South of the Orient: Part V

Tikka and SaagI have been enjoying a LOT of South Asian cuisine as of late. My boyfriend Tom has converted me into a curry-loving/spice-craving gal…granted, he’s got some great recipes up his sleeve (hence the series). In fact, it’s a cuisine that’s perfect for this time of year – winter is not my forte, and Wednesday’s temp was a balmy 7 degrees. The promise of a piping hot meal loaded with spices and protein has been a saving grace during the season. Piling on layers of clothing can do the trick, but this Saag Tofu and Chicken Tikka Masala works wonders on a chilly winter day.
183819_1811611419548_5295728_nBoth of these dishes are common to the Punjabi region, where Tom spent close to two months exploring (North India primarily) – the photo above was taken in a village called Auli. Located in northeast Uttarakhand, Auli is about 13,000 feet above sea level and lies deep within the majestic Himalayas. The Himalayas,  which is Sanskrit for “abode of the snow”, make this a perfect anecdote for winter:

“After a ten hour ride in a van hugging cliff sides all the way up into the mountains we arrived at Joshimath, before another hour straight up a mountain toward Auli. The driver could only make it so far and we had to hike the last couple of miles in deep snow to the village, which resides quietly in the shadow of Nanda Devi, India’s second highest peak at 26,000 feet, just a hair shy of Everest. From the plateau, a heady panorama of mountain peaks and micro-ranges in every direction laying strewn with Hindu icons. Auli is the embarkation point for some of the world’s most intense pilgrimages.”

Saag Paneer 1Saag is prominent in Northern India, and is prepared in a variety of ways. The basic recipe is spinach leaves (or similar leafy greens, such as mustard and kale) are finely chopped, then sautéed with a variety of spices. The most well-known rendition calls for pan-seared paneer: a fresh cheese used in a variety of South Asian recipes. Tom opts for tofu, which is both healthier and easier to find in local grocery stores than paneer. The sautéing takes a bit, but that golden hue gives this dish a texture and taste that’s extraordinary!
Saag Paneer 2I have made Saag before, but this is by far my favorite recipe – the flavors are complex, and the textural aesthetic is stunning. Some varieties use cream, yet this recipe is vegan and chock-full of spices: cumin, coriander, fenugreek, and garam masala. The key (per usual with Tom’s recipes) is to dry-roast the spices one at a time, then grind them to a fine powder. It comes together in no time once all of the ingredients have been prepped. Don’t fret if you have leftovers, as it’s even better the next day. Click HERE to see the recipe for this flavorful side!
Chicken Tikka 2Tikka Masala is one of those dishes that nearly everyone loves – comprised of roasted chicken simmered in a creamy sauce, it is one of Tom’s signatures. Similar to Saag, cooking the protein separately aids with the texture and flavor of the final dish. The marinade yields a beautifully tender meat that is hard to beat – yogurt is the secret weapon here. Acidic marinades have been known to “denature” (or toughen) the meat, whereas milk-based marinades won’t. It is alleged that the calcium helps to activate certain enzymes that break down the proteins, creating a more tender and flavorful meat. South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures have been using dairy-based marinades for a looong time, for good reason!
Chicken TIkka 1The masala, unlike the marinade, is fairly complex – a medley of spices, healthy fats, and vegetables come together to create a creamy sauce that is both spicy and rich. The original calls for a lot of cream, but Tom lessens the cream needed by upping the almonds. The result gives the sauce more character without inhibiting the spices and aromatics. This dish is both filling and loaded with protein, making it a perfect meal for those colder days. Click HERE to see the recipe for this beloved classic!
Chicken Tikka 3Winter often gets a bad rap – slushy sidewalks, dry skin, chilly and biting winds – and it’s frozen beauty is often disregarded. Some of the most gorgeous landscapes I’ve witnessed were in the coldest climates (Tom would readily agree). Case in point – the below photo is from a hike we took together in MontanaIMG_1037 about a year ago. It is one of my favorite pictures to date, and yet I was freezing my tail off the entire time! Spring, summer and fall are often flooded with activity – it is winter that gives us a moment of stillness, in which we may breathe and experience our world. This led me to choose Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 in G minor, “Winter Dreams.” This symphony is arguably the cheeriest (and least tortured) of his six symphonies. It has a youthful air, which can be attributed to the fact that he was only 26 when he wrote it. In this symphony (just over 40-minutes in length), Tchaikovsky paints the isolated beauty of a Russian “winter journey” using rich orchestration balanced by gossamer melodies. The piece captures the dynamics of this posting’s two dishes, while also alluding to the tranquil enticements of winter. The below recording features Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Marinades Add Flavor but Don’t Always Tenderize,”
“Symphony No. 1 (Tchaikovsky),”

South of the Orient: Part IV

Salmon Curry & ParippuA major benefit to dating a fellow foodie is that home-cooked meals are rarely boring – Tom and I often create something unique and delicious. Just the other week, we were at a coffee shop and (naturally) began to discuss what we could make for dinner that evening. The hope was to make something healthy and packed with protein – that idea led to salmon, and lentils slowly found their way into the discussion. Not surprisingly we decided to give this pairing an Indian twist, and the result was perfect: Salmon Curry over Parippu (Red Lentil Dal) and Spinach.
Parippu 3As per usual with Tom’s cooking, these recipes are permeated with a variety of spices…which reminds me to briefly discuss the term “curry”. Many assume that “curry” is a specific type of Indian spice, when in reality it is a generic term for a mixture of spices (flavors). The word is of English origin, with its creation dating back to the British Colonial government – during their colonial administration of India, British officials had come to know and love the flavors of the local cuisine. It is alleged that the mixture was created by an Indian chef for a single colonial magistrate: while preparing for his return to England, the magistrate announced that he couldn’t bear to live without the flavorful fare. The result was a spice powder that has become wildly popular throughout the British Isles, as well as across the globe in “fusion” settings.
Parippu 1 Indian cooking is often inspired by Ayurveda: a holistic practice of Indian origin that encourages well-being through physical and emotional awcareness. This practice relies on the understanding of the three doshas (or elemental energies that constitute each individual): Vata (motion), Pitta (metabolic), and Kapha (growth). Pitta espouses the life-giving properties of certain spices and foods, and legumes are seen as especially potent. This particular recipe uses red lentils (also known as Parippu or Masoor dal) – they cook more quickly than your standard brown lentils, with the difference being that these have been stripped of their outer hulls and split in half. The result is a protein that serves as an excellent thickener for stews and curries, making them a popular choice for Dal. Learn how to make this flavorful Dal by clicking HERE!
Curry SalmonSalmon with Indian spices was definitely a new one for me. Swordfish is Tom’s preferred choice for curries (more on that later), but we both agreed it might be interesting to try the oilier fish for a change of pace. I was in charge of making this dish, and it was actually fun to cook. Connecting to the previous dish, Ayurveda certainly applies here as well: salmon provides whopping dose of Omega-3’s, vitamins, protein, and amino acids. I decided to cook the salmon skin-on, but you can certainly go with your preference. For plating, we placed the Dal onto a mound of baby spinach, and topped it off with the salmon and extra sauce. The resulting dish was stunning, and needless to say our “dosha” were fully satisfied – click HERE to see the recipe for this beautiful salmon!
Curry Salmon & Parippu 2The life-giving properties of food are absolute – nutritional choices are a requisite for any healthy lifestyle. That being said, a person’s well-being is incidentally influenced by countless elements, and music certainly has a place in the formula. Think back on all of the times that you’ve turned to music: special occasions with family and friends, moments you were sad or nervous, times of laughter and joy, an instance of inspiration. These are experiences you’ll never forget, as they were integral to your personal wellness and psyche. Composer Marc Neikrug thoroughly believes in the power of music, and his work Healing Ceremony reflects this philosophy. He says of the piece:

“I thought about the power music has over people; I wanted to write something that would change how your body feels — helping you calm down, handle stress, get in touch with inner feelings and inner thoughts…This [composition] is not a treatment, but it surely can put you in the right place.” – Marc Neikrug

Neikrug has been living on a Pueblo reservation in Sante Fe for over twenty years, and has been greatly inspired by their cultural perspectives on healing and connectivity. From the three dosha of Ayurveda described above, music is perhaps most connected to Vata: a dosha that involves your breath, heart rate, and blood circulation. Exposure to music can influence all of these elements, and Neikrug’s intention with Healing Ceremony is to invoke calmness and  through the music:

“People should be much more conscious of the power that music has upon all of them — meaning your body and everything that’s going on inside of you…It’s not just, ‘Oh this is cool — it makes me want to dance,’ it’s much more complicted than that.” – Marc Neikrug

Nearly 40 minutes in length, the piece consists of 8 movements: North – Air – West – Earth – South – Water – East – Fire/Love. The following recording is with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra performing “Earth”. Enjoy 🙂

Sources Cited
“Ayurveda & Dosha Types for Beginners” MindBodyGreen
“Marc Neikrug, ‘Healing Ceremony’ Composer, Talks The Power Of Music” Huffington Post: Lifestyle

South of the Orient: Part III

Lamb Kofta 2It’s getting to be that time of season where I hate leaving the warmth of my apartment…which is a bummer because I love being outdoors. Then again, one significant pro to colder weather is the seasonal food – a necessary comfort to the portending cold that is New England winters. Meals are heartier and even more flavorful to help us put some “meat on our bones”. Not surprisingly, a number of Indian dishes fit beautifully in this context; a cuisine with which my boyfriend has developed quite the expertise. To recap this series: Tom is a veteran traveler, whose culinary tastes have been greatly inspired by his experiences abroad. He made this Lamb Kofta with Tomato & Yoghurt Sauce a while back, which I’m craving now more than ever as the cold slowly creeps through my apartment’s lousy window units.
63470_1714380868845_310848_n This dish holds a special affinity with Tom’s travels in Rajasthan: India’s largest state, located along the Pakistani border in the Northwest. He shares his experiences below:

“As you progress west, away from the Indian heartland toward the Pakistani border with Rajasthan, availability of food changes drastically. The landscape of Rajasthan is a rugged marriage of mountain foothill and high desert, dotted with magnificent palaces and fortresses built many centuries ago by the Rajput empire. Leaving Jodhpur, the “Blue City” on the road west (pictured above), I knew I’d had my last chicken for a while. As the terrain flattens and gives way to brush and sand dunes the only available meat becomes goat, mutton and lamb, and the latter will cost you. Past a thousand year old desert fortress made out of sandstone called Jaisalmer, I spent a few days out in the desert with Indian guides and a small pack of camels. A German, an Australian and myself had had our fill of vegetarian food, and persuaded the guides to barter with a nearby village for a goat. The Indians insisted that it wouldn’t be right for any of the westerners to kill the animal, and took it to a quiet corner. That night we barbequed on the sand and had more ropey meat than we knew what to do with.”

Lamb Kofta 4Like most of Tom’s recipes, this dish is redolent with Indian spices. One thing I learned from Tom is that most cookbooks underestimate the amount of spice you should use, in hopes of creating a recipe that isn’t “too intense” for the average Joe. The result is often dishes that are a little bland…Tom and I want a meal to punch us in the taste buds, so we go a little crazy (he asked me to put a warning here: dishes like this can result in a spice addiction, leading to an inclusion of spices in everything from your breakfast cereal to chocolate cake…) Another thing I should point out is Tom’s choice to purée all of the onion in this recipe (as opposed to simply chopping or mincing) – half of this is out of personal preference, but the other half is to help enrich the texture. The purée acts as a thickening agent, creating a smoother and more aesthetic sauce.
Lamb Kofta 5The name of this dish is derived from the Turkish term küftə – which translates to “small ball.” Kofta is a fairly popular item on most Indian and Pakistani menus, having been introduced to South Asia following the Muslim ascendancy in the region. It is commonly cooked in a spiced gravy or curry sauce. Call me naive…but I picture it as a more exotic rendition of spaghetti and meatballs – both are simmered in a tomato-based sauce, loaded with regional herbs/spices, and served atop a carb of choice. Kofta is the more interesting of the two in my opinion, and possibly more nutritional as well.
Lamb Kofta 6This was love at first bite! I’m not a big fan of lamb, but the character it lends to this dish is undeniably perfect. You can serve the Kofta with basically anything you want: brown rice, white rice, quinoa, naan…or you can eat it directly out of the pan if that’s your style. Dishes like this can be your greatest ally on colder nights…like tonight. It tastes even better the next day, so go ahead and cook yourself a batch for the week – you can enjoy leftovers inside your warm home, while watching another episode of Breaking Bad and not thinking twice about the dropping temperatures outside: click HERE to see Tom’s recipe for this delicious Kofta!
Lamb Kofta 3Tom’s experiences in India give him a unique advantage regarding its cuisine – he is no longer a slave to Indian cookbooks, and can easily modify and/or create meals based on his own practiced understandings. In the classical music world, an analogous parallel would be Béla Bartók’s compositional process. Born bartoktowards the end of the 19th century, Bartók (pictured left) was well-known for incorporating folk music into his own works. Over time, he became increasingly familiar with the harmonic and melodic tendencies of this music that he eventually was writing his own folk melodies. Bartók’s entire style took a whole new direction from then onward, and has placed his works among the more innovative to come out of the 20th century. One great example is his Dance Suite (Táncszvit) – the work was premiered in November of 1923, just five years after the end of WWI. While the piece has melodies of Hungarian, Romanian, and Arabic influence, the themes are all Bartók’s own. The work consists of six dances, but is audibly perceived as two movements. It opens with bassoon (which reminds me of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring – 1913), and the orchestra pulses between moments of kinetic intensity and gentle reflection over the next three dances. At the end of the third dance, we reach a climax that feels decisively conclusive. Yet the fourth movement slowly emerges, immersing listeners into a dreamlike realm. We then transition into the brief yet energetic fifth dance, which finally cascades into the sixth dance where the work’s many themes are resurfaced for an exciting finish. The below recording is with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin – I hope you enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Dance Suite,” The Kennedy Center

South of the Orient: Part II

Gaeng Panang1Advancements in travel and communications have made our world far more accessible, and culinary experimentation has become easier as a consequence. Even so, it’s amazing how many flavorful foods have yet to be included in the conventions of American cooking. This mini series is meant to catalog the travels of my boyfriend Tom, and his unique understanding of Asian cuisine – one thing that certainly holds true to this style of cooking is the use of colorful ingredients. While it may seem laborious to prepare and process so many ingredients, the food is always packed with flavor – this Gaeng Panang Gai was a fantastic example of just that.
Gaeng Panang3This dish is native to Thailand, where Tom lived for almost a year (the below photo is from his travels). Similar as with India (which you can read about in my last post from this series), he was captivated by Thailand’s wealth of resources:

“…the ingredients come from what is readily available, and the south of Thailand is blessed with year round access to unique, evocative plants, roots and vegetables that they pound together in a pestle and mortar, a process that takes hours, not to mention iron wrists, until it forms a smooth, blisteringly strong paste, which is mellowed out in the wok with the addition of coconut milk.”

16440_1266104022204_6628122_nAn interesting fact about Thailand, there are only three seasons: hot, cool, and rainy. Local Buddhist monks measure their regional tenure by rainy seasons as opposed to years spent in said area. On the other hand, there are FIVE basic attributes to Thai cuisine: sweet, spicy, sour, bitter and salty. A pretty remarkable shift from Western traditions. And did I mention how much they love rice? Thailand currently stands as the world’s largest exporter – no wonder they make so many curries!
Gaeng Panang4The one thing I love about Asian cuisine is the color – bright reds, rich golds, luscious greens – when plated on white dish, the contrast is stunning. Watching Tom prepare this, I learned that it’s worth taking your time to get everything in place before running with it – that way you can act quickly once the “heat is on”. The paste is quite simple, and is the central element of this recipe. A food processor or blender is necessary, but you can mash it to a paste with a pestle and mortar if all else fails (and it would be an excellent forearm workout!) You can serve with or without rice, but you’ll definitely want something to sop up all of that delicious sauce – click HERE to see the recipe.
Gaeng Panang2The amount of flavor you experience in a single bite sets this dish apart – it’s practically a “treatise” on the qualities of Thai cuisine. You have your fundamental ingredients, to which a variety of components are added in support. This led me to consider Samuel Barber’s First Essay for Orchestra, Op. 12. The work is built upon a musical “thesis”, where the proceeding ideas and harmonies are all played out accordingly – similar to the structure of a written essay. The work was composed in 1938 for conductor Arturo Toscanini. Barber met the renowned Toscanini in the late 1930’s, who was quite taken with the composer’s music. The work was commissioned and premiered by Toscanini with the NBC Symphony Orchestra – Barber’s Adagio for Strings (arguably his most well-known composition) was performed for the first time on this very concert. The other thing that led me to consider this work was the chef himself – Tom is a very strong writer, and takes a good deal of pride on an “essay” well done (okay, so this connection may be a little kooky, but I’m fully aware of my writing eccentricities!) Anyways, this pairing both compliments and supports this delicious meal, and is a beautiful work – it may be only 8 minutes in length, but it is filled with musical color and passion. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Essay for Orchestra (Barber)”,

South of the Orient: Part I

KashmiriCurry1You have probably read about my various trysts with international cuisine before – to be fair, I can’t necessarily deem any of them as being truly “authentic” dishes, seeing as how I’ve only been to a handful of countries outside the U.S. Then there’s my boyfriend: a guy who has traveled across the globe, seeing and experiencing a number of cultures and cuisine. When it came to food, India left an especially strong culinary impression – he says of the place:

“You can be sitting in restaurants perched on the sides of cliffs, while eating Northern curries and enjoying vistas that extend all the way from the Himalayan foothills to the smog of Delhi.”

KashmiriCurry5Tom cooks Indian curries unlike any I’ve ever tried…and I have been dying to showcase his food on my blog for quite some time. His recipes from regions southeast Asia are especially intriguing, so I’m introducing a miniseries called “South of the Orient” (and to finally get his recipes online!) This Kashmiri Chicken Curry seemed like an apt introduction to what is arguably an authentic take on Indian cuisine.

KashmiriCurry6Tom spent a total of 6 months in India during his travels, one of which was spent in Dharamsala: a small city in Northern India that is home to the exiled Tibetan government (and the Dalai Lama). It was here that he first experienced a Kashmiri curry. Kashmir is the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent, and has been called “Heaven on Earth” given its incredible natural beauty. Kashmiri traders venture south from Kashmir by way of treacherous mountain paths into Northern India to sell the flavorful spices and colorful clothing from their homeland. The need for discretion is due to the volatile relations between Pakistan and India over the Kashmiri region. As a historically disputed territory, its resources are all the more precious.

KashmiriCurry4This recipe calls for ingredients that Kashmir grows in abundance, including saffron and pistachios. After being introduced to this curry in Dharamsala, Tom has apparently made this curry upwards of 30 times – the trick is to not dump everything in all at once. The key to getting the depth of flavor is to allow each ingredient to “bloom” – Tom will toast the spices individually, before grinding them for the curry paste. The added patience yields remarkable flavors. Click HERE to learn how to make this irresistible dish!

KashmiriCurry2The appeal of India is understandably intoxicating, and many a musician have fallen under its spell. A prime example was classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who was constantly seeking new life experiences and cultures to inform his art. India left an indelible mark on Menuhin, and he became fascinated with its cultural practices. He was one of the first advocates for yoga, having befriended world-renowned yoga instructor Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja (B.K.S.) Iyengar long before he had reached international prominence. The following quote gives some insight to Menuhin’s view of India:

“Delhi was an absolutely incredible place, teeming with life. There were hardly any cars, so women in beautiful saris spilled out on to streets filled with monkeys and oxen. Exotic birds flew among the trees. It felt so different from what we experience today, when most of us seem to live in a submarine where there is barely enough oxygen for everyone. In Delhi, years ago, we were enchanted. Both of us wanted to learn more about the culture, the way of life, and, of course, I was interested in the music.” – Menuhin

Menuhin and Shankar

It was this interest in music that led to a collaboration with the celebrated teacher Ravi Shankar. The duo helped bring Indian music to an wider audience, and has become one of THE albums of cross-cultural music. Menuhin wrote an article about their collaboration which you can check out HERE. As for the music, the link below include the entire album – enjoy!

Sources Cited
The photo of Menuhin and Shankar is courtesy David Ferrell/Getty images