Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Root of Evil

Ed. Note: From time to time Under the High Chair will feature guest posts and I am pleased to introduce Kevin for the first of these installments. Kevin is a self-taught cook, an enthusiastic foodie, an even more enthusiastic engineer and also happens to be my brother-in-law. He lives here in Montreal and has a seldom updated blog.
Let's give him a warm welcome!

The Root of Evil: a.k.a Turmeric

I've been trying to make curry for a week. Each evening with the best of intentions, I get stymied every time. Two nights ago was the same. Nope, didn't make it then either. Not for lack of trying though.

As planned, I went grocery shopping for the remaining ingredients for my curry marinade: plain yogourt, cardamom pods, lamb. I had bought the other spices (chili, turmeric root) at Marché Jean Talon the previous weekend. (Note: the correct spelling is not "tumeric" but rather "turmeric". I still pronounce it "tumeric" though.)

My local grocery store doesn't have lamb. It's not a popular meat in my neighbourhood. I even ask the lady behind the meat counter, you know, the one who slices ham and other sliced meats. "Lamb" I say, met only by a puzzled look. "She must speak French" I say to myself. "Agneau." The same puzzled look. I repeat again, in each language, now questioning myself if I've used the correct words. I'm reminded of the prank my brother and I used to play when we were little when shopping with my mom where we'd ask the butcher for snake meat or fox or other bizarre requests. I'm getting through to this lady just as much, which is nothing. Just as I'm about to avoid language altogether and start baying and baaing with lamby gestures, another lady walks by and says to me "They don't have it here. No lamb."

Undeterred, I buy chicken. Chicken curry should be just as nice as lamb curry.

Back home, I quickly pull out my coffee/spice grinder and grind up the chili spices. Next I open the turmeric. Remember those hard little knobs of yellow turmeric root I bought? I break off, with great difficulty, a piece a little shorter than an inch. I drop it in the grinder and press the button. The hard turmeric gets stuck beneath the blade, causing an awful sound. I shake the root loose and get assaulted by the loudest sound ever to come out of my kitchen. I immediately stop thinking I may have dropped a pebble in there instead. Nope, no pebble, just the unscathed turmeric root. I think that perhaps the pieces need to be smaller to begin with, so I take the hard root out and try to break it by hand. No way. I double check to make sure this isn't some sort of prank, that this isn't a stick or stone. I drop the turmeric into my mortar and proceed to hammer it with my pestle. I think I'm going to break something and I'm getting afraid that when, not if, something chips off, my unprotected eyes will be in prime danger zone. So just before I make contact, I close my eyes. Again and again, hammering away. When I open my eyes a dozen blows later, the root is intact, with a yellowish smudge on the bottom of the mortar.

1. The bruised, but intact, turmeric root on the bottom. A fresh sample above.
2. The grinder which tried so hard, but failed.
I tell myself that I need to simply be more persistent with the coffee grinder and so plop it back in and press that button. This time I pulse, shake and wait. I can see yellow dust swirling around. Horray! I just need to hang in there! I look into the clear top of the spice grinder and see a white object. "So there WAS a pebble in the turmeric!" I open the grinder and pull it out. I can see other small white chips and bits lying at the bottom. But this is no pebble. It's plastic. I look under the blade and see a missing piece of plastic exactly the shape and size of this "pebble" in my hand. My grinder is being ripped apart by this stubborn turmeric root. And that yellow dust amounted to less than a mustard seed's worth of turmeric powder. Interspersed with the plastic from the grinder of course.

But I will not let this turmeric root get the best of me. I will smash it into bits and then add a bit of water before assaulting it with the mortar and pestle again. I go to my tool box and see my hammer and safety glasses. Yes! Then I catch a glance of myself in the mirror.
What am I doing?! At 10:30 PM no less. And what will the neighbours in the adjoining apartments think of this night time hammering!

3. The chipped (broken?) grinder.
4. Yes, I got this far, but no further.
I return to the kitchen, hammerless, and put the turmeric root back in it's container. Back to the shelf. I refuse to succumb to powdered turmeric from the grocery store though, with it's food colouring and sawdust flavour. I'll figure out a way. I'll grate, chop, pound, pulverize and destroy this evil root! I may even put it in whole with the marinade so it imparts it's flavour. I've heard that wetting it before grinding can help too. I'll try tomorrow. Something, anything!
But one thing is sure: I need a new spice grinder.

My persistence (and Google) paid off and I now know how to get a little mound of ground turmeric in quick order. Grate it. I simply used the fine portion of my grater, as I didn't have a "box" grater one normally uses for nutmeg and other nuts. I am curious to know if my Microplane would work equally well, but in case it doesn't, I don't want to risk having a dulled Microplane.

5. Grated turmeric root; in a mortar just in case hard bits got through.

Chicken Cardamom Curry

(adapted from the excellent Elaichi Gosht Kebab, or skewers of cardamom-flavoured lamb, from "Indian
in 6: 100 Irresistible Recipes That Use 6 Ingredients or Less

1 large onion, chopped roughly
1/2 cup of plain yogourt; do not use non-fat yogourt

2 heaping teaspoons of garlic ginger paste

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon powdered cardamom

1 1/4 - 1 1/2 pounds of chicken or lamb, cut into strips or cubes

Put the spices, onion, yogurt and paste in a blender and blend until smooth.

Marinate the meat in the yogurt overnight.

On a lightly oiled baking sheet, place the meat and put in a 425 °F oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove meat and place on a hot grill for a few minutes to char a bit. You can also try the grill exclusively.


Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Congratulations go to Kevin for this great recipe Aimee.It is wonderful to be surrounded by people who love to cook:D

Emily said...

Ahh, very entertaining. Hello, Kevin!

What a pain! I'm glad you finally figured it out.
I bought some dried tamarind, in a brick shape, and I never figured out how to use it. I soaked it in hot water, but then it just smelled weird.

LyB said...

Oh, this was one funny post! I'm terribly sorry for your spice grinder though, poor little guy. Just this weekend, I saw some turmeric root at the grocery store, for the first time, and I was quite intrigued about it. You've got me even more intrigued, I'll have to go and get some!

Anonymous said...

Welcome Kevin!
I love all forms of curry, and am going to try this one out very soon. Deepest sympathy for the loss of your spice grinder : )

Warda said...

I once made a horrible curry that even a dog wouldn't be able to eat. Yours look devine. Too bad the pther photo aren't showing.

Cookie baker Lynn said...

Wow, what persistence, Kevin. It sounds way easier to just go out for curry. Good job for pushing through and conquering!

Michelle said...

You are too funny Kevin!!!!

Mama Mia said...

I looove indian curry!

Anonymous said...

As the wife of this hammer wielding, very determined man, I was very glad to see that he had, indeed, conquered the turmeric!!!!!
Way to go baby! xo

Anonymous said...

Welcome, Kevin. This recipe looks fantastic!

RecipeGirl said...

Welcome Kevin... I enjoyed your post. What a great recipe!

winedeb said...

Hi Kevin! With recipes like this, you need to post MORE! Mishaps make cooking very interesting! Sounds good to me!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much everyone for the warm welcome to this wonderful blog! You've encouraged me to contribute again in the near future!

Neen said...

Oh dear god, what an odyssey! I've never even thought to buy turmeric root; we always buy pre-ground stuff...for which I am now extremely glad. Kevin, you are a hilarious food writer. We need more foodie dudes in the blogosphere world, you should pop on buy more often!

Anonymous said...

Interesting write-up and great pics - that Nan bread, was that made from scratch ? Costco has some pretty good commercial nan, sold in 3 packs of 2 ... must be heated up of course!

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