Recipes: '660 Curries'

These recipes appear in 660 Curries: The Gateway to Indian Cooking by Raghavan Iyer, (Workman Publishing Company, 2008).

Pan-Grilled Sea Scallops

Pan-Grilled Sea Scallops (Scallops Palak Bhajee)

Whenever I see peanuts and spinach in a menu item, I order it. I just love the combination — and I know I'm not alone, since I find myself in good company with the millions of Maharashtrians. Shrimp or any other firm-fleshed fish works well as an alternative in this curry.

1 pound large sea scallops (about 12 to 15 per pound)

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts

2 tablespoons canola oil

6 medium-size cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 pound baby spinach leaves, well-rinsed

1 tablespoon Kolhapuri masala

1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt

1. Combine the scallops with the turmeric in a medium-size bowl. Refrigerate, covered, for 30 minutes or as long as overnight, to allow the flavor to permeate the thick muscle (since there is nothing acidic to break down the mollusk's texture, it's fine to marinate them overnight).

2. Pour the peanuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they have the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs.

3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scallops, marinade and all (there won't be much at the bottom of the bowl), arranging them in a single layer. Sear the scallops' two broad sides until light brown, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer them to a plate.

4. Add the garlic to the same skillet and stir-fry until it is light brown, about 1 minute. Pile in the spinach leaves, cover the skillet, and cook until the spinach is wilted, 5 to 8 minutes. (As the steam rises from within, the leaves will sweat and release their liquid, which will deglaze the pan and build yet another layer of flavor.) Stir in the masala and salt.

5. Add the scallops (including any liquid pooled in the plate), and cover them with a blanket of the wilted greens. Cover and cook, without stirring, until the scallops are firm to the touch but not rubbery, 3 to 5 minutes.

6. Transfer the scallops to a serving platter. Add the peanuts to the spinach in the skillet, and stir to combine. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, to allow the nuts to absorb the excess liquid and thicken the sauce, 2 to 4 minutes.

7. Spoon the spinach-peanut mixture over the scallops, and serve.

Tart Chicken with Roasted Chiles, Tamarind and Coconut Milk (Puli Kozhi)

The Moppalahs, inhabitants of the southwestern state of Kerala who follow the doctrines of the Islamic faith, consume chicken, mutton, fish and other seafood as part of their special-occasion meals. This curry combines roasted and ground spices — a typically southern Indian technique — with coconut milk, the other Keralite staple, to provide the base for plump chicken.

4 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon yellow split peas (chana dal), picked over for stones

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

2 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, stems removed

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt

3 lengthwise slices fresh ginger (each 2 1/2 inches long, 1 inch wide and 1/8 inch thick)

4 large cloves garlic

1 chicken (3 1/2 pounds), skin removed, cut into 8 pieces

1 medium-size red onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon tamarind paste or concentrate

12 to 15 medium-size to large fresh curry leaves

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the split peas, coriander seeds and chiles, and roast the blend, stirring constantly, until the split peas and coriander are reddish brown and the chiles have blackened slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and use a slotted spoon to skim off the spice blend and transfer it to a blender jar. Set the pan aside.

2. Add 1/2 cup of the coconut milk to the blender jar, along with the salt, ginger and garlic. Puree, scraping the inside of the jar as needed, to form a smooth, creamy yellow, red-speckled paste.

3. Transfer the nutty-smelling marinade to a medium-size bowl. Add the chicken pieces and thoroughly coat them with the marinade. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 30 minutes or as long as overnight, to allow the flavors to liven up the chicken.

4. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the skillet containing the residual spiced oil, and heat it over medium-high heat. Add the onion and stir-fry until its edges are light brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken pieces in a single layer, saving the residual marinade. Lower the heat to medium, and cook until the chicken is browned on the underside, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the pieces over and brown on the other side, 3 to 4 minutes.

5. Pour the reserved marinade into the skillet and add the remaining 1/2 cup coconut milk and the tamarind paste. Stir, making sure the tamarind is thoroughly mixed in with the liquid. Lift the chicken pieces to ensure that the sauce runs underneath. Scrape the bottom to deglaze the pan, releasing all the cooked-on chicken bits, spices and onion. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the skillet, and braise the chicken, basting it occasionally and turning the pieces every few minutes, until the meat in the thickest parts is no longer pink inside and the juices run clear, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the chicken and arrange it on a serving platter.

6. Stir the curry leaves and cilantro into the sauce and raise the heat to medium. Simmer vigorously, uncovered, stirring occasionally until the curry is gravy-thick, 5 to 8 minutes.

7. Pour the sauce over the chicken, and serve.

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