Garam Masala March 2015 : New Times Masala

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Place in a large, heavy skillet or cast-iron pan over medium-low heat :

1/2 cup coriander seeds (1.75 oz)

1/2 cup cumin seeds (3 oz)

seeds of 3 tbs green cardamom pods (.5 oz) (about 1 1/2 tbs seeds)

1 tbs vietnamese cinnamon (.25 oz)

1 tbs cloves (.25 oz)

4 tbs black peppercorns (1.75 oz)

Toast spices, tossing gently, until aromas have been released but before coriander and cumin seeds begin to darken. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Leave whole and store in glass to be ground fresh and used in recipes, or grind to a fine powder and store in glass jars or shakers. I usually like to leave about half as a solid spice mix and grind the other half. Remember when using the whole spice mix that it should be shaken before measuring, as it will likely settle and separate in the jar.

Ground masala will remain usable for at least a half of a year, the whole spice mix for a year. If spices are burned or darkened they will deteriorate more rapidly.

Masalas are inherently variable things, dependent on the mood of the cook and the spices available. I encourage you to come up with your own spice mixes, reflecting your own tastes and adding a touch of your own personality as a cook. This one is just a snapshot, a new masala for new times.

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Tofu, Bok Choy & Fermented Corn Tacos

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These are exceedingly simple. Perhaps too simple to even need a recipe for. Nonetheless I will present it in the hopes that it will inspire other simple improvised tacos.

Heat over medium in a large skillet :

2 tbs. neutral vegetable or seed oil

Add :

5 oz. onion, diced

Sautée for three to four minutes, until softened, then add :

8 oz bok choy or baby bok choy, leaves chopped and stems diced

Sautée for two to three minutes, until softened, then add :

a few cloves of garlic, minced

one or two small red chiles, chopped into small dice

Sautée for another minute, then add :

1 tbs Shao Xing wine, cooking wine or sherry

a few dashes of Maggi or Golden Mountain seasoning

a few pinches of salt

1 tsp. of cumin powder

freshly ground black pepper, if desired

ground cayenne or hot chili powder, if desired

Stir and add :

1/2 lb firm tofu, cut into about six or eight pieces

Sautée for about two to three minutes, enough to warm the tofu through. Break the tofu into pieces of whatever consistency is preferred with a flat-ended wooden or silicone spatula. I usually like a little variety.

Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup of fermented corn. Regular corn can be substituted.

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Serve on freshly-made or store (or better yet, taqueria) bought corn, flour or whole-wheat tortillas.

Accompany with three or more of the following :

Fresh cilantro leaves

Yogurt or sour cream (or vegan substitute)

Red salsa, fresh or cooked

Green salsa, tomato or tomatillo

Guacamole or chunked avocado

Finely shredded lettuce

Thinly sliced salted cucumber

Finely shredded raw cabbage

Pickled onions, sliced thin

Wedges of limes or lemons

Fermented tomatillo slices

Sweet hot pickled carrots

Finely chopped scallions

Spiced pickled daikon threads

&c.

Thai Black Rice Salad with Tuna and Kale

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Combine in a mixing bowl :

1 cup cooked thai black rice (recipe below)

a few pinches of salt

freshly ground black pepper (optional)

2 tsp furikake seasoning or 1 tbs sesame seeds (optional)

1 tbs flax seeds (optional)

2 oz thinly-sliced curly kale (or more if desired)

1 5 oz can of high quality tuna

5 oz celery, finely diced

4 spring onions, chopped (optional)

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp sesame oil

2 tsp vinegar (seasoned rice, sherry or cider work best)

juice of 1/2 lime

Toss the ingredients together, taste and adjust for oil, vinegar and lime juice, salt and other seasonings. Serve immediately or within a few hours. If kept on the dry side and not overdressed with oil, it will last a several days.

Thai black rice is often labelled “sweet rice” or “sticky rice,” and while it is technically glutinous, it is a whole grain rice, so is not “sticky” in the textural sense. It isn’t sweet either–it tastes like a combination of brown rice and North American wild rice, with the texture of the latter or al dente orzo pasta. The best way to cook it is by steaming. Soak the rice for 8 hours or overnight in cool water, or for 2 hours in 120° water, drain and steam for 35 minutes. The grains are pretty large so you can use a wire mesh sieve. I prefer to wrap the rice in bamboo leaf, it keeps the rice perfectly moist and imparts a subtle, pleasing flavor.

Furikake is a popular Japanese seasoning mix for rice, usually with seaweed, sesame seeds, salt and sugar. It often contains bonito flakes and there are variations with salmon, miso powder, wasabi, egg, shiso, and even kimchi flavor! It can be made at home as well, and done so with fresh seaweed if one has access to a dehydrator. For the purposes of this recipe, sesame seeds or a mix of freshly broken-up seaweed and sesame seeds can be used to substitute.

This makes for a light, refreshing salad for the late winter and early spring. A great lunch on its’ own or as part of a series of mixed salads or snacks. I have deliberately left this salad a bit underseasoned – but one could easily add one or more complementary fresh herbs or dried spices, such as celery seed, anise seed, cilantro, parsley, dill, paprika, chile pepper or fresh chiles, cumin, and so on… Besides tasting wonderful, this is an extremely healthy dish with three nutritional power houses in black rice, kale and tuna. On the subject of tuna–make sure to use a high quality tuna for this dish, preferably one packed in oil or without any liquid (such as the excellent tuna processed by Wild Planet). Black rice and Furikake will be at any self-respecting Asian market and many of the more upscale all-purpose supermarkets.

Mushrooms & Leeks

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Heat in a wok or large skillet over high heat :

2 tbs light oil such as sunflower, vegetable or shallot oil

When the oil is quite hot, add :

6 oz leeks, cut into 1/2″ slices

Stir-fry for about a minute, until leeks begin to soften. Add :

.5 oz garlic, minced

Stir-fry for thirty seconds, then add :

1 oz scallions, chopped

Stir-fry for thirty seconds, then add :

1-2 chiles, finely chopped

Stir-fry for thirty seconds, then add :

A splash of shao xing cooking wine or sherry

Stir the aromatics and cook for thirty seconds, then add :

1 lb. button mushrooms, cut lengthwise into 2, 3 or 4 pieces (as illustrated below)

Toss mushrooms and aromatics as best as possible for one minute, then add :

2 tbs shao xing wine or sherry

2 tbs stock of any kind

A few dashes of Maggi or Golden Mountain seasoning (or Worcestershire for non-vegetarians)

Continue to cook over high heat, covering for about two minutes, then uncovering again.

This will generate a lot of liquid and start to soften the mushrooms. Now you want to braise them, stirring frequently and keeping the cover off. By the time the liquids have been cooked away, the mushrooms should be close to tender. Take care not to overcook them, you want some texture in this dish. If too much liquid has escaped, add more stock or a mix of stock and shao xing or sherry. Keep stirring.

When all the liquid is absorbed and the mushrooms are tender but not soft, turn into a serving dish.

Garnish with :

Ground sumac and/or clove, freshly ground if possible.

Serve either hot or at room temperature. This is an excellent addition to a tapas or meze platter, or served as a side dish to accompany a more traditional main course. The end result can also be chopped once cooked into more of a tapenade, perhaps with a dash of added olive oil, accompanied with bread or fresh raw vegetables.

Naturally, wild mushrooms can be substituted for the cultivated ones. I would think a similar textured-mushroom like a blewit or field mushroom would be most adequate.

Mushroom cutting technique below. I know, right, so advanced. But if you make nice thick slices like this, they will retain a good texture even after being subjected to a braising like the above.

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Tomato Masala Soup

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A simple, deeply-satisfying soup for the end of winter, spiced with a freshly made masala mix. You can use this same basic mix in other masala recipes, but this one is designed specifically for this soup. First, make the spice mix. Then grind the mix. Then begin the soup.

Masala Mix :

Heat a dry skillet over medium to medium-low heat.

Add :

1 tbs cumin seed

1 tbs coriander seed

1 cinnamon stick or few pieces of cassia

seeds from 6 pods of green cardamom

1 tsp black peppercorns

4 cloves

Toast the dry spices together for a few minutes, until strong and aromatic but not browned.

Grind spices together in mortar and pestle or spice grinder until no longer coarse.

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Heat a large saucepan or sauteuse over medium heat and add :

6 tbs butter or 4 tbs ghee or oil (you may substitute oil to make this dish vegan, otherwise butter is recommended)

Cook butter for one or two minutes and add :

Ground masala mix

Cook for one minute, then add :

9 oz onion, sliced thin

Cook for three minutes or until softened, then add :

4 oz shallots, sliced thin

Cook for three minutes or until softened, then add :

1/2 oz garlic, crushed and chopped fine

Cook for one minute then add :

3-4 oz carrot (about one medium carrot), grated

Cook for three minutes then reduce the heat to low.

Cook the vegetables for as long as possible over a low heat, uncovered, until they are mostly softened and succulent.

Add :

Tomatoes from one 28 oz. can of tomatoes

Break the tomatoes into the rest of the vegetables with a flat spatula or wooden spoon.

Bring the heat to medium.

Cook for a few minutes, breaking the tomatoes up as much as possible.

Bring the heat to medium-high and add :

Juice from one 28 oz. can of tomatoes

1 quart rich stock of any kind or water

Simmer slowly for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

This should cook down to make a little over a quart of really rich soup. You may also wish to add less liquid to save on cooking time, although some at least should be retained or what we have is a sauce, not a soup. As it stands, this is a nicely rich soup for winter or early spring, and can be mellowed out / lengthened with a little bit of fresh yogurt, stirred in just so. There is plenty heat for most in the pepper and spices, but for those who must always add chile, dried chiles can be added to the spice mix. You may also wish to add fresh herbs – though I am always a fan of that, I feel it tends to spoil some of the warm simplicity of the soup. A better direction to go in would be to stir in cooked lentils or rice or small pasta and make it more of a stew.

I’ll keep taking it as is. Okay, maybe some yogurt…

Key : The key to this recipe is to take it slow, man.