Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Spicy Nigella

Nigella Feasts with Nigella Lawson
Spiced Up

Mughlai Chicken
Pomegranate Raita
Pilaf for a Curry Banquet
Muttar Paneer

To get the recipes:
Click here

Nigella is preparing an "Indian influenced banquet". She says it has a real "WOW factor." Her first dish is mild creamy chicken curry that she exhorts us to use boneless chicken THIGHS for, because the breasts are just too dry. I'm with her on that. Boneless thighs are a great invention.

She goes through 3 easy steps for the curry. The first one is to brown the chicken on both sides. The second step is to add the onions with bruised cardamon pods and a couple other whole spices. I adore cardamon. You do have to smash it a bit to get its full flavor. Step 3 is processing together ginger and garlic with spices (cumin, coriander and chili) and then adding ground almonds and water. She adds that to the cooking onions and that becomes the base of the sauce.

That's a good basic beginning for the sauce. Madhur Jaffrey, the doyenne of Indian cooking, does it just about the same, but she adds the onions to the paste, which means you need to add less water. And she makes her base in the blender, which makes it finer. But besides that, Nigella did well.

To the nicely spiced underpinning of the sauce, Nigella adds whole milk Greek yogurt (which is soooooooooo good and creamy, if only it didn't have 300 calories per cup), heavy cream, chicken stock, salt, garam masala and sugar. How about instead of sugar you just add some raisins? Oh look at that...she heard me. She just added golden sultanas - yellow raisins to us Yanks. Chicken goes back in. She simmers it for 20 minutes. I really like this recipe, but I don't think it would hurt to increase the spices by half or even double them. I really think 3 pounds of chicken can take it.

We come back to Nigella in the store buying chutney and turmeric. She's amused, because she just has to buy these little black seeds called Nigella.

She goes on to the pilaf. She saut├ęs a food-processed onion. She adds cloves and 3 cardamon pods, crushed. She tells us not to be apologetic about using the same spices in different dishes. That's what unifies the entire meal. Now she throws in 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin and her little black seeds, which she says are like "deep black tears." Well, not really...Then she adds cinnamon, which has been crumbled into small pieces. WAIT! HOLD ON! Broken Tooth Alert.

I have personal knowledge of a BIG problem here. My brother always bestows on us at Christmas many tins of wonderful oatmeal cookies. He believes strongly that grinding his own cinnamon gives the cookies a particularly great spicy flavor that cannot be attained with commercially ground cinnamon. That sounds like a good idea, except for one thing. We, in our home kitchens, can never approximate the fineness of the ground cinnamon that we buy in the stores. The result is that his cookies, although excellent, offer the real possibility of causing damage to one’s dental work.

I had sworn myself to secrecy. I was never going to mention it to him. But, then, he told me he was preparing a batch for an elderly friend. He was very excited about grinding the cinnamon and I felt I had no choice but to tell him the truth. Let’s just say it didn’t go well…
And if I want oatmeal cookies next Christmas, I’ll be making them myself.

Notwithstanding that uncomfortable conversation, I had to warn YOU not to do the same thing. NEVER try to GRIND your cinnamon at home and don’t break it into pieces, unless you THEN wrap it in cheesecloth. Okay, where were we?

The pilaf. Nigella adds 2½ cups of basmati rice and turns it “gently, slowly, firmly” over the heat. 4 cups of hot chicken stock go in. She “clamps on” the lid and cooks it over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.

The next dish is a beautiful rendition of a classic Indian accompaniment - Raita. She starts with plain yogurt, to which she adds scallions “chopped finer than usual” and salt. Then she adds the “jeweled seeds of a pomegranate,” which she “thwacks” over the bowl with a wooden spoon. She squeezes in the juice as well and “decants the glorious balm into 2 waiting pots.” This is an elegant raita with excellent eye appeal and a tangy fruity flavor. Bravo Nigella.

Now she shows us her freezer for some reason. Oh, because she’s telling us to freeze pomegranate seeds in a ziplock bag. Good idea. She grabs frozen peas and brags about how she’s called “the Queen of the Frozen Pea” by Nigel Slater, English food writer extraordinaire.

An onion gets processed with garlic and ginger and is fried in oil. Then she adds garam masala and turmeric and cooks them for a bit to get rid of their raw taste. Good girl. The peas go in, and because she wants “a splash of Bollywood color”, she adds tomato paste mixed with stock. She covers and cooks the mixture for 15 minutes.

Nigella tells us that paneer is “milk in solid form.” She chops it up and fries it in what looks like tons of oil. Oh, she heard me again…”I like living dangerously in using so much oil and having quite a lot of hot splattering going on.” “We’re on the last lap”. The “moment of truth” has come and she tastes the chicken curry. It’s good. Toasted flaked almonds go on top.

Next…”let’s see how well-behaved this rice has been.” I do love her turn of phrase. She reminds use to a fork ONLY when fluffing the rice. She sprinkles over cilantro and more flaked almonds.

Hot mango chutney goes into a bowl. We have a sexy close-up of......the food. Nigella serves her guests in deep bowls. They are happily engrossed in the meal.

Later Nigella tucks into a healthy taste of leftovers right out of the fridge. I love a woman who isn’t afraid to drop curry down the side of the refrigerator in her midnight postprandial wanderings.

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