Pretend someone is coming over in three hours. You don’t have time to hunt down a recipe and go on an elaborate shopping trip, but you can make a quick run to the grocery store. It’s someone you want to impress (you’ve never cooked for them before). You don’t have the time or inclination to try something new and exotic, and you don’t want to be at it for hours (either cooking or cleaning) but you want to cook something yummy.
What do you cook, and how?
My two submissions:
- Fish dinner
Get a couple of filets of something fry-able (I like tilapia). Marinate it in olive oil, vodka or vermouth, salt/pepper, garlic, assorted herbs and spices. Bread it (I use this divine product that is bread crumbs mixed with grated romano and parmesan, and Italian herbs, made by President’s Choice, yum yum), with maybe some cornmeal mixed in for crunch. (The cornmeal makes it particularly impressive, I find.) Fry in butter and garlic.
Meanwhile, dice an onion, jalapeño pepper, sweet red pepper, tomato, and some garlic. Even better if you can puree it but it works fine if you don’t. Now that I look at it, I might add a splash of red wine if I had some lying around. Slowly cook it until it becomes nice and saucy. A blob of curry paste makes nice seasoning; otherwise I’ve had luck with (believe it or not) a mixture of barbecue sauce and mustard.
If I’ve got the space and inclination I also chop some collards, and sautee with garlic and bacon.
Serve fish over saffron rice, with red sauce on top.
2. Veggie dinner
Sautee onions/garlic/ginger/chiles. Add a can of chick peas, a can of coconut milk (maybe less … use your judgment), a diced tomato, any other veggies you’d like (cauliflower and sweet potato are my favourites), maybe a cup of water, and curry powder or paste (amchoor (dried, powdered green mango) if you can get it! it’s particularly impressive and quite divine. yum. and don’t forget the cardamom!) Cook on medium-low for a half hour or so until everything is nice and soft and appropriately saucy.
Find some paneer (Indian cottage cheese; usually in South Asian grocery stores which are very common here. I am very lucky. You can use pressed, cubed, fried tofu instead).
Make the red sauce as described in the fish dinner above. If you are indeed using paneer (as opposed to tofu) you can make the sauce blazingly hot (add more/hotter chilis) because the cheese balances it out perfectly.
Cube the paneer and fry it until it’s golden brown. You will need to do this in a very hot (one or two notches below “max,” depends on your stove - if the cubes turn into puddles, it’s too hot! but still good. experience talking.) non-stick pan, or else in a good amount of (very hot) ghee or butter or other oil. (You have to keep stirring so it doesn’t stick, but you also have to be quite gentle so you don’t smush it when it’s in it’s melty stage. Paneer is tricky at first but so very, very worth it.)
Toss paneer with garam masala (and, if you’re like me, salt).
Mix paneer with red sauce. (Note that the paneer is best served super-fresh out of the pan, so do it last.)
I’d probably cook up some kind of greens to go with it too.
Serve with warm naan and/or saffron rice. Yum.