Monday, March 23, 2009

CSA week 16 - Mulai keerai kadaiyal

a.k.a. callaloo curry.

I wasn't looking forward to cooking the callaloo this week. I hate to say it but, at least as far as home cooking is concerned, Caribbean cuisine just isn't doing it for me. But then I remembered that the particular callaloo (the Spartacus of the vegetable kingdom) we've got is amaranth a.k.a. Chinese spinach. Did that name mean anything or was it just meant to sound exotic like Chinese gooseberries or Jerusalem artichokes? When I started looking into it I found out that amaranth is cultivated and eaten all over the place. In China it's yin choi and it's used in really boring stir fries; in Viet Nam it's rau dền and used in pretty much the same boring stir fry; but in India it's either mulai keerai or thota kura and it's used in some pretty interesting curries. Most of which, unfortunately, call for ingredients I haven't got. Once recipes are calling for amaranth instead of spinach, you're pretty well out of the adapted-for-the-Western-kitchen zone.

However I was able to cobble together something presentable without making a trip to an Indian grocery (which I really ought to do one of these days).


1 bunch of amaranth for a couple servings. It cooks down quite a bit so use substantially more than you think you'll need.
1 1/2 cups water
1 pinch turmeric
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon white rice flour
salt to taste

2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 dried red peppers, broken up
1 teaspoon mustard seed, whole
1 teaspoon cumin seed, whole
1 teaspoon black lentils or, failing that, millet
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

6 extra large shrimp, cleaned and brined
The shrimp is optional, but I think they add a lot to the dish. You could use whitefish or crab instead if you'd prefer.

1. Strip amaranth leaves from stems. Cut off the woody bits and peel the tougher stems. Chop roughly.

2. Place amaranth in a medium pot with water and turmeric, heat on medium high until boiling, stir, cover and turn down heat. Simmer until amaranth is tender, 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Move amaranth from pot to food processor, leaving the water in the pot. Add tomato, rice flour and salt to processor and process into a paste. Adjust for flavor and texture.

4. Add shrimp to pot, return to heat and poach gently until firm.

5. Meanwhile, in small pan heat oil and spices until garlic is golden and mustard seeds start popping.

6. Serve amaranth with rice, topped with shrimp. Pour oil and spices over top.

Now that's tasty and expeditious (although I'll admit it could be prettier). You might think that that's just saag, but you can identify the amaranth through the spices and it's a better match with the spices than spinach would be. You can see that I overcooked my garlic a little, but I didn't quite ruin it and I actually like the crunch it added. Maybe some peanuts would be a good way to get that instead. Also, I would have liked to top the dish with some curry leaves but I'm long out of those.

The substitution of the millet was a good idea, I think, as there's a toasty flavor in the dish that's particularly nice with the shrimp. Those shrimp were my addition and I don't think I could have made a better choice of protein except maybe crab. It all worked together very well indeed.


drlindak said...

This looks yummy. I have two bunches of callaloo wilting in the veggie bin. Will have to try this - thanks!

Karen said...

On a completely different vein, but linking back to one of your long-ago posts, we made Roasted Kale, using this recipe (modified) --- but I never would have had the faith to try it but for your previous posts. Have to say, we were having Clams and Bacon Pasta, an Alice Waters recipe, so I had a lot of rendered bacon fat, which is really really good with this Kale instead of EVOO !! ;-)

billjac said...

drlindak: I'm glad you were able to see through my poor food styling to the dish's inner beauty. Please comment again if you make any improvements to the recipe.

Karen: kale and bacon fat is a fabulous idea! And clams with them make a lot of sense too. I regret the opportunities I wasted using olive oil. I'm going to try cooking them with rendered linguica fat soon; we'll see how that goes.