Just Call Me Little Miss Masala

25 06 2010

Much like the breadbaking question, one might wonder why, living within walking distance of Paris’ most Indian-centric neighborhood, I would feel compelled to cook up an Indian feast of my own.  Well, one reason is that the more esoteric ingredients are much easier to come by.  Another is that you can’t go out every night, and besides, isn’t it nice to have a fridge full of amazing, somehow still-improving leftovers?

The internet seems to be full of little synchronicities.  In this case, my friend Ann also got the craving for home-cooked Indian food, and wrote up her adventures in spice hunting.  Fueling the fire, she also happened to have a giveaway for a new book called Miss Masala: Real Indian Cooking for Busy Living by Mallika Basu. 

Real Indian Cooking for Busy Living

Basu also writes a blog, called Quick Indian Cooking, which I am looking forward to exploring in depth.  The book is thoroughly enjoyable, and after I won Ann’s giveaway, I felt even more inspired to go on my own spice-shopping spree and get cooking.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Housewarming Harissa Chicken and Rice

6 05 2010

Moving house always shakes up the routine.  Starting a few weeks before the move, Nick and I tried to concentrate on eating up what we had in the fridge and pantry, to reduce the amount of stuff that had to be packed as much as possible.  I stopped getting the CSA share for a few weeks, and moved into a kitchen where there was no oven (there is now), a half-size fridge (getting replaced with a big one on Saturday, normalement), and two (only two!!!) induction burners, which have taken some getting used to.

Of course the days surrounding the move were fueled mostly by quick meals, some (Restaurant Raviolis) better than others (Subway).  The morning after we moved, breakfast consisted of green tea and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  I’m telling you that because I think it’s hilarious, and because I think that anyone who’s ever moved a kitchen will understand.  For lunch that day we went to L’As du Fallafel, and dinner was at one of our new neighborhood’s sixty kajillion Indian places.  We had some very simple dinners the next couple of nights – tomato sauce with mushrooms over pasta, grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup – but soon the urge to cook came back.

Easy, fresh, and spicy!

It was fueled in part by this recipe for Spicy Citrus Shrimp I saw on The Kitchen Illiterate.  It sounded so easy, quick, and simple, and I’m always looking for excuses to bust out the harissa.  Plus, blood oranges were the weekly special at one of the fruit-and-vegetable shops down the street.  But moving can leave one feeling poor, and shrimp just sounded too rich for my blood.  So chicken it was.  I made a marinade using harissa, blood orange and lemon juice, garlic (my addition), salt, and olive oil.  I made just enough to coat the chicken, plus a little extra for saucy goodness further down the road.  Got some rice going, and grabbed a quick shower while it cooked (oh, the busy lives of Parisian pastry chefs). 

When I came back, cleaned and ready to sauté, I learned something about my new stove: if I try to put two pans on it at once, a) they don’t both fit comfortably, and b) the stove starts pulsing instead of delivering even heat.  I also learned that despite the fact that the control panel goes to 12 (which, by the way, boils a pot of water in under 3 minutes), the maximum total capacity is 20.  That means that if I have one burner on 12, the other can only go up to 8.  Having learned all this in the space of about 30 seconds, I dumped the chicken, sauce and all, in a screaming hot nonstick pan (brand new, because my old one didn’t play well – or at all – with the induction top) and savored the sweet-spicy aromas that came forth.  I added the rice and some baby spinach, stirred it all up, and scooped it into shallow bowls.  Pine nuts and juicy segments of blood orange became garnish.  Nick and I sat down to dinner, accompanied by a glass of something robust and red from the Languedoc, and for the first time since moving, really felt like we were home.

On this day in 2008: An Oasis for Tea

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Manger Comme Un(e) Français(e)

10 07 2009

After all that vacation-time excess, I returned home to Paris only to discover that most of my jeans had mysteriously shrunk.  It was time to start eating vegetables again.  (Not that I didn’t have any in the States, but the portions were always small in comparison to the hunks of juicy meat they were served with.)  So Nick and I headed down to the market to find fodder for some vegetable-laden meals.  Among other things, we came back with some gorgeous spinach and some bright red “Corne” peppers.  (Not sure if they’re the same as “Corne de Boeuf.”  Anyone?)  We decided to combine them in a quiche, which may not sound like the Lightest of All Possible Dinners, but hey, you have to ease into these things.

Ah, fire-roasted peppers.
1. Corne Peppers, Post-Char, 2. Pepper Braid

Plus, I used a new favorite whole wheat crust recipe.  Clotilde posted it on Chocolate & Zucchini several weeks ago, and I am as enthusiastic about it as she is.  Who ever thought a healthy tart crust could taste so good?  I love that it is full of whole grain goodness (while she suggests using light whole wheat flour or half white, half whole wheat, I have made it twice with all whole wheat flour, and have no complaints) and the olive oil is not only a healthier fat than butter, it’s also easier to work with, especially on warm summer afternoons.  Plus, the amount fits perfectly into my big ceramic tart dish.

Spinach, roasted peppers, and whole wheat crust

But back to the quiche.  After studding the spinach and pepper-filled crust with little cubes of feta, I filled in the gaps with a lighter version of my usual quiche custard (replacing one of the yolks with a whole egg and using more milk, less cream).  We played a round of cribbage while it baked, and when it was done we were treated to a tasty vegetarian supper.

This is as health food as I get.

As expected, the lighter custard, once baked, was firmer and less luxurious than the standard, but in this case, given that we’d kind of had our fill of rich, fatty food for the time being, that was just fine.  What we didn’t expect was the pepper to be as spicy as it was.  We were expecting piquillo-like smokiness, which was there, but the first bite with some real heat was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one. 

Later in the week we got a double panier from the CSA, the first of four additional paniers we will be getting to make up for the ones we missed while on vacation.  They were full of zucchini, garlic, and tomatoes, which fortunately are great together and serve as a basis for all kinds of light meals.  My jeans should fit again in no time.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Kicking It Old School

18 04 2009

Meatloaf Dinner

Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and creamed spinach.

Because meatloaf makes great leftovers.  And sandwiches.  Because it’s easy, comforting, satisfying, and delicious.  Because deep down, I like the meat + veg + starch aesthetic.  Because sometimes, that is what I’m talking about.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Simple Summer Salad

17 06 2008

I’m sitting in the park at the Place des Vosges right now, taking advantage of the beautiful late spring day.  Most of the parks in Paris have free wifi access, and while it may seem kind of lame to bring your computer to the park, it seems even lamer to sit inside in front of a perfectly portable laptop while the sun is shining.  In the distance I can hear the chanting from a manif (demonstration/protest).  I think this one is about keeping the 35 hour workweek.  Anyway, apart from all the cigarette butts littering the grass, the Place des Vosges is lovely today.  The fountain is running and people are milling about, playing cards, sunbathing, and the like.

A glance through my pictures reminds me of a nice little salad I made last week.  Inspired by a charentais melon that needed to be used and the memory of a fresh, summery salad I had at a restaurant last year, I got out the melon and started slicing.

 Charentais melon

I nestled the thin slices of melon among leaves of baby spinach and drizzled the salads with sherry vinaigrette.  The inspiration salad had a garnish of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (not to mention watermelon instead of charentais), but since we were already having cheese on our pissaladière, I decided to skip it.  Some bacon would have made a nice addition, but then, what salad isn’t improved by a little bacon?

 Spinach and Melon Salad

I was pleased with the results, even without the bacon.  (Or serrano ham.  That would have been good too.)  The sweetness of the melon paired well with the spinach, and the sherry vinaigrette gave just the right amount of tang.  Plus I felt good eating it, knowing that the combination of spinach and vitamin C (from the fruit) is a nutritional powerhouse.





New Ganga

4 04 2008

No, it’s not some development from our hydroponic-savvy friends in the Netherlands, it’s an Indian restaurant.

Nick and I took some time last night to explore our new neighborhood.  We were hankering for some Chinese food, but apparently went down the wrong street, as there were none to be seen.  We did, however, encounter a number of Japanese places, pizzerias, bistros, and so on.  We passed one Indian restaurant and thought that that sounded pretty good.  After a couple more blocks without finding any Chinese, we happened upon New Ganga and decided to go for it.

I’ll admit I was a little worried when we walked in and the dining room was completely empty, but my fears were soon allayed.  The host/waiter (who spoke more English than French, I think) brought us a bright pink apéritif and a round of pappadum.  The crispy, cumin-laced cracker worked well as an amuse-bouche, awakening my appetite and making me hunger for what was in store.

Apéritif and Pappadum

We ordered the “Indian Beer” listed on the menu, and opted to start with naan and samosas.  The beer arrived first, with a multilingual (Italian, French, and German) label which said that either this was India’s best selling beer, or it was the best selling Indian beer in the world, or that it was the best beer in India, depending on the language.

Indian Beer

The beer itself was light and fairly unremarkable, but served us well when the naan came out, accompanied by three sauces/chutneys.

Naan

The sauce on the right was a mild, slightly sour tamarind sauce.  Fairly standard, but good for cooling the flames of the sauce on the left – a confit of chili peppers, as far as I can tell, and probably the single hottest thing I’ve eaten since arriving in Paris over two months ago.  And I mean that in a good way.  The green sauce in the middle was the most interesting of the bunch.  It was a coriander-mint chutney, but with a spicy kick.  Very surprising when the cool mint gave way to a touch of green chili heat on the finish.  All three were so good I wanted to buy jars and bring them home.  Then just when our palates were really getting warmed up, the samosas arrived.

Samosas

They were hot from the fryer, with a nice thin layer of dough encasing a filling of mixed vegetables (looked like mostly cauliflower to me).  Delicious on their own or drizzled with one or more of the sauces.  When we were done with our appetizers, the plates were whisked away and before we could protest, the trio of sauces was gone.  Next time I’m going to hang onto them, although it turned out that they weren’t really necessary for our main courses.

Lamb with eggplant, Spinach with paneer, and Saffron rice

In my experience, most Indian cuisine isn’t particularly photogenic, being generally stew-like in consistency.  But usually after the first bite I cease to care what it looks like, as long as it tastes good.  And I was not disappointed.  The rice was fluffy with a subtle saffron flavor, which made a great backdrop for the other two dishes.  The saag paneer (they called it something different on their menu, but that’s what I’ve always called the spinach and homemade cheese dish) was quite tasty, but the cheese was disconcertingly smooth.  Nick mentioned Laughing Cow, and while I don’t think that’s what it was, the paneer certainly didn’t have the same texture I’m accustomed to.  France can be a difficult place to find non-French cheeses, so I’m willing to let it slide if they just put in dollops of fromage blanc or something along those lines.  On a side note, they also offered cheese naan, of which I highly doubt the authenticity.  Moving on, the orange dish in the lower right of the photo was lamb with eggplant.  In a word, it was scrumptious.  We cleaned all three plates, wiping up the last bits with reserved pieces of naan.  We will definitely be returning.








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