Monday, March 01, 2010

For Randi ~ Indian by Intuition: a Recipe

Dear Randi ~
I was quite flattered by your recent blog post. As any blogger can do, I choose the face I put forward and the voice I use. Intentionality and mindfulness are practices I work on a great deal in my life, so they're an obvious focus of my writing.
(And, by the way, my personal blog is open and ready for business again after a brief .. re-collecting. (-; )
For cooking, as with any skill (such as writing plays or teaching students), I think it takes passion and practice. I can't help but cook because I love it. And by cooking, I get better at cooking. It is possible to hone your intuition. I had the great honor and luck to work with incredible, intuitive chefs weekly for several years at Three Stone Hearth kitchen. Simply by their presence and rapport with ingredients, Jessica Prentice, Porsche Combash, and Misa Koketsu, taught me volumes that textbooks could never attempt. I paid as close attention as my wits could muster.
One seemingly intuitive trick that Jessica taught me was about choosing ingredients that complement one another: pay attention to the produce and meats, spices and herbs, and fats, used by a particular regional/cultural cuisine. If you want to use coconut, for instance, it helps to start with cuisines in which coconuts are used commonly ~ say, Thai and not Irish. Then use the spices that that particular cuisine uses regularly ~ like lemongrass and ginger. Certain cultures (because of beliefs) would never use pork products in their dishes. Countries located by the ocean use a lot of seafood. A country's location on the globe affects the things they have had on hand down through the culinary ages. With our modern mechanized food system, that gives us watermelon and basil in January, it can take a little sleuthing to learn who traditionally ate what, where, when, and why. And that's where recipes and the internet are very useful ~ to learn these details. Once you know roughly the foods different cuisines use together with success, it is easier to browse the produce stands and your cupboards and know what will work together.
Porsche taught me about honing your intuition with measurements. Start with recipes. Every time you take a measurement ~ for instance, 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, dump it into your hand and get to know it until you can tell what a quarter tsp looks like without the measuring device. ~ It's ok to double check! After a while, you will gain confidence in seasoning things without thinking about the measuring spoons.
And in a day-long croissant-making session, Misa inadvertently taught me that there is really no substitute for.. experience. In a single afternoon, there is simply only so much one can learn about a skill that takes a career's worth of work to master.

And now on to the recipe.
Last night I had a craving for comforting Indian-style creamy sauce. I had in my cabinet:
a large sweet potato,
two small white potatoes,
a large onion,
and a jar of coconut milk.
I also had brown rice.
Coconut oil,
Sea salt,
Plus spices:
Powdered ginger
Fennel seeds, and
So I put the brown rice, water, and a tablespoon of coconut oil in a pot to cook, following the instructions on the package (takes an hour). I chopped the onion into pieces about as big as my thumbnail, and cut the potatoes into slices about the width of my pinky, and then quartered the bigger slices. I put a couple tablespoons of butter in a cast iron Dutch oven and turned the heat to medium-low. For time's sake, I threw all the veggies in at once. Then I bathed my daughter (you can skip this step; it's optional (-; ). Since they were on a pretty low heat, I didn't worry, and just glanced in to see them steaming every now and then. When Anjali was dry and in her favorite handed-down bubblegum pink bathrobe (which, in reference to your blog, Randi, I never would've kept if she hadn't dragged it from the bag and insisted I zip it up on her and then wouldn't take off for two days), I turned up the heat to medium, stirred the veggies, and stirred in: a tsp seasalt, a tsp cumin, a tsp coriander, a tsp powdered ginger, a tsp turmeric, a 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp fennel seeds, and ... a thorough sprinkle of cayenne (less than 1/8 tsp). I let these cook for about five minutes and then poured in a can of coconut milk (don't use "lite" - use the real deal! Delicious *and* good for you!!). I brought it up to an enthusiastic simmer and put the lid on. Stirring occasionally, I let this cook until the potatoes were tender. At the end I added about 1/3 pound of ground lamb that I had seasoned with salt and pepper, and browned in a skillet with butter. But this could be a delicious and filling vegetarian meal, easily. You could even add some canned chick peas during the simmer, and/or a couple handfuls of chopped greens such as kale.
Spoon the coconut-veggie sauce over the rice in a bowl, and savor for yourself after your daughter finally goes to sleep. (-;
And thanks for the inspiration Randi!

1 comment:

Randi Skaggs said...

Tiffanie, that sounds delicious. I will certainly add it to next week's menu!

And you should know that, despite my apprehension, you've inspired me to trust my instincts while cooking. I still favor recipes, but I have thrown a couple of things together recently, and have been pleasantly surprised by the results.

Keep on keeping on!