A blog about food
Tropical Winter Table
An orange tinge spreads across my palms these days, winter color induced by beta-carotene overload. Carrots and winter squash are the main culprits, though many a beet has been roasted, puréed and grated to round out the cold month color palette. I am reminded of a vegetarian girlfriend gone similarly orange limbed with fresh papaya and other tropical fruits during life in Brazil. Doctors told her to stop consuming the foods immediately . . . absolutely unfathomable advice to an expatriate coming from frigid northern climes.
Tropicalia via food brightens my continence these days where fresh coats of snow have not. I’m cooking up all things reminiscent of warm, exotic places in order to mentally displace from the panorama of cold white outside. Sri Lanka provides the bulk of my inspiration; a half-year study abroad session saw me elbow to elbow with my host mother in her five-foot square kitchen every night. My eyes became greener with the infusion of Serrano chilies in each dish at that family’s table, and curry became my natural perfume.
Coconut rice remains my favorite ‘treat’ breakfast food learned during that era, and serves as an excellent base for any noontime curry. Yes, it’s white rice cooked in white coconut milk. Not exactly the color of tropicalia, but the flavors do the trick. Dressed up with diced jalapeno, this dish can literally get you sweating like the moments following an afternoon monsoon.
Concocting a curry to accompany this sort of base is as simple as having a small supply of your desired curry spicing mix on hand, and staple vegetables: potato, carrot, onion, etc. My two favorite curries are Chaat Masala and Garam Masala. The extraordinary blend made by my Sri Lankan host mother has long since been lost to kitchen spills, yet Internet sources abound to help one find great mixes. The key is to use fresh spices; make just a small batch, and use it quickly. You can also freeze the spice mixes.
1 cup glutinous rice
(you can use regular medium or long-grained rice, but the texture is better with glutinous, sushi style rice)
1 cup water
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
½ tsp salt (or to taste)
Put rice, water, coconut milk and shredded coconut in pot. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cover. Cook roughly 15-20 minutes, until done. It won’t hurt too much to check in the meantime. Stir in salt at the end.
*Make this even more delicious by cooking ONLY in coconut milk (so, 2 cups coconut milk and no water), and by using fresh grated coconut.
*For breakfast, serve with a fried egg to add protein.
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds (roast and grind these three)
3 pods cardamom
1 tsp chili powder
¼ tsp each of cinnamon and cloves.
Grind the rest into the first three.
1 Tbs Cumin Seed
1/2 Tbs dried Mint Leaves
1/4th tsp Carom (Ajwain) seeds
1/4th tsp Asafetida (Hing) Powder
1 Tbs Rock Salt
21/2 Tbs dried Mango (Aam) Powder
1 tsp Ginger powder
1 tsp Cayenne
1/4 tsp Tartaric Acid
1 Tbs Black Pepper corns
2 tsp Salt
Put cumin seeds, black peppercorns, cloves, dried mint leaves, ajwain and asafetida powder in a pan and heat gently, shaking the pan until the spices began to smell fragrant.
Remove from heat add rock salt and grind while still warm.
Mix in all other ingredients, cool and store tightly bottled.
Simple Vegetable Curry
5 or 6 fingerling potatoes, cut into ½ in. chunks
2 carrots cut into ½ in. chunks
½ a medium onion, chopped
other vegetables(2 cloves garlic, minced; 1-inch piece ginger, minced; 1 Serrano pepper, seeded and diced; 2 stems winter kale, de-ribbed and chopped
or ½ cup sweet potato cubed
or ½ cup frozen sweet peas, ½ shredded cabbage, etc.)
2 tsp olive oil (grape seed oil is more traditional)
1 ½ tsp. fresh curry powder (masala) of your choice)
¾ cup vegetable stock
1 tsp cornstarch, or more; salt and pepper to taste
Cook the potatoes until tender; drain and set aside. Heat the oil in a good-sized pan. Add onion and cook several minutes until soft and translucent. Add curry powder and incorporate for a minute. Add rest of vegetables (including potatoes!) and sauté for a couple minutes. Pour in broth and let cook until vegetables are desired tenderness. Thicken mixture with cornstarch (or flour) if desired. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon this colorful mixture over the coconut rice and serve hot!