All posts tagged Indian

Unbeknownst to me, the tamarind is an somewhat popular ingredient in southern Indian cooking.

My love affair with tamarind began the first time someone told me what was in phad thai sauce (which includes tamarind paste, fish sauce, sugar, garlic, and chilis.)  Upon hearing this, I just knew that I would always love tamarind because, hey, if it was in phad thai, it had to be good.

Quite frankly, after smelling fish sauce for the first time, I should have realized there is NO correlation between being in phad thai sauce and “good”.  Still I persisted in thinking I would like tamarind until I had my first bit of raw tamarind candy.

Um…yeah…not so much.

So what I have decided is that while tamarind by itself is not to my liking, when put into a sauce, it is actually pretty darn good.  Which is why when I saw that my Indian cookbook has  a number of recipes called for tamarind paste, I decided I would try to make my own.

Making tamarind paste is not hard at all, but it does require some manual labor.

You will need:

  • Eight ounces of tamarind
  • Water

(Told you it was easy.)

  1. Put the tamarind in a plastic bowl and cover with cold water.  Let the tamarind soak for at least an hour.
  2. Drain the tamarind.
  3. If you have a food mill, mill the tamarind pods at least twice to get a smooth paste.  If you do not have a food mill, roll up your sleeves and:
  4. Begin pressing firmly.  Soon, the tamarind will look like this:
    Tamarind paste is a lot of work...
  5. Add one half cup of water to the tamarind.
  6. Pick up pieces of the tamarind and squeeze them.  This will produce a small amount of juice and pulp.  It will also loosen the seeds.
  7. Pick out the seeds from the pod and remove all of the pulp which has stuck to it.  Discard the seeds.  The majority of the pulp comes from around the seeds.
    You're going to get your hands dirty.
  8. Continue until all of the tamarind has been broken down and there is no outer shell left.
  9. The tamarind paste may still be gritty.  It can be strained over a fine mesh.  (I used the splatter guard from my saute pan.

Viola!  You now have your very own tamarind paste.

So before I reveal how I used it, what do you do with tamarind?

Due to my illness, I took the week off to recover and try to eat something other than dry pasta.  I’ve been partially successful.

I did want to get back on track with my calendar so I’m using this week to talk about spices.  And why I am so excited about spices?

That’s right you guessed it…because in exactly one month the Spice Girls kick off the world reunion tour!!!  No, really. 

On a personal bummer note: the closest they’re coming to me is Chicago… 🙁

Anyway, for this installment of Spice Week, I thought I’d start with Indian spices.  Indian food is a style of cuisine that relies on a large variety of different spices to create its unique flavor profile.  In making even the most basic Indian dish, you are going to need turmeric, ground coriander, cumin seeds (or ground cumin), garam masala, salt, and pepper.  Plus garlic, ginger, and onions which do a heck of a lot for the flavor a dish.

However, if you can get that mix down, you’ve got the leg up on just about any Indian dish.  Except butter chicken.  Do not even get me started on butter chicken.

I came upon this mixture as the cornerstone of Indian cooking during a recent Indian cooking class I took with my wife for her birthday.  That combination of spices (turmeric, coriander, cumin seeds, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, and onions) formed the basis for every dish we made.

To test the mixture out in a dish of your own, try making my potato cholay:

  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 8 small red potatoes cut into 1/4 inch “coins”
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup of water or broth
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon (two inches) grated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon of garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1 tomato, diced (or 1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes drained)
  1. Preheat a skillet over medium heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil.  When the oil is hot, add the potatoes and a pinch of salt.  Toss the potatoes to coat them in the oil.
  2. Cook the potatoes covered until soft.  Add a tablespoon or two of the water or broth if the pan gets dry.  This will take 10-15 minutes.
  3. Add the onions, another pinch of salt, ginger, and garlic and saute until the onions soften, 5-7 minutes.
  4. Add the spices and the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes become warm and give off a little liquid.

Viola!  Potato Cholay.  For me, learning this basic spice mixture was receiving the keys to the kingdom.  I now fear no Indian food because I have an idea of the basic spices that give this cuisine its unique flavor.