Tag Archives: Condiments

Cooking Across the Continents

I’m prone to laughter, generally. Often as the direct result of emails from my friends. Usually, though, it’s because they’re recounting inappropriate behavior or the like. It’s rare for me to start cackling from a recipe.

And, yet, when my friend Ben sent his peanut sauce recipe my way, I couldn’t help but giggle. It was at least partially due to his insistence on referring to peanuts as “ground nuts” (yeah, I don’t know either, but am inclined to think this is an American/British English thing, much like my “aubergine”/”eggplant” confusion had been when I lived there). Mostly, though, it was the instructions themselves, which reflected his personality perfectly.

Turns out he makes a killer peanut sauce. I only wish we lived on the same continent so that we could share it. (Also: so that he could help me with the actual cooking and, even better, tell me when I’m using way too many bird chillies. Those things are spicy.)

I’ve included his recipe here, with some tweaks that I made because I was serving it alongside chicken satays and wanted the flavors to echo each other.

And, so without further ado:

Peanut Sauce

1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter. The best type to use is the organic, tastes-like-cardboard type.
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tsp lemon juice
1 onion, medium
12-24 dried chillies, soaked in water
2 tbsp peanut oil
sugar/salt to taste

Pop the peanuts in a pan and brown on all sides on a low heat for about 20/30 mins. Set aside to cool. When cool, rub between hands to remove the skins. pop into a grinder and coarse grind it.

Using a blender, grind the chillies and red onion into a paste.

Heat the oil in a pan on medium heat, when the oil is starting to heat up, add the chilli and onion paste. Stand back and use a long spatula/wooden spoon or you’re going to cry.

Continue frying the paste mixture for about 15 minutes on low heat, at some point, the oil will take on the redness of the chili. Add the water, soy sauce and peanut butter and mix well. Simmer on low heat until the flavors have combined.

Take the peanut, chili and onion mixture and return it the blender. Blend, adding the lemon juice and additional water until you’ve reached the desired consistency for the sauce.

Adjust taste with additional salt and sugar as needed.

Remove the blender and stir in the ground peanuts. This gives it the impression you’ve slaved all day grinding groundnuts.

Coat everything you like with wild abandon and enjoy.

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It’s All Been Done Before

Yes, I’ve already posted a recipe for a version of Chana Masala. But, this one’s far more authentic. And, even easier than the first.

And, as if the Chana Masala wasn’t enough, the pickled onions are guaranteed to be your go-to condiment for any meal, Indian or otherwise.

Authentic Chana Masala
Courtesy of Rajni and that Indian dinner from so long ago

1 TBS butter
1 large onion, diced
1/2 seranno chili
2 tomatoes, diced with seeds
1 TBS chana masala
1 TBS salt
2 cans chickpeas, drained
1/2 cup water
3 TBS cilantro, chopped

Over a medium flame, heat the butter and saute the onions and serrano chili, along with 1/2 TBS salt, about 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Then, add the tomatoes, with seeds and juice into the onions. Stir and add in the rest of the salt and chana masala and cook 2 minutes. Add water and chickpeas and bring the mixture to a simmer, heating for 15 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and pickled onions (recipe follows).

Serves 6 as a main dish

Pickled Onions
2 red onions, cut into slivers
Juice of 1 lemon
3 TBS white vinegar
1 TBS salt

Combine all of the ingredients and marinate at least 30 minutes prior to serving. Serve at room temperature.

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Hurry Up, It’s Time

I’ll say this: it’s been a tough month. Things said and done that I wish more than anything I could take back, and pain of varying kinds. Too much dwelling, I think. Now, it’s time to let time do it’s thing. So, I’ll say no more than that.

Instead, I want to tell you about one of the bright spots. Namely, a dinner with some of the usual suspects—you’ll hear more about them in subsequent posts, I’m sure. These are the people who have gotten me through so much, and who have shared their kitchens and their lives with me. Keepers, if you will.

First, there was the day of prep with Rajni. A stroll through the farmer’s market in the mid-August heat, with stalls and stalls of Jersey tomatoes, each looking more tempting than the last. Then, back to her kitchen where I was the sous chef. And, what I mean by that is I followed her around taking photos and jotting notes as she shared the recipes her mother had taught her.


I also attempted to help where needed. Sometimes, it seems, I’m able to follow instructions quite well. Case in point: expertly grated cucumber. Fine, there was box grater involved. Nonetheless, it felt good to have the cool vegetable in my hands, focused on the mechanics of doing, knowing the effort would pay off.

She outdid herself, truly. First, there was the raita. A huge vat of it for Jared. The recipe doubled since it’s his favorite part of an Indian meal. Then there were simply pickled red onions, served atop chana masala, adding crispness and making it sing, and a dal like I’ve never had before. I’ll get to those recipes in due time.

For now, I want to share Rajni’s Raita recipe with you. Jared proclaimed it the best he’s ever eated. Justin called it Indian food like his mother used to make, although I suppose you’d have to be there to really appreciate the humor (or, just click the link).

And, me?

I just ate, happy to be surrounded by people I love.

Rajni’s Raita

1 cucumber, peeled
3 cups plain yogurt
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp corriander
1 TBS garam masala
1 tsp salt
juice of 1 lemon
1 TBS finely chopped cilantro

Shred the cucumber using a box grater. Place in a strainer and add a pinch of salt. Allow to sit at least 30 minutes, until the moisture has been drained. Set aside.

Using an electric beater, whip the yogurt until it has loosened.

Add spices, salt, lemon juice and cucumbers to the yogurt and stir.

Refrigerate 1-2 hours, allowing the flavors to meld.

Garnish with the freshly chopped cilantro before serving.

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Sweet and Spicy

Salsa, done right, is the ultimate snack food. Light, filled with vegetables—and in this case fruit—and refreshing.

It’s also the kind of food with thousands of variations. Here, the combination of the sweetness from the mangoes and the spiciness from the shallots counterbalance each other, perfectly rounding the salsa. It’s great served simply, just with corn chips, but even better when served over black beans or freshly grilled fish.

The beauty of it is that you can adapt it to suit your tastes. If you want to make it spicier, add in some fresh hot peppers. Or, if you like cilantro (but, really why would you?), chop it up and mix it in. The variations are endless.

One quick note about the instructions before you get started: It may seem fussy to add the ingredients in the order I’ve indicated, but it’s worth it. By adding the shallots and garlic to the lemon juice first, they mellow out slightly, losing some of their bite and adding a more subtle flavor. Likewise, putting salt in early on helps to draw moisture out of the tomatoes, creating a liquid base, so you’re not simply spooning cut up fruit and vegetables onto your chips. Not that there’d be anything wrong with that.

Mango Salsa

1 mango, cubed
1 clove garlic, minced
2 shallots, finely diced
2 tomatoes, diced with seeds removed
2 TBS lemon juice
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large bowl, combine lemon juice, minced garlic and diced shallots. Add a pinch of salt and allow to sit at least 5 minutes. This is a good time to start cutting your tomatoes and mangoes.

Add the tomatoes to the lemon/onion mixture and add another pinch of salt. Allow to sit another 5 minutes.

Add the mangoes and stir. Add salt to taste and season with freshly cracked black pepper.

Eat immediately.

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Spring Fever

rhubarb-strawberry jam

A confession, if you will: up until this week, I had never cooked rhubarb. In fact, I’m sure that I had tried it, but I really had no clear recollection of its flavor.

I realize this is not the kind of thing I should be telling you before launching into a recipe.

rhubarb

It’s just that, well, to put it bluntly: cooking rhubarb is another one of my kitchen phobias.

After hearing of all of the dangers of not cooking it properly, I just didn’t want to take the risk. As far as I know, I haven’t yet sent anyone home sick from a dinner party—please, if I’ve cooked for you and this hasn’t been the case, don’t burst my bubble.

strawberries rhubarb

But, despite all of my reservations and fears, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by those pale pink stalks. To me, they’re the apotheosis of seasonal, local eating. Combined with strawberries, they positively scream Spring!

And so, when I saw them in the aisles of the grocery store (Yes, I said “grocery store” and not “farmer’s market.” Baby steps, people. I’m just proud of crossing one kitchen/food phobia off of the list.) this week, I finally bit the bullet.

Don’t wait as long as I did. After all, rhubarb is only in season for a short time.

rhubarb-strawberry jam

Rhubarb-Strawberry Jam

Adapted from Saveur

I made some tweaks to the originally recipe, most notably in scaling back the sugar and adding in some vanilla to give the jam more depth. I haven’t used it on anything other than bread, yet, but I’m thinking of making crumb bars with a shortbread base. I can’t think of anything better to take along on a Spring picnic.

0.5 cups sugar
2 cups rhubarb, diced
2 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
juice from 1/2 a lemon (about 1 TBS)
1 tsp vanilla

Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb and strawberries break down and the mixture has thickened. This will take about an hour.

Let cool before packaging.

Makes 1.25 cups

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Open 24 Hours

When I was much younger, my greatest culinary ambition was to own a diner. Admittedly, this may have had something more to do with the fact that if my sister or I complained about our given meal, our mother would look at us calmly and say, “too bad, this isn’t a restaurant” than it was an actual career path.

Still, I think I was on to something.

pickles

The endless variety! Having someone else wash up the dishes! Knowing you could get a good meal at any hour of night!

In fact, I spent many late nights during my high school years under the fluorescent lights of Long Island’s 24-hour diners. What can I say? My friends and I were good kids and there simply wasn’t that much to do after a certain hour.

Gathered around formica tables, we’d talk conspiratorially about the exploits of the earlier part of the evening, our usual orders—for me, well done fries and a diet coke (healthy, I know)—laid out across the table in front of us. The best part of the meal was always the pickles that came for free.

A close friend of mine from those days and I have taken to planning nostalgic nights at a stand alone diner that’s right near his apartment in Brooklyn. Our meal is almost incidental. What matters is what comes first. We have it perfected; he gets all of the half sour pickles and I get my favorites, the sours—pucker inducing and almost yellow in color. By the time our meal arrives, we’re already sated.

garlicspices
spices

These diners may be unique to Long Island and the New York area in general—I never had any luck finding something similar in the environs of suburban Boston during my college days—but, I’d like to believe that I was simply looking in the wrong places. It seems too much of a shame for the those of you in the rest of the country to be missing out on the experience.

At the very least, now you, too, can make your own pickles.

brine cukes cukes

pickles

Garlic Pickles
Adapted from Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook

The original recipe calls for 2 TBS of chopped dill. I omitted it, instead upping the amount of garlic used and adding in red pepper flakes, for heat. I also cut my cucumbers up before marinating, in order to more easily fit them in my marinating vessel (and to share once they’re done). And, lastly, the decision to use both black and yellow mustard seeds is purely aesthetic. If you only want to invest in one type, your end results won’t suffer.

As noted above, I prefer my pickles sour, so I typically marinate them for 4-6 days. If you like them on the half-sour side, then leave them marinating for 3 days at most.

2 pounds cucumbers
2 TBS white vinegar
1/4 cup kosher salt
4 cloves sliced garlic
1/2 TBS each, black and yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
4 cups of water

Large Jar of cover container for marinating

Scrub the cucumbers to remove any wax on the skin and chill in ice water for a least 30 minutes, and as long as over night. Cut your cucumbers into 1/2″ discs when you’re ready to marinate them.

In a nonreactive pot, bring 4 cups of water and the salt to a boil, letting the salt dissolve. Add in the vinegar and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. If you’re impatient, like me, put the brine in a freezer safe container and stick it in the freezer so that it chills faster.

Place the cucumber rounds into a large jar, adding in garlic slivers and all of your spices, until the container is packed. Spoon the water/vinegar/salt mixture on top of the cucumbers until well covered. Cover the jar with plastic wrap and seal it tightly.

Leave the jar to rest at room temperature for 3-6 days, depending on desired sourness.

Once the pickles are done, store them in the refrigerator. They’ll last about a week.

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