Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Haleem from American Masala

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this recipe from Suvir Saran's last book, American Masala, is true texas chili. You know the kind I mean. Chili that does not hold back on flavor and heat, that brings a pleasant fire to one part of the mouth while the sweet flavor of familiar spices sing a chorus in another , that only asks for the added sweetness of some red onion and perhaps some bread to enhance the texture and flavor. And while the two renditions share many of the same flavors--onions, garlic, chilies and cumin are noticeably present--the execution and other ingredients make this chili stand out from your typical bowl of red.
When I first started reading the directions for cooking this wonderful dish from the muslim community of northern India, I smiled to myself as one does when an old friend shows up unexpectedly. Hearkening back to his first book, Indian Home Cooking ,Suvir Saran directs the cook to use whole spices in this as he does many of the recipes in that first collection of gems. I must confess that this practice put me off at first. Crunching down on a cardamom pod or whole clove was certainly something out of my midwestern comfort zone. However, what began as a nuisance gradually became a pleasure, a part of the experience, a nice surprise instead of a bother. And now I find myself enjoying the same delights with this "chili" as well. But perhaps even more than that is the additional flavors that take this in a dervishly different direction.
When looking at the word chili, which appears in quotes, one of the first ingredients that comes to mind is tomatoes. How can you call anything chili (quotation marks or not) if tomatoes are not involved? The final taste and texture assured me that none were needed. The traditional Indian spices one uses in Haleem more than makes up for the missing tomate we are at home with in our more familiar versions. And, in fact, they would get in the way of the lovely cardamom, cloves and fresh ginger which finds their way into this exotic bowl of heat* and perfume,
a bowl which, I found, pairs with a good many things besides a wedge of pita and some red onions and cilantro as pictured in the book.
As I am the only carnivore in the house (except for the cat and dog), I found myself with lots of leftover haleeem with which to get creative so I thought I would give my old leftover chili con carne concoction a makeover and was very pleased with the result! While living in Houston, I learned a trick from the Mexican dishwashers who always made the same breakfast for themselves which consisted of fried tortillas topped with eggs, chili, and cheese. This has been a standby for me for years. But why not haleem in a similar dish? Two over easy's topped with red onion on a bed of haleen with sides of guava and dwarf banana proved to be a very delicious breakfast this morning. (Hmmm thinking the same tomorrow with a crumbling of cotijo cheese)
Another tasty bite involved a baked pita wedge topped with some chili, red onion, yogurt (Greek style is best here) and a few strips of fresh mango. My dinner from the other night. I can see this as part of a Super Bowl Party buffet. (Or any buffet, for that matter....)
Can a stuffed omelet be far behind.....

*I use the term 'heat' loosely. Of course, you may adjust the heat to your (and your other diners) liking.

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