Saturday, June 18, 2011

Second Friday Lunch 17 June 2011

Today was Indian food. Abby, Jon's sister's daughter, who is around 16, drove up from Grand Rapids with her mother to cook with me! What a sweet day that was. Abby learned about mis en place (literally everything in its place), which is the foundation of all cooking. She also learned to clean as she went. She cleaned and chopped chard and garlic, deep-fried pakora and was unfailingly hard working, polite, delightful and cheerful. Lucky me, huh?

Abby has a close girlfriend who's family is from Delhi. She hopes to visit there with her friend. I advised her to avoid the summer. I went in December and it was around 68 F, very pleasant, but when we returned from 3 weeks in the south, Delhi temps had gone down to 36 degrees F! I bought a coat.

I had a few recipes that needed testing for my culinary textbook. So our menu was:

*Saag Paneer
I made paneer cheese. With the farm's lovely spinach and rainbow chard this dish was a natural.

*South Indian Coconut Basmati Rice
The toasted nuts, toasted unsweetened coconut shreds and a spice tempering of black mustard seeds, green chilies, urad dal, curry leaves, ginger and asafoetida strewn through the cooked rice gives this pilaf its Southern flair.

*Vegetable Pakora
Made with an all chickpea flour batter and deep-fried in my new Fry-Daddy, these were a hit.

*Cilantro Chutney
The cilantro came from the farm and is a simple purée of cilantro, water, lime juice, jaggery (or maple syrup), fresh ginger and salt. It's great on rice or pakora. Remember that cilantro is a chelator of heavy metals like mercury. This is a good way to cleanse along with those wonderful Jenny Greens.

Signature Technique: Paneer Cheese
Chewy, non-melting paneer cheese is a good meat substitute in Indian dishes. Making it is a simple process—its delicate fresh flavor makes it worth the time.
Adapted from Ipshita Pall in Culture Cheese Magazine
Yields 11 to 12 ounces cheese, 2 cups cubed

2 quarts whole milk (preferably organic)
1/4 cup white vinegar

*The higher the milk fat content, the softer the cheese
*Substitute fresh lemon juice for vinegar. Rinse wrapped curds before pressing.
*Leftover whey can be used for making Indian breads like chapatti.

1. Heat milk in heavy 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally. Line a fine strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth or clean, thin cotton towel, and set over a bowl or pan.

2. When milk comes to a boil, turn off heat. Gradually and gently stir in vinegar. Curds will form and separate from the whey—remove pan from burner and continue to gently stir until curds form and vinegar smell dissipates.

3. Gently ladle curds and whey through strainer. (At this point, while paneer is warm, you may add spices or herbs to season paneer.)

4. Form paneer into an even square—still wrapped in cheesecloth—and lay on a cutting board. Lay another cutting board on top and weight paneer 2 hours.

5. Remove paneer from cheesecloth, seal in storage container and refrigerate if not using immediately.

Paneer Cheese and Spinach (Saag Paneer or Palak Paneer Sak)
There are many ways to make this classic North Indian dish: with ginger or garlic or without, with tomato or cream or without, browning paneer or not. The simplest version just includes spinach, paneer, chilies, cumin seeds, lemon juice and cream.
Yields 6 cups, 4 to 6 servings

2 pounds trimmed, washed and drained baby spinach
or two 10-ounce boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 ounce jalapeño chili, 1 large, 2 tablespoons stemmed and seeded
Wet Spice Masala
1/2 ounce ginger root, 2 to 3 teaspoons peeled and minced
1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder, more to taste
4 to 6 tablespoons ghee or oil
11 to 12 ounces paneer cheese, 2 cups diced into 1/2-inch cubes
2 ounces garlic, about 4 large cloves, 2 tablespoons minced
8 ounces tomatoes, 1 medium, 1-1/2 cups finely diced
1/2 to 1 teaspoon garam masala
3 tablespoons cream or whole milk yogurt
For Serving: Roti or hot cooked basmati rice

1. Place spinach leaves in 8-quart pot and over medium-high heat, steam over medium-high heat until wilted. Transfer spinach and liquid into a food processor with the chili. Coarsely purée vegetables and set them aside.

2. Prepare wet spice masala: In a small bowl, mix ginger, coriander, turmeric, cumin and chili powder with 1/4 cup water, and set aside.

3. Optional: Heat 6 tablespoons ghee or oil in 6-quart Dutch oven or wok (with a lid) over medium-high heat until hot, but not smoking. Blot paneer cheese very dry. Place cheese cubes into hot fat and cook until browned, turn and brown second side. Remove paneer to bowl with slotted spoon. Don’t worry if it sticks to pan.

4. Lower heat to medium, and stir in wet spice masala, garlic and tomatoes. Scrape up browned bits and simmer masala until tomatoes soften. Add spinach. Cover pan and cook mixture until heated through, 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, turn spinach, cover and cook until hot and very soft, another 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt.

5. Stir in paneer, garam masala and cream or yogurt, cover and simmer 5 to 10 minutes more. The dish should be thick, but juicy. Taste and adjust seasonings (and consistency if necessary). Serve with roti or steamed basmati rice.

Vary! Improvise!
*Substitute 2 pounds trimmed Swiss chard or stemmed kale for the spinach.
*Add grated carrot or squash for color.

Friday, June 10, 2011

First Friday 2011, 10 June

Cold cold cold today, and that after almost 100 degrees F this week. Crazy making.

I cooked alone today until Jane Watts and Carole Waters came to help. We all ate inside.
The bok choy reminded me of a Dr. Oz piece on antiangiogenesis. When cells (cancer cells in particular) grow, they need lots of blood. So they grow new blood vessels. Bok choy stops this process and so protects against cancer by "starving" rogue cancer cells of their ability to grow. Strawberries, artichokes and flounder are up there too. Google William Li or antiangiogenesis to find out more.

*Chinese hot and sour soup
*Thai peanut sauce (a quick one) with steamed bok choy picked about an hour before
*Chinese peanut noodles with farm scallions

I have no photos today, but will post the Thai peanut sauce recipe. The flavor depends on the Thai curry paste.
I recommend Maesri--it comes in a small "cat food" like can.

Thai Peanut Sauce
Even Thai cooks use canned red curry paste—make sure it is fresh or this simple sauce will be bland. Use with satay, as salad dressing or with grilled vegetables.
Yields about 3-3/4 cups

2 ounces tamarind paste
9 ounces roasted peanuts, 2 cups
14-ounce can coconut milk
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste, or to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons fish sauce (substitute soy sauce for vegetarians), more to taste
2 ounces palm sugar, scant 1/4 cup
or 1/4 cup maple syrup
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, about 1 large lime, more as necessary
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate (Tamcon brand from Indian grocers)
or 3 tablespoons tamarind purée (see What Tamarind Yields page XX)

1. Pour roasted peanuts into food processor and grind until finely chopped and begin to clump.

2. Heat coconut milk and curry paste in saucepan; simmer 3 minutes. Stir in ground peanuts, fish sauce and sweetener. Bring sauce to a boil and lower heat. Simmer until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Stir in lime juice and tamarind. Sauce will thicken as it cools. Thin with 1/2-cup water and re-season if necessary with lime, tamarind, fish sauce or curry paste.

Vary! Improvise!
*More Heat: Add more curry paste.
*More Flavor: add 1 tablespoon minced ginger root, 2 teaspoons minced garlic and 2 tablespoons minced cilantro stems to curry paste in step 2.