Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An Indian-Inspired Feast

After seeing "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (excellent film), I knew Indian food was in our near future. I could practically smell everything they were eating through the screen. While the theater was just a few blocks from one of our favorite Indian restaurants, I knew we could eat more healthily at home and still be satisfied. I missed having roti (whole wheat flat bread, similar to naan) as part of the meal, but that was a little more starch than I should be eating in one sitting with samosas and rice, so I left it out this time.

On the menu:

The rice was easy and straight forward. I was out of brown basmati rice, so went with regular brown long grain (sprouted, if you have it). I mixed in some cumin seeds in with the rice (approx. 2 tsp. per cup of dry rice) and steamed in my rice cooker. Once done, I mixed with some freshly-shelled peas (you can save the pods for another dish). If using frozen peas, you could add them before cooking. I would just skip the peas in that case, but you may feel differently. The cumin seeds add a wonderful fragrance.

The chicken tikka masala was the only real "cheater" dish. I would have made my own sauce, but I've had a jar of Trader Joe's Masala Simmering Sauce in our pantry for a while and was curious to try it. I was doing enough that I figured jarred sauce was justified. It tasted pretty good. For nights when I want to throw something together quickly, I may use it again (though the nearest Trader Joe's is hours away). I like that they don't add a bunch of unnecessary, unpronounceable ingredients. The only thing I added aside from chicken, the sauce & water (the sauce is concentrated) is some sliced scallions (white and light green only). The sauce is very easy to make, though. Google for recipes, if desired (I kind of wing it and haven't paid much attention to proportions of ingredients... next time I'll make a note of it as I'm doing it).

Here's a little trick: If the sauce is too thin, a little pumpkin or other winter squash puree is a great way to thicken without adding oodles of cream or fat. I usually keep a can of pumpkin puree (not pie filling) on-hand, just for those situations. And you then have an excuse to make muffins out of the remaining puree (mmm...).

One of my only complaints about this dish in restaurants is that the chicken is often dry. It seems an insult to the lovely, velvety, sweet/savory sauce it usually accompanies. Prolonged cooking can kill white meat chicken. Fast cooking can also do the same, if you're not careful. The muscle tenses with harsh heat and, in that process, can squeeze the moisture right out.

One tip for getting the most moist chicken breast you've encountered... poach it! This is especially gentle if using boneless, skinless breasts. I pulled the skin off, then de-boned the breast and used the bones for added flavor in the poaching liquid. Fill a pot with cool water, add aromatics & spices (I used an onion, a few sprigs of thyme and tarragon, along with a cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, salt, pepper) and bring the water until just below a simmer (approx. 170 F, poaching is between 160 F & 180 F). Once the water is up to temp, add the chicken breast (whole). Check with an instant read thermometer after 15 minutes. Remove from heat when the internal temp reaches 160 F. It will come up to 165 F while resting. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting. Cube and add to the preheated sauce just to warm everything through.

The gulab jamun (one of my most favorite desserts on the planet) was good, but not great. The flavor was spot on, but the texture and leavening was slightly off. This was my first time making it, so I'd like to make a few more tweaks before posting the recipe.


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