Monday, January 7, 2008

Madhur Jaffrey, Indian Goddess of Food

indian food, as you well know, is something we enjoy because, well, it's yummy. madhur jaffrey, you may or may not know, is an indian goddess of delicious wonder. at least, i think so.
my blog.
my opinion.
live with it.
'kay, so, ms. jaffrey has A LOT of cookbooks that focus on this delectable way of eating, cooking, dining spectacularly with flavors and experiences that, truly, tingle your sense all over and make you wish you had ALWAYS been given this incredible gift of food.
in my opinion.
like i says up top there.
all day, i had been baking, cooking, creating. i couldn't stop myself. i made two loaves of bread (yes, TWO), homemade berry jam, made ricotta pancakes for breakfast that morning, offered up leftovers for lunch (i mean, really -- how much can one gal do, ya know?), then, realizing brandon had a basketball game early that evening, wanted to get dinner together to eat before we left. i was a cooking, chopping, stirring, baking fool all day and it felt, well, quite wonderful. i felt alive and productive, energized and completely in my element. which was a really nice way to spend my day, because the night before i had stayed up until about 3:00 in the morning (maybe later) writing on a screenplay i'm working on (ssh! don't tell the wga -- i mean, i don't plan to try and SELL the thing until the strike is over, but i can't just sit around and NOT write, ya know?). it was like i was immersing myself in the two worlds that fulfill me artistically so well, the contentment i felt is indescribable, so i'm not gonna try. the boys could sense it, i could tell, because they were wonderfully happy and willing to do the little things i needed them to do around the house -- grateful is too light a word to describe that part.
what to make for dinner that would continue that feeling of blissful renaissance tripping? i grabbed up a cookbook by madhur jaffrey simply called INDIAN COOKING, a gift i had received ten years ago from some very special friends of mine -- friends i miss dearly (Robin and Mia, if you can read me, you're on my mind). i use this little beauty quite a bit, but we'd never made this particular dish before and i was excited to try it. BOMBAY-STYLE CHICKEN WITH RED SPLIT LENTIS or Murgh aur masoor dal.

take a look:
1-1/4 cups masoor dal (red split lentils) picked over, washed, and drained
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1/2-1 fresh, hot green chilli, finely sliced
2 tsps ground cumin seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp very finely minced, peeled fresh ginger
6-1/3 cups water
about 3 pounds of chicken parts, skinned
2 1/4 tsp salt
2 tbs veggie oil
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4-3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp garam masala
optional garnish: 3 tbs chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)

what to do:
1. combine the lentils, onion, green chilli, ground cumin, turmeric, half of the chopped ginger and 6-1/3 cups water in a big, heavy pot. bring to a simmer, cover, leaving the lid very slightly ajar, and cook on low heat for 45 minutes. add the chix and the salt. mix and bring to a boil. cover, turn the heat to low and simmer gently for 25-30 minutes or until chix is tender.
2. heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium flame (heat). when hot, put in the whole cumin seeds. as soon as the seeds begin to sizzle -- this just takes a few seconds -- put in the remaining 1/2 tsp chopped ginger and garlic. fry until the garlic turns slightly brown. now put in the cayenne pepper. lift up the frying pan immediately and pour its entire contents -- oil and spices -- into the pot with the chicken and lentils. also add the lemon juice, sugar, and garam masala. stir to mix and cook on medium-low flame for another 5 minutes.
3. sprinkle the fresh coriander over the top, if using, just before you serve.

here's what we did:
i ALWAYS think i have whole cumin seeds and whenever i look, i'm always surprised i don't. i've got whole coriander seeds and i've got cardamom pods, whole nutmeg, allspice, fennel and blah, blah, blah, but not CUMIN SEEDS, which is SOOOO stupid, cuz i cook this shit alot. again, it's like my mustard problem. i either always think i've got several jars only to discover i have none, or always think i need it and discover i have, yep, several jars. so, instead of the seeds i used ground cumin. don't ask me how much, i just guessed, but i figure i used about 1/2 tsp, put it in the hot oil and let it sizzle, then added the rest of that stuff. my lentils were regular red lentils, so the stew like quality of the dish came out a bit soupy, but, yo, still YUMMY-NUMMERS (yep, got right into the report card for ya... couldn't wait). we also didn't have any green chillies (tee, hee), so i used a nice pinch of red pepper flakes. although i have a ton of fresh cilantro -- literally, a ton, honest -- i didn't use it for this.

i served this over some nice basmati rice and with a refreshing salad of romaine and homemade salad dressing. this was dee-vine. delicious, tender, just lovely. nicholas and brandon loved it, chowed it seriously down, and they were in heaven. oh, yeah, wait, i also added about 1/4 cup plain yogurt to the stew which imparted quite the yum. i used boneless, skinless chicken thighs which i cut into about 1-1/2 inch pieces. terrific dish. simple, warming and good. i would recommend salting and peppering it to taste after its cooked, if you feel the need.

something about madhur jaffrey's cookbooks -- they are not for the faint of heart. she assumes, like bobby flay (but NOT like bobby flay, if you know what i mean -- cuz they are in no way like each other in demeanor and such, but in belief, yes), that you already know how to cook and she is merely a vessel to offer up recipes from a region you may not have ever explored in a culinary sense rather than giving you instructions on learning how to cook WHILE making her recipes. there are wonderful pages of history regarding an ingredient, a dish, something. she gives great background as well as props to you in her instructions. they are very straightforward and kind of conversationally "this is what you do, but you already know this stuff, so why don't i just lay down the basics without bogging you down in the tutorial." she's just so incredibly open and it's like she's in the kitchen with you while you're making these dishes. you're a team, peers when you cook with madhur jaffrey's cookbooks. equals.
how cool is that?

brandon played one hell of a game, even though the team lost. he rocked it and felt great after the game. this was a light, lovely meal. i probably already said that, but i'll say it again.
oh, and again, just for good measure.
this was a light, lovely meal.
so there.

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