Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ingredient: Turmeric

Love it or hate it (or do both -- I understand), when it comes to Indian cooking this fluorescent yellow spice is here to stay.


I have a love-hate relationship with turmeric. It's one of the core spices in Indian food, has compelling medicinal benefits, and plays a role in Hindu religious rituals. But it also stains like crazy, tastes bitter if you overdo it, and can make all Indian food look uniform. Seriously, have you ever seen a plateful of Indian food where all of the different dishes look straight up YELLOW? That's when I turn my back on turmeric and grab an In-N-Out cheeseburger instead. Actually, make that a hamburger. After a meal of overused turmeric, the yellow coloring of the cheese could push me over the edge.

Seriously, turmeric has been around for a long time -- likely at least 2,500 years. India is the largest producer. The plant's (part of the ginger family) rhizomes are baked, then ground to make the fluorescent yellow spice. It's employed in Ayurvedic medicine, used as a home remedy for various stomach ailments, and perhaps most compellingly, has been shown in studies to potentially increase brain function (maybe even warding of Alzheimer's disease), decrease the risk of certain cancers, and act as an anti-inflammatory (providing relief for arthritis sufferers). One of my cousin's regularly sprinkles small amounts of turmeric into all kinds of random non-Indian dishes (even her morning oatmeal) in hopes of taking advantages of its health benefits. It's also available as a supplement in pill form.

One of the traditional Hindu wedding rituals is to rub turmeric all over the bride's and groom's skin the evening before the wedding -- it's thought to impart a glow and perhaps to ward off bacteria. However, I'm most likely taking a pass on this. Somehow the night before Nick's and my wedding does not seem like a good time to be trying out new skincare products. I'm terrified that I'll wake up the next day with a full-on acne break-out.

My fear of turmeric also stems from its amazing staining ability. Seriously, I wouldn't be surprised if whoever is living in my Atlanta apartment from five years ago is still wondering what caused the yellow countertop stains that just won't come out. Clean spills immediately! To avoid staining storage containers, I typically line them with parchment paper first, then store the leftovers. Also, beware the "Indian manicure," which is when turmeric stains your nails yellow. (This, I've found, will eventually come out with repeated scrubbing with soap and water.)

Taste-wise, I find that it doesn't have a strong taste and is used more for color. But in excess amounts, it tastes bitter. Some people detect a ginger-like flavor.

How to Prepare: Buy the already ground powder from either the regular grocery store or from an Indian store (where it will likely be less expensive per ounce, but is sometimes in too large a quantity for the home cook), then sprinkle generously into any savory Indian dish. In countries where fresh turmeric is ready available (like in India), sometimes the leaves are used for cooking -- but I've never seen that in the U.S., where the powder reigns.

Good Source of: Manganese, Iron, Fiber

Found In: Curry powder, virtually any savory Indian dish

What is your favorite dish to put turmeric into? Do you have any tricks for stain clean-up?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Recipe: Tandoori Chicken - Cheddar Cheese - Chutney Naanwich

Use prepared foods to create a delicious and unique naan sandwich -- the perfect Indian fusion lunch.

Ingredients:

1 prepared naan (like Trader Joe's Garlic Naan-- found in the freezer section)
2.4 ounces mild cheddar cheese (like Trader Joe's California Mild Cheddar Cheese)
2 Tbsp. prepared sweet or tangy (not sour) chutney (like Trader Joe's Mango Ginger Chutney -- found with other shelf-stable condiments)
3 ounces prepared tandoori chicken (like Tandoor Chef Chicken Tandoori with Spinach -- found in the freezer section of Whole Foods Market)

You'll Also Need:
an oven or toaster oven to heat up the naan, toothpicks to hold the naanwich together

Step-by-Step:

1. If the cheese and/or chutney are in your fridge, pull them out to bring them closer to room temperature (ideally, about half an hour before you start the rest of the steps).
2. Heat the naan according to the package directions. (For TJ's Garlic Naan, heat in a preheated 400°F oven for 1 minute.)
3. While the naan is heating up, slice the cheese into about 0.5-in. thick slices.
4. Tear the naan into two roughly symmetrical pieces (I had to tear mine vertically for this). Plate one, then put the cheese slices on top of the other. Heat the cheese-topped piece in the oven for about 2 minutes.
5. While the cheese is melting, heat up the tandoori chicken according to the package directions.
6. Place the chicken pieces on top of the cheese-topped naan piece. (If you used a frozen dinner in which the chicken mixed with spinach or another sauce, like I did, pull the chicken out of the sauce so your sandwich isn't soggy. You don't have to get the sauce totally off though.)
7. Spread the chutney evenly over the chicken.
8. Top with the other naan piece. Use toothpicks to hold the naanwich together. If you used a frozen dinner that came with a sauce/side, plate the remainder up as a side dish or dipping sauce.
Serves 1.

The AHH Factor:
I love recipes that are more food assembly than actual food preparation/cooking. It's like you do just enough work to where you feel like you really accomplished something, but not so much that you're tired and faced with a pile of dirty pots and pans. I was inspired to create this recipe after I purchased some TJ's Mango Ginger Chutney on a whim. Of course, you're also welcome to make this recipe using homemade leftovers. I've yet to create or collect recipes for chutney or naan and can only make tandoori chicken using the boxed spice mix, so I used Trader Joe's as the source for most of my ingredients. I wasn't sure how well naan would hold up in a sandwich, but it performed admirably. I will say mention though, that even with the toothpicks, the sandwich will fall apart after the first few bites -- but when is Indian food ever tidy?

Any suggestions for what I should do with the rest of the chutney? And, does any one know where to buy prepped tandoori chicken that's the chicken only (without a sauce or side dish included)?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Restaurant: Ocean Tava India Bistro, Redondo Beach

Rating: 8 out of 10 Peppers = Spicy
Filling the niche for a gourmet Indian restaurant in the beach cities of the South Bay, this newly opened bistro offers a fitting atmosphere, above-average food, and good customer service. It's a bit overpriced for its niche, but go during "Sunset Hours" for a more budget-friendly bill.

The Details: Being Indian, of course I refuse to overpay for anything. (Some members of the family, ahem, refuse to pay anywhere near reasonable value for anything, but that's not me. Not yet, anyway. Ha.) When my good friend Nicole suggested that we check out Ocean Tava, a new Indian restaurant in her neighborhood of Redondo Beach, I was intrigued. I used to live in Redondo and, though it houses two of my favorite restaurants of all time (Green Temple and Chaba, in case you were wondering), I'd never tried an Indian restaurant in its city limits. (There is at least one other one there, Addi's Tandoor, which I still need to try.) But I looked up the prices online and with the non-veg entrees ranging from about $13 to $20, I postponed a visit for a while.

Then, LivingSocial.com gave me the extra push I needed by offering a voucher, which I purchased for $20 and entitled me to $40 worth of food and drink at Ocean Tava. (Can I also just say that I'm obsessed with LivingSocial? Of all about five group coupon e-mail lists I for some reason signed up for it's definitely my fave.)

And we scheduled our double date. (If you hear groaning in the background, it's Nick. He hates it when I schedule outings with other couples, then call it a "double date" with a goofy grin. What am I supposed to call it? Our "very macho outing that just happens to be with another couple"?) Nicole, her husband Dan (if you're a Mad Men fan, be sure to check out his Telematic Dan! blog, Nick, and I went on on a Friday night.

We were fortunate that we wanted to meet for dinner at 6 p.m., because that happens to be right in the middle of the restaurant's "Sunset Hours" specials, which run Monday to Friday from 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.. During that time, select beers are $2.95, select wines $3.95, select appetizers are under $6, and select entrees are under $10. Score! I thought it was odd that the discounts run as late as 7 p.m., because who would want to eat dinner after 7 p.m. on a weeknight? But, then I remembered that, hmmm, that group includes my parents (dinner at our engagement party wasn't served until after 9 p.m., and that was actually running on time) and most other Indian aunties and uncles I know. And Ocean Tava does know its audience. When I arrived, the private parking lot was empty. When I left around 8 p.m., a car was impatiently waiting for me to back out to get my spot. (FYI, I think there are two parking lots for the restaurant: the surface lot I parked in, plus a garage in front, which Nick parked in. Also, don't quote me on this and be sure to check the signs, but I think street parking may be free too.)

Inside, I fell in love with the color scheme. It's filled with warm yellows. Yellow, I think, is underused in interior design. I love it. Also, the restaurant smelled of incense, which was reminiscent of my parents' house. The walls were adorned by wood carvings and subtle Indian paintings. The "bistro" idea is unique and fits well in a casual beach city; it manifested itself most obviously in the bistro tables placed outside. (We declined to eat outside as I'm always freezing. But I bet in the summer it would be quite nice.)

We were served complimentary Papadum, with the requisite chutneys. It was good if a touch overbrowned.

We ordered an appetizer of four-piece Vegetable Samosas, stuffed with cumin potatoes and green peas. They were tasty and I liked the presentation on the shapely plate with cabbage and a carrot slice for style.

The restaurant has a few Indian beers available. Dan opted for the Karma (a lager beer) and Nick for the Flying Horse Royal (also a lager). I ordered a (non-alcoholic) Mango Lassi, which was really good. Nicole had never tries a lassi before, so she had a sip of mine and liked it. You really can't go wrong with any sweet-flavored lassi. Yum.

Apparently, Ocean Tava and I are on the same wavelength, because instead of a straight-up "mild, medium, spicy" choice for spice level, we were actually asked to pick each dish's spice level on a scale of 1 (mildest) to 5. Nicole was the bravest and ordered her Saag, a greens dish, at a level of 3. She really enjoyed it. I tried a few bites of it; I liked the flavoring but I could only eat the 3-level spice in moderation. I'm a wuss and if I'd ordered it, I couldn't have finished it because it would have been too spicy.

Nick ordered the Prawn Masala at a spice level of 2. He really enjoyed it.

Dan got the Tava Special Fish at a spice level 2, which he let me try. It was mahi mahi cooked in the restaurant's secret recipe of herbs, raisins, and cashews. (Note: looking at the menu on the restaurant's website today, it says this dish is made with salmon. So I'm not sure if they changed it recently or what, but it was mahi mahi when Dan ordered it.) I wanted to try it because blog reader Vandana had requested some Indian mahi mahi recipes and my mom doesn't really cook with that fish, so I thought this might start giving me some ideas for a recipe for her. (I'm working on it, Vandana! Thanks for the request :) )

I got the Chicken Curry, also at a spice level of 2. I definitely liked it. If you're like me and you like you're Indian dishes mild, I'd say you're safe with a 2 at Ocean Tava. This was very easy to devour.

We bought an order of naan. (If you want dal, raita, and naan with your entree, you have the option to add all three for $4.)  It was OK but it was served too-cool temperature wise.

Our entrees came with Basmati rice (with peas) to share.

Overall, the customer service was good. Though one time we did have to repeat our request to have a water glass refilled. On the way out, an employee said "Namaste." I appreciate the friendly gesture.

What spice level do you think you could handle here? And what's your favorite restaurant (Indian or not) in the South Bay?

Ocean Tava India Bistro, 1212 South Pacific Coast Highway Hwy, #206, Redondo Beach 90277. (310) 540-2240.
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