Kraken Pie

Kraken kracken octopus squid pie dessert

There be monsters here! Kraken pie by Jennice McCafferty-Wright.

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Peace, Love, and Chai

Chai Masala.jpg

Chai Masala, a utterly sublime end to a fantastically flavorful meal.

Chai is a staple in Indian cuisine and frankly, no one knows how to do it better than they do. If you are an American who has sampled the various commercially produced chai mixes in tea bags or sampled some from your local barista, then you likely have been missing out on the unbelievably flavorful and satisfying chai masala made the traditional Indian way.

Ingredients
Masala is simply a term for spice blend, and chai masalas vary depending on household recipes. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and ground black pepper are frequent ingredients. To really enjoy authentic chai, you will need to either make or purchase some chai masala. But don’t stress over details– one could simply mix a small amount of whatever of these ground/powdered ingredients you have handy, going heavy on the ginger and pepper. Here is one recipe but about 1.2 billion variations abound: http://tinyurl.com/kep25ce

chai ingredients.jpgThe essentials for authentic chai masala include the right tea, freshly crushed green cardamom, fresh ginger, milk, and sugar. There is a clear choice of tea for making chai and it is Assam Mamri. This is a full-flavored granular loose tea that withstands the spices without being overpowering or too bitter. Although others say to use whatever black tea you can find, I would not trust a word they say .

That’s right. Settling for anything else is just wrong. It is living life out of balance and tempting fate. Friends don’t let friends drink lousy chai. You can likely get a large bag of Assam Mamri at your local world food market for about three dollars, along with the other ingredients such as cardamom and a chai masala blend.

Fresh green cardamom pods (perhaps the most heavenly spice known to man) are cracked open with a mortar and pestle (a flat-bottomed juice glass on a saucer can work in a pinch) and steeped in the heating water. Either squeezed or grated ginger fill out a fragrant and flavorful pot of chai.

The gracious Gopal of Chhoti Haveli gave me a memorable chai lesson.

The gracious Gopal of Delhi’s Chhoti Haveli gave me a memorable chai lesson.

The milk is cooked in the chai providing yet another flavor component not accustomed to by most Americans. I use 2% but my friend Gopal in Delhi uses skim. Lastly, chai is best served sweet, and one will usually find 2-3 times the amount of sugar on the typical table in India than in America. You know– sugar and spice!

Lastly, you will also need a way to strain the loose ingredients, usually when poured into your teapot.

Directions
Let’s get down to business! Here is what I do:
In a medium saucepan, pour four coffee-cups full of water. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of chai masala (a pinch per cup) and about 2″ of a cinnamon stick to the water as it heats on high. With a mortar and pestle, crack open one green cardamom pod per cup of water and add to the heating water– husks and all. Especially in the winter, you must include fresh ginger. For a pot of 4 cups, I use about a large grape size piece of ginger. Ideally, you squeeze the juice out with something like a garlic press, but it is much easier and almost as effective to use a grater instead of squeezing it; simply grate it right into the heating pot of water. You can also dice the ginger and then smash it with a mortar and pestle before adding to the heating water. Then, add one rounded teaspoon of Assam Mamri tea per coffee cup to the pot (if using teacups instead of coffee cups, use one level teaspoon of tea per cup). Breather in the unbelievably alluring fragrance as it heats. THIS is the spice of life.

The chai and masala are brought to a full boil before milk is added.

The chai and masala are brought to a full boil before milk is added.

You then bring the lovely elixir to a boil. That’s right, a full boil. No, it won’t get bitter with tannins if you follow the steps below. It must be Indian magic because it works amazingly well. As soon as it comes to a boil, you reduce the heat to low, then pour in milk. One determines the amount of milk by the heavenly color of the chai. I have never measured it but I would guess that about 1/2 cup would be a good starting point. Then, watch it carefully as you bring it to a gentle boil three times, turning down the heat and letting it sit for about 30 seconds after each boil. After the third boil with milk, turn off the heat and allow the ingredients to settle for about a minute or two. The volume of milk added makes up for the amount of water that evaporates and is soaked up by the dry ingredients. Next, carefully pour the chai through a strainer into your teapot. Yes, it takes practice and you might spill the first time or two, but you will get it.

Fresh chai and monsoon rains are a welcomed respite from the hustle and bustle of Delhi.

Fresh chai and monsoon rains are a welcomed respite from the hustle and bustle of Delhi.

Serve this heavenly concoction with 2 teaspoons of sugar per cup. As one Indian friend told me, the only way to drink chai is sweet!

Namaste!

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Emperor Chicken Korma

Chicken Korma: Classic Indian Cuisine

Chicken Korma: Classic Indian Cuisine

There are some dishes that transcend cultural and political boundaries, and persist — strengthened by time and regional variation. Such is the case for Korma, an Indian cuisine classic. Korma was brought to the Indian subcontinent by the Persian Mughals in the 16th Century. Korma is a Hindi word meaning braised, the manner in which the meat is simmered in any number of luscious liquids. Undoubtedly, the north Indian inhabitants of places such places as Kashmir contributed their extensive knowledge of flavorful spices from India, helping to shape this quintessential Indian dish — one fit for a Mughal Emperor.

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Kormas vary significantly in ingredients. Many meats (lamb, goat, chicken) can be braised with various spices for a korma. They can be very spicy or mild, they can include nuts and raisins. The sauce can be made with heavy cream, yoghurt, or coconut milk. What has come to be a standard in Delhi and a favorite in the west, is a creamy chicken korma with a slight spiciness.

Khan Market, Delhi.

Khan Market, Delhi.

Here I offer you an authentic Delhi-style chicken korma, prepared in a contemporary manner as you might find in an upscale restaurant at Kahn Market. It is a creamy korma, but sensible with a yoghurt sauce enriched by a reasonable amount of cream, and enhanced by the nuttiness of cashews. The meat is very tender and flavorful due to a marinade in spiced yoghurt. A spiced yoghurt marinade may seem odd or exotic to the uninitiated, but the little extra effort is so very rewarding in results.

Don’t let any concern of Indian spiciness hinder your attempt at this korma. The amount of chillies in this recipe impart a peppery flavor, but not a fiery heat. If heat is your pleasure, you can easily add more cayenne (ground capsicum) to suit your preference.

Cooking this particular recipe from scratch does take some effort and some time, but it is the perfect dish for a long stew on a weekend.

Serves

The first Mughal Empire celebrated their conquest with the building of Qutub Minar in Delhi.

The first Mughal Empire celebrated their conquest with the building of Qutub Minar in Delhi.

This recipe serves apx 4 with leftovers (which are always tasty!) but you could easily halve or double it. I typically make a large stew pot full, using about 4 1/2 – 5 pounds of chicken, then freeze half.

Prep Time
Apx 30 -60 minutes, depending on how much effort you want to put into preparation of spices, and what cut of chicken you choose.

Marinade
At least 3-4 hours, or overnight

Cook Time
About 1 1/2 – 2 hours

Ingredients
2 pounds chicken breast, trimmed and cut into 1 to 1 1/2″ chunks

Moss and stone gateway at Humayan's Tomb, Delhi.

Moss and stone gateway at Humayan’s Tomb, Delhi.

Ingredients for the Marinade:

Roasted Spices
2 t poppy seeds
2 t coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds
1 t black peppercorns
3/4 t ground cinnamon
4 whole cloves
Non-Roasted Spices
4 green cardamom pods
2 black cardamom pods
2 t ground turmeric
1t nutmeg
2-3 T (heaping) strained plain yoghurt (Greek style in America)

Directions for the Marinade

  1. In a dry pan, roast the poppy, coriander, cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon until fragrant. This, THIS is the scent of heaven! Allow to cool. Combine with seeds of the black and green cardamom pods (husks removed), and nutmeg.
  2. Grind to a fine powder, add ground turmeric and mix.
  3. (NOTE: there is not only one way to make korma, so you could greatly simplify this by substituting an Indian spice blend or omitting some ingredients. One option would be to use a similar amount of ground garam masala (a meat spice blend found at your local import market) instead of roasting and grinding whole spices. However, NOTHING compares to freshly roasted and ground spices. My old burr-style coffee grinder is now a dedicated spice grinder, and I will never go back. Try it and you will be mesmerized by heavenly scents!)
  4. In a non-reactive bowl, thoroughly cover chopped chicken meat with spice blend, then stir in yoghurt to thoroughly coat.
  5. Allow to marinate in fridge for at least 3-4 hours, or overnight.

Ingredients for the Base

Lodi Gardens offers tranquility amidst thebustleof Delhi.

Lodi Gardens offers tranquility amidst thebustleof Delhi.

2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 chillies, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced
1″ ginger, peeled and grated
11/2 C (apx) strained yoghurt (Greek style in America)
1/3 C cream
2 T chopped cashews
1 t garam masala

Finishing Spices

1 t salt (to taste)
1 1/2 t paprika
1 t salt
1/2 t cayenne
1/2 t black pepper
1 t garam masala
Oil to sauté (ghee or butter for richness, plain vegetable oil is fine)

Hindu Temple, Delhi.

Hindu Temple, Delhi.

Directions:

  1. In a large pot sauté chopped onions and peppers (a food processor makes quick work of this) until softened and starting to brown.
  2. Add diced garlic and grated ginger, sauté until fragrant
  3. Remove and set aside
  4. In the same pan, add oil and reheat if necessary, then add the marinated chicken. Cook until meat whitens and edges just start to turn brown; reduce heat.
  5. When pan is cool, gradually add yoghurt, stirring frequently if your pan is too hot, your yoghurt will separate and make for an unpleasant texture).
  6. Gradually add the cream, and sautéed onions and peppers.
  7. Bring to simmering temperature, cover with a tightly fitting lid and allow to simmer for at least 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. Simmer uncovered to achieve desired consistency of sauce
  9. Stir in the chopped cashews
  10. Adjust spices to suit you flavor: I add 1 1/2 t paprika1 t salt, 1/2 t cayenne, 1/2 t black pepper, 1 t garam masala (or you can use the garam masala as directed below for a grand finish)
  11. Chop a handful of cilantro finely, and stir half into the korma, reserve the remainder for garnishing.

The Grand FinishLodi Gardens
For a grand finish, temper spices as follows: in a small skillet, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil. When hot, add the 1 t garam masala and cook for about 30-45 seconds to release spice’s fragrant oils. Pour the hot spiced oil into the korma, stir in.

Serving and Garnishing
You can serve on a bed of fragrant basmati rice, or simply with naan. Garnish with a paprika, cilantro. I like the spicy note and the texture offered by freshly diced hot red peppers.

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Food, Culture, and Politics in France

Kabab

Photo courtesy of هتلر بغداد.

Mmmmmm… kababs! Lamb! What’s not to love? The French far right is fighting what it calls ‘the kebabization’ of France. Check out what PRI’s The World producer Shirin Jafaari has to say about food and politics in France. here.

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Turkish Menemen

Menemen

Turkish Menemen, a flavor, easy, one-pan dish you can make in under a half-hour.

This one-pan wonder is full of flavor! Eggs poached in a sautéed onions, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic provide a robust, but not overpowering, medley of flavors. Wonderfully nutritious eggs make this a filling but not heavy dish. Best of all, Menemen is easy, and quick to prepare — you can make it under a half-hour and only use one skillet.

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 Ingredients

2-3 T olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
2 green chiles, chopped (remove seeds to reduce spiciness)
3/4 lbs. (apx) fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
4 eggs (farm-fresh preferred!)
Parsley
Red pepper flakes
Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
Strained yoghurt (Greek style) if desired.

Directions
1. In a large skillet, heat oil on medium heat and sauté onions, chopped peppers until they start to soften.
2. Add diced garlic, salt, pepper, cook another 2-3 minutes
3. Add chopped tomatoes and cook to reduce liquid; adjust seasoning.
4. Make 4 wells in the mixture and crack an egg into each. Cover and poach eggs on low heat until set.
5. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley, salt, and red pepper flakes.

Serve with a small dollop of strained yoghurt if desired.

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