There is a reason why I haven’t been posting as much this week.
I haven’t been cooking– and there’s a reason for that too.
Here’s the story.
The setting is a gloomy Sunday afternoon. I woke up to a veil of clouds outside my highrise window, so thick that I couldn’t even see the trees outside our apartment. Halfway through the day, we decided to go out and about just so we could feel a little better, because the weather had us both so, just, bleh. So we got coffees and drove out to a flea market where we wandered around, bought a cookbook about Jewish holiday baking, and interacted with crabby old white ladies who seemed put out that we existed. Finally, we stopped by the grocery store and bought ingredients for a meal we were both really excited to try– Curry Shrimp, found on page 515 of The Joy of Cooking.
It’s not one of those recipes you can whip up in a couple minutes. First, we prepared two onions and set them to slowly brown for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, I finished de-frosting the still half-frozen shrimp, shelled, and de-veined it with very cold fingers, and boiled the shells in some water to make a stock for the curry. We also prepped the list of ingredients which includes bell peppers, ginger, garlic, cilantro, tomatoes (we cheated and used canned), and mild flavorings of cumin, coriander, pepper, turmeric, and… well, it called for fenugreek, which we didn’t have, so I popped in a little bit of fennel. All of this took a good while and a decent amount of effort. In went the vegetables and stock, to bring to a boil and then allow to cook slowly for a while.
During this time, Julian prepared some broccoli for a side and went to pre-heat a frying pan on another burner.
Somewhere during this time between the onions finishing browning and Julian preparing to start on the broccoli, we made an unbelievably frustrating discovery.
The burners had stopped working. All of them.
We tested them multiple times, checked the broiler and the oven, flipped the breaker– nothing.
So here we were with a half-cooked sauce, raw shrimp, and cut broccoli, and no heat on our stove. So we threw everything in the fridge, put in a maintenance request, and ordered Chinese takeout again. Thankfully, Happy Buddha never disappoints, and munching on orange chicken and egg rolls while watching Hairy Bikers’ Chicken and Egg provided some relief.
Monday rolled around, and rolled out into a warm, sleepless evening. The oven was still not working, and no maintenance worker had been by to check on it. Yet another meal out.
On Tuesday, we contacted the office for our apartment complex only to find out that the work hadn’t been assigned and nothing was being done about it. After some persistence, we reached someone who was willing to do something about it, and when we got home from work that evening, we had a new (to us) oven awaiting.
Out came the awaiting curry sauce and the shelled shrimp. It made for a quick dinner, since all we needed to do was heat up the sauce and throw the shrimp in for a couple minutes.
Finally, the long awaited curry!
Unfortunately, we were very disappointed in the recipe. We were expecting a dish full of flavor and spice, but in fact, the dish is severely under-flavored. As I learn more about cooking and gain more confidence in my own seasoning skills, I may be able to build on the recipe, but as it is, the flavor was so bland that we didn’t even finish it, and ended up ordering some chicken to top off our meal.
Trying South Asian food recipes– or Asian recipes in general– can be really tricky, and I think it’s because when they are translated to American cookbooks, they become altered for the Western palate. “Here’s a hint of Indian spices, but not too much just in case you’re not into spice.” But what’s the point of having Indian curry if it’s not going to be spicy?
I have high expectations too, having lived with four Indian roommates for two semesters, and daily experiencing the intense smells and tastebud-enlightening dishes my roommates would concoct. There’s no skimping on flavor when it comes to the real deal. If I could go back in time, I’d pay more attention and figure out what they did to make their food so delicious and spicy, and replicate it with a new, revolutionized curry shrimp.
The curry shrimp is the first recipe I’ve been disappointed in from The Joy of Cooking, and perhaps all the more so because of the long prep-time and the even longer wait to actually taste it. A year ago, I would have been really hard on myself for the meal not turning out, but as Julian has encouraged me, I’ve come to view these disappointments as just steps in my kitcheneering journey– I experiment with things, I try new recipes, and sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. Hopefully, the next one will turn out better.
What is your ultimate South Asian curry recipe? If you know any hidden tricks to bring the spice-filled subcontinent straight to your home kitchen, please let me know in the comments below!