Monday, October 01, 2007

Chile Me!

Last evening, I sat down and reviewed both my list of what I had bought at Saturday's farmers' market and my calendar for the week. It's definitely going to be a "fasten your seatbelts" kind of week, and the best way to endure this bumpy ride will be to make sure I'm eating good food.

Since I knew that tonight was my only completely free night, I endured the workday thinking that I would head home to make either a stir-fry or roasted Brussels sprouts with some squash dish.

Silly me! When I got home and consulted the calendar, I discovered that I had planned to cook something Indian-style, using the paneer I had made yesterday along with a couple of sweet potatoes that were damaged.

That change in my presumed plan for dinner was fine by me, though, as the day had grown gloomy and I thought something a little spicy might be in order.

Fortunately, I was able to slip into "automatic" mode, gathering vegetables and cutting things in the order I expected to throw them into the pot, and before I knew it, it was simmering away.

I started with garlic and onions, sauteed in a mixture of canola oil and butter, and since I wanted to toss in a chile pepper, I decided to try one of the fiery Laotian chiles I've been drying. Since the farmer's admonition remained in my head, I opted not to cut up the pepper but to use a little trick I learned a few years back: I poked holes in the chile with a corn skewer and threw the chile into the pot whole, making it easier to pull it out intact later while keeping the heat at a tolerable level.

After the aromatics had browned a bit, I threw in cumin, coriander, fenugreek, and a pinch of cinnamon and fried the spices until fragrant. Then I added sliced sweet potatoes, some whey left over from the paneer, and a chopped tomato, and I let it all simmer down into a tender, creamy mix.

Once the sweet potatoes had cooked sufficiently, I added the crumbled paneer along with some plain yogurt. And because the dish had too much monotonous orange to satisfy me, I also added some fresh broccoli florets.

By the time it had all cooked and the flavors had permeated every corner of every vegetable, I had a gorgeously colored, perfectly spiced, and almost completely local meal.

The level of heat in the dish was just right: hot enough to open my sinuses, but not so hot that I broke a sweat. And I didn't end up biting into a way-too-hot pepper!

Now I have leftovers for two lunches this week, and I should be able to whip up simpler meals as the week continues. With any luck, this little slapdash cooking adventure will sustain me for a few more days in terms of nutrition and my cooking craving.

And I don't feel so chile any more.


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