Archive for September, 2010

Today's secret ingredient: Omani limes

Thanks to all of you who voted for me in the Food Blog Challenge # 1, which resulted in my advance to the second round. In honor of the change of the seasons, I thought I’d do something a little different this time, since we were challenged to cook a dish from another culture, outside our comfort zone.

A koresh, according to Najmieh Batmanglij’s tantalizing New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies (Mage Publishers, 2003), is, “a delicate and refined stew.” And although Iran is not technically a part of Asia, the Persian empire once was, and it’s cuisine and customs have alternately influenced and been influenced by its contact with the east. Plus, since it’s a cool and wet fall day outside, a hearty, sophisticated stew is just the right thing, served, of course, over a mound of steaming basmathi rice.

To prepare this recipe, I picked up a bag of dried omani limes from a new Middle Eastern store I discovered, and consulted with my Persian friend Faraz on how to properly use them. Apparently they just need to be pricked and thrown into the stew, where they soak up all the flavor. The other special ingredient which is optional, advieh, is made from dried rose petals, cinanamon, cardamom, black pepper, angelica, nutmeg, cumin, coriander and lime powder. Since I did not have rose petals or angelica, I decided to forgo this spice mix this time. But the end result could not have been better.

One note about this dish: Though it’s called “Potato” Koresh, the main ingredient (or protein) is lamb. The potatoes come in the form of french fried (yes, you heard right!) that are strewn on top of this tasty stew.

Potato Koresh

2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced

1 pound stew meat (lamb, veal, or beef), cut into 1/2 inch pieces

5 Tbsp. oil

4 whole Persian limes (limu-omani), pierced

1 Tsp. salt

1/4 Tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 Tsp. turmeric

1/2 Tsp. advieh (optional)

1 large tomato, peeled and chopped

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 Tbsp. orange or tangerine peel slivers

1/2 Tsp. ground saffron dissolved in 2 Tbsp. hot water

1 pound or 2 large potatoes, peeled and French cut

1/3 cup yellow split peas

1.)   In a non-stick Dutch oven, brown onions and meat in 3 Tbsp. oil. Add dried Persian limes, salt, pepper and turmeric. Saute for 2 minutes longer. Pour in 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low heat for 55 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2.)   Add the advieh, fresh tomato, tomato paste, orange zest, and saffron water. Cover and cook for another 45 minutes.

3.)   During this time French-fry the potatoes and drain on a paper towel and set aside.

4.)   Cook the yellow split peas in 2 1/2 cups water and 1/4 Tsp. salt for 30 minutes. Drain and add to Dutch oven.

5.)   Check to see if meat and peas are tender. Taste the stew and correct seasoning. Transfer the koresh to a deep ovenproof Pyrex dish, cover and place in a warm oven until ready to serve.

6.)   Just before serving arrange the French fries on top. Serve with chelow (Saffron steamed rice), torshi (Persian pickles) and sabzi-khordan (fresh vegetables and herbs) on the side.

Serves 6

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This original Taiwanese preparation has become a favorite in Taiwan’s beer houses.  Remarkably cheap and easy to make it packs a huge flavor. The dark meat of the drumsticks soaks up all the braising liquid of soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar, and cooking it with the bone in adds to the great taste. If there’s one thing I will do differently next time, though, is to use a little less sesame oil.

Chicken Braised in Wine and Sesame

4 chicken legs, chopped into chunks, bone-in

1/2 cup (125 ml) sesame oil

1-inch piece of ginger, unpeeled & sliced

1 red chili, deseeded and sliced

4 cloves garlic, bruised with back of cleaver

1/2 cup (125 ml) soy sauce

1/2 cup(125 ml) rice wine or sherry

1 Tsp. sugar

1/2 cup (20 g) fresh Asian basil leaves

1.)   Bring a large pot of water to boil and add chicken chunks. Remove when cooked ans set aside to drain in a colander.

2.)   Heat sesame oil in wok over high heat until smoking. Stir-fry ginger, chili, and garlic until fragrant and golden brown, about 1 minute.

3.)   Add chicken chunks and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add soy sauce, rice wine or sherry, and sugar. Reduce heat to low and cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

4.)   Add basil leaves, mix well, and remove from heat.

5.)   Transfer chicken to a shallow serving dish and serve with steamed rice.

Serves 2-4

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No Reservations: Sri Lanka

Having just entered FoodBuzz’s competition to be the ‘next food blog star,’ my first challenge is to explain what defines me as a food blogger, which is a really good question. It gets right down to the heart of the matter and allows me to really examine the motives behind what I do here.

I spend more time on my blog and its accompanying web series, Pan Asian, than most people spend at their regular day jobs. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a regular day job that I can afford this ‘luxury.’ Self-employed, I spend my days making films, making music, writing, cooking, and traveling. Though none of these activities in particular allows me to make a living, through a combination of them all, I am able to fashion a pretty interesting life. (Knock on wood.) So I refer to blogging as a luxury simply because it seems that anytime you are doing something that you want or like in life, it is a privilege—even though I don’t get paid for doing this.

But money isn’t everything, right? I chose a long time ago to forgo a ‘career track’ in order to follow my passion(s), and now at 40 I have a wealth of experiences to show for my time so far on planet Earth. Though I have my share of regrets, I also live the life I love and love the life I live.

Speaking of love, the driving force behind everything I do, I’ve discovered that when you have it, nothing else matters—not even food, sometimes.  When you approach something out of passion, I believe the universe conspires to make magic happen for you.

Take blogging, for example: my entrance to the blogging game came comparatively late, and in a very elliptical manner. As a journalist, blogging was a no brainer. I used to write a lot about music for some big magazines and newspapers, as well as run my own record label, but when the music industry crumbled in the early part of this decade I was left wondering what to do next.  I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but I turned to it even more. In fact, I had always wanted to do a cookbook—specifically about the food of my motherland, Sri Lanka—and with nothing but time on my hands, I decided to go back there for a year and learn everything I could about making Sri Lankan food myself.  It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.

When I returned to the U.S., however, everyone told me that I had to be a celebrity chef in order to have a cookbook published in the current economic climate. After shopping the book around unsuccessfully, I decided to publish it myself though the self-publishing site Blurb.com. Since I had the photos and recipes all ready to go, it took me a week to layout the book on Blurb’s free software and upload it into their web store. I had a few copies printed and sent one to Anthony Bourdain, whose show, No Reservations, I had been following by then. I told Bourdain that if he was ever planning a trip to Sri Lanka, I was his man. A couple months later I got a call from the show’s producers, taking me up on my offer.

It was upon returning from that trip that I started my blog, Rice & Curry. I wanted to document what it was like behind-the-scenes while shooting the show, and these dispatches turned out to be my first blog posts. But I also realized that very few people in the west really knew about Sri Lankan food. My year’s worth of research on the cookbook and a lifetime of eating the food had made me somewhat of an expert, but more to the point, I had a burning desire to introduce people to Sri Lankan cuisine because it was sooooo good, and yet so obscure.

Skiz's Original Roasted and Raw Curry Powder

Over the past couple of years, my blog has expanded to become a celebration of all things spicy, while also featuring significant video content in the form of Pan Asian, a web series in which I show people how to make quick, easy, and delicious Asian dishes in under 10 minutes. I also sell my cookbook, and my own homemade curry powder through the blog, but the whole thing is really a labor of love and a true reflection of who I am.  Blogging, after all, is just another form or creativity and expression. So, I am therefore I blog! And as far as being the next food blog star? I am that as well, along with all the other stars in the cosmos whose passion for what they do shines bright.


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Thanks to all of those who have bought my book!

It’s the only cookbook I know with customer service: You can contact me here for tips and questions about Sri Lankan food, or drop a line to me at curryfiend@gmail.com.


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today’s lunch: fish ambul thiyal, pol (coconut) roti, and a Sri Lankan salad

While trying to figure out what recipe to make for the next episode of Pan Asian, a look at my blog statistics told me that many people were checking out an older post for the above dish, Fish Ambul Thiyal. Like coconut sambol, paripu, and cashew curry, Ambul Thiyal is one of those defining dished of Sri Lankan cuisine–because no other cultures have it. Perhaps it’s because one of the dish’s main ingredients, goraka or gamboge, is not found in too many other places besides Sri Lanka. This orange fruit, which resembles a tiny, shriveled black kidney when dried, imparts a unique tartness, which balances out with the salty and spicy flavors of the dish, creating a truly amazing flavor. I’m also told its an excellent preservative, and in the days before refrigeration, using goraka in cooking allowed a dish to be stored and eaten later. Today, however, I cannot imagine there being any left-overs when you cook this dish because it is just that good–and simple to make.

fresh goraka fruit (Garcinia Cambogia)

dried goraka

I have never tried making fish ambul thiyal with tamarind because I always have a steady supply of goraka on hand, and luckily a Sri Lankan store nearby (Spice Lanka, 17517 Redland Road Rockville, MD 20855-1233 – (301) 216-2238). But if you do use tamarind in this recipe, please drop me a line and let me know how it worked out. I’m sure it will still be great, but it’s still worth the time to track down some real goraka.

Sour Fish Curry (Fish Ambul Thiyal)

1 lb. (500 g) fish (a firm-fleshed fish like tuna)

5 cloves garlic, minced

2 in (5 cm) piece ginger, sliced

1/2 tsp. black pepper powder

1 tsp. fenugreek

5 pieces goraka (or 2 tbsp. tamarind soaked in warm water with seeds removed)

2 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves

2 cardamoms

1 in (2.5 cm) stick cinnamon

1 sprig curry leaves

2 green chilies, sliced

1/2 cup (125 ml) water
2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. cumin powder                     (A)

1/2 tsp. fennel powder

1 tsp. coriander powder

1.)            Wash fish and cut into 1” cubes.

2.)            Roast (A) list ingredients in a pan until dark in color. DO NOT BURN.

3.)            Place garlic, ginger, roasted ingredients, black pepper, fenugreek, goraka, and salt into food processor and grind to a thick paste. Add a little water if necessary and marinate fish in this mixture. (Note: If using tamarind instead of goraka, soak tamarind in 1/4 cup (65 ml) warm water. Strain and discard seeds and fiber. Add this to the mix).

4.)            Heat oil in a pan. Sauté onions, clove, cardamom, cinnamon and curry leaves until onions are translucent.

5.)            Place fish in pan. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until all water has evaporated (about 20 minutes). (Note: This is a dry curry with little or no gravy.)

Serves 4

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