On the weekends, I am all about those hours-in-the-kitchen types of dishes; trying new things; looking at cooking as a “project”. During the week, however, because of my schedule, I’m lucky if I can make myself a big salad or scramble a couple eggs and call it dinner. Much has been made lately over “having time” to cook- Michael Ruhlman wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post “calling bullshit” on people who claim not to have the time, and others have been recycling the quote (I think it was originally attributed to Marcella Hazan) that “saying you don’t have time to cook is like saying you don’t have time to bathe”. I could go on at length about this topic*- the short version being that I mostly agree with Ruhlman but think he comes off as elitist and unrealistic (uh, he’s a writer, he makes his own hours, most of us do not!). But instead, let me tell you about someone who does live up to what I’ll call “the Ruhlman Standard”.
My friend Amanda is a role model for all of us who would aspire to prepare homemade meals on weeknights. Despite having two jobs (a full-time office job AND giving music lessons after work in the evenings), she manages to put together amazing weeknight dinners on a regular basis. Take Monday night, for example. She invited me for dinner and I was treated to a simple but amazingly flavorful dish of chorizo and potatoes in a garlicky, sherry-spiked broth. A salad, bread and good cheese rounded out the meal, and a bottle of rosé from Provence was the perfect foil to the spicy chorizo.
As if this all wasn’t enough, she was generous enough to let me take some home! I hadn’t brought my camera to her house so I have no shots of her lovely table with the cheeses, salad and wine, but I got to snap a few shots of the leftovers- I love the way the creamy potatoes look in the bright red sauce, with a scattering of cilantro for contrast of flavor and color. If you’re in need of an uncomplicated but decidedly un-boring after-work recipe, look no further: all you have to do is chunk up some potatoes, chop a little onion, and you’ll have this simmering on the stove in no time.
*Anita over at Married with Dinner had a very thoughtful response to this which pretty much sums up my feelings. She is doing a series called Dinner on a Deadline, in an attempt to provide realistic solutions for people who want to find time to cook after work. Hop on over there for more ideas. I also have a Fast and Easy category here where you might find inspiration for after-work meals.
Chorizo & Potatoes in a Sherry Broth
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 oz bacon or pancetta, cut in small strips or cubed
12 oz Mexican (fresh) chorizo (see note)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry sherry
1 ½ lbs small waxy potatoes, scrubbed and skin-on, halved or quartered depending on size
4-5 cups boiling water (a tea kettle is handy for this)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh cilantro (if you can’t abide cilantro, substitute parsley)
Note: This recipe was originally intended to be made with Spanish chorizo, a cured, dry sausage. However, Amanda made it with fresh, and as fresh chorizo is much more easily obtained (not to mention less expensive) here, I have adapted the recipe accordingly.
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400°. Put water on to boil. Heat a Dutch oven or other large oven-safe pan over medium-low heat. Add the bacon or pancetta and cook until it begins to render a bit of its fat. Add the onion and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened.
Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chorizo by squeezing it out of its casing in bite-size pieces (think small meatballs/coins). Let the pieces of sausage “set” for a moment so they don’t break apart when you stir them. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring gently. Add the bay leaf, sherry, and about 1 tsp salt; stir. Add the potatoes and pour over enough boiling water to cover the potatoes about ¾ of the way.
When the liquid has come to a simmer, put the dish, uncovered, in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Check it half way through that time to make sure it hasn’t dried out too much, and give it a stir (if the liquid looks low, add another splash of water and sherry).
Remove the dish from the oven and taste the broth. Season with salt and pepper if needed, or if it tastes at all watery, you can further reduce the cooking liquid by simmering on the stovetop. You’re not really looking for it to be a soup, but you definitely want several spoonfuls of the flavorful broth with each serving. Ladle into 4 shallow bowls, and garnish with some chopped cilantro.
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.
There’s a soup I’ve made several times out of the Moosewood Daily Special cookbook that consists of sautéed onions, thinly sliced potatoes, and tomatoes on a garlicky broth. (This cookbook is a great resouce for vegetarian soups and hearty grain-based salads, although I have to cop to using chicken stock instead of vegetable in many of the soup recipes…)* The Moosewood recipe is good, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted a heartier soup and needed to use up some leftover ham I had from Christmas dinner. The Basque region of France & Spain is known for using ham, peppers and onions in a variety of dishes, so I was inspired by those flavors. I decided to cut the potatoes in chunks rather than slices to make the soup more rustic, and added the peppers for a bit more color and sweetness. The addition of smoked Spanish paprika, aka Pimenton de la Vera, was the final element. (There is another type of dried, powdered red pepper specific to the Basque region called Piment d’Espelette that would probably be great in this as well, but I didn’t have any on hand.) As long as we’re on the subject of spices, Penzey’s is a great resource. You can order online, or if you’re in the Detroit area they have a store at 13 mile & Southfield. The last time I was there, I picked up Szichuan peppercorns, kalonji, mustard seed, garam masala and more… But back to the soup! Here it is: hearty, simple, with warm Spanish flavors to ward of the chill of winter.
*Notes for vegetarians: To make this a vegetarian soup, simply omit the ham and substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. The Moosewood book actually has a great garlic stock that is used in the original recipe. Also, smoked paprika is a great way to add a little “meatiness” without actually using meat (the smokiness emulates a bacony flavor).
Basque-inspired Peasant Soup/ Soupe Paysanne à la Basquaise printer-friendly version
3 medium sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Walla-Walla
6-8 small redskin potatoes, or the equivalent amount of larger potatoes (see notes)
1 head roasted garlic (see notes)
2 cups chicken stock
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 16-oz jar roasted red peppers, not marinated (I’d say two large peppers if you’re roasting them yourself)
2 cups diced ham
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
smoked Spanish paprika
Notes: For the potatoes, I used redskins, but feel free to substitute a starchier potato if you’d like a thicker soup. I would guess that two large potatoes would suffice if you’re using Russets or Yukons. If using either of these, I’d probably peel them. For the roasted garlic, if you don’t want to turn on the oven, you can “roast” the garlic in the microwave. It’s not quite the same, but it’ll do if you need to speed things along. Just peel away most of the outer skin, slice off the top, put in a small dish, pour olive oil to coat, and microwave on 30% power for 10 minutes, flipping it halfway through.
Directions: Slice the onions as thinly as possible, and cut the potatoes into bite-sized cubes. Remove all the skins from the garlic and cut all but the smallest cloves in half. Heat a few tbs. olive oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven, add the onions and lightly salt them. Sauté over medium heat until they begin to soften, and then add the potatoes and garlic. Cook for another 10 minutes or so while you slice up your peppers and dice the ham, stirring occasionally. When the onions are fully softened and translucent, add the 2 cups chicken stock and a large sprig (or 2 smaller sprigs) thyme, and bring to a simmer. Cook at a low simmer until the potatoes are tender. Add the can of tomatoes (juice and all), peppers, and ham and keep at a very low simmer for about 10 more minutes to warm through and allow the flavors to blend. When serving, garnish with a sprinkle of the smoked paprika and a scattering of fresh thyme leaves. To continue the Spanish theme, serve with crusty bread and slices of Manchego cheese, and a nice bottle of Rioja.