Sunday, 30 June 2013

Thai curry

It all started with a simple purchase I made at the neighborhood supermarket. My grocery / vegetable shopping is impulsive and I never fail to pick up anything interesting that meets my eye (much to the dismay of the partner). And the Thai kit was one such. It had a (fairly large) piece of galangal, two bird eye chillies, few blades of lemon grass and a few kafir lime leaves. I picked it up and wasted no time in looking up for recipes for Thai Green Curry.

After hours of research that involved reading up recipes ranging from the completely indianized version to the authentic version, I zeroed in on two recipes (which are pretty much similar). The guardian has a lengthy post on How to make perfect Thai green curry that gave me insights like why there is no need to use oil while making the curry. The recipe and the interview with the Thai cooking teacher and author Kasma Loha-unchit also provided useful tips on readily available curry pastes.

Frankly, I am not a fan of curry pastes (neither the other guy) since we are sticklers for freshly ground spices (even the coconut milk I used in this recipe is homemade, so there you go). The flavor of freshly ground spices can never be replaced with store bought pastes that are often overtly spicy, lacking in flavor and extremely pungent owing to their preservative content.

My variations for this recipe:
·         Almost all the recipes I stumbled upon mention eggplant (preferably the round ones) in the ingredient list but all I used in this recipe was zucchini and tofu and my curry turned out fine. In fact, fabulous.
·         Also, I did not use the fish sauce because I did not have any. Instead I crushed some dry shrimp and added in the curry. You can totally skip it if you want a completely vegetarian version.
·         I added peanut milk to give my curry body.

Without much ado, here’s the recipe. I hope your curry turns fabulous too.

For the paste
1” piece of Galangal
2 bird eye chillies (else regular green chillies are ok)
3 blades of lemon grass
2 large kafir lime leaves chopped
2 cloves of garlic
4 shallots
10 white pepper corns

For the curry
1 cup of coconut milk
1 tsp of palm sugar / palm jaggery
1 medium sized zucchini chopped
50gms silky tofu cubed
1 kafir lime leaf chopped
1 handful of thai basil leaves
1 handful of roasted peanuts
1 tsp of soya sauce
2 tbsp dried shrimp (optional)

Dump all the ingredients for the paste in a mortar and pestle and pound nicely until it becomes a paste. If you are time-pressed, go ahead and use your food processor.
Meanwhile, pour the coconut milk in a hot pan and let it boil for about a minute (or until it starts to split). Throw in your curry paste and let it simmer for some more time. Add the zucchini and tofu and cook until tender.
Grind the peanuts and soya sauce with little water first to a paste and then add about 1/3-1/2 cup more water and blend on high speed like you would a smoothie. Add this peanut milk to the curry, it will thicken. If using, powder the dried shrimp by just pulsing dry in a blender. Add the kafir lime leaves and basil leaves and turn heat off after a minute or so.

Serve hot with fried (or plain) rice. 

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Quick and easy lemon cake

One hour flat including the baking if you are a slow coach with obsessive no-spill compulsion like me – that’s how long this fluffy yet crumbly lemon cake will take from measuring flour to cutting the first slice.

A few technicalities about this recipe; there is lemon juice and dairy- so careful not to over-mix else you will end up curdling the milk. Use cold milk to adjust (explained below) to reduce further the risk of it splitting. The small portion of semolina flour has two purposes- it gives the crumbly texture inside the cake and on the outside it gives you a firm, almost crispy crust which eases slicing. Size of the pan is crucial. A smaller pan will mean a taller cake and hence a longer baking time plus excessive doming. The butter- my promise of one hour does not hold if you are taking your butter out of the freezer. It should be at room temperature but firm and not become runny the second you begin whipping it.

Ready for the take off?

Your dry stuff:
1 cup of white flour (maida)
2 tbsp fine semolina (rava/sooji)
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda

Your wet stuff:
¼ cup unsalted butter
3 tbsp olive oil
½ cup sugar (this much is fine for dessert; a little less if it’s for coffee/tea time or breakfast)
1 egg
¼ cup milk to adjust (explained below)
1 lemon- zest and juice.

Other things you need:
7-inch round cake tin
Vegetable shortening for greasing

In a small bowl mix your dry stuff well with a fork. In a larger bowl whisk the butter with a hand mixer till creamy. Add in the sugar and continue whisking until fluffy. If your sugar grains are very large, just pulse the sugar in a blender before adding. Mix in the olive oil and egg and the zest of the lemon.

Add in your dry mixture and mix until combined. It will be very dry so use the milk to “adjust” the consistency. To those people intimidated by baking, trust me; this is what cake baking finally comes down to - knowing the consistency of the batter you want and some sense of proportion. You hear only too often people saying the proportions are oh-so exacting. The measuring is so snootily critical. It is not- all that banter comes from just one difference in the cooking method. Unlike your soup or gravy that you can fine tune as the cooking goes on the stove top, in baking you have one chance to mix your stuff and pop it into the oven. There is no adjusting after that and there is no interrupting the cooking. So when you realize that that is the only reason we are measuring more carefully, you will be less worried about whether you got 5/17th cup of ingredient X measured right.

Back to the batter. So you adjust with the cold milk to get the batter consistency right. Go with my measurement of ¼ cup for the first time and you will figure out the right amount in the subsequent cakes. Now there is the last ingredient lemon juice remaining and we will hold off for now. Turn on your oven to 180 degrees C. Grease your cake dish with the vegetable shortening. It is the best thing for greasing- tastes horrible and bad for health if consumed in excess but perfect for greasing. I usually have a stick of the stuff in the fridge frozen and use it like a crayon to grease the baking dish.

Add the juice of lemon and whisk until just combined (but well distributed in the batter) as less as possible. Quickly scrape out the batter into the prepared dish and pop into the oven (I never wait until fully pre-heated). After adding the lemon juice you need to work quickly because the acid in the lemon and the baking soda react very fast. You do not want to lose all that fizz which will make your cake fluffy.
Bake for 25-30 mins until the cake passes a toothpick test. Cool a bit but serve warm :)