Foodie Tuesday: Tikka Masala Madness

We were both hungry for something Indian-food-ish. Really hungry. It was time to figure out a new recipe for a nice Tikka Masala-like sauce, for a change of pace. So I went hunting. I looked through my Indian cookbooks and went wandering online for a while, and found that the core ingredients for a creamy tomato curry seemed fairly stable from one recipe to another, but as with any sort of classic food, not only did the proportions vary widely but the peripheral or add-on ingredients did, too.

Jamie Oliver’s recipe seemed to me to sit somewhere right in the middle of the typical combinations, so I chose to use that as a jumping-off point for today’s home-brew. And what do you know, it came out pretty nicely. And relatively simply. I made a big enough batch that I could freeze a couple of meals’ worth, too. I opted to cook up the other parts of the meal (a batch of vegetables, roughly chopped prawns, and coconut rice) separately, then just took some of the finished sauce after it’d simmered for a while and spooned up customized individual combinations in bowls for our dinner.

This is a recipe where it’s particularly helpful to have your mise en place waiting next to the cooktop so it goes together very easily.Photo: Tickled Tikka Masala

Tickled Tikka Masala

Finely mince or crush 2-3 cloves garlic, 2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, 1-2 teaspoons freshly chopped jalapeño, and 1 T grated citrus zest (I used lemon and lime together). Mix with 2-3 T lemon juice, 1.5 T chicken bouillon (I like Better Than Bouillon brand). Set aside.

Blend together dry ingredients: 2 Tablespoons garam masala, 1 T ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 T cumin, and 1 T smoked paprika, and 2 T freeze-dried diced shallots. Toast gently in 3-4 T ghee in a large pan over medium-low heat.

Add the citrus-bouillon blend and stir it all together to warm through. To this, add a whole can of rich coconut milk (13.5 oz Chaokoh, my fave) and stir it in. Add 24.5 oz canned tomato puree or sauce (tomatoes and salt only; Mutti Passata is my favorite) and about 2 T tomato paste. Let this whole thing simmer gently for an hour or two, covered, stirring occasionally.

Add whole milk yogurt or labneh to taste, serving by serving and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro. Or, if you don’t have a yogurt-and-green-thingies-averse partner like mine, finish the whole dish with them. Or you can top it with toasted coconut, with cashews, pistachios, bacon pieces, chopped dried apricots, or whatever suits your fancy. However you choose to do it, as you can see by the long list of ingredients and the longer list of recipes I surfed before landing on one of my own, the dish is endlessly customizable. And yes, it turns out, every bit as tasty as I remembered.

Photo: Tikka with Toppings

Foodie Tuesday: India Calling

Who needs call centers in India, I ask you. India calls me all the time, without any help from batteries of trained phone service representatives, using only its myriad delicious foods. Works all the time!photoFor a recent sit-down, for example, I was lured by the siren song of Tikka Masala. Too short a lead time for cooking on the occasion meant I’d need to doctor up some ready-made sauce, and there are certainly plenty on the supermarket shelves, so I picked out a jar and took it home to sauce some leftover roasted chicken and serve over leftover chicken broth rice. On tasting, the sauce proved to be a bit insipid and not quite what I had in mind, but it served as a fair base for a good dish with just a few little additions.  A bit of tweaking with cloves, cardamom and cayenne got it going slightly more brightly. A toss of coconut is seldom amiss, so yeah, I threw that on top.

Buttery peas, freshly cooked pappadums and a spoonful of raita rounded out the meal. I was delighted to discover that ready-to-fry pappadums from the grocery could be easily prepared in the microwave, of all things, which made my dinner’s trip over from India just that much shorter, a good thing indeed. Raita is such a grand condiment, jazzing up many a different dish or meal with its cool and refreshing blend of plain yogurt with a few flavor enhancers like, in this instance, finely diced cucumber, dill, fresh mint and a touch of salt and pepper.photoThe leftovers, since the raita was eaten and gone after the first day of this batch of Tikka Masala and there wasn’t a lot of chicken left in it either, got further doctoring. I added some plain yogurt directly to the dish, and a good sprinkling of my favorite homemade curry powder along with some brown mustard and black sesame seeds. I didn’t want to fix or add more chicken at the moment but wanted to expand the dish enough to fill me up, so I thought I’d love some palak paneer alongside. I love that spinach puree with farmer’s cheese in it, but, erm, it’s hard to make when there’s no spinach around. And no actual paneer, either, it turns out. So I took the similarly slow-melting cheese I did have on hand and cubed it directly into the sauce along with the chicken and peas. I’m pretty sure that this iteration of mine departed so far from true Tikka Masala dishes that it would be virtually unrecognized by any real Indian cook (no matter how far the true Indian versions vary, from what I’ve heard), so I guess India can’t be blamed for what I have perpetrated. But then again, the inspiration, the motivation–that’s all India’s fault.photoAnd I, at least, thank her.

Wish I were There

memento assemblageMuch as I adore where I am at any given moment, I’m not above reminiscing about and longing for other places I’ve enjoyed, or fantasizing about ones I’ve yet to try even in the midst of the current Happy Place. It’s not a matter of comparison, of course, just that persistent tickle at the back of the mind that everyone suffers who has ever been two places–opposite ends of the couch or of the world–that are both pleasing and desirable for their own reasons.memento assemblage

So I can sit in a ray of gilt sunshine, in a high-backed soft chair, sipping cool water and feeling quite contented–yet my brain keeps flitting around, from Praha to Portland, from Boston to Berlin, from San Juan Viejo to San Antonio. In my heart, I may be tucked up in a mews in Wexford or striding along the West Side to find a small concert venue after dark in New York. Perhaps inhaling the dazzling steam of glorious Indian food in a surprise find restaurant in Oslo, watching the koi slide through their semi-tropical pond under the snow-frosted glass pyramid of the conservatory in Edmonton or testing the tenderness of lovingly handmade pasta in a cozy family ristorante in Bolzano.memento

Wherever I may be, my thoughts will always drift. It’s not the least a sign of dissatisfaction or discontent, but rather that I’ve found delight and happiness in such a wide variety of places that they all compete for attention even (or perhaps especially) when I am full of well-being. There is so much beauty to be enjoyed in the world and there are so many great sensory experiences to be had that the soul grows restless for them.memento assemblage

Much as I like my reminiscences and the memories of all of those fantastic places I’ve journeyed, the astonishing and dear people who have welcomed me there and introduced me to each place’s peculiarities and pleasures, and the thought of all of the songs, foods, walks, sights and adventures that have enriched every one of those times, I am always hungry for more. The sweet sense of something marvelous that’s yet-to-come is as poignant and piquant as the promise of any other sort of romance, and my wishes always lean toward the more-ish, especially when the outing is made hand in hand with my dearest companion. Though the old-fashioned postcard tradition for travelers may have been to write to friends and loved ones saying ‘Wish you were here’, the truth is more often that I wish I were nearer to them, wherever they are.memento assemblage