On Saturday, Tom and I went to the Strip District, Pittsburgh's local market area. We thought it'd be especially bustling, with the Steelers in the playoffs the next day (since lots of venders there sell Steelers gear, and people would want to be stocking up on food for game-watching parties), but the frigid weather meant that there was just the normal amount for a Saturday crowd (which is pretty packed anyways). When we left the house at 10:30 in the morning, it was only 5° out. There was no way we could push a stroller through the narrow sidewalks between stalls, so we put Sly in the Baby Bjorn, wearing about fifty layers of clothes to make sure he stayed warm. And boy, did that make a scene! Seriously, four out of every five people we passed pointed and "aww'd" or stopped to laugh at the sight of Tom with Sly. Everyone just got such a kick out of it, and I know Tom enjoyed the attention too.
The main reason we decided to take a trip to the Strip was to locate some less-common spices we needed for a couple Indian recipes we wanted to try out. The Strip District has tons of little ethnic stores with all sorts of crazy ingredients. If you need anything out of the ordinary for cooking, you are pretty much guaranteed to find it there.
We chose two recipes to make: Chicken Vindaloo, and Pullao With Peas (a seasoned rice dish). The recipes came from a cookbook called Curried Favors, which gets my highest recommendation. I first heard about it from a friend. He invited us to a homecooked Indian dinner a few months ago, and his food was amazing. I asked him how he learned to cook the dishes, and he showed me the cookbook. I added it to my Christmas list, and happily received it as a gift.
So Tom and I picked a couple recipes to start with. I purposely chose a Saturday night to tackle them, because I had a feeling I would want Tom home the whole time to help me cook, or at least hold the baby so I could put all my energies into the meal. And I'm really glad we did it that way. Indian food takes time! It involves a lot of ingredients, and each ingredient needs to be prepared in some way before it's added to the food. Also, cooking Indian means many many little messes all over the kitchen, and lots of dishes dirtied along the way. The whole thing took us several hours from start to finish. Certainly not something I want to attempt every night, but definitely worth it on occasion.
The food, in short, was absolutely delicious. It tastes just like it was ordered at an Indian restaurant. The spices mixtures were perfect, and our home smelled that same delectable way that all Indian restaurants/Indian people's homes smell! haha. Anyways, below are the recipes we used, in case anyone wants to try them out for themselves.
adapted from Maya Kaimal MacMillan's Curried Favors
2 lbs. boneless/skinless chicken thighs OR 3 lbs. with bone and skin
6 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper (cayenne)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 c. white vinegar
2 c. thinly sliced onions
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. minced ginger
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 3/4-in. cubes (about 1 cup)
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds, coarsely ground with mortar and pestle
1 c. chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned), drained
1/4 canned unsweetened coconut milk
2-3 green chilies (serrano, Thais, or jalapeno), split lengthwise
2 tsp. salt
~Trim boneless thighs of fat and cut into 1 1/2-in. chunks. If you have bone-in thighs, trim fat and skin, and cut into 2 or 3 pieces each, leaving bone in.
~ Rub chicken with spice mixture and vinegar and let stand for 30 min.
~In Dutch oven over medium-high heat, fry onion in oil until edges are nicely browned. Add garlic and ginger and stir for 2 min. until onion is medium brown.
~Add potato, mustard seeds, tomatoes, coconut milk, chilies, and salt and stir for 2 minutes. Add chicken and 1/2 c. water and bring to boil.
~ Lower heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes, or until chicken and potatoes are done. Sauce will not be thick.
My Notes: We used 2 serranos for the chilies. They added a good flavor with just the right amount of spice (i.e. I am a wimp about spicy foods. I could tolerate it, but JUST. Tom could have gone with a third chili in there.) We simmered it for 40 minutes, but the potatoes were definitely not done yet. I would recommend partially pre-cooking the potatoes before adding them in, so that it takes less time to cook. We bought all the spices at a Greek store, and the coconut milk at a Chinese store. But you could probably find all of them at a nice supermarket. The book also has recipes for a shrimp or pork version of this dish, which I'm sure are also amazing.
Pullao With Peas
adapted from Maya Kaimal MacMillan's Curried Favors
1 medium onion, sliced
2 T. vegetable oil
1-in. piece cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed to break pods
1/8 tsp. turmeric
3 1/2 c. water
2 c. basmati rice
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. frozen peas, thawed
~ Rinse rice in a large bowl with water, draining and refilling until water is not cloudy. Drain completely.
~In large pan over medium-high heat, fry onion in oil until it becomes light brown. Add the four spices and stir 1 minute.
~Add water, rice, and salt and bring to a full boil. Cover with tight-fitting lid, reduce heat to very low, and cook 20 minutes.
~ Without removing lid, turn off heat and let sit 5 minutes. Stir in peas and recover. Let sit 5 minutes.
My Notes: The recipe in its standard form uses just "long-grain rice", and offers an alternate method for using basmati rice. This is all I provided here because, really, basmati rice is so much tastier.