Sunday, September 20, 2009

I Figure It Out

A new friend, upon learning that I like to cook, asked me if I know how to cook Indian food. It's a natural question. The brownish tint of my skin and the heart disease that runs in my family would lead one to believe I have Indian roots. But I found it hard to answer her question. Have I learned the right way to knead the chapati dough, or memorized the proportions of salt, cumin, red pepper, and turmeric to shake into a curry? Did I know how to make ghee or have my own proprietary blend of masala spices? Because the answer to all those questions is no.

But do I know how to cook any specific cuisine? I don't know how to roll out pasta for raviolis. I'd be a mess filling a pan with layers of phyllo for baklava. I was afraid to buy lemongrass for a Thai curry because it looks like a houseplant. I don't really know how to cook anything when it comes down it. But I figure it out.

Hell, I don't even know how to do my job but I do it every day and get paid for it.

The cooking process starts hours, days, weeks before any particular dinner. It starts when I'm sitting at the table eating another delicious meal and flipping through a cookbook. With every recipe I read, I picture myself not only eating but actually going through the effort of cooking it. And if, in my head, I get more pleasure from eating than pain from cooking, I write it down, mark it with a post-it, add the ingredients to a grocery list, and away we go!

Maybe the book I'm perusing is my Complete Book of Indian Cooking, which has so many different ways to cook chicken in it that I read the titles out loud for a good five minutes before my dad made me stop. Maybe I'll come across a hot dry meat curry or some lamb kebabs, and decide I'm making them whether I know how to mold ground lamb to a skewer or not. Sometimes "not" is okay, because my oblong lamb meatballs were pretty tasty sans skewer. And the seemingly dull cherry tomatoes and baby onions sprang to life when salted and pan fried.

I don't need to know how to cook Indian food for this to work, and neither do you.

Mini Lamb Kebabs with Baby Onions and Tomatoes (The Complete Book of Indian Cooking)

1 lb ground lamb
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon garlic pulp
2 medium fresh green chilies, chopped, and 4 fresh green chilies sliced
2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons corn oil
12 baby onions, peeled and trimmed (fresh pearl onions should be in onion section - do not use frozen!)
12 cherry tomatoes

Blend together the ground lamb, chopped onion, garam masala, garlic, 2 green chilies, cilantro, salt, and flour in a food processor. Process for about one minute, until mixture has a fine, blended texture. Break off small pieces and roll into balls or oblong kebabs. Place on broiler rack, with pan underneath to catch drippings. I like to line that pan with aluminum foil to making cleaning easier, otherwise burnt drippings can be a pain to scrape off. Baste the kebab meatballs with 1 tablespoon of the oil and place under broiler for 12 to 15 minutes, turning halfway through, or until evenly browned. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of the oil in a deep round-bottomed frying pan. Lower the heat slightly and add the whole baby onions. As soon as they start to darken, add the fresh chillies and tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes begin to brown. Remove the kebabs from the broiler and add them to the onion and tomato mixture. Stir gently for about 3 minutes. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with additional salt to taste. Serve with basmati rice and non-fat plain yogurt.

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