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I treat my canned tomatoes like family—I lean on them, I love them unconditionally—but sometimes I need a little push to set them aside. They tend not to talk back much, and, once in a while, I like a little sass.
If I’m not running in and out of bodegas in my neighborhood looking for international ingredients—or later, head hung only slightly, googling reasonable substitutions for same—I’m too tempted to cook only what I know.
Which is what I reminded myself as I went in and out, up and down an avenue near my apartment. I repeated it, too, when I texted my boyfriend “no tamarind paste!!!!!???” (I’d find out later he was sitting on a stash of the stuff, like a goblin on a pile of gold, in preparation for a birthday dinner he’d make me from the Pok Pok book a week later. Forgiven.)
The push for this search came from Piglet finalist Made in India, and it’s more accurate to call it a cooing nudge: Author Meera Sodha has a voice that soothes as she guides—she’s holding your hand, but you still feel independent crossing the street. When I’m making something new, I want at least the delusion that I’m flying solo, lest I never gain the confidence to take pieces of the dish and apply them to many more, or to make the same recipe again, the next time blindfolded.
I was making her egg curry dish, an amalgam of many of my favorite things: sweet, slick caramelized onions, rich coconut milk, medium-cooked eggs (the latter being what I know to be dinner, five nights a week). And I followed her instructions for rice, too, having been won over by Sadie Stein’s Piglet review:
Made in India taught me how to cook perfect rice, every time. I’ve always been one of those rice-phobes, otherwise competent in the kitchen but unable to turn out a batch that wasn’t crunchy or gluey or some horrid mixture of the two. But Sodha’s “Perfect Basmati Rice” was exactly that. And using her “grains of wisdom on cooking the perfect rice” (yes) I have replicated the achievement again and again, making rice constantly and on the slightest pretext. It seems like a small thing, but a book that can demystify a process, lay it out and ensure consistency, has managed a lot.
I never did find tamarind paste that night, but I learned that a mixture of equal parts lime juice and brown sugar works well enough in a pinch. And I did nail the rice: fluffy, with each grain distinct and living its best, barely toasted life—it was as royal a treatment as I’d ever given any grain, and it paid off.
My canned tomatoes will live another day, but at this rate, that day will be in Sodha’s Bombay Eggs—her spicier version of shakshuka. I’ll start sourcing the ingredients now.
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 onions, finely sliced
- 8 medium eggs, at room temperature
- 6 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
- 3/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 3/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons coconut milk mixed with 1/2 cup water
- Rice, for serving (https://food52.com/recipes/56256-the-perfect-basmati-rice)
- 1 cup of basmati rice
- 1 1/2 cups of just-boiled water
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 3/4 teaspoon salt