Monday, September 21, 2009

A Place to Please the Senses

I love to travel. Which is interesting because I am also a homebody.  I love to be home and I love to be away from home.  
I don't love packing and unpacking. However, if I had to choose only one, I would choose to pack.  
My unpacking strategy usually goes like this.  Dirty stuff in the hamper, shoes on the floor, clean stuff remains in the suitcase until it needs to be worn.  Forget clothes are in the suitcase. Think there is a ghost in the house because can't find my favorite trousers. Elation when said trousers are discovered while packing for my next trip.

To be honest, when I travel out of the country, I usually pack older clothes or I stock up on various inexpensive items, and leave them behind.  My goal is to have less clothing and more goodies when I cross through customs.
Always within the legal limits--of course....

Today I was digging through my travel files because a friend's mom is heading to India for an extensive holiday.  Even though I am leaving shortly on a fabulous adventure of my own, I am a bit envious of her, as India is one of my most favorite places. 
When planning a big trip several years ago, I was looking for a place that would have beautiful sights, good food, great shopping and amazing spas.
There are only a few places that made the short list..and India won hands down.
 While in India, I was fortunate enough to be able to take cooking lessons from a top chef at a very special resort that sat in a remote village near a wild animal refuge.  He kept a garden for his herbs and vegetables.  He grew apples so he could make his own pectin for preserving. He had a cardamom bush. I want a cardamom tree! The kitchen staff cans and pickles all spring, so they would have condiments during the rainy season and the barren summer months.  If it didn't grow or wasn't raised locally, it rarely made it on the menu.  
It was incredible that even with limited ingredients, the food was spectacular.  I ate mostly vegetarian as the bird flu was a concern; the kitchen had been stripped of all eggs and chicken.  They do not serve or eat beef, and I am not a fan of lamb--fish is a luxury.  
Not to worry, the food was balanced and beautiful.  I have had a lot of culinary training, but I feel my education at Ranthambore was perhaps my most meaningful.  It is a talent to prepare good food simply. It is a gift to prepare simple food so that it is fit to serve an Emperor.  I credit my time there for making me a better and more resourceful cook.

In going through my notes, I was flooded with wonderful memories and a renewed desire to pull out my spice jars, dust off my thali plates and prepare a rajasthani feast.

Mint Chutney
1 Tbs roasted and ground cumin
1 small onion-quartered
2 serrano chiles
juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 cups cilantro leaves
2 cups mint leaves
pinch sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Put all in a blender and whirl until all pieces are finely chopped.  If it is too thick, add a bit of water a little at a time until it reaches desired consistency

My Favorite Yogurt Banana Relish
2 cups plain yogurt (drained to remove much of the liquid)
1 tsp roasted cumin--ground
1/2 tsp roasted cumin--whole
1 serrano chili--sliced into thin paper thin rounds
1 Tbs fresh cilantro leaves--chopped
2 Tbs brown sugar
to taste salt
1/4 tsp or more cayenne pepper
2 ripe bananas cut into thick rounds and then quartered
Mix all together and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to let the flavors meld

These can be served with papadams, naan, on rice, chicken, or roasted meat.

Masala is a spice combination and a curry is the equivalent of what we would call a stew. It refers to a number of different dishes, not a particular spice.

Chicken Jalfrezi
2 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 medium onions--finely sliced--paper thin
3 cloves garlic--chopped
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken, cut into generous size "fingers"
1 Tbs + 1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
2 large red "bell" peppers--julienned
1 large can + 1 small can diced tomatoes
1 thai chili pepper--finely diced
1-4" piece cinnamon stick
3 Tbs ghee
1 Tbs + 1 tsp toasted and ground coriander
3 Tbs grated fresh ginger
2/3 cup cilantro--chopped
Heat oil in skillet. Add onions and garlic and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the chicken and season with turmeric, chili powder and salt.  Fry gently, scraping the bottom and turning the chicken.  Add red peppers and fry for 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes with their juice and cover the pan.  Simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes.  Uncover and simmer for another 10 minutes to let the excess liquid evaporate.  Add ghee, cumin, ginger and cilantro and simmer for another 5-7 minutes.  Serve chicken with sauce spooned over top.

Vindaloo Sauce
4Tbs vegetable oil
2 cups onion--thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp ginger--minced
1 1/2 tsp garlic--minced
2 Tbs raisins--minced
2 1/2 Tbs--white vinegar
1 1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp  whole cumin--toasted and ground
1/2 tsp coriander seed--toasted and ground
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp ground clove
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mustard seed--toasted and ground
1 3/4 tsp salt
2 lb lamb, chicken or protein of choice
In frying pan--heat oil.  Add onion and fry until edges are nicely brown.  Stir in garlic and ginger and fry 1 more minute. Add raisins, vinegar, masala and 1/4 cup water.  Fry and stir until spices are cooked.  Put protein in and another 1/4 cup water and bring to a simmer.  Reduce heat to low and cover and cook for 35 minutes.  Increase heat and continue to simmer 10 minutes.  Sauce should be fairly thick.  Serve warm.
note: If you are having a dinner party and wish to have something really special, you can cook this up without the protein, substituting 1/4 cup chicken broth for one of the water additions. Make the sauce, and set aside.  Pan fry your protein to achieve a beautiful caramelized presentation.  Serve a bit of the sauce spooned on top or pooled on the plate with the protein on top. Serve the remaining on the side.


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