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.

Adventures in Suburbia

Last week, Chris and I retreated to Bay Area Suburbia for a few days. A friend of mine recently moved from the city to the ‘burbs, and when she went out of town for a while, the four cats left behind were in need of a little (okay, a lot of) attention.

Needless to say, we were eager to cheat on our cats and hang out with hers, and the fact that our commute was cut in half for the final part of last week didn’t hurt either.

Of course, cat/housesitting meant that we had to actually get into the house, which proved to be another story; for whatever reason, my key decided to all of a sudden cease to work. Needless to say, had someone been watching us they would have been more than entertained. First, we’d both managed to go to Whole Foods without our wallets, at which point I’d left Chris there to head back and grab mine. At this point, my key wouldn’t work, and so I proceeded back to WF, sans wallet, to pick Chris up so he could make sure I wasn’t completely useless. Though I would have loved to have been wrong, we were most certainly locked out. Thirty minutes later, I’d already left a frantic voicemail, tried the door ten thousand times, and finally, we saw a screen that looked loose. Chris shimmied up the fence, I hoisted his ass into the air, and minutes later (it would have been seconds had a cat not been standing at the window threatening to jump out all the while), we were in.

Still starving, we made our third trip to WF to find our long lost basket of goodies. We grabbed a garage door opener that time. So, if you ever need to break in to your house, or someone else’s, let us know; we can do it in 30 minutes flat ;).

I’d also fooled myself into thinking that biking to work would be fun. You know, like old times when I did it back in Chicago. Mind you, Chicago is f-l-a-t. And while Redwood City isn’t San Francisco in the way of hilliness, it ain’t flat. Needless to say, I finally purchased a much-needed bike rack, some calories got burned, and by Friday I was thankful for the spare car in the garage. Luckily, driving stick is like riding a bike, at least in terms of remembering how to do it, certainly not in difficulty getting through rolling hills.

All things considered, it ended up feeling like a mini-vacation, simply because we were away from the city for a couple of days and instead in a quiet house with plenty of space, a better view, and twice the number of cats. Also, I had a whole new kitchen to cook in, and along with that, plenty of cookbooks to peruse. Of course, now I’ve added a few more things to my wishlist, but I’m ok with that.

One of said wishlist items is Ross Dobson’s Market Vegetarian. It’s no Yottam Ottolenghi cookbook, but it sure has loads of ideas and relatively straightforward recipes. I had my mind set on the cover recipe, and even though I don’t think I’ve eaten eggplant since the Iron Chef challenge (almost 1 year ago!), I was ready to give the ol’ aubergine another go.

So with that, the theme of last week was persistence: persistence gets you in the house (finally), it gets your groceries after three trips to Whole Foods, it gets you to and from work despite the 7 miles of ever-so-gradual hills each way, and it gets you to change your mind about eggplant.

Eggplant, Tomato, & Red Lentil Curry
Adapted from Market Vegetarian; serves 4

printable version

ingredients
3 T evoo
1 large eggplant, cut into 16 pieces
1 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T finely chopped fresh ginger
8 oz heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 t ground cumin
1 t curry powder
1/2 t chili powder
1 T tomato paste
2/3 c red lentils
1 handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
cooked basmati rice, to serve (optional)

instructions
heat 2 T oil in a skillet over high heat. when oil is hot, add the eggplant to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes. the eggplant will absorb the oil, but eventually start to seep out as the eggplant browns. once this happens, remove from skillet and set aside.

add 1 T oil, onions, garlic, and ginger to skillet and cook for 5 minutes. add the cherry tomatoes and cook for 1 minute, just until they soften. fish out tomatoes from the skillet and add to plate of eggplant.

add cumin and curry powder to pan and cook for a couple of minutes until fragrant. add chili powder and tomato paste, 2 cups of water, and lentils and simmer over med-lo heat for 15-20 minutes, until lentils are al dente. stir in eggplant and tomatoes and cook to warm through; add cilantro. spoon over basmati rice, if using.