Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tikka and Dal

I don't make resolutions, but coming back from out trip to Los Angeles, I felt a real need to do some Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. As in, the need to learn how to do some Indian and Middle Eastern/African cooking. The one thing we don't have at all here in the St. Cloud area is a good Indian restaurant, and I've always wanted to learn to make good lentils. At Jim Sullivan and Beth Abels' house we'd gotten take-out from a local Indian place, six vegetarian dishes to top the rice and into which to dip the naan, all different and all delicious.

I've also always wanted to learn how to make a good kabob. Particularly a lamb or beef kabob. We do have a restaurant with good Middle Eastern dishes, but it's upscale, and also serves a wide variety of Mediterranean dishes (Steve says their paella is his all-time favorite restaurant dish).

I researched some Middle Eastern groceries in the Twin Cities, and was set to drive in last Saturday, but it was icy with blowing snow, so I thought I'd stay closer to home and try the Somali groceries in St. Cloud. We've eaten at a good Somali restaurant right over the bridge on St. Germain Ave. before, and it was mighty good.
I started at that grocery. It was a tiny place, but well-stocked with all kinds of sauces. It also had lots of Indian food ingredients, and even the large spongy bread you get at an Ethiopian restaurant. How fun would that be for a party?

Unfortunately, the spices were almost all in large quantities. I do not see myself ever using that much turmeric. I bought some of the smaller quantities of things, and also Ghee and a great little can of tandoori masala spice blend. There were three Somali men in the store, visiting. I asked the clerk if they had lamb. He checked the freezer and said, "No, we're out. But we have goat." "Uh, no, I don't think so." The other two men laughed.

I tried one more Somali grocery, even smaller than the first, which did have lamb but it hadn't been cut up yet-- a whole leg or nothing. I left with a 15-lb sack of basmati rice and a few more spices.

At the regular grocery, I got the rest of my spices, yogurt, pita and lots of lemons.

My beef kabob on spiced basmati didn't turn out so great, but today I had the opportunity to really do some Indian cooking. This morning I put the chicken in the marinade and on and off all day I explored and thought about dal recipes.

bon appetit arrived on Thursday with a page of basic recipes, including one for raita and one for chicken masala. Tweaking it with other things I had read, and using my tandoor spice blend instead of garam masala, the chicken was fantastic. In terms of the dal, there were a lot of options, and in the end I went with another masala recipe but changed up the spices and used ghee instead of oil.

The dinner would have held up in any restaurant, which was my goal, and Steve said he even liked it better than the paella at the Renaissance Cafe!

I'll make the dal several more times to get it down before trying another, but I'm feeling heartened. And the chicken can be a regular offering... and we had enough left over for delicious tikka wraps during the week!

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