Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tempeh Curry, a love story. Chapter 1

My oh my it has been a long time! Nearly 3 weeks. Blog, you don't get the attention you deserve.

Anyway, lots of things have been going on lately - but it's this beauty of a dish that has caused me to blog again.

It was my first attempt at curry, and I'm more than positive it won't be my last. I'd go as far to say that the vast flavor profile of curry dishes matched with the fact that their main ingredients can be improvised so easily leads me to believe that my budding love for making curry may rival my long standing passion for making chili.

To think this all started with a restaurant as unassuming as Thai Kitchen.

Before I get into my first attempt, I owe photo credits and the foundation of my recipe to 101 cookbooks, a blog I've mentioned before. In case you feel like spicing up your own dinner menu sometime soon, I've included her recipe, in it's entirety below. However, even though this was my first attempt, I didn't follow her recipe to a T and so I also included my notes later.

This curry has a bit of kick to it - so if you're cooking for a spice-sensitive crowd, scale back a bit - and season to taste at the end. Also, the recipe has you steam the potatoes. I couldn't find my big metal steamer, so I rigged one using a metal strainer suspended over a large pasta pot with a lid on. There was a bit of a gap, and it probably took longer than it would have otherwise, but it worked. A pasta pot insert would work too. In the end, the potatoes just need to be cooked, so you could boil them or even roast them (oven at 375F) - both slightly different approaches, but fine workarounds. As far as the cooking fats go, if you like to cook with ghee or clarified butter, you can substitute that, or even coconut oil.

1 1/2 pounds small waxy potatoes no bigger than a small lime, halved
2 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
scant 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
3/4 cup water
splash of cream or a dollop of creme fraiche

8 ounces tempeh, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
a small handful of cilantro, loosely chopped

Bring a few inches of water to boil in a large pot. Place the potatoes in a steamer (see head notes), sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook until tender throughout - about 20 - 30 minutes, depending on how large your potato pieces are.

In the meantime, in a large skillet, melt the butter in the olive oil, add the onion and cook over LOW heat until they are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cumin seeds, curry powder, turmeric, and cayenne pepper, wait about thirty seconds, then stir in the tomatoes, water, and the other teaspoon of salt. Remove from heat, stir in the cream and blend with a hand blender - (or leave it unpureed if you like!). Note: you might need to transfer it to a bowl to puree, then return it to the skillet.

Once the curry is back in the pan, add the tempeh and bring barely to a simmer. Let the tempeh cook for 5 minutes or so, then add the potatoes when they are finished steaming. Transfer to a large family-style bowl, and sprinkle with cilantro before serving.

Serves 4 - 6.

This recipe was inspired by the Potato with Tomato Curry recipe in Lora Zarubin's I Am Almost Always Hungry. Published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang in 2003.

And if you're interested in what I did...

First, I hate boiling water. Boiling water to me is just that... "like watching water boil." I'm far to impatient. So if you're like me you'll find that tossing all the cut up potatoes in a covered glass dish and microwaving for 10 minutes gets the job done in a fourth of the time.

Second, I couldn't find tempeh in the grocery store the two different times I looked. I've found out where it is since then (of course) and plan to use it in a later dish, but I substituted tofu and thought it worked well. Another substitution I made was coconut milk for cream. Coconut milk is pretty common in thai dishes and it adds the creaminess the dish is needing. It worked beautifully. I also omitted the butter and used only olive oil.

Third, I would contend that you NEED to puree the sauce. The sauce is the soul of curry dishes and if I would have left it chunky I know it wouldn't have been nearly as good. Immersion blenders are awesome, but if you forgot to put that one on your wedding registry my blender got the job done with no problem.

Things that I'll do next time...

One is that I won't be as afraid of the salt shaker. To hop on my RD soapbox for just one minute, two teaspoons of salt is a bit of overkill. Hello! That's two days worth of sodium! I know you're not eating the whole dish...but come on! Anyway, I literally stood over the pot, salt in hand, and just couldn't bring myself to salt a dish that much. I omitted the salt on the potatoes completely and only added 1/2 teaspoon to the sauce. Salt does add "umph" to a dish, and after eating my first attempt I probably will add 3/4...or maybe...just maybe 1 whole teaspoon next time. But I'll also be a little more heavy handed with the curry powder which will help compensate. Two teaspoons though! My heart couldn't take it.

Next time around I'll also only par-cook the potatoes until they're about 3/4 of the way done and add them into the dish before the tempeh/tofu and let them finish cooking thru on low for another 5 minutes...then add the protein...then let simmer for another 10 minutes. The reason for this is that I think the potatoes need to absorb some of the flavors of the curry sauce. Just like chili tastes better on day two, this curry dish would really POP in your mouth if the potatoes melded more with the sauce. As it stands, the potatoes are kind of a bland "ying" to the spicy curry's "yang" which you need otherwise the flavors would fight with each other. But I think if you let the potatoes be kind of a...canvas...or carrier for the sauce the whole dish would be more complete in each bite.

All in all, I can't wait to give these spices a whirl again! If you give the dish a try yourself, or if you have your own curry dish recipe, please share! Like I said, a dish as interpretive as curry can be taken in so many different directions I'd love to hear what others have done.

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