Monday, August 24, 2009

The Last Supper

Amidst rice, potatoes, tomatoes, shrimp, and arrays of spices, jumping from burner to burner frying, spicing, stirring, reheating, when my dad asked me if I'd gotten myself in over my head I chuckled and replied no, of course not. Inside my head I was screaming, "YESSSSSS!"

Although we were considering going to St. Elmo's tonight for a "farewell dinner" of sorts, I told my parents I would just make dinner tonight. Save a trip downtown and whatnot. Plus, at my last visit to Half Price Books I had snagged an Indian cookbook that I was dying to open before leaving for Bloomington. With my brother's blessing I selected a prawn curry for a main dish and figured potatoes with a yogurt sauce would make a nice side. All of this sounded very easy last night.

So I trucked to Meijer this morning, which makes like the fifty thousandth time in the past week, and came out with a bag full of what I hoped would be the right ingredients. (Black mustard seeds, fresh coriander, and green chillies all proved annoyingly impossible to find...) After that it was errand after errand, turns out I need A LOT of stuff for my dorm room. And, conveniently enough, everything I need comes from a different store. When I finally settled into kitchen mode at 4:30, armed with a couple cups of highly caffeinated tea, I had a bad feeling I was going to be in a bit of a time crunch. I cranked out the first recipe of the day, nothing to do with dinner actually and something you'll hear about later, in about an hour. That gave me another hour to hit the dinner time I was aiming for: 6:30.

I decided to tackle the potatoes first figuring I could have them ready in the pot and just give them a minute to reheat on the stove once the curry dish was done. Ok, "Potatoes in a Yogurt Sauce," I can do this. I boiled little gold potatoes while I peeled and de-veined shrimp. You can buy fresh shrimp either in the shell or peeled and de-veined, but since Marsh had the first kind significantly cheaper I figured I could do the dirty work myself. IT TAKES FOREVER. I had just a pound and a half of shrimp and it took me nearly twenty minutes to free them of all their various casings. It's not that it's hard, it's just time consuming. To de-vein a shrimp you have to, after of course removing the shell, run a knife down the center of the shrimp, right along the curl, and scrap out the thin black cord that's nestled in there. Interestingly enough, although most people refer to this cord as a "vein," I'm pretty sure I heard from Alton Brown that it's actually a digestive tract. So what makes it black? Well, I believe you can imagine...

With shrimp prepped and potatoes ready to go, I embarked on recipe number one, which is as follows:

Potatoes in a Yogurt Sauce

12 new potatoes, halved
1 1/4 cup natural low fat yogurt
(I used a Greek, non-fat version)
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp soft brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
(left this out, couldn't find it for the life of me)
2 green chillies, sliced
(I couldn't find these so I used one large mild green pepper)

1.) Boil the potatoes in salted water with their skins on until they are just tender, then drain and set aside.
2.) Mix together the yogurt, water, turmeric, chilli powder, ground coriander, ground cumin, sugar and a little salt in a bowl. Set aside.
3.) Heat the oil in a medium heavy-based saucepan and stir in the cumin seeds. Fry for 1 minute.
4.) Reduce the heat, stir in the spicy yogurt mixture and cook for about 3 minutes over a medium heat.
5.) Add the chopped fresh coriander, green chillies and cooked potatoes. Stir everything together and cook for an additional 5-7 minutes, stirring from time to time. Serve hot.

Voila! Right? Um... after the potatoes and chillies, minus the elusive coriander, had been hanging out for a while in my sauce I realized my yogurt appeared to be separating a bit from the rest of the mixture. It was kind of clumpy and the smell coming from the pot was less than appetizing.


Oh well, I had curry to worry about. I'm just going to go ahead and give you the recipe for this, then we'll talk.

Prawn Curry
serves 4

1 1/2 lbs uncooked tiger prawns*
4 dried chillies*
1/2 cup desiccated coconut*
1 tsp black mustard seeds*
1 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp oil
4 bay leaves
1 in piece ginger root, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp salt
4 tomatoes, finely chopped
plain rice, to serve*
(all the * are things I altered or had trouble with, we'll get back to those)

1.) Peel the prawns and discard the shells. run a sharp knife along the center back of each prawn to make a shallow cut and carefully remove the thin black intestinal vein.
2.) Put the dried red chillies, coconut, mustard seeds and onion in a large heavy-based frying pan and dry-fry for 8-10 minutes or until the spices begin to brown but not burn. Let cool for a few minutes then put into a food processor or blender and process to a coarse paste.
3.) Heat the oil in the frying pan and fry the bay leaves for 1 minute. Add the chopped ginger and the garlic and fry for 2-3 minutes.
4.) Add the coriander, chilli powder, salt and the coconut paste and fry gently for 5 minutes.
5.) Stir in the chopped tomatoes and about 3/4 cup water and simmer gently for 5-6 minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
6.) Add the prawns and cook for about 4-5 minutes or until they turn pink and the edges are curling slightly. Serve with boiled rice.

Indian Food

Really, this recipe isn't that difficult. I think I got a little in over my head because I had so many pots going at once... the potatoes and rice and curry, the food processor was out, I had just made bars... the kitchen was feeling my presence. On it's own, this really is a pretty simple dish, and it tastes fantastic, but before you decide to give it a go, let's discuss some of the problems I encountered.

First, this is prawn curry. I actually had a bit of trouble finding prawns, but that's an easy fix. Prawns are just a larger version of shrimp. I picked up 1 1/2 pounds of raw shrimp instead and it was practically the same delicious dish.

Second, what the heck is desiccated coconut? When I posed this question to my brother his response was somewhere along the lines of coconut that had already gone through your digestive system, but I decided not to give that theory much attention. A really quick glance at some website gave me the impression it was basically dried coconut and gave me directions on how to take shredded coconut and use my oven to make a good substitute. Well, I was kind of lazy. I shoved the coconut into the oven at 250 degrees for as long was convenient and that was good enough for me.

Thirdly, I could not find black mustard seeds. The store had regular mustard seeds, but to save you from a long story I didn't end up with those either. I'm sure you could use whatever mustard seeds you have and be fine, I just threw in some mustard powder, whatever, I make it work.

And lastly, the plain rice issue. I don't like white rice, especially that instant stuff. Not only is it nutritionally void, the flavor is bland unless you kick it up with butter (making it more unhealthy) or infuse it with something which, at this point, is just more work. We usually have brown rice on hand, so I reached for that. I don't even know if instant brown rice exists, but if it does DON'T BUY IT. I know regular rice takes around 45 minutes to cook, but it's worth it. You're going to be in the kitchen anyway, just throw it on the burner and let it hang out while you do your thing. Instant rice is partially processed which is why it cooks so quickly. Unfortunately, that process strips it of some of it's nutrients. For a better fill and a more heath conscience meal, always opt for the brown rice. Plus it just tastes so much better.

I happened to have some whole wheat naan, a bread often served with Indian dishes, on hand. I took a few pieces of that and threw it under the broiler for a few minutes then flipped it over and let it toast on the other side, too. I cut that into quarters and let my family dig in. In the end, my plate turned out like this...


The potatoes, though I had my concerns, were actually pretty good. The aroma was fairly pungent, but the taste was very mild, needed a little salt actually. My dad started mashing them, which was a really brilliant plan. That way you could get more of the slivered green pepper and yogurt sauce in the mix, a definite plus. The curry was delicious, but not very spicy at all. I took most of the seeds out of the dried red chillis I used, if you like a kick leave them in, I think I'll do that next time.

I feel like I've been typing forever so I'm going to go ahead and let you get back to your life now. As the title of this entry implies, this is the last meal I'll be cooking before I head to college, sad, I know. I've got one more recipe up my sleeve to share with you, we'll save that for later this week, but after that I don't know what will happen to my poor blog! I'm thinking I'll try to find time to right about food in Bloomington, but if you have any suggestions/requests leave a comment, let me know!

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