Thursday, September 13, 2012

Owen: "Where's the spaghetti?"

Better my photo of the Manvar blacksmith than my photo of the meatball curry.
Gosh. I thought I was sparing everyone by not writing travel logs from India and now I feel like I've fallen down on the job. Maybe there's a way to work my "twisted little takes on things" into forthcoming posts on The Suriani Kitchen.

Last night we jumped in. Why not? It's been a while since I tackled an out-there ethnic cookbook and I'm pretty excited by the prospect of steamed riceball cakes and ripe mango curry. My excitement was somewhat checked by glitches in the first recipes I tried, and I just now read one that says to braise short ribs for 20 minutes. If you've ever braised a short rib, you know this is a mistake. But if The Suriani Kitchen doesn't pan out over the next few meals, I'll just move on to Sri Lankan cuisine.

for atmosphere
Some facts:

-Syrian Christians are called "Suriani" in Kerala.
-Suriani have lived in Kerala, a state in southwest India, since approximately AD 52 when Saint Thomas the Apostle arrived.
-Unlike their Hindu brethren, Syrian Christians eat beef. Unlike their Muslim brethren, they eat pork. But mostly they eat fish.
-In northern India, wheat is the staple which is why Owen and I ate so much naan when we were there. In Kerala, the staple is rice and they make bread, fritters, porridges, cookies, and cakes from rice flour.
-The author of The Suriani Kitchen, Lathika George, is a professional landscape designer, but even she has struggled to grow a curry tree outside of Kerala. I feel better about my failures on that front. Should I try again?
-Writes George: "My mother, Thangamma, like most mothers around the world, believed that the strongest bonds between children and their culture are forged through food and the preparation of meals."

We are in deep trouble in my household if Thangamma is correct.

The meal I prepared last night, unobserved by either of my children:

meatball curry
string bean saute
basmati rice
Ozark pie

problems and thoughts:

meatball curry

-Mixed as directed, the meat mixture (I used lamb) was too slimy and wet to form into balls. I fixed that by adding 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs.
-George is omits important details, like whether to seed the chilies or not. I took them out. If I was cooking only for myself, I would leave them in.
-She calls for ginger paste and garlic paste, but doesn't explain what these are or how to make them, so I just put ginger and garlic up in the spice grinder and what I scooped out a minute later sure looked like paste.
-She calls for 6 cups of water in the gravy. I knew that was too much but added it anyway and then had to cook the bejesus out of the sauce to give it a little body.
-She calls for too little salt.

After I solved these small but annoying technical problems, the meatball curry (kofta karri) was outstanding. Tender meatballs in a rich curry that had a lovely sourness to it from yogurt and lime juice. I set a high bar for posting meatball recipes. A meatball has to be better than Nancy Silverton's Mozza meatballs to warrant the effort of typing the instructions. These weren't better than the Mozza meatballs, but they were excellent and so completely different I'm going to type out the instructions anyway.

string bean saute

George calls for cooking the fresh beans in water until the water evaporates. Problem: they were getting soggy long before the water evaporated. I drained them and proceeded to stir fry.  Everyone liked them, but they weren't special and I was bothered by the sogginess. Do Indians ever cook vegetables al dente? Maybe the recipe is correct. I just really don't like soggy green beans.

Ozark pie

As you perhaps guessed, this recipe didn't come from The Suriani Kitchen. It came from Ken Haedrich's Pie. I was really plagued with recipe glitches last night, because he calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder when I knew in my bones he meant 1 1/2 teaspoons. I used 1 1/2 teaspoons and the crustless pie worked beautifully. It's very similar to this amazing Huguenot torte, but not quite as amazing. Make the Huguenot torte.

You can see the pie on the right side of the butcher block table.

That is some awesome food styling.
This was our first home cooked family dinner in a long time and the food was superb. No one complained; I think we're finally past that. I wish I could say it was a joyful evening of sharing and family harmony, but some of us are having a rough transition back to school and there's been a lot of anguish around the house. It will pass. This was a magical summer. We miss it.

Meatball Curry adapted from The Suriani Kitchen:


1 pound ground lamb
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons minced green chili (I used serrano, removed the seeds)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs

cashew paste:
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves
3 green chilies (serrano, seeds removed)

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped (she calls for quartering them, but: too bulky)
1 tablespoon ginger paste (put ginger in spice grinder or mash in mortar)
2 tablespoons garlic paste (put garlic in spice grinder or mash in mortar)
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 cups water (she says 6, but I would go with half that)
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon lime juice (don't skip this)

1. In a bowl, mix all the meatball ingredients and shape into 1-inch balls. Set aside for 1 hour.

2. In a food processor or with a mortar and pestle, grind the ingredients for the cashew paste into cashew paste.

3. Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the meatballs for a few minutes until browned on all sides. Remove to a plate.

4. Fry the onion in the same oil until soft. Add the tomatoes, ginger paste, and garlic paste and fry for 2 more minutes. Add the yogurt and cashew paste and stir-fry "until the oil rises to the top." (Ok, this was  mysterious to me and I never saw the oil rise to the top. I just let it cook until it looked thick and well amalgamated.)

5. Add the spices and continue frying for 1 minute. Add the water and salt. Bring to a boil.

6. Put the meatballs in the curry sauce and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through. Add the lime juice. Serves 4 generously.


  1. YUM!
    when you think about it, who wants to go to middle school when you could be hanging out in old Delhi, visiting the taj mahal, or riding camels with your cool mom?

  2. A really good "pie" is the Ozark Pudding found in SOUTHERN CAKES by Nancie McDermont. Her history of how this evolved from the Huguenot torte is interesting too. There is a recipe for the famous Alleghany County Stack Cake which is great for fall. In fact I have cooked my way through this entire cookbook several times and would highly recommend everyone do this.

  3. I own Southern Pies and I guess I'll be buying Southern Cakes tomorrow. Thank you for this recommendation, Anonymous.

  4. I certainly didn't intend to make you feel as though you had fallen down on the job! Do as you wish. I have never eaten vegetables in Indian cooking that were not cooked to death, and I speak as a Southerner, where there is a long and illustrious history of boiling all veggie to mush. Is this Ozark pie the same as the Ozark pudding that Bess Truman made for Harry? Congratulations on having a successful meal after not cooking for so long! You are right, school dystopia will pass, but as I recall, it is painful.

  5. I love the Pie book! I am braising some beef today using your recipe and fully plan to use the three hours to have a Parks and Rec marathon. Until I started reading your blog I never thought that a cookbook could be wrong!

  6. Beckster -- I was so flattered that you and anonymous wanted more and was sorry I didn't keep up the blog better after I read your comments. I had thought at the time, why would anyone want to read my inane reflections on a Jain temple or a fort or an elephant ride?
    And then there was the problem of internet connectivity. I will try to bring some of what I saw into the upcoming posts.
    I did not know of Ozark pudding! But I have ordered Southern Cakes and maybe there's something about it in there.

  7. Love the calm and wise comments about rough transitions back to school after a glorious summer. We, too, are experiencing that with our 5th grader.

    Curry meatballs sounds delish. Will give them a try.

  8. ok, just a few lingering questions re india. inquiring minds want to know:
    most breathtaking site
    scariest moment
    single food highlight
    where to next?

  9. I have found that a lot of Indian cookbooks have odd ways of timing the cooking of pieces of meat. Some even hold that you can easily brown pieces of meat while they are submerged in cooking liquid. (I usually end up taking care of the meats separately)
    The recipe for meatballs looks very good.

  10. Ozark pie and Ozark pudding, like Bess Truman made for her husband, are so similar I am not sure I would recognize the difference and my family is from the Ozark's.

  11. the meatballs sound so good!

    i wish i liked chai but i cannot get used to tea with milk....the tea gets lost

  12. I just had an epiphany. Several years ago my husband spent a few months working in Pakistan. He is lactose intolerant. He complained how, no matter where he went, someone brought him a cup of tea. He knew it was half milk, but he didn't know how to politely refuse, so always drank some of it. He commented how much he hated the taste. Now I'm thinking it was probably chai tea. He lost 25 pounds while he was there. Considering he only weighed 160 when he went, it was drastic.

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