This morning, while blinking blearily at the empty coffee ground container, I contemplated the necessity of a store trip just to buy more food. My partner dropped a bomb on me, the explosion of unexpected guests for dinner. Why couldn’t he have told me this a few days earlier, before my weekly store run? I do not know, nor will I ever understand. Likewise, a little heads up the night before would have been nice. I would have dug a pork roast out of the freezer and chucked it in the crock pot for an easy crowd pleaser, but no that would have been too easy. I found out this morning, at 8:00 a.m., that I would be feeding a crowd tonight. Luckily, I keep my pantry pretty well stocked, but even if you aren’t stocked, the ingredients for this meal shouldn’t have you digging in the couch cushions for loose change. This meal also makes amazing left overs that reheat like a dream.
Let’s start by doing a quick inventory of the basic ingredients, the stuff you probably do have on hand already:
– Rice (brown, white, long, short, doesn’t matter. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be rice. Couscous is good too, or pasta. You just need some kind of starch to serve everything over).
– Chicken (breasts or thighs, preferably boneless for easier chopping).
– Water (unless you’re reading this from Flint MI, where the well water is tainted…you can easily get this from that metal spout over your sink).
– Potatoes (sweet, white, Yukon, red, baby, fingerling…I’ve even used tater tots before for this. It really does not matter so long as it’s a potato).
– Veg (frozen or fresh please, no cans unless you have to).
– Oil (canola, olive, coconut. Whatever floats your boat. It’s purely pan lubricant).
– Biscuit dough/mix ( I like old fashioned buttermilk pop cans personally, but if you have a dry mix that’s fine. If you don’t have ready-made/quick mix, you’ll either need to buy a can, or make some biscuits from scratch, if you’re feeling up to it. Alternatively, in a pinch, you can use flour tortillas, but that’s more trouble than its worth in my opinion.).
– Onions (any kind of tear gas makers will work).
– Garlic (fresh, not powdered or dried. The pre-diced stuff in a jar is fine, but you want enough to kill a vampire).
You’ve got most of that stuff lying around in your cupboards and freezer already, I’m sure. Honestly, there is a lot of wiggle room with these recipes, so if you don’t have something then there should be a simple alternative. I don’t recommend using beef, but that’s only because it is such a huge taboo in Indian culture to eat a cow. If all you have is some good old fashioned moo flesh, then by all means use it. If you aren’t a carnivore then tofu or garbanzo beans work nicely too. Just make sure to adjust your cook times accordingly. Beans will take more time, tofu much less, etc. Conversely, if all you have is canned veg, don’t sweat it. Just drain and rinse them really well and make sure not to over cook anything to avoid that gummy gooey veggie mess.
Now, for the stuff you might not have:
– Coconut milk (unsweetened).
– Curry powder/paste (or, if you have all the spices on hand already, make your own garam masala. I’ll drop a recipe at the end for those who are feeling adventurous).
– Limes or lime juice (no, under ripe lemons from the tree in your backyard do not count just because they’re green unless you want to go cross eyed from the sour shock of them. I’m looking at you mom).
That’s it. From these ingredients we are going to make two main dishes and two sides, more than enough to feed your unwanted -cough- I mean unexpected guests, and quickly too.
If you’re anything like me, your first step is going to be clearing some counter space. If you’re one of those neat folks or have an insanely large kitchen, with plenty of available room to work on, then proceed to step two… prep.
In the culinary world this is called “mise en place”, and it basically means getting everything out, organized, chopped up, and ready to go. Cut your chicken (or chicken substitute) and veggies (if using fresh) into bite sized pieces. Dice your onions, mince your garlic, while drying those tears and getting your pans ready. You’re going to want at least two good sized sauce pans, three if you’re making your rice/pasta/starch on the stove, a frying pan or wok, and a sheet pan.
Start with your potatoes. If you’re using whole potatoes instead of a frozen/powdered variant, go ahead and get them boiling in some salted water until they’re nice and fork tender. You can chop them up first if you want, but I generally throw them in whole and cut them up after. While those are cooking up spend some time rinsing the starch out of your rice. I like to do this with a mesh sieve and a deep bowl. Put the rice in the sieve over the bowl and run cold water over it, stirring the rice around until the water runs clear out the other end into the bowl consistently. If you don’t have a sieve, then just put your rice in the bowl and gently rub it under cold water, draining carefully every so often until it’s no longer cloudy. This can take six to seven changes of water, so just be patient. Your rice will thank you by coming out fluffy and flaky instead of all globbed together in a lump.
Once your potatoes are nice and soft (and your rice is squeaky clean), drain them and put them aside. In the frying pan or wok, heat a couple tablespoons of your preferred lube and when its nice and shimmery throw in some of the diced onions, garlic, and your spices. When those lovely aromatics start making your kitchen smell like heaven, toss in the drained potatoes and stir to coat them in the spice/oil mixture, giving them a little bit of a smash as you go. I like to throw in some frozen peas and carrots at this point to add some fresh pop, but any small minced veg will do, or none if you don’t feel like it. Take it off the heat, add some salt and pepper for taste, and turn to your biscuits. If you’re using a pop can, go ahead and bang that bad boy on the counter until it explodes, then separate the biscuits and roll each one out as thinly as you can manage. If you’re using a make your own sort of mix then go ahead and get that done, separate it into as many walnut sized balls as you can, and flatten those. Cut the circles in half, roll it into an open cone, and stuff some of the potato mixture inside. Seal the edges with a firm pinch all around or some water/flour paste if you want to get all fancy. Now, lay each one on the baking sheet, and seam side up. Stick those in a preheated oven until golden brown, about twenty minutes. Viola, you just made samosas, a very popular Indian street food. In all honestly you can fill those cones with just about anything you want and it will be tasty.
While your oven is preheating get your rice started. If you’re using a cooker follow the manufacturer’s directions, but if you’re cooking it on the stove top we’re going to do something a little different. Set a big pot full of salted water to boil, and once its there slowly add the rice in bit by bit. You don’t want to cool down the water by dumping it all in at once, so keep an eye on those bubbles. Once all your rice is submerged bring your heat down to medium and stir, stir, stir. You want to keep the rice circulating so the grains stay separated and flaky. At the fifteen minute mark or so, start testing the rice grains for doneness about once a minute. When you’ve reached your desired level of fluff, carefully drain the starchy liquid out of the rice and transfer it to a serving bowl, uncovered. You don’t want to trap the steam otherwise your rice is just going to keep cooking and get gummy. Give it a stir and a fluff every now and then, while you work on the two main dishes.
Apply pan lube to both sauce pans and repeat the steps you followed for the potatoes. Get the oil nice and hot, add the aromatics and let them bloom for a minute or two until fragrant. Now, in one pan, add your meat/meat substitute and enough water or broth to just cover it. In the other, throw in your fresh or frozen veggies. In the veggie pan add about ¾ cup of the coconut milk, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, then cover until the veggies are done to your desired crispness. In the meat pan, wait until the meat or substitute has fully cooked in the spicy liquid and then add the remaining ¼ cup of coconut milk and bring up to temperature gently. Do not boil it or it will separate and get nasty curdles. Squeeze some lime juice over the veg and stir it in, salt and pepper both for taste, and serve over rice with a side of samosa.
Congratulations, you have just made an Indian meal. That wasn’t so hard now was it? You can adjust the spice level to your own preferences by adding chilis to the oil/garlic/onion stage, or forego the coconut milk entirely and reduce the liquid for a thicker curry if you like. If even the mildest level is still too hot for you, then you can add plain yogurt, or sour cream to bring it down a bit at the end. This is merely a basic framework you can follow. Play around with it and find what suits you and yours best. The following measurements will serve at least five, if you find yourself hosting more than that simply increase the amount of chicken, vegetables, and liquid to suit, while adjusting seasoning according to personal preferences.
For the curries:
– 1 ½ lbs chicken breasts or thighs, cubed (about two good sized breasts, 3-4 thighs)
– 1 ½ lbs bag of frozen vegetables, or 5 cups fresh chopped
– 1 can/cup of coconut milk, divided
– 1 large onion, diced and divided between the two
– 1-2 TBSP oil per pan
– 2 TBSP minced garlic per pan
– ¾ cup water or broth (for the chicken)
– 1-2 TBSP curry powder or paste (to taste)
– Salt & pepper (to taste)
– Juice of 1 lime
For the samosas:
– 3-4 medium sized potatoes (about 4 cups diced)
– 1-2 TBSP oil
– 1 medium onion, diced
– ½ bag of frozen peas and carrots
– 1 TBSP garlic
– 1 TBSP curry powder/paste
– Salt & pepper (to taste)
– 1 roll of biscuit dough, about 8 biscuits, 16 half circles
For rice on the stove:
– 1 ½ cups rice
– 6-8 cups water (for more depth of flavor the water can be substituted with broth and the salt reduced to taste)
– 1-2 TBSP salt (you want that water nice and flavorful)
– 1 TBSP ground cumin
– 1 ½ TSP ground coriander
– 1 ½ TSP ground cardamom
– 1 ½ TSP ground black pepper
– 1 TSP ground cinnamon
– ½ TSP ground cloves
– ½ TSP ground nutmeg
Mix spices together and store in cool dry place. For improved flavor, get whole spices and toast them lightly in oil before grinding.