Thursday, September 10, 2009

condiment experiment: Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Last night I attempted a couple of recipes in my new, beautiful cookbook (it's more of a coffee table book, really, so pretty and unweildy) Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I made three condiment sauces to go along with fishy's [superdelicious] chicken curry. There were two hits and one miss. The hits were lovely. The miss was... spectacular.

I did the Hot Sweet Date-Onion Chutney and the Fresh Coriander-Peanut Chutney, both from page 28, and then the Mint Sambol from page 32.

The chutneys were lovely, and I can see the date chutney becoming a favourite. It is indeed sweet, and it has a lovely hot kick that's not painful; very pleasant. The cooked onions give the whole thing a very roasty, tasty flavour, cooked as they were in sesame oil. I was a bit concerned that the sesame oil might be too strongly flavoured, but I think it was perfect. Given the few ingredients and the simplicity of it, I'm really impressed with the complexity of the flavours. Makes a nice dip, and I think would also be really good with samosas or veggie pakora.

The cilantro chutney was really nice paired with the curry because it has a very fresh, tangy zip that cuts through the richness and spice of a curry. We couldn't find cayennes or serranos, so we made it with jalapenos. It worked out fine, but I'd definitely be interested in testing out other types of peppers in that recipe.

And then there was the mint sambol. I did this is with the mortar and pestle, which in itself is a fair bit of work. Which would have been fine if it had turned out.

I don't know what I did. I thought I'd followed the recipe (except for the hot pepper types, again) but the resulting dish was so unbelievably salty it was inedible. I don't know if I didn't have enough mint, or enough lime juice, or if the difference in the pepper types would have solved the problem, but fishy and I each tasted it (him despite my dire warnings that his arteries would immediately solidify into solid columns of salt) and then we threw out the rest. I really liked the idea of the mint sambol, so it was definitely disappointing. And unpleasant.

However, I'm certainly going to keep trying recipes from this book. There's another sambol mentioned, spicy and sweet, that I might attempt next, keeping a close eye on the amount of salt I use, of course.

Hot Sweet Date-Onion Chutney
pg. 28 of Mangoes and Curry Leaves by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
  • 3 dried red chiles, stemmed
  • 2 tablespoons raw sesame oil, or vegetable oil, or ghee
  • 1 large white onion (about 1/2 pound), coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
"Put the chiles in a small bowl, add 1 cup hot water, and set aside to soak for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wok or karhai (see Glossary) or a wide heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and salt and cook until the onion is well touched with brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

"Drain the chiles, place them in a food processor, add the chopped dates, and process for 30 seconds to finely chop. Add the onion mixture and process for about 15 seconds to chop and blend the ingredients. Alternatively, place the drained chiles on a flaat stone mortar and grind to a paste with the pestle, add the dates and grind, and finally, add the cooked onion mixture and coarsely grind, leaving some small chunks.

"Taste the chutney for salt, and adjust if necessary. Serve in a condiment dish. (Store leftovers in a well-sealed glass jar in the refridgerator for up to several weeks). Makes 1 cup; serves 6."

For more recipes and commentary on the above recipe (or to see the Glossary) please check out the cookbook! Especially recommended for food culture junkies and food p**n addicts like me.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

my favourite scavengers: blogging for vultures

I had no idea that today was International Vulture Awareness Day until yesterday, when posts and tweets started cropping up. To be honest, I had no idea it existed at all. But I thought, why not? These poor maligned creatures need some love, and I'm happy to join in the chorus of people who want to raise the profile of this unique group of birds, which contains several species around the world. I've always been rather fond of them, and I'm glad to note that there's an entire community of people out there who are just as if not more fond of them than I.

Vultures are possibly so maligned because they eat carrion, and are therefore reviled with the same strength that other carrion eaters (ie. crows) tend to be. But that's ridiculous. If we didn't have vultures we'd be up to our necks in rotting roadkill, and I, for one, am grateful that someone will eat that stuff. They're an integral part of the world's ecosystems and they are often completely overlooked if not outright discriminated against. The major issue that is being raised by IVAD today is the plight of vultures in Asia, which are being poisoned by the vetrinary drug Diclofenac, which is used to treat cattle -- if the cattle die in the fields, the vultures eat them (as they are wont to do) but the drug builds up in the vulture's system and eventually causes death.

Here in Canada we have one regularly occurring species, the turkey vulture. We also occasionally get black vultures popping up as far north as Point Pelee, or Toronto -- but that's a rarity and excuse for celebration and frantic scrabbling among Ontarian twitchers. We're lucky (and the vultures are lucky) because turkey vultures are doing quite well here, even expanding their range further into Canada.

Turkey vultures were one of the very first birds that I was able to reliably recognize, and so even if I didn't think they were cool, I would love them just for that. I also find them to be one of the easier birds to help kids identify. Turkey vultures make a "v" with their wings when they're soaring: "v" for vulture. Big and black, hardly ever flapping, with silvery primaries and a bald red head. A lot of people think they're ugly, but I think they have a wonderful if unique beauty about them. Their little nekkid heads with their big eyes are quite compelling.

I'm told, by people who will know, that turkey vultures are one of the brighter species of large birds and we can tell this because they are social creatures. They like to hang out with other vultures. One of the coolest things I've ever seen was a group of turkey vultures hiding from a rainstorm underneath the awning of a little hydro building out in the middle of a field. They were all hunched over, and clearly vying for the best and driest spots. I'm also told that turkey vultures are exceedingly tidy birds, very vain, constantly preening. Which is counterintuitive for a lot of people, given the vulture's diet.

Other cool turkey vulture facts:
  • they are one of the very few birds with a sense of smell, and it's quite acute in the area of rotting meat
  • their head is "bald" (actually, turkey vultures have a very fine downy layer over their heads, nearly impossible to see unless very close to them) because vultures like to get their heads right into their meals, and feathers would a) get in the way and b) get stinky and likely full of germs and parasites
  • they are related to herons
  • they migrate, but are one of the first birds back here in Ontario in the spring, and one of the later ones to leave

I'd love to meet a turkey vulture some day. We've attempted to see them closer once, by throwing a raw hamburger on the lawn at the cottage just to see if the vultures circling over would come down to investigate. I think the hamburger was too fresh, though, although it had gone off by our standards. Or perhaps there wasn't enough hamburger. Vultures are big birds. Um. So, yes. There's your weird fact about me for the day: I tried unsuccessfully to set up a vulture feeder.

Spread the vulture love, everyone, and happy International Vulture Awareness Day!

Other people I follow who love vultures around the world:
Steve Creek
Bird Canada
Behind the Bins