Great Balls of Fire

I am on a huge Indian kick lately. You wouldn’t know it from what you’ve seen posted around these parts lately, but I’m dead serious. Those of you living in the Bay Area already know this – there are a plethora of Indian eateries around these parts. Because of that, I’ve decided that Indian food is my new favorite take-out staple.

Sorry, Thai food, but I’m giving you the boot for a while. Maybe forever. It’s just that no one seems to make my yum woonsen salad like Thai Lagoon did, and it didn’t hurt that they were exactly 6 doors away from our house.

We ordered take-out from the neighborhood Indian joint the first weekend we lived here, and I was immediately sold. I ordered a HUGE “combo meal” the weekend Chris was in Singapore, and while sopping up my chana masala with garlic naan, I happily watched Something Borrowed (laugh it up) and almost drank an entire bottle of New Zealand Pinot by my lonesome. It was amazing (the food and the wine, that is. the movie served its purpose, which meant I was able to choose the movie for a change, because no one was home!!).

I’m sure we’ve had takeout from the same spot at least a handful of other times too. Despite their unwelcoming demeanor when I walk in to pick up my order, I always graciously take my food, somehow deciding that they’re allowed to have shoddy service so long as my food rocks, because in the end, we all win.

I decided I must learn to make chana masala, the tomato-y chickpea dish that I get almost every time I get Indian food, and as a result I surfed the Internets to figure out where I might find such a recipe, and for that matter, a good Indian cookbook. After Googling and Amazon-ing for a while, I finally decided on Madhur Jaffrey’s “An Invitation to Indian Cooking“, and although I’ve yet to cook from it, I am slowly perusing through it, waiting for the right moment to finally give that chana masala a try, and the other recipes I’ve bookmarked so far.

Today though, I’m sharing a recipe from another Indian chef I admittedly adore watching, Aarti Sequiera on the Food Network. She won “The Next Food Network Star” a while back (actually, the last season we watched it), and I was rooting for her all the way. Sure, part of it was because she wrote a food blog (and ironically just posted a recipe for chana masala), but the other part was because I really wanted an Indian cooking show to watch. Plus, I can only take so much of Giada’s boobs (or her large head, for that matter), and the other shows on that channel (other than Iron Chef, duh) are pretty lame. But! I did just learn that Michael Chiarello (of Napa’s Bottega) is going to be on The Next Iron Chef, and you best believe that will be DVR’d with a quickness.

So yeah, on to sharing. We had some friends in town this past weekend, and since they were coming in right around suppertime on Thursday night I’d volunteered to make dinner. My requirements were that the dish had to be straightforward, void of constant tending-to, manageable on a weeknight (night before prep a plus), and easy enough to make for 5 people without dirtying up every dish in the house. A homemade curry was a no brainer, and I remembered a recipe Aarti made the other day where she added an Italian twist (meatballs) to a curry dish – perfect!

The meatballs were easy peasy to throw together, and they probably benefit from being refrigerated overnight anyway, so that they can adhere together a little better. Plus, it saved me some time the night I made it since step 1 was already complete. The Serrano chiles were super spicy and perfect with the creamy coconut curry. The recipe below is essentially a doubled version of hers, which is meant to serve 8, but either our guests were starving or it was that damn good, because there was 1 serving left by the time it was all said and done.

The added bonus? You’ll probably have some leftover sauce when all the meatballs have been eaten, and I just know it’ll go with just about anything you toss into it. Better yet, a spoon would probably work just fine.

Meatball Curry
Adapted from Food Network’s Aarti Sequeira; serves 6-8

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes

printable version

ingredients
meatballs
2 lbs ground beef
2 serrano chiles, minced (I seeded one of them)
4 t fresh ginger, minced
4 T fresh cilantro, minced
Kosher salt

curry
5 T coconut oil or canola oil
1 t brown mustard seeds
8 small shallots, thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 (2-inch piece) ginger, peeled and minced
4 t g coriander
2 t g cumin
1 t cayenne pepper
4 medium tomatoes, medium dice
2 cans light coconut milk
Kosher salt
3 T fresh cilantro, minced
juice of 1 lime

1 1/2 c uncooked jasmine or basmati rice

instructions
for the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix the ground beef, chile, ginger, cilantro and 2 teaspoons of salt together using your hands until just combined. (Don’t mix any more than this or you’ll end up with tough meatballs!) Roll the meatballs into 32 similarly-shaped balls, placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in the fridge when they’re all rolled until ready for use.

for the curry: In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the coconut oil until nearly smoking. Add the mustard seeds, covering the pan with a lid so you don’t get popping seeds all over you. When the spluttering subsides, add the shallots, garlic and ginger and cook until golden brown. Then add the ground coriander, cumin and cayenne pepper. Stir, and cook 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook until they soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to boil. Turn down to a simmer and add the meatballs. Simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.

Right after you add the meatballs, start the rice. Add rice and 3 c water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 15-20 minutes, until rice is cooked through. Remove from heat and set aside.

To finish the curry, add the cilantro and lime juice. Shake the pan gently to mix them in, and then taste for seasoning. Serve over rice.

Battle Plantains: One for the Road

For those of you who know me (or even those who don’t and read in my little space), these little Iron Chef get-togethers have been one of my favorite ways to spend time with friends over the past couple of years. For one, I get to cook, and that’s an easy way to make me happy.

But for two, I get to see some of my favorite people, all in one room. We get a few short hours to chat, to drink decent wine, and to talk about food. If being with them wasn’t great enough as is, adding those elements only exponentially makes it better.

I started Iron Chef as an excuse to hang out with friends and do all of those things I mentioned above. I didn’t realize it would last for two years, and I didn’t realize we’d pick up so many competitors, er, friends, along the way. This little group of people, they mean a lot to me, every last one of them who’ve ever participated, and it is hard to say goodbye to an event I’ve looked forward to so much.

And while I don’t generally believe that all good things must come to an end, this time I get it. While I hope to one day start up an IC-SF, my Iron Chef Chicago days have come to an end. And while my IC Chicago days have come to an end, I do hope someone decides to continue it, and I’ll continue to keep my fingers crossed that it lives on, and that good food, good wine, and good friends continue to hang out together.

For my last competition, it was Battle Plantains. Now, I can’t say I really cook with plantains all that much. Heck, I think the only time I’ve ever cooked plantains is at a dinner event I helped my friend Caroline with (another Chicago event I will surely miss..), and we made some killer tostones. And so, rather than focusing on the plantains, I focused on finding something I’ve been wanting to make that could go with them.

I made pulled pork. Again.

Yes, you’ve seen these shenanigans around these parts once or twice. What can I say – I’m Southern at heart, and pulled pork is in my genes, I suppose. Plus, I had an idea for a twist and found a good recipe for a mango BBQ variation that was sure to impress. The only problem? No plantains involved. I decided that was a minor detail and made it anyway.

The Top Three:

  1. Heather’s Plantain & Mango Pulled Pork ‘Sandwiches’
  2. Michael & Kenna’s Plantain Cuban Sandwiches
  3. Jennifer’s Plantain Bread with Hazelnut Cream Cheese

As it turns out, it was a minor detail. Either the competition was rigged in favor of it being my final battle, or the plantain chips sandwiching the pork were enough to bring it all together. Either way, I’m heading to the West with a win in my back pocket, hoping in two months I’ll get to pick one last ingredient for my Midwestern friends.

Mango Pulled Pork
Adapted from Food Network’s Aarti Sequeira; serves 4-6 in sandwiches or a party when used as bite-sized pieces (plantain chips recipe below)

printable version (pork and chips)
printable version (pork only)

ingredients
1 boneless pork butt (~ 3 lbs)

rub
2 T brown sugar
1 T smoked paprika
2 t kosher salt

bbq sauce
1/4 c canola oil
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t cinnamon
1 T g ginger
1/2 large onion, finely minced
1 serrano pepper, finely minced
kosher salt
1.5 c mango puree (bought as is, or made using canned mangoes pureed in a blender)
1/3 c fresh lime juice
3 T apple cider vinegar
2 T molasses
3 T Worcestershire sauce

for serving
plantain chips (see below) & cilantro OR
hamburger buns & pickles
also lovely as a tostada 🙂

instructions
Rub
combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl, then rub it onto the pork until well coated. Set aside while you make BBQ sauce. You could do this a day ahead and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

BBQ sauce
In a large saucepan (preferably a Dutch oven) warm the oil over low heat until hot. Add the cumin, cinnamon, and ginger; let simmer, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the onions and serrano and a little salt, to taste. Saute until they soften but don’t let them get any color. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients. Simmer about 5 minutes. Taste and season.

Add the pork shoulder to the saucepan, coating it with the sauce. Cover, and gently simmer until the pork falls apart easily, stirring and turning often, about 3 hours.

Remove the pork from the saucepan and shred it using 2 forks. Return it to the sauce and stir to coat with the sauce. Serve however you plan to. (I sandwiched a large tablespoon of pulled pork between two elongated plantain chips, sprinkling a little cilantro on top of the pork.)

Plantain Chips

printable version (chips only)

ingredients
canola oil
2 ripe plantains
kosher salt

instructions
in a medium saute pan, fill with oil up to ~1 inch. let oil get hot (but not smokey). meanwhile, peel plantains and cut into three chunks, lengthwise. using a sharp knife (or a mandoline if you’re fancy; I wasn’t), cut into 1/4″ strips.

once oil is hot, fry off strips about 5 at a time, flipping over after 1-2 minutes on each side. drain on paper towels and serve.

(if you’re making these for the pulled pork, they can sit out for a bit to cool before being sandwiched in between the pork and a little cilantro.)