Wednesday, September 7, 2011

An Organic Mind

Even though I offered a dish featuring curry last week I didn't think twice about doing something similar this time around. I have realized that my best specials have come from not overthinking them and allowing it to be more of an organic process of my mind working it out. I'm not saying that I don't put any effort into them; it's more like placing rocks in a stream to control the flow.

Last week I used a sweet curry powder because I liked the combination of it with soy sauce, but really curry powder isn't authentic Indian at all - it merely mimics the flavors found in traditional curries. I once lived in Jackson Heights, Queens in NYC where many Indian immigrants say has the best Indian fare in the city, which in turn really means the country. Since moving here to Seattle my wife and I have sought out good Indian and have only found one that even comes close: India Express just down the street on Broadway (feel free to email me your favorite spots). Finally I hunkered down and learned as much as I could about the cuisine from books, magazines, Internet and cooking shows. I realized that, like all cuisines, Indian food has its fundamental techniques and ingredients, and once you understand them you can make most dishes.

One of my favorite Thai dishes is a pineapple curry fried rice so I wanted to make a similar special but one spanning across Africa, the Middle East and India by combining similar flavors into one entree that has now become a staple meal in our country.

Basmati rice is normally used in Indian cuisine, but it is very costly. I've found that jasmine rice is nearly just as floral and nutty as basmati at a fraction of the cost, and creates a direct link to the concept of Thai fried rice. I simply cooked the rice in salted water with plenty of bay leaves for their subtle fragrance as well as a nod to traditional cooking. I spread some of the cooked rice over baking pans for the first night to simulate the reason why fried rice was created in the first place: to use leftover rice!

For the protein I went with lamb for its strong flavor and a Moroccan-style rub to season it, but I wanted to make sure that the lamb was moist and tender, so I utilized the technique called "sous vide" or under vacuum, to both marinate and cook the meat. By using a vacuum sealer right after rubbing lamb sirloin in olive oil, paprika ginger, garlic, chile flakes, a little cinnamon and turmeric I not only forced the flavor deep into the meat instantaneously but drew out the air around it so that I could cook it in a 145 degree waterbath controlled by a temperature regulator so that it was medium rare through and through before chilling and dicing. 

For the Indian flavor in this dish I created a heavily spiced coconut curry by first slowly cooking Walla Walla onions, garlic and ginger in extra virgin olive oil. While that cooked I toasted whole spices like fenugreek, cumin, coriander and fennel seed to release their oils before grinding them and adding to the stewed onion mixture. I also added coconut milk, cilantro stems and a little water to allow for evaporation while it simmered. I pureed and strained the curry and used it to finish the rice. For another dimension I added dried currants and cashew pieces as a nod to the delilcious way that they treat their rice in Turkey.

Before the summer gets away from us I wanted to use as many of the great summer fruits as long as I can until they're gone.

Even though no fruit embodies an American summer like watermelon, I find that it tends to overshadow its delicious cousin, the honeydew.

I wanted to use flavors that play well with the honey notes that lend to the melons name so I muddled mint and added aged Cruzan rum, juiced honeydew, St. Germain elderflower liqueur and a splash of soda and lime juice to balance out the sweetness.

Wow!! What a drink!!

With a little luck (and know-how!) I hope to give one last nod to the melon family and use cantaloupe in next week's drink special, but don't hold me to it!!

With Love,