Sunday, November 2, 2014

Around the World in 80 Dishes: India

It has been well over a year since I completed a dinner for my personal culinary challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes. The last challenge was to prepare Mauritian Duck Curry, along with Chana Masala, dishes from the island country of Mauritius.   The cuisine of Mauritius is heavily influenced by immigrants, especially those from India.  For the next challenge, I'll will travel from Mauritius to India.

The timing could not be better.  I undertook and completed this challenge during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, an important festival for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.  Diwali unfolds over five days, with the third day being celebrated as the main festival or "Festival of Lights." The lights were originally clay lamps, lit for reasons that vary with the celebrants.  For example, lighting lamps represents the victory of knowledge of ignorance.  Darkness represents ignorance, as well as wickedness, violence, anger, bigotry, injustice and suffering.  The lighting of lamps allows light to overcome darkness, which is not only a metaphor for knowledge overcoming ignorance, but also illustrates how light reveals the beauty that surrounds us.

Of course, the Diwali celebration involves far more than lighting of clay or electric lamps.  Families decorate their houses, set off firecrackers and, of course, partake in a feast of food.  The feast of food that I prepared included two main courses and a side dish, all of which are part of this culinary challenge.

While I made two main courses, only one can satisfy the challenge.  That dish is Rogan Josh, an aromatic and very tasty lamb stew or curry.  The dish originated in Persia, which gave the red curry its name.  According to Wikipedia, Rogan means "clarified butter" or "fat" in Persian, while Josh basically means to heat or boil in an intense or passionate way.  The dish was introduced to the subcontinent by the Mughal Empire, where it became very popular in the Kashmir region. 

The Kashmiri version features braised lamb chunks cooked with a gravy based on browned onions or shallots, yogurt, garlic, ginger and aromatic spices, such as cloves, bay leaves, cardamom and cinnamon. The red color of Rogan Josh traditionally comes from liberal amounts of dried, de-seeded Kashmiri chilies.  These chiles are more akin to paprika than the cayenne chiles used by Indian cuisine.  

Personally, I love Rogan Josh and this dish has been on my "to do list" for some time. This version is a simplified curry based upon a recipe by Vikram Sunderam, the chef and owner of the very popular Washington, D.C. restaurant Rasika.

Recipe from Food and Wine
Serves 4

1/4 cup canola oil
2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 inch pieces
Kosher salt
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons, minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1 14 ounce can tomato puree
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 cups water
1 teaspoon garam masala
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Basmati rice and warm naan for serving.

1.  Brown the lamb.  In a large, enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the oil. Season the lamb with salt and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is browned, about 12 minutes; using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate.

2.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Add the onions to the casserole and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, 4 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, curry, turmeric, cayenne and bay leaves and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato, yogurt and water; bring to a boil. Season with salt.

3.  Simmer the stew.  Return the lamb and any juices to the casserole. Cover partially and simmer over low heat until the lamb is very tender, 1 hour. Stir in the garam masala; cook for 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice and naan.


Although the Rogan  Josh satisfies the culinary challenge, I try to make some other dishes, whether appetizers, side dishes or desserts as part of the Around the World in 80 Dishes.  Since I have not done a challenge in awhile, I decided to do another main or side dish.  This dish -- Daal Saag -- features yellow split lentils and spinach.  I have to admit that I do not cook very much with lentils, so this presented a whole different type of challenge.

Recipe from Merilees Parker and
Available on the BBC's Food Website
Serves 4

8 ounces of yellow split lentils (moong dal)
3 1/2 cups of water
2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida or fennel seeds
2 tablespoons of fresh ginger, grated
2 green chiles, de-seeded and chopped
8 curry leaves
3 1/2 ounces of spinach
2 spring onions, trimmed and chopped

1.  Prepare the lentils.  Put the daal in a heavy based saucepan, pour in the water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about 1 hour until the lentils are really soft.

2.  Heat the spices.  Heat oil in a large pan.  Add the mustard seeds, turmeric, cumin, asafoetida or fennel sides, ginger, chilies and curry leaves.  Fry for 2 to 3 minutes.

3.  Add the daal.  When the daal is cooked, add to the pan and stir in spinach and spring onions.  Heat for an additional two minutes.  Season and then serve.

Whenever you make a curry, whether Rogan Josh or Daal Saag, you should always have a pullao, or rice.  This particular rice dish includes carrots, potatoes and green beans. 

Recipe from Merilees Parker and
Available on the BBC's Food Website
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the garam masala):
1 tablespoon of cardamom seeds
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
1 teaspoon black cumin seeds (or regular cumin seeds)
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1/3 whole nutmeg
1 medium stick of cinnamon, broken into pieces

Ingredients (for the pullao):
Basmati rice, measured to the 1 pint level (2 cups)
Thumb piece of fresh ginger, grated
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 hot green chile, finely chopped
1/4 pound of potatoes, peeled and cut into dice
1/4 carrot, peeled, cut into dice
1 1/2 ounces of green beans, cut into segments
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pint water

1.  Prepare the garam masala.  Put all of the spices in a clean coffee grinder or other spice grinder and grind as finely as possible. Store in a tightly lidded jar, away from heat and sunlight. This makes about three tablespoons.

2.  Prepare the rice. Wash the rice in several changes of water then drain. Put the rice in a bowl, cover with water and leave to soak for 30 minutes, then drain again.

3.  Heat the spices.  Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan (with a tight-fitting lid) set over a medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the mustard seeds.  As soon as they begin to pop - a matter of seconds - add the chilli, potato, carrot and green beans and stir. Add the turmeric and garam masala and stir for one minute.  Add the ginger and saute, stirring, for another minute.

4.  Add the rice and other ingredients.  Drain the rice and add it to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir the rice very gently to mix it into the other ingredients and coat it with the oil and spices. Cook this way for two minutes.  Add the 570ml/1 pint water and the salt and bring to the boil. Cover the pan with a very tight-fitting lid (if you don't have a very tight-fitting lid then cover the pan with foil then a lid) then turn the heat to very low and cook for 25 minutes. After this time try a grain of rice to see if it's cooked - cook for a few more minutes if necessary.

5.  Finish the dish.  Once it's cooked you can leave it with the lid on and the heat turned off for up to half an hour before serving. Or serve at once on a serving plate.

*     *     *

I have to say that I completed the challenge successfully.  The Rogan Josh was amazing and I can understand why it is a very popular dish in India.  I also learned that I still have a lot of work to do when it comes to making large amounts of rice.  The pullao was good, but I have difficulties getting the right texture with the rice.  I can do it in small batches.  However, when cooking for large crowds, it is a little more difficult, at least for me. The one thing is that I still have over fifty challenges to go.  I am sure that there will be many more opportunities to make rice.  

Until next time ...


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