Monday, February 03, 2014

Indian Cuisine: North Meets South

India's coldest, northernmost region Kashmir is also home to the titular lake and many other rivers, streams and estuaries. Not surprising that aquatic vegetables like lotus root are a mainstay of Kashmiri cuisine, often fried as pakoras or added to stews for their crunchy texture and mild, appealing taste. This recipe is a saucy curry that really allows the delicate flavor of lotus roots to shine: blend to a paste 4 cloves of garlic, three or four thin round slices of ginger and 3 small green chilies. Set aside while you heat 2 T. mustard or vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Mustard oil is traditional to northern Indian cooking but proceed with grape seed, canola etc if you don't have it. Add the aromatic paste and fry for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour in 1 cup of water and scrape bottom of pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in 1 1/2 t. coarse salt and 1 pound of fresh lotus roots, peeled and sliced into 1/2" thick rounds. When peeling and slicing lotus root, keep them submerged in a bowl of acidulated water to prevent unsightly browning. If you can't find fresh lotus roots at your local Asian market - and you can, trust us - use the canned variety after rinsing very well. Bring all this to a boil then reduce the flame to medium-low and cover. Simmer, stirring now and then, for 15 minutes or until the lotus roots are crunchy-tender. While everything is cooking whisk together in a small bowl 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1 t. cumin powder and 2 T. half and half or whole milk. When the lotus roots are tender, or cooked to your liking, stir in the yogurt and cook gently, over a low flame for 5 minutes. The yogurt may separate a bit - this is normal. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve warm.

A northern Indian staple like Kashmiri Lotus Root Curry pairs well with a Kerala-based spicy fish preparation.

Traditionally among the hottest of Indian seafood curries, Kerala-style Fiery Red Pepper Fish can be made with freshwater specimens as well, any white-flesh fish will suffice. Adjust the heat by varying the amount of chilies used or serve with cooling elements such as raitas or pachadis and plain boiled rice. Let's begin by grinding in a blender or food processor 10-15 whole dried red chilies, 2 T. tamarind paste or concentrate and 2 cloves garlic. Add salt to taste - quite a bit it takes - and slowly, enough water to obtain a pouring consistency. Add this chili mixture to a skillet along with 4 pieces of firm, white-fleshed fish. Cover and cook at a very gentle simmer for about 10 minutes - do not overcook the fish. When the fish is just cooked through, drizzle the pan contents with 1-2 T. coconut oil. Serve hot or warm.

clockwise from bottom left: Ginger Pachadi, Kashmiri Lotus Root Curry, pappadum, collard green and tomatoes, Kerala-style Fiery Red Pepper Fish and basmati rice

Urad dal and rice crepes with roasted Brussels sprouts and salad.

These savory pancakes - or lentil and rice crepes - can replace rice or bread in any Indian meal or be served as a snack with chutney and raita. A pickle or two wouldn't hurt either.

Don't forget to soak lotus roots in acidulated water while prepping other elements of the meal. You can do this by adding just a teaspoon or so of vinegar or lemon juice to a bowl of water.

Ready to whirl . . . blending the ingredients for south Indian Dal and Rice Crepes

above: urad dal and basmati rice after being soaked and drained. Let's start making the crepes now. You'll need to get a head start by soaking overnight - or for eight hours - 1/2 cup each basmati rice and urad dal in a large bowl of water. Drain and dump in a blender or food processor. Add at least 1 t. salt, 1 t. garam masala, 1 t. amchur (green mango powder) OR 1 t. lemon juice and a very large pinch of asafoetida/hing powder. Blend to a paste, adding small bits of water, slowly, until you reach the consistency of thin cake batter. Now, heat an iron or non-stick skillet over a medium-low flame for 2-3 minutes. Brush or drizzle lightly with vegetable oil. When the pan is hot add a small ladle of the batter. Turn the pan to spread the batter out into a circle 5" or so in diameter. Cook for a couple of minutes until set then flip and cook on other side until light golden brown. Remove with a spatula to a warm oven. Repeat the process with the remaining batter, adding a small bit of oil for each crepe. You can stack the crepes in the oven, on a baking sheet, without fear of sticking together. Good hot, warm or at room temperature.

Pachadis are the South Indian version of raita, a yogurt sauce/condiment/chutney generally heated or containing some briefly cooked ingredient. Like raitas they're best served chilled. Here's a Spicy Ginger Pachadi that enriches all rice dishes and pairs well with dal, most curries and warm flatbreads:begin by whisking in a bowl 2 cups plain yogurt along with salt and black pepper to taste. Thin slightly with buttermilk, milk or water. Set aside while you heat 1 T. vegetable oil in a skillet over high heat. Toss in 1/2 t. black mustard seeds and cover skillet. As soon as the mustard seeds begin popping add 1/2 t. cumin seeds, 2-3 dried red chilies and 4-5 curry leaves. Cook for a few seconds before adding 3 T. minced ginger and 2 T. dried unsweetened coconut. Add 2 T. or so of water to pan and watch for sputtering!! Reduce heat to low and cook for a couple of minutes. Now, pour skillet contents into yogurt and stir. Let rest for 30 minutes and then check to see if more salt is required. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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