Month of September: “660 Curries” Recipe: Cashew Cheese with a Bell Pepper Sauce (Simla Mirch Paneer)

“Loneliness is a sign you are in desperate need of yourself” Rupi Kaur

I am surprisingly in love with the exquisiteness of Indian curries. Tonight I took the homemade paneer that I made last evening and transformed it into this beautiful dish with a rich orangey red sauce. It was perfectly scented with cardamom and just about the easiest recipe in the world to make. Heaven on earth.

Ingredients: 1/4 cup raw cashew nuts, 2 large red bell peppers (stemmed, seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces, 6 green cardamom pods, 2 to 4 fresh thai, cayenne or serrano chilies (stems removed, seeds removed if you want less heat), 1.5 teaspoon sea salt, pinch cayenne, 8 ounces of paneer cut into 1 inch pieces and pan fried, cilantro for garnish

1.Pan fry the paneer by putting about 1/4 cup of oil (I used olive because I don’t like canola) in a non stick skillet. Fry paneer in a single layer for about 7-10 minutes until they are honey brown in color on all sides. Place on a paper towel to drain.

2.Pour 2 cups of water into a medium sauce pan and add the cashews, bell peppers, cardamom pods and chilies. Bring to a boil over medium heat and then reduce to low, cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally until peppers are fork tender for about 20-25 minutes. Transfer the contents into a blender and puree until smooth. Return contents back to the saucepan. Stir in salt, cayenne and paneer and simmer for about 5 minutes on medium low heat until paneer is warmed. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with naan.

Month of September: “660 Curries” Recipe: Paneer

“The only people who see the whole picture are the ones that step out of the frame.” Salman Rushdie

It was a revelation to me to discover that India has only one cheese in its culinary repertoire and that is paneer. 660 Curries states that whole milk (cow or buffalo) paneer is a common ingredient in every north Indian kitchen and if we can boil milk, we can make this very popular cheese. I can boil milk. You can boil milk. We can all boil milk. Why not give it a try?

Ingredients: 1 gallon whole milk, and 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar

1.Pour the milk into a large saucepan and bring it to a boil on medium high heat carefully stirring often to prevent scorching. When it comes to a boil (it takes some time!) stir in the vinegar. Remove pan from the heat and set aside until the cheese separates and leaves a pale green, thin, watery whey, about 15 to 30 seconds.

2. Line a colander with double layer of cheesecloth making sure there is 2-3 inches hanging over the rim. Place the colander in the sink and add the milk and let it drain. Once the cheese is slightly cool to the touch, gather the edges of the cloth and fold them over to cover.

3. Fill a heavy pot with water, and set it directly on top of the cloth wrapped cheese in the colander. Set aside until the cheese is firm, 3-5 hours. The weight will press the moisture out of the cheese.

4. Remove the weight and unwrap the firm, milky white cheese. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to one week.

Month of September: “660 Curries” Recipe: Green Beans with Tomato (Lilva Nu Shaak)

“When the body perishes, all perishes, but the threads of memory are woven of enduring atoms..I will pick these particles, weave the threads, and I will meet you yet again.” Amrita Pritam

I know I have said this before but I swear these things that happen are not made up! Last night I was editing yesterday’s post and I didn’t feel fully at ease with my recollection of Abby by focusing on a weakness we shared, wondering if this thing was just getting too heavy when I accidentally hit a computer key that caused an email from Abby to pop up. Oddly, I wasn’t really that surprised. Last year my cell phone died and I lost all my contacts except Abby’s. So I took that as a message from her that it’s fine, that she’s in agreement and to go even further she wants her own voice heard in this particular conversation. I know it sounds crazy!! But is it? Is it absurd to consider that the departed souls remain connected and continue to communicate with us through signs? I don’t think so.. ” I will pick these particles, weave the threads and I will meet you yet again.”

October 28, 2017 “WORK WORK WORK”

“It is incredibly difficult to live with another human being. At this point in my life I am ready to concede. I have failed miserably, time and time again. It is time to retire the notion that I will ever succeed. It is time to get on with life con solo. My belief has always been that I have been reasonable with my expectations. I have always thought they were basic and fundamental. Be kind, do your part, admit when you are wrong or when you don’t know the answer, forgive, be honest, improve yourself, be present, responsible, supportive and be considerate of your partners feelings and needs.”

“The only thing that has defined me, that I have claimed as my own all these years is my love of making art. It proves that I exist, that I have an identity. I know that part of this rift I am in is that I have neglected my art. Therefore I have neglected my SELF. Perhaps to the point of forgetting that I even exist or matter in the scheme of things. How odd to base oneself on old recycled wood and $.97 Walmart latex paint, but without it I am nothing inside. My only value is in my usefulness to others.”

“One friend tells me to stop being so negative (I don’t want that crap to rub off on me). What do you say? I think it is a cry for help, a cry and plea to help myself. I need to acknowledge how I feel, hear the echo of the words that represent the long pent up emotions, linger in the uncomfortable realization in order to gain the impetus to make changes to the status quo.” 

“I have wasted so very much of my life on undeserving people. I have put the needs of others before my own.I have not loved myself. It’s no wonder I am unhappy. So, I have to make some changes.”

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons ghee, 1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 2 teaspoons coriander seeds ground, 1.5 teaspoons sea salt, 1 teaspoon cumin seed ground, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (more to taste), 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon asafetida,1 pound green beans trimmed and cut in 1/2 inch pieces, 1 medium tomato chopped in 1/2 cubes, 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro.

1.Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover the pan and cook until the seeds have stopped popping (not unlike popcorn) about 30 seconds. Sprinkle in the cumin seeds, which will instantly turn reddish brown and smell fragrant.

2.Remove pan from the heat and add the remaining spices and mix. Add the beans and stir to coat. Pour in 1 cup water and stir in tomato. Heat the curry to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook 10-12 minutes until fork tender. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

PS: Abby loved green beans

Month of September: “660 Curries” Recipe: Yellow Split Peas with Tomato and Chilies (Tamatar Chana Dal)

“This was the trouble with families. Like invidious doctors, they knew just where it hurt.” Arundhati Roy

This recipe we are told is simple to make and requires no advanced planning. That’s if you already have a basic Indian spice pantry, cilantro and yellow split peas on hand. I made mine with the smaller pea, the moong dal. The chana dal is a larger pea. I love yellow dal in general and this one is perfumed with floral coriander and garlic. I like to eat dal when I want to give my digestive system a rest. In a myriad of ways we all need rest, right? Simple. We all know this intellectually but wrestle with the preceding emotional letting-it-in part required for a healthy action to follow. Like all families, they exist with emotional pain but some, if not most, struggle with the letting-in part. I have learned over my adventure thus far that we all cope in unique ways to AVOID the LETTING-IN PART. My well worn grooves of coping are twofold: anger and problem solving. Just recently I have begun to slowly, but deeply, comprehend how coping mechanisms work for me. When I find myself upsettingly angry at someone I love or problem solving someone else’s dilemma or responsibility, I can now catch myself and ask “What pain am I avoiding here?” It’s a surprisingly effective starting point. Families are genius at finding our weaknesses to get us to do things or not do things or deny things or avoid things and on and on to block real communication. We block it cuz it hurts! And it hurts bad!! I see now that Abby and I shared the problem solving thing. She took on other people’s problems making them her own. I believe this was her greatest weakness and in the end it wore her down. She longed for reciprocity and mutuality of equal partners. She shared with me in the last year of her life that she resigned herself to “never find what she was looking for in relationships.” I am sad that she wasn’t able to experience this part of her heart’s desire. If anyone deserved it, it was Abby. I told her so many times, in so many ways, how much she deserved love. But for reasons I will never ever know, she couldn’t let it in.

Ingredients: 1 cup yellow split peas, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 4 chiles (thai, cayenne or serrano, stems removed), 4 medium garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons ghee, 1 large tomato cored and chopped, 1.5 teaspoons sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1.Place the peas in a medium saucepan and rinse multiple times until water runs fairly clear. Use your fingers to rub and move the peas around. Add 3 cups of water and bring to a boil, uncovered over medium heat. Skim and discard any foam that forms on the surface. Reduce heat and cook for about 25 to 30 minutes until partially tender.

2. While the peas cook, combine the garlic, coriander seeds, chiles, cumin seeds in a mortar. Pound with the pestle to form a pungent pulpy mass (some coriander seeds will remain whole.) I used a spice grinder.

3.Heat ghee in a small skillet over medium high heat and add the spice blend and stir fry for about 1-2 minutes.

4. Add the tomato, salt and turmeric. Cook over medium heat until tomato softens about 5-8 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and set aside.

5. When the peas are partially tender, add the sauce above along with an additional 1/2 cup water and stir, Ladle a spoonful of the mixture into the skillet and stir to wash it out. Add this back to the saucepan and continue to simmer the dal over medium heat, uncovered, until flavors permeate the peas, about 5 minutes. Serve with basmati rice or naan.

Month of September: “660 Curries” Recipe: Ground Lamb Meatballs with a Saffron Sauce

” I have spent many days stringing and unstringing my instrument, while the song I came to sing remains unsung.” Rabindranath Tagore

What a powerful truth to let in if we have the courage to be honest with ourselves. Fear holds us back from living our purpose, from hearing the voice calling us. We spend sooooo much time, so many years, stringing and unstringing, banging our heads against the same familiar and comfortable walls. But I have come in my older years to be more patient with myself, more understanding of this crazy predicament. Life, this life, our life is really really complicated. To get to the other side, we must FEEL it. We must GRIEVE it. We must ACCEPT it. We must RELEASE it. And then maybe, just maybe, the song…our song..will be sung, one note at a time.

Ingredients: 8 ounces ground lamb, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed, 1/2 teaspoon ground black cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 small red onion finely chopped, 2 large garlic cloves finely chopped, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, 3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika, 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, 4 black cardamom pods, 6 whole cloves crushed, 2 tablespoons ghee

1.Mix the lamb with salt, fennel, cumin, ginger, onion, and garlic in a bowl, Use your hands and make about 10 meatballs tightly round.

2.Heat the ghee in a medium sized skillet over medium heat and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, moving around and watching to make sure they are brown on all sides. Remove to a plate and drain off excess fat.

3.Pour 2 cups of water into a small saucepan and add the cayenne, paprika, saffron, cardamom and cloves. Bring to a boil, cook uncovered until the spices infuse the water. about 5 minutes. Set aside. This is what is known as a thin curry (and it’s amazing what just water and spices can become!)

4. Put the meatballs back in skillet they were fried in and add the spiced broth. Cook on medium high and vigorously simmer the thin curry until the lamb is barely pink, about 10 minutes. Baste the meatballs during the time to ensure they are getting cooked. Transfer to a serving bowl.

5.Continue to simmer the broth for another 8 to 10 minutes until the curry is about 1/2 cup. Pour this bright potent broth over the meatballs and serve with white basmati rice.

Month of September: “660 Curries” Recipe: Coconut Chicken with Potatoes (Batata Murghi)

“Hark to a voice that is calling, to my heart in the voice of the mind.” Sarojini Naidu

This quote strikes deep. I hear a voice calling to my heart. It is faint, it is distant, but it is absolutely present.It is calling me but for what? This answer is not yet clear. I don’t fully understand why Abby’s death has shattered my reality this deeply. Yes, we were sisters. Yes, we were connected. Yes, we knew each other’s secrets. Yes we shared our emotional life. But it’s more intricate than even all that. I have love in my life. I am not alone. Yet this grief work is so incredibly lonely subsequently causing me to examine everything and everyone. And, adding another complicated painful layer to this stew, I am caring for an ailing parent. I am tired inside. Tired of losing people. Tired of sadness, tired of being thrown off course and being forced to recalculate my route. I feel that this grief has been present with me for eons and suddenly, after finally doing the real hard nitty gritty work of not only recognizing and accessing my feelings but experiencing them, I am much more aware of that voice of heart, the one I can “hear breathing on a quiet day”, calling me to a place I have never been, a distant but approaching shore to a life where I can begin to live life on my own terms.

Ingredients: 1 can unsweetened coconut milk, 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped ginger, 2 tablespoons unsalted dry roasted peanuts, 1.5 teaspoons sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, 5 large cloves of garlic, 4 to 6 green thai or other kind of chili (I used one), 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds from green or white pods, 1 or 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 chicken (about 3.5 lbs skin removed and cut into 8 pieces), 2 medium size potatoes such as russet or yukon gold cut into 1 inch cubes, 2 tablespoons of ghee, 1 medium red onion, cut in lengthwise and thinly slices, 2 tablespoons cilantro, 12 to 15 curry leaves.

1.Pour 1/2 coconut milk into a food processor along with ginger, peanuts, salt, turmeric, garlic and chilis and blend.

2. Preheat a small skillet over med high heat. Add the coriander, cardamom, and cinnamon and toast for about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate to cool and then grind. Fold these spices in with the paste above to make a marinade. Place the chicken pieces in a baking dish or plastic bag and coat. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or overnight.

3. Make sure potatoes are dry. Heat ghee in non reactive skillet or Dutch oven and fry the potatoes until golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon drain and set aside.

4.In the same pan, cook the onions until edges are brown, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the onions to the potatoes.

5.Arrange the chicken in the skillet and cook about 3 to 5 minutes on each side to brown. Add the potatoes, onions, remaining coconut milk, reserved marinade and simmer turning occasionally and basting for about 20 minutes or more depending on thickness of chicken until the thickest parts are no longer pink and juices run clear.

Arrange on a serving platter and skin off any excess oil that may be floating on surface. Ladle the sauce over the chicken and vegetables and enjoy eating it as much as you enjoy smelling it as it cooks!

Month of September: “660 Curries” Masala Dabba or Spice Box

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” Arundhati Roy

I have always wanted a spice box ( masala dabba) and here it is! My first one! Isn’t it beautiful? I could just stare at it all day. Spices are the backbone of Indian cuisine so I wanted to share a few things about them. According to this cookbook, in the glossary of ingredients, the author lists 35 spices and flavorings. Yes, that’s right, thirty five!! I find that extraordinary. Don’t you?? He emphasizes the importance of buying whole as much as possible and grinding them yourself. He claims that one spice can elicit different flavors depending on the technique used, such as roasting alone, roasting and grinding, soaking, adding oil, mixing, etc. I believe it yet it still remains mysterious. Starting out, I just went with the freshest spices I could find. I have good luck with our local co-op which offers spices in bulk. Otherwise it’s unclear how long spices have been sitting on a grocery store shelf and freshness is crucial. Pictured above are seven spices: cayenne powder, turmeric powder, coriander seed, cumin seed, mustard seed, star anise and cinnamon sticks. Thinking about this palette of fragrances got me thinking about oil painting palettes which made me think of art and how very true it is that good cooking is really an art, not just a way to get daily calories. Abby was an artist. Her medium was willow, stained glass, fiber, wood, oils and pencil. I am an artist. Mine is food. The more I understand what connected us the more I realize that appreciating beauty and creating was central to our way of seeing and being in the world. We felt like family to each other because of it. And with family comes ups and downs and we certainly did have ours. It’s crazy now to remember we lived a span of 9 years of not talking. What the hell that really was about I don’t think either one of us ever understood and we never dug deep about it for some reason, which is odd because we would deep dive all the time. I guess it was like a growing spurt that we both had to do alone and it was OK. In 2012 we reconnected coming back even stronger, closer than we had been even in our twenties, more seasoned and weathered. I never thought she would die so young and the dreams we shared for the future will never come to fruition. We had what we had and that was all. But that was no small thing.