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Jul 2010 28

Curry puffs are a popular snack food in Malaysia, Thailand and India. Their bland name does not quite describe their wide appeal. Think: hot, dry ground meat or potato, so spicy it could pickle your tongue, hidden within a pocket of flaky, light, and ever-so-slightly chewy puff pastry. This version uses crumbled beef, and is baked to produce a light crust.

If you’ve ever had a Jamaican beef patty (and, having grown up secular in Toronto, I have had many), this is similar, but dare I say better – the pastry is flakier, more tender than its tough yellow Jamaican counterpart. These puffs are great at room temperature, which is why I often make them as a side for Shabbos lunch. You can also do mini versions for festive hors d’oeuvres.

I prefer to use the folded-up frozen puff pastry you have to thaw and roll out, as the pre-cut squares tend to stick together and get misshapen. But this is your call.

You will need:

1 lb lean ground beef
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp cumin
up to 2 tbsp cayenne pepper or schug (chili compote)
1 tsp salt

1 pkg frozen puff pastry dough, thawed
1/4 c all-purpose flour (for dusting)
1 egg, beaten with a little water

Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they become glassy.

Add the garlic, ginger, curry powder and cumin. Lightly stir-fry them for a second, then add the beef. Brown the beef, stirring constantly, and continue to cook until most of the water has evaporated. Add the cayenne pepper or schug slowly, tasting as you go, until you’ve achieved your desired heat level (it should be as hot as you can stand)! Season with the salt and remove from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Dust your work surface and your rolling pin with flour. Roll out the puff pastry dough (try to keep its square shape intact) until it is about as thin as a graham cracker. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 9 squares.

Place about 1 tbsp of the curried beef into the center of each pastry square. Dip your finger or a pastry brush into water, and use it to moisten the edges of a square. Fold the square in half (rectangle, triangle, whichever you prefer) and use your fingers to firmly seal and crimp the edges. Repeat with the remaining squares until you have 9 beautiful little curry babies.

Use a pastry brush to give the puffs a nice egg wash (top side only), then make a small slit in the top of each with a knife, to let the steam escape.

Arrange the curry puffs onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes or until they are puffy and golden. Meanwhile, you can scoop up any leftover beef with a handful of tortilla chips and wash it down with something ice-cold and alcoholic.

Serves 6.

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Feb 2010 05

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’ve got no idea about Polynesian cuisine, but these little tropical kebabs make me feel like I’m basking in the sun on a paradisiacal island far, far away from slushy Toronto. I make these when I’m tired of gefilte fish and I want to serve something festive and a little spicy as the first course for Shabbos dinner or lunch. Besides being aesthetically attractive, they are easy to make – and that, to me, is the biggest draw. You can use any type of fish you like, provided it won’t fall apart when cooked; my favourite is Chilean sea bass for its rich, buttery texture. And you can cook the fish any way you like – blitz it on the barbecue, under the broiler, or just bake in a really hot oven – it doesn’t matter. The point is that, once cooked, it’s only a matter of brushing the fish once more with the stickily sweet, sour and spicy marinade, then rolling them in a pretty combination of coconut and black sesame seeds. Sometimes I switch things up by encrusting the fish with chopped cashews instead – I’ve found that either option yields delicious results.

You will need:

8 small bamboo skewers
12 oz (340g) skinless boneless fish, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 ½ tbsp honey
1-2 tbsp lime juice
1 ½ tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
¼ c. water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
Salt to taste
½ c. unsweetened flaked coconut
¼ c. black sesame seeds.

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, whisk together the honey, lime juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, water, garlic, ginger, chilli and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the sauce is thickened and reduced by about half. Set it aside to cool.
Meanwhile, place the bamboo skewers in a dish of water to soak for at least 5 minutes – this will prevent them from burning in the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Thread the fish onto the skewers – you’ll want 3 or 4 pieces for each. Using a pastry brush, brush the fish on all sides with the cooled marinade, and line them up on a baking sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes per side, or just until cooked through.
Tear off a large square of wax paper and combine the coconut and sesame seeds in a pile at the centre. Alternatively, you could do this in a large rectangular container. When the fish has cooled, brush it again on all sides with the remaining marinade, then roll the skewers in the coconut/seed mixture so that the fish is encrusted evenly. I like to serve these, 2 skewers for each guest, on a bed of basmati rice.
Serves 4 as a first course
© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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Nov 2009 10

Pakoras are those tasty little spiced fritters consisting of vegetables dipped in batter and deep-fried –sort of the Indian answer to tempura. They can be made with individual whole chunks of veggies (cauliflower, onions, eggplant) or you can concoct a “mixed” pakora by combining several different shredded vegetables.  The flour used in the batter is actually not flour at all, but dried chickpeas ground into a powder. It is called besan, and is used quite frequently in Indian cuisine.

You will need:

½  c. besan (chickpea flour)
½ tsp salt plus extra to taste
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp baking powder
1½ tsp cumin
1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
½  c. plus 1 tbsp water
1 Yukon gold (a.k.a. yellow-flesh) potato
1 large onion
vegetable oil for deep-frying

In a large bowl, whisk together the besan, ½ tsp salt, cayenne pepper, baking powder, and cumin. Whisk in the water, beating well to form a smooth batter – it should be roughly the consistency of pancake batter, and should coat the back of a spoon. Stir in the cilantro, and set aside.
Grate the potato (medium or large-sized grate).  Finely chop the onion, so that the pieces are roughly the same size as the bits of potato. Toss the potato and onion together, then add them to the batter.
Heat the oil in a wok or a large heavy-bottom skillet – you want it to be about 1 cm deep. To test the oil temperature, drop in a small cube of bread – if it shimmers in the oil and browns in roughly 30 seconds, the oil is hot enough. Scoop little tablespoonfuls of the veggie mixture from the batter (if you’re using larger chunks of vegetables, simply pull out individual pieces), and carefully slip them into the oil. Fry them in small batches of about 3 or 4 at once, turning, until the pakoras are a healthy golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the pakoras onto a plate lined with paper towels, allowing them to drain. Immediately sprinkle the hot pakoras with a bit of salt, and serve at once.

Serves 4 as an hors d’oeuvre

© Shaby Heltay, 2009