June 11 (only 10 days ago… it seems like months already!) was the second Gourmet Underground Detroit potluck picnic on Belle Isle. I won’t call it the second annual picnic, because I’m secretly hoping we’ll have another one before the year is out. Nomenclature aside, it was a grand old time- you can read my post about it and see some of Marvin’s photos on the GUDetroit website. Some of the highlights were: tree climbing, willow swinging, mint spanking, cornholing (ahem), hula hooping, river gazing, and getting to finally meet Warda (who I wrote about here) and her beautiful family.
My contribution to the gluttony was a platter of kebabs and kefta, with some raita and a sort of tomato-cucumber-herb relish/chutney on the side. I’ve been eating a fair amount of goat meat lately, for a few reasons: first, I just wanted something other than the “big three” of chicken, beef and pork (we’ve run out of venison); second, because goats aren’t a large scale factory farmed animal; and third, because they have a flavor similar to lamb (which I love) but are milder and less fatty (not to mention cheaper). I will say that goat leg meat is a huge pain in the ass to cut up, unless you’re ok with a lot of sinew; I tend to get obsessive and remove as much of it as I possibly can, which explains why my prep time was three times as long as it should have been. But while goat can sometimes be a little tough, mine was pretty tender as a result of the extra trimming. If you’re using it in a long-cooked dish, you wouldn’t need to go to that trouble.
I also made kebabs from ground lamb with a little beef mixed in, and tons of spices and vegetables blended in for flavor. I’m used to anything with ground meat being called kefta rather than kebab, but the name of the recipe was “chapli kebab” or “slipper kebab”, because the patties are in the shape of a chappal, or sandal. The recipe originates from Peshawar in India, not the Middle East or North Africa, but you’d never know it from eating it- the flavors are quite similar to kefta I’ve had in Middle Eastern restaurants but with a little less onion/garlic flavor and more herbs and spices.
We’ve all heard the term “armchair travel” to refer to reading books that take place in far-flung locales. Back in my 20s I did much more actual traveling- all over Europe and in Japan- but now, saddled with a mortgage and a 9-to-5, most of my travel is of the virtual variety. Some of that takes place between the covers of a book, but when I can, I try to take it a step further by “stovetop traveling”; cooking things with new and exotic flavors that make me feel a little less wistful about not getting to go places firsthand.
Clockwise from top left: dal, aloo gosht, cucumber raita, mango pickle, naan, tahiri, saag
A couple of books I’ve read recently have made me want to delve deeper into the flavors of India- first there was Modern Spice by Monica Bhide, and more recently, Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey. After finishing Jaffrey’s book, I could practically taste and smell the pungent spices of her homeland, and I immediately began plotting an Indian feast.
The dish Jaffrey describes as conjuring the most homey memories for her is Aloo Gosht (literally “Potatoes and Meat”), a popular dish in Northern India & Pakistan. This dish is not for the faint of palate- it’s a rich, savory riot of warm flavors- but the meat and potatoes place it firmly in the realm of “comfort food”. The meat in question when prepared in the U.S. is typically lamb; however, Jaffrey says that in India/Pakistan it would almost always be prepared with goat. In the spirit of authenticity, I tracked down some goat in a trip to Eastern Market. If you’ve never had goat meat before, I urge you to try it, especially if you like lamb. It’s less gamy, leaner, and a lot less expensive (try finding boneless lamb shoulder for $2.99 a pound!).
There are many recipes out there for Aloo Gosht, but most of them that I found seemed “dumbed down” compared to Jaffrey’s. Unlike some recipes (whose authors might be under the assumption that many ingredients are unavailable here?), she doesn’t skimp on the aromatics and spices. One thing I used in this recipe that was new to me was black cardamom. It is very different from green cardamom, the spice used in baking. It comes in a large black pod and has a smoky, earthy aroma. It wasn’t at all difficult to find; I picked it up at Penzey’s. Although I couldn’t distinctly pick it out in the finished curry, its flavor was definitely noticeable in the rice I made (a dish called Tahiri, an aromatic rice with peas- if you’d like to try it, Jaffrey’s recipe is reprinted word for word from her book here).
I followed the recipe to the letter as far as ingredients and quantities, but then parted ways with Jaffrey’s cooking method, which I didn’t really understand. She called for aggressively cooking the meat, whereas I opted for a longer, slower braise- I wanted the goat to be very tender, and I was afraid that cooking it over high heat would toughen the meat. She also would have had me add an additional three cups water towards the end, which made no sense to me at all since the consistency of the sauce seemed just right. Not to question the great Madhur Jaffrey, but who knows, different heat, cooking vessels, and a number of other variables can produce a different result- sometimes it’s best to just trust your instincts on these things because I don’t think my Aloo Gosht could have turned out more perfectly. I can see why this is a favorite over there; it’s definitely a dish that will reappear on my dinner table.
Aloo Gosht (Potato & Meat Curry) adapted from the book From Curries to Kebabs: Recipes from the Indian Spice Trail by Madhur Jaffrey
2 lbs lamb or goat meat in 1 1/2-in. cubes, with or without bones
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 to 3 fresh hot green chilies, roughly chopped
3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled & roughly chopped
1 1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp cayenne pepper (use more or less to taste)
2 medium tomatoes (about 10 oz), chopped (if tomato quality is less than stellar, add a tsp or so of tomato paste)
1 3/4 tsp salt
2 whole black cardamom pods
1 medium cinnamon stick
1 lb small red waxy potatoes, peeled & cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks (leave whole if small)
1/2 tsp garam masala
4 Tbs chopped cilantro
This is really a pretty straightforward and easy recipe, don’t be intimidated by the ingredients list. Most items should be readily available; if you can’t find black cardamom just leave it out. In her cookbook Jaffrey suggests asking an Indian grocer for “meat for curry” and you’ll get a mixture of boneless and bone-in already-cubed pieces. The butcher I went to only had boneless ready, but obliged me by taking a goat that was hanging up and cutting up some bone-in leg pieces for me.
Place the ginger, garlic and green chilies in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, stopping before you reach a paste. Put the coriander seeds in a clean coffee or spice grinder and grind to a coarse powder.
Pour the oil into a large heavy lidded pot such as a Dutch oven and set over medium high heat. When hot, add the shallots and fry for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Stir in the ginger mixture and fry another 2 minutes. Add the meat and stir for a minute or so. Add the coriander, turmeric and cayenne. Add 1 cup water and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste (if using), salt, and another 2 cups water. Stir and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Add the cinnamon, black cardamom and potatoes. Replace the cover and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the meat is very tender and the potatoes are cooked through.
Taste the sauce and correct for salt or spiciness if needed. If the sauce seems at all thin, you can cook uncovered for an additional 10 minutes or so to reduce it (I didn’t need to). It should be neither thick nor watery. Sprinkle with the garam masala and cilantro before serving. This curry is best served with rice and something cooling on the side such as cucumber raita (shredded cucumbers mixed with yogurt and a little salt) to balance the warm and savory flavors. Serves 6-8 as part of an Indian meal.
Anyone who knows me is aware that I love to try new recipes and have a very curious mind when it comes to anything food-related. Lately my curiosity has prompted me to go beyond the kitchen proper and to explore things like charcuterie and cheesemaking. I decided that reading about it wasn’t enough; I wanted to take a cheesemaking class to really see what it was all about. Not much was being offered in my area, but I did find a class on the west side of the state near Grand Rapids, at DogWood Farms. A bit of a drive, but luckily Marvin was into coming with me and making a weekend out of it, so on a rainy late October Friday, we got in the car and headed west.
The class was scheduled for Saturday at 8:00 AM. Marvin and I are not what you would call “morning people”, but we groggily dragged ourselves out of bed at 6:45 and suffered through some terrible hotel coffee, then got in the car for a drizzly half-hour drive in the dim early-morning light. I had no idea what to expect as we drove towards the farm. The website didn’t offer much clue as to the size and scope of cheesemaker Barb Jenness’s operation, and having never visited a dairy or creamery, our minds were a blank slate.
Leaving the freeway far behind, we wound our way down country roads towards the farm. After a bit of a Mapquest snafu, we pulled up the drive and were greeted by Barb’s husband Jim, who informed us that Barb had gone to get some cow’s milk from a farm up the road for the day’s cheesemaking. Barb has a herd of Alpine goats and primarily makes chèvre, but it was too late in the season and the goats were in their drying-off period.
Barb showed up shortly after, and sat down with us for a few minutes to chat. She was very hospitable and had a sampling of cheeses out for us, as well as thick slices of a delicious banana-coconut bread, a welcome sight after the nasty factory muffins on offer at the hotel buffet. We talked to her about why we were there, what we hoped to get out of the class, and discussed the little we did know about cheesemaking. It turned out that we were the only two students that day, which was perfect as it gave us the opportunity to ask any and all questions that came to mind, and gave Marvin the chance to take lots of photos!
Barb’s creamery turned out to be about as tiny as they come, but it was perfect for learning, and for getting an idea of what’s possible on a small scale. Barb had converted a room that was once her laundry room (probably no more than 40-50 square feet) into her cheesemaking room; another space that was little more than a hallway accommodated her packaging area and her “aging cave” (a couple of wine refrigerators rigged to the proper temperature and humidity). Even with just three of us in the cheese room, it was a little tight, and I was glad we were the only students that day.
Given that the goat’s milk was done for the season, we made two cow’s milk cheeses. One was a fresh cheese that Barb called cream cheese, but which bore very little resemblance to the gummy cream cheese in square foil packages. It tasted like the cow equivalent of a chèvre- a mild, creamy, moist and somewhat crumbly cheese with a bit of tanginess to it. She had milk/curd in a couple of the stages of production, and working backwards, showed us the process from the finished cheese to the curd to the milk she had started with. We were able to participate by ladling the curd into molds to drain. It had the same texture as yogurt, when you spoon into it and it releases liquid.
The other cheese we made was a Tomme-style cheese. This one, an aged washed-rind cheese, had a few more steps and involved pasteurizing the milk, cutting the curd, and forming it into blocks. She showed us some bricks of the cheese being aged and it had a ruddy rind that was the result of a paprika and olive oil wash.
Cheesemaking involves a lot of what Barb termed “hurry up and wait” time, where you’re waiting for curd to set, whey to drain, etc. During these “breaks” she would sit us down at her dining room table and go over slides she’d prepared on different aspects of cheese and cheesemaking. Barb was a great teacher and very well-prepared. She had a packet for us to take home that included all of the information given in the class, as well as some recipes, a list of books and websites where cheesemaking supplies could be ordered. She was extremely encouraging and kept asking us if we planned to open a creamery. I certainly have thought about it, although I think Barb has a big advantage not having to own or lease a secondary property for her facility. I’m not sure that would work with my tiny little Ferndale house!
After we were done with the day’s cheese-related activities, we headed out to the barn for a visit with the goats and chickens. After hanging back a bit watching Marvin in the pen photographing Barb, Jim and the goats, I decided to take the plunge. A few goats escaped, but were quickly rounded up by Alice, the resident canine goat-herd. It was hilarious to watch this little dog corral goats twice her size, nipping and barking until they ran back into the pen. Barb looked amused to see us city folk interacting with the livestock, and had a twinkle in her eye as she asked us whether we thought we could have goats of our own. As much as I thought the goats were pretty cool, I doubt this city girl could get the hang of milking and breeding livestock. But Barb assured us that it was perfectly “OK” to just have a creamery and leave the animal-tending to someone else. Phew!
We left the farm with a few of the fresh cheeses as well as some goat’s milk soap I bought from Barb- she’s been in the soapmaking business since before she got into cheese three years ago. Barb urged us to keep in touch about our cheesemaking adventures, and told us to feel free to contact her if we had questions or issues. I was pleasantly surprised at how encouraging she was about starting a cheesemaking business- she went out of her way to tell us about her experiences getting started, how to avoid certain pitfalls, etc. She didn’t get into details about how much she is grossing, but she did tell us how much her cheese sells for (retail and wholesale) and that she easily sells out of everything she produces. She gave me the impression that, while it may not be a way to get rich, you could definitely support yourself.
I plan to try my hand at a few different cheeses at home as soon as I get a chance to order some supplies and figure out a good milk source. I’ll be sure to post about my successes and failures here as I go!
All photographs (except chicken) courtesy of Marvin Shaouni Photography