Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Korma Chicken with Zucchini - that's the spice of life

I have been quite taken with Indian food for the last few years and have visited numerous restaurants tasting kormas, vindaloos, buttered chicken, rogan josh and other spicy delights. So of course I had to try it at home. I quickly found that finding recipes that give directions on making many of these dishes simply call for "curry" or recommend purchasing a pre-made sauce from an Indian specialty shop or market.

So I tried a few. Some were wonderful. Others were dreadful. Two that I enjoyed the most were Patak's and Himalaya Gourmet, a Canadian distributor... a little hard to find but well worth it. But I really wanted to learn to make my own from scratch.

Then, a few weeks ago I bought one of Jamie Oliver's many cook books, "Jamie's Food Revolution". This man is one of my very favourite chefs and he really knows how to make cooking interesting. Many of his Indian recipes offer both a prepackaged alternative (oddly enough Patak's) and his own recipe. So of course I tried his version... and it was the very best I've tasted to date.

The interesting thing about "Jamie's Food Revolution" is that the whole purpose of the book is for people to read it, learn at least one recipe from each chapter and then pass it on to two or more friends or family. I love this idea and it was the source of my inspiration to start this blog. So, using Jamie's korma recipe I have created a dish that I call Korma Chicken with Zucchini. You will not traditionally find zucchini in Indian cooking but I was looking for ways to include more vegetables into my diet and thoroughly loved the results. Here's how it goes:

• 1½ cups diced chicken
• ½ onion or leek
• 1 medium zucchini
• 1 cup yogurt
• ½ cup korma paste (approx. ½ of recipe below)

Jamie Oliver's korma paste (makes approx. 1 cup)
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh root ginger
• ½ tsp cayenne pepper
• 1 tsp garam masala
• ½ tsp sea salt
• 2 tbsp peanut oil*
• 1 tbsp tomato paste
• 2 fresh green chilies, chopped fine
• 3 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut
• 2 tbsp almond flour (ground almonds)
• 2 tsp cumin seed (I use ground cumin)
• 2 tsp coriander seed (I use ground coriander)
• small bunch of fresh cilantro

* If you are planning on serving this to others you should check to see if there are any peanut allergies. I've substituted other oils such as extra virgin olive oil and canola oil with good results.

• Food processor or blender
• Mortar and pestal
• Large non-stick frying pan
• Wooden spoon or heat-resistant spoon/spatula

Let's make the korma paste first. Peel and chop the garlic and ginger. If you are using cumin and coriander seeds first roast them in a frying pan on medium heat until golden... they will smell delicious when ready. Then grind the seeds with a mortar and pestal. You can also toast the ground spice versions briefly, it certainly seems to enhance both the smell and taste.

Slice the peppers down the middle and remove the seeds. The green chilies in this recipe are not jalapeƱos so be sure to purchase the thin skinned, pointed end chilies rather than the thick skinned, rounded jalapeƱos. Once you've removed the stem and seeds finely chop the chilies. I'd recommend washing your hands immediately after handling the chilies.

A word of caution when working with Indian spices, chilies and curries. Wash your hands often! Avoid touching your mouth, ears, eyes, nose or other areas that have delicate skin.
These ingredients can cause sever skin irritation which can be quite uncomfortable. But a quick hand wash or two during preparation and a thorough washing (get under the nails)
after food preparation should keep your skin happy.

Combine all the ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth.

If you don't have a food processor try a blender (chop the garlic and ginger as finely as you can). If you don't have a blender you can always grind the ingredients manually with your mortar and pestal (I think this actually gives the best results). If you don't have a mortar and pestal it's time to purchase at least one of these. Buy whichever you feel will give you the most service or buy them all, you'll need them eventually.

I will recommend that when purchasing a mortar and pestal you should be sure to get one with a large enough opening that it will handle whatever you want to put in it. Also choose a size and pestal weight that feels comfortable. Play with it in the store for 5 or 10 minutes, you'll soon know if it's too small, too large or too heavy for you.

Cover the korma paste and set it aside in the refrigerator. I personally find that the korma tastes better if prepared a day or two before hand but it can certainly be used the same day.

Chop up the onion or leek into small pieces. I like the taste and texture of leek so that is what I tend to use. If you are using a leek be sure, after chopping, to wash it thoroughly in a fine sieve to remove the dirt... I've never found a leek that didn't have some dirt trapped in it.

I find the easiest way to chop up the leek is to divide it into 4-5" lengths, cut into quarters lengthwise and then chop.

Regardless of whether you used onion or leek put the frying pan on medium high and add a little olive oil. Add the onion or leek. Fry until the onion/leek wilts and becomes slightly transparent. Meanwhile slice the zucchini into quarters and chop into slices about twice as thick as a penny. Add them to the onions. If you choose to peel the zucchini that is perfectly okay but I prefer to leave the skin on.

Continue to fry the onion/zucchini mix for a couple of minutes.

While this is cooking cut your chicken into small cubes about the size of a caramel square (about ½ - ¾" square). I usually use boneless skinless chicken breasts but most any part of the chicken will do (vegetarians... feel free to substitute a firm tofu for the chicken, it works great - I would recommend frying the tofu pieces in a separate pan before hand to brown them a little).

Once the chicken is cut up take your wooden spoon and open a space in the center of the onion/zucchini mix, exposing the bottom of the pan, and add the chicken. Add a little salt and pepper and fry until the outside of the chicken is white and opaque looking.

Then add ½ cup korma paste and stir all the ingredients in the pan until combined thoroughly. If you have used store bought paste in the past you may find that the dish does not look as red when using the home-made version. Don't worry about it, most store bought pastes (korma, rogan josh, vindalo, etc.) have added colouring. Yum... colouring.

Continue to fry for 2 or 3 mintues, then add the yogurt and stir. Continue to cook for about 7-10 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve with cous-cous or rice.

As I mentioned before zucchini is not a typical ingredient of Indian food but I'm a big believer is trying new things and mixing it up in the kitchen. In fact I have tried this same dish but substituted sour cream for the yougurt. You won't get the same results but I rather liked the results I got. So experiment, experiment, experiment. But be sure and try it out on yourself first... after all experiments don't always turn out exactly as expected.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why would you want Alfredo sauce from a jar?

I have been mystified by the trend toward putting what is essentially a simple meal into a jar. Is the idea to make it even simpler? But at what cost. The perfect example is Alfredo sauce. I'm sure you have all (except for the lactose intolerant amongst you) enjoyed Fettuccine Alfredo at a restaurant. Some have probably made it from scratch (if so this recipe will be redundant).

But what worries me is that some of you have probably even purchased "Alfredo" sauce in a jar. But trust me, that is not Alfredo sauce.

Considering you can make your own Alfredo sauce in the time it takes the pasta to cook I can't understand why anyone would ever eat the weird white substance you can purchase at the supermarket.

For those of you willing to try it, here is my favourite Alfredo sauce.


• 240 g (8 oz) fettuccine (I prefer whole wheat)
• 90 ml (6 tbsp) butter (margarine if you must)
• 350 ml (1.5 cups) whipping cream*
• 240 ml (1 cup) Parmesan/mozzarella cheese
• 0.7 ml (1/8 tsp) nutmeg
• salt and pepper to taste

• Large pot such as a dutch oven or • Stock pot
• Large non-stick frying pan
• Wooden spoon (or a heat proof spoon/spatula)
• Large (deep) colander or strainer
• Large bowl, ceramic or glass preferred
• Cheese grater

*Be careful if you try to substitute something else for the whipping cream. Half and half or table cream can work but the finished sauce will be less rich. Never use a whipping cream look-alike, these are not made with milk/cream and simply don't work. And please don't try to use the aerosol whipped cream... it might work but you'll be there all day :)

Simple so far huh?
If your cheese is not grated yet do that first. Most Alfredo recipes call for only Parmesan cheese but I personally like to use a combination of mozzarella and Parmesan (1/2 cup each).

In the large pot put 700 ml of water (pasta cooks better with plenty of water) and bring it to a boil. You can add a little olive oil if you like but I find with enough water it's not really necessary.

Once the water is boiling add the pasta. If you are using fresh pasta hold off cooking until the Alfredo sauce is ready since it takes such a short time (less than 10 minutes). If you are using dry pasta it will probably require 7 - 15 minutes to cook (whole wheat may take the full 15 minute).

While the water is coming to a boil put the butter into the frying pan and on medium heat melt the butter until it becomes slightly frothy or brown. Be careful not to burn the butter. I prefer butter rather than margarine both because of the taste and because of the way it combines with the whipping cream.

Once the butter is ready slowly add 1 cup of the whipping cream, stirring as you pour it in. Gradually the yellow of the butter and the white of the cream should combine and start to bubble. Once the bubbling starts the two should mix into a creamy sauce. Don't over cook the sauce, you are better off turning the heat down and letting it sit for a couple of minutes if the pasta needs to cook longer.

Once the pasta is al dente (for a description of al dente see below) strain it in the colander. I recommend a deep colander rather than a bowl shaped one. The pasta can easily spill or slosh out of a shallow colander and unless you've just cleaned the sink you probably won't want to pickup the stray noodles and put them back. Some people recommend rinsing the pasta, others don't. Personally I don't but I'll leave that to your discretion.

Put the pasta in the large bowl. Add the Alfredo sauce from the frying pan and mix well, coating the noodles. Add half the cheese and mix some more. Then add the remaining whipping cream and mix. Finally add the remaining cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix. You're now ready to serve.

I often add the cheese to the Alfredo sauce about a minute before mixing it into the pasta. I find that the cheese melts into the sauce and then mixes more quickly and cleanly with the noodles, keeping the dish hotter. Purists would probably condemn me for such blasphemy but I say "if it works - why not."

The pasta should be served immediately. I often top it with a little more pepper and a little cheese but you might just make these available at the table and let each person handle it as they will.

For those of you who are looking at this recipe and only seeing the fat and calories don't panic. There are alternatives (although I don't think they taste nearly as good). You could replace the whipping cream with 1 cup of skim milk and add a tablespoon of flour, whipping briskly. And as for the cheese I've tried a soy based Parmesan and it wasn't bad. But personally I would recommend making it as described above and just limiting how often you make it.

I promised to explain the term al dente earlier so here we go. Al dente means "to the tooth" but that doesn't really help much. In simple terms al dente means firm but not hard. The noodle/pasta should give when bitten but then resist just a little.

In fact, if you place a noodle (spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine) that is al dente on a cutting board and press the flat side of a knife on it and flatten the noodle you should be able to see a thin white core, maybe twice as thick as a strand of hair, inside the noodle. This works best with semolina (white) pasta but is very hard to see in whole wheat pasta.

My Nona used to say if you throw the noodle against the wall and it sticks, it's ready. She used to say that but I don't remember her ever actually doing it. Give it a try though... I did.