I think it was the shrimp. Or the homemade curry powder. Or maybe the champagne. Then again, it could have been the homemade naan. Well, maybe the champagne and the wine. Actually it was the whole nine yards (metres for my Canadians)…the whole effort. Steve got an A – and a wife out of that dinner. Food and wine and love…
It’s that time of year that imposes romance on us. But the only people I know who feel Valentine’s Day are those who are single – it’s like a fork in the eye – an entire industry that earns billions of dollars making a segment of our population feel excluded. I know that’s how I felt about it when I was single. I was indignant.
Now that I’m turning into an old married woman – deeply and lucky in love – I think of Valentine’s and it becomes about food. Food has been a serious part of this very serious relationship I’m in – which has me laughing everyday…sickening really.
Steve is an adventurous cook/experimenter. He has needed to try making many different things since we’ve been together – potato chips, various breads, baguettes and most infamously pretzels…and now that his intestines have revolted against wheat, he has mastered the art of the gluten-free chocolate chip cookie. There’s a bowl of them in the kitchen tempting me…
But I knew life had shifted – the ground had cracked open and I was on the other side of a new life – when Steve drove up on his BMW motorbike with dinner packed in the panniers on the back. It takes some thought to have a dinner that can be transported in briefcase-looking boxes.
We were friends. He was making me dinner for my birthday. It was simply two friends getting together on a Friday night after work. Oh, and we’d been flirting for the past couple of weeks on email. I’ve written about the lost email before.
I thought I’d share the recipes that were part of bringing us together…Steve made the dinner because I had travelled through India not long before. A couple of days later, we went over to his apartment. It looked like a flour bomb had been accidentally set off, not just in the kitchen but everywhere. And on the dining room table was a book called Complete Indian Cooking. He’d bought it to make my birthday dinner. And he didn’t and still doesn’t like Indian food (I’m sorry to say). But he did end up liking me pretty good - we were engaged five weeks later.
Talk about a way to a girl’s heart…it always comes down to bread.
Naan – recipes adapted from the utilitarian-ly named Complete Indian Cooking – and all this without a tandoor…
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
½ oz. fresh yeast
5/8 cup warm milk
5/8 cup plain yogurt
ghee or vegetable oil for greasing
½ cup butter
2 tbsp poppy seeds
Sift the flour into a large bowl and stir in the sugar, salt, and baking soda. Dissolve the yeast in the milk and stir in the yogurt. Mix thoroughly with the flour to form a dough.
Knead the dough until it is smooth, and then place in a bowl covered with a clean cloth and leave it to rise in a warm place for about four hours.
Divide the risen dough into 12 equal-sized portions and roll them into balls. On a lightly floured surface, flatten the balls into oblong shapes, using both hands and slapping the naan from one hand to the other. Now that sounds like fun.
Grease a griddle or heavy-bottom skillet lightly with ghee or vegetable oil and heat it until it is very hot. Cook the naan on one side only, a few at a time. Remove and spread the raw side with butter and poppy seeds. Cook under a preheated hot broiler until browned. Serve hot.
Shrimp and Spinach Rice
2 cups basmati rice
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp oil
2 onions sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1-2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp ground coriander
2 lbs spinach, washed, trimmed, and chopped
1 lb cooked, peeled shrimp
Wash the basmati rice thoroughly. (I love washing rice - I run my fingers through it and around it while the water runs and it always feels like a quiet, important thing to do) Cook according to the directions. I usually put the rice in a pot, add water until it's about 1" above the rice and put it on to boil. Once boiling, I immediately turn the heat to low. Leave for 15 minutes. Turn off heat then without lifting lid and let sit on the stove for at least five minutes.
Stir in butter.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the onions, garlic and ginger. Fry for five minutes until golden. Stir in the chili powder, coriander, and the remaining 1 tsp of salt, and fry for a few seconds.
Add the spinach and cook, stirring constantly, until softened. Stir in the shrimp and remove from heat.
Layer the spinach mixture with the buttered rice in an ovenproof casserole dish beginning and ending with the spinach. Cover tightly with a lid and then cook in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F (175 C) for 30 minutes. Serve immediately. Unless you're on a motorbike.
Now of course you need the Raita. I make this for all sorts of dishes - and eat the leftovers with a big spoon.
3 1/2 oz of thinly sliced cucumber
1/ 1/2 cups plain yogurt
6 green onions, thinly sliced
1 fresh green chili, seeded and finely chopped
Put the cucumber in a colander, sprinkle with salt and let it drain for 30 mins. Pat dry.
I know raita is traditionally pretty runny, but I prefer to thicken the yogurt first. It's simple (and if you're stuck without sour cream for something, this works in a pinch). Line a sieve or colander with cheesecloth. Use paper towel if you don't keep cheesecloth handy. Pour the yogurt into the sieve and allow to drain for a while. Pour away the liquid. And when you're happy with the thickness of the yogurt, pour it back into bowl and mix with the cucumber, green onions and chile (optional). Keep it in the fridge until you need it. You can vary what you put in it...I love it with finely chopped garlic...but the longer you let it sit, the more you'd better love garlic.
The picture of the tandoor oven and naan bread above comes from wikipedia