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Thursday, April 10, 2014 12:01 am

Curry party

 

“Hey, let’s have a curry party!” Greg Hurt said.

Peter and I looked at each other and smiled. We didn’t know what a curry party was, but it was sure to be fun and have delicious food.

In the 1990s we had a group of friends I thought of as our British Commonwealth buddies. Most were New Zealanders, but there was a British couple, as well as Canadians.

A curry party turned out to be a potluck, with everyone contributing a different curry or Indian dish, clearly something that had its roots in British Colonial India that had filtered into other Commonwealth countries. It was fun and the delicious dishes included tandoori chicken on the grill, tart and numbingly hot lamb vindaloo, spinach and cheese saag paneer, and vegetable and dal (lentil) preparations.

Eventually our good times with our BC buddies faded. Several moved back to New Zealand, and there were a couple divorces. But among the good things we’ve kept is the concept of curry parties. It’s always interesting to taste what is brought. And because India is home to a vast array of sophisticated vegetarian dishes it’s an especially good way to get together with vegetarian and even vegan friends.

Unsurprisingly India is a country with many cuisines, given its varied topography and climates. And there are six major religions plus a host of minor ones; most have differing dietary laws/restrictions. One could spend a lifetime documenting Indian cuisines and their anthropological roots and still not cover them all.

That said, many Indian recipes have a multitude of ingredients. Don’t let that discourage you from trying them: most ingredients are various spices needing only to be measured and/or lightly toasted. Freshly ground spices are most flavorful, something easily done with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. I use an inexpensive (under $20) coffee grinder. Smashing them with a hammer or mallet works pretty well, too.

Of all the Indian dishes I make at home, this is my favorite. It’s from India’s neighboring island to the south, Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon. Unless you use the spices frequently, it’s a good idea to get them at Food Fantasies in their bulk spice section. They’re inexpensive, and you only need buy what you’ll use. Another wonderful source (though they don’t have spices available in bulk) is Mini Devon Groceries (see the lemon rice recipe below for more information).

Sri Lanken chicken curry with cashews

  • 2 T. (heaping) coriander seeds
  • 1 T. cumin seeds
  • 1 T. fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne or other hot pepper flakes/powder, or to taste
  • 1 T. salt
  • 2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken, preferably thigh meat, cut into approximately 2-inch pieces
  • 1 T. (heaping) raw uncooked rice
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/4 c. broken raw cashews
  • 1/2 c. hot water
  • 1/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 1 cinnamon stick, about 3-inch long
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
  • 1/2 c. thinly sliced shallots, preferred, or onion
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 10 oz. can tomatoes with chilies, such as Roitel
  • 1 14 oz. can coconut milk
  • 3/4 c. roasted or fried cashews, preferably unsalted

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds until fragrant. Cool, then grind in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and combine with the hot pepper and half of the salt. Put the chicken in a bowl or resealable plastic bag and rub all over with the spice mixture. Let stand for at least 1/2 hour.

Put the rice in the skillet over medium-high heat and stir just until it turns golden. Add the coconut and continue to stir until it also is lightly browned. Remove from the heat and cool. When cooled, put in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder along with the cardamom pods and cloves, grind finely. Add the cashews and grind them as well. You may need to do this in a couple of batches, or stir the contents around to make sure they are evenly ground.

Place the mixture into a bowl and stir in 1/2 cup hot tap water. Set aside.

Put the oil in a large, heavy pan or pot with a tightly fitted lid and heat over medium-high heat. Add the cinnamon stick, fenugreek, shallots and garlic. Cover the pan for a couple of minutes, then uncover and cook a few minutes more until the shallot and onion are translucent. Add the chicken and brown lightly, then add the remaining salt, tomatoes with chilies, coconut milk, and stir in the spice paste. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Remove the cinnamon stick. Put the chicken curry in a serving bowl and sprinkle the roasted cashews over the top. Serve over rice. This can be made a day or two ahead. It reheats very well. Top with the roasted cashews just before serving. Serves 4-8.

Lemon rice is ubiquitous all over Southern India where there are countless versions, ranging from little more than lemon juice dressed rice with a little turmeric, to others that include two or more kinds of dal (lentils) and a multitude of spices. You can leave out the curry leaves, but they do add a uniquely delectable taste and aroma. Incidentally, curry leaves have no relationship to yellow curry powder, which is actually a British adaptation. Fresh curry leaves are usually available – along with a host of other Indian and Pakistani ingredients – at Mini Devon Groceries, located at 2700 W. Laurence, Suite K. The phone number is 217-793-9354. It’s open from 4 -9 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m Saturdays, and 12 p.m.-7 p.m. Sundays

South Indian lemon rice

  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 10-15 curry leaves, fresh or frozen
  • 2 green jalapeno or Serrano chilies, stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced, or more less to taste, optional
  • 1 T. of ginger, either grated or thinly sliced into matchsticks and then pounded into a paste
  • 1/2 c. roasted and unsalted peanuts
  • 1 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1/4-1/2 c. lemon juice, or to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 c. cooked Basmati rice, cooled to room temperature, preferred, or other cooked rice (leftover rice is fine to use)

In a small skillet, roast the coriander seeds over medium heat just until they begin to be fragrant. Grind them into a coarse powder in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and set them aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet (a wok works nicely) over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Fry, stirring constantly, until the spluttering stops and then add the sliced green chilies, ginger and peanuts. Fry, still stirring constantly, for another minute.

Mix in the turmeric, turn heat to low, and stir in the lemon juice.

Add the rice, roasted coriander powder and salt to taste, mix thoroughly, and heat through. Taste, adding more lemon juice if desired.

This cooling condiment is a perfect foil for highly spiced and/or hot dishes.

Raita

  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 c. plain yogurt, preferably whole milk
  • 1 small ripe tomato, cored, seeded and cut into small dice, about 1/3 c.
  • 1 6-inch length of unpeeled cucumber, seeded and cut into small dice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin seeds just until they become fragrant, then grind them to a powder in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and set aside.

Place the yogurt in a bowl and stir vigorously with a fork until it is smooth.

Mix in the cumin, tomato and cucumber, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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