Clam Curry

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I’ve taken it upon me to download whatever torrent file I could get my grubby hands on when I was home a few days ago. Having lived for two months with a plug-it that’s mediocre at best made me more appreciative of the blazing fast internet I have at home. It’s good for the soul, coming home to country comfort.

My mom and I went to the wet market on Saturday to buy some ingredients we need for a little picnic the following day. Before I left, I wanted to have a picnic with my family but things got in the way and it didn’t happen. This time, we made sure that our schedules were wide open. Anyway, there were mounds and mounds of clams in different sizes, (around 5 – 8 per mound) for sale that morning. I didn’t pass up the chance to buy around two mounds because I was inspired by Kumar (of MasterChef AU fame) to cook clams with curry. I’m a big fan of MasterChef Australia, so much in fact, that this blog has thrived after feeding off the show’s happy juju. Thanks to incredible download speeds, I was up-to-date with this season’s offering. The latest season is an All-Stars edition, pitting 4 fan favorites each from season 1 – 3 against each other for charity. In one of the challenges, where it was season 1 vs 2 vs 3 in an all-Indian challenge, Kumar from season 3 cooked mussels (tahong) in coconut milk flavored with a homemade spice mix. We don’t get a lot of really good mussels but clams were in abundance.

Clams and mussels taste like the sea so much that the flavor is unmistakable. It does wonders to soups, rice and now, I can curry to the list. Like most of my kitchen experiments, it was the first time I cooked clams with curry so I just went with gut feel on taste and seasoning.

The garam masala was still in the pantry, albeit a little milder in flavor, and mom always keeps a supply of coconut cream in tetra packs for convenience. I was home…and it was game time. Another home run for the clams.

Clam Curry (serves 2 – 3)

  • around 15 clams
  • 400 ml coconut cream
  • 3 tablespoons curry powder (what I used: 1 1/2 tablespoon garam masala + 1 1/2 tablespoon turmeric powder), or more to taste
  • one 1-inch knob of ginger, minced
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • half a bulb of garlic, minced
  • 1 large white onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 bell peppers (preferably 1 red and 1 green), sliced into thin strips
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 bunch pechay or bok choy, roughly chopped
  • 1 finger chili, sliced, or red pepper flakes (optional)
  1. In a medium-sized pan or sauce pan, preferably with a lid, add a splash or two of oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger. Allow to toast until fragrant then add the onions. Cook until onions start to go limp. Add the lemongrass and bell peppers and stir everything together.
  3. Add the coconut cream and the spices (and if you’re using it, the chili). Mix everything together until well incorporated. Season with salt and pepper and allow to simmer.
  4. Add the clams and cover the pan.  Allow to cook, making sure to discard the clams that do not open.
  5. Add the pechay at the last minute, stir everything together , let it cook for a bit then remove from heat. Serve warm and enjoy!

 

Spicy Prawn Curry with Roasted Tomatoes

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For the past few weeks Fridays have come to mean more than just the American Idol results show and the day where torrent files of my favorite shows come out. I took it upon myself to observe the season of Lent and abstain from eating meat and eat only one full meal every Friday until Easter, among other “restraints”.

Have I been faithful? No, I have taken afternoon snacks so adhering to one full meal has been difficult. Right now typing this, my stomach’s grumbling. Aside from that one Friday where it slipped my mind, I have been trying to avoid pork, chicken and beef. Self-discipline isn’t really one of my strong suits. Probably one of my fatal flaws, but nonetheless I’m proud of myself. Restraining myself, exerting a little measure of discipline during this season, is something that I’ve been trying to do. My cross is heavy but I’m trying to hold on.
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Lent is a season of reflection, of going beyond your usual call of duty and examine yourself in relation to how you treat yourself and others. At least that’s how I see Lent. I don’t claim to know everything about my faith – but I know it’s not perfect. Sometimes my roots are parched – the leaves wilt and fall, and what exactly I need to do about it, makes me wonder even more. But time and time again, my belief in a higher being will never die, no matter how misguided I can be.
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What does the prawn/shrimp* curry have to do with everything? Well, this is just my way of exercising that “restraint” without purposely depriving myself to the point of punishment.
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Have you ever tried to roast tomatoes? Try it, you won’t be disappointed. Have you ever tried to roast garlic? It was my first time to do that today, and I knew I had to put a few tender garlicky segments into the curry, just because I love garlic.
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I still had a little container of garam masala in the pantry from my chicken korma escapade. I didn’t want it to go to waste. Making this wasn’t a stretch at all. As much as I appreciate a spicy curry, the people around here don’t. A few dashes of chili flakes gave it the heat that it needed. To offset it, aside from the coconut milk, I added a few spoonfuls of peanut butter to give it that subtle sweet creaminess.
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A spoonful of this will give a gentle sweetness that  mingles with the bold curry taste, then there is that unmistakable heat that still lingers at the back of your mouth. The roasted tomatoes do their part by offering a sweet tang that gloriously blends with everything else. And there’s nothing wrong with mashing a few pieces of garlic directly into the sauce. Nothing wrong that at all.

Thank God it’s Friday.
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Spicy Prawn Curry with Roasted Tomatoes  (serves 4 – 6)

*Prawns and shrimps are semantically different but can be used interchangeably, though prawns are larger than shrimps. I used prawns for this recipe, but like you, I’m used to saying ‘shrimps’, big or small. That’s OK. I guess. 

  • 200 ml coconut milk
  • half a garlic bulb, minced
  • 1 large white onion, sliced
  • 15 – 20 pieces medium-sized prawns, peeled and deveined.
  • a few pieces of the prawn heads, the sharp pointy things (it’s called a rostrum) and whiskers snipped
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons garam masala
  • a few dashes red chili flakes
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon turmeric powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 – 5 pieces roasted garlic segments (optional)
  • a few pieces roasted tomatoes 
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  1. Prepare the roasted tomatoes. If you want to roast the garlic, roast it will the tomatoes. I slice around 1/4 inch off the top of the garlic bulb to expose the flesh, then drizzle it with olive oil, salt and pepper. 
  2. In a pan, heat both oils over medium heat. When hot, add the onions, then the garlic. Saute until fragrant. 
  3. Add the coconut milk, then the shrimps heads. Lower the heat to low. Add the garam masala, turmeric, chili flakes and peanut butter. Season with salt and pepper. Adjust taste, color and consistency to your liking. 
  4. Add the roasted garlic and mash with your spoon to incorporate. 
  5. Add the shrimps/prawns and crank up the heat to medium, and cook until both sides turn orange in color, around 3 – 5 minutes. Remove the shrimp heads. 
  6. Add the roasted tomatoes at the last second and mix well. Remove from heat and serve. Enjoy! 

Chicken Korma + Homemade Garam Masala

Today’s the day before Ash Wednesday and aside from that, “International Chicken Korma Day”. I just made that last part up, for lack of other uninteresting things to say. So let me just get right to it.

I got this recipe from Rasa Malaysia, an Asian food blog that I’ve been following for quite some time now, really because I consider it one of the best Asian food blogs out there. Bee Yinn Low, the woman behind RM, brings together cuisines from almost every nook and cranny in Asia – even the occasional Filipino delicacy.
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Since I’m still building myself up as an amateur cook, it makes perfect sense to try to expand my repertoire with dishes from the Asian neighbors. And today I made my first “almost authentic” Indian dish.

I’ll be the first to admit that since Filipino cooking is not heavy on exotic spices (think cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, cumin…), sometimes the aromas of Indian (and also Muslim) cuisine, because of their lack of subtlety, can be off-putting. But of course, I’m one that enjoys the spice and heat that comes with the territory. In moderation, it’s not really a problem with me.

Most of the Philippines is familiar with Chicken Curry, and Korma is essentially a curry, but according to Rasa Malaysia, “Korma, also spelled as Khurma or Kurma, is a milder form of curry and is distinguished from other curries by its rich gravy and smooth texture, mainly because of its heavy incorporation of yogurt as part of its main ingredients.”
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Here in Zamboanga, a virtual melting pot of cultures, predominantly Christian but with a strong Muslim presence (partially because of its proximity to Malaysia) we are familiar with the kulma, and what I made approximates the familiar taste of what we know as curry laden with the trademark spices.
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This doesn’t have curry powder because the recipe called for Garam Masala. Because I didn’t check with our local delicatessen if they had it in stock, well, I made my own spice mix thanks to the wonders of the internet. It’s not difficult as long as you have the ingredients on hand. Heck, it’ll be easier to buy it from a generously stocked grocery, but I went the extra mile today because I had to.
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I say this a lot with my dishes, but I can really imagine myself making this again because it tastes great. Like estofado, I enjoyed eating the korma knowing that the “soup” or sauce has almost dried out, envelopes the tender chicken pieces and has become almost gravy-like. Well, that’s just me.

“Almost authentic Indian” aptly describes what I made today, and really, you either go big or go home. With my homemade garam masala, I guess I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

Chicken Korma (Chicken in Rich Yogurt Curry) (serves 4 – 6; adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 kg chicken leg and thighs, cut into pieces
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • a dash of cinnamon
  • 4 cardamons
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 8 black peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons liquid seasoning (or more, to taste)
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (optional; that’s why I called it “almost authentic”)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Marinade:

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons Garam Masala (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder or paprika
  • 1 cup (250ml) plain yogurt, lightly whipped
  • 3/4 – 1 cup coconut milk (I had a 200ml tetra pack so I used that)
  • 2 large red onions, sliced and fried

Method:

  1. Marinate chicken with Marinade ingredients for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. Heat up wok with 2 1/2 tablespoons oil, stir-fry the items listed under Ingredients, except liquid seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and let the whole spices to sizzle a bit until fragrant.
  3. Toss in the marinated chicken (with the marinade) and continue to stir-fry for 10 minutes. Add the liquid seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Turn heat to medium-low, cover the wok and cook for 40 – 60 minutes, or until the oil slightly separates, chicken is tender enough and you have achieved the gravy consistency that you prefer. You may add water if the sauce dries too quickly and if the chicken is still not cooked through.
  5. Season with salt and pepper. When done, remove from heat and serve with rice. Enjoy!

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Garam Masala (makes around 1/2 cup)

  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons whole cardamom pods
  • 2 tablespoons whole black pepper corns
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  1. In a skillet or a nonstick pan, over medium low heat, add the whole spices – coriander, cardamom, black peppercorns, cloves. Allow to toast for about 10 minutes until they take on a darker shade. You may stir it occasionally.
  2. When done, combine the toasted spices with the ground ones – cinnamon, nutmeg,  cumin in a mortar and pestle. Pound until the whole spices have been crushed and the mixture has become one cohesive powder. You may use a food processor or a coffee grinder.
  3. When done, store it in a dry container. You don’t have to put it in the refrigerator. It will keep for 3 months.

If you’re in Zamboanga and you’re thinking of doing this, I bought my cardamom from La Tienda (call them if they have it in stock) and the coriander from the spice and candy store near Mindpro’s grocery entrance, beside Bloomingdale’s. All the other spices can be found in the spice aisle of Mindpro’s grocery.