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.

Banh & Me

If you can believe it, we seem to have a difficult time figuring out what to have for lunch on the weekend. The weekdays are generally covered since I cook Sunday thru Wednesday, but after a Friday and/or Saturday night out, or even order-in sushi or Thai, Saturday and Sunday can get a little dicey.

A few months ago (maybe even a year ago), this new little Vietnamese sandwich shop opened up across the street, a shop previously hosting a ‘gourmet kitchen’ where one could buy or make meals using fresh, top-of-the-line ingredients. It was obviously a place I’d never been to, but given the economy and the location I wasn’t surprised it practically became a sandwich shop overnight.

Needless to say, Bon Bon quickly became my go-to for weekend lunch. The sandwiches were big enough to share, and only 4 bucks each! Plus, they serve bubble tea, which I previously traveled all the way up to Western & Addison to get. And if you’re into it, they have a ton of Vietnamese candy to try. Of course, I’ve already frequented the place a couple of times this year, and I posted a quick snippet in the  ‘Chicago Food’ section, which is a new piece I added a few weeks ago to document all of our ventures out of my kitchen ;), so check it out.

Given the ridiculously low price of Bon Bon’s sandwiches, not to mention the fact that I could literally walk to it in my PJ’s if I wanted to (yes, I do still have them on often at noon on the weekends), I never really intended to recreate their ‘bread n’ butter’ banh mi sandwiches, especially my favorite minced pork version. But as usual, there are always a slew of recipes I absolutely can’t resist in Bon Appetit, and last month a pork meatball banh mi was one of them.

It seems I am an avid fan of the meatball, no? Although the latest version was Moroccan, I also made a Mexican meatball stew a few weeks ago that was excellent, but it was too similar to the lovely ancho pork and hominy stew I posted about late last year and therefore didn’t warrant real estate here. These meatballs you see right now? Golly gee willikers, I cannot even describe to you how stupendous they are; a perfect blend of salty, spicy, sweet, so perfect I could have skewered them and eaten them all alone if I hadn’t already pre-tasted the equally perfect pickled carrot/daikon mixture and spiced mayo that would accompany them, sandwich-style.

When you put them all together, encase them in a soft but slightly toasted French baguette, it is nothing short of delightful. And if you don’t have a Vietnamese sandwich shop across the street from you, the only reason you’ll miss it is for the bubble tea.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi
Adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2010; makes 4

printable version

ingredients
hot chili mayo
2/3 c mayo
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 T sriracha

meatballs
1 lb ground pork
1/4 c finely chopped cilantro
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 T fish sauce
1.5 T sriracha
1 T sugar
2 t cornstarch
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1 t coarse kosher salt

Sandwiches
2 c coarsely grated carrots
2 c coarsely grated peeled daikon (the shredder on the food processor works like a charm here)
1/4 c unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 c sugar
1 t coarse kosher salt
1 T Asian sesame oil
4 6-inch-long baguettes (likely cut from 1 long baguette)
4 large fresh cilantro sprigs

instructions

hot chili mayo: Stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

meatballs: Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Sandwiches:
Toss first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add meatballs. Sauté until brown and cooked through, turning meatballs often and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. If doing in batches, keep warm in 300 F oven.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300 F. Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half. Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2-inch-thick shell. Toast bread for 5 minutes. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables; place atop meatballs. Press on baguette tops. Garnish with cilantro.