Saturday, March 26, 2016

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Pakistan

The last chapter of my personal challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes, involved preparing a main course from India.  The dish was Rogan Josh.  It was a Kashmiri version of the traditional lamb stew or curry; but, the recipe shared one thing in common with other Rogan Josh recipes: it was full of flavorful spices.   

The next challenge does not take me very far, at least geographically.   In fact, it is just across the border from India ... Pakistan.  The two countries are very different, but, when it comes to cuisines, there are some commonalities.  One overarching similarity between Pakistani and Indian cuisines is that there are significant differences from region to region.  The cuisine in the Punjab and Sindh regions is very seasoned and spicy, similar to what you might find in southern India.  The further north you go in Pakistan, just as in India, the dishes are less spicy, but no less flavorful.

Another overarching similarity is that both Pakistan and India draw from some common influences.  The dishes that may appear on the tables in Pakistan, just like in India, draw from Afghan, Persian, and Central Asian cuisines.  Pakistani dishes also draw inspiration from Indian dishes (vice versa).

The challenge in this case is one such example.  The recipe is Karahi Gosht, a very spicy lamb curry that can be found in both Pakistan and India. For this challenge, however, I have to focus on the version of the dish that I might find on the streets of Lahore:

A "karahi" is a thick circular deep cooking pot, like the one in the video above.  "Gosht" is mutton or lamb.  Thus, Karahi Gosht is literally lamb cooked in a pot.  Other meats, such as chicken or goat could be substituted for the lamb.  One could even make a version of this dish with paneer, if you have any vegetarians (like my beautiful Angel) in your family.  I decided to stick with mutton or lamb.  Actually, I went with lamb because mutton can be hard to find in most supermarkets around where I live.   I used a couple pounds of butterflied leg of lamb, although lamb shoulder would probably work just as well, if not better.

As for the karahi, that kind of cooking pot is not one that I have lying around my kitchen (although after making this recipe, I have been looking for one).  I substituted a wide saute pan with curved sides.  While it may not be truly authentic, it worked well nonetheless.

Recipe from Scientific Psychic
Serves 4-8

2 pounds of lamb or mutton, cut into cubes 
3 medium onions, finely chopped
1 large tomato, diced
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
2 pieces of fresh turmeric (or 1 tablespoon ground)
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 lemon juiced
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon mustard seed
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 1/2 cups of water

1.  Prepare the lamb or mutton.  Put the lamb pieces in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and lemon juice, stir and set aside for 20 minutes.

2.  Saute the vegetables and spices.   Set a pot on medium heat, add the cooking oil and saute the chopped onion,s garlic, ginger and turmeric until golden brown and fragrant (If you are using ground turmeric, wait until you add the spices.)  Add cumin, cinnamon, ground coriander, mustard seeds, garam masala, cloves, allspice and chilies.  Stir until fragrant and well mixed.  

3.  Cook the lamb.  Add the lamb pieces and stir until the spices cover the meat.   Add the water, cover the pot, and lower the heat to simmer for about 45 minutes until the lamb is cooked.

4.  Finish the dish.  When the meat is tender, add the chopped cilantro and tomato and mix well.  Serve with basmati rice.

*     *     *

As with the Rogan Josh, the Karahi Gosht was a success.  It reminded me of why I love South Asian cuisine.  The various spices that went into the dish -- from allspice to mustard, along with the blend of garam masala -- never disappoints my palate.  With this challenge completed, I have made main courses from four countries in the South Asian region: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Pakistan.  That leaves only a handful of challenges from this region, such as Sri Lanka and Nepal.  Those will have to await another day.  It is time to move on to another part of the world for the next challenge.  Until next time ...


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Pan Roasted Black Grouper with Black Eyed Pea Cakes and Smoked Tomato Coulis

I was perusing the seafood section of a local store when I came across the sign: "We have the Cadillac of all groupers." The sign caught my attention.  When one refers to a "Cadillac" of anything, the implication is that it is the best. After all, a Cadillac was supposed to be the most prestigious, most luxurious of all of the General Motors cars.  The name has been used to signify something that is an outstanding example of its kind.

So, to understand what could be a "Cadillac" of groupers, one has to know the different lines or species.  There are the small species, like the Brown Grouper.  Known as the Scamp, it is relatively small and fairly common.  Then, there is the sporty species, like the Red Grouper, which is said to give the some of toughest fights when hooked.  There is the flashy species, like the Yellowfin Grouper, whose bright red or brown splotches and yellow pectorals are said to make it one of the prettiest of the grouper species.

And, there is the Black Grouper, which is the largest of the Mycteroperca species, often growing to sizes between 50 to 100 pounds.  Thus, the Mycertoperca Bonaci - or Black Grouper -  fulfills the size proportions that one would expect of a "Cadillac."  The only question is whether it also fulfills the "luxury" expectations that comes with the use of the term.  The definition of luxury is subjective. Nevertheless, the fillets of black group are thick, meaty and mild in flavor.  For most people, that would probably satisfy the definition of luxury when it comes to fish.

I have some limited experience with the Black Grouper.  A couple of years ago, I created recipe a called Spanish Black Grouper with Saffron Rice.  My goal with that recipe was to pair a subtle spice and smoke that comes with the paprika used in Spanish cuisine with the thick fillets.  While that was a delicious dish, I wanted to try something different with this fish.   I searched the Internet for some ideas and inspiration.  I found it in a recipe from the Food Network.

The Food Network recipe was fairly ambitious.  In addition to the fish, the recipe also called for black eye pea cakes, shrimp, frisee salad and smoked tomato coulis.  That is a lot of different elements. I am sure that, together, they make for a great dish.  I decided to trim down the recipe.  I would focus on the fish, the black eye pea cake and the coulis.  I "86'd" the shrimp, and decided to do a simple side salad.  After all, there should be something green on the plate.

One final note: the smoked tomatoes.  Fortunately, I have a Cameron Stovetop Smoker and I smoked the tomatoes using some pecan wood dust.  If you are not able to smoke the tomatoes, you could just make a tomato coulis or add a little ancho chile or smoked paprika to give the coulis that smoked flavor.   

Recipe adapted from Food Network
Serves 6

Ingredients (for the Black Grouper):
2 pounds of black grouper, cut into even-sized pieces 
1 1/2 tablespoons of kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Ingredients (for the Black Eyed Pea Cakes):
3 cups cooked black-eyed peas
1/2 cup finely sliced green onions
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon creole seasoning
1 egg
1/4 cup shredded romano
1 cup finely ground bread crumbs
2 to 3 tablespoons clarified butter
1/2 cup seasoned flour

Ingredients (for the Smoked Tomato Coulis):
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup shallots, minced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 ripe tomatoes, smoked, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1.  Prepare the fish.  Season the fillets with salt and pepper.  In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over a high flame, but not quite to the smoking point.  Add the butter, then quickly, just as the butter begins to brown, place the fillets in the hot oil  Allow the fish to brown well before turning it over, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Turn the fillets and brown the other side.  Once the fish is browned, place the fish on a parchment paper lined sheet pan.  Finish baking the fish in the oven for about 3 to 4 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Make the Black Eyed Pea Cakes.  With your hands or a potato masher, smash the black eyed peas, leaving a few peas whole.  Add the green onions, red pepper, spices and egg.  Mix thoroughly.  Add cheese and bread crumbs. and mix well.  Divide the mix into six 2 1/2 inch balls.  Flatten balls to 3 inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick  This may be done a day ahead of time, covered and stored in the refrigerator.  Heat butter over medium high heat in a large skillet.  Lightly dust the both sides of the cakes with seasoned flour (salt and pepper) and place them in the skillet to brown.  Leave enough room between the cakes to be able to flip them over.  When the cakes are brown on both sides, place them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 7 minutes or heated through. 

3.  Make the Smoked Tomato Coulis.  In a small stainless steel sauce pot, heat the olive oil over a low heat.  Place the shallots, garlic, salt and cayenne pepper in the hot oil and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent browning.  Add in the peeled and seeded smoked tomatoes and cook over a low heat for about 10 to 12 minutes.   Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool for about 10 to 15 minutes.  Place the cooled mixture into the blender and puree until smooth.  Stir in the vinegar and warm until ready to serve. 

4.  Plate the dish.  Place the black eyed pea cakes in the center of each plate.  Place the grouper atop atop the pea cake and place a small pool of the smoked tomato coulis near the front of the dish.