Monday, March 29, 2010

So You Have a Business for 18 Years...

and this is what you're finally in the paper for:

San Francisco Chronicle
Monday March 29, 2010
-- Cuba Gooding Jr. had lunch at Cafe de la Presse on Tuesday. And just after listening to Phil Claypool sing Nat King Cole songs at a Haight Ashbury Free Clinic event, Steve Sodokoff spotted Natalie Cole sitting next to him at Woodward's Garden.

I guess any publicity...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Indu Bhawnani Singh's Spinach Curry

My friend Minnie kindly pushed a bowl of this on me when I arrived sick at her door to pick up my daughter recently. I didn't think I wanted food, but was so glad I gave in. By the time we got home the curry's shameless perfume had me ravenous. I quickly whipped up some of this gorgeous little basmati and adorned my steaming curry mound with a spoonful of yogurt and a (store bought, alas) mango chutney. An entirely exquisite thing. 
Naturally, I had to know what gave.  Turns out it's Minnie's mother's recipe, and, lucky us, she's writing a cookbook - The Sindhi Kitchen (due 2010 from Lustre Press) - and was gracious enough to share.  

This curry is soooo up my alley with two pounds (!) of greens, fat knobs of ginger and chilies galore.  It goes deep, with the slightest bittery edge (turmeric?) which I love anywhere, anytime.  The finished brew is hot, toothsome, spice-bucked; its emerald green bleeds vividly into anything it cozies up against. It was a virtual potion, friends, and it healed me. 

I've never made anything like it.  Profuse ginger - added raw - cooks only a short while, which explains its clean, revenant jolt.  The dal is left nubby as I only partially pureed the final stew. Toasty garlic - added at the end - gives another layer of wild fragrance and texture, while tamarind perfectly conveys its deep, sweet acid; green chilies their hot earth.  A teaspoon of cayenne could be a bomb depending on how hot yours is. But it is an elixir.  Add gradually, taste, push, taste... 
Spring spinach is all around so I'm planing to serve this curry at Woodward's with braised fish (sable, blue nose, salmon), fresh mango-kumquat-date chutney (cilantro, ginger, mustard seed), all drizzled perhaps with a little tart yogurt.  I can't wait for the book.
Indu Bhawnani Singh's Spinach Curry

1 cup channa dal
2 lb. spinach, rinsed and drained
2 large onions, diced
4 carrots, diced
A few green beans, diced
1 tsp. turmeric
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne
A 2-inch piece of ginger root, minced
2 hot green peppers, minced
2 tbsp. tamarind paste
1 tbsp. flour
4 tbsp. vegetable oil
8 cloves garlic, sliced

Soak channa dal for at least 15 minutes and drain.  Simmer spinach, vegetables and dal with turmeric in 2 cups water or broth until tender.  Mash or puree; add salt, cayenne, ginger, hot pepper.  Stir tamarind paste and flour into 1/2 cup water and add to curry.  Cook, stirring, for 10-15 minutes.  Heat oil in a small pot, add garlic, as soon as garlic starts to brown remove from heat and add to curry.  Stir and serve.

Note: Minnie reminds me that Sindh (now the southernmost part of Pakistan) is a desert- and the dal is probably included not just to add nutrition but also to stretch the costly greens a little farther. Also, Sindh was colonized by the Arabs waaaay back, in the first wave of Arab expansion eastward, early 8th century AD, and Sindhi food bears some resemblance to Arab cooking.  This curry in particular is like the tart garlicky stewed greens they have in Lebanon.  

The Sindhi Kitchen by Indu Bhawnani, forthcoming 2010 from Lustre Press (New Delhi and Singapore).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

On the menu: Cardoon Cuddling

Ah, the cardoon.  So unearthly. So underused/appreciated.  
Perhaps because it appears too primitive, 
too challenging?  This is so not so.

Simply trim, cut, blanch...  

layer with other scrumptious things,

then fire in a hot oven.

Fussy recipes will have you pull the ribs from larger stalks, but I've never found the them to be a problem
 if  thoroughly cooked. 

You can think of cardoons as an artichoke/celery hybrid, but in truth their fine flavor is distinct: peppery green with butter edges, nutty turns, and just the slightest hit of astringency. Even its lush leaves are strangely fragrant, a tad skunky,
but in the good way.   

Caught, red-handed, snuggling a bunch...

Cardoon, Melted Onion, Thyme Gratin
Sea salt
2 pounds of cardoons
1 lemon
Freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
2 yellow onions, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/4 - inch strips
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 cup grated parmesan
2 tablespoons picked thyme
1 cup cream
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
3 tablespoons butter
Fill a large pot with water and bring to the boil.  Add enough salt to make it taste like the sea. 
Squeeze the lemon into a bowl big enough to hold cardoons. Trim cardoons, cut into 3-inch lengths and toss in the lemon juice as you go.  Add cardoons to the boiling  water, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until tender, about 45 minutes.  Drain and spread on a sheet pan to cool.    
In the meantime, heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat for a minute, add the olive oil. When hot add the onions and a good pinch of salt and grinding of pepper.  Sauté until the onions are melted, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.  
Heat cream and stock in a medium sauce pan until hot.  Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 375.  Evenly layer cardoons, onions, 3/4 cup cheese and 1-1/2 tablespoons thyme in a gratin dish, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper as you go, and finishing with a layer of cardoons. You will have 3 or 4 layers.  Pour over warm cream/stock, and sprinkle with remaining cheese and thyme.  Dot with butter.  Bake 45 minutes, until tender, bubbling and golden.