My husband was born in Hyderabad, India, which is in the Southern part of the country. While most of India can get really steamy in the summer months, South India gets hella hot, and their cuisine reflects that. I don’t know why it is that the hotter the city, the spicier the food, but a lot of Asian countries are like that, and India is no exception. South Indian food can range from zingy to absolutely incendiary.

My husband’s mother has always had a heavy hand with the spice when she makes her curries. When my husband was little, if he ever complained about the spice level in his dinner, his mother would roll her eyes and scoff.

“It’s not too hot,” she’d retort. “You’re too weak.”

When my husband told me that story, I had to laugh. It wasn’t until I actually tasted her cooking that I realized the accuracy of that statement, and I actually like my Indian food spicier than my husband does. There was one fish curry, in particular, that was so hot that I thought my tongue was literally going to burst into flames. Even his stalwart mother was using her napkin to wipe her brow by the end of the meal.

“Well, that batch of chilis was powerful,” she said, reaching for the bowl of yogurt on the table.

Many parts of South India are primarily vegetarian, and although my in-laws do eat meat, vegetables are usually the bulk of the meal, with the meat taking a secondary role on the plate. It figures, then, that my husband’s mother–Nama, as we call her–has a particularly deft hand when it comes to vegetables. She can make vegetables taste magical. I sometimes joke that she is the “Veggie Whisperer.”

When I met my husband, I’d eaten Indian food in restaurants (mostly North Indian food–it’s incredibly difficult to find South Indian food in the Rocky Mountains), but I’d definitely never attempted to make it myself. When we got engaged, I decided that it was time I learned how to make it, since it was clear that the man was going to be sticking around for a while. The next time his mother came for a visit, I asked her to show me how to make his favorite chicken curry and broccoli.

“Oh, it’s so easy,” she said breezily. “Nothing to it! I’d love to show you.” Then she pulled out at least a dozen small jars of unlabeled spices and began toasting them and popping them in hot oil, failing to use any kind of measurements whatsoever. No teaspoons, no tablespoons, no real direction. My head threatened to spin clear around, I was so overwhelmed.

After that, I promptly went to the bookstore and bought my first Indian cookbook–one with painstaking explanations and measurements. That cookbook, Curried Favors by Maya Kaimal MacMillon, remains my go-to bible whenever I’m craving an Indian fix for dinner. I’ve made probably 2/3 of the recipes in that cookbook over the years and I haven’t had a single one that’s turned out less than stellar. That’s a pretty great track record, if you ask me.

One of the first recipes I tried from that cookbook was this potato curry, enhanced with vibrant chunks of fresh tomato and thickened with rich coconut milk. It’s different than the potato curry his mother makes, but it’s still downright delicious and oh-so bursting with flavor. No boring potatoes here!

Depending on the amount of turmeric you use, the curry can range from a pretty pinkish color to a kind of yellowy-orange. I’ve grown to really enjoy the taste of turmeric over the years, so I use a heavier hand, but if you’re at all leery, definitely use the lesser amount and adjust according to your taste.

I’ve modified the recipe slightly, just because some of the original ingredients, like fresh curry leaves, are incredibly difficult to find and I’m not always willing to drive to Boulder to get my hands on them. So this is a bit of a lazier curry, but it’s still plenty tasty. I also add a little extra coconut milk because I like my curries a bit on the saucy side (mainly because I have a dangerous addiction to naan bread and if the curry is saucy, you can sop it up with extra naan).

This curry makes a delicious vegetarian meal, accompanied by naan or basmati rice, but you can also make it as a side dish as part of an Indian feast. It also goes great with simple grilled chicken or fish, no Indian flair necessary. Every time I make this, I’m glad I went to the effort, and once you taste it for yourself, I bet you’ll agree. No fire extinguishers necessary.

 

 

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Potato Curry with Onion and Tomatoes

serves 6-8

slightly adapted from Maya Kaimal MacMillan’s Curried Favors

 

1 cup thinly sliced onion

2 tablespoons vegetable or coconut oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

Spice Mixture:

5 teaspoons ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 1/2 cups diced or canned tomato, drained

3 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 3 cups)

1/4 cup water

3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk, divided

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, slightly crushed

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds

fresh chopped cilantro

 

In a large frying pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft and starting to brown. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Stir in spice mixture and tomatoes and cook until tomatoes soften.

Add potatoes, water, 1/2 cup coconut milk, fennel seeds and salt. Bring to a boil; turn heat down to simmer and partially cover pan. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender and liquid has reduced slightly.

Add 1/4 cup coconut milk, bring to a boil and remove from heat. Consistency should be relatively thick. Remove from heat, add salt, mustard seeds and cilantro.

 

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When people ask me what I did this summer, I have a little trouble answering them. Sure, there were cookouts and concerts and trips to the swimming pool. If I’m honest, though, I’d have to say that I spent a lot of this summer worrying. Even in normal circumstances, I am a very good worrier–Mama used to call me a “professional”–but this summer was out of the ordinary, even for me.

Without boring you with the details, there was change and upheaval at my husband’s work, and some big decision-making that had to be done…a lot of it out of our control. It sucks when a major life change is somewhat out of your control. As far as feelings go, powerless is among the worst of the worst, don’t you think? In short: we weren’t sure if we were going to be staying in Colorado or relocating (most likely to the Pacific Northwest).

I’m happy to report that last week, we got the news that we’d be staying in our beloved hometown, but it was a stressful and high-strung summer, let me tell you. I couldn’t seem to turn off my brain, which was stuck on the same damn channel, constantly chattering something like this: Jesus, we might have to move/moving totally sucks/this house is eleven years old and everything’s going to have to be replaced in order to sell it/ugh, selling your house suckity sucks/do you know how much shit you’re going to have to sort through and pack up/no way can I pack this all up/oh God, how will we break it to the girls/they will hate us/is it even moral to move a 14 year old and a 10 year old/oh they will hate us for sure/can I even survive winter in the Pacific Northwest/those winters are going to eat me I just know it/can we just move for a year/we’re fucked/we’re fucked/we’re fucked.

Yeah, something like that.

Even worse, my husband, who is usually fairly competent at shutting me off and calming me down when my brain goes haywire like that, was spending more time than ever at work, and I sure wasn’t sharing anything with the girls at this juncture, so I was home, alone, in my thoughts, trapped on Planet YouSoFucked.

It was exhausting. Because I’m exhausting. It’s not one of my finer qualities.

But hey, now I can relax, right? At least for today, or an hour, or until the next worry pops into my dorkus brain.

One thing I did over the summer, in an attempt to distract myself, was go through Mama’s old recipe box. What is it about a recipe box that feels so personal? It’s like a little treasure, a historical relic, able to dredge up the most vivid memories and take you back in time. Just sifting through those recipe cards, weathered with years and use and written in Mama’s distinctive, loopy cursive…I don’t know. It made me miss her and feel close to her and smile and yes, cry a little too. Some recipes, though, made me laugh, because they are decidedly White Trash Motherlode-type dishes, some of them much beloved my me when I was a little kid in Toughskin jeans and saddle shoes.

The recipe below is one such recipe, although I tried to update it and make it a little less trashy by adding some spice and fresh herbs and jettisoning the Velveeta cheese and the can of cheddar cheese soup. The original version was a little scary, but I remember loving it as a kid. Mama only made it when Daddy was out of town, because he wasn’t a fan of rice or sour cream, but I scarfed it right down.

I made this for purely selfish reasons, to comfort myself, because I knew nobody else in my family would touch this thing. My family is firmly anti-casserole, those heathens. Even though it’s not the original recipe, it did the trick. My version ended up quite spicy, because I’d gotten my  hands on some zingy roasted Hatch green chiles (another reason to love living in this great state!) If you’re not a fan of heat, feel free to use mild canned green chiles and dial back the quantity of pepper jack cheese in favor of a milder one, like Colby or Monterey Jack. Or you can go all White Trash Renegade and use Velveeta. I’ll never tell.

 

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Rice and Green Chile Bake

serves 6-8

2 cups reduced fat sour cream

1 cup regular sour cream

zest of and juice of 1 lime

1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro

salt and pepper

1 cup roasted Hatch green chiles, seeded, peeled and diced (or substitute two 4-ounce cans chopped green chiles)

4 cups cooked rice (you can also use brown rice)

2 1/2 cups grated pepper jack cheese (8 ounces)

2 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (8 ounces)

salt and pepper to taste

sliced jalapeno, diced tomato and chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

 

Mix together both types of sour cream, chiles, lime zest, lime juice and chopped cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

Butter a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Layer half of the rice in the casserole, top with half of the sour cream/chile mixture, and top with half of the cheese. Repeat layers a second time, ending with the cheese mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover casserole and bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Remove cover; return casserole to oven and bake and additional ten minutes or until bubbly.

Garnish with jalapeno, diced tomato and cilantro, if desired.

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16 Years

September 15, 2016

scuba        ^Encouraging me to do weird shit for 16 years!^

 

Happy Anniversary, Babe! Found ya. Gotcha. Gonna keep ya.

 

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Poke Time

September 7, 2016

Ginger-Peach Cocktail for a Long Weekend

September 2, 2016