Wednesday, April 23, 2008
I’ve been on an Indian food kick lately, as a friend of mine sent me a goody box full of Indian ingredients to experiment with.
I’m new to the cuisine, intimidated by the long list of unfamiliar spices in recipes. How do I pronounce badi elaichi or hara dhaniya without sounding as if I’ve slammed five shots of tequila for breakfast? If I ask for methi seeds at the market, will the shopkeeper flip out and push the police button hidden under the cash register? Surely, very suspicious.
So, rather than risk sounding stupid, I’ll order Indian food at restaurants, where I can read and understand the English description of the dish and point out my selection for the waiter without oophhinen mhyyy moufff.
But then I’m reminded by my friends that they feel the same way about common ingredients used in East and Southeast Asian cooking, such as nam pla, dong-gu and naganegi. My advice to friends who yearned to learn was to start with just one dry spice blend, such as five spice powder, and sparingly sprinkle on roasted vegetables. It’s inexpensive, simple and a great way to be introduced to Chinese flavors without having to invest in a cupboard full of one-hit wonders.
It was time to follow my own advice and venture into the world of Indian cooking.
My friend Sowjanya suggested I start with garam masala, a dry-spice mixture very popular in Indian cuisine. It’s a warming, aromatic blend of cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and black peppercorns, and it goes well with anything, especially vegetables. Garam masala is the type of spice that when you hold the bottle anywhere close to your face, you’ll collapse in ecstasy and moan loudly right there on your kitchen floor. Steamy kitchen, indeed.
Green beans go from everyday to exotic with just a bit of this magic spice blend. Also try garam masala on roasted cauliflower, grilled fish or add to plain yogurt for a wonderful chicken marinade. But only use a bit at a time, as too much of this highly fragrant spice can be overwhelming. Find garam masala at Whole Foods or local shops such as E&S West Indian Market, Ganesh Market & Chaat Cafe and Kiran Indian Grocers in Tampa. You also can buy it online at www.penzeys.com or www.spiceappeal.com.
For this recipe, you can substitute almonds or even pistachios for the hazelnuts. If the nuts are salted, make sure you cut back on the salt in the dish.
1/4 cup hazelnuts or almonds
1 pound green beans, trimmed
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (1/2 teaspoon table salt)
Heat medium skillet, and when hot, add nuts. Toast on medium heat, shaking skillet periodically until nuts are golden brown. Be careful not to burn them. Remove nuts immediately from hot skillet, rub between towels to loosen and remove some of the skin. Roughly chop nuts. Set aside.
Boil or steam green beans, covered for 5 minutes or until tender. Drain and quickly rinse with cool water to stop cooking. Return skillet to stove and turn on medium-high heat and add butter. After 1 minute, the butter should foam and brown slightly. Add garam masala and fry just a few seconds until fragrant. Add green beans and salt; toss until beans are evenly coated. Taste and season with additional salt or garam masala if needed. Top with toasted hazelnuts.
Serves 4 as side dish.
Those of you interested in how I shot this photo, here is my setup. 2 Lowel EGO lights, a reflector thingy and a tripod (because I’m too clumsy and can’t keep still while taking a photo). Looking back, though, I would have ditched the cardboard reflector thingy and opted for a smaller piece of styrofoam to reflect the light. I didn’t have one handy, was too lazy to go find it, so the photo could have been lit a little better. As you can see, the thingy was too big, bulky and my table was too small to balance everything well. See how it needed more light on the front right?
I could have also arranged the lights differently, but I really only had 60 seconds to take the shot as my guests were waiting for their supper.
I forgot that I had mentioned a free cookbook giveaway in my last post! EEEEEK!!! Okokokok, next post, I promise!!! Been busy unpacking and sorting.
Or better yet, if you help me do 3 loads of laundry and ironing, I’ll post the cookbook giveaway faster than you can say, “IHATELAUNDRYBECAUSEITSUCKS!”
Damn. I really hate laundry.