Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Saving the Soup; or, Creamy Bean Curry

A little while ago, possessed of a small package of mixed beans and desiring to improve their place in the world, I made the Tuscan Multi-Bean soup from The Daily Soup Cookbook, by Leslie Kaul and Bob Spiegel. It's a vegetarian soup, so it doesn't have the hearty flavour of meat stock. It does have celery, garlic, onion, rosemary, bay leaves, tomatoes, and a variety of beans, however, so I expected a bowl of beany bliss at the end of all the work. Alas, this was not the case. Maybe my tastebuds have been spoiled by the rich flavours of Indian and Middle Eastern food, but these beans were just banal.

Unfortunately, the recipe resulted in enormous amounts of the bland brew. I decided to freeze most of it, figuring it could be saved with some spicing some time in the future. This is a little like the attempts to freeze the bodies of incurably ill people in the hope that one day, in the future, there will be a medicine for what ails them. I had faith enough in progress to believe I would, one day, find a solution for these beans. Well, in progress, and in my masala dabba:

When their turn finally came, I turned to another book for inspiration, the tantalizing but somewhat overwhelming 660 Curries, by Raghavan Iyer. I knew I wanted to use yoghurt to make the beans into a creamy curry, and sure enough, Iyer has a recipe for Kidney Beans with a Cardamom-Yogurt Sauce. This I used as a starting point for technique. I also introduced garlic and ginger into the recipe, and used slightly different spices. And, of course, the beans themselves had already been cooked into a soup with the "Tuscan" spices and with tomatoes, so this curry wasn't going to look anything like Iyer's version.

First, I heated two tablespoons of ghee, and sauteed a finely chopped onion for a few minutes, along with 6-7 cardamom pods. I then added chopped ginger (about an inch), and chopped garlic (3-4 cloves -- I love garlic!). I added two teaspoons of turmeric, sauteed for a while, and then dropped in two cups or so of tart, Greek-style yoghurt. The next step was to cook the yoghurt for ten minutes or so to reduce it down to its curds. This was the most fascinating technique I learned from Iyer's recipe; I know to put yoghurt at the end of a curry and to keep it from curdling, but it had never occurred to me that you could boil down yoghurt into a tart sauce at the start of a curry.

After the yoghurt had cooked down for a while, I folded in several cups of bean soup. I spiced it with two small teaspoons of sea salt, two teaspoons garam masala, and a pinch of cayenne.

After cooking it for fifteen minutes more, I had a rich and intensely spiced bean curry, a dish worlds away from the blandness of Tuscan bean soup. It was perfect with some Dallas-bought injera.

The result may not look too different, but I assure you, this dish is worlds away from the original. This was the rebirth of the bean.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Romanian solution to a stuffy nose

Part of what I love about the ethnic-foodie-blogosphere is learning how much my native Romanian cuisine has in common with other traditions. In this case, a post over at Yulinka Cooks on horseradish made me realise that the Romanian word for the substance, hrean, comes from the Slavic languages, and is related to the Russian хрен. When I was growing up, we tended to have both white horseradish at home and the kind that's coloured a bright pink with beets. Not only did we eat it on meat, but my dad had another use for it as well. When I had a dry stuffy nose, he would tell me to open a jar, and breathe the sharp fumes in, one nostril at a time. There's nothing quite like it for clearing up the sinuses!