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Feb 2010 05

In thumbing through cookbooks — or searching online — for exotic Indian food, you will no doubt come across many curry recipes that would make the hair of any Indian, myself included, stand on end. So I felt it necessary to warn you all about the vast array of impostor curry recipes out there: the mere act of adding curry powder to something does not transform it into a curry!

Here’s the thing. You can’t make an authentic, true curry without your base aromatics: onion, garlic and ginger. Without those, your curry will be bland and will taste 1-dimensional. It’s like making an Italian tomato sauce without shallots, garlic and olive oil – no self-respecting Italian would do it! Cumin is also vital to a good curry – cumin is to curry what basil is to marinara sauce. Got it?

So with those 4 things – onion, garlic, ginger and cumin – you can punch up any old curry recipe and turn it into something that would impress even your Indian friends!  What follows is a recipe for a tomato-based vegetable curry.

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Chickpea Curry

You will need:

2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
2 cups water
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1½ tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tbsp garam masala (also available at Indian groceries)
½ tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds (or ½ tsp mustard, in a pinch)
1 tsp curry powder
2 tbsp tomato paste
½ teaspoon salt
1-3 green chilies, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, until the onions are soft and golden. Add all of the spices, ginger, garlic and salt. Stir-fry the mixture for a minute.

Add the chickpeas and 1 cup of water, and let them cook for 10 minutes or so. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, lemon juice, and green chilies, and allow them to cook together for about a minute. Add another cup of water and simmer the mixture until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Serve over basmati rice and with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro, if you like.

Serves 6, as part of a meal

© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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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

I’ll let this dish speak for itself, save to mention that it has become an exceptionally popular add-on to my Shabbos meals, and is an easy, tasty option for Passover. In greater quantities it can stand alone as a main dish, when served alongside a mound of plain basmati rice – though I much prefer the cutesy presentation of the little lettuce boats, which give a crisp, refreshing contrast to the richness and sharp heat of the lamb.

You will need:

1 lb (450 g) ground lamb
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
2 red chillies, chopped (or 1 tsp cayenne pepper)
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. peas
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
1 head iceberg lettuce, or romaine heart

To prepare the lettuce, simply tear off the leaves, selecting the most boat-shaped leaves as your receptacles for the lamb. To further perk them up, after washing, submerge the leaves for several minutes in a sink full of very cold water, then drain well. They should be curved, crisp, and cold. Set aside (preferably in the refrigerator).
In a wok or a large pot, heat the oil on medium. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they are soft and golden. Add the chillies, salt, ginger, and garlic, and stir well.
Increase the heat to high. Add the lamb and stir-fry for about 10 minutes, or until it is cooked through and most of the water has evaporated. Add the peas and tomatoes, then reduce the heat to medium-low, and let the mixture cook another 3 or 4 minutes.  Stir in most of the cilantro.
To serve, simply scoop the hot lamb into the lettuce cups, arrange them on a platter, and sprinkle over the remaining cilantro.

Serves 4-6, as part of a meal

© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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