Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To Curry Your Favor

Even after it happens time and time again, it has yet to amaze me where my inspiration comes from and the chain of ideas that link inception and execution.

Due to the heat and humidity I had to switch the caramel garnish on the Banana Bread Foster dessert to a more resilient plantain chip. As I peeled the green, starchy cousin to the banana something sparked in my mind, and like a fire I had to fan and nurture the idea by adding a little bit here, taking away some there and move things around before it really got going.

I quickly realized that I could grate the plantain and pan-fry it in metal rings to make perfectly shaped pancakes that were seasoned with onion, garlic, brown sugar, salt and pepper, but that was only a base, and considering that plantains are grown and used in every tropical country from Hawaii, Egypt, Malaysia, Australia and back again, I had a broad spectrum of cuisines to draw from. After cycling through my mental Roll-A-Dex of unused ideas I remembered one about cashews and curry, and I was off from there.

Cashews are a staple in vegan cuisines for their fiber and protein and are high in delicious fat, making a butter that blows away peanut and almonds, which is why I chose it; I wanted to create a cross between an Indian curry and an Asian peanut sauce to help give richness to the starchy plantain cake. Instead of a soupy base, though, I opted for more of a powerful sauce-like consistency that I achieved by blending raw cashews with coconut milk, hot curry powder (similar to the sweet version, but with a touch of cayenne and spicy ginger) and a touch of dark soy sauce to give it that fifth dimension of taste: umami!

To continue my avoidance of the typical curry stew I went with pan roasting Cornish game hen breasts to have a white meat version that is not overcooked by braising, like so many Americanized curries that I've seen. Since Cornish game hens are sold whole I had all of the leg meat leftover I decided to make my own crumbled sausage by chopping and cooking it with freshly ground fennel and fenugreek seeds and extra virgin olive oil, mirroring some of the curry powder flavors while excluding the typical ones.

To balance some of the sweetness of the dish I went with an ingredient that I've had my eye on at Uyajimaya for over a year now, and despite all of the common greens now available it was the only option in my mind: Chinese spinach. Its beauty was the initial draw, but the fact that it had a mild bitterness made it a keystone to the dish. I sauteed it with the handmade sausage from the leg meat along with a little butter, onions and spring garlic.

What I ended up with was a special that combines ingredients from other countries that would be considered blasphemy in their own, yielding something uniquely American, referred to as the melting pot, but decidedly my own.

"Damn, what the hell am I going to with all of these cheap strawberries!!" was the first thought that crossed my mind after a recent pricing update, but that's really just the same question that has been asked for centuries.

Strawberry cocktails are very popular, especially this time of year, probably because it represents summer in full swing, and I came up with a drink that is so dated that it has now become retro. I have to admit that the combination of strawberries and balsamic vinegar has outdated even my career, but like a boomerang and bell-bottoms, everything comes back eventually.

I'll be the first to admit it though; the rich vinegar does compliment the beautiful little berries perfectly, so why not try the combination as a cocktail??

With the abundance of ripe strawberries I simply chopped them up and simmered them in a little water, allowing their natural sugars and water to create a true nectar. While that was working I reduced traditional balsamic vinegar with some corn syrup to keep the acidity from becoming too overwhelming. Once both were cooled I poured the strawberry syrup over ice in a tall glass along with some Skyy vodka and a little strawberry puree and topped it off with a healthy squeeze of the balsamic reduction that slowly mixes itself into the drink as it settles.

After the hot weather predictions that have been forecasted for our Seattle area this week, it's nice to know that there's a place that you can go to experience a drink as cool as this!!

With Love,