Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Spice Route to Thanksgivingness

“Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I'm taking with me when I go.”
- Erma Bombeck (1927-1996), American humorist

As promised, here are 2 of the starters for the Omnieater’s Ultimate Thanksgiving.  The munchies are a riff on some of my favorite candies.  Many Mexican candies are akin to a bazooka on your tongue: an explosion of spicy, salty, sweet and sour.  In Southern California, you can easily buy paletas, or lollipops, in crazy mad flavors like tamarind chili and salty mango.  They were addictive.  And so are the spiced nuts I have made based upon them.  Make 2 batches.  They go quick.
            As for the soup, I once again went the spice route, but via India. Even thought in the Halloween post, I promised myself not to do soup with squash, but like Snooki and the perma-tan, they are made for each other.  The soup is a nice antidote to many squash soup recipes not only because of the subtle spiciness, but also because of the lack of cream.  All your lactose intolerant friends will rejoice.
            And the best part of all of this?  You can make this all ahead of time, so you can do the things you want to do on Thanksgiving, such as hanging out with your friends and family.  Unless you don’t have any friends and you hate your family…

Spiced Nuts
            You can use whatever chili powder you have on hand, but I recommend these, either separately or in combination: chipotle (smoked-dried jalapeño, very hot), ancho (smoked-dried poblano, mild), Pimentón de la Vera, Picante (smoked spicy Spanish paprika), Piment d’Espelette (a French/Basque variety of Pimentón de la Vera).  If you want to boost your SHU’s – Scoville Heat Units – feel free to add a pinch of cayenne or any other hot dried chili pepper (Thai Bird’s Eye, etc.).  You can make these a week ahead of time, and store in an air-tight container. 

Nonstick vegetable oil spray (or a silicone baking sheet, i.e. Silpat)
3 tbs. sugar
1/2 tbs. water
1/2 tbs. fresh squeezed lemon juice
zest of one lemon (if waxed, rinse in hot water and dry before zesting)
1 tsp. salt (Maldon, sea salt, Fleur de sel are all good choices)
1 c. whole almonds
2 tsp. chili powder (see above)

1.     Preheat your oven to 325ºF.  Line a heavy baking sheet with foil and coat with non-stick spray (or just use your silicone baking sheet). 
2.     Combine sugar, zest, salt and chili powder in a bowl.  Add almonds, lemon juice and water to bowl.  Stir to combine thoroughly.
3.     Spread mixture on baking sheet. Bake, stirring often, until the almonds are a golden brown and glazed, about 20-25 minutes (last 5 minutes, watch carefully, otherwise the sugar will burn).
4.     Separate almonds as best you can.  Cool completely and serve.

Coconut Curry Red Kuri Soup
            If you can’t get Red Kuri squash, you can use whatever orange-fleshed winter squash you can find, such as Hoikado, Hubbard, Kobacha etc.  If you can, avoid butternut squash.  I find it watery and bland.  As for the garam masala, you can easily find it in Indian grocery stores, but I think it is worth the effort to make your own.  Spices lose their pungency over time, and you have no idea when those spices last saw a human face. The recipe for a basic garam masala follows the soup recipe.  (I say basic, because there are many variations on the amount and kind of spices used.)  Use it whenever you want a spice kick to your meal. One more thing – you can easily make this a vegan recipe, by swapping the chicken broth with vegetable broth.
Servings:  About 12 cups
31/2 pd. of Red Kuri squash
vegetable oil
white and pale green parts of 3 large/4 medium leeks, cleaned and chopped (see note)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbs. unsalted butter
11/2 in. chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 cloves of garlic, minced
11/2 –2 tsp. of garam masala (recipe to follow)
4 c. chicken (or vegetable) broth, preferably homemade
21/2 c. water
2 c. of coconut milk (you will need two cans)
salt and pepper
bunch of fresh coriander, finely chopped

1.     Heat your oven to 350ºF.  Line a heavy baking sheet with foil and coat with oil.  Split squash in two, and seed.  Place the squash halves onto foil, with the cut side down.  Bake for 45-50 minutes, until squash is soft when pierced with a fork.  (If you don’t have a squash that weighs about 3-4 pounds, just make do with 2 smaller ones.  Just remember to reduce the time in the oven.) Take out of oven and cool.
2.     When the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh of squash and reserve in a bowl.  Take a heavy stock pot or Dutch oven and warm butter over medium-high heat.
3.     When foaming subsides, sauté chopped leeks and onion over medium heat until softened, but not browned.  Add ginger, garlic and garam masala to pot and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute or less.  Add squash flesh and quickly toss to combine flavors.  Immediately add vegetable stock and water and simmer covered for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4.     Add coconut milk and simmer for about 3 minutes.  Take off heat, and cool slightly.  Either with an immersion blender or a regular blender (it’s hot, so be careful not to splatter), blend soup until smooth.  (At this point, you can make the soup 2 days ahead of time and just reheat before serving.  Add some more water if the soup seems too thick).
5.     Reheat if necessary.  Season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately with chopped coriander sprinkled on top.
 Note:  To clean leeks (they have a lot of dirt and sand trapped in their layers), chop the leeks first.   Rinse them thoroughly with water in a colander, or use a salad spinner.

Garam Masala
4 tbs. coriander seeds
1 tbs. cumin seeds
1 tbs. black peppercorns
11/2 tsp. black cumin seeds (shajeera)
11/2 ground ginger
3/4 tsp. black cardamom (3-4 pods)
3/4 tsp. whole cloves
2 1 in. sticks of cinnamon
2 bay leaves

1.     Heat a skillet over medium heat and toast all ingredients, except for ground ginger, until a few shades darker.  Do not raise heat to hasten the process, because the seeds will burn without toasting properly.  Take off burner and cool.
2.     Remove the cardamom pods to release the seeds inside.  Discard the pods.  Take all the spices, including the ground ginger, and grind either in a clean coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle.
3.     Store in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place.

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