The Challenge: cook something yummy in someone else’s kitchen on an electric stove with ingredients written in Hindi. The result: Spinach Puffs with Apricot and Cardamon.
So, there I was on my haunches, rummaging through my friends refrigerator trying to decide what to cook. Nothing. Wait! There was garlic and ginger. I moved up to the the freezer. Score. Puff pastry dough and spinach. I found some cashews on the counter and some dried apricots. It was starting to come together. Then my friend says, “I’m really in the mood for something spicy.” I decided to take that challenge too. What the hell. Then I opened her cabinet. Hindi. Almost every single thing was labeled in Hindi.
Let me give you a little background on my Indian cooking skills. A few years back I rented to a tenant from Hyderabad. He was a fantastic cook, but if you came into the house while he was making dinner you couldn’t breath. Everything was hot, hot, hot. Steam and smoke poured out of the kitchen when you opened the door. We coughed, we sputtered, we smiled sheepishly, while he stood unaffected over the stove. He tried to teach me, but the spices were like a different language. I understood rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, dill, garlic – this is my culinary native language. Naveen had things in un-labled plastic bags and Tupperware – red, yellow, orange, seeds, sticks and leaves. I soon realized that even the labels weren’t going to be any help in my attempt to learn Indian cooking. I was going to have to rely on something else…
Let’s face it, labels in general have cause a lot of misunderstandings throughout history. I can say with some confidence, from hindsight, that part of the reason for the break up that started this blog was words…labels…definitions. (You say potato, I say patato.) To my mind, there is only one thing you can really rely on when it comes to determining spice compatibility – your nose. There I stood for a moment, mesmerized by my friends spice cabinet, then I did the next logical thing. I started stiffing. “What the hell are your doing, man?” she asked. “Cooking,” I answered.
The technique is simple: inhale deeply, hold it and let it out slowly through your mouth.
Now you might think I’m kidding here, but I’m not. Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth actually gives you a pretty thorough experience of the spice. You can’t always rely on the visual. A mistake which almost lead me to a catastrophy. Luckily, my friend does read Hindi – for the record Metta does not mean Spinach.
Spinach, Apricot and Cardamom Puff, Puff Pastries
Puff Pastry sheets
Spinach (frozen or fresh)
Paneer or Mozzarella
Butter and sugar
Salt to taste
Cook your Spinach, Ginger, Garlic and Garam Masala in a pan with oil or butter until it is nicely melded together, but don’t overcook. Carmalize your onions in a little butter and sugar. Cut your Apricots and Paneer into small pieces. Divide your pasty sheet into thirds. This is much easier if they are still slightly frozen. Spoon your spinach mixture onto the strip of pastry dough. Add Apricots, Cashews, Paneer and sprinkle with Cinnamon and Cardamon. I also like to add a bit of salt to taste. Roll them up – I’m sure you know how. Put them on a greased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees until pastry is flaky. My other friend added a bit of Maggi Ketchup to dip them in. “Mind blowing,” he concluded with a blissful look, glassy eyes and a smile.
There is one thing that I think might have made these better – perhaps a little ganja next time.