I thought we were at a watershed moment, recipe-writing-wise, because this past week I began with a cooking extravaganza during which I tested many variations on the recipes I would use and wrote down what I did. Which would leave me with actual recipes to share. Except it turns out that I write down 75% of what I do, change it midweek anyway, and what gets written down is only “the ingredients that are difficult to remember” – not all the ingredients, and none of the steps of making a dish. I also had running through my mind this article on writing down salt quantities instead of using the ubiquitous “salt to taste.” It was a reading that gave me undue angst because 1. I’m way far away from measuring salt and 2. I’m the only commercial cook in the world who prefers to under salt. You’re supposed to over salt. For good reason, I’ll add, because salt makes flavors pop. And no salt is usually a travesty, which I avoid. But I don’t like all my main dishes to be salty. I like my potato chips to be salty, I like my cocktails to be salty, and some desserts, but I’m tired of everything being salty. I’m all salt-ed out. Other folks can add salt if they want salt.
So, you see, precise recipe writing is a skill left underdeveloped.
That being said, I do have some nice tidbits to share to help perk up any Indian food you may feel like preparing at home:
Speaking of salt to taste and imprecise measurements, I’ll just lead with my recipe most guilty of that crime. This is a yogurt hot sauce that tastes good on everything. I first came across a version of it as a topping for bananas. You take a good quality whole milk yogurt (I swear by Butterworks Farm), and mix in salt, pureed fresh red chile peppers, and minced cilantro. All done to taste (apologies – but hey people have very strong opinions on each of these ingredients). I put it on the chana masala, and use it as a dip for naan. Plus, of course, mixing it with chopped bananas – its original purpose.
Chana Masala (spiced chick peas)
The Chana Masala recipe that goes with the yogurt sauce is pretty simple to make, too. Make a spice blend of 1/2 tsp ground fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp ginger powder, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 2 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp salt. Finely mince 1 onion. In a large skillet with sides, cook this onion in either butter (if you don’t care about it being vegan) or olive oil until it’s soft. I add a sprinkle of salt as soon as I put the onion in the hot oil. Once the onion is soft, stir in the spices and let them turn aromatic. Then, add two 15 oz cans of chick peas drained and rinsed. Cook the beans, stirring, until they’re well coated with the spices. Then add a 15 oz can of tomato puree and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. You want the tomato and spices to blend, but that’s all. Then, you’re done.
Tamarind-Date Hot Sauce:
Another item that goes good on everything where I actually wrote down the ingredients for the first time in years of making it.
- 1 cup very roughly chopped deglet dates
- 6 dried thai chiles, broken up into thirds (no need to be precise)
- 1 Tb tamarind concentrate
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp grated ginger root
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp salt
Put the dates and chiles in a small saucepan, add just enough water to bring to the top of the fruit, then bring it to a boil. Remove pan and let sit 20 minutes.
In a small bowl in the food processor, dump the date, chiles, the water they steeped in and all the other ingredients. Puree until smooth.
We tried many variations and this is the one that won with our taste testers last Saturday. It’s a variation on this recipe from Once Upon a Chef. The ingredients are quite different (within the limited range of “things that will produce naan in the end”) but the steps are similar and this blog post is well illustrated so it’s worth a look for that.
- 1 tsp yeast
- 1 Tb sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup bread flour
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 Tb olive oil
- 1/2 cup warm milk with 1 tsp lemon juice added and allowed to sit 15 minutes
- warm water
Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in olive oil and milk. Add warm water until you have a somewhat-sticky but still kneadable dough. Knead lightly just until it comes together and all ingredients are smoothly incorporated.
Let sit covered in a well-oiled bowl until doubled in size – about 2 hours (this is really a rough guess since it depends on lots of things).
Divide into six pieces. Roll one out on a floured surface to 1/4 inch thick and cook on a hot, un-oiled skillet until dark brown patches appear on one side, flip, and repeat. The skillet needs to be hot enough that air pockets form but not so hot that you quickly burn the bread, this may take some adjustments. Put the finished naan in a paper bag with the top rolled loosely shut to keep it soft as it cools. Repeat with all 6 pieces.
Curry Spice Blend:
This is a spin off from the curry spice blend in this Emeril Lagasse recipe. In a medium sized skillet, combine the following:
- 1 1/2 Tb chili flakes
- 1 Tb coriander seeds
- 2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 Tb lapsang souchong tea leaves (or other very smoky tea)
- 2 Tb turmeric
- 1 Tb cumin seeds (whole)
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
Toast these in the skillet until they are fragrant. Remove and cool (I dump them on a plate to prevent burning in the hot skillet) then grind in a spice grinder. Now you have a nice spice blend for chicken or vegetable dishes.