International Meals – Iraq

Despite having NAMES that are only one letter off, Iraq and Iran are actually quite different countries.  They have different primary languages, for starters, and were actively at war as recently as the 1980s.

Iraq has an acknowledged national dish, masgouf. We are going to have to approximate this rather than making a fully accurate version, for a number of reasons.

Reason 1 – no access to apricot logs.
Reason 2 – no ability to (legally) set things on fire in downtown Vancouver.
Reason 3 – no access to carp.

In case you haven’t inferred it by now, masgouf is carp, grilled for 1-3 hours over apricot wood.  Traditionally, the carp would be harvested directly from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, but given the amount of bloodshed in the country, combined with the fact that carp are bottom feeders, there’s actually now a fatwa in effect prohibiting the consumption of wild caught carp from much of Iraq.

Fortunately, carp are pretty easy to farm. Saddam Hussein had a private pond stocked, so he could indulge his masgouf craving.  Of course, locating this pond was part of the trail that lead to his capture, so maybe don’t do that if you’re a bloodthirsty dictator on the run from the authorities.

Possibly as a result of this advice, this type of carp are not easy to locate in Vancouver.  You can find grass carp, but that’s a different fish entirely. So we opted for tilapia, another mild, freshwater fish that is readily available in Asian markets.

Since I’ve been going to aforementioned Asian markets more often, I’ve gotten better about walking right up to the live fish tank and saying “please murder that one for me.”  The staff at these places is also great about scaling and filleting the fish if you ask, and they are MUCH better at it than I am.  However, I did encounter a bit of incomprehension at first when I asked for the fish to be butterflied, rather than simply gutted.  I’m not sure if the clerk truly didn’t understand me, or just didn’t WANT to understand me, since butterflying a fish is a lot more work, but he eventually agreed to do it, and I came home with this bad boy.

Butterflied Tilapia
Before I talk about what happened next with the fish, I need to talk about the salad.  We had picked out a simple sumac salad, consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, parsley, and a LOT of ground sumac.  This is an ingredient I am accustomed to adding by the teaspoon.  The recipe called for half a cup.

Salad ingredients

That’s a LOT of sumac.  That’s also an ENGLISH cucumber, but the Persian market I went to for the sumac didn’t have any other kind.  Neither did anyone else.  Supply chain issues?  Who knows.

But why did I need to divert here from our fish story? Well, because before putting the fish in a 500° F (!!!) oven, you’re supposed to squeeze some lemon juice and salt over it.  And that’s a lemon in the picture.  Right?  It must be a lemon.  It’s yellow, innit?

So I cut it in half and squeezed it over the fish, then gave the lemon carcass to Leigh, who likes to eat limes and lemons out of hand.

At which point we discovered there’s such a thing as a sweet Persian lime.

Sweet Persian limes aren’t all that sweet, but they definitely AREN’T sour, either, so the fish was hastily yanked back out of the oven and doused with some lemon juice out of a bottle.

OK, fish back in Hephaestus’s forge, it was time to make a topping. For this, we start with onions and garlic, because of course we do.  I’m not even going to include the picture – please see the other 50 entries on this blog that include a picture of onions and garlic cooking.  I’ve decided the absolute most unusual food practice in the world isn’t Sardinian maggot cheese or live crickets – it’s the Jainists in India who don’t eat onions and garlic, because my goodness everyone else does.

Also, Sardinian maggot cheese is a real thing.  We’re not making it.

Anyway, in addition to onions and garlic, we need to return to that big bag of dried limes we bought for Iran, and break them up for the black pulp inside.

Dried limes in a mortar

Smashy smashy!

The last thing we need is parsley, tomato paste, and curry powder.  Now, when a recipe only says “curry powder” it makes me sad, because there are a MILLION possible curry powders.  Fortunately, there are a bunch of recipes for Iraqi curry powder online.  Unfortunately, they are all the SAME recipe cut and pasted a bunch of times, and we absolutely could not determine the source or authenticity of the recipe.  Still, gotta use something.
Iraqi(?) curry powder

That’s coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, and paprika.  Tasty, anyway.

All together, our fish topping now looks like this:
Fish topping being cooked

The fish cooks for a surprisingly long time, given the surface of Venus temperature.  The recipe calls for 20 minutes with just the fish, and then another 15 with the topping spread on top. I was REALLY concerned we’d set off the smoke detector as a result of this, but we got away with it, and this was the result:

Finished grilled fish

Trust us, there’s still a fish under all those onions.

For our sides, we had the salad, topped with an oil and vinegar dressing with another insane dollop of sumac powder, and vermicelli rice.  This is made by first crushing up a handful of noodles and frying them like we did for our Egyptian kushari.Frying noodles

The noodles are then added to rice which is carefully cooked on the stove.  No, who am I kidding – we used the rice cooker.  Authentic? No.  Do we care? Also no.

And here’s the final spread:
Iraqi meal
This was phenomenal.  WELL worth the risk of an appearance by the Vancouver Fire Department.  (And I’m sure if we’d given them some of the fish, they’d have agreed.) The topping was spicy and delicious, and the fish really benefited from its roasting in the depths of the inferno.  The buttery rice and sour salad also acted as the perfect balancers.

But we did not stop there – we also made dessert! Kleicha are rolled cookies made with a sweet date filling.  So first off, we needed dates.  The Persian market had dates.  Oh boy, did it have dates.  The clerk found me staring at a WALL of at least seven different kinds of dates with a dazed look on my face trying to Google “best kind of dates for cookies.” She pointed me to a box of Mazafati, and those seemed to work.

Once you have your dates, you pit them and cook them down into a filling along with cardamom, cinnamon, and a little salt and water.

Date filling
Then you make a soft dough with almond and rice flour, more cinnamon and cardamom, and some milk and coconut oil for fat. This gets rolled out.

Rolled out cookie dough.

The ruler is from a production I conducted of “Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?”  It’s… fine.  There are better shows.  The ruler is also fine, but it doesn’t have metric, sadly.

At any rate, the filling gets spread on the dough, and then rolled into a log, which is chopped into cookies, topped with sesame seeds, and then baked.

Iraqi cookies

They’re not perfect, but the spirals aren’t bad, either. And appearance aside, these are TASTY little suckers.  Would make again.  (Had better make again – still have half a box of dates.)

So, the cradle of civilization (well, one of them, anyway) turns out to have excellent food.  They’ve certainly had lots of time to work it out, and they seem to have put it to good use.

Next up, Ireland!

Masgouf (oven baked fish)
Vermicelli Rice
Sumac Salad
Iraqi Curry Powder
Kleicha (date cookies)


International Meals – Guyana

Since we did Iran last week, next up in alphabetical order is (checks notes) Guyana!  Wait, hang on.  Oh right, we’ve had a pin stuck in Guyana for over a year, because I have a coworker from there, and we wanted to have her over to judge our efforts.  And then, well – things just kept happening.  But the grand day has finally arrived, and we can share our efforts with you, our hypothetically existing readers.

First off, a bit of background.  Guyana is a country in South America that shares a border with Venezuela, Suriname, and Brazil.  While Brazil and Guyana seem to have a pretty firm agreement on where their border lies, the border with Venezuela has been disputed since before there even WAS a Venezuela, and the Suriname border has been contested for nearly as long.  The result of this is that more than half of the area marked “Guyana” on a map may or may not be part of the country.

Guyanese food is a mix of Caribbean, British, Indian, and indigenous influences.  A strong contender for the national dish is a stew called “pepperpot,” which is based on a difficult to source sauce called “Cassareep.”  Fortunately,  Saf, my Guyanese coworker, was able to provide us with a bottle.

Cassareep sauce

As indicated in the picture, cassareep is made from Cassava root.  It is dark brown in color, and simultaneously sweet and bitter.  If only we had some sort of word that combined sweet and bitter.  Oh well.

Pepperpot is a stew that can be made with whatever meat you have available.  We chose beef, as our guests keep halal, and headed back to the same butcher where I got the lamb last week.  You first steam the beef to make it easy to remove the fat, then it goes into a pot with the cassareep.

Cassareep going onto beef.

In addition, you also add cinnamon, orange peel, cloves, brown sugar, salt, and wiri wiri peppers.

Wait, WHAT was the last?  Not to be confused with piri piri peppers, which we had to hunt down for Benin, these are small, not dried, and incredibly fragrant.  These were also provided by Saf. Seriously, this meal wouldn’t have been possible without her generous contributions. You’ll see a picture of one of these things a bit later on.

Ingredients added, the stew just stews for as long as you can possibly let it.  We went for about three hours.

Pepperpot cooking.

Trust us, there’s beef in there.  After three hours of cooking, it had reduced to the point where you no longer have to trust us.

Reduced pepperpot.

The traditional accompaniment to pepperpot is a plaited, soft bread.  Never having made plaited bread before, our effort was… a bit of a chonky boi, compared to the longer, thinner shapes you see online.

Plaited bread
It was also a bit denser than it should have been, which is probably down to underkneading.  Seems it takes more than just WATCHING a million episodes of “Great British Bakeoff” to make one an accomplished baker.

For our other side dish, we made a channa fry. First, you boil some chickpeas, hopefully after remembering to soak them first, but if not, a pressure cooker is your best friend.  Then you fry them with this nice pile of stuff.  Upper right is the aforementioned wiri wiri pepper.

Channa fry ingredients

Also visible are toasted cumin seed, garlic, onion, paprika, black pepper, and salt.  Fried up together, you get a delicious, spicy dish.

For OUR final contribution, we also made limewash, which is perhaps an unsettling name, but is essentially just limeade with a little added seasoning, either “mixed essence”, which we didn’t have, or vanilla, which we did.  And we used fresh limes.

So. many. limes.


To finish the meal, Saf brought dessert – a delicious confection made from evaporated and condensed milks, agar-agar, and a little bit of food coloring.

Guyanese dessert

And here’s the final meal!  (We forgot to take a picture before we ate, so this is a slightly staged photo taken after dinner.)

Guyanese meal

First off, I’d like to add a confirmation that we rarely get with these meals – we actually seem to have done this one correctly. Saf confirmed that the pepperpot, channa, and limewash were all more or less bang on.  The bread was a bit dense, but still great for soaking up the sauce with.

So given that we got it RIGHT, how does it taste?  Delicious!  The sauce on the pepperpot is like really nothing else we’ve had so far on this project.  It’s an umami bomb, but also quite sweet and thick. Definitely perfect for soaking up with bread.  The channa was quite spicy, thanks to the peppers, and was a great compliment to the sweetness of the stew.  Vanilla makes a great addition to limeaid, which I will have to remember in the future, and the dessert made for a nice refreshing finish to the meal.

All in all, Guyana was DEFINITELY worth waiting for, and we’re very grateful to Saf and her friend for joining us, and for making the meal even possible in the first place!

Next up, we return to your regularly scheduled alphabetical order with Iraq, unless we decide to wander off and do the Marshall Islands or something else inexplicable like that…

Guyanese boil & fry channa
Guyanese plait bread

International Meals – Iran

It’s been a busy few months since our last international meal.  A few roller derby tournaments, professional travel, and a nice round of bronchitis have delayed our return to the cooking project.  But we’re finally back on track, and this week we’re making one of the leading contenders for “national dish of Iran” – gormeh sabzi.

Gormeh sabzi literally means “braised herbs”.  This is a stew which usually contains meat, but meat is definitely not the focus of the dish.  Rather, it’s centered around the amazing quantities of herbs in which the meat is cooked.

There’s a million versions of this, of course, and the best one is the one your grandmother makes. However, not having a Persian grandmother (we checked), we’re working out of a cookbook by Maryam Sinaiee, From the Land of Nightingales & Roses. This particular version calls for lamb, and specifically lamb neck.

“Lamb neck?”, you say… At least, that’s what the nice man at the first butcher shop I called said; “Lamb neck. Hmm. Nope.”  But he was able to refer me to a halal butcher down the street that DID have lamb neck. an unlabeled bag in the freezer, surrounded by lots of OTHER unlabeled bags, all containing meat parts of wildly varying levels of identifiability.  The recipe specifically calls for lamb neck fillet, which would be much simpler to deal with than what I actually got which was an entire, bone-in, lamb neck.  Then again – I shouldn’t complain. The staff at the butcher were cutting up a whole sheep carcass behind the counter while I was there. I only had to extract the meat from this:

Lamb neck
Definitely quite fiddly, but at least if we were responsible chefs we could have saved the bones and make a delicious lamb stock.  Let’s pretend we did that.

The other ingredient I picked up at the grocer was a bag of dried Persian limes.  Out of the bag, these puppies are hard as a rock, so we soaked them in hot water for a few hours before we got started.

Dried limes

So – limes soaked and lamb… delaminated? …it was time to start cooking, and this being a recipe that exists in the world, it clearly needed to start by frying some onions. (Seriously – I’m curious as what total fraction of the world’s dishes start by chopping and frying onions.  I’m guessing north of 40 percent.)

Once the onions are golden, in goes some turmeric and the lamb.  Once the meat is brown, you add some water, and everything gets to braise for an hour or so.

Lamb, onions, and tumeric

And that time is necessary, because it’s time to prepare our dish’s namesake herbs!  Specifically, this version of the recipe calls for cilantro, parsley, spinach, leeks, and a little bit of fenugreek, which we had, but forgot to add.

So much green stuff.  Once everything is blitzed up fine, you toss it into a pan with some oil, and you cook it low and slow for a LONG time.  This is apparently the key, unskippable step, which separates the quality grandmas from the bad ones.  (I’m kidding – there are no bad grandmas.)  These herbs need to get fried on low heat for something like half an hour to take them from this:

Herbs at the start of cooking.

…to this:
Herbs after frying

The aroma coming off of this pan was amazing.  When the herbs are ready, they go into the pot with the lamb and it’s also finally time to fish those dried limes out of their soaking liquid.
Rehydrated limes

You cut the tops off to make sure the cooking liquid can circulate through the limes and get all the limey goodness out. Limes follow the herbs into the pot.

The observant among you will notice that there’s also a bunch of ginger peel on that cutting board, but I haven’t mentioned ginger at all in this recipe.  That’s because there isn’t any.  Instead, while we were cooking, we tossed the cut off tops of the limes in a tea strainer with ginger, mint, and a little sugar, and just steeped them to make tea.  Not necessarily a particularly Iranian combination, but it sounded like it might be tasty, and it certainly was!

With half an hour left to go in the cook time, we added the last ingredients – a can of kidney beans, and a surprisingly small amount of salt.

Stew with limes, herbs, and beans.

The key accompaniment to this and many other Iranian meals is rice cooked to have a caramel brown, crispy crust, or tahdig, which is offered first to guests as the best part.  We did not get this right. Dunno if we had the wrong kind of pan or just didn’t cook it long enough, but our crust was pale, not very crunchy, and also firmly welded to the pot.

Grandma is weeping in her grave, I’m sure.  It was still TASTY, but it wasn’t what tahdig is supposed to look like.

Finally, we tossed together a quick side dish of yogurt with cucumbers, dried mint, and just a hint of garlic.  And here’s the final meal.

Iranian meal

Like so many of the national dishes we’ve made for this project, this is clearly given pride of place for a reason.  It is sensational.  In addition to the sourness from the limes, you dress it with a little lemon juice at the very end to balance the deep, deep herby flavor from the braised greens.  The lamb is super tender after cooking for several hours, and the tangy yogurt was the perfect accompaniment.

I showed the pictures to my two coworkers from that part of the world, and they said that as far as they could tell, we got the stew right.  They also refrained from laughing TOO loudly at the rice, which was kind of them.

It’s great to be back in the swing of recipes, and we have the next country lined up for this weekend. And for those who have been anxiously waiting – we’re finally going to swing around and do the country we’ve been skipping for almost a year, Guyana!

Although we cooked out of a book this week, here’s a very similar recipe for ghormeh sabzi.

International Meals – Indonesia, Part 3: Bali

One more Indonesian meal to go, this one from the smaller island of Bali.  Although it’s taken a little bit longer to do this write up, we actually managed to make all three Indonesian meals in the space of a week.

For Bali, a dish that was suggested to us was a whole roasted and stuffed duck.  But there’s only two of us, so we decided to used the modified version that just used duck breasts instead.  And here they are, after a little bit of stabby-stabby:

Duck breasts

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… this is Indonesian food, so obviously the FIRST thing we need to do is make a spice paste.

Spice paste

This was similar to the other Indonesian pastes we’ve made, but definitely the most complex so far.  It included shallots, shrimp paste, cinnamon, cloves, coconut milk, coriander seed, garlic, lemongrass, nutmeg, cumin seed, cardamom, galangal, tamarind paste, and white pepper. Once it was ground up, it ALSO needed to be fried for a bit.

Frying spice paste

The smell was, once again, fantastic.  We smeared this all over the duck and left it to marinate overnight.    Once the duck was marinated, the cooking process was simplicity itself – wrap in aluminum foil, and slow roast at low temperature for three hours.  You hold back a little bit of the paste to mix with coconut milk and spinach to make a sauce.

Where the cassava leaves from Sumatra were probably ground a bit too fine, I suspect this Spinach was actually supposed to be chopped a bit finer.  Oh well.

But spinach sauce does not by itself a vegetable dish make, so let’s turn to our second dish for this meal – water spinach with hot and sour dressing.  Water spinach is something we’ve seen before on this blog – cooked with fermented red bean curd, we used it in our Chinese meal from the costal southeast.

In this case, however, we’re going to be cooking it with… wait for it…

A spice paste!  But not a super complicated one this time.  Just chills, garlic, shrimp paste, salt, and peanut oil.

Still, the little chopper is earning it’s keep this week.

The spice paste gets fried for a bit.

And then you cook the water spinach until it wilts and toss in some lime juice at the last minute.

Water spinach cooking

At this point, it’s time to pull the duck breasts out of their little foil saunas.

Cooked duck breasts

Look at all that tasty flavor.  Let’s get this on the table.

Balinese meal

And there we are.  Not a lot of drama for the writeup this time, just duck with spices and veg with spices.

But let’s not bury the lede here – the duck was so damn tasty. Slow cooking made the duck just melt, and the spice blend was utterly magical.  The water spinach held up nicely to the assertive duck as well.  This was a GREAT meal, and Indonesia is definitely high on our list of favorite countries so far.

But we’re moving on now, to either Iran, or.. we may finally loop back around to hit the country we’ve missed.  Do you remember which one that was?  It will be on the quiz…

Balinese Duck Breasts (The recipe we made was from Sri Owen’s “Indonesian Kitchen“, but this one seems reasonably similar.)
Water Spinach with Hot and Sour Dressing

International Meals – Indonesia, Part 2: Java

Two meals in three days?  Madness!

But we had purchased a bunch of fresh ingredients for our Sumatran meal that we wanted to make use of before they went off, and I’m going to be off playing board games all weekend. So here we go.

The meal will feature two dishes – gado-gado, which is mixed vegetables in peanut sauce, and soto ayam, an aromatic chicken stew.  Also shrimp crisps, which have a complicated process that we’ll get into later.

So first up, we’re making a peanut sauce, or sambal kacang.  The main ingredient for this is… well, peanuts.  Surprisingly, unsalted peanuts are a perennially challenging ingredient to source.  Our local grocery store has peanuts in chili-lime, barbeque, and possibly yak, but not, you know… plain.  As such, the only ingredient that we didn’t already have on hand for this recipe was something that in theory we should be able to get at the corner store, but couldn’t.  Back to the Asian grocer.

Peanuts acquired, so into the oil with them!

Frying peanuts

Those get ground up in a blender.  You can see how much the color changed in just a few minutes of frying.

Ground peanuts

To this, you add ground up shallots, garlic, and spices, and cook it down with some liquid until you get a nice thick sauce.

Peanut sauce cooking

Finished peanut sauce

Our other main dish is the chicken stew.  We’re going to start this dish by… wait for it… making a spice paste. This is definitely a recurring theme in southeast Asian cuisines.  Any evening where we have to bust out both food processors AND the mortar and pestle is a party, let me tell you.

Soto spice paste ingredients

Lots of the usual suspects in there – shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and a bunch of spices.  I STILL haven’t gone to get candlenuts, but given how many recipes called for them, I probably should have. That paste gets fried for a bit with lemongrass, lime leaves, and galangal pieces.

Spice paste frying

We also dry roast some whole spices.

Dry spices cooking

Finally everything gets combined into one pot (and seriously, WHY didn’t I fry the spice paste in the same pot, to save one step in cleanup?) along with “good quality chicken broth.”  At least, that’s what the recipe said.  This is labelled in French, so that’s classy, right?

Chicken broth

It is unclear to me why “Western Family” a brand which as far as I know, only exists thousands of miles from Quebec, labels its products in French. Whatever. You can really taste the poulet.

Moving on, the chicken breasts get poached in this liquid until cooked, about 10-15 minutes for normal chicken breasts, and a little bit longer for the mutant monstrosities sold in north American grocery stores.

Meanwhile, we boil some veg to go under the peanut sauce.
Boiled veg

Everything I’ve read about gado-gado says that the exact veg aren’t really important, just that you have a good mix.  At the risk of being insensitive (like that’s ever stopped us), I would compare this, one of Indonesia’s national dishes… to nachos.  The point is that whatever’s on the bottom is mostly there as a vehicle to convey the topping into your mouth. Nachos exist to shove cheese and salsa into your face, and these veg are here to be something you put the peanut sauce on.

The other thing happening at this point is cooking some rice vermicelli.  Here’s the method for cooking rice vermicelli:

1. Pour boiling water on it.

That’s basically it. Ten minutes later, you drain the water.

With the chicken done, and now a lovely shade of yellow, it gets pulled out of the stock and shredded.

Shredded chicken

The stock is drained to get rid of the aromatics and whole spices, and boiled down to concentrate a bit.  Finally, the chicken and noodles are returned to the pot and warmed back up, and dinner is ready to be served.

Oh, except for the shrimp chips.  Every recipe I looked at for both gado-gado and soto ayam mentioned two things. 1. Here is a recipe to make shrimp chips. 2. Seriously, just get them out of a bag, though.

Shrimp chips in a bag

At least it’s an Indonesian bag, right?

It was finally time to plate everything up and have dinner.

Javanese meal

Doesn’t this look good?  Gado-gado on the left and soto ayam on the right.  Shrimp chips in a bowl and peach bellini beer in the glass.  That latter is probably not traditionally Indonesian, so let’s just talk about the first three.

The first three were great.  That soup is DEFINITELY what I want served to me the next time I have a cold. Unlike a lot of other dishes from Indonesia, this one is generally not spicy in and of itself, but is often served with spicy toppings.  But it really doesn’t need them to be appreciated – the flavor profile is complex and delicious. For the gado-gado, what’s not to love about a spicy peanut sauce?  (The vegetables were fine.  They did their job of moving the peanut sauce to our faces.) And no one opens a bag of shrimp chips the way we do.

Indonesia is continuing to make us very happy.  One more meal to go, from Bali, and this one will likely also follow in quick succession.

We cooked out of a book again this week, but here’s some recipes that are roughly similar to the ones we used:


International Meals – Indonesia, Part 1: Sumatra

We really do want to finish this project some day.  Honestly.  And there’s countries later in the alphabet that I’m eager to get to.  There’s also North Korea, but we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it. BUT…

When we consulted our friends with expertise in Indonesia, they gave us a LOT of ideas.  And it turns out that Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, after India, China, and the USA.  We did four meals for India, and five for China, so why not at least three for Indonesia?  At least it’s broken up into discrete units, known as (checks notes) “islands.”

So for our first meal, we are starting with the island of Sumatra, and what is arguably the national dish, beef rendang. To accompany, we’ll be making a cassava leaf curry.  But first, to the library!

Indonesian Cookbooks

Not pictured – the eBook we also checked out.  The Vancouver Public Library has an excellent cookbook selection at the central branch, and it’s walking distance from our apartment.  This represents quite a few pounds (sorry, kilograms) of culinary expertise.

After the trip to the library, the next obligatory trip was to our go-to grocery store for southeast Asian stuffs.


Frozen ingredients

In the top picture, produce, including whole turmeric (upper left), because our cutting board, depressingly, is still the color it was when we bought it.  In the lower picture, frozen ingredients in their natural habitat – the sink.  Observant viewers may notice the first unforced error in that picture – ground cassava leaves.

This dish is supposed to use chopped or pureed leaves, and we do know where to get those, but I spaced and didn’t see that what you have in that bag is almost the consistency (as well as the color) of matcha.  Oh well, too late now, let’s power on and see what it tastes like.

First, we need to pre-cook some stuff.  In the top pan, the cassava powder is blanching. (Blanching?  Can you blanch a powder?) In the bottom pan, dried anchovies.

Cassava and anchovies cooking separately.

Next, we need to make a spice paste, so out comes the immersion blender. A mortar and pestle would be traditional, but the recipe literally does call for a blender.

Spice paste ingredients.

This paste contains red chilies, shallots, garlic, whole turmeric, ginger, whole coriander seed, and powdered cumin.  It does NOT contain candlenuts, because I didn’t want to make a separate trip just to get those.  Sorry.

Once our paste was ground, it gets fried with some whole aromatics – lemongrass, galangal, and lime leaves.

Frying spice paste

I think it goes without saying that this smelled amazing.  Next, you toss in some coconut milk and your cassava leaves, and let it simmer.  The final dish is SUPPOSED to be stewed leaves in a broth, but in our case it ended up with a texture closer to baby food.

Simmering cassava leaf curry

Still, if baby food tastes like this, sign me up for some sort of uncomfortable role play, because it was REALLY tasty. More on the final dish below.

Next up, beef rendang. “Rendang”, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have a literal translation aside from this dish.  It has an incredible amount of cultural significance in the region, which I encourage you to go look up, because I’m not going to be able to do it justice here. So what is it?

It is beef cooked in coconut milk and spices for a LONG time.  No, longer than that.  You cook it until ALL the liquid has either evaporated or been absorbed into the beef.  Over the course of the cooking process, there are a number of discrete stages, all of which look totally different from each other.  I was referring to it as going through phase transitions, but that was too nerdy, and I wanted Leigh to stop hitting me.

But to start, let’s make another spice blend!

Beef rendang spice blend

This one is shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric root, chilies, and galangal, with a little coconut milk for lubrication.

And now, let’s just watch the magic happen.  For the first two hours, it looked like this:
Beef rendang, first stage.

A big pot of seasoned coconut milk with beef under the surface.  Once it had cooked for several hours and reduced a bit, it gets transferred to a wok to increase the surface area. And from here on in, I’m going to include the time stamps so you can follow the evolution.  It’s really magic:


Beef rendang in a wok

Beef rendang at 6:32

Beef rendang at 7:02

Beef rendang at 7:18

My photography skills are not increasing commensurately with the quality of the rendang, obviously.  But still – compare this color to the first picture.  And now compare it to the finished product, from 7:40.

Sumatran meal.

My goodness, LOOK at that color.  At this point just about all of the liquid was gone, and you are left with a thick, delicious seasoning coating the meat.  We abuse the term “depth of flavor” on this blog a lot, but… just LOOK at it! The cassava puree also turned out very nicely, and the tartness and creaminess was a good contrast to the beef, especially with the added textural contrast of the friend anchovies on top.  Also pictured, sticky rice.

And so that was our Sumatran meal.  Beef rendang is EVERYTHING that was promised, and although it takes a while to make, it is something I would absolutely serve to guests. The leftovers the next day were even better, as is often the case with stews

Next up – Java!


International Meals – India, Part 4: Eastern India

For our fourth Indian meal, we’re concentrating on dishes from the eastern part of India, in the areas near Bangladesh. I still haven’t transferred our pictures for our Bangladeshi meal from Facebook over to this blog, but for that meal we made a spicy fish dish, a red lentil curry, and a rice pulao.

Since I hadn’t looked this up before I planned this meal, we ended up making a spicy fish dish and a red lentil curry.  Welp.  The two recipes aren’t QUITE identical, and they were both tasty, so we’re cool.  Plus, we continued our bread-lentil-main-other pattern here, so there were two other dishes to make.

Let’s get started!  First off, our flatbread.  This is the one I’m least certain about the authenticity.  The best known bread from this region is luchi, but it’s deep fried, and we’re on record as being somewhat deep-fry averse.  So instead we found a recipe for a flatbread made with rice flour.  The actual method is pretty simple – first you cook rice flour and water in a pot, then once it’s cooled, you knead it into a dough.

To my astonishment, this powdery mess:

Cooked rice dough

did, in fact, come right together into smooth dough balls.

These then needed to be flattened out as thin as possible, without allowing them to fall apart.  While I never got pretty round shapes, I did at least get somewhat better as we went along. (That would obviously be left to right.)

Rice roti ready for cooking

Back to the cast iron on the grill.  They never got a LOT of color, but some of them DID puff up, so we were clearly doing something right.

Next up, lentils.  We’re using split red lentils for this one, or masoor dal. These things are great – we use them all the time for weeknight cooking, because they don’t need to be soaked, and they come together in a nice thick texture that’s delicious with rice.

Indian cooking can involve making really complicated spice blends.  Toast this, grind that, mix in the other thing, for upwards of as many as twenty ingredients.  But for THIS region, the dominant blend is called panch phoran, and couldn’t be simper.  Take five whole spices, and mix them together without cooking them.  The five spices are fenugreek, nigella, cumin seed, mustard seed, and fennel seed.

We have this adorable little container that I just keep refilling as we run out.

Panch phoran

This lentil dish uses the standard process of “cook lentils in one pot until done, make seasoning in second pot, put seasoning in lentils.”  Seasoning in this case consists of the aforementioned spice blend, along with onions, tomatoes, ginger garlic paste, and chilis.

Lentil seasoning

Finally, let’s talk fish.  There’s two ingredients that required a little planning here.  First is the fish itself.  Rohu is a type of carp, which swims around in solid rectangular blocks of ice, and frankly, seems to be trying just a LITTLE hard to ingratiate itself.

Packaged rohu fish.

WE’LL be the judge of what we like, fish.

The other key ingredient for this dish is mustard oil.  Now, while people in Bengal have been cooking with mustard oil for millennia, it contains high levels of erucic acid, which is potentially linked to heart disease when consumed in large quantities.  As such, it is illegal to sell it for cooking purposes in the US and Canada.  On the other hand, it’s perfectly legal to sell exactly the same oil as hand lotion.

Mustard Oil
“External use only.”  Nudge nudge, wink wink.

Figuring that making the occasional dish with this stuff will likely not kill us, we decided to go ahead and make macher jhol, a tasty fish curry.

The fish steaks, once freed from their icy tomb, were rubbed with salt and tumeric, then quickly seared in the oil. Once they’re ready, you make a sauce with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices.

Fish curry in progress.

After the sauce has reduced for a while, you put the fish back in to finish cooking, and it’s time to bring the whole meal to the table!

Eastern Indian meal
You may notice four place settings here – that’s because we once again had friends!  Leigh’s colleague Laurel and her husband were kind enough to join us and bring a lovely bottle of wine.

And the meal was excellent, if we do say so ourselves.  The dal was creamy and super flavorful, the fish had a lovely bite to it without being overwhelmed by heat.  The bread had a bit of an unusual texture from the rice flour, but it was a perfectly good scoop for shoving food into our faces.

And finally, it was time for desert.  We made chhena poda, a type of cheesecake that can be made with either chhena, a fresh curd which we didn’t want to make, or paneer, which we could just buy. The cheese is blended together with jaggery (palm sugar) and a little cardamom and rice flour.

Chhenna poda in process

To bake, you line a tin with banana leaves and brush them with ghee.

The final product has some of the “squeak” of fresh cheese curds, and is sweet and delicious.

This thing is also so ludicrously easy to make, we’re going to have to bear it in mind for future potluck situations.

So – that’s our whirlwind tour through India.  For blog purposes, anyway – it’s going to continue to be one of our staple cuisines for regular cooking.  (We literally made another dal recipe in the three days between the time of this meal and when I got around to writing it up.)

Next up, Indonesia, and we have friends with THOUGHTS and FEELINGS on that topic. Can’t wait!

Bengali Masoor Dal
Apas (Rice Roti)
Macher Jhol (fish curry)
Chhena Poda (cheesecake)

International Meals – India, Part 3: Southern India

For this meal, we’re heading to the land of dosa!  We’re not MAKING dosa, of course, just heading to the LAND of dosa.  However, we are going to make the same kind of batter you use to make dosa, and then we are going to completely fail to make a different kind of bread with it.


For this meal, we attempted to continue our “main-side-lentil-bread” pattern from the previous two. But in addition, we added the pressure of inviting guests to come share the meal.  Having guests for these things is always a bit of a crap shoot – we LOVE sharing the meals with other people, but since it’s almost always food we haven’t cooked before, the results can be a bit mixed and we don’t want folks to go hungry if we screw up.

Everyone’s been nice about it so far, anyway.

In an attempt to get everything ready CLOSE to the right time, we did as much mise en place before we started cooking as we possibly could.  It really did speed things up later on.

Mise en place

OK, so let’s get the colossal failure out of the way first – it’s the dish we started earliest, so chronological order would put it here anyway. Specifically, we failed to make uttapam, a kind of fluffy pancake-like bread made with fermented rice.  It would be perfectly normal to make this with a mix, just like you would use boxed pancake batter, but we decided to go whole hog and start from scratch.

As mentioned above, Uttapam uses the same batter as dosa and idli, a different fluffy bread from southern India.  The batter is made from fermented rice and lentils, so first both need an overnight soak.

Soaking rice and lentils

In addition to parboiled rice, the bowl on the left also contains rice flakes and fenugreek seed. Depending on who you ask, the rice flakes either help with fermentation or texture.

After the overnight soak, both bowls get blended, and I think here is where I went wrong.  If you watch videos of this process online, typically, this is mixed in an actual blender, not just a food processor.  The lentils should be blended smooth, and the rice to “a little bit grainy.”  The lentils were fine, but the rice…

Blended rice

…well, it’s a bit hard to see in the picture, but the texture we achieved was a bit more than a little bit grainy.  It was a LOT grainy.  And the grains were pretty big.  But never having made this before, when I started hitting a point of diminishing returns with the food processor, I stopped.  Bad choice.  In hindsight I should have just let the sucker run for a LOT longer, or busted out the immersion blender.

But we didn’t know at the time that we were already hosed, so into the Instant Pot it went, with our non-locking lid that we bought two years ago and have never used. And for the first time, we pressed the “yogurt” button!

Yogurt button

Always exciting to press a new button.  After ten hours fermentation, it was a BIT bubbly, but hadn’t increased much in volume at all.  But we gave it a try anyway.

To make uttapam, you spread the batter on a cooking surface, like a griddle, top it with veggies, and when it’s cooked on one side, you flip it over.

Yeah, about that…

Failed uttapam

They never cohered into a solid mass, so when we attempted to flip them over, it was like trying to flip over a cup of beads – there was no cohesive structure, just a pile of rice bits.  An absolute mess.  I did sample one, and they didn’t taste terrible, but this is just utterly wrong.

OK, so, our guests are waiting, what else is ready?

Fortunately, our other three dishes turned out fine, if slightly under-documented.  For our lentil dish, we made a lentil dish from Kerala. First, we cooked some split pigeon peas in the Instant Pot.  This is the same lentil as the Gujarati recipe from last week, but this recipe used the genius suggestion of using an inner cooking container, saving us from having to scrub the Instant Pot liner itself.

Lentils in a bowl inside an Instant Pot.

There’s two ways lentil dishes get their individual seasonings – things mixed in during the final cooking of the beans, and a tadka of oil and spices added at the end.  For the in process seasoning, this dish used a paste consisting of coconut, chilis, cumin seeds and turmeric. The tadka consisted of mustard seeds, green chilis, shallots, curry leaves, and dried chilis.

Lentil seasonings

Mix the tadka into the lentils, and that dish is done.

Next up, our side dish, which is arguably more of a condiment than a side – a delicious peanut chutney.  First, you fry green chilis, garlic, and split black lentils, or urad dal. The lentils are there to act as a binder when the chutney is blended.

Chilis, garlic, and lentils cooking.

Next, you roast the peanuts.  Forgot to take a picture of that. Imagine peanuts in the same pan.

Finally, everything gets blended together, for which task the food processor was perfectly adequate.

Peanut chutney

It may not LOOK like much, but it really was tasty, and it had a great kick to it from all the chilis.

Finally, let’s talk about our main dish, Chettinad Chicken. This is a popular South Indian curry originating from the state of Tamil Nadu.  What distinguishes it from other chicken curries is the particular spice blend, or masala, used to flavor it.  We’re doing this right, so we start by toasting whole spices.

Whole spices roasting

Charmingly, the recipe describes “big spices” and “little spices,” with different roasting times for each.  “Big spices” in this case includes whole coriander seed, cinnamon, black peppercorns, star anise, clove, and green cardamom. “Little spices” include cumin, poppy seed, and ajwain.  These get toasted for the appropriate lengths of time, and then blended together to make a lovely smelling mix:

Chettinad Masala

Next, we cook onions for about thirty minutes.  And frankly, they should probably have gotten even MORE time, but we needed to stay on schedule. Once the onions are nice and soft, you put in the rest of your ingredients – garlic and ginger pastes, the masala, tomatoes, coconut milk, curry leaves, and of course, the chicken.

Chettinad chicken cooking

And when it was done, everything came out to the table:

South Indian Meal

Now I will be the first to admit – my plating skills are right down there with my photography skills.  This photograph does NOT do anything in it justice.  Because let me tell you – Chettinad chicken is delicious and we will be making it again.  The lentils had a great bite, and the peanut chutney was spectacular.  We didn’t really need to confirm how much we loved Indian food, but let’s do so anyway – we really love Indian food.

To finish the meal, our guests were kind enough to bring a whole box of beautiful and tasty Indian sweets.

Indian sweets

Aren’t those purty?

Overall, an excellent meal, even with one dish a complete failure.  Only one more compass direction left, so next time we’re off to East India.  Not the East Indies.  That’s different.

Nadan Kerala Parippu Curry (Kerala style lentils)
Chettinad Chicken
Peanut Chutney

International Meals – India, Part 2: Western India

This week, we head to Western India, and the area that was at one time the Mughal Empire.  The pattern from last time of “bread – side dish – lentil  – main” seemed to work pretty well, so we decided to continue it.

First up, bread! This is one of two dishes this week from the state of Maharashtra. Like last time, this is a flatbread, but unlike our northern bread, which used strictly whole wheat flour, this one uses whole wheat, millet, AND chick pea flour.  Which we finally broke down and bought a bag of, because it keeps coming up. In addition to three kinds of flour, this bread also uses three kinds of seeds, two other dry spices, and some aromatics.

Ingredients for dhapate

I will point out that this is also the recipe for this meal with the second shortest ingredient list.  Everything in this picture is chopped and / or measured as appropriate, and mixed together with some water to make a dough.

Dhapate dough

These breads are then shaped into small rounds with a hole in the middle that can be either pan- or deep-fried.  We hate deep frying, so back out with the cast iron it was!

Dhapate cooking

We didn’t manage to produce the most symmetrical little buggers, but close enough.

Moving on, our side dish is from the region of Goa.  Goa was the site of a Portuguese colony from 1510 until 1961, over a decade after the remainder of India gained independence from the United Kingdom.  The cuisine is a fascinating mix of Indian and European influences, and is the home of one of my favorite curry types, the vindaloo. (Literally, “meat in garlic”, but best known for being a very vinegar forward curry.)

But today we’re making Beans Foogath, a relatively straightforward dish of green beans and coconut. The beans are cooked with some dried and fresh chiles, onion, and a comparatively small number of spices.

Green beans cooking

Once everything is a nice bright green, you toss in some grated coconut and water, and stew it until the beans are done but still crunchy.  And that’s it!

Green Beans Foogath

Next up, lentils!  In this case, split pigeon peas, or toor dal, cooked in a style hopefully representative of the state of Gujarat.  The ingredient list on this one is QUITE long.  First, you cook the beans separately to soften them up a bit.  Once they’re close to cooked, you add in ginger, chiles, jaggery (cane sugar), peanuts, kokum, and potatoes, boiled.

Wait – what?  Potatoes, boiled?

Attention recipe authors – please do not bury a process that takes 20-30 minutes in the ingredient list.  Not wanting to delay dinner by another half hour when we already had chicken cooking and bread getting cold, we left out the potatoes.

Please enjoy this picture of kokum, instead.

Kokum and pigeon peas

Kokum is a type of dried plum used as a souring agent in a lot of Indian food.  My understanding, which could be wrong, is that one way to determine how far north you are in India is to check the relative prevalence of kokum vs. tamarind.

At any rate, with the lentils cooking, it’s time to make the tempering – the flavored oil with other spices that is used to season the dish. And here’s the family photo for this step:

Tempering ingredients for Gujarati Dal

More or less clockwise from bottom, we have tomatoes, fenugreek leaf, cumin seed, mustard seed, cloves, dried chiles, fenugreek seed, bay leaves, cinnamon, coriander seed, and tumeric.  These all get fried off together with some curry leaves.

Dal tempering cooking

Once everything is nice and fragrant, the tempered oil and the spices go in with the beans, and that means there’s only one dish left to talk about.

For our main dish, we return to Maharashtra, and specifically the city of Nagpur.  We’re making a dish called Saoji Chicken. Every recipe you find for this dish specifically brings up how spicy it is.  Spicy is fine, but the repeated warnings were a little interesting.

First up, we make a spice paste, or masala, from another huge stack of ingredients:

Saoji masala ingredients

From left to right (more or less), this is sorghum flour, whole mace flowers, kashmiri chiles, black cardamom, black pepper, green cardamom, cloves, star anise, bay leaves, coriander seed, oil cinnamon, onion, ginger, and garlic. Not pictured, but still included, grated coconut and cilantro.  Not pictured and NOT included, poppy seeds and stone flower.

Poppy seeds were left out because we thought we had some, but didn’t.  Stone flower is an interesting one, though.  It’s apparently a lichen used to add flavor to some curries, but we managed to stump the clerk at the Indian grocery store when we asked for it, even when presented with a number of possible different translations.  Apparently it CAN be found if we wanted to drive down to the suburbs and poke about, but it’s hard to imagine the dish completely changing character because we left out one ingredient out of all these.

In order to simplify cooking, we mised some en place to get ready:

Mise en place for masala

These various bits were fried off in sequence.

Masala cooking

Once everything was cooked, it all went into the spice grinder to make a paste, and the aromatics were fried separately.  Finally, the spice paste and the aromatics went into the food processor to make a pastier paste.  Which then had to be fried even more.

We of course tasted it at this point, and the flavor was indeed pretty intense, although I’m not sure I’d say SPICY was the dominant note.  Just really, really complex.  At this point, the chicken was added, tossed with the masala and a little water, and cooked until done.

Two confessions: I forgot to take any pictures of the chicken actually cooking.  You’ll have to wait for the final meal picture.

Second confession: I bought boneless chicken thighs.  I KNOW the bones add flavor, but sometimes I just don’t have the spoons to deal with them.  Or the knives, to be more accurate.  At any rate, after 25 minutes or so, the chicken was done, and it was time to bring everything to the table.

West Indian Meal

And here we are! Dhapate, Foogath Beans, Gujarati style dal, and Saoji chicken, along with some basmati rice and a Kingfisher, which according to the bottle is “India’s Premium Beer”.  Also according to the label, this one was brewed in the UK.  Oops.

At any rate, how was it? Excellent!  The bread was a BIT chewy from being made several hours in advance and cooling, but it had a nice spice mixture, and it was perfect for soaking up the sauces.  The green beans had plenty of personality from the simmering with the spices and the coconut.  The dal was interesting – the peanuts gave it a bit of a crunch, but based on the descriptions I have read of the flavor, I suspect it needed a bit more sugar.  And the chicken was delicious. All that complexity really shone through in the masala.  My only complaint is that the amount of masala generated by the recipe could easily have seasoned twice the volume of chicken, and then we’d have had leftovers.

So with two down and two to go, our hurtle around India is a great success so far! Next up, the south!

Goan Style French Beans Foogath
Gujarati Dal
Saoji Chicken

International Meals – India, Part 1: Northern India

India. Wow.  OK, Let’s do this.

For the most part, this project has involved one meal per country, on the assumption that there are a metric crapton of countries, and we’re not likely to finish this under the BEST of circumstances.  But we’ve made a few exceptions.  China got five meals, and France got two.

There was NO way that India was going to get squeezed into one meal.  The plan is to do four, and even that is absurdly reductive.

Now the other thing about Indian food is that we make it all the time.  It is one of our favorite cuisines, and it is telling that despite the fact that all four of these recipes have quite long ingredient lists, we only had to buy one spice we didn’t already have. (More on that later.)  If you need a good starting point, may I recommend 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer.  Despite the clickbait-y title, it’s a fantastic introduction / reference book, and does a good job of spanning a broad gamut of Indian recipes.

But given that we make Indian food a lot, we want these meals to be a bigger deal than our normal outings.  So we selected no fewer than four dishes – a bread, an appetizer, a lentil curry, and a lamb curry.

Let’s get to it, shall we?  I’ll talk about the dishes one at a time, rather than the frantic back-and-forth that actually happened as we tried to get all four of these to the table at approximately the same time.

Starting with the bread.  India has a wide variety of breads, and we originally wanted to pick one from Rajasthan, as that state is not otherwise represented in this meal.  But it turns out the quintessential Rajasthani bread, Khoba Roti, is fussy as all get out, and would be a project all by itself.  Pretty, though.  So instead we went with Missi Roti, a flatbread from Punjab made with a mix of whole wheat and chickpea flour, onions, chiles, and ajwain seeds.

Chickpea flour is something we just don’t quite use often enough to justify the storage space, but fortunately, it’s really easy to just put chickpeas in a spice grinder and make your own.
Homemade chickpea flour

The Indian grocer I visited had whole wheat flour (which they literally referred to as “Roti Flour”) in bulk, so we didn’t have to commit to several pounds of that. The various flours got mixed together into a dough, along with chiles, onions, the ajwain seeds, and a pinch of asafetida (which is technically a resin, but we don’t stand on ceremony here).

Unmixed roti dough

After a bit of a rest, the dough is rolled out:

Rotis being rolled out

And finally cooked. Lacking a tandoor or a tawa, and not wanting to set off the smoke alarm like the LAST time we tried to make flatbreads in the apartment, we opted for cast iron on the grill.

Roti cooking

One down.  What’s next?

Our appetizer was Paneer Tikka Kebabs, or “spiced cheese on sticks” if you like. Everything’s better on a stick, right? Like the roti, this particular variant is from the Punjab region. We hope.

This recipe definitely epitomized the long ingredient lists for today’s menu.  Here’s just the spices for the marinade (and not even all of them).

Paneer Tikka marinade ingredients

Paneer Tikka Marinade. From left to right: coriander seed, Chaat masala, Garam masala Kashmiri pepper powder, oil, fenugreek leaves, ginger paste, garlic paste. Not Pictured: red pepper powder, mint, cilantro, lemon juice. yogurt.

I’d like to point out that a) the Chaat Masala and Garam Masala are both spice blends, so the actual ingredient list on this marinade is substantially longer and b) we already had every single item in this picture on the shelf.

So – mix everything up to make a marinade, and then donk in the paneer and some veg to soak.
Paneer marinade.

This actually happened several ours before the main orgy of cooking, so I had time to come back to my chair and sit down for a while.  Or at least, I WOULD have…

Orange cat in a chair.


No chair for you.

The actual cooking process for the kebabs was simple. Bake for a bit to cook the cheese, then broil a bit to crisp the outside. Longer broiling would have been desirable, but again, there were smoke alarm concerns, and we had already shut off the grill.  Next time.

On to the dal.

This recipe claims to be from Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, adjacent to the capital, New Delhi.  It uses split chick peas (chana dal) and split black lentils.  (urad dal, which are actually white if they’ve been skinned.)  In addition, it uses spinach, onion, tomatoes, and another long spice list.


When we did our Ethiopian meal, we used the pressure cooker as a shortcut for one of the dishes, but it wasn’t necessarily an authentic preparation. Indian cooking, by contrast, uses pressure cookers as a staple technique. The only difficulty is that many traditional recipes will say things like “cook to the third whistle.”

Our Instant Pot doesn’t have a whistle, so we just took our best guess.

At any rate, first the spinach is blanched and pureed:

Pureed spinach

Growing up, pureed frozen spinach was the only way I ever encountered the vegetable, so I’m a bit wary of this – grown up Dan much prefers whole leaf spinach, prepared by being waved around in the same room as some boiling water for 20 seconds or so.  However, it turns out that pureed fresh spinach is still much tastier than the frozen kind.

The sautee function on the Instant Pot is used to brown some onions, and then soften up the vegetables and lentils a bit.

Vegetables and lentils cooking

Next, in with the spinach, seal the lid, and let it cook for a few whistles. Or seven minutes.  Whatever.

Spinach added to the Instant pot

A common feature of a lot of Indian lentil dishes is a tadka, or tempered oil.  You cook the lentils and veg in one pot, as above, and then in a small separate pan, you cook spices in oil to bring out their flavor and season the oil.  The tadka for this recipe is a bit unusual in that it involves garlic, which would more commonly be cooked with the beans (or not used at all).

Tadka ingredients

In addition to the garlic, this tadka also includes green chiles, cumin seed, and more asafetida. These were cooked in some clarified butter (ghee) and then added to the lentils when they were done.

Whew – one more dish to go!

Kashmir is the region on the Indian border with Pakistan.  There’s… a lot of history there from the last hundred years, most of it awful, and most of it the fault of the British.  For more information, consult the historical documentary, Ms. Marvel. (Sorry, that was in poor taste.  Do educate yourself, though.) (Also watch Ms. Marvel – it’s great.)

Our reading indicated that if any one dish could be pointed to as the “national” dish of the region, it would be Rogan Josh, a curry whose name literally means “hot oil.”

Here we had to make a few compromises.  The recipe we picked insisted that bone-in lamb was important.  However, when I went out shopping the morning of, my choice was frozen bone-in lamb, which would either involve defrosting (time consuming) or microwaving (not great), or else boneless lamb chunks which were already defrosted.  We went with B.

Next compromise – the distinctive red color of Rogan Josh does NOT come from tomatoes, and the author of the recipe was explicit that if you attempted to put tomatoes in this recipe, she would come to your home and beat you around the head and shoulders with a lamb shank.  Ahem. She was explicit that it would not be traditional, but would still probably be tasty.

But we’re going the extra mile today, so I attempted to acquire one of the traditional ingredients used for the color, either Ratan Jot, a dried leaf, or Mawal, a dried flower.  The store had neither in stock, but they did have Ratan Jot powder, so that’s what we got.

To actually make the dish, the lamb chunks are first browned, then removed from the pan.

Lamb chunks

Next, another long list of spices and aromatics is toasted in the same oil, including black cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, Kashmiri chili, powdered ginger, garlic paste, ginger paste, and coriander. Finally, the lamb goes back in with yogurt and some water, and then goes on the simmer for ninety minutes or so.

Lamb simmering

That’s quite red, but it’s just not red enough. No, now it’s time to add the fancy Ratan Jot from above.  Problem: the recipe assumes you have the leaves, and we only had the powder.  So we took a page from a number of recipes in the Iyer book mentioned approximately 600 paragraphs ago (this WILL all be on the quiz). To infuse oil with powdered spices without burning them, we heated the oil first, then shut off the gas and put the powder into the hot oil to be cooked by the residual heat.  Was this right?  Did we use enough? No idea!  But it certainly was a striking color.

Adding oil to lamb

With the lamb, bread, dal, and paneer all done, it was time to eat!

Northern Indian Meal

My food porn game is not strong, but holy cow was this good.  There’s a REASON we make so much Indian food, and that reason is that Indian food is f*ing tasty.  The paneer had a serious kick to it, the lamb was meltingly tender, the spinach was a great vehicle for the lentils without being gummy, and the bread was perfect for shoving everything into our faces.

We am looking forward to the next three meals, for sure.

Big thanks to my friend Natarajan for his help with how to conceptualize this part of the project.

Next up – more India!

Kashmiri Rogan Josh
Paneer Tikka
Missi Roti
Satpaita Dal