Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Indian Wednesday #7: Beef and bread.

Beef stewed with coconut
Steamed rice

This recipe caught my eye because its basic ingredients, beef, potato, and coconut milk, reminded me of one of my favorite Thai dishes, massaman curry. This is logical, since massaman is said to be influenced by the food of the Indian subcontinent. Also, Monica Bhide's recipe comes with some options, and since I feel I am starting to really learn something about Indian cooking from this experience, the opportunity to freelance a little appealed.

The recipe called for 'chuck'. I must admit I don't really know what that is, and it's certainly not available by that name in France, so I substituted bourginon the cut of meat prepared for Julia Child's now legendary signature dish. Also, because Monica Bhide said that you could add vegetables such as winter squash or turnips to the dish, I reached for my old favorite, the parsnip. Finally, there was a suggestion to use bread to eat the sauce, the perfect opportunity to try out something that's been on my culinary wish list for ages: laccha paratha.

I will always remember the first time I tried paratha, ordered by a knowledgable friend in an Indian restaurant in London. Until that point I had thought that the naan was the be all and end all of Indian breads. But then a round, buttery flake bread arrived which stole my heart and relegated the hitherto delicious naans to the second division. I was in love with paratha.

Until now, I had always assumed that paratha was going to be difficult to make and require special equipment, so imagine my joy when, scouring YouTube, I discovered a host of videos showing young Indian ladies whipping up a batch in a frying pan. A quick trip to the Rue de la Faubourg St Denis and I was possession of a bag of atta, a gluten-rich durum wheat flour which blended with all purpose flour, milk, and a little salt and sugar forms the paratha dough.

The YouTube ladies make rolling and folding the dough into mini Belgian buns look easy. This is essential for producing the paratha's characteristic flaky spiral and in fact was as easy as the ladies made it look. These spirals are then flattened into thin disks, facilitated by the high gluten content of the atta which are then fried in a pan, painted with ghee, and ready before you can say 'hey paratha!' I was extremely impressed with the results, and I encourage you all to go on your own YouTube odyssey to find the recipe.

Back to the stew. Again, like most of the recipes in Modern Spice, the flavors were derived from a few well-combined ingredients, effectively de-mystifying Indian cuisine, and oh what a combination. The coconut milk gently infused all of the ingredients with creamy nuttiness, unifying them, but then retired into the background and let the real stars, chillis, ground coriander, and the extraordinary curry leaves, shine. I am planning a curry leaf special entry to this blog, so I won't dwell on them now, and anyway, I've kept you long enough. Get out there and cook curry; after all, it's Indian Wednesday.

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