That also means it’s time for Challenge #2, in which I’ve been tasked to prepare a classic dish… only, there’s a catch: said classic dish must belong to a cuisine that’s not as familiar to me, and take me out of my comfort zone.
Cue several days of frantic nail biting and cookbook reading.
When it comes to my blog (and my kitchen) I have a couple of comfort zones: the first being being new-school takes on old-school North American comfort foods like Mac and Cheese or Chicken Pot Pie, and the other being dishes inspired by the flavours of southern Europe and the Mediterranean – Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece are most definitely the usual suspects, with occasional guest appearances by Turkey and Morocco.
So, what could I try that would take me completely out of my element? I considered a few cuisines – Scandinavian, Thai, Korean and West Indian all came to mind at some point over the past week, but I my thoughts keep cycling back to South Asian food. I’ve eaten in many Indian and Pakistani restaurants over the years, but despite my love for the fiery curries and pungent spices of South Asian cuisine, I’ve never actually tried making it at home. Clearly, this is a long-overdue experiment.
For inspiration and recipes, I turned to some of my favourite South Asian food blogs – Kathy Gori’s Colours of Indian Cooking and Sanjana’s KO Rasoi, Shayma’s Spice Spoon and Nadia’s For The Love of Yum – plus a couple of my general go-to sites, Saveur and Epicurious.
After some hemming and hawing (and maybe a little drooling, as is usually the case when I’m reading food blogs), I finally settled on a dish that would be relatively simple for a beginner like me, but that still had enough flair to be challenge-worthy… namely, samosas.
Hmmm… then again, I did promise to go big or go home, didn’t I? Fine. Samosas AND chutney. Actually, make that three chutneys.
Then came the shopping, since one of the main characteristics of South Asian cuisine is its use of vivid, pungent flavours and complex spice blends. To accomplish this task, I needed several ingredients that don’t normally live in my near-overflowing pantry – things like tamarind paste, jaggery, nigella seeds and mango powder. Thankfully, Toronto is home to a large population of South Asian immigrants, so it’s actually quite easy to find authentic ingredients. For me, a short ride on the bus is all it took to land me in the middle of a well-stocked South Asian foods aisle at the grocery store, where I found everything I needed (and then some). Not bad, eh?
And then, I took my bounty home and started cooking. The filling was easy enough to make, as was the dough for the wrappers and my trio of simple chutneys. I’ll admit, I did mangle a few samosas before I got the hang of the wrapping and folding part, but overall it was actually much easier than I thought it would be.
So how did my little experiment turn out? Surprisingly well, actually. The potato filling is savoury and wonderfully complex (and spicy), and the assortment of chutneys keeps things interesting by offering up an additional layer of flavours, ranging from cooling (and spicy) to sweet (and spicy).
And as a bonus, the whole meal is vegan-friendly as long as you use the yogurt-free variation on the Coriander Chutney. How awesome is that?
Most importantly, though, South Asian food feels a lot more approachable than it did a week or two ago, especially since my pantry is fully stocked with all the ingredients I could possibly need. Heck, I might even work up the guts to try a lamb biryani sometime in the near future… stay tuned!
Update: Voting is now open for Project Food Blog Challenge #2. If you think I’ve got what it takes to make it to the top of the food blog world (or what it takes to make it to the next challenge, at least), then vote for me by clicking on the “Vote For Me” button in the Official Contestant Widget over there in the sidebar —>
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp nigella seeds
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup warm water
3 medium potatoes (~2 lb), peeled and diced
4 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
1 green Thai chili, seeded and chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp amchur powder
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste
To prepare the dough, combine the flour, nigella seeds and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the oil, and rub into the flour mixture until it resembles fine bread crumbs. Add the water and stir, using a fork, until the mixture begins to come together. Turn out onto a clean working surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, and let rest, covered for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Boil the potatoes in a large pot of boiling, salted water for about 15-20 minutes, or until tender. Drain.
Rinse off the pot and put it back on the heat. Working over medium-high heat, add 2 tbsp of the oil. When the oil is hot, add the chili and spices, and cook 1-2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the potatoes and peas, and stir until combined. Cook this mixture for about 5 minutes, mashing the potatoes slightly with the back of your spoon as you go. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste if needed. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400F.
To assemble the samosas, divide the dough into 12 equally-sized balls. Roll each ball into a 6″ circle, and cut in half – you now have two wrappers. To fill, fold in one corner of the semi-circle towards the middle, then overlap slightly with the second corner to form a cone shape, sealing the tip and sides with a little water and pinching tight. Holding the cone open with one hand, fill with 2 tbsp of the potato filling, then pinch the top firmly closed to seal.
Place the finished samosa on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and repeat this process until you have a total of 24 samosas ready to go. Brush the samosas with the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil (or mist with a handy-dandy oil mister, my new favourite toy).
Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until lightly browned, then turn over and continue baking for another 5-10 minutes or until golden all over.
Serve your samosas straight from the oven or at room temperature, with your trio of chutneys for dipping.
Adapted from KO Rasoi
Makes 1 cup of chutney
3 medium Granny Smith apples
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
Pinch each ground star anise, fennel and cardamom
Pinch of salt (to bring out the flavours)
1 tsp chili flakes
Peel and core apples, and roughly chop into a mixing bowl. Add sugar, and toss to coat.
Transfer apple mixture to a medium saucepan set over low heat. Cook until the juice begins to seep out of the apples, then increase the heat to medium. Rather than stirring, swirl the mixture around so that the apple pieces stay more or less intact.
Once the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup and the sugar caramelises to a pale gold colour, add the remaining ingredients (this took about 30 minutes in my case, but will vary depending on the juiciness of the apples). Reduce heat to low, and cook for about 2-3 minutes to let the flavours combine, then remove from heat. The remaining heat in the pan should be sufficient to finish cooking the spices.
Spoon the hot chutney into a sterilized glass jar and let cool before storing in the refrigerator. Chutney will keep in the fridge for a month or two… assuming it manages to last that long. Sanjana recommends serving this chutney on toast, as a sandwich spread, or as an accompaniment to your favourite curries. (It’s wicked good with aged cheddar)
Sweet and Sour Tamarind Chutney
Adapted from Saveur
Makes 2 cups of chutney
5 oz jaggery or brown sugar, broken into pieces
4 tbsp tamarind paste
2 cups water
1 tsp ground cumin
1⁄2 tsp salt
1⁄2 tsp garam masala
1⁄4 tsp cayenne
In a medium saucepan, combine jaggery, tamarind paste and water. Cook over medium-high heat until the jaggery dissolves and the tamarind paste softens, about 8-10 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture. Press through a strainer to extract any solid bits.
Return the strained liquid to the saucepan, along with remaining ingredients. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Cilantro and Mint Chutney
Adapted from For The Love of Yum
2 cups cilantro, washed throughly, thick stems removed
15 mint leaves, stems removed
1 green chili, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped roughly
1/2 tsp ground cumin powder
1/4 tsp scant ajwain seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 1/2 cup whisked plain yogurt
Using a blender or food processor, blend the ingredients. Add water, a few spoonfuls at a time, and continue processing until smooth and pureed. Add yogurt and blend until combined. Let stand for 20-30 minutes before using to allow the flavours to mellow.
Note: For a vegan-friendly alternative, add the juice of half a lime and omit the yogurt.