Friday, July 17, 2009

Southern Comfort Food - A Different Perspective

Before you start imagining me going all Paula Deen on you (or on "y'all"), let me quickly tell you, that's not the "south" I'm referring to. Not that there's anything wrong with Paula. I think she's adorable, and her style of cooking is homey and looks pretty darn tootin' deeeelicious. I'd eat her meals anytime, because butter is my friend too. But no, my post today won't feature the cuisine of the Southern US states. Rather, this comforting concoction is native to South India.

I think my fascination with the food from this region is boundless. Over the years, I've picked up a few amazing recipes for South Indian style curries that I turn to time and again, because the mix of spicy/sweet/sour, fruity/savory flavors speak to my soul. Just like how I sometimes yearn for risotto or Pakistani nihari or a grilled cheese sandwich, sometimes a bowl of rice topped with a South Indian curry is exactly what I need to feel nourished and satisfied. I really wish I had a South Indian auntie (in India/Pakistan, we call every older female who isn't related to us as "auntie" - I think it's a respect thing) as my neighbor, who would send me samples of her cooking everyday! Still, the internet is a wonderful thing, and having blogger friends from South India is the next best thing.

I came across this recipe for Chicken Piralan on Varsha's blog, Will-O'-the-Wisp. Her stash of recipes is really amazing - her family is so damn lucky! It's a funny sounding name for the dish, but there's nothing funny about how it tastes, let me tell ya. And the smell ... oh man! It must be from when the fragrant mix of whole spices hits the hot oil, but it smells like a bouquet of exotic flowers to me. Even though it does make DH run around the house yelling "Light a candle or something, woman!" ... I happen to love it. Maybe I can give this dish a simpler name too. Any ideas?

Chicken Piralan (no idea what "piralan" means, but you can find the original recipe here)
Serves 4

Click here for printable recipe

Ingredients for marinade:
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1.5 tsp red chilli powder
1.5 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp salt

For the curry:
3 tbsp canola/vegetable oil
4 cloves
4 cardamom
1 small cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ginger paste
6-8 curry leaves
1-2 tomatoes, diced
1 large potato, peeled & chopped into bite-sized pieces (optional)
Cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Some of the fragrant spices that go into this dish.


1. Marinade the chicken pieces with the spice powders, salt and vinegar for about half an hour, at least. You could even do it overnight, if you had to.

Marination Domination.

2. Heat up the oil in a saucepan on medium, and drop in the cloves, cardamom, bay leaves, curry leaves and cinnamon stick, and let them perfume the oil for about a minute. Then add the chopped onions.

3. Saute the onions for about 5 mins, till golden brown.

4. Time now to add the ginger and garlic. Saute this for an additional minute.

5. Then add the chopped tomatoes. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover the pot with its lid and let the tomatoes soften for about 5 mins, stirring once or twice.

6. Next, add the chicken pieces, cover the pot again and let them cook for an additional 5 mins. At this point, you can add the potatoes if you're using them. Add about 1/4 - 1/2 cup of water, close the lid, and let the whole mixture cook through (till chicken and potatoes are done) for about 15 mins, stirring occasionally. (I like to add a few more curry leaves here)

7. Here's the interesting step: once the chicken is cooked, heat up 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan on high. Remove the chicken pieces from the saucepan with a pair of tongs, and put them in the hot frying pan. You want to sear the chicken pieces - give them some crusty edges - then put them back in the saucepan.
See the crusty, almost burnt edges? That's what you want!

8. Now check the gravy for enough salt. Also, you can turn up the heat and evaporate most of the liquid, if that's to your liking. I like mine with some gravy, but still fairly thick, because like Varsha says, it tastes great when soaked up by the rice. Turn off the heat, garnish with cilantro & serve.

Verdict: DH may not be a fan of his house smelling of onions and spices, but the man does love this curry. Pair it with some hot basmati rice and a side of daal, and we're both digging in to this like it's our last meal. I've tried this dish with a whole chicken cut into pieces, and chicken breast pieces as well, but the chicken thigh pieces are ideal for this, I think. They remain really tender, and don't toughen up like the breast pieces tend to. Also, the searing of the chicken towards the end gives it a surprising great flavor - a little smoky, like you grilled the chicken over the BBQ or something. Once again, I'm so glad to be a part of this food blogging world, where I can find recipes like this one. Now if only one of my South Indian friends could teach me how to make masala dosas at home (my ultimate, all-time favorite South Indian comfort food), I'd feel like a star!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dark Cherries & Dark Chocolate ... Mysterious, No?!

Well no, not really. I could keep goading you, and dropping naughty phrases like "I had a churning desire for his touch" or "He was one cool customer" or even "I could melt in his embrace". And while I'm following that train of thought, even naughtier phrases come to mind, including my particular favorites that involve the words "cream" and "lick" - but I digress! I know I know, we're all adults, and we can handle ourselves. But you see, all I need to do is tell you that July is actually National Ice-Cream Month, and the mystery is solved! All my babbling makes sense!

Sometimes, ladies, just sometimes, a simple machine hits your sweet spot like nothing else can. Erm, I'm referring to the humble ice-cream maker, of course! ... *big, innocent eyes*. Folks, I'd like to introduce you all to my new ice-cream maker. I've never owned one of these babies. Ever. Neither has my mom. Or her mom. And I don't think they had ice-cream makers before that anyway. So I suppose you could say that this is the beginning of a beautiful, new relationship. One that I have zero experience with - I hope I handle it well. Thanks to this new machine, I now have more power than I used to in my kitchen. But with great power comes great responsibility! Or some such drivel.
Fiesty looking creature, don't you think?!

I've been wanting one of these for almost a year now. Ever since I became hooked on to David Lebovitz's enviable blog (he is living my dream life). I believe it was the post about him making a salted butter caramel ice-cream that cinched the deal for me. It hit me then, that if such wonders could come out of an ice-cream maker, then one day I too would be moaning with ecstacy over these home-made wonders - not available in your neighborhood Baskin Robbins!

But I'm a wus, dear readers. No, don't try to convince me otherwise! I'm a wus and I know it. I could clearly see that the most tempting ice-cream recipes were all egg-based. And I got scared. I had visions of curdled cream and scrambled eggs in my ice-cream. I may have underestimated myself. But whatever the issue, I decided that my first home-made ice-cream would be the eggless kind. So after a fair amount of scouring the web, my deepest, darkest desires were awakened by this recipe for Cherry Ice-cream With Chocolate Chips over at Simply Recipes. I took the easy route, I know, but if you see the pic Elise has up on her site, you'll understand why I could not resist! Plus, cherries were in season, easily available, and delicious to begin with - so how bad could they be as an ice-cream?

Oh-So-Desirable Dark Cherry & Dark Chocolate Ice-Cream (original recipe here)
Serves 6 (1 quart)

Click here for printable recipe

1 1/2 cups pitted dark cherries
3/4 cup milk
1 3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp lemon juice
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces

1. I don't have a cherry pitter, so used a paring knife to do the messy job. Don't worry about this part - doesn't take more than 10 mins.

2. Put cherries, milk, 1 cup of the cream, sugar and salt into a saucepan. Heat on medium till steamy, then turn the heat down to low and let it sit that way for 15 mins. Remove from heat and let it cool for another 15-20 mins. Then pour into a blender and puree completely (careful of the hot liquid - make sure your blender lid is on tight!).

3. Once pureed*, put the mixture into a large bowl and add the remaining cream. Stir. Then refrigerate for 3-4 hours.

4. Before putting the mixture into the ice-cream maker, stir in the lemon juice. The churn according to your machine's instructions.

5. Two mins before your ice-cream stops churning, add the chopped chocolate pieces. Keep the chocolate frozen till ready to use (or else it will melt into the ice-cream). Once the ice-cream stops churning, it will be pretty soft. So put in an airtight container and freeze for at least an hour.

*At this point you could strain the puree to get rid of the cherry skins, and I think I'll do that next time. Because I believe it would result in a smoother consistency and keep its flavor for a few extra days in the freezer.

Verdict: I was pretty happy with the flavor of this ice-cream. Combining it with the dark chocolate was amazing! I served it to guests, and people went back for seconds, so that's always a good sign. What I didn't like about it was the texture. Simply not creamy enough. I think if I had added some alcohol, it would have helped, but that's not an option for me. Also, it's best eaten in about 2 days of making it, because the texture becomes icier the longer you keep it, plus it loses its sweetness as the days go by (this may have something to do with the cherry skins). It is good ice-cream, and I'll make it again - but I think I'll try the egg-based ones next.