Tuesday, October 26, 2010

tomato and lentil dal with tadka

indian food from my italian kitchen!

I've been feeling a bit uninspired in the kitchen yet, but I do have a bit of a backlog of yummy things that I just need to work up the enthusiasm to tell you about. Here it goes:

OMG, I made Indian food! I know I'm being silly, but for me this was so exciting. As we all know, my culinary comfort zone is largely Italian, with a bit of (largely-Americanized) French, Chinese and Mexican thrown in to mix it up a bit. I don't cook Indian food. Period. Until I tried making this tomato and lentil dal with tadka.

Though I was initially intimidated, I learned that just because you don't know the first thing cooking a particular regional cuisine doesn't mean that you can't pick it right up. In fact, part of what moved me to try my hand at this particular dish was the recipe's assertion that it was something that anyone could make whether or not they were familiar with Indian spices. In other words, perfect for someone like me!

Now, despite the success of this dish, I can hardly claim to be an expert of Indian cuisine. So, feel free to correct me if I say something egregiously wrong as I attempt to explain what I made. To the best of my knowledge, dal is a very common Indian dish made from stewed lentils. The lentils are boiled, and then to serve you add the tadka, which is basically Indian spices fried in ghee. (If you're me and your supply of clarified butter has run dry, you can also use oil.)

The recipe was pretty basic. Lentils, water, tomatoes, salt and tumeric are brought up to a boil and then left to simmer until cooked through. As that finishes, a variety of exotic Indian spices, garlic and small cherry tomatoes are cooked in hot oil. I assume this releases the fragrance and essential oils of the spices. You mix the tadka into the lentils before serving.

I used some beautiful tomatoes from the food co-op, and the rest of my French green lentils from that sad orzo salad. I also decided to add chives to the tadka in addition to the garlic. This probably wasn't at all authentic, but I had some left over from my fantastic corn and tomato pie, and I figured they would give the dish a needed splash of green color.

The preparation of this dish was very easy, and everything came together effortlessly. Unfortunately, I did have to make some concessions to the bareness of my pantry, which is seriously lacking in the cool spices department... I didn't have asafoetida, I didn't have tumeric, I had curry powder, but not curry leaves, and only regular mustard powder where it called for black mustard seeds... Fortunately, I did have cumin seeds and cayenne pepper, so I just used those and curry powder and hoped for the best.

Considering that I was working with a limited range of spices and that this was my very first foray into preparing Indian food, I am sure it was only a weak imitation of the real thing. However, I've gone to quite a few Indian restaurants, and I thought it tasted like it was in the right ballpark! Even though I didn't have of the more exotic spices, the combination of cumin, curry and cayenne was definitely very different than my normal flavor profile of garlic, onion and cheese. Haha. I really enjoyed the slight spiciness of the dish, and as I ate it I couldn't get over the fact that I had prepared something that tasted so foreign. It's kind of pathetic, but for me, this dal counted not only as a success, but as a minor triumph!

I enjoyed cooking this meal, and writing about it reminds me how much I enjoy the creative process both in the kitchen and in writing about it later for garlicus maximus. Hopefully this will help get me back in the groove in the kitchen and on my blog.

Friday, October 15, 2010

corn ice cream with sugared strawberries and balsamic vinegar

long over due corn ice cream

Oh man. I probably killed whatever minuscule readership I had by taking a little hiatus there. Whoops. Anyway, I am back. With more ice cream!

Back during the summer Laura and I were getting 6 ears of beautiful fresh summer corn a week. It was always incredibly delicious, but it was also a lot for two girls to handle. We made soups and salad, and ate it off the cob when my face wasn't sealed shut. These were definitely good, but it was all pretty standard savory fare and I wanted to try my hand at a corn dessert that would take let the corn's natural sweetness take center stage. I thought about making a corn budino pudding, but I didn't really know how to go about it. Then I remembered the corn custard they served last summer at the Shake Shack, which, despite my initial skepticism, I thought was pretty awesome. As you can probably imagine, I quickly decided it was time for my second batch of homemade ice cream!

Some quick googling for corn ice cream turned up a Rick Bayless recipe. Based on his Top Chef appearances, I think Rick is incredibly awesome, and while I haven't had the opportunity to eat at either of his restaurants, his picadillo recipe yields a rich melting pot of sweet and savory flavors that I could eat any night of the week. So, I was excited to try my hand at another one of his dishes.

corn ice cream over zesty strawberries with aged balsamic

I followed the recipe as written, save for swapping out the orange liqueur with some dark rum. It seemed like it would be fairly easy, for the most part. Of course, I anticipated difficulty with cooking the egg custard, and it did not disappoint. I stirred the egg, cream and corn mixture over a double boiler for like, fifty minutes and it never thickened! This was during the summer, so it was oppressively hot and even more so over the stove. Eventually I just gave up. I think my ice cream was thinner and less creamy as a result, but then again my vanilla ice cream was plenty creamy, and it wasn't thickened with a custard base. Perhaps I just need to get more comfortable in general with the ice cream making process.

Other than getting my custard to thicken, there's not much I would do differently. Of course, I made this just a week or so after I had my wires opened, so I was sick of straining all the little pieces out of my food. I knew I should, but I couldn't bare the thought of anymore of that time consuming nonsense, so I left in the smashed corn kernels. It tasted ok, but didn't do much for the ice cream's texture. If I made this again, I'd definitely go through the trouble of straining it all.

strawberries and ice cream in a fancy presentation by my standards

So I was pretty certain that the corn ice cream would be delicious by itself, but I was making a big vegetarian dinner for my boy, and I wanted a slightly more impressive presentation. Laura had bought a big carton of strawberries in China Town, and Nathan had brought back a tiny bottle of aged balsamic vinegar from Florence. I found a nice recipe for strawberries in a zesty balsamic syrup, so I decided that I would serve my ice cream atop that.

I quickly boiled sugar, water and lemon peel, and then let that sit in the fridge while Nathan and I ate dinner. To serve, I filled a ramekin with strawberries, added a scoop of the corn ice cream, and then drizzled on a few drops of the expensive balsamic. Even Nathan was impressed with how elegant and delicious it was! The corn ice cream was sweet and custardy, with a subtle corn flavor, and the strawberries were bright and delicious with a hint of citrus. I liked the what I could taste of the balsamic, but wish I had added it with a more generous hand. I think I was just afraid of wasting such an expensive ingredient, but using a little more really would have made the strawberries sing.

It was a great dessert to end a great meal. Man, I definitely need to get that ice cream machine churning again!