Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Deeply Aromatic Curry for a Cold, Rainy Day

It's been raining a lot here. To be more precise, it's been raining almost every day since I got home to my parents' place last Tuesday evening.

Today was no exception - it poured the entire afternoon and the general weather was gloomy, grey, dreary, and cold.

Perfect weather for a mildly spicy warm curry.

In the spirit of Nigel Slater and his Luxurious and Deeply Aromatic Noodle Dish, I flipped through the Kitchen Diaries for a little inspiration, and rustled up this mild, creamy curry with a slight touch of heat (as per requested by my mother, who didn't want it too spicy this time) and a beautiful fragrance from the use of lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves and curry leaves.

A Deeply Aromatic Curry for a Cold Rainy Day
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Luxurious and Deeply Aromatic and Soup

Spice paste:
2 thick slices ginger, or a small knob of it
Half a small onion, sliced
1 stick lemon grass, sliced thinly
A small handful parsley or coriander (Coriander would be more correct for this sort of Southeast Asian-influenced curry, but I only had parsley on hand)

Curry ingredients:
Half a medium head of cabbage, cut into bite-size wedges
3 potatoes
2 carrots
2 tomatoes, one diced, one sliced (or you can dice them all if you want, I just wanted a bit more colour and texture hence the slices)
2 large mushroom stems (or half a pack of any other mushrooms you like)
1 pack fishballs (optional)
2 tsp (or more) curry paste
2 tsp Seville orange marmalade
1 tbs cooking oil
Handful curry leaves
2 kaffir lime leaves, julienned finely
1 kaffir lime, or 1 small ordinary lime
1 ½ cups milk (you can also use coconut milk, but my mother can’t take it, so milk it was)
Salt to taste

Serves: 2 with leftovers, and could probably be a meal for 4

Preparing the spice paste:

In a mortar, pound the ginger, onion, lemon grass and parsley together till pulverised and fragrant. Set aside.

Preparing the curry:

Over a medium flame, heat the cooking oil in a large pot. Throw in the spice paste and stir it around until fragrant and small bits of onion are slightly brown, but don’t let it burn. Add in 1 tsp of curry paste and fry, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds. Toss in the curry leaves, stir for about a minute with the spice paste, then add the julienned kaffir lime leaves and stir for another minute more.

Add in the diced tomato and stir-fry til the tomatoes are soft and somewhat mushy-looking. Add in the carrots and potatoes and stir well to combine. In about five minutes, when the potatoes and carrots are slightly cooked through, add the cabbage and cook, stirring constantly around, till the cabbage begins to wilt and become translucent. Add the sliced tomato and stir again for about a minute.

Pour in the milk, stir vegetables to combine, add the remaining 1 teaspoon spice paste and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer, cover, and let the entire thing simmer for about 15 minutes. Uncover, add the sliced mushrooms and fishballs, and squeeze the lime juice into the pot. Stir to combine, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes, this time with the lid half-off. The gravy will thicken up later, so don’t worry if it looks watery now.

Add in the marmalade (it sounds strange, I know, but trust me – it added just that little bit of tangy kick I was looking for.) Stir through to combine, and taste for seasoning. You’ll probably need a bit of salt to counteract the sweetness of the milk, but you won’t need too much. If you want to add more spice paste to bring up the heat, by all means – I wanted a mild curry with just a hint of chillies, so I used far less than usual.

Simmer for 10 minutes, turn off the heat and let sit for another 5-10 minutes so the flavours can blend and marry. By now the gravy should have thickened, so it will look more like a curry, and less like a soup.

Serve hot with rice.

A Tart for Sunshine

I don't always analyse why certain recipes catch my attention - only that I want to make them, and most of the time if I can, I do. When I'm at my parents' place for the holidays - like now - I tend to indulge a bit more when it comes to baking.

This was the case of Aran's beautiful pear and hazelnut tart for the holidays. My mother, having been given a choice of lemon-ginger bars or this, picked the tart. So I made it.

I made some changes to the recipe mostly because of ingredients at hand - instead of the brown rice flour and the two starches, I used the Ahern's Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Mix. Since I didn't have my stand mixer with me, I beat the sugar and butter by hand till it was light and fluffy (this can be done. Trust me. It is a bit slow and your arm will ache afterwards, but it is possible.)

I also cut down a bit of the sugar (a bit less than the half cup called for) and added 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder to the frangipane because I still found it rather overpoweringly sweet. As for the pears, well, I bought five, intending to use two apples to make up the deficit, only to find that TWO pears were more than enough for the topping. Still, that left us three to eat, and more fruits isn't a bad thing at all!

Lesson to self: when rolling pie scraps, put them in the fridge first before the pastry gets so soft it has to be scraped up like mashed potatoes.

I didn't have a tart dish, so I used my mother's glass pie plate, and was afraid the bottom wouldn't be cooked in the time designated by the recipe. As it turned out, I had to cook it for another extra 20 minutes as both frangipane and the crust bottom were very soggy.

Once I got it out of the oven and let it cool though, it was -lovely-. Very, very rich, very buttery, and smelled fantastic. I put it in the fridge for the next day and it was even better since everything had firmed up beautifully. The crust was absolutely gorgeous.

(Food styling really isn't my forte, as you can see. Everything's lopsided!)

Verdict: A bit labour-intensive for me, since I had to grind my own hazelnut meal -and- cream the butter and sugar by hand, but otherwise I'd definitely make this again. The addition of the cocoa powder gave the tart a lovely chocolate taste that complemented the hazelnuts perfectly. Thanks again Aran for a wonderful treat!