Saturday, May 23, 2009

80 Plates Returns! India: "What Smells Like Feet?!"

So a few months ago when planning Mike and Lesley's visit, Mike said he wanted to do the Indian entry into 80 Plates while they were up! It so happens that my new blog friend Sylvie swapped me some of her Indian recipes for my fondue recipe, and so I had a plan in place for if I ever got back to doing 80 Plates again! This was the perfect opportunity to do so. India is the perfect country, too, since Michael isn't that nuts about Indian cuisine, so I'd have people to share it with!

I decided to try Sylvie's Coconut Curry Chicken recipe, which you can find on her cooking blog. Lesley volunteered to help, so we set out on our culinary adventure together! We made a quick stop at Giant yesterday to get supplies on our way home from Culpeper, where we had enjoyed a wonderful lunch at It's About Thyme and arrived home, deciding we weren't quite ready for dinner yet. We gave it about an hour and then settled in to cook!

While we were at Giant, I spotted a box of Palak Paneer, a spinach dish that Mike (Lesley's Mike, not mine!) has grown to like. So I decided I'd pick that up as well to have as a side dish, and I got some basmati rice to enjoy with the whole thing. We really didn't want a TON of food, and it looked from Sylvie's blog that this would just fit the bill for four people. Leah was naturally disappointed, but I told her that when she has teeth, she can try some!

So we got to work. Based on our last trip to Atlanta to stay with Mike and Lesley, I knew Lesley was a whiz with chopping up chicken, which is a task that, while I don't overtly hate it, I am happy to pass off. Lesley is an extremely conscientious chicken cooker, rinsing it off first and the chopping. I don't know, but I suspect this makes it taste better, as I feel that her chicken fingers are way better than mine.

Meanwhile, I got to work getting the spices and ancilliary ingredients ready. I measured out cumin seeds, ground coriander, and curry powder (which you see in the bowl), crushed garlic, grated ginger, and sliced up an onion. (I second Sylvie's suggestion for crushing garlic under a knife with the flat of your palm--it definitely is a great technique if you want the garlic somewhat in tact and don't want to lose the juice through a press.) I also toasted up some whole cashews. Now, Sylvie, I demand to know your secret supplier for whole, unsalted cashews! I couldn't find them anywhere! I finally got whole, salted ones as the only possible cashew option that was even close. Those I toasted in the oven for 5 minutes. I thought that with a mere 1/4 cup, there wouldn't be many in the dish, but actually there wound up being plenty to go around!

Once Lesley was done with the chicken prep, we heated up some vegetable oil and got put the chicken in the pan. It was supposed to get golden on both sides and I was glad that we had printed out the pictures from the blog, because I am sometimes an impatient cook and it seemed like it was taking a little while. But Sylvie's blog shows some beautifully golden chicken pieces, so we took our time and let it cook until ours looked similar.

Once we pulled the chicken out of the pan, we added the rest of the vegetable oil and the directions said to add the spices until the oil smelled of them. Now, under the best of circumstances, my nose works about as well as that of a congested St. Bernard, and Lesley has a cold. We put the spices in, and I kept trying to sniff it out, but really neither of us had any idea. Mike W. saved the day by yelling suddenly, "Hey! It smells like India in here!" Good enough, we thought, and put in the onions!

Once that was done, we let the onions cook down till they were good and soft. We couldn't really tell if they were translucent or not due to the spices, but we felt like they were in good shape, so we added the coconut milk and let it boil, then added the chicken, and finally added some peas and let it all cook for about five more minutes.

So while that was going, it was time to cook the palak paneer. I sliced open the bag and I was hit by a smell that was rather unpleasant. Having never eaten before, I didn't know if it was normal or not, so I tossed the bag in the microwave and turned it on the required 90 seconds. All of a sudden, Lesley said, "What smells like feet?" And I was like, "Yeah, it really doesn't smell very appetizing."

"It's not supposed to smell like that," said Lesley. "The package says it's authentic food direct from India by way of New Jersey," I avowed, "This is supposed to be the real thing."

As the seconds ticked by, the smell got stronger and stronger to the point that both of us and our diminished noses were feeling a bit ill. I pulled it out of the microwave after 90 seconds and the smell was awful. Lesley immediately declared, "I'm not eating that!" and I said, "Well, I'm sure as heck not eating it!" so we decided the charitable thing would be to wrap it and bag it.

The rice dinged in the rice cooker and we started to dish up, completing the final step of adding the cashews atop the chicken dish.

One of the things I love most about Indian food is that it always smells so warm and inviting. This dish was no exception. I don't know how to describe it, but when I smell curry and other spices, I get a warm feeling inside that makes me feel so good. This was a dish I absolutely loved for that very reason.

It was time to sit and dish up. We called the boys upstairs and the first thing out of Mike's mouth was, "What smells like feet!?" Lesley and I busted up laughing and explained the horror of the palak paneer. He concured that it was just as well that we weren't eating it.

Everyone tried some, even the General, who declared it "not terrible". He said he would have eaten it and enjoyed it a lot if I had made him potatoes to eat it with. ROOKIE MISTAKE! How many of these 80 plates dinners have I made and you've seen him with a healthy helping of mashed potatoes!? How could I be so clueless?

We all very much enjoyed it. The sauce was a perfect blend of flavors. If any of us had any quibble with the recipe, it was that we wondered if something could be added to make it just a touch spicy? Sylvie? But we all agreed we would make it and eat it again--Mike declared it "Excellent!" and I have to agree. I loved, loved, loved it.

Thank you so much, Sylvie, for sharing your recipe. I am anxious to meet you and hope we will see you next weekend! :-) Hope you enjoyed my write up of your dish!