Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What to do in terrible times

For over a week, I haven't been able to write.  The spirit just wasn't in me after witnessing and learning of several great sadnesses and recent disasters in my own very small world.  My role has always been to console and support, so I found myself doing that a lot.  I realized that I also had to console and support myself, however, and that trauma takes its toll on all who experience and witness it.

We had houseguests for several days because of the recent ravages of the Texas Labor Day wildfires.  We all needed to be distracted from the ever-worsening condition of the fires due to the high and shifting winds, as well as the mounting destruction of our community's homes, parks and wildlife.  As is my habit, I chose distraction in the form of food and drink.  So we enjoyed many meals together: Asian lettuce wraps in crisp, cool iceberg leaves with a fruity Vouvray, a slow-cooked Italian pot roast with a wonderfully rich red sauce, pasta and roasted broccoli with a slightly tannic Chianti, and grilled pizzas with a spare, peppery Zinfandel.

But the smash hit of our little raggedy and fragile impromptu Victorian House Party was "Indian Night."  For a few hours, the house was filled with the aromas of an Indian kitchen, sitar music weaving a haunting backdrop.  I think that for a just a few short moments, we were able to leave heartbreak and tragedy in a place far away from the dining room table and enjoyed food and wine and laughter.  The perfect foil for our Indian repast was one of my favorite roses, Sauvion Rose d'Anjou 2009 (Loire, France).  Soft, light, and beautiful in the glass, this is a lightly sweet wine with lots of strawberry and a crisp, clean finish.  It is, as one of my wine friends likes to say, "entirely gulpable."  The best part of this rose?  It's about $10!  Ask your wine guy (or girl) at Spec's to help you find it.

Here are the recipes I made:

Chicken Tikka Masala

   Adapted and lightened from a Jamie Oliver recipe.  Start marinating the chicken the night before for the best flavor.

3 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 large fresh chili, seeded and chopped
olive oil
1/2 Tbs. mustard seeds (I like to use brown mustard seeds)
1/2 Tbs. paprika
1/2 Tbs. turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 Tbs. garam masala

7 oz. Greek yogurt
4 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks
cooking spray
fresh limes, cut into quarters
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1.  Combine garlic, ginger, and chili in a large bowl and set aside.
2.  Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a small saute pan and add mustard seeds.  When they begin to pop, remove from heat and add to bowl with garlic mixture.
3.  Add paprika, turmeric, cumin, coriander and garam masala and mix well.
4.  Stir in Greek yogurt, then add chicken and blend well.  You can marinate this as little as 1 hour, but I think it tastes best after sitting in the fridge overnight.
5.  Heat grill to medium hot.
6.  Place marinated chicken on skewers and spray with cooking spray so chicken doesn't stick to grill.
7.  Sear chicken on all sides, about 7 to 10 minutes; watch carefully so it doesn't burn and reduce heat if necessary.
8.  Serve on a platter with lime wedges and chopped cilantro sprinkled over.  Serves 4 generously.

Hot Garlic Cauliflower

        This is really good with cabbage, too.  Adapted from "Curries Without Worries" by Sudha Koul (1989, Cashmir Press).

6 Tbs. oil
6 hot green chilies, stemmed and finely chopped (you can reduce the number of chilies if you're worried
      about too much spice, but at least 4 are required, seeds and all!)
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 large sized head of cauliflower, separated into small florets, rinsed and drained (or use 1 medium sized
      head of cabbage, rinsed and drained, cut into thin, long strips)
salt to taste

1.  In a 6-quart saucepot, heat the oil on high heat.
2.  Add the chilies and garlic and stir-fry briskly for a few seconds, just long enough to toast the garlic a bit.
3.  Add the cauliflower (or cabbage) and salt, and stir well, until all ingredients are mixed thoroughly.
4.  Cook for about 3 minutes, then turn off the heat, and cover for 5 minutes before you serve.  The cauliflower (or cabbage) should be a little crunchy when done.  Serves 6.

Bhindi Aloo

     My favorite Indian potato dish with crisp, curried okra.  Again, from my hero Sudha Koul's book.

1 lb. fresh okra
1 lb. medium potatoes, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks (preferably red potatoes with skins left on)
1/2 cup oil
1 Tbs. ground coriander seed
1 Tbs. ground cumin seed
1/2 Tbs. ground turmeric
1 Tbs. garam masala
salt to taste
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

1.  Wash and drain vegetables thoroughly.  The okra, particularly, should be washed and drained well in advance so that it is completely dry when you are ready to cook.
2.  Cut off and discard stem ends of okra.
3.  Heat the oil in a heavy wok or large saute pan on high heat for a couple of minutes, or until shimmering.
4.  Add the potatoes and okra.
5.  Stir fry for about 5 minutes.
6.  Add remaining ingredients (except cilantro) and stir well.
7.  Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until potatoes and okra are done/tender, about 10 minutes.  Serves 6.

To all of you who are without homes and who are without hope, may you find someone who will cook for you, pour you a glass of wine and comfort you.  Namaste.

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