The Indian recipe I selected for December is one that Kachi just created before she went to visit her daughter and her family for the holidays. My Chicken with Mushrooms in Cashew Sauce recipe is a delightful dish that is not difficult or time consuming to make. This recipe is a bit unusual for Indian cuisine since there are not very many that use mushrooms. In fact, Kachi’s Kitchen did not include a single mushroom dish even though I love the flavor they offer.

Indian Recipe for Chicken wiht Mushrooms in Cashew Sauce

Indian Recipe for Chicken wiht Mushrooms in Cashew Sauce


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As I started to write about why Indian food is so hot and what could be done about it, I thought I would do some digging around on the internet to learn about the heat of various chilies.
 

Green chiles

Green chiles


 

Did you know that back in 1912, a chemist named Wilbur Scoville measured and recorded the amount of spicy heat in chilies? Through his Scoville Organoleptic Test, he measured the amount of capsaicin they contained. Common green bell peppers have a score of zero while, at the other end of the spectrum, the naga jolokia chilies from northeast India score 1,000,000 heat units. Below is an extract from his table of results for your reference:


 

Scoville Heat Units Chillies
15,000,000 – 16,000,000 Pure capsaicin
855,000 – 1,075,000 Naga Jolokia
100,000 – 350,000 Habanero
50,000 – 100,000 Thai/Indian
30,000 – 50,000 Cayenne
10,000 – 23,000 Serrano
2,500 – 8,000 Jalapeño
500 – 2,500 Anaheim, Poblano
100 – 500 Pimento, Peperoncini
0  Bell Pepper

 


 Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scoville_scale



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Throughout the Indian recipes in my cookbook, Kachi’s Kitchen, the chilies are either sliced in half lengthwise, cut into small rings or chopped based on the traditional method of preparing the dish. I have found that if I want to reduce the heat in a dish without altering the flavor, I just slice them in half.  That way less of the surface area of the chili is exposed to let out its heat and it is easy for me to remove after the dish is cooked. 

 

green chiles

Green Chiles used in Indian recipes.

 

Don’t feel that you have to use the two or three chilies that are specified in a recipe when you are trying it out for the first time or you know you don’t want to run to the refrigerator for a tall glass of cold buttermilk to sooth your burning mouth. There are many different ways to reduce the heat when cooking with chilies. Here are some easy ways that you can incorporate into your cooking:
 

  • Select a chili that has less capsaicin (e.g., substitute a jalapeno for a habanero)
  • Use a smaller amount of the chili (e.g., use only half)
  • Just cut it in half rather than slicing or mincing it (this way it can easily be pulled out before serving
  • Remove the seeds (this is where most of the capsaicin is found)
  • Remove the white ribs where the seeds are attached (more capsaicin is found here)

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I found some wonderful spice mixtures in my local grocery store that I use on grilled chicken for my daughter.  After tasting them and reading the labels, I was very surprised to learn that these products are made up of the same spices that comprise garam masala.  They are not advertised as Indian spice mixtures or garam masala but taste the same.  I’m impressed that Indian spices have become a part of the everyday American cooking experience.
 

Garam masala is an aromatic mixture that is usually used in non-vegetarian dishes, and in some vegetarian dishes, to give them a rich flavor. It literally translates from Hindi as ‘hot spice’ even though this mixture is not spicy hot. Some of the recipes in Kachi’s Kitchen that use it include:

 

Vegetable

Pachacurry (Vegetable) Puffs and Cutlets
Beet Cutlets

Kovakka Upperi

Vazhuthinanga (Aubergine) Cutlets

 

Lentils

Paruppu (Dal)
Paruppu (Toor Dal) Vada 

Vella Kadala (Kabuli Chenna) Masala

Cheera (Spinach) with Vella Kadala (Chickpeas)


Chicken/Egg

Mutta (Egg) Chapati
Malabar Mutta (Egg) Curry
Kozhi (Chicken) Biryani

Kozhi (Chicken) Cutlets

Kozhi (Chicken) Fry

Madras Chicken Curry


Fish

Madras Meen (Fish) Curry
Meen (Fish) Tikka

Stir-Fried Meen (Fish)


Lamb

Erechi (Lamb) Curry
Kheema Curry

Unda (Kofta) Curry


Rice

Pachacurry (Vegetable) Pulav


Other

Thakkali (Tomato) Chutney

Garam masala is usually made from cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pepper and cardamom which are roasted and ground.  The ingredients and their amounts used vary regionally across the country. In addition, it is often made with dried red chilies, cardamom pods, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, bay leaves and star anise.  By varying the recipe, the flavor is customized to complement the recipe for which it is used.  It is best when made fresh as the flavors and aroma are at their peak.  If you make it ahead, store it in an airtight container and use it as quickly as possible.

Below is Kachi’s recipe for garam masala.  It is a simple recipe that has a wonderful flavor.


Kachi’s Garam Masala Spice Mix Kerala Style

 

Garam masala spice mix

Garam masala spice mix

¼ cup  dried red chilies, ends trimmed and seeds removed
½ cup  coriander seeds
2½ Tbs  fennel seeds
2½ tsp  cumin seeds
1 tsp  cardamom pods, smashed with shells
¼ tsp  cloves
2½  tsp  black peppercorns
4 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves    

 

In a skillet over medium heat without any oil, roast the spices dry for 5 minutes stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.  Cool and powder the spices coarsely in a blender.  Store in an airtight jar.
 

 

Enjoy!


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Last night I learned that some things should be left alone.  I bought a pound of kovakka from the Indian grocery store the other day because the south Indian dish Kovakka Upperi is one of my favorites.  It uses simple ingredients to flavor this unique vegetable: onion, red chili powder, turmeric, garam masala and coconut. The ingredients are pan fried in a bit of oil to bring out the flavors.

Fresh Kovakka

Fresh Kovakka


I thought I could create a dish around kovakka
that used a different set of spices and herbs.  I started by sautéing an onion and adding 3 cloves of minced garlic, arbol chili powder, oregano, thyme parsley, salt and pepper.  With this much garlic, the dish should have tasted wonderful.  After adding and cooking the kovakka for a very long time I tasted my creation.  It was bland – absolutely no taste!


When kovakka is cooked Indian style, it is delicious.  This dish was so tasteless I threw in a spoonful of Paul Prudhomme’s Vegetable Magic.  His products are so good, they can fix anything.  Even Paul couldn’t fix this dish.


The vegetable itself is tasteless.  If I had sautéed it for another hour until it was thoroughly cooked, it might have been enough time for the seasonings to be absorbed.

The lesson I learned is that kovakka is so bland that it must be cooked with plenty of bold spices.  My subtle Italian-style herbs just could not do the job.  It would have been best for me to leave a good vegetable and its Indian recipes alone.
 

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