Spicy Goa Vindaloo – D’Artagnan Berkshire Pork

Indian food cooked by Cherie Scott using D'Artagnan food

Indian food cooked by Cherie Scott using D’Artagnan Berkshire Pork Loin

I was only 6 when I tried my first pork vindaloo. I will never forget that first bite: the tart but tender pork made my mouth pucker as my eyes widened in pleasant surprise. It was truly the first culinary roller coaster ride in my mouth. I had to have more!

As a little girl, I thought of vindaloo as a grown-up dish. The flavors were intense. I never questioned what went in it to make it so delicious. I just ate multiple helpings of it as my mother recalls. But over the years, I’ve developed a curiosity about its origins and what gave this signature Indo-Portuguese dish a special spot in my mother’s culinary repertoire.

A quick history lesson would note that the adventurous and ambitious Portuguese attempted multiple voyages to India and finally sailed into Goa, a coastal state located on the Western Coast of India, in the late 1400s and colonized it until 1975. Spreading Christianity, “combating Islam,” and strengthening their Portuguese-Asian spice empire were the primary goals of the Portuguese. Since the 12th century AD the Arabs had controlled all the spice trade routes into India. Eventually, after over a decade of battles the Portuguese finally overthrew the Arabs and took over the spice trade routes through Cochin and Goa. General Afonso De Albuquerque encouraged the Portuguese soldiers to marry the local women and thereby ensured Portuguese presence among the locals. While the Portuguese enjoyed a monopoly over spice routes they also introduced the fiery red chili pepper.

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The Goa vindaloo was derived from the Portuguese dish, Carne de Vinha D’alhos: a meat (carne) dish that was marinated in wine (vinha) and garlic. Since wine was not commonplace in Goa, the locals tapped into the abundant coconut trees that dotted the coastline and used the coconut tree sap to make palm vinegar. The local vinegar, commonly known as coconut toddy, replaced the wine in the marinade. Thus, the Goa vindaloo took on a life of its own and evolved into a fiery-red, spicy, vinegar-based stewed pork dish. The dish became uniquely Goan and no longer authentically Portuguese.

I have tried the spicier versions of vindaloo, which are so high on the heat index that they fail to deliver the layered complexities of this Goan dish. But then there is vindaloo that leave you aching for just another bite; vindaloo that doesn’t sear your tongue upon impact, but is slow-cooked and seasoned to perfection– leaving you wanting more. With an artful vindaloo you want to aim for tangy, tart, sweet, spicy, melt-in-your mouth pork with a fatty exterior and a lean interior.

Goan Chili Pepper

I was fortunate to have a tried-but-true recipe handed down to me by my dear mother, who has spent much of her adult life trying to master this nuanced dish. My mother’s eyes always glistened with nostalgia as she shared stories about her childhood summers in the village of Candolim, Goa. Every pig harvest was crucial for survival in this small village. The men would slaughter and carefully butcher the pig, while the women would take care of the cleaning, marinating, curing and pickling process. Everyone in the family would share a part in the harvest, the cooking and of course the feasting. Refrigeration was not an option and so locals had to pickle the meat in barrels with chili, garlic and palm vinegar. Another option was to cure the harvested and pickled meat in the intense summer heat and then resurrect the sun-dried meat with an addition of chilies and vinegar or coconut milk.

Vindaloo was an important part of the Goan family unit. It was proudly served at every big Catholic holiday as in Easter, Christmas Day and special family occasions. The flavor profiles in this dish called for a sophisticated palette.

This was my first attempt at a Goa vindaloo. It had to be authentic in every way possible.

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D’Artagnan Berkshire pork loin

I was determined to source the Goa coconut vinegar online, and set my sights on the finest pork on the market: Berkshire pork from D’Artagnan, sourced from a co-operative of sustainable pig farmers at the base of the Ozark mountains. I took one glance at this tender, prime pork, intricately marbled with just the right layers of fat and my face lit up in delight.

For the seasoning I imported a bag of whole dried Kashmiri chilies from an online vendor. You can also purchase Kashmiri chili powder. I chose the whole chilies and soaked them for a couple of hours in the vinegar until every chili slowly re-hydrated itself — plump and bursting with the unctuous vinegar flavor. It is important to note the value in sourcing the right chilies – the Kashmiri chili is known for its signature fire-engine red color, a signature pepper of choice for Goa vindaloo. If you cannot source these chilies you can always substitute with a red chili powder and add paprika to add the red color. I ground the drunken chilies and the cloves of fresh garlic into a wet paste and rubbed the pungent potion into the two-inch cubes of pork. The piercing smell of the coconut vinegar and garlic took me right back to my mother’s kitchen.

I took out my spice grinder and carefully measured the whole spices, as per the recipe. My mother always did her best to source whole spices, and suggested that I grind them right before adding them to the pork. Her sage advice was to lightly toast them in a pan before grinding, as her recipe below explains. I knew the complex flavors of the toasted cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and peppercorns would balance out the robust vinegar, chili, garlic and onion base.

After a good forty-five minutes into the cooking, I weakened at the knees and gave in: I opened my Creuset and shamelessly stole a good chunk of the melt-in-my mouth pork – the luscious gravy dripping down my chin and apron. In that private moment, time stood still, and I felt like I was 6 all over again, longing for one more bite. Only this time around I was at my own kitchen counter with my daughter asking for her first bite of her mommy’s special pork vindaloo.Indian food cooked by Cherie Scott using D'Artagnan food

Ingredients:

3 pounds of D’Artagnan Berkshire Pork Boneless Loin
1/2 tablespoon of fine salt
12 whole Kashmiri dry chilies
1/2 cup palm vinegar or Goa coconut toddy
2 teaspoons coriander seeds.
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon of cloves
2 one inch pieces of cinnamon sticks
10 pods of green cardamom
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 medium sized yellow onion – roughly chopped
1 medium-sized yellow onion- sliced finely
1 inch knob of ginger sliced finely
3 flakes of garlic diced
2 green chilies – slit length-wise into 6 pieces
2 cups of boiling water

Preparation:

1. Cut Berkshire pork into 2 inch pieces, salt, and set aside in a big glass bowl in the fridge, covered.
2. Soak 12 whole Kashmiri dry chilies in a 1/2 cup palm vinegar or Goa coconut toddy for two hours until re-hydrated.

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3. Toast the following spices in a pan on low heat for 1 minute. Allow to cool.

2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon of cloves
2 one inch pieces of cinnamon sticks
10 pods of green cardamom

4. In a food processor grind 1 yellow onion ( roughly chopped) and 5 flakes of garlic with the soaked Kashmiri chilies and the toasted spices into a thick wet paste or marinade.

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5. Pull out the cubed pork from the fridge, rub the marinade into the pork gently, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the fridge overnight. The next day, take the pork out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature.

6. In the meantime, make the gravy: Put 1/2 cup of vegetable oil in a heavy bottom pot, medium heat. Add 1 medium-sized finely-sliced yellow onion, sliced ginger, 3 flakes of diced garlic, 2 green chilies. Fry on medium-high heat, until soft, with lid on. Stir occasionally, don’t let this burn.

7. Add the marinated pork pieces with left over marinade, fry well for 10 minutes, turning often in oil.IMG_8334

8. Add 2 cups of boiling water and stir. Cover and cook on a slow to medium heat without burning at the bottom. Stir every 15 minutes until the meat is tender and skin of pork is soft and well done.

Indian food cooked by Cherie Scott using D'Artagnan food

I dare you to not steal a piece of the tangy pork. Allow the pork to cool and then refrigerate. Heat again and add 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro.

Enjoy with steamed white rice, crusty bread, or in Goa we eat it with rice sannas (steamed rice dumplings.)

This dish always tastes better the next day, so make it ahead of time and then reheat before company arrives.

Butter Chicken – the creamier the better!

IMG_8859Most days when I drop off my daughter to school in the morning, I listen to her sing along to the latest show she might be rehearsing for in her local Musical Theater group or we might chat about what’s in store for her day. But on this particular morning, on a whim, I asked Sophia, “What would my baby like for dinner tonight?” The first thing out of her mouth was, “Butter Chicken!”

I knew I was in trouble. Typically, for this dish, I would make sure I had all the ingredients prepped and marinated in the fridge overnight for best results. But I just couldn’t say no to my little girl. I mean, how often does a 7-year-old ask for Butter Chicken for dinner? I could come home and prep it all on my lunch break, I thought silently as I stared at those innocent brown eyes in my rearview mirror. I was going to make it happen, somehow. All I needed was a pair of wings and my magic wand today!!!

I had a packed day: meetings and more meetings. But I was determined to sneak out for a bit.  I  drove home and ran into my kitchen. My husband, who works from home, thought I was a little crazy as I ran past him in my heels muttering something about chicken, but I didn’t have time to defend myself. I guess when it comes to my daughter’s love for Indian food, I do go a bit overboard and over compensate. In true Rachel Ray fashion, I grabbed every ingredient in both hands and kicked the fridge door shut with my left stiletto, my pearls dangling in between the yogurt and the cilantro.

I tossed the pieces of dark chicken meat into the yogurt and the spices, squeezing the life out of my one life-saving lime. I gave it all a good stir and wrapped it up with cling wrap in a glass bowl. Back in the fridge it went and out the door I flew, back to work, as my belly rumbled reminding me that I just won the award for the best and hungriest mother on the planet.

I comforted myself knowing that the secret to Indian food is not in the cooking, but in the prep. If you can let the spices, the citrus and yogurt break down the meat and season it, you’ve scored.

That evening, I quickly diced the onions and sautéed them in butter. I typically use ghee, but I had run out that afternoon. I tossed in the marinated chicken, the tomato sauce and covered it on low heat for 40 minutes, resisting the urge to peek. While it simmered softly, I soaked my Basmati rice and proceeded to make a fluffy bowl of it to go with the rich gravy.

Minutes later, I could hear Sophia yell out, “Mommy is my Butter Chicken ready yet? I’m starving!”

I opened my Creuset and it smelled exactly the way I remembered it should: heady aromas of cumin, cardamom, ginger, and garlic, among other fragrant spices coating the tender morsels of chicken. The two-hour marinade had done the trick. Who would have thought it were possible? Tickled with my epiphany, I smiled on my way back to the fridge, pulled out the Half ‘n Half and added a full cup of the creamy goodness into the thick red gravy. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head, “If you’re going to take on Butter Chicken, don’t stop at the butter,” she would say. “Add the cream. You’ve earned it!”

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Serves 8-10
PART 1: MARINATE THE CHICKEN
Ingredients:
2 cups thick Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons turmeric
2 tablespoons garam masala
2 tablespoons ground cumin or Shah Jeera ( Black cumin seeds)
2 tablespoons of ground cardamom – brown or green cardamom, or a mixture of each
2 tablespoons ground coriander
4 tablespoons Kashmiri Chili powder – this gives the butter chicken it fiery red color
2 tablespoons garlic paste (available in tubes in the produce section of large grocery stores, or in Indian groceries)
2 tablespoons freshly ground ginger or ginger paste (available in tubes in the produce section of large grocery stores, or in Indian groceries)
2 teaspoons salt
Juice of 1 lime
3 pounds of boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces

Instructions:
Mix the yogurt, spices and lime juice together in a large glass bowl. Add the chicken pieces and coat with the marinade. Cover with plastic, refrigerate and let the meat marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

PART 2: MAKE THE GRAVY
Ingredients:
6 tablespoons ghee or salted butter
4 yellow onions, finely diced
2 – 15 oz cans of tomato sauce or puree, no spices added.
1 cup of chopped cilantro
1 cup of  heavy cream, light cream or Half ‘ n Half can also be substituted!

Instructions:
Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator and let it reach room temperature, about an hour.
In a 3-quart oven-proof pot or Dutch oven, sauté the yellow onions in the ghee for 5 minutes on medium-high heat until golden brown.  Add the marinated chicken with the left-over marinade and cook until the chicken changes color, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and allow it to cook on medium heat for another 5 minutes. Cover the pot, reduce to a low simmer until the chicken is cooked, approximately 40 minutes. Resist the urge to peek! Now give it a good stir, add the Half ‘n Half and chopped cilantro and let it simmer for another 5 minutes.

Serve warm over Basmati Rice with Naan and or Papadums for a side. 

 

Indian Ice cream: Kulfi

Indian Feast, Cherie Scott

Thank you Ted Axelrod for these stunning pictures!

Indian Feast, Cherie Scott

Indian Ice cream: Cardamom-Almond-Pistachio- Saffron-Kulfi
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Kulfi: Indian Ice cream
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • Saffron-Pistachio-Cardamom Indian Ice cream
  • 8 cups of Whole Milk - Half gallon
  • 1 large pinch of saffron
  • 3 tablespoons of crushed salted pistachios ( the salt adds a nice balance to the sweetness in the ice cream )
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of Almond Meal -this adds another level of nutty flavor and acts as a thickening agent
  • 5 tablespoons of sugar
  • 8 Cardamom pods - slighted crushed
Instructions
  1. Place the 8 cups of milk in a heavy based pot
  2. Add the cardamom pods, saffron and sugar to the milk
  3. Bring to a slight boil, turn down heat and simmer.
  4. Keep scraping down the sides of the pot and stirring the cream that assembles on top of the milk back into the milk.
  5. You must keep stirring and never allow it to come to burn at the bottom or sides of the pot.
  6. After you have reduced the milk to a1/3rd of its original amount = approx 2.5 cups (discard the cardamom pods entirely.)
  7. Stir in the almond meal with the crushed pistachios.
  8. Allow to simmer for another 5 minutes and thicken.
  9. Turn off the heat. Take the pot off the stove top; pour the mixture into a glass bowl and allow it to cool down completely.
  10. Based on your accessibility to an ice-cream machine and time on your hands, you have two options now:
  11. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in the freezer. Every twenty minutes stir up the ice-cream with the fork and break up the ice crystals that will form inevitably. As soon as the mixture begins to freeze up, scoop and place it into moulds and freeze tightly. Before serving, place into a hot water bath and slip out of moulds onto a pretty plate and garnish with chopped pistachios and couple of saffron strands.
  12. Or you can place the room-temperature mixture into an ice cream machine (I borrowed a friend’s Breville ice cream machine) and allow it to churn for an hour. It will stay cool in the machine for 3 hours after its done. After dinner, pull out some chilled martini glasses, and scoop the ice-cream into the glasses; garnish with a couple of saffron threads and crushed pistachios.
Notes
I started this recipe at 10pm. and didn’t realize that it would take an hour and half for the milk to reduce to ⅓ of the original amount. After I was done reducing the milk and took it off the stove and put it into the freezer at 11:30p.m. I decided to take a short nap that transitioned into a deep slumber until I got woken up by a phone call at 8 a.m.

I ran downstairs to my freezer and much to my dismay the entire mixture was frozen and full of ice crystals. I panicked and called a friend who told me to keep stirring it vigorously with fork. To my surprise I was able to bring it back to the consistency and room temperature it should have been before I put it into the freezer the night before. I then drove over to her house and borrowed her miraculous Breville Ice cream machine. I poured it into the machine and turned it on. Voila! I had Kulfi! There were a few ice crystals but minimal. it tasted delicious though!

Three Lessons learned:
Don’t take cat naps when making Kulfi.
Don’t start Kulfi ice-cream at 10p.m.
Buy an ice-cream machine. It’s not necessary but worth it. It saved my dessert.

Adapted from Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey, Barron’s Educational Series 2003

 

Mom’s Lamb Biryani

IMG_0078This dish is a true labor of love and brings back a flood of memories. Mom slaved over it for days and fed close to 40 people at each of our family celebrations back in Mumbai. Biryanis date back to the 1600’s when Mughal emperors entertained and feasted on it.This signature dish cannot be thrown together in a rush. It demands love; patience; attention to detail and a bit of planning ahead. But when you take your first morsel of saffron-kissed rice and melt-in-your-mouth Indian-spiced lamb be prepared for a symphony of flavor to explode in your mouth. Open a bottle of your best wine: this lamb feast is fit for a king and calls for nothing less than a celebration!

Portland Press Herald’s (brilliant) Food Writer Meredith Goad captured the back story on this special family recipe in her new column: Signature Recipes. Meredith watched me make this dish from scratch and then we feasted on it together (just so she would know what the hype was all about!)  I also would like to thank John Patriquin, PPH photographer who was so engaged during the demonstration and took stunning pictures. Peggy Grodinsky, PPH Food Editor for her diligence in making sure the recipe was clear and concise so readers could enjoy making it without sweatin’ it! Thank you to the design team for the gorgeous pagination on the article too! I got the last few copies at our local grocery store for posterity, the day it came out! Check out Meredith Goad’s Signature Recipe: Mom’s Lamb Biryani

 

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MOM’S LAMB BIRYANI

Makes 8 to 10 hearty portions
PART 1: MARINATE THE LAMB
Ingredients:
2 cups thick Greek yogurt, beaten with a spoon
2 tablespoons turmeric
2 tablespoons garam masala
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 tablespoons garlic paste (available in tubes in the produce section of large grocery stores, or in Indian groceries)
2 tablespoons freshly ground ginger or ginger paste (available in tubes in the produce section of large grocery stores, or in Indian groceries)
2 teaspoons salt
Juice of 2 limes
4-5 pound leg of lamb cut into 2-inch pieces

Instructions:
Mix the yogurt, spices and lime juice together in a large glass bowl. Add the lamb pieces and coat with the marinade. Cover with plastic, refrigerate and let the meat marinate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
PART 2: MAKE THE GRAVY
Ingredients:
6 tablespoons ghee or salted butter
4 yellow onions, sliced lengthwise
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 6 pieces each
2 yellow onions, chopped ( yes, another 2 yellow onions)
4 large tomatoes, chopped
2 cups chopped cilantro

Instructions:
Remove the marinated lamb from the refrigerator and let it reach room temperature, about 2 hours.
Add 2 tablespoons of the ghee to a medium-sized skillet. When the ghee is warm, add the white onions and sauté for about 8 minutes on medium-high heat until they start turning brown; set aside. (You should have about 2 cups.)
Add 2 more tablespoons ghee to the now empty skillet and pan-sear the potatoes on one side on medium high heat about 5 minutes, until they are crispy brown. Turn the potatoes over, cover the pan and let the potatoes steam another 5 minutes; set aside.
In a 3-quart oven-proof pot or Dutch oven, sauté the yellow onions in the remaining 2 tablespoons ghee for 5 minutes on medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes and fry for another 5 minutes. Add the marinated lamb and cook until it changes color, about 10 minutes. Add 3 cups hot water, the cilantro and the reserved lamb bone. Cover the pot and simmer on low on the stove top until the lamb is tender, approximately 11/2 hours. Resist the urge to peek!
After 11/2 hours, add the reserved pan-seared potatoes and 1 cup of the reserved caramelized onions to the pot to thicken the gravy.
Re-cover the pot and simmer for another 25 minutes.
PART 3: MAKE THE RICE
Ingredients:
3 cups basmati rice
3 tablespoons salt
4 (1-inch) cinnamon sticks
15 whole cloves
4 black or 10 green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
4 Turkish bay leaves
Red 40, Yellow 5 or Yellow 6 food coloring, a few drops each
1/4 cup milk
Large pinch of saffron

Instructions:
While the lamb is simmering, soak the rice in 3 cups of water for 25 minutes. Run your fingers through the grains to help remove the starch; do this gently so the grains don’t break. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve.
Fill a large pot with 15 cups water and the salt. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin and bay leaves.
Bring the spiced water to a roiling boil. Gently add the basmati rice. Boil the rice until it is three-quarters of the way cooked. Keep an eye on it and check a couple of grains after 5 minutes to make sure it is parboiled and not overcooked. The grains of rice should feel a bit starchy or gritty in the middle, as if they could crack in your hand. The rice will finish cooking in the oven with the lamb.
Drain the rice, leaving in the whole spices. Pour the drained rice into the pot with the lamb. Add the food coloring.
Warm the milk, add the saffron and stir gently. Let steep for a couple of minutes at the most.
PART 4: ASSEMBLE THE BIRYANI
Garnish with:
2 hard-boiled eggs, halved
Handful of toasted cashews
Chopped cilantroChopped mint

Instructions:
Pre-heat the oven to 335 degrees F.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the remaining caramelized onions over the pot with the lamb and rice. Save the remaining caramelized onions for garnish.
Pour the warm milk mixture onto the lamb and rice in circles. Do not stir. Close the lid and bake the lamb for 35 minutes.
Arrange the lamb biryani on a large platter. Garnish with the last ½ cup of caramelized onions, the eggs, cashews and a sprinkle each of cilantro and mint.
To serve, dig a flat serving spoon into the rice, being sure to go to the bottom so you get meat, rice and potatoes in every portion.

THANK YOU to my dear friend Ted Axelrod ( Ted Axelrod Photography) for this gorgeous image.

Indian Feast, Cherie Scott

 

Mumbai State of Mind

Indian Feast, Cherie Scott

Picture above: Chicken Tandoori Skewers

Life is gentle in Maine. Maine has slowed me down. I’ve gotten used to it. I hate to admit it but I have come to enjoy the legato tempo of Maine life. But there are days when my heart pines for the chaos and bustle of the sardine-packed city of Mumbai – my original hometown. It doesn’t take much to take me back home. An occasional sniff of basmati rice as it steams on my stove is all it takes. In one of my food fantasies I wish I were devouring at least a half dozen spicy Indian street foods: Piping hot samosas bursting with green peas and cumin-scented mashed potatoes; coriander dusted lamb-sheek kabobs dripping with cayenne-spiked lime juice on slightly charred flatbread or a crisp lentil Indian crepe Masala Dosas with at least three coconut chutneys for dunking. But then I realize that those days are gone. I can no longer just take a walk down the rickshaw-lined streets of Mumbai and scarf down street foods to my heart’s content. The beautiful state of Maine is now my hometown. But the East Indian-city slicker has not checked out of Mumbai. So here I go again cooking up yet another batch of Indian treats right in my Maine kitchen. The nutty aroma of Basmati rice fills the Maine spring air. It’s almost ready for a warm lentil stew to coat those perfect grains. I lean against my warm stove with a cup of steaming chestnut-colored chai laced with spicy ginger chunks ,cardamom, clove and Malabar peppercorns.  Wake up Cherie……you have arrived at your destination…..Mumbai IS now in Maine!

Pictured below: Lamb Meatballs with Chutney

Indian Feast, Cherie Scott

Pictured below: Sev Puri Chaat

Chick PeaFlour deep fried crackers with Turmeric-cumin infused Mashed potatoes, whole chick peas and spicy cilantro mint chutney with a dollop of ever- so slightly sweetened whole yogurt. Garnished with Chaat Masala and Spicy Sev. I used to enjoy this sweet-savory snack after school on the 2 mile walk home. I still love foods that crunch (ask my husband – it drives him nuts) layered with flavors of sweet, sour and spicy! Were these ever addictive and took me right back to my favorite street vendor on Hill Road, Bandra, Mumbai.

Thank you Ted Axelrod Photography for the beautiful photography.

Indian Feast, Cherie Scott

Chai Crazy

Indian Feast, Cherie Scott

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of brewing a strong cup of chai the entire process is as therapeutic as drinking the exotic beverage!

My morning ritual begins with the hottest water in an oversized mug. (Bigger is always better.) I adore watching those black tea leaves get christened with the scalding water slowly staining my porcelain cup with its mahogany goodness. Embracing the mug in both hands, I take long deep breaths as the blend of crushed spices disperse among the black tea leaves and permeate one another. As the heat warms my hands and the steam hits my face I can almost picture a Mumbai chai-wallah (a street vendor who makes chai for a living) pouring the strong brew from one glass to another like a silting Himalayan waterfall. I get lost in the aromatic fog. The whiffs of chai give my sleepy face a cardamom facial while the chai cools down. On quiet mornings when I’m not hurrying out the door, making a cup of chai also brings back memories of my childhood in the city of Mumbai.

Although chai has gained tremendous popularity in the West there is some confusion as to what chai is and how to refer to this spicy beverage.

Chai is traditionally a hot beverage made with Assam or Nilgiri black tea leaves heavily infused with a variety of spices: cinnamon, cardamom, clove, star-anise, fennel, peppercorns, and ginger brewed in a blend of hot water and milk with added sweetener to one’s taste and preference. In Hindi, chai means “tea.” So if you ask for a cup of chai-tea, you are literally asking for a cup of tea-tea. You might get a confused look from your chai-wallah.

In the southern part of India, masala chai is ubiquitous. “Masala” in Hindi means spices. So if you ask for a masala chai expect a potent version of chai: black tea brewed and blended with a powdered version of the spices. Masala chai is primarily made with whole milk, no water, in an attempt to mellow and balance out the robust spicy flavors.

Recently, in a bout of nostalgia, on a frigid day in January, I made an entire crockpot of chai. I threw in a box of black tea bags into some hot water and left the heavy mulling ball bursting with cardamom pods, nutmeg, peppercorns, chunks of raw ginger, crushed cinnamon sticks and bits of clove. The ball sat there happily steeping in the dark brew for three days enhancing it with its Ayurvedic goodness. Just one good chug and it made my heart gallop like a Morgan Horse! Even I had to admit it needed a generous splash of cream.

Back in Mumbai, chai was an intrinsic part of our daily lives, no matter how hot it got! One of my fondest memories as a young girl was surprising my dad with a perfect cup of tea as he got home from work. Barely old enough to stand by a stove, I would open the stainless steel can filled with Nilgiri tea leaves and dig right in to get an oversized heap. Gently, I’d add in the raw milk that was hand delivered promptly at 5a.m. Occasionally, a little bit of heavy cream would slide in…ah, creamy perfection! I knew dad loved that extra treat. I watched impatiently as it came to a boil. I would then throw in the tiniest stick of cinnamon, a couple of cardamom pods, cloves, peppercorns, and if I felt adventurous a big knob of ginger.

I could always time my father and knew exactly what time he would walk in the door with his newspaper in hand. He was punctual to a fault and routine was his middle name. I didn’t need to ask him how his day went because with a cup of chai in his hand I knew life was good! His shoulders would relax as he took in his first whiff of his evening chai after a long day at work. I could sense the tension of his day melt away as he took his first slurp. It was always too hot to sip. Dad chose to slurp it instead.

Indian Feast, Cherie Scott

I can’t even talk about chai without reminiscing about our evening family-tea time back in Mumbai. Marie and Parle-G biscuits were a staple to go along with our tea. If we were out of our stash, I was charged with 5 rupees in hand to walk to the convenience store at the end of our street and pick up biscuits to go along with our chai. Now, I can’t walk past the ethnic aisle at our local grocery store without picking up at least a couple of packs of those golden-wrapped Marie biscuits. I’ve gotten my daughter hooked on them, too. She won’t ask for them every day, but on days when she needs some special mommy time she knows to come up to me and ask for chai and biscuits. She even dunks the biscuits into her chai the way I did. We sit quietly at the kitchen table and share a pack. Sometimes she over dunks and a few chunks fall in and she scoops them out. She might not know how to make chai from scratch or realize how trendy it has become these days, but she does know that with mommy by her side, chai and her favorite biscuits in hand, life is good! And so the chai drinking family tradition continues.

All photos: Ted Axelrod Photography, of course!

 

Chai for 2
 
Prep time
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Author:
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • Chai for two
  • 16 oz (2 cups) Whole Milk or water
  • 6 *black tea bags or 12-13 grams of tea leaves.
  • 4 Cloves
  • 1 long stick of cinnamon
  • 2 thick slices, knobs or grated ginger
  • 2 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 4 black peppercorns
  • 4 teaspoons of raw sugar
Instructions
  1. On a low flame, heat the milk or water until it’s almost to a boiling point, throw in the tea bags and all the spices and bring down to a stern simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Keep the flame low at all times until end. Slowly bring to a boil again, when the milk rises to the top, turn it off. Strain in a colander or pull out spice ball.
  3. If you chose water as your base either drink it straight up with sugar, or add in a generous splash of Half ‘n Half or light cream at the end to cut the strong chai.
  4. *Assam, Kenyan, Nilgiri, Ceylon black tea eaves provide the strongest black tea blend. Try to avoid a Darjeeling blend - totally different flavor, English Breakfast Twinning (too acidic) Earl Grey (too weak).
  5. You can use Agave Nectar as a substitute. Agave is 1.5 x sweeter than sugar, so I use only 1 & a ½ teaspoons of Agave per 8 oz. of milk.
Notes
For Crock Pot Chai:

Multiply the recipe based on how much you want to make. I usually make a gallon or 16 cups.

Use water as the base, not milk.

You can be more generous with your spices and add an extra tea bag or two to make it a strong batch.

Cook on low for 4 hours. I pull out the tea bags and discard but keep the spices in the spice ball and let it steep at room temperature. At this time, if you’ve crushed the spices you can strain it.

I ladle out as much as I need and heat it when I am ready to drink it with a generous splash of light cream or half ‘n half and sugar based on taste.

Keep it in a large mason jar in the fridge or on your kitchen-counter in a Mason jar and use as much as you like. Chai’s Ayurvedic goodness permeates your kitchen!!! In the summer, it makes for great on-the-go-iced chai.

 

Spicy Goa Chorizo with Potatoes and Pearl Onions

Indian Feast, Cherie Scott

Photo above: Ted Axelrod Photography, of course!


When I was about 7, I always knew school was coming to an end when my mother would start talking about making Chorizo over the summer. Just the thought of it made my heart skip a beat and my mouth water. There was nothing better than taking all my stuff up three flights to our apartment building terrace and camping out in the shade of a make-shift tent with my mom, sister and scores of black crows quietly perched in the branches of an old Tamarind Tree. My primary job was to shoo those black monsters away from that prized pickled meat. It was never an easy task. Just as soon as I would let my guard down, one of them would sneak over and try to peck at the sausage links, helplessly dangling off the rope.

It was always a fun week. Mom, Karen and I huddled under the collapsing cotton blankets to fight off the hot sun. Karen was terrible at her job as she always got lost in a book. My mom always counted on me. As hard as I tried for my mom, I always ended up slacking off on my shooing duties while taking fast and furious naps. This is why we always went up in groups of three. One watched, the other snoozed, while the third might have gone downstairs to get a cup of chai or a quick bathroom break. The combination of a hot blazing Indian sun beating down on a wavering tent and the sweet smell of lemon grass contrasting the pungent spicy chorizos always put me out.

The week always flew by us and sadly we would need to break down the tent. Mom would take the sausages off the rope and gently wrap them in newspaper and parchment for the year. I could hardly wait for the end of the week to taste our batch of chorizo that we worked so hard on and literally sweated over on that hot terrace. Mom would buy an extra batch of pearl onions and make us this dish with a hot bowl of basmati rice or fresh crusty Portuguese bread called “Pao” for dunking in the gravy. Now I enjoy eating this pungent sausage with a runny egg on top for breakfast. Yes, breakfast! What a way to start my day.

I know in my heart that my mother’s delicious recipes will linger on forever through me, and my seven year-old daughter, Sophia. I was on a mission this past year to make a batch of Goa sausages. But with the long Maine winter at hand, I knew I would have to wait it out until the summer. I got tired of waiting and after much research I gave in: I ordered a batch online.
goa_chorizogoachorizo

Sophia’s eyes sparkle when we talk about India. Ever since she was a little girl she would ask me what it was like growing up in India. At bed time, instead of story time, Sophia would say, “Mamma, please tell me what your life was like when you were a little girl in India?” Who needed story time when she could hear true stories about her mommy’s life in India? The land of Mowgli as she would refer to it.

Looking back, I was seven and on a culinary adventure and didn’t even know it. Making Goan chorizo was more than just stuffing pickled sausage meat in casing once a year. It was a culinary tradition that connected my mother to her mother and grandmother and now her daughters. Even though my great-grandmother and grandmother were long gone, every summer my mom was able to bring together four generations of family in spirit and memory with the making of one never-ending link of sun-dried pork sausages. This summer I plan on making it five generations. Sophia is excited to make her first batch of Chorizo and take over the “shooing” duty! Instead of crows she’ll have to worry about the seagulls. We are in Maine after all!

 

Spicy Goa Chorizo with Potatoes and Pearl Onions
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1½ pounds of Chorizo, taken out of casing and crumbled
  • 2½ pounds of pearl onions, peeled and cut in halves
  • or 3 extra large onions, first cut into half and then 3 large pieces
  • 4 large russet potatoes; cut into 6 pieces each
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ cup of Vegetable oil -- not olive oil
  • 1½ cup of hot water
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in heavy bottom skillet or Dutch oven
  2. Fry the chorizo pieces on a medium heat trying not to let the spices burn.
  3. Add the chopped pearl onions and sauté another 5minutes
  4. Add the chopped potatoes and sauté another 5minutes
  5. Add 11/2 cups hot water
  6. Cover and braise on med-low temperature for 1 hour
  7. Stir every 10 minutes until the onions are soft, potatoes are creamy and a thick gravy coats the chorizo.
  8. Rip apart a crusty Baguette and dig in or enjoy over a bowl of steaming hot Basmati Rice.

 

Basmati Pilaf

Basmati Pilaf
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Easy
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 Cup of Basmati Rice
  • 1.5 cups of Chicken or Vegetable Broth ... Water can be substituted too.
  • 1 tbsp. of Ghee/Butter or Olive oil – Extra Virgin
  • ½ Cinnamon Stick
  • 1 tsp Turmeric powder
  • 6 Black Peppercorns
  • 6 Cloves
  • 1 Black Cardamom pod – crushed and whole
  • 3 Green Cardamom Pods – crushed and whole
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • ½ tsp of Salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Add the ghee to a pot and stir in all the spices above with the rice for 30 seconds on medium flame.
  2. Now add the 1.5 Cups of Chicken Broth/Vegetable Broth and stir.
  3. Cover and bring to a boil, reduce and simmer for 8 minutes or until grains are cooked and stock is absorbed!
  4. Enjoy the aroma you open that pot and savor every grain coated in Ayruvedic goodness
  5. Namaste