Spicy Tomato Chutney

Previously, whenever I’d tried cooking Indian food, the results were hit or miss. Every so often I came up with something about as good as a Tandoor Chef frozen dinner, but that’s it. Perhaps it’s the dearth of Fenugreek seeds in my part of Brooklyn. Perhaps I didn’t have the right instincts for it. My naan was always burnt and cracker-like, and my curries and biryanis bland and lacking depth of flavor. However, having gotten into home fermentation recently, I’ve been looking through the chapters of my cookbooks I’d previously ignored—the chapters on pickling and condiments. It was in Madher Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking that I came upon a recipe for Hot and Spicy Hyderabadi Tomato Chutney.

The chutney was a revelation. Similar to but better than the chutneys I’d ordered in Jackson Heights and on Curry Hill. This, I thought to myself as I lapped up a mound of it with my barbecued lamb chop, was the real deal. Of course, it helped that I’d bought heirloom tomatoes from my farmer’s market. Also, the complexity of the flavor came from my homemade harissa, which is not an Indian condiment, but nevertheless added a smoky, fiery flavor to the chutney.

The recipe below is an approximation of Jaffrey’s recipe (I still don’t have Fenugreek seeds) and I made most of it up as I went along. Chutneys are great to improvise with. What with the long cooking periods, spices, and vinegars, they’re pretty hard to fuck up. The addition of raisins and sugar to this recipe would turn it into a sweet tomato chutney, of the kind generally served with papadum at the beginning of a meal.

Spicy Tomato Chutney

1 lb ripe heirloom tomatoes

1 red onion

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 tablespoon freshly grated turmeric

4 cloves garlic, mashed and diced

½ cup vinegar

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons harissa

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons cooking fat or neutral cooking oil

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1.)   Heat oil or fat over medium high heat until hot. Put in harissa, spices, ginger, turmeric, and onion and cook until onion is soft.

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2.)   Add tomatoes and vinegar and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the chutney is thick and goopy. About thirty to forty-five minutes. Taste as it cooks and season as you go.

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Victorian Barbecue Sauce with Rhubarb

I just got my very own copy of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. Flipping through the index, I was attracted to the entry for Victorian Barbecue Sauce with rhubarb. It made me think of English gardens in springtime. I thought of those giant manor houses, and all those skivvies sitting hour after hour beside hot fires turning the meat for the master’s table. What with its evocation of garden fresh ingredients, a kitchen bigger than my apartment, and a dearth of labor laws, this ‘barbecue sauce’ produced such a wealth of associations, I had to make it immediately.

According to the Ball book, “Victorian cooks roasted their meat in huge kitchen fireplaces and enhanced it with homemade sauces concocted from the garden…” So I suppose you could try to make this sauce from almost any fruit you like. It’s got to be good with beef, lamb, chicken, or any number of game fowl. Be sure to eat your rhubarb-basted supper accompanied by a decent hock, with a gooey treacle tart for pudding.

Victorian Barbecue Sauce with Rhubarb

(Adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving)

2 cups chopped rhubarb

2/3-cup brown sugar

½ cup raisins

2 tablespoons chopped onion

2 tablespoons white vinegar

¼ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon salt

1.)   Put all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

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2.)   Reduce heat to a summer and stirring frequently cook sauce until thickened to consistency of barbecue sauce.

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3.)   Use as is or puree in a food processor to achieve a homogenous texture.

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Grilled Lamb Burgers and Harissa

I bought some ground lamb this week in order to make Claudia Roden’s kofta meshwaya kebabs on the barbecue. I mixed the lamb with shredded onion and spices, formed it into balls, and then spent half an hour failing to get the damn things to stick to my kebab skewers. After getting completely fed up, I decided fuck it—I’ll make lamb burgers. I’m a bit of a barbecue novice, so there was a lot of girlish squealing in my backyard as the burgers burned and bits of raw meat fell into the coals. Eventually, it got dark out and my boyfriend had to come outside and stand beside me with the flashlight while I checked the burgers for doneness. Fortunately, I was patient (mostly) and stopped squealing and those burgers finally cooked. I served them with rice, grilled eggplant slices and homemade harissa. So yes, it was one of those terribly frustrating cooking experiences where you want to toss the whole thing and go out for Pad Thai, but sticking with it turned out to be well worth the effort.

Grilled Lamb Burgers

1½ lbs ground lamb

2 medium onions, shredded

1/2 teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Salt and Pepper

1.) Bank coals on one side of the grill before lighting. Light and allow flames to die down until the fire appears to be a very hot molten lump, about 30 to 40 minutes.

2.) While barbecue is heating up, combine lamb, spices, herbs, onion, and salt and pepper with your hands. Shape into about 8 small patties.

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Grilling in the dead of night

3.) On the opposite side of the barbecue from the coals, cook the lamb burgers. Wait until thoroughly cooked on one side before flipping. If you like them a little blackened, put them on the hot side of the grill a minute on each side before serving.

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Harissa

(Adapted from Claudia’s Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Cuisine)

2 ounces red, dried hot chili peppers

1-teaspoon caraway seeds

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1-teaspoon coriander

1/2-teaspoon salt

Olive oil

1.)   Chop off stems and deseed chili peppers. Soak in a bowl of cold water half an hour.

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2.)   Drain peppers and put them in a mortar and pestle with spices and garlic. Pound until it resembles a rough paste.

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3.)   Put in a food processor and whiz with about a quarter cup olive oil until it reaches the desired consistency.

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4.)   Place in a jar and cover it in a thin film of olive oil. Refrigerate. It will last for months if you always put olive oil on top after you’ve used it.

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Skate, Caribbean-Style

Perhaps exhausted by my Momofuku barbecue, the meals I’ve made the last few weeks have been of the cheap, lazy, fast-cooking variety. As such, skate has been on the menu at my house at least once a week for the last few weeks. Wild, local, and relatively inexpensive the ‘wings’ of this stingray look-alike are sweet, succulent and incredibly easy to shallow fry. I’ve been making inroads with plantains the last few weeks as well (burnt, undercooked, salty salty inroads) so I gave the skate a Caribbean spin: a dry rub of allspice, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cayenne. A brief sizzle in a skillet full of coconut oil, and the fish I served more than made up for my amateurish plantains.

The skate, by the way, according to Wikipedia, is distinguished from the stingray by its ability to lay eggs and its lack of a stinging spine on its tail. Also, unlike the stingray, skate are low swimming bottom feeders, and are far less likely to terrify kayakers and swimmers by skimming along the surface.

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Fried, Caribbean-Style Skate

1 lb skate ‘wings’

2 teaspoons cinnamon,

1-teaspoon allspice

1-teaspoon ginger

½ a grated nutmeg seed

¼ teaspoon cayenne

1-tablespoon rice flour

1-tablespoon coconut oil

1.)   An hour before cooking, put all the spices and the flour in a Ziplock bag. Put in the skate and toss until the fish is coated. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

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2.)   Melt coconut oil in a cast iron skillet until very got. Fry skate, about two minutes each side, until each side is a nice, golden brown color. Serve immediately.IMG_0579

Skate with red pepper salad and sweet potato oven fries

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Skate with fried plantains

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Roast Tomato and Red Pepper Salad

I’m on a Provençal kick this spring. Unfortunately, my farmer’s market has yet to open for the season, and week after week my green grocer sells mealy tomatoes and limp asparagus. So, despite the fact that it’s spring time, I’d have done better going on a Soviet cuisine kick for all the good produce I’m getting.

Fortunately, there’s fire. An open flame will do miraculous things to a piece of mediocre produce. Sad red peppers from the sad green grocer take on delightful qualities as they blacken over the gas burner. The skin bursts and blisters and blackens and rubs off under the tap. What is left is an alchemically perfected red pepper, stripped of its blemishes.

The recipe below is simple, yet has many steps, none of which should be skipped if you want that divine meaty succulence that comes from roasted vegetables. The recipe uses Dijon in the dressing, but I had some Momofuku mustard seed sauce left over from our weekend barbecue, so used that instead. It was excellent. I served it with sea bass and roast potatoes.

Roast Tomato and Red Pepper Salad

(Adapted from The Provencal Cookbook by Gui Gedda and Marie-Pierre Moine)

6 tomatoes

Salt

Pepper

8 Tablespoons olive oil (divided)

4 red bell peppers

2 garlic cloves, diced

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon red or white vinegar

1.)   Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Halve tomatoes and sprinkle cut side with salt. Turn over and press lightly on each tomato until the juices have just begun to run. Turn them over and drizzle on two tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside for five minutes to drain, and then place cut side up on a lightly greased baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes.

2.)   While tomatoes are cooking, char and peel red peppers. Wash and dry them and place each over a burner of your gas oven. This recipe definitely requires access to fire. Do not attempt using an electric burner. Using tongs, turn them over once one side has blackened thoroughly. Sparks can fly and things do get smoky, so definitely don’t leave your stove while you’re charring the peppers.

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3.)   When the peppers have cooled, wash off the blackened skin under the tap. Slice them open, scrape away the seeds and cut them into long strips. Wrap the pepper strips tightly in aluminum foil and put them in the oven with the tomatoes for 20 minutes.

4.)   When the tomatoes are done and cool enough to handle, skin them and cut them into quarters.

5.)   To make the dressing, combine garlic, vinegar, and mustard, and then slowly pour in remaining tablespoons of olive oil. Season to taste.

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6.)   When the red peppers have come out of the oven and cooled, combine everything together, season to taste and serve.

Momofuku Barbecue

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I’ve been in awe of the Momofuku restaurants for years, ever since baking my first Crack Pie for a friend’s birthday party. The way they use sophisticated techniques to bring haute cuisine together with little kid garbage food never ceases to delight me. Which is why it was such a disappointment going to Ssäm Bar for the first time last year. I tasted an array of creative but not stunningly delicious food and because of the way service is there we ate our seven courses in about forty-five minutes. That’s definitely not how I like to eat.

Still, the recipes are amazing. This past weekend I had a bunch of friends over for a barbecue and made several dishes from the Momofuku cookbook. I was initially intimidated by the cookbook because their recipes have so many steps, recipes within recipes. However, no one step is actually all that difficult. If you’re already insane about cooking, and do your own canning and pickling, then Momofuku is nothing to be frightened of.

I always wind up barbecuing too early in the season. In our party dresses, my friends and I stood around the coals for warmth as the wind snaked around our bare legs. Still, oh my fucking God was the food good. And there’s nothing better for impressing your friends than serving pork belly at a barbecue instead of burgers and hot dogs.

We had seven carnivorous guests (the best kind) and these recipes served all of them with about two servings leftover for an amazing hung-over brunch the following day.

The meat, kimchi, rice, and condiments are to be served with lettuce in order for people to make their own wraps.

Momofuku Barbecue

(All recipes are adapted from Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan unless otherwise noted)

The Meat

Pork Belly Ssäm

1 3 lb skinless slab of pork belly

¼ cup kosher salt

¼ cup sugar

1.)   Place the pork belly in a smallish pan that can hold it snugly. Combine the sugar and salt and rub it into the pork belly all over. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

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2.)   Heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Discard liquid in pan and cook pork belly for 1 hour, basting occasionally and turning the pork over at the halfway point.

3.)   Reduce heat to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for 30 minutes more. Allow belly to cool and wrap it in plastic wrap and stick it back in the fridge. The cooking can be done on the morning of your barbecue.

4.)   Start your grill and allow the coals to burn down for about half an hour. Slice the pork belly into small slices, about two inches wide and a half an inch thick.

5.)   Grill the slices about a minute or two per side until they’re seared or the fat begins to crackle.

Marinated Hanger Steak Ssäm

2 cups sugarless apple juice

½ cup soy sauce

½ yellow onion

6 garlic cloves

1-teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 8-ounce hanger steaks.

1.)   Combine all ingredients except steaks and place in a zip lock bag. Add steaks and allow to sit refrigerated overnight.

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2.)   When your coals are hot, grill each steak about five minutes per side for rare to medium rare.

The Accompaniments

Kimchi

(Adapted from David Lebovitz)

To be started at least six days before your barbecue.

1 head Napa cabbage

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1/3-cup white rice vinegar

3 tablespoons Korean chili paste, gochujang

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons coarse Korean chili powder, gokchu garu

½ tablespoon minced fresh ginger

4 scallions, white and green parts, cut into two-inch slices.

1.)   Remove outer leaves and core of the cabbage and cut into small pieces. Toss in salt and transfer to a colander. Set a bowl under the colander and a plate and heavy weight on top of it. I used a teapot. Leave to brine 24 hours.

2.)   The following day mix vinegar, chili paste, garlic, chili powder and ginger together.

3.)   Squeeze water out of cabbage and add in small batches to the marinade. Mix together, add scallions and back closely into a jar. Cover the jar tightly and leave on the counter for 48 hours.

4.)   Refrigerate for 4 days, then serve.

Scallion Ginger Relish

To be served with the steaks and made on the day of your barbecue.

2 ½ cups thinly sliced scallions (from about 3 bunches) using the white and green parts

½ cup minced ginger

¼ cup grape seed oil

1 ½ teaspoons soy sauce

¾ teaspoon sherry vinegar

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

Mix together ingredients and taste for seasoning.

Mustard Seed Sauce

To be begun at least the day before your barbecue and served with the pork belly.

6 tablespoons pickled mustard seeds (recipe follows)

3 tablespoons quick pickled cucumbers (recipe follows)

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1-tablespoon spicy mustard

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

3 tablespoons scallions (green and white parts)

Kosher salt

Black pepper

Combine all ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pickled Mustard Seeds

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1 cup yellow mustard seeds

11/2 cups water

1 ½ cups white rice vinegar

½ cup sugar

1-tablespoon kosher salt

1.)   Combine mustard seeds, water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook mustard seeds, stirring frequently, until soft, about 45 minutes to an hour.

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2.)   Store pickled mustard seeds and whatever brine is left in a tightly covered container in the fridge.

Quick Pickled Cucumbers

3 Kirby cucumbers, thinly slices

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 ½ -teaspoons kosher salt

Combine ingredients and allow to sit for at least an hour. The longer they sit the better they’ll get.

Other Accompaniments:

 2 cups short grain rice (sushi rice)

1 head Bibb lettuce

 

Pot Cooking, Pollan-Style

Michael Pollan, in his new book Cooked, writes that after pot cooking was invented thousands of years ago, the next major change in cooking technology was the microwave. In my own much much much shorter personal history of cooking, the biggest change for me after discovering that there was life beyond the stir-fry, was reading books by Michael Pollan. His advice to “Eat food…” and avoid processed junk seems so obvious now, but four years ago I thought nothing of stocking my cupboards with breakfast cereals and Rice-A-Roni.

Having recently finished reading Cooked, I was inspired by his chapter on water cooking, or pot cooking, to make a braise. I am someone who always uses recipes when making anything more complicated than chops with mashed potatoes. But given confidence in my abilities from Pollan’s book, I used a few of the simple directions he gives to make up a recipe as I went along. So here I reproduce for you the delicious dinner I made last night: braised chicken in a sweet and spicy chayote sauce.

Braised Chicken in Chayote Sauce

1 whole chicken, about 3.5 lbs, cut into 8 pieces

3 chayotes, peeled, cored, and diced

1 preserved lemon, washed, pulp scraped out and chopped

2 onions, minced

2 garlic cloves

minced 3 carrots

chopped 3 celery stalks

chopped 2 cups water

1-teaspoon white pepper

1-teaspoon red pepper flakes

1-teaspoon dried thyme

¼ cup honey

1 ½ cups white wine

Salt and Pepper

3- tablespoons cooking fat or oil

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1.) Dry chicken on paper towels and season with salt and pepper. In a large cast iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of fat. When hot but not smoking start browning chicken in skillet, about 5 minutes per side until chicken is crusty brown all over.

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2.) While chicken is browning, heat remaining 2 tablespoons of fat in an enameled pot and cook onions and garlic over low heat until soft and beginning to caramelize. Season with salt and pepper. When onion and garlic is cooked, add carrots, celery and chayote. Season again while cooking.

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3.) By the time the vegetables have cooked down and are soft and pliable, the chicken should be browned. Add the chicken to the pot and add two cups water, ½ cup wine, preserved lemon, white pepper, red pepper flakes, and thyme. Season again. Stir it up a bit and cover with a lid. Allow to cook over medium-low heat for fifteen minutes or until a meat thermometer register 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

4.) Remove chicken but leave everything else. Add honey and remaining wine and boil down the sauce until it is thick and creamy. Taste from time to time and adjust seasoning as desired. When the sauce is ready, return chicken to the pot. Heat it all together a moment of two and serve.

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