Tagged: Indian food: South

Spiced Coconut & Cashew Chicken

Conventional wisdom about entertaining at home indicates that practice is key to being a successful cook and host. There are unending volumes written on the subject filled with well-heeled advice that stress on planning menus, organizing your ingredients and having practice runs well in advance of the big event. They especially espouse caution when trying out new recipes. There is talk of the importance of being a relaxed host or hostess, and how you are unlikely to be one if you have been channeling the Road Runner right up the moment your guests arrive. All this running around is simply not done, they tell us earnestly.

Do you do everything you are told? Yeah, me neither. I used to, once, a long time ago. Back then, there was an implied threat of getting rid of reading time. But now? There isn’t a chance in hell I’ll do what I’m told. No way, no how.

That’s right. I listen to own tune, chart my course, pave my road. I’m a rebel, baby!!

Sigh. Who am I kidding? Let me proceed to ruin that rather defiant impression I just painted of myself with this carefully annotated bullet-point list…
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Mom-in law’s Sambhar

If television and eating out is any indication, there’s a trend I’ve noticed here in the US. Whole spices are not really appreciated in food. I have watched enough British cooks and chefs to realize that they have no problem bunging in whole spices. The Spanish and Italians don’t seem to mind it either. I’m not sure of the French, but then they are big on subtler flavours. Tune into any food related show on US networks  and you will see the cook/chef-of-the-hour urging you to use powder as opposed to the whole version. I’m guessing this is because moving the spice out of the food to the side of a plate may not be something one may want to do while eating. For Indians, it is so part of the food, we do it without thinking. And occasionally if you end up putting it in your mouth, well, unless it’s a cinnamon stick or a black cardamom pod, it’s highly unlikely to hurt you at all. In fact, chew it and deep flavours will be revealed to you in true glory.

Indian cooking is an excellent showcase of whole spices. In fact, they are much appreciated and their use can alter a dish significantly as opposed to the powdered spice. There’s a certain sprightliness and deep earthiness which they bring to a dish. The powdered spice brings the same thing only with a different degree of deep heat. It’s hard for me to imagine a biryani or pulao or meat curry without the inclusion of whole spices. It would be like the deep base missing from the symphony.

Starting with the black pods on top, clockwise: Star Anise, Green Cardamom, Whole Black Pepper, Cloves, Cinnamon, Turkish Bay Leaves and Black Cardamom in the center.

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