Monday, February 18, 2013

Kitchen Confidences-- Masala Fried Steak

I am blessed because I get to play with food everyday. The kitchen reels me in with its Pied Piper tune and I am instantly drawn into its embrace. Here is my place of comfort, of solace in turbulent times and most of the time, an inspiring backdrop to my culinary sensibilities. The emanating aromas are my lifeline to sensory memories from times past. As a child I played with my mother's copper kitchen play set. As a young girl, I spent many a summer in my Aji's (grandma) antiquated kitchen in Bombay, making Indian style sourdough bread, helping but really hampering the tasks of the day. I loved the elasticity of the dough in my hand, the sour smell of rising yeast and the joy of tasting freshly baked loaves. Most of all I loved the hustle-bustle of that kitchen brimming with matriachal love. In school, Mrs Samson ruled the Domestic Science room with an iron hand. A rather strange name for a class that taught us the basics of kitchen dexterity. I further honed my skills at the expert hands of my mother. In our bright orange kitchen, she taught me our native delights via Marathi cookbooks. The international recipes or "Continental" food, as it was called in its heyday, was administered by way of the well-thumbed tome, The Joy Of Cooking. She was given this book as a gift from an American friend, who loved her Indian food and thought she would like to try her hand at a different type of cuisine. She took to the book like a duck to water. Like I said, it was a much referred-to volume. Not only did she love it, so did I! From its dog-eared pages, I baked milk sponges, rolled out cinnamon buns and mastered the art of lump-free white sauce. I married, moved to London and now had my very own kitchen. With no supervisory influences I burnt rice, made not-quite-round chapattis and freely experimented on my husband,the guinea pig! 

Many years later I cook in known and unfamiliar kitchens. I visit my brother in Dallas and cook very carefully as his daughter is allergic to a slew of foods. In Chapel Hill, I saute and swirl while looking out on to a vista of verdant green. In San Francisco, I turn away from the Golden Gate Bridge to face a wall and chop onions. In Austin, a margarita galvanizes me in my sister-in-law's kitchen. And in Indiana, there is a fine wine cellar to motivate me. 

A decade ago Glenn built me a beautiful big cooking space. We entertain frequently so I joke that I am chained to the stove! Jokes aside, I love my domain, filled with scents and stories, past and present. And then the storm destroyed my creative zone. We had to relocate. As I write I can see the length and breadth of this temporary kitchenette. I have learned to cook on a tiny stove. None of my big saucepans will fit. I use an oven whose door scrapes the radiator cover every time I open it. Not much counter space so I cannot roll out dough, pizza or chapattis.  And all of us have relearned the art of washing dishes!  All this pales when I stand and ponder on tonight's menu. Once I start I know I will adapt. I know I put my best foot forward. 

Masala Fried Steak

Serves 4

2 pounds Sirloin steak, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Pepper
3 teaspoons Canola Oil
2  large Onions
2 large Tomatoes
1 tablespoon Garlic, minced
4 slices Ginger, 1/4 inch thick
3 tablespoons Chile Powder
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt.

Cut sirloin steaks into smaller portions. This could mean 2 to 3 pieces from one steak.

Season well with salt and pepper.

Peel and cut onions in half. Turn them crosswise and cit into 1/2 inch thick slices.

Cut tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices.

Heat oil in a wide saucepan for 3 minutes on high heat.

Lay the seasoned steaks and brown well for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from pan and finish frying all the pieces.

Add the steaks back to the hot pan, along with onions, tomatoes, garlic and ginger.

Sprinkle chile powder and salt and stir well so that the steaks are well coated  with spices.

Bring to a gentle boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

The steaks should be well done and there should be a fair amount of gravy.


Thin cut sirloin steaks are found in Spanish stores. You could substitute any meat that is thinly sliced.

I serve these steaks with roasted potato wedges. They sop up the gravy nicely. Crusty bread marries well too.

I see bare bones of my kitchen come together. Cabinets emerge from cardboard boxes. Appliances arrive. Granite is horizontally laid. Its only a matter of time. Soon I will be home.