Among the many tourist sites we visited on our trip to Andalusia, the Alcazar in Seville (above) was one of my favorites. Just steps from the twisting passageways of the Barrio Santa Cruz (left), where we were staying, the Alcazar has some of the same amazing Moorish architectural detail (right) of the Alhambra in Granada, along with some incredible gardens that we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore. (For full set of photos, see my facebook page.) I suppose we could have lingered longer, but after getting up early and spending a few solid hours there, we were ready for some lunch. We headed toward the Calle Mateos Gago, where we had heard there were some good tapas bars. This was pretty much the rhythm of many of our days: get up early, put in a few hours of sightseeing, reward ourselves with tapas and beer or wine, take naps, repeat the cycle after the naps.
As we wandered down the street, we spotted a microscopic bar with a bespectacled stuffed boar’s head on the wall and a brash, gesticulating bartender, and decided right away that it was our kind of place. This was Bar Àlvaro, which I wrote about in my last post. After our lively experience there, we decided to go next door to Bar Tomate to chill out and order more food to soak up the alcohol. Although we had eaten a few tapas at Àlvaro’s, walking around the Alcazar the whole morning and then walking to lunch had worked up our appetites. According to Lonely Planet, Bar Tomate is known for their plump and delicious gambas al ajillo, shrimp poached in olive oil with a few red chiles and copious quantities of chopped garlic. Sold. If there’s anything better than that oil for dipping bread in, I don’t know what it is. Along with a couple glasses of crisp Verdejo, we were in heaven. The atmosphere at Tomate was much more subdued than that of its neighbor, but cool in its own way, with Art Nouveau posters and weird marionettes with currency from dozens of countries pinned to their clothing. And of course, the obligatory hams hanging from the ceiling! Continue reading
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.
For my newly-minted book club, I had the ambitious idea that not only would I read a food-related book a month, I would also try to post a recipe or two from said book. June’ s book was Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton; go here to see the book review and discussion. (I actually made the dish a couple weeks ago, but time has a habit of slipping away from me these days, hence the delay in posting.)
It wasn’t hard to choose a recipe out of this book- I went with Ants on a Tree (not to be confused with Ants on a Log, an entirely different animal) because the author constantly refers to it as his family’s favorite dish, and it’s the one thing his daughter has been willing to eat even through her pickiest phases of toddlerhood. It’s a Szechuan (or Szichuan, depending on your fancy) noodle dish consisting of seasoned ground pork (the “ants”) and bean thread noodles (the “tree”), and it would give me an excuse to use some of those Szechuan peppercorns I bought a while back at Penzey’s.
The nice thing about this recipe, and one reason I imagine it’s become a favorite at the author’s dinner table, is that it’s pretty easy to throw together. I’m sure after making it a few times and having the seasonings memorized, you could whip it together in a matter of 30 minutes or less. I love highly-seasoned food, so I did enjoy this dish; my only difference of opinion is that I found it a little too “decadent” (see my note below re: oil) to want to consume it on a regular basis. Also, I wouldn’t consider this a one-dish meal since it’s just meat and carbs with no veg, so I made a batch of my Chinese-style kale to eat alongside the noodles. We had leftovers, which I would venture to say tasted even better in my lunch the next day.
Making this dish led me to ponder having my own hungry monkey someday, and wondering what his or her unwaveringly favorite food would be. Until then, I’ll just have to live vicariously through the Amster-Burtons, and raise a forkful of noodles as a salute to Iris and her international palate.
8 oz. ground pork
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs sugar
1 tbs hot bean paste (sometimes sold as spicy bean paste, or hot bean sauce)
1 tsp cornstarch
6-8 oz cellophane (bean thread) noodles
1-2 tbs peanut or other neutral oil (see notes)
2 scallions, white & light green parts only, thinly sliced (the darker tops can be sliced and used as a garnish)
1 red jalapeño or Fresno chili, seeded and minced
1/4 cup chicken stock (canned or from concentrated bouillon is fine)
1 tbs dark (mushroom) soy sauce
1/4 tsp ground Szechuan peppercorns (see notes)
Notes: You may try to see if you can get away with using less than the 2 tbs oil called for in the original recipe, as I found the end result to be a little on the greasy side (perhaps the pork I used had a higher fat content than what the author normally uses). Also, the Szechuan peppercorns are listed as “optional”, but if I was of a mind to leave them out, I’d just make a different dish instead; in fact, I would even suggest upping the amount to 1/2 tsp if you’re feeling gutsy.
Directions: Put some water on to boil. Meanwhile, combine regular soy sauce and cornstarch in a medium-sized bowl to dissolve the cornstarch. Add the sugar, hot bean paste and pork, stirring thoroughly to combine. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Place the noodles in a large bowl and when your water comes to a boil, pour over the noodles to cover. Soak for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then drain in a colander.
Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the scallions and jalapeño and cook 30 seconds, stirring frequently. Add the pork and stir-fry until no longer pink, breaking up any chunks, about 3 minutes. (You really want to break up the pork as small as possible, or the meat will all sit at the bottom of the dish, negating the whole “ants on a tree” thing.)
Add the noodles, chicken stock, dark soy sauce and Szechaun pepper. Cook, tossing the noodles with tongs or two wooden spoons, until the sauce is absorbed and the pork is well distributed throughout the noodles. Transfer to a large platter and serve immediately, garnishing with a few chopped scallions if desired.
Inspiration can strike at odd times, and this is a perfect example: I get home the other night from the bar, a little hungry, but there’s nothing ready-made in the fridge. I’m staring down a link of chorizo that I bought at Holiday Market’s Sausage Fest a few weeks ago (stay tuned for more sausage-related recipes; I have a whole freezerful!) and figured out that I could make a really easy chili with that and a few pantry items.
I’m not really a fan of ground beef in chili- I like to use steak or venison or chorizo. The great thing about chorizo is that it has a lot of flavor in it already, so for this quick chili it was perfect… keeping the ingredient list short. The only work I did besides opening cans was chopping the onion and chipotles. In my opinion, the final product tasted just as good as a chili that had simmered for hours (or maybe that was just my late-night taste buds being indiscriminate)!
Smoky Chorizo Chili
1 link chorizo sausage (about 3/4 to 1 lb)
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic (optional depending on how lazy you want to be- your chorizo should have some garlic flavor already)
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 14-oz can black beans or pinto beans
1 cup frozen corn kernels or small can of corn, drained
1 7-oz can chipotles in adobo
Directions: Squeeze the chorizo out of its casing and fry in a large heavy skillet (I like cast-iron) over medium heat, breaking up the chunks as it cooks. Meanwhile, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Add these to the chorizo, frying and stirring until the onions soften. While those are cooking, rinse and drain the beans, open the tomatoes. Remove the chipotles from their sauce and chop them up*. By this time, the onions should be cooked. Dump the beans, tomatoes, corn and chipotles into the pan and let everything simmer for 5-10 minutes to heat through. I ate this plain with corn chips, but a dollop of sour cream or even yogurt is always nice with chili and helps cool the spiciness. Plantain chips are a nice change of pace for a garnish as well. You can salt to taste if needed, but if your tomatoes are salted you probably won’t find it necessary.
*For the chipotles in adobo, you have some options. If you want it quite spicy, you can just use the whole can, sauce and all (chop up the chilies first though). I deseeded the chiles prior to chopping them, and froze the remaining adobo sauce for a future use. I’d say the result was “medium” heat. If you wanted it less spicy, just use a couple chiles instead of the whole can, and freeze the remainder.