Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Nargisi Kofta with Chapatis

This is fancy food: beef kofta (meatballs) with a hard-boiled egg on the inside, in a tomato gravy, served with rice and chapatis. (I know, you're not supposed to serve both, but I'm obsessed with starches.)

It wasn't entirely successful-- good, but not as spectacular as I'd hoped. The chapatis were great-- easy and tasty-- but two things to improve on the kofta. First, the yogurt sauce separated, which is often a problem for me; second, the meat separated, exposing the egg, which I suspect could have been avoided if I'd used more meat. So it wasn't as pretty as I'd hoped it would be, but it was damn tasty.

I started the chapatis first, since the dough had to rise. It's easy to see why this is such a staple food-- it's just flour and water. Luckily, I am able to tolerate reasonable amounts of spelt, so instead of whole wheat flour, I used spelt flour, which behaved pretty much the same. Knead the dough, let it rise for half an hour or so, knead again, then separate into small balls and roll then out. I was surprised at how well the dough stayed together-- I guess I'm used to crumbly, sticky gluten-free flour, but this stuff was really easy to work with. Roll 'em nice and thin. I don't have a tava, but I do have an awesome all-purpose cast iron pan. I got it nice and hot, and did about 30 seconds on each side. The dough cooked quickly and was easy to pick up with tongs. Once it starts bubbling and puffing, throw it on an open flame (you need a gas stove for this) and let the steam puff out of it. This part is fun. The whole thing was simple and easy. We brushed them with butter, wrapped them in foil, and threw them in a warm oven ten minutes before we sat down to dinner. Tasty! I'm going to make these all the time.

The nargisi kofta: Jaffrey says that "nargis" is the narcissus flower, and these are named for the yellow and white of the egg, visible when you cut the kofta open.

First, a word about spices: you can buy just about anything you want at the supermarket or Whole Foods, pre-ground and in a clear bottle or a spice rack to sit on your wall. Do not do this. Pre-grinding and exposure to light both rob your spices of their flavor. Buy whole spices and grind them yourself when possible, and keep everything in a nice dark (and dry) cabinet! We have a marble mortar and pestle and use them quite regularly. It takes very little time to grind them, and you can taste the difference.

So I ground lots of things-- allspice, coriander seeds, cumin-- and assembled everything in little glass dishes, in the stages in which I would be adding them. This is called a mise en place, although I'm sure I am butchering the French. It means setting everything up and having it ready to go ahead of time, so you're not desperately grinding coriander or chopping tomatoes at the last second. I learned this from Alton Brown-- Alton, you're my culinary hero.

OK. So you mince the meat nice and fine in the Cuisinart, mix in the spices and two tbsp yogurt, and wrap this mixture around the eggs so you have four nice oval meatwads. Put some oil in your pan and throw in two bay leaves, a dried chili pepper, and the cardamom pods I will buy as soon as I find them. Then put in your meatwads-- er, kofta-- and brown them as evenly as you can. When I do this again, I plan to make a little more of the meat mixture than I need, and keep a little reserved on the side, so that if the meat on the kofta starts to separate I can repair as needed.

In the meantime, blend onions, garlic and ginger to a fine paste in the food processor. Take your kofta out and set aside, and add this mixture to the pan to simmer. Now, here's where I made another mistake. The recipe didn't say anything about draining the oil (in fact, it said not to), but it seems like the oil really has to be drained. Otherwise, this mixture gets really oily. The thing is that everything you're putting into the pan-- onions, tomatoes, etc-- sweats. When you cook them, all the water stored inside the veggies comes out into the pan. And oil and water don't mix, so how can you expect your sauce not to separate? This, I'm going to do differently next time.

Anyway. Simmer all that for ten minutes, then start spooning yogurt into it. Hopefully, if your mixture isn't oily like mine, your yogurt will be nice and creamy and not curdle. Once you've added 6 tablespoons of yogurt, put in your tomatoes, paprika, salt and water, bring to a boil, and simmer for ten more minutes. Then add the kofta and let the whole thing simmer for half an hours so the meat is cooked through, turning a few times. The juices will also be draining from the meat as it cooks, which means the meat will shrink. If your kofta aren't meaty enough, the meat will retract until you can see the egg, and your kofta might fall apart. Mine didn't quite fall apart, fortunately, but clearly more meat was needed.

Once that's done, serve with rice, chapati, whatever you've got. Because the sauce had separated, we attempted a rescue operation once we had removed the kofta-- Joe added some cream to the sauce and whisked the whole thing very energetically for a while. This helped, but it separated quickly.

It did, however, taste DELICIOUS. This is a really, really rich dish (it's usually served for weddings or other special occastions, according to Madhur Jaffrey) and neither of us could finish more than one. I tried to eat a second but got waaaay too full. The chili pepper and cayenne gave it just a little kick-- it wasn't at all hot on first taste, but a little heat did build up as we ate. And the spice mixture in the meat was really flavorful and delicious. I really want to make this again now that I understand the process a little better!

So, next thing to master: yogurt sauces that don't separate.

Next up: I'm making chicken korma (it's supposed to be lamb, but I don't have any lamb!) for Gagan and Anthony tomorrow night! And if I'm feeling ambitious, I might try my hand at parathas this weekend. I will also be doing my trademark guacamole for a party (possibly two parties) this weekend, so I'll post that recipe too!


Red Joe said...

I thought I was your culinary hero!?!

Sarah said...

Oh... um, yeah. You are.


a-train, all stops said...

I think you mean Friday night.

Sarah said...

Holy crap, I totally thought it was Thursday. I was planning my night around the branch meeting and drinks with coworkers. Oh wow.

zimblymallu said...

about the yogurt sauce...
when we're making "moru" (ask a malayalee), which is basically heated buttermilk with spices, the trick is to never let the buttermilk boil, and to always keep stirring. Always. keep. stirring. and to turn it off after steam gently rises off the top.

I think the yogurt might be separating because the fire is too hot.

Sarah said...

Thanks! That makes sense. I actually did a bit of googling just now and found a Good Eats episode that illustrates this (with dancing teenagers)... ah, Alton.

Moru sounds tasty! And welcome to the blog! :)

Anonymous said... is a link for the Nargisi Kofta's a video..u might want to cut down on the spices according to your spice level.