North Indian Style Spinach Chicken

I love Indian food, but sometimes those curries can be heavy. This dish, on the other hand, is more brothy than saucy, and still has that flavor I love. It has tomatoes, spinach and chicken breast, but it would be good with garbanzo beans instead, if you wanted to make it vegetarian.

I saw this in Sunset Magazine, which has been full of good recipes lately (See: Ginger Pear Crisp). My mom and I loved how light it felt while still filling us up.

Of course we changed it up a bit. Instead of serving with plain yogurt on top and cucumber salad on the side, I combined the two in a raita. I liked the cool crunch of cucumbers mixed in with the cooked vegetables. It’s all about layering flavors, textures and temperatures.

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Risotto Three Ways

Risotto had been on our list of things to make for some time, and a few months ago the slow-motion shots of a Venetian chef flipping risotto on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations finally compelled us to buy arborio rice.

Since then, we've had three very successful risotto endeavors.

Our first effort was a knockout taste-wise, but too ugly to stand alone in a blog post. (The internet can be cruel.) Then Sycamore chef Mike Odette let me borrow his risotto cookbook, which had great information and fun stories, along with delicious sounding recipes. A few notes:

  • “Risotto is a simple dish, with relatively few ingredients. Consequently, each element gets its share of the limelight and sparkles individually on your palate.” — ie. Use butter, homemade stock and real Italian cheese
  • Risotto doesn't like shortcuts. The stock must be added a cup at a time so it is slowly absorbed by each grain. “Continue the game of add, stir, and wait, until the rice is just slightly resistant to the bite.”
  • “Good raw materials. Simple cooking procedures. No unnecessary frills. That's what Italian cooking is all about.”

Before Michael left, we finished off the arborio rice with our highest quality risotto yet. Homemade stock, a whole stick of butter, saffron, shrimp and scallops, and real Parmesan Reggiano.

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Garam Masala Rice Krispie Treats

When Michael and I competed in the university Iron Chef competition, the designated ingredient was rice, and we decided to plan an Indian-themed menu. We didn’t make dessert, but I thought garam masala Rice Krispie treats would have been fitting. So later one night when we had Indian food for dinner, I decided to try my idea out.

Garam masala is a common spice blend in Indian cuisine. I read in Meena Pathak’s Indian Cooking for Family and Friends that garam masala usually includes cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, among other spices typically associated with savory dishes, such as cumin, coriander and bay leaves. I used all the spices Pathak called for, but adjusted the levels as I thought would be better for the Rice Krispie treats.

The result was different than anything I’d had before. The flavor is clearly dessert but more complex. Play a game and get people to try to guess what you put in their Rice Krispies!

I recommend buying whole spices and grinding them yourself. They are so much more powerful. I love cinnamon and nutmeg regardless, but you have to try them fresh.

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Recipes from Iron Chef Competition: Indian Rice Fritter and Shrimp Curry

Back in February, Michael, my friend Gwen and I competed in the university Iron Chef competition, where we had a few days to plan a two course menu involving various rices. We all love Indian food so that’s the route we went. Then we had one hour and two burners to prepare the dishes for four judges with the help of campus chef Jeremy Elmore. We wished we placed better than third, but we were very proud of the food we made and think you’d like it, too. The menu:

  • Vegetable and Brown Basmati Fritter with Three Sauces: Curry-Lime Yogurt, Coconut-Mango Chutney and Chili-Garlic Tomato Paste
  • Gulf Shrimp in Coconut-Tamarind Curry Sauce with Red Himalayan Rice Pilaf and Cucumber Raita

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Thai Purple Rice with Scallops and Coconut Milk Broth

When Michael and I competed in the university Iron Chef Battle Rice competition, we used brown basmati and red Himalayan, but there were a few other exotic varieties we didn’t put on our menu. We were curious to try them though, so we got some samples after the competition. One of these was Thai purple rice.

The rice, also called black sticky rice, is generally used with sweet flavor profiles, especially in desserts. It becomes sticky when cooked, and has a slight nutty flavor. I found a recipe for scallops and purple rice using lemongrass and coconut milk that sounded really good, but I didn’t execute very well. The broth came out really sweet because I was out of cilantro and didn’t add quite

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enough lime juice. I also might not have let the other flavors steep long enough in the coconut milk.

This was one of those times that I should have stuck to the recipe a little more carefully.

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Honey-Sesame Chicken and Persian Rice

persian-chicken2

Friday is Norooz — the Persian New Year — and all through elementary and high school, I had this holiday off. This was because I grew up in Beverly Hills.

People outside Los Angeles have a certain image of Beverly Hills. More often than not, they envision a city of blondes. The truth is more than 20 percent of the population is Iranian. Nearly half the kids I went to school with were Persian, and most spoke Farsi at home.

When I was young, I wondered why my friends’ mothers always overcooked the bottom of the rice. My mom never had this problem. Then I realized it was completely intentional. The crispy bottom is called the tahdeeg, and it’s an Iranian delicacy. Margaret Shaida wrote in The Legendary Cuisine of Persia, “The golden tahdeeg is the ultimate proof of (the cook’s) ability to prepare perfect rice.”

persian-rice

I used Shaida’s four-page description of proper rice cooking as a guide, and it worked. The process has a lot of steps, but it’s only overwhelming if you’re reading it as you go and trying to do a million things at once. Like I was. My biggest fear was burning the bottom, as I’ve seen many times before, but it came out just right. The egg and yogurt mixture made the bottom rich, golden and crispy. Now that I’ve done it once, I could probably go back and do it start to finish without a recipe.

persian-dinner

The stuffed chicken recipe from Elisabeth Rozin was great, too. (The fruit and bulgar mixture would make a tasty dish on its own.) Kat made a cucumber yogurt salad on the side, and for dessert was homemade pistachio ice cream. (Fun fact: Iran and California are the top two producers of the world’s pistachios.)

pistachio-ice-cream

So why not celebrate the first day of spring and the Persian New Year with an Iranian-inspired meal? Both are about clean starts, so try something new this week.

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