Fantastic Indian Flavors

For the last several weeks I have been a madwoman running all over town trying to submit applications for my culinary internship, researching recipes for my catering class at school, and trying to catch up on anything that I may have forgotten along the way in my chaotic daily routine.  Some of the highlights of these days include the success of my vegan zucchini bread among the Le Cordon Bleu students who couldn’t eat enough of it and successfully cooking cashew korma! It was a big night for me last night because I have been trying forever to achieve the perplexity of flavors that are found in Indian food. Don’t get me wrong, my attempts at curry are indeed delicious, but I don’t think they would be called Indian per se (until last night of course)!

It all started this past weekend when I went out for some lunch with a dear friend of mine.  We ate at a local restaurant that offered a delicious starter plate called the “Tour of India”. Imagine the excitement!! Both my friend and I are absolute fans of Indian cuisine, so this was definitely a “must try”.  The appetizer was delicious and exquisitely flavored with a tangy curry flavor followed by a punch of spiciness. This got me thinking it was about time that I tried another one of my curry concoctions in the kitchen.

There was cauliflower in the fridge that needed to be eaten along with a big container of cashews and I instantly remembered a korma dish that I usually eat at my favorite Indian restaurant.  Before embarking in the adventure tho, I had to research a bit about what korma really is and where it comes from.

I discovered korma is an Indian dish that is prepared with coconut milk and a nut based sauce like cashews. Mixed together the nuts and coconut milk help balance out the heat of the curry  and make a milder dish. Other versions use yogurt (at very low heat) or cream and bechamel based sauces

Ingredients

1 c raw cashews

2 tbs canola oil

1 m onion

1 inch size piece ginger

4 garlic cloves

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tbs coriander ground

1 ts ground red pepper

1 tbs curry powder

1 tsp garam masala

1 tbs tomato paste

1 can coconut milk

1 cauliflower

3 chopped carrots

1/2 c peas

1 caramelized red onion

Method

1. Soak the cashews in enough warm water to cover them up completely. Set aside.

2. Cut the cauliflowers into 2 inch florets and chop carrots into 1 inch rounds.  You may choose to steam the vegetables or even roast them in the oven to give more flavor. I roasted mine at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. Make sure that you check them constantly to avoid burning or overcooking.  To check for doneness, stick a pairing knife into the vegetable, if the knife comes right out without resistance, then its done. Set them aside

3. In another pan, pour 1 tbs oil and slice red onions. Using low heat, slowly saute onions until they turn a light brown color. This will take about 25-30 minutes. Caramelization must be done at low controlled heat and  additional oil must be added from time to time throughout the cooking process to keep the onions from drying. With the heat, the starches of the onion turn to sugar and caramelize to give off a rich sweet flavor.

4. Make a puree out of the ginger, onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

5. In a large pot heat oil and add puree.  Saute puree until it turns a slightly golden color.

6. Meanwhile, drain the cashews and puree them until smooth.

7.  Once the puree of onions, garlic, and ginger reaches a golden color, add the curry, coriander, garam masala mix, and ground red pepper. Stir until it incorporates into the puree mix then add the tomato paste.

8. Saute for another 5 minutes, then pour in the coconut milk , cashew puree, and an additional can of water. Blend well.

9. Simmer sauce for about 5 minutes on low heat and you will notice the sauce begin to thicken. The curry will not be smooth like a bechamel sauce because of the cashews and the onion/garlic puree.

10. Season  with salt and pepper. Finally add the vegetables, peas, onions and mix well, making sure that the vegetables are smothered in korma.

Serve with white basmati rice.

Curried cauliflower and potatoes

I  want to learn how to cook every single Indian recipe in existence. That is my dream. Indian food represents comfort food to me because of its exotic and spicy flavors that remind me a lot of the Mexican spices that my mom used when she cooked for us growing up. The spicier the better! The thing about Indian food though is that it carries this mysterious secret with it that refuses to be revealed to me because every time I try to cook an Indian dish, it doesn’t taste the way I wanted it to taste. It still has a distinctive curry flavor, and the food is still delicious, yet I feel like I need to submerge myself in the Indian culture to understand their food and the history that led up to modern Indian cuisine.

I have been reading the book ” Food in History”, and after reading the introduction, I immediately skipped to the chapter that explains a lot of the history of Indian food. It helped me understand why vegetarianism is an important part of the Indian food culture.  The cuisine varies from region to region, with great Aryan, Persian, Greek, and central Asian influences along the Indus valley.  While Europeans where hesitant to use most fruits in their cooking and Chinese scarcely used dairy, the book explains that Indian cuisine made good use of both of these ingredients, which resulted in splendid and exotic dishes.  The Northwestern part of India had a large nomadic influence and thus, more meat was consumed here than the southern tip of the country.

The teachings of the Buddha and Mahavira were opposed to the caste system and to the slaughter of animals based on the belief of the reincarnation of souls. This philosophy provided the greatest influence to the vegetarian cuisine of the south.

I have decided that at some point in my career, I will travel to India to learn more about the history of these foods, as well as the complexity of their flavors. Of course for now, I’m lucky to live very close to an amazing little vegetarian Indian restaurant that will satisfy my craving for delicious curry.

A couple of days ago I decided to make a curried cauliflower dish. Before this, my only attempt to use curry powder was mixed in with yogurt to make curried egg salad, and in lentils. I was feeling brave, so I decided to make my curry using a curry cream sauce from a textbook given to me at school. This dish is traditionally called aloo gobi from the Punjab state in northern region of India.

Ingredients:

2 Tbs butter

2 Tbs white flour

1/2 onion diced

3 crushed garlic cloves

2 Tbs ginger paste ( or peel some fresh ginger and crush it with the garlic press)

3 tbs curry powder (spicy)

1/2 c cream

1 cup water

2 cups cauliflower

1 cup diced and peeled potatoes

1/3 c fresh green peas

salt /pepper to taste

1. It was very easy to make this dish because most of the work is completed during the first steps of cooking.  The best way to make a hearty, creamy sauce is to use a roux base which is the flour and butter to use as thickener.  Use equal parts butter and flour for this recipe. Melt the butter in the large pot and add onions.Make sure the heat remains between medium to high heat.

2. Let the onions sweat a little bit, then add garlic, curry, ginger and stir in until it is all coated in butter. By this time the aroma will be amazing.

3. Add the flour into the mix and stir until it becomes a paste. Some of it will stick to the bottom of the pan but it doesn’t matter because as soon as  the water is added, whisking it vigorously  will dissolve any lumps.

4. Add the potatoes, cauliflower and cream into the pot  and let everything simmer until the potatoes become soft. Once they are soft add the peas. Finally, season with salt and pepper.

Serve with steamed basmati rice or jasmine rice.

The Challenge – Coconut Crusted Tilapia with Pineapple/Curry sauce

I encounter many challenges in my daily life, from working, fitting in time to exercise, going to school & getting awesome grades, to simply posting more often. I’ve got to balance it all and sometimes there just aren’t enough hours during the day to fit all of those things into the routine. Today however, I had a small challenge presented to me by my hubby. Here’s the story: About two weeks ago we went out to eat at a local restaurant here in Orlando, Fl. I love to cook most of the time but there are days when I don’t even want to grab my knives. This was one of those days, and so we had high expectations. I will not mention the name of the restaurant out of respect, but I will say that the food was horrible and I will certainly not go back because it was the second time in a row that the food simply “sucked”.  One of the items we ordered was a coconut crusted tilapia fillet with pineapple-curry sauce.  It sounds incredibly creative and exotic right? Well when the food arrived, the fillet was soggy and drenched in what appeared to taste like pineapple preserves or jam. They managed to make wild rice taste like cardboard, and their steamed broccoli was mushy.  We did not leave happy, as is the case most of the time one goes out to eat.

In the days that followed, I kept telling my husband how I would have cooked the tilapia. I told him if something is “crusted”, then it must not be soggy or drowned in sauce because it defeats the purpose of encrusting it. The point is that I would not shut up about their technique the right way to cook that dish. I must have crossed the line because one day he simply said, ” I challenge you to cook it the right way. The way it should have been served to us”.

And so I took on the challenge and decided to replicate only the coconut-crusted tilapia and sauce part of the dish plus a little extra that I decided to add as garnish.

I am going to admit that I am extremely fearful of the fish section in the grocery store. This is something I have to get over because I want to learn how to cook everything and ofcourse, how to pick and choose ingredients. I rarely use animal protein in my kitchen, so this challenge really helped me get out of my comfort zone and go out there looking for the freshest and most sustainable ingredients.

The final product:  Coconut-crusted tilapia served over a pineapple-curry sauce. Topped with caramelized fennel and peas with extra-virgin olive oil.

Unlike the entree we ordered in the local restaurant weeks ago, I wanted mine to have a crunchy texture for the crust. likewise, I made sure that the sauce did not go over the fish because then it would turn it into a big soggy fillet, so I placed it in the bottom. In regards to the sauce, to me a sauce that has curry in it should certainly have the punch of the curry. I added enough curry to give it that punch and I watched the sugar, careful to keep it a sauce, and not a glaze, which in my opinion has more sugar.

The ingredients

3 3oz tilapia fillet

1 fennel bulb cut julienne

1/4 c flour

1 egg ( mix the egg with a tsp of water and beat with a fork)

1 c shredded coconut (unsweetened)

4 tbs olive oil

1/3 c peas

salt pepper

1 c vinegar

1/8 c sugar

1 c water

1 c diced pineapple

2 tsp corn starch

1 tbs curry powder (spicy)

1. The first thing to do is to heat the oil and add the julliene cut fennel and stir occationally. make sure the fire is on low so that it can slowly caramelize

2. While that is caramelizing, season fillets with salt and pepper, then dredge them in flour. Pat away any excess flour, then dip in egg wash. Remove from the egg wash and dip in coconut mix. Make sure it is completely coated with coconut, then set aside. This is called the standard breading procedure.

3. Heat up another pan and add 2 tbs of  oil. Make sure the oil is hot by dipping a toothpick into the oil, if tiny bubbles form around the toothpick that means it is hot enough to cook the fish. Place the coconut covered fish and cook on each side for 2 minutes. The coconut crust will become a golden color. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel so it can absorb the grease.

4. Quickly clean out the frying pan and add the vinegar plus the sugar and wisk until sugar dissolves . let that simmer until it is reduced by half. In a blender puree the pineapple cubes and run the puree through a sieve. Collect the juice and set aside. In a separate bowl mix the cornstarch with the curry powder and the cup of water. Finally, once the vinegar and sugar mix has reduced, add the water+curry+starch mixture and the pineapple juice into it and wisk. Bring it to a quick boil then simmer. You will notice that the sauce thickened and you may add more water if you wish to have a thinner sauce. If you want something more thick, like a glaze, then reduce the water added to only half a cup.

5. FInally add the peas to the caramelized fennel and season with salt and pepper. Add them to the top of the tilapia as garnish.