Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pork Stew with Poblano and Black Beans

Every week for the past  thirty odd years I wait with a frisson of excitement for the Food section of the New York Times. This section fires my culinary landscape, thrills the gourmet in me, transports me to restaurant kitchens I will never visit and provides me with a burgeoning stack of clipped recipes. For those of us from the cave man days....yes....we clip and paste!!!

My heart flutters a little on Wednesdays. I happily discover another keeper in this week's paper. A parade of culinary geniuses have contributed their expertise in the section called A Good Appetite. The most recent, Melissa Clark has been inventing and reinventing recipes for a few years. They are contemporary and innovative. Her techniques are uncomplicated. Her commentary is insightful and informative. Her palate is sophisticated, yet surprisingly simple. So I wade enthusiastically into her recipe for green chorizo. 

The recipe calls for ground pork, to me a better option than ground beef or lamb. It's gets its green color from a paste of poblano chiles and garlic. The trouble with me is I like to change it up a bit. Go in another direction. I add more garlic and poblanos. I leave out the serrano chile. I cut down the amount of black beans and tomatoes. And it still smells amazing, bubbling away on the stove. 

Serves 4 

1 pound ground Pork
1 teaspoon whole Black Peppercorns
1 tablespoon Coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon Cumin seeds
1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano
1 small dried Bay Leaf
4 Cloves
2 Poblano Chiles
10 cloves Garlic, unpeeled
1/2 cup Parsley
1 tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 tablespoon Canola Oil
1 medium Onion
1/2 cup Cilantro Stems
1 cup cooked Black Beans
1 large Tomato
1/2-3/4 cup Water
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Cilantro to garnish

Place pork in a bowl.

Heat a cast iron pan over a high flame for a few minutes.

Add peppercorns, coriander and cumin seeds, oregano, bay leaf and cloves and toast till spices are aromatic and slightly singed.

Transfer to a spice grinder and whizz to a fine powder.

Return cast iron pan to a high flame.

Throw in garlic cloves with their skin on. 

Add poblano chiles to pan. They will sizzle and pop.

Turn chiles and garlic from time to time till they are soft, about 8-10 minutes.

Set aside to cool.

Peel garlic and drop into the bowl of a food processor.

Slice poblanos in half and remove seeds. Chop the chiles into 1inch pieces and add to processor bowl.

Add sherry vinegar, parsley and 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and purée. The paste should have some texture and not be completely smooth.

Add paste to pork along with ground spices. Mix well and let pork sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. Let it come to room temperature before using.

Heat canola oil in a deep saucepan over a high flame.

Cut onion into rough chunks and add to oil. Sauté for a few minutes till translucent.

Add chorizo and roughly chopped cilantro stems. Stir occasionally for a few minutes till all the water has dried up.

Cut tomato in chunks and add to pork.

Add black beans, water and salt and let meat come to boil. 

Lower flame to medium and let the meat cook uncovered for 10 minutes.

Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Serve hot with tortillas or rice.

The aroma of braising pork anoints the kitchen. My olfactory senses are assaulted by sharp chiles, cilantro and of course browned meat. The combination has the same power as the Pied Piper's tune. My men are quickly drawn to the table. I heat tortillas along with a rice pilaf. It is a simple but tongue-tingling dinner. Thank you Melissa Clark for once again taking me down a road I would've never thought to travel.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Oven Roasted Tri-Tip Steak

The comfort of my kitchen calls like a siren song. I ease back into my domain effortlessly. Reaching for a familiar knife, making a pot of espresso, hands holding my mug of hot tea...all these daily rituals bring solace to my heart. Nothing like absence as the old adage says!!!

I find tri-tip at the store! Joy! I like this cut of beef. Popular in California, the triangular shapes cooks well. Holds up to a spicy rub. And since my grill is icebound, sizzles aromatically in the oven. I use Geets' rub recipe. She has made this for us a couple of times. Love it, love it. Her rub is a gritty mix of coffee grounds, spices, garlic and onion. Steak is massaged and marinated. An overnight stint in the fridge as I have the time. I let it rest before it roasts. A burning hot cast iron pan is the secret to crusty roast beef. USE YOUR VENT!!! Sear the meat and send the smoking pan into a hot oven. Voila...30 minutes later, a perfectly cooked medium-rare piece of beef!!!

Serves 4

1 2 lb Tri-Tip
1 tablespoon Olive oil

2 tablespoons Coffee grounds
1 teaspoon Cumin powder
1 teaspoon Chile powder
1 tablespoon Ancho Chile powder
1 tablespoon Oregano
2 teaspoons Garlic powder
1 teaspoon Onion powder
2 teaspoons ground Black Pepper
2 teaspoons Kosher Salt

Combine all the spices for the rub. 

Liberally sprinkle the Tri-tip with the rub. Store any leftover rub in a jar for future use.

Massage spices into the meat.

Marinate overnight or for at least 2-3 hours.

Preheat oven to 425F.

Place a cast iron pan on a high flame. Let the pan heat for 5 minutes or so.  

Drizzle olive oil over steak.

Sear the steak in hot pan for 2 minutes on each side. 

Place pan in oven and let meat roast 30 minutes uncovered for medium-rare, 35-40 minutes for medium. 

Remove from oven and place steak on a cutting board to rest for 5-7 minutes. Cover loosely with foil.

Slice thinly and serve with your choice of vegetables and sides

Steak knives emerge from their wood container. The cast iron pan has worked it's magic as I see a crusty, dark brown slab of meat emerge from the oven. A short rest and it's the moment of truth. We slice into medium-rare pieces of flavorsome meat. Smashed potatoes and roasted carrots pair seamlessly with steak. Once again I am happily reunited with my hearth and home. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Seefood Diet -Part 2

My ma-in-law says she eats to live. I beg to differ as my reasons are quite the opposite. Everyday is a chance to step into a new adventure, be it food, philosophy or plain practicality. With these adages in mind I pick up my fork in Pune. Prassy feeds me many morsels. Sitaphul kheer that has me in paroxysms of pleasure. Each spoonful is savored and relished. I eat bowlfuls and then move on to a plate of fresh sitaphuls. Then again I know I will not get to eat the fruit for a long time. She doles out a ghee flavored red carrot halwa, which reminds me of Mum's winter predilection with this dessert. We only ate gajar halwa in January to March as these large red carrots are cultivated around this time of the year. And by large, I mean carrots that are 15 to 18 long!!

By happy coincidence I bump into an old college friend, Vaman.  he invites us for a home cooked meal of cauliflower, fried fish, freshly made phulkas, dal and rice. I appreciate the simple version of a Maharashtrian thali more than he will know. Another dear friend crosses my path. Jyothi and I go back some thirty odd years when we worked together at Contemporary Arts & Crafts. I carry with me her zest for life, her zany sense of humor, but most of all her ability to laugh at herself! We share stories, her memory being sharper than mine! Being from the south she promises me filter coffee. I watch as she expertly froths the coffee. I take a foamy, milky sip. Among coffee notes is a sharp ginger flavor, that increases with each sip! I figure that she has tried a new version of madras coffee. Jyo too sips hers, with a confounded expression. We query about the taste. Realization dawns as she figures the coffee thermos she uses regularly houses her strongly flavored ginger tea!!! This reason is cause for much merriment as a tiger really cannot change his stripes!!! What I cherish is after all these years that Jyo is still Jyo! 

The week begins with a series of invites from my sister's friends. Falguni, treats us to dinner at La Plasir. This tiny 6 table bistro serves amped up French/Italian small plates. We share a delectable fresh fig and buffalo Mozzerella salad. Indian inspired ratatouille comes rolled in hearty whole wheat crepes. Pasta Aglio Olio swims in chile flecked butter. We ooh and aah as we share plates. Another friend Reena, dishes up a typical Maharashtrian meal, served with a most intriguing garlic tarka dal. Atul and Aarti invite us to their house for an evening where art and food feed heart and soul. Puneri hospitality at its best!!!!

We make a few incursions into South East Asian cuisine. Sun Moi satisfies  the Indian Chinese palate, with crisp, coriander chile coated prawns, not once but twice. A really tiny Vietnamese restaurant makes us sit crossed legged on not so plump cushions. A large meal of pho, pork bun noodles and really fresh summer rolls leaves us struggling to get off the floor!! Cafe Maroo, a Korean surprise, offers us a large beef repertoire in spite of a severe shortage of beef in the state.

I crave home-cooked food, so Prassy parades her repertoire. Pomfret fry. Mutton curry. Methi bhaji. Batata vada. Bheja fry. Crab curry. Stir fried prawns. Melt in your mouth dahi vadas. Paani puri. Ragda pattice. Hot jalebis with rabdi. Freshly made chappatis painted with ghee. And that piece de resistance, sitaphul kheer. I feel and look like that thanksgiving bird. Dog walking is the mandatory form of exercise!!!

We cook together a few times. I make squid ink pasta, zucchini pancakes and stir fried veggies. A meager contribution after my sister's Herculean effort.

I am sad leaving this place where I am coddled and cosseted. The warmth of family envelops and binds me to my sister. I know I will be back sooner than later.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Malaysia -Penang and Kuala Lumpur-A Seefood diet-Part 1

These words from Virginia Woolf has become my undoing. I haven't indulged in my favorite pastime for a few weeks now. Instead I have diligently followed the above mantra.  I am halfway across the world in India, where I have been wined and dined, always with an amazing amount of love and affection and always accompanied with many a culinary delight. I truly wish I could paint you the panoramic version of the many scrumptious meals I have consumed. But you will have to settle for this abbreviated mouthwatering verbiage.

I start my Bombay journey with a eye-popping meal at Masala Library. We sit down to a succession of small plates. Our meal is launched with an amusing bouche of molecular air bubble filled with thandai!! Dried mushroom and truffle chai follows, poured table side. An exquisite thair sadam or yogurt rice, with chili coated plantain chips comes with a melt in your mouth curry leaf spiced fried prawn, nestled into the cool rice. I am transported to Kerala in a bite. Crispy, spicy, cool, I marvel at the perfect marriage. An explosion of southern flavors echo with each bite. I do not want these mouthfuls to end. I look in askance at the next course. The delightfully presented chicken tikka doesn't fail to delight. Across the table my sister slices a peanut coated masala scallop, cooked perfectly. G tucks into a large pork rib, covered with a bhoot jolokia chile. The spiciest chile in the world sets his mouth is on fire. Ours too as we nibble from each other's plates. Masala coated lamb chops and duck wings in a spice laden plum sauce amaze our taste buds. All of are treated to patra-ni-macchi, a small square of fish blanketed in coriander sauce. The fish swims in a rasam like broth flavored with the same sauce. One mouthful satisfies a whole range of emotions!! At this point I would like to walk away from the table replete. I cannot as the main courses arrive with much fanfare. We cover all proteins. Fish moilee, duck legs and laal maas are plated with maa ki daal, mini dahi vadas, fresh kulchas and rice. We look upon in horror and fascination as I know I would like to eat a few spoonfuls of dessert. I raise my fork valiantly and eat small bites. At this time the concept of small plates is long gone!!! Desserts wow. A ras malai tower teeters as we chip away at it. The crunch of jalebi caviar and rabdi amuses the palate. The check comes with pan flavored cotton candy. Jiggs Kalra elevates the ordinary and treats us to an extraordinary feast of the eyes and senses. 

Another delicious meal is eaten at Pancharatna in the heart of Pune. We are there to attend my niece's wedding.The celebration starts at Ayesha's Roce with chili fry spring rolls, batter coated Chinese style fried mushrooms, kismoor or dried shrimp salad, sannas (yeasted rice cakes) and fish curry. I am afraid to fill my plate for fear that the dress I have brought for the wedding, will not fit!! Though it is a fleeting fear.

The wedding passes in a flurry of feasting and fun. We are off to Penang to eat roti canai in its native land. Penang is familiar and different. Walking past colonial buildings reminds us happily of Goa. Our hotel is a hidden gem, literally, tucked away behind a row of ginger blossoms. Our friend and Penang resident Sharmila, guides us to the right places. I tick items off my mental check list as we dip into curry and roti at 10 at Line Clear. 

She lives in Penang so we see the island through a local's eyes, walking through wet markets, bakeries, and fruit stands. We eat the same way too, mounds of rice with fish head curry. Penang Hill draws us up in the funicular just as the sun sets. We watch as dusk turns into night, a spectacle of twinkling lights spreading below us. Dinner is a ridiculously cheap meal. Beef rendang, chicken kapitan curry, murtabak, roti jala, huge plates of rice and drinks come to a princely amount of $6. The food is fresh, tasty and cheap cheap cheap!!! We do not miss out on the coconut sorbet and kit kat ice cream at Safe Room. We have fallen in love with this small island paradise, where the street food is fabulous and people are all smiles. We are loathe to leave.


Onward to Kuala Lumpur where Vic, Carla and Leah are the perfect hosts!!!

Confirmed foodies like us, they steer us in the right direction. Their neighborhood is filled with mom and pop restaurants. Satays and mee rebus engage and enchant. Blazing hot Thai food sends our taste buds spinning. Bite size pandan pastry and coconut pancakes filled with gula jawa are the perfect sweet ending. The banana leaf set meal at Ravi's is a gastronomic delight. Vegetables, fried bitter gourd, cucumber pachadi, an immense mound of puffy white rice, fish curry, chicken curry, sambhar, rasam, a heap of papads that G makes quick inroads into, mango pickle, lime pickle, fried chilies, a fried pomfret... Should I stop??!!!!!! All this costs $1.50! I am startled and surprised by the cost of restaurant food in Malaysia. Not only is it cheap, but retains it's home grown tastes. No hint of artificial or fortified flavors. This devout chicken hater has eaten chicken at almost every meal in Malaysia with gusto and relish!! 

We end the trip by introducing the family to ABC...yes that's what the Malays call shave ice covered in coconut milk, sugar syrup, corn, adzuki beans, pandan jelly, palm nuts and topped with ice cream!!! As revolting as that sounds, do not be put off!!! It is cool, refreshing and absolutely addictive. The Texans are converts!!!

Back in Bombay, the feasting continues. Tom Collins and gin balls at the Radio Club. Fresh sugarcane juice and sev puri at Willingdon Club. Crisp fried bombay ducks and prawns at Highway Gomantak. Chili chicken rolls and lemon tarts at Theobroma. It's a wonder my clothes still fit!!!  Now I'm off to Pune to be spoilt rotten by my sis Prasanna!! Look for more foodcentricities in part 2 of the Seefood diet!