Friday, February 15, 2013


I'm fortunate that my Mom taught me not to be afraid of cooking things I've never tried before, and cooking things that have never been invented.  Or trying to reconstruct something that tastes like something you once had somewhere a while ago.  Experimentation was often on the menu at our house when I was kid.

The inaugural Some Adventures In....Cooking is just such an experiment.  I got a new spice mix at the DeKalb International Farmer's Market in Avondale Estates, GA called Masala Tea.  It smelled like Chai tea and Tika Masala had a love child that was just too awesome to pass up.  Ever since I've been chomping at the bit for an excuse to try it out.

Since I live in a house with an Ancient Catholic Matriarch (even though I gave up being Catholic for Lent the year I was 9), I'm required to follow the dietary laws of Lent.  For the most part I don't mind, because it means I can cook fish with great abandon for a proscribed number of Fridays.  The Matriarch doesn't like fish and has taken to refusing to eat it at all in any form, allowing me far more interesting dinner options than fish fingers, but limiting how often I can cook it. 

Tonight we had Salmon Tea Masala with Basmati Rice and Broccoli (recipes to follow, descriptions of where I found my more special ingredients to follow after that).  The spices mixed into the Masala blended beautifully with the sweet richness of the pink salmon, with just enough heat on the back end to warm the spices on the tongue and get them to bloom again.  The broccoli was from one of those steam fresh from the freezer bags, and I didn't do anything at all special with it beyond not overcooking it.

Today's Food History Note:  In the 1500's, the Portuguese introduced tomatoes to India, spawning hundreds of new dishes like the tomato based Masala.

The Rice:

1 cup basmati rice
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1 large cap full rice wine vinegar
1 large cap full lemon juice
1 cap full of rose water
1 1/2 cups water

1.)  Put the walnut oil into a medium sized saucepan and warm on a medium high heat.  The oil will be hot enough when it pops if you drop a drop of water into.  Be careful not to drip too much water into the oil, as it can cause injury or fire. 
2.)  When the oil is hot, pour the rice into the saucepan and stir with a spoon or spatula.  You're going to toast the rice just like you were making Rice-A-Roni.  Stir it often, to make sure most of the rice gets to touch the bottom of the pot at least some of the time.
3.)  When much of the rice has turned a golden brown sort of colour, add the water, vinegar, lemon juice and rose water. 
4.)  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and cover, stirring occasionally to check on the absorption of the water into the rice. 
5.) When the water has been absorbed, take the pot off the heat and leave covered until you're ready to serve.

The Salmon:

2-3 tablespoons walnut oil 
3 cloves of garlic, smashed and sliced thinly
1/4 medium sized yellow onion, finely diced
1 lb salmon (I used 4 pink salmon fillets, or you can use salmon steaks, whatever your preference)
2 good big pinches of Tea Masala (all four fingers at once)
1 dash Garam Masala (or more if you like it hot)
4 -5 grinds of black pepper
Small pinch of salt 
1 length of dry lemon grass, sliced thin as I could get it.
1 tomato diced
1 carrot, finely grated
1 cap full rice wine vinegar
Splash or two of water
1 generous splash of Original V8 Juice

1.)  While the rice is doing it's dance with the water, heat 2-3 tablespoons of walnut oil in a saute pan/fry pan on medium high heat so that it's hot, just like with the rice.
2.)  Add the sliced onion and garlic, stirring occasionally until golden brown
3.)  Add the two masalas and stir, then add the salt, black pepper and lemongrass.  Let the flavours mingle for a few minutes, stirring gently the whole while.
4.)  Add the tomato, carrot and a splash of water and vinegar and stir again.  If you need more water, add a little more.
5.)  Lay the salmon in the pan, making sure to coat the top and bottom of the fish with the seasonings before shifting them down onto the surface of the pan.  Turn them occasionally, re-coating them in the sauce as needed.
6.)  If the sauce seems a little thin, don't worry it will thicken while it cooks.  If it seems a little thick, add a little water, carefully stirring in so that you don't break the salmon apart. 
7.)  About half way through cooking, add the V8, stir and turn down the heat to just above low and cover, letting the sauce simmer. 

Serve over the rice, with lots of the sauce on top, and garnish with nori or laver seaweed strips.

Since I wasn't raised in an Indian family or really around that culture, I don't know how well this will do on a proper, Indian palate, but for me, it was very tasty.  Not overwhelmingly spicy, the flavour of the fish came through and complimented the seasonings.  It doesn't look very colourful, but the taste was layered and complex without being too much of any one thing.

The Special Ingredients: 

I got the Walnut Oil at the DeKalb International Farmer's Market, but I've seen it for sale at Kroger and I think Publix as well in their gourmet oil sections.  It has a very mild flavour profile, and isn't quite as heat tolerant as olive oil, so you'll want to reserve it for the times when you don't need a high heat to cook your food.  I wouldn't recommend it for pan searing, because it smokes at the higher temperatures. 

I also got the Tea Masala at the DeKalb International Farmer's Market, in their spice section.  I've never seen it anywhere else, and it might be a spice mix used by a particular family who works there.  I wish I could properly describe the way the cinnamon, cardamon, cumin, chili and nutmeg blend into this dull brown toned seasoning, they way they interplay with each other, compliment each other, but I just cannot do it justice.

The rose water and basmati rice both came from the local Indo-Pak Grocery in Douglasville, GA, and it's disturbing how inexpensive they were, and how good too.

Whole Foods sells a brand called Thai Kitchen, they have dried ginger slices, birdseye chilies, and dried lemongrass.  I want to get fresh lemongrass, the dry stuff smells alright and flavours well enough, but it's got the texture of a corn husk dolly, and to me, that was the only detriment to the dish.  It never seemed to soften.  Maybe I need to soak it in water before I use it next time. 

The salmon honestly wasn't the worst cuts in the world, considering they came to me flash frozen, and claim to be wild caught Pacific Pink Salmon.  They weren't mushy and flavourless like some frozen fish can come out like.  Oh and we got them in the 3'x3' area our Carrollton, GA Wal-Mart calls a seafood section.

I think that I've decided the next time I try this, I'll leave out the tomato and try a can of coconut milk in the sauce.  And either add more carrot, or find some kind of Indian veg that would blend well with the overall dish.  Or both, cause I really love carrots.

Have an insight, a tip or trick to share?  Please comment below!

1 comment:

  1. UPDATE:

    It's thoroughly possible to use enough Masala Tea to utterly obliterate the flavour of a standard American Chicken breast. And honestly, it doesn't take all that much.

    Not a resounding success, but when cold and dipped into sour cream that's been mixed with a little lemon juice, it works for a flavour, if you don't care that you can't taste the chicken.