Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The way to their hearts...

Indian Lemon Rice
Ginger Steamed Winter Greens (Mustard, Tuscan Kale and Swiss Chard)
Garam Masala Rubbed Sockeye Salmon with Tomato Chutney
Double Dark Chocolate Brownies

If ever there is a way to win over the hearts, minds and stomachs of new crewmembers, no matter what their nationality - it is through the cooking of Indian food. For some reason, the mere mention of the words “curry” or "masala" or "buryani" sends crew into ardent little fits. And, as for smell, it’s as if their noses are acutely attuned to detect curry from all the way down the dock! Perhaps it is the common thread of British ancestry that runs through the majority of yacht crew – South Africans, Aussies, Kiwis, et al – that has created this parity. To the early explorers and settlers that were reared on British food, the discovery of Indian spices must’ve been like a venerable panorama of color and flavor on a canvas of mushy peas and brown gravy. Reason enough to leave friends and family and loved ones, risk life and limb, sail uncharted territory and fight off beastly savages (and I should know)! Those crazy Brits weren’t just trying to make some kind of big land-grab, they were raping and pillaging the larders of the countries they conquered because they were bored with their cuisine and their spice racks were bare; hence, the heavy Indian influence in post-colonial cuisine extending from shores of North America all the way to the cape of South Africa to this very day!

Fortunately, I too have some trace ancestry tied to jolly old England. And, consequently, an affinity towards Indian food – both in preparing and consuming. Thus, I am quite excited that my Amazon box has arrived with my copy of Suvir Saran’s “American Masala” Cookbook. Having spent some time in the kitchen at DEVI in New York City, and considering the great reviews I have read about the book, my hopes are high. The book starts out well; some nice recipes for chutneys, Indian pickles and spice blends. However, as I finger my way through the pages, it becomes a bit incongruous and lacking and can’t quite hold my already limited attention span. With a name like “American Masala”, I expect fusion recipes. Indian, Lebanese, American – it is all in there. And I’m all for it, but there are some really lackluster recipes for things like creamy potato salad and mac’n’cheese - with nothing particularly special about either recipe to make them stand out. With every cookbook on the shelves these days having the requisite gourmet mac’n’cheese recipe, why bother with one that’s so run-of-the-mill? That said, I’m bent on finding an Indian recipe worth trying while I ponder whether to return the book to Amazon or not.

There is an absolutely gorgeous gourmet market here in West Seattle called Metropolitan. It is exquisite; mountains of giant artichokes, bright, juicy lemons, organic apples, hills of tomatoes, dells of leafy greens and beans, fine wines and gourmet edibles. It is, by far, one of the best grocery stores I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m all about finding the best grocery stores. However, the work that goes into the beautifully displayed produce and isles of gourmet ingredients is reflected in the price and I have a budget to work within. So, I make my rounds between the Safeway, the PCC (a local health food store) and the Metropolitan - sussing out the prices on milk and veggies and fish and meat and seeing where I can splurge and where I can skimp and save – while still providing the crew with the goodies they so love. And on this day, salmon is on sale at Safeway. And, Metropolitan has Valhrona cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate pieces. I decide on a tomato chutney to go with Garam Masala rubbed Sockeye salmon, mixed winter greens steamed with ginger, Indian lemon rice and double dark chocolate brownies.

The crew arrives home from the boat yard, hungry and tired. Everyone’s been putting in long days preparing for the arrival of the interior designer and the owners – so, I really want to take care of them. They practically start to dance as they walk into the kitchen and smell the tomato chutney bubbling away on the stove. “Is that curry I smell?”, everyone asks. The strong aroma of curry spices drown out the smell of the chocolate brownies I just pulled from the oven – so dessert will be a real surprise! Hurriedly, they set the table and are practically waiting fork in hand as I set down platters of salmon, greens and rice and bowls of chutney. The chutney is delicious – spicy, tangy and thick – and is soon devoured. I notice the looks on their faces as they eat. The discrete smiles of the engineer and the boson are mere vails for the pleasure I can see in their eyes as they go for seconds. The stewardess and the first mate fight over the last piece of salmon and they thoroughly clean the bowls of greens and lemon rice. Everyone ooohhh’s and awww’s over the brownies. “We love you, Cookie!”, they cry as they pick up their dishes and begin cleaning up; 9 happy crewmembers (myself included) – a successful day. I’m still not sure American Masala is worth the $20-something I paid for it, but I can’t give up on Suvir Saran quite so quickly. I love DEVI too much and assisted him with a cooking demo in New York at which the food he made was amazing. So, I jump onto Amazon and order his book, “Indian Home Cooking”. Practically speaking, "Indian Home Cooking" could be a manuscript for keeping crew happily fed.

Tomato Chutney (Adapted from Suvir Saran’s American Masala):

1/4 cup canola oil
20 curry leaves, roughly torn - optional
4 teaspoons mustard seeds
4 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes (I prefer Miur Glenn Organics)
1 16 oz. can tomato sauce
1 8 oz can tomato paste
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon curry powder

Heat the oil with the curry leaves (if using), mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and chilies in a large pot or skillet over medium-high heat until the cumin is browned, about 2 minutes. Add the turmeric and cook until the chilies darken, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add remaining ingredients and cook until chutney is thick and jammy, stirring often (about 30 minutes).

As well, here is a simple and yummy recipe for South Indian Lemon Rice which I first had on a yoga retreat in Thailand – and which I think if I had to choose one food to take with me on a deserted island, it would be this.

South Indian Lemon Rice

2 cups cooked rice
Juice of 2 small lemons
2 tablespoons ghee
A pinch of asafetida
1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
12 curry leaves
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 cup cashews or peanuts
1/2 cup chopped coriander

Heat ghee in a nonstick pan and throw in the asafetida. Add the chili pepper flakes into the pan and fry for about thirty seconds.

Toss in the peanuts and mustard seeds. When you hear the mustard seeds crackle, throw in the curry leaves and stir in the turmeric powder. Stir-fry for another thirty seconds. Add the cooked rice. Toss the rice in the pan so that the spices mix evenly in the rice. Ensure that the rice is evenly yellow. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice and toss the rice again. As a finishing touch, garnish with chopped coriander

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