I received an unexpected holiday gift this year. A friend of mine from work left a copy of Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking on my desk. When I protested that he didn't need to do that - we don't exchange gifts at my workplace, except for the annual holiday party gift steal - he told me he enjoyed our chats about food so much, he wanted to share one of his favorite cookbook authors with me. I was really touched.
He quit his job a few weeks ago to move on to other things, and though he says he won't be a stranger (and I believe him), I'll miss those regular cooking chats. So this post is for Kurt. Thanks for being my friend, Kurt.
There are a number of tasty-looking recipes in Jaffrey's book, but the simplicity and spring color of this pea dish leaped out at me most strongly. The sweet reliability of frozen peas is a lifesaver, especially at this barren time of year, yet they are so rarely featured as a dish on their own. (Mostly they get thrown on plates as an afterthought.) And they look so pretty next to a pile of gently spiced, turmeric-gold basmati rice! This recipe is also from Quick & Easy Indian Cooking, and I present it with delight, because I've not had much success with basmati in the past. This recipe, essentially a gently spiced pilaf, is the best basmati rice I've ever made.
I really enjoyed the peas' combination of spicy, sweet, fresh, and creamy. The one issue I had with the dish the first time was that the cream sauce was too runny, and didn't cling to the peas as I wanted. This problem is easily addressed by changing the order of operations a bit and reducing the cream before adding the peas. That change is reflected in the recipe below.
The peas and rice make wonderful sides to simply cooked chicken, or they could stand on their own as a light vegetarian meal. The recipe halves beautifully.
Green Peas in Indian Cream Sauce
Serves: 4 as a main dish, 8 as a side Time: 20 minutes
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garam masala or curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons water
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 serrano or jalapeno chile (taste for heat and adjust accordingly), chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, optional
2 10-oz packages frozen peas, thawed (they thaw quickly under warm running water)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, optional garnish
Combine sugar, ground cumin, masala or curry powder, salt, and cayenne. Add tomato paste and water; stir together. Add the cream, lemon juice, and chile if using. Set aside.
Put the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds begin to sizzle and pop, pour in the cream sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, then simmer for 5-10 minutes, until reduced by half. Add the peas and stir to coat. When the peas are hot through, serve, sprinkled with cilantro if desired.
Golden Basmati Rice
Serves: 4 to 6 Time: 40 minutes Hands-on: 10 minutes
If you don't have all the spices called for, it's fine to leave a few out - even the turmeric. Of course the rice won't be golden then, but it will be toothsome, aromatic, beautifully separate grains. And that's the main thing, isn't it?
2 cups basmati rice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 whole cloves
4 whole green cardamom pods
1 stick cinnamon (1 inch long)
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2.75 cups water
2 tablespoons minced cilantro or scallion, optional garnish
Rinse the rice well in a large strainer. Let rest in the strainer to drain as you continue the recipe.
Put the oil in a heavy lidded saucepan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and bay leaf. Stir and add garlic. When the garlic becomes fragrant and turns golden - this can happen pretty fast, 30 to 90 seconds - add the rice, turmeric, and salt. Stir for a minute to coat every grain with fragrant oil. When all the grains are glossy, add the water and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and turn the heat down as low as it goes. Cook undisturbed for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest 5 more minutes. Serve warm, garnished with cilantro or scallion as desired.