south Asian eats.

RAITA

1 t cumin seeds, toaasted and ground
1 t coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 t black mustard seeds, toasted and ground

2 C plain Greek (strained) yogurt
1 t sugar
1/2 t crushed red pepper powder or flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2+ large fresh English cucumber, peeled and diced
1 C fresh mint leaves, chopped

In a heavy dry medium skillet, toast cumin, coriander and mustard seeds until just aromatic. Allow to cool and then grind the seeds in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Whisk together yogurt, sugar, red pepper, cumin, coriander, mustard, salt, black pepper, cucumber, and mint. Chill, covered, until ready to serve.

Pourboire: a brief word about measuring. Although baking demands precise measurements, savory cooking generally allows some laxity. So, unless you are as OCD as Ina Garten, just mete out ingredients with your eyes. Use that oversized 3 lbs of meat between your ears (and hippocampi) to judge and recall amounts — simply pour a carefully measured, even brightly hued, chosen spice into an open palm in order to ascertain the quantity of a teaspoon, tablespoon, cup or portion thereof and take note. Then, use that memory forward.

No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.
~Mahatma Gandhi

Unlike some other iconic Indian cuisine often tied to ancient origins, tandoori murghi has relatively recent roots. The tale nonetheless is steeped in intrigue, politics, religion and history.

For centuries, India labored under British dominion, a vestige of the British East Indies Company’s centuries long, relentless mercantile expansion and Parliament’s political acquiesence to the Raj‘s oppresive, sometimes brutal, colonial visit. Like guests who were really never invited and then became cruelly rude and refused to leave. After the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British East India Company was dissolved and rule was transferred to the empire under Queen Victoria who was even proclaimed Empress of India. A cultural conundrum on the best of days. I could go on, back and forth in history, but space does not permit.

In the 1920s, Mohammed Karamchand Gandhi, who was indelibly marked by Indian culture and trained as a barrister in London, emerged as a steady voice of Indian nationalism. Commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi, he espoused non-violent civil disobedience of oppressive British policies which he had earlier developed in South Africa. To name a few, he attempted to ease poverty, expand women’s rights, forge religious and ethnic harmony, enhance economic self sufficiency and exalt class equality. Political rivals dismissed him with Winston Churchill once ridiculing him as a “half naked fakir.” During this same time, a humble young man named Kundan Lal Gujral opened a restaurant called Moti Mahal in culturally vibrant Peshawer, a district of the northwest frontier of British India. He experimented with cooking young birds in tandoors, the clay ovens used by locals to cook bread. The earthenware kilns were/are bell shaped, set into the earth, and fired with wood or charcoal, reaching temperatures of about 900 F. The result of this simple trial and error? The inside was perfectly done and the outside crispy with spice galore.

By the end of World War II, Britain capitulated and finally in 1947 India attained independence. The Punjab province was partitioned with the eastern sector joining Pakistan and western India. So, Peshawer, with a predominately Muslim population, became part of Pakistan which revived a long standing dispute of whether India would be an united Hindu dominated state or would have a separate Muslim state to the north. Rebellion and carnage ensued between Muslims on one hand and Hindus and Sikhs on the other. Gujral was one of many Sikh and Hindu refugees who had to flee the upheaval by heading toward India. He relocated his restaurant to Daryaganj, Delhi, a move that as chance would have it brought fame.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, happened upon Moti Mahal and was so impressed by his tandoori murghi dish that he began reserving state banquets there. Foreign dignitaries began pouring in — Presidents John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, Soviet leaders Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev, the King of Nepal, the Shah of Iran, et al. The close relationship between the restaurant and India’s preeminent leaders endured for several generations, even making sumptuous Tandoori Murghi standard fare on Indian menus throughout the world.

At first blush, this receipe looks a tad daunting.  But, a careful read shows that once the tandoori masala is made and the lemon curd purchased (both well in advance), the prep and roast or grill are a snap.  Weekday grub.  Should you opt for the sauté and roast route and time is a factor, the ghee is not essential.

TANDOORI CHICKEN

4 lb whole chicken

1/2 C tandoori masala (see below)
2 C plain Greek yogurt
2 T fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
4 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

3 T ghee (see below) or unsalted butter
1 T grapeseed oil

1/2 C lemon curd, prepared or homemade

Remove the neck and giblets from the chicken. Trim excess fat (usually found in the cavity) and then rinse the chicken with cold water and pat dry thoroughly. Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut all the way down one side of the backbone, just cutting through the small rib bones close to the backbone, but not through the center of the backbone itself. Next, cut all the way down the other side of the backbone, removing it entirely. Reserve the neck and backbone for stock.

Flatten by firmly pressing the heel of your hand down over the breastbone. This will open the carcass and break the breastbone so as to flatten out the chicken. With a sharp knife, score the chicken flesh rather deeply at diagonals about 1 1/2″ apart on the meaty side.

Whisk together 1/3 cup of the tandoori masala, yogurt, ginger and garlic in a medium bowl. Place the chicken in a large glass baking dish or large ziploc freezer bag and coat thoroughly with the marinade.  Massage the marinade thoroughly inside and outside the chicken, including all gashes, crevasses and valleys. Turning occasionally, allow to marinate in the refrigerator overnight, but preferably 18-24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 450 F

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and allow it to reach room temperature. Then, sprinkle the chicken with some tandoori masala on both sides. Heat a large, heavy ovenproof skillet over high heat, and add the ghee and oil. Once hot, sear the chicken skin side down first until browned, about 5 minutes on each side. Then place in the oven until a fork inserted in the meaty part of a thigh exudes pale yellow juices, about 20 minutes. Throughout the roasting process, baste regularly with lemon curd. The goal is crispy yet tender. Remove to a cutting board or platter and loosely tent the chicken with foil. Allow to rest about 5-8 minutes or so before serving.

Serve with sides to your liking, such as thinly sliced fresh onion rings, cucumber salad, lemon wedges, spiced basmati rice, naan, and mint or mango chutney.

Tandoori Masala
1/3 C coriander seeds
1/3 C cumin seeds
2 T green cardamom pods
1 T whole cloves
1 T whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2″ piece cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

2 tablespoons pimentón agridulce or paprika
1 T sea salt
2 T turmeric
1 t cayenne pepper
Pinch ground mace
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Heat the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom pods, cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves and cinnamon in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until the cumin becomes aromatic and just lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Allow to cool some, then grind the spices in a spice grinder or coffee mill until fine, and then transfer to a bowl with the pimentón or paprika, salt, turmeric, cayenne pepper, mace and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly and store in an airtight container in a dark place.

Ghee
1 lb unsalted butter, roughly cut into pieces

Place butter in medium heavy saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a lively simmer or quiet boil, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, and the butter will form a first foam which will disappear. Ghee is done when a second foam forms on top of butter, and the butter turns slightly golden, about 7 minutes. Brown milk solids will naturally fall to the bottom of the pan. Allow to cool for several minutes. Slowly pour into ovenproof container through a fine mesh strainer and/or cheesecloth layers. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container and keep free from moisture.

Pourboire: alternatively, grill the chicken. Preheat a grill to between medium high and medium. Build a gentle, yet hot fire. Make sure that you have a fire that is substantial enough to maintain a consistent temperature for up to 30-45 minutes. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate to reduce sticking issues.

Then, remove the chicken from the marinade, allow to reach room temperature and sprinkle with some tandoori masala. Place the bird on the hot grate and grill, starting with skin side down, turning occasionally (but not obsessively) to prevent over charring, until cooked through, some 25-30 minutes total. Baste wth lemon curd on the tail end of the grilling process, particularly focused on the skin side. The bird is done when the thickest part of the thigh reaches 160 F by a meat thermometer which is not touching the bone. Again loosely tent and allow to rest before carving.

Also, in lieu of lemon curd, you may add fresh lemon juice to the yogurt-tandori masala marinade.

Egg Curries

July 12, 2012

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.
~Oscar Wilde

Given India’s eloquent history, vivid traditions, varied cultures, diverse and burgeoning populace and potent economic position, it often seems baffling, if not disconcerting, that news from there rarely travels here. Well, unless the info is perceived to somehow affect Joe the plumber. Of course, sadly the same can be said of most all Asian and African lands — as if these places are outmoded artifacts. To our detriment we have been, and will remain, profoundly ethnocentric. What follows is civic and social ignorance. Sometimes it seems food is the only refuge from the depths of this self-inflicted punishment.

Ranging by region, this dish is far from standard across the subcontinent, but supposedly originates from Northern India, particularly Punjab. It is sometimes known as Anda Bhaji, Punjabi or Mughlai Curry there, while in south India it sometimes bears the names Andhra, Chettinad Mutta, Mangalore or Kerala egg curry depending on locale, cuisine and ingredients. Within those subsets there are even more species which differ from kitchen to kitchen, cook to cook. No doubt, the varieties have been given short shrift here.

Captivatingly aromatic, there is a nuanced burst of spice with each chew.

EGG CURRY

9 eggs
Water, to cover

2-3 T grapeseed oil
1 T fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 T serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 T honey

1 T garam masala
1 T turmeric
1 T pimentón agridulce (Spanish paprika)
1 T cumin seeds, roasted and finely ground
1 T coriander seeds, toasted and finely ground
1 T cardamom seeds, toasted and finely ground
1 T fennel seeds, toasted and finely ground
1 t fenugreek, toasted and finely ground
Pinch of sea salt

1 C fresh tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1 C chicken broth

1 C Greek yogurt
2 T chickpea flour

Cilantro leaves, chopped

Gently place the eggs in a saucepan and add enough cold water to liberally cover the eggs. Bring to a boil over high and then immediately remove from heat and cover until done, about 12 minutes. Uncover and flush with cool running water and then briefly place in an ice bath to cease cooking. Dry promptly on paper towels, peel and reserve.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan over medium high and add the ginger, chiles and garlic. Cook for about a minute and then add the honey, and cook about a minute more. First mix, then add the garam masala, turmeric, pimentón, cumin, coriander, cardamom, fennel, fenugreek, and sea salt to the pan, and again cook until fragrant, about a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bring to a quiet but steady simmer and reduce, about 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk the yogurt and chick pea flour together and then slowly stir into the tomato sauce. Bring to a gentle boil and then reduce heat to low and continue to cook, stirring gently, for about 15 minutes. Slice the reserved boiled eggs in half lengthwise and gently place them in the sauce, cut side up, to reheat spooning the sauce on top.

Finish with a light sprinkling of chopped cilantro and serve alongside basmati rice, paratha or naan.

Lamb Down & Tzatziki

May 14, 2011

Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued.
~Socrates

Tomorrow, another young ruminant bites the dust. A whole roasted spring lamb with Greek fixings, including tzatziki, awaits. Having been assured that this spring sacrifice was not lured from a local childrens’ petting zoo with rodent pellets, I will sleep soundly tonight. Mary’s little lamb, on the other hand, is sleeping fleeceless with the fishes…only to be almost miraculously resurrected over glowing coals.

Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) are cultivated creeping vines from the gourd family which bear cylindrical fruit. With south Asian origins dating back some 10,000 years, several different cucumber cultivars have emerged over time. English cucumbers have thin, tender, edible skins and a relative lack of seeds which lends sweetness.

Tzatziki (τζατζίκι) is the omnipresent and ever versatile Grecian meze, served as a dip, soup, sauce or salad. Common to Mediterranean cuisines, this delicate yet tangy mingling of cucumber, yogurt, garlic, lemon and mint often graces gyros, souvlaki, vegetables, and grilled or roasted meats, to name a few. Offer when cool as a cucumber.

TZATZIKI

1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
Sea salt

2 C Greek yogurt (yiaourti)
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
3 plump garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and finely minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt
1/2 C fresh mint leaves, cut into ribbons

Salt the cucumber and place over a wire mesh strainer positioned over a bowl. Set aside to drain for 2 hours or so.

Meanwhile, in another bowl, combine the yogurt, lemon juice and zest, garlic, black pepper, another pinch of salt, and fresh mint chiffonade.

Squeeze out the excess moisture from the cucumbers and add to the yogurt mixture. Stir well to combine. Allow to rest in refrigerator for at least two hours before serving so the flavors can marry.

Pourboire: you may also wish to drain the yogurt overnight through a cheesecloth or muslin bag suspended over a bowl. Discard the liquid in the bowl and use the thickened result. This step is mandatory should Greek yogurt be unavailable.

If to be interesting is to be uncommonplace, it is becoming a question, with me, if there are any commonplace people.
~Mark Twain

I openly admit to primitive pastry and baking skills. My purlieu lies elsewhere, in a more savory world.

The term “muffin” is derived either from the French word moufflet, meaning a soft bread, or from the German word muffe which is the name for a type of cake. Much like pancakes, it is a two bowl yeast free method where you simply fold the wet into the dry. Please do not overmix—this overdevelops the gluten in the flour which causes tough muffins with tunnels and a compact, almost rubbery texture. Always hand stir the batter until just thick and lumpy.

Symmetrical with domed tops, these muffins are humble homages to those overripe bananas or luscious blueberries peering at you from the counter or fridge. In either event, moist and tender muffins are fine ways to fuel up a morning coupled with a morning cup of joe, or they can be that needed pick me up when you hit that proverbial late afternoon wall…maybe they are an occasional antidote to circadian cycle hiccups.

This may fall short of provocative fare that elicits raves. Then again, things plebeian are not always prosaic.

BANANA OAT MUFFINS

1 1/2 C walnuts

2 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 C rolled oats
1 1/2 C granulated white sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
2 t ground cinnamon
Grating of nutmeg

4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 C unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and cooled
6 very ripe large bananas (approximately 1 lb.), mashed well (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 t pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F

Place the nuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly toasted. Let cool and then chop coarsely.

In a large bowl combine the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and nuts.

In a medium-sized bowl combine the mashed bananas, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla.

Lightly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined, and the batter is thick and chunky. Take care not to over mix the batter as totally smooth batter will yield tough, rubbery muffins.

Line two 12 holed muffin pans with paper liners or butter. Spoon the batter into the prepared tins. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool for five minutes and then remove muffins from pan.

BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

5 C all-purpose flour
1 C granulated white sugar
1/2 C raw sugar
3 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
Zest of one orange
Zest of one lemon

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 C buttermilk or plain low-fat yogurt
1 1/3 C canola oil
2 t pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 C fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 F

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, orange and lemon zests. Gently fold in the blueberries.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract.
Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir only until the ingredients are combined. Do not over mix the batter as smooth batter will yield tough, rubbery muffins.

Line two 12 holed muffin pans with paper liners or butter. Spoon the batter into the prepared tins. Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full of batter. Place in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for about 5 minutes before removing from pan.