Sunday, May 29, 2011

A trip to Samosa House, daydreaming of India

Last week, at a blogging conference in Atlanta, I met Sonia and Raja, creators of VelvetAroma (a blog recipe search site so new, it is in beta). After our requisite "What blog do you write?" questions and answers, we exchanged thoughts and experiences of travel, landing on the riches of cultures and flavors in India. When I got home to Los Angeles, I dug out a map of India, and daydreamed. I have had this dream before.
Southern India

I never made it to India on a trip to the Arabian Peninsula last year. India's influence in the region was entrancing, each imported spice in the souks singing "Come on over! We're just across the water." Curry dishes were as common as lamb kofta in alley restaurants. This weekend, Los Angeles became my India as I set out to make a fish curry to quell the homesickness for a place I have never been.

Samosa House is a long-standing eastern-Indian grocer and takeout in Culver City, California. Between shopping for my own ingredients, eating, drinking chai, eating some more, talking to people and trying to remember to take pictures, what started as an ingredients trip became a field day. One of the greatest gifts that can be given to any photographer (even us amateurs) is not a fancy new camera or lens, but full access to a subject. They welcomed me with open arms. I doubt they thought that meant I would stay for hours.

The all-vegetarian takeout menu is full of curries, rices, lassis, and samosas, all heavy with ingredients from exotic jackfruit to more recognizable spinach. One trip down the aisles adds a full Indian pantry to a home kitchen. The shelves frame a contentment and familiarity in the store that is hard to leave, with regulars coming through the lunch-hour line, chatting with each other and the cashiers while waiting for their food.
Making a curry from scratch is an act of self-expression. 30 different cooks will make 30 different curries according to what they like and who they are serving. Someday, I hope my trip will be just like this curry, with a little bit of everything in it. For now, looking at maps and visiting Indian stores is as close as I get to India, which is still just across the water, with a piece of it right down the street.

Samosa House
11510 W. Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90066
Open 7 days, 10am-9pm

Wheelchair users: Samosa House is on the ground level, with wide aisles and an accommodating front dining area. The store is cramped towards the back. The block is accessible by curb ramps at either end, but accessible parking is tough in this neighborhood. There is parking in the back, with two spots labeled for handicap access, but you must wheel around to the front of the building to enter.

Spicy Fish Curry With Cardamom Jasmine Rice
Burwell General Store

Traditional versions of curry dishes call for whole seeds and chili peppers, dry-roasted and ground into powder for use. I adapted this dish to accommodate spices we normally have in our pantries in the United States, using mustard and cumin powders rather than the whole seeds. Tamarind gives the dish a tangy kick, while the coconut milk mellows the dish and draws the flavors together.

Serves: 4

Total time: 1 ½ hour
Active time: about 45 minutes

Mortar and pestle or food processor
Large heavy-bottomed skillet with lid
Fine mesh strainer

For the rice:

2 cups dry jasmine rice
4 whole cardamom pods
½ cinnamon stick
4-5 cups water

Following directions on rice package, use enough dry rice to make six cups rice for the table. Add water, cardamom and cinnamon to the pot, simmer until done. Let stand, covered, for ten minutes, remove cardamom and cinnamon, then fluff and serve. 
For the curry:

1 Tbsp + 1 t unsweetened raw tamarind pulp or paste
2 cups water
2-3 Tbsp Canola oil
1 t mustard powder
1 t cumin powder
½ t red pepper flakes
1 t turmeric
1 t fenugreek seeds
¼ t sea salt
1 medium yellow onion, about one cup, mashed into paste
2 large cloves garlic, about 1 Tbsp, mashed into a paste
3 large canned plum tomatoes, chopped
1 t honey
1 Tbsp plus 1 t ginger paste, found in most Indian markets
1/3 cup coconut milk
two whole cloves, smashed
½ cinnamon stick
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 ¼ pound fresh white fish such as halibut, rinsed, checked for pin bones and cut into four equal pieces

In a separate pan add tamarind to two cups of hot water and let dissolve thoroughly.

In a small bowl, add mustard powder, cumin, powder, red pepper flakes, turmeric, salt and fenugreek. Add 2 Tbsp canola oil to this to form a thin paste. Set aside to make onion and garlic into a paste by using a food processor or mortar and pestle.

Pour spice paste into a large skillet over medium heat and sauté until fragrant, about two minutes.

Add onion and garlic paste to the pan, and sauté an additional two to three minutes or until the onion and garlic are fragrant. Add remaining tablespoon of canola oil if needed. Add smashed cloves, ginger paste, cinnamon stick, coconut milk, tomatoes and honey and stir until combined. Strain tamarind water into the skillet, bring to a slow simmer, stirring occasionally, and leave uncovered for about 15 minutes, or until the sauce starts to thicken.

Add fish pieces and cover for about ten minutes, or until the fish is cooked through and flakes apart. In last two minutes of simmering, add ¼ chopped parsley to curry.

Serve family-style with curry on a deep platter, rice in a separate serving bowl.  Garnish platter liberally with remaining fresh parsley, take to table, and serve into deep bowls.

1 comment:

  1. Christianna - what a great post. I LOVE to visit ethnic grocery stores - so interesting. There is a persian store near my daughter's dance studio and I love to just go in and browse the shelves to pass the time. I also recently found a Russian store - that was such a great find including a new source for some great smoked fish. I enjoyed your photos and also could really appreciate how much you enjoyed just hanging out at the store.

    This is the second rice dish with cardamom that I've encountered this week. The other is in Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table cookbook and was the recipe of the week on French Fridays with Dorie. I bought the pods and intended to make it but life got in the way, as usual. Oh well. I'll get to it. Too curious not to.

    Look forward to seeing you again sooner than the next food conference, I hope!


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