Meera Sodha's Tuscan Kale Saag

Tuscan Kale Saag

Today, I thought to myself earlier, I would very much like to run away. Just, you know, walk out the front door and keep going, ending up in Rajasthan or the English countryside or an ice cliff in Greenland. I don't care where, really, just as long as it's not here, I thought. I am done with here. I've had enough of here. Get me out of here.

***

I miss my girlfriends. I miss connecting with my ladies in real life. I miss maskless faces. I miss their company and their smiles and looking at their shiny jewelry and talking about their gorgeous hair. I miss admiring them and asking for advice and giving advice and the thrilling incredulity that sometimes comes with feeling deeply understood. Waiting for them at a restaurant, deciding on a second glass of wine, feeling them all squished into a booth beside me. Their smells, their presence, their them-ness. Our conversations, the big talks and the little ones. Their outfits and their bags and their wrinkles and their laughter and their advice and our shorthand. I miss the women in my life so much that I have an actual physical ache.

Zoom was fine for a month or two or three, but now I can't even face Zooming with my friends. It feels too painful. I want to reach out and touch them and I can't. When the pandemic started last year, my friend and neighbor Stephanie came by one day just to say hi, from a distance. I ran down the stairs to see her, ripped open the front door and, confronted with her in the flesh before me, just burst into tears. My tears surprised me perhaps even more than they surprised her. The fact that she was in front of me and I couldn't go near her and touch her, pull her in for a hug, just gutted me. Once we all adjusted to the new normal, I was able to cope with that distance. I made my peace with it, I thought. But this week, that part of me is just hanging out again, all weepy and exposed, like a raw blister.

I want to run away to a faraway land and I want my girlfriends to come with me and while we're gone our husbands will take care of our children and they'll be just fine and we'll be back in a few months when we feel better, promise. 

***

The children were home from mid-December to mid-February. When they returned to school and Kita, I breathed a sigh of relief. Normalcy for them and for us, time to work again, time to be something other than a mother 25 hours a day. But the situation in Germany, in case you haven't heard, is becoming grotesque. Vaccinations lag, there is no testing strategy, and cases are skyrocketing. My mother and mother-in-law are vaccinated now, thank goodness, because they help us a lot. But Max and I are resigned to the fact that we are months and months away from our vaccinations, while the mutations are wreaking havoc. Bruno is our weakest link, poor little guy. I keep sending him to Kita, because I have assignments and deadlines, and every day I cross my fingers and hold my breath and hope against hope that he doesn't come home and infect us.

Keep him home, I think. Protect yourself. You have work, sure, but benevolent neglect never hurt anyone. And then I remember the endless weeks of them at home, at each other's throats all the time, his regressions, his brother's obsessive tendencies and how I felt like I was drowning all the time. He's better off at Kita.

***

All the while, meals are still getting made, morning, noon and night. One funny thing: I am having a quiet love affair with walnuts. I'll tell you more about that another time. In the who-gives-a-shit department, I feed my children broth made from bouillon cubes multiple nights a week and everyone is happy. In the marriage department, sometimes I get so angry about cooking one more meal that I make lunch only for myself and my husband has to go fend for himself, which he does without complaint. I have come this far in our journey together that I can report on this without judgment for myself.

Sometimes I get angry.

Sometimes I need to disappear.

Sometimes I simply refuse to make one more meal.

Yesterday, I made the discovery of the most delicious saag recipe made with Tuscan kale and tomatoes. I got it from my bible, East by Meera Sodha. In the cookbook, the saag is cooked with browned cubes of paneer, but I just wanted a big comforting pile of vegetables, so I left the paneer out and served the saag with hot cooked rice. It was so punchy and flavorful and nourishing that it felt like...a burst of sunshine in my body. An enveloping hug from someone wiser than myself. An escape. It used up precisely one bunch of perfect Tuscan kale. I made it just for us for lunch and there were no turned up noses or whines for something else.

One small good thing for which I could be grateful.

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Meera Sodha's Tuscan Kale Saag
Adapted from East
Serves 2
Note: This recipe is easily doubled.
Print this recipe!

One bunch Tuscan kale (about 250 grams), ribs discarded, leaves roughly chopped
Rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
Thumb-sized knob of ginger, peeled and grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 green chile, optional, finely chopped
Half a can of chopped tomatoes or about 3 fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon brown rice syrup
Half a can of coconut milk

1. On a medium flame, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan or pot with a lid and add the onions. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes over a medium flame,  until soft and sweet.

2. Add the ginger, garlic and chile, if using. Cook for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt and brown rice syrup and stir well.

3. Add the kale to the pan and stir to wilt. Add the coconut milk, stir, then cover. Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. If the saag seems dry, add a tablespoon or two of water. 

4. When the kale is tender, use an immersion blender to roughly blend the mixture. Serve as a side dish or with rice as a main course.


Nik Sharma's Ground Beef Pulao

Beef Pulao with Raita

As any close observer of my daily meals or longtime reader of this blog can attest, we don't eat a lot of meat. My husband was traumatized by gristle as a child, and by parents who made him clean his plate, no matter how long it took. In my family, where some form of Italian cooking mostly reigned supreme, vegetables and vegetarian meals were always the stars of the show. Roast chicken was the special occasion dish at my mother's house; brisket was the counterpart at my American grandmother's house. These days, there's the environmental factor to consider, which is huge, and also the cost: good-quality meat in Germany is expensive. We simply can't afford to cook meat that frequently if we insist on buying organic meat or even just sustainably raised local meat. It's just as well that my family would almost always prefer a meatless meal.

These days, the meat that ends up on our table most often is (organic) ground beef. Max will never understand the appeal of a rare steak, but give the man a hamburger or a meatball and he's in seventh heaven. The children love the meat ragù that I make on a weekly basis, but they're hot and cold on burgers and meatballs, which is insane, but these are the same children WHO DON'T LIKE PIZZA I AM SERIOUS SEND HELP. Since I am the only cook in the house and I will die of boredom (or become extremely resentful and grumpy) if I can't try new recipes, I'm always thrilled to have a new way to try and get ground beef into their bellies.

(A brief interjection here to rail against the fact that it is still nearly impossible to find ground poultry in Germany. Butchers consider it a hazardous substance and almost all of them refuse to prepare it—only one that I know in western Berlin will grind it for you on the condition that you buy no less than 5 kilos of it. Recently, the grocery store on the corner has started occasionally selling packages of ground (conventional, not organic) turkey, but it's seasoned and...I....just refuse to buy it. For a while, I thought I'd just be resourceful and make my own. I bought a meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer years ago only to have it languish in my cupboards until...I resold it a few months ago. Sigh. So beef, pork and lamb are our only options.)

Beef Pulao

One way, of course, is Fuchsia Dunlop's celestial spicy celery with ground beef, but it is too spicy for the boys at their ages now. (I shake my fist at their northern European taste buds!) Another way is in this one-pot meal that has you cook ground meat with spices and aromatics, then mix that with turmeric-colored rice that you cook in the same pot (don't bother washing it out). Fresh mint and scallions folded in at the end give the dish a little lift, though it's the cool bowl of cucumber raita alongside that really makes this a pleasingly complete meal.

The recipe as written was originally meant for lamb, which is far fattier than ground beef, so Nik Sharma has you cook the lamb first to get the excess fat out before you continue with the spices. I made it as he wrote, but since the ground beef had less fat to give off, I actually think you could move steps around a little to get a more aromatic result. In other words, cook the ginger and garlic first, then add the spices and salt and cook until fragrant, then add the beef and cook until slightly browned. Lime juice on top, scrape out of the pan, proceed with the rice. If you do it this way, then I think you should also add a chopped onion together with the garlic and ginger. My adjustments to the recipe are below.

Either way, when the pulao's finished, be sure to make raita to dollop on top. The one in the photo I made by pouring plain whole-milk yogurt into a smallish bowl and seasoning it with salt and ground cumin to taste, then grating in a small Persian cucumber. I love the cooling feel the raita gives against the piping hot rice and meat, plus, if you've actually made the pulao with red chile powder, you'll be happy for the respite from the heat. (I left out the chile powder because I wanted the children to eat the pulao for lunch. And Bruno obliged happily, a minor miracle. Hugo, on the other hand, was unimpressed and left half behind. As I scraped his portion into the trash at the end of lunch, I thought to myself hey, at least our parenting has progressed so far that we don't make our kids clean their plates anymore, right?)

Serenity now.

Ground Beef Pulao
Serves 4

2 cups basmati rice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ pounds ground beef
4
garlic cloves, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
½ teaspoon red chile powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons lime juice, divided
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 bunch scallions (about 6), trimmed and thinly sliced
¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

1. Check the rice and discard any debris. Place the rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under running water until the water runs clear. Place the rice in a bowl, cover with water by 1 inch, and soak for 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 250°F/120°C.

2. As the rice soaks, cook the beef: Place a medium saucepan with a heavy lid or a Dutch oven over medium heat. When the saucepan is hot, add the olive oil, garlic, ginger, and onion and sauté for 1 minute. Add the garam masala, chile powder, black pepper and 1 teaspoon salt and sauté until the spices are fragrant, 1 minute. Add the beef and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until cooked through and slightly browned. Add 1 tablespoon lime juice and stir well. Scrape the mixture into an oven-safe bowl or pan and keep warm in the oven.

3. Drain the soaked rice. Add to the same pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Stir in 1 tablespoon lime juice, the turmeric and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cover, and reduce heat to simmer until the rice absorbs all the water, about 10 minutes. (Do not stir the rice as it cooks, or the grains might break.) Remove the saucepan from heat, and let sit, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

4. Fluff the rice and combine with the cooked meat, then drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice. Fold the scallions and mint into the rice, and serve immediately.
Print this recipe!


Tejal Rao's Khichdi

Tejal Rao's Khichdi

Thank you all very much for the commiseration on the loss of my digital photos and manuscript. I have spent a week licking my wounds and I am starting to feel better. The truth is, I already feel deeply oppressed by the masses of photos that clog every device I own. The sudden loss of thousands when I have so many more to deal with might be kind of a blessing? That's how I've decided I'm going to look at it. As for the manuscript, I had a big realization this fall that I wasn't happy with the existing structure of the book. I decided to change it substantially, but the only way to do that was to start over. So the fact that I lost those few weeks of summer work is annoying (and stupid), but I probably was going to trash those pages anyway. (The fact that I still don't have the kind of childcare that allows me to get started on draft three IS kind of the end of the world, but let's not dwell on that or I'll pull my hair out.)

After two months of lockdown, Hugo returned to in-person instruction this week. It's a very limited kind of school, just 2 1/2 hours daily, fully masked with only half his class. But it is school and it is not in my house and I am exceedingly grateful even just for this. Bruno, however, isn't allowed to return to Kita yet, so I actually have less time than I did before, because as everyone with multiple children knows, the child who only knows life with a sibling, when suddenly left alone without the sibling, is a lot more work. I am doing my best to keep my exasperation at the entire situation at bay, but sometimes, yes, I want to scream into a pillow. Or from the balcony, like a diva being murdered at La Scala.

Lunchtime still rolls around every day like an unwelcome flea-bitten guest. Except now the lunch hour is interrupted by me having to get in the car and drive an hour round-trip to pick Hugo up from school. He doesn't get a school lunch, so he's grumpy as hell at pickup. At home, he either eats leftovers from our lunch or I scramble him some eggs and butter some toast. As much as the daily meal prep drives me up the wall, I feel lucky that the act of cooking still brings me satisfaction. And Bruno is very understanding about lunchtime. While I cook, he comes and keeps me company in the kitchen, drawing pictures or staring into my pots, and it is a fleeting moment of the kind of quiet beauty you used to believe motherhood was full of until you actually became a mother and realized it was mostly a whole lot of everything else.

Anyway.

My kingdom for comforting one-pot meals, like this absolutely delicious khichdi from Tejal Rao. It is a doddle to make—just bang rice and split yellow moong beans and spices into a pot together, then let time and steam do their work—but produces the most fragrant, wonderful and spicy one-pot meal. You complete it with some hot Indian pickle (we're obsessed with my friend Kavita's homemade garlic achar, but any Indian pickle will do) and an extremely necessary pool of cool yogurt. Sometimes, if I'm feeling fancy, I doctor that pool of yogurt with salt and ground cumin and a grated Persian cucumber. Sometimes, I just dollop a spoonful on each plate. Khichdi is the kind of food that bolsters you, makes you feel just a bit more settled than you were before you ate it. Just the thing for these unsettling days.

Tejal Rao's Khichdi
Serves 3 to 4
Note: If you are cooking for small children, leave the chile powder out of the khichdi and just add it to your plate, but be careful, it's easy to overdo.
Print this recipe!

cup long-grain white rice, such as jasmine
cup yellow split moong beans
2 tablespoons ghee
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
1 small cinnamon stick
2 green cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
1 sprig curry leaves (optional)
¼ teaspoon red chile powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1.
Combine the rice and beans and rinse several times. Drain and place in a heavy-bottomed pot with 1 3/4 cups water, and set over medium-high heat.

2. In another small saucepan, heat the ghee and mustard seeds. When the seeds start to pop, lower the heat and add the remaining ingredients, swirling them in the pan. Let the spices sizzle for under a minute, then carefully pour into the rice pot, along with the ghee. (Careful: The fat may splatter).

3. When the water comes up to a rolling boil, give it a good stir, scraping at the bottom of the pot, then cover tightly and turn the heat down to low. Cook for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the rice rest for 10 minutes before opening the lid. Fluff gently with a spatula. Taste, season with salt to taste and serve.


Amandeep's Butter Chicken

NYTimes' Butter Chicken

I may have been at this blogging thing for almost eleven (gulp gasp whuut) years, but I have still not figured out how to make gravy look good. In my defense, I swear I wouldn't inflict these photos on you if it wasn't for a good cause, namely your dinner. Maybe even your dinner tonight!

The recipe comes from a "young kitchen hand" at a restaurant in Melbourne called Attica. Amandeep - we are not told his last name, hrmm - made (makes?) it for staff meal. Well, if this is the restaurant's staff meal, I can only imagine the restaurant's actual offerings. It's totally luxurious - chicken bathed in a thick and creamy yogurt marinade, cooked in copious amounts of butter, then finished with heavy cream. Ground almonds thicken the creamy, nicely spiced sauce, which is almost better than the chicken itself. You will want to eat every last drop of it. Luckily, the recipe makes a lot of sauce. (I left out the chiles in the vain hopes that my child would join us in eating this delectable dish, but he was not having it, no sirree, though I will hardly complain about that, because it just meant more butter chicken for me and his father. Next time, ooh, next time, I cannot wait to use the chiles and really let this baby rip.)

The only (other) change I made to the recipe, which really is absolutely perfect as is, was to add frozen peas at the end so that I wouldn't have to also make a vegetable for dinner. Yes, I am lazy! I am also a broken record. Forgive me. (Eleven years, people.)

Butter Chicken

And with that I leave you to your shopping lists and Memorial Day cookouts. But tomorrow, the official cover of Classic German Baking awaits you! See you then.

Amandeep's Butter Chicken
Adapted from the NY Times from a recipe in Eating with the Chefs
Serves 4

1 ½ cups full-fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 ½ tablespoons ground turmeric
2 tablespoons garam masala
2 tablespoons ground cumin
3 pounds chicken thighs, on the bone
¼ pound unsalted butter
4 teaspoons neutral oil, like vegetable or canola oil
2 medium-size yellow onions, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated or finely diced
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 medium-size tomatoes, diced
2 red chiles, like Anaheim, or 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
Kosher salt to taste
cup chicken stock, low-sodium or homemade
1 ½ cups cream
1 ½ teaspoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons ground almonds, or finely chopped almonds
½ bunch cilantro leaves, stems removed

1. Whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, turmeric, garam masala and cumin in a large bowl. Put the chicken in, and coat with the marinade. Cover, and refrigerate (for up to a day).

2. In a large pan over medium heat, melt the butter in the oil until it starts to foam. Add the onions, and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and cumin seeds, and cook until the onions start to brown.

3. Add the cinnamon stick, tomatoes, chiles and salt, and cook until the chiles are soft, about 10 minutes.

4. Add the chicken and marinade to the pan, and cook for 5 minutes, then add the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for approximately 30 minutes.

5. Stir in the cream and tomato paste, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

6. Add the almonds, cook for an additional 5 minutes and remove from the heat. Garnish with the cilantro leaves.

 


Julie Sahni's Saag

Sauteeing fresh spinach

Last week something terribly exciting happened: I found fresh spinach at my local green market. That never happens. Yep, Berlin may have many wonderful things now, but fresh spinach at the market still counts as a rarity. (You can sometimes find it at Turkish grocery stores.)

(Proof? My mother-in-law, a fabulous cook and curious human being - curious as in interested in other things, not curious weird! - has literally (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) never bought fresh spinach before in her life. She stared at my enormous bag of it in something akin to wonder.)

(Further proof? Just a week later, that same farmer had nothing even resembling fresh spinach at his stand. Curses!)

I bought a whole kilo (over two pounds) of the spinach and lugged it home where my very obliging mother washed it for me. (She also ironed my stack of linens and shirts the other night while babysitting my child so I could go out and drink wine and have a fancy dinner, so I'm thinking I was probably a lowly insect in a previous life and am now being compensated for it, or something.)

Then I stared at the very large pile(s) of washed fresh spinach and wondered how on earth I was going to cook it all.

Fresh spinach and potatoes

Several years ago, my father resurrected his Very Serious Indian Cooking Phase (VSICP - originating in the early 1980's in Brookline, Massachusetts). He made multi-weekly visits to Moody Street for ingredients, found obscure cookbooks online and subjected his patient, loving wife to cumin and coriander in everything from potatoes to pasta. (Practically.) He planted the bug in me, too. My freezer now is a veritable smorgasbord of Indian spices and thanks to him, I know the difference between ajowan and amchoor.

So! After a few more minutes of staring at the spinach, I headed to the bookshelf and pulled down Julie Sahni. If anyone was going to get over two pounds of spinach under control, it was going to be an Indian.

If there's something that continues to surprise me about Indian cooking, it's how easy it is. You know, you look at the ingredient lists of Indian recipes, ten spices you've barely heard of, and get intimidated, or you think back to your last meal in an Indian restaurant and wonder how a home cook could ever get that complex, multi-layered flavor going in the kitchen. But if you just try, it's so easy. All you really need is a well-stocked spice pantry and these days, with mail-order spice companies and sophisticated grocery stores the world over, there's no excuse for not having one.

Saag

In this luscious, lovely recipe, you cook spinach (the original has you combine spinach with stronger-flavored greens, but I just used spinach) and potatoes with a simple blend of spices that will probably be familiar to everyone: cumin, ginger and hot red pepper, plus a little hit of garam masala at the end (if you leave this off, it will be no less delicious, by the way). The key to dish is the long cooking time; the spinach is almost melting at the end and the potatoes have gone all fudgy and sweet. There's a nice heat to the dish, but nothing that will blow your head off and even though the recipe says that it serves 6 to 8 people, I am here to bear witness to the fact that we, um, polished it off with a smaller crowd. (With Classic Indian Cooking open on the kitchen counter, I couldn't stop myself from rounding out the menu with tomato raita and a rice pilaf stuffed with goodies. And in case you're worried about the aforementioned exploitation of my mother, this is the meal I fed her in gratitude.)

Dinner tasted like the best kind of restaurant food, the kind of meal where you sort of can't believe that you were the one who put it on the table. It's like magic.

Bungee jumping, sky diving, that's for other folks; exotic home cooking is my kind of thrill. Have a wonderful weekend, friends.

Julie Sahni's Saag
Adapted from Classic Indian Cooking
Serves 6 to 8 people

2 pounds fresh spinach
1 pound waxy potatoes
5 tablespoons ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
2 green chiles, seeded and minced, or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon garam masala

1. Pick over and discard all the rotting and yellowed spinach leaves. Wash the spinach thoroughly, then drain and pat dry. Chop coarsely.

2. Peel and cut the potatoes into 1.5-inch chunks.

3. Heat the ghee over medium-high heat in a large frying pan, preferably non-stick. When it is very hot, add cumin seeds. When the cumin turns dark (about 10 seconds), add garlic and chili. Stir rapidly for a moment or two, and add potatoes, turning and tossing them until they are lightly browned (about 5-8 minutes). Add about 1 cup of the chopped greens and stir it in. When the greens get limp, add another cup of greens. Continue until all greens are incorporated. Sprinkle with ginger powder and salt. Stir well to mix. Add 1 1/4 cups boiling water, reduce heat and cook, covered, until the potatoes are tender (about 20-25 minutes). Uncover and continue cooking until the excess moisture evaporates (15-30 minutes). The vegetables must be stirred very carefully at this stage, as the potatoes break easily. 

4. Increase heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring the vegetables gently until the potatoes and greens look almost dry and the butter begins to coat and glaze the vegetables. Stir in garam masala, and turn off heat. Check for salt, and serve. This dish may be prepared several hours before you are ready to serve. It also keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.


Rajat Parr's Black Lentil Soup

DSC_5880

One thing you should know about living in Berlin is that there is no good Indian food here. None. There are plenty of Indian restaurants, but for some reason they all serve a variation on the same strangely insipid, gloppy mixtures that hold barely any resemblance to the Indian food I ate in Boston and New York over the years. The menus present no hint that India is a huge country, with myriad regions and cuisines (wherefore art thou, masala dosas of my heart?). And forget about anything spicy. Just forget it right now.

Oh, it's sad, alright. Whenever I go to London to visit my friend Betsy, we order takeaway from the Indian joint down the street from her and it is so good, so hot and complex and delicious, that I very willingly forgo all other meals in the city just to have that Indian food again and again. And then I return to Berlin and I hear about some new Indian place that has opened up and I get my hopes up, against my better judgment, and I go and once again am presented with mango chicken or some such train wreck and I feel deeply dejected all over again.

DSC_5843

Luckily, a lot of Indian food isn't so hard to make at home. (Though I leave dosas and iddlies to the experts in New York.) Thanks to my father's obsession with Indian cooking, I even have a nice little collection of Indian cookbooks, full of wonderful things to eat. And anyway, it's not like I'm getting out of the house much these days. Hugo's nap schedule takes precedence over all.

I found this recipe for black lentil soup the other day when I staring at a jar of beluga lentils in my pantry and wondering how I'd use them up without a nice piece of salmon lying around to pair them with. Here you parboil the lentils with ginger and cardamom. Then you make a soup base with onions, garlic, butter and a quartet of spices, plus some canned tomatoes and stock, before adding the lentils back to the pot to simmer into a soup. It's very easy and was easily left halfway through when Hugo starting melting down, before being picked up later after he'd gone to bed. (This is often how I cook these days, in fits and starts. Just today I started a fruitcake recipe and literally abandoned it with one bowl already full of ingredients like chopped apples and puréed figs to go outside and run errands with the cranky child. Now that he's asleep, I was able to finish the job and the fruitcake's perfuming the house from the oven. It sounds irritating, but has its own satisfactions, this stop-and-go cooking.)

I added more lentils than the original recipe called for and used less butter and next time I make it, I'd probably purée half the soup, because it looks a little messy otherwise, but these are very faint criticisms. The soup is wonderfully fragrant and spicy and tastes just the way it's "supposed" to, at least to my Indian-starved palate. When you stir in the final bit of butter at the end to melt, it separates and pools at the edges of the soup. It's very nice indeed.

Rajat Parr's Black Lentil Soup
Makes 6 servings

1.5 cups black (Beluga) lentils
3 cardamom pods
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced, plus 2 tablespoons minced ginger
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
2 quarts vegetable stock
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
Salt to taste

1. In a pot, cover the lentils, cardamom and sliced ginger with 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil and cook over moderately high heat until the lentils start to soften, about 10 minutes. Drain the lentils and transfer to a bowl; discard the cardamom and ginger.

2. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the pot. Add the onion, garlic and minced ginger and and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Add the spices and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 4 minutes.

3. Add the stock, tomatoes and lentils to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer over moderate heat until the lentils are softened and the soup has thickened, about 1 hour. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and season with salt. Ladle into bowls and serve.


Nigel Slater's Chicken Curry

DSC_2374

My sweets, I have a confession to make. My name is Luisa and last weekend, I used commercial curry powder.

Yes. I know. I know that that stuff is to be shunned, that really we should all be making our own masala spice mixtures, that the whole concept of chicken curry is colonialistic and ignorant of a huge country's varied cuisines. I know. But.

Have you ever made Nigel Slater's "Chicken with Spices and Cream" from Real Fast Food? (Sneaky guy, see how he evades the whole concept of "chicken curry" entirely with that recipe title?)

Because I sort of semi-guarantee that if you do make it, you will find yourself looking at your abominable jar of curry powder with entirely different eyes. One of my dinner guests, a lady who is newly pregnant with twins and also an expert on Things That Taste Good, threatened to return to my house the next day to eat the remaining sauce (the recipe makes a lot of sauce, for which you will be very grateful).

(I didn't tell her that I would barricade the doors if she dared to do so, because I had a hot date with the leftover sauce myself that would and could not be missed.)

(I blame my greed entirely on the baby. Entirely.)

Perhaps you see where this is going: Authenticity be damned. (The horror!)

DSC_2373

Now that we've gotten beyond the whole curry powder thing, let me tell you about this recipe. It's brilliant. First of all, it takes no time to make. And second of all, it is so good. (Are these two sentences the two most over-used sentences on this entire blog-thingy? My apologies. But at least my priorities are clear, yes?) Third of all, or second-of-all's addendum: Despite the curry powder and the recipe's simplicity, this chicken with spices and cream really does taste like Indian food which, for those of us stranded in this wonderful city that has so much to offer but is entirely bereft of good Indian food (ENTIRELY BEREFT AND I AM NOT EXAGGERATING, BEHOLD THE ALL CAPS), is a bleeding godsend.

I love making this recipe on weeknights, but also for dinner parties, because you can make it an hour or two in advance and then simply reheat the pan when your guests arrive, and also because it's the kind of thing that you can make almost with your eyes closed, which is my Dinner Party Modus Operandi.

You can tailor the recipe to your taste by adding a good shake or two of cayenne, for example, if you like things spicier (though the curry powder will probably have a bit of heat, too), dumping a few cupfuls of frozen peas into the mix shortly before the end of the cooking time or sprinkling chopped cilantro on top for a bit more authenticity.

As I said earlier, the recipe makes an enormous amount of sauce, but it is mind-bendingly delicious, all flecked with shreds of tomato and meltingly soft onions and it's silky with cream, but not heavy, if that's what you're wondering. Pregnant or not, it makes a rather wonderful lunch heated up and poured over leftover rice the next day.

Lest any of you get the wrong idea, let me just say that I own several Indian cookbooks, have a freezer stocked with curry leaves and ground cumin, that my father regularly offers to bring over dried mango powder and asafoetida when he comes to visit and that I normally would be the last person to recommend a recipe that to me, at least, seems like the Indian equivalent of using jarred tomato sauce in an Italian lasagne.

But this just tastes so good. Okay? It's my only defense.

Nigel Slater's Chicken Curry
Serves 4

4 chicken pieces, breast halves or thighs
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder, from a recently opened jar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped (I used canned tomatoes, seeds and all)
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Rub salt and pepper into chicken. Heat butter and oil in a shallow pan, add the chicken and cook until the skin is golden. Turn and add the onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until soft, about 7 to 8 minutes. Stir every once in a while.

2. Stir in the curry powder and cinnamon. Cook for 4 minutes, until the spices are cooked. Add tomatoes and stock, then simmer until the chicken is tender and cooked right through, about 15 minutes.

3. Stir in the cream and taste the sauce, adjusting salt and pepper, if needed. Add the lemon juice. Simmer for 1 minute, then serve hot with basmati rice.