Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tomato curry with peri peri and kalonji

An improvised curry, marrying the citrusy burn of peri peri peppers with the inimitable fragrant-yet-bitter-nutty quality of kalonji seeds, made using a base of fresh garden tomatoes and local sweet onions.
I like to have a big jar of pre-made curry sauce in the fridge for those occasions when I'm not in the mood to cook. Throw half a bag of frozen peas and half a bag of frozen cubed potatoes into a pot with some pre-made curry, et voilà, a fresh batch of aloo mattar. Or use a bag of frozen mixed peas and carrots and I've got gajar mattar, and so on. If I have cooked meat or faux meat in the fridge, I might throw that in as well. One of the most memorable meals of the summer was leftover barbecue brisket from Franklin's (IMHO the best barbecue in Austin), chopped and warmed in a makhani masala that I had jarred a few days earlier. It was heaven on a plate I tell you.

Anyhow, I haven't made a curry in a few weeks mainly because I am out of Indian chiles. I used to have some reshampatti and gundu chiles in the pantry but they disappear quickly because my curries require megadoses. And since I haven't had time to shop at the Indian store in Austin, all I have at the moment is an assortment of Mexican chiles and some peri peris. The latter were introduced to me by a friend from Cape Town, who adds heat to his dishes using a deliciously smoky peri peri-infused whiskey. Just look how tiny and delicate they are but also take note of the heat level indicated on the bag, nine out of ten on Philippe de Vienne's heat scale:

Peri peri are singularly fruity and extremely spicy. I decided to base my curry on them. My second decision was to include kalonji (nigella sativa), which I thought would make a nice counterpoint to the peri peri with its inimitably fragrant-yet-bitter-nutty quality (imagine marrying a sesame seed, a caraway seed, and a shallot), so the curry recipe that follows is an improvisation on the marriage of peri peri and kalonji, made using a base of fresh garden tomatoes and local sweet onions. First, let me share a picture of the tomatoes. I just love their almost neon intensity.

Tomato curry (featuring peri peri and kalonji)
Heat a couple Tbsp of ghee in large sautee pan. Toast peri peri peppers and black mustard seeds lightly, then add fenugrek, cumin and coriander and toast for another 30 seconds or so. Next add chopped onions and slitted green chiles, sautee on medium heat until the onions become translucent and the chiles soften.

Next add turmeric, saffron, and curry leaves and sautee for a minute, adding ghee to lubricate the pan if necessary.

Soon afterwards, add chopped tomatoes, pureed ginger and garlic, and a little bit of water. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes or so.

Once the tomato mixture has simmered for a while, it'll look something like this:

While the tomato mixture cools, toast the kalonji seeds for a minute or two, or until you can smell the toasted seed smell rising from the stove top. Let cool for a minute then grind in a spice grinder or mortar & pestle. Pictured below you see the whole seeds on the right and the ground seeds on the left.

Next, blend the tomato mixture until perfectly smooth. 

At this point you can adjust the flavor to your own liking by adding jaggery to sweeten (I use Mexican piloncillo, which is nearly exactly the same thing according to Wikipedia and much easier to procure in Austin), salt and garam masala to taste, and finally heavy cream and a generous dose of toasted ground kalonji. Add these ingredients carefully, to taste, blending and adjusting until you are happy with it. The cream and the jaggery are both optional but taste particularly wonderful in a tomato-based curry.

The result was most definitely a success. I had hoped the peri peri and kalonji would dominate over the other spices but counterbalance one another –– and they do so beautifully! I only wish the curry were a bit spicier. But that's easy enough to remedy by sauteeing some green chiles in with the vegetables or meat at the moment of preparation. This curry would be especially delicious with prawns or duck breast topped with Thai fried shallots and cilantro.

Ingredients: -2 Tbsp ghee, 10-15 peri peri peppers, 1 Tbsp black mustard seeds, 2 tsp fenugrek, 1 Tbsp whole cumin, 1 Tbsp coriander seed, 2 chopped onions, 3 serrano chiles, 1 tsp turmeric, 7-8 saffron threads, 5-6 curry leaves, 2 large tomatoes, 1 Tbsp each of pureed ginger and garlic, 1 tsp piloncillo, 2 Tbsp toasted ground kalonji, 1 tsp garam masala, 1/2 cup heavy cream, salt to taste.

Notes: I got my kalonji and peri peri from Épices de Cru but if you don't want to wait for Canada Post, you can find kalonji at any Indian grocery (I usually go here) or online here. Same goes for curry leaves. Peri peri is harder to find locally in Austin but can be bought online here

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