Thursday, November 27, 2008
Vadouvan for Thanksgiving
When I was a kid, television was populated by happy families—not Leave it to Beaver Happy but Cosby happy. Thanks to these good folks, I knew full well that all families in America would convene around full tables to enjoy turkey and all the trimmings. My mother tried to recreate the trimmings with her own twist as most immigrants do and while the food changed, Thanksgiving was basically every other dinner eaten late in the evening after my parents returned home from work.
When my husband and I were dating, we wanted to institute our own tradition—a sort of outsider Thanksgiving for those who were not going home or had no home to go to. When we were in grad school, such souls seemed to be all around us. But, after many years of guests and friends, this Thanksgiving, it looked like was going to be another quiet evening. And, then today we became someone else’s lost souls at their dinner.
I had a vague plan to make our traditional Thanksgiving cake, but without my cousin here I didn’t really have it in me. Belle was asleep (we don’t watch TV when she is around) and I was appreciating the peace in getting sucked into the Top Chef episode that I missed from last night. The blond contestant (it is far too early in the season to invest the energy to learn their names) mentioned that she used vadouvan in her soup.
Vadouvan is the new ras el hanout, I am guessing. It was in a recent Gourmet magazine, and I have seen it popping up on French language cooking websites. And, while my husband thinks I have too many Indian cookbooks (particularly as I have a family full of Indians to call for recipes), I couldn’t find any real leads in those books. Proof I need more, no?
The story I have constructed from the Internet, which is always flawlessly truthful and carefully fact-checked, is this. Vadouvan is French seasoning born of a Tamil seasoning called vadagam. Rather than the masala powders that I know better, such as garam masala, this mix is not solely born of ground roasted spices. Originally, in Tamil, this seasoning is equal parts roasted, caramelized alliums (garlic, onion, shallots) and spices roasted all mixed up and then dried in the sun.
And, where did the French come into this story? Well, colonialism, my friend. The French focused their colonial interests in India on trade instead of broad people-managing concerns of the British. As with all the colonial regions of India, food flavors intermingled. The Frenchmen who came to Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu in the South found a very different cuisine from the fish-rich cuisine of Goa that the Portuguese or the rich meat curries of British North India. Tamil food from what little I have experienced is a wonderful balance of tangy and pungent spice.
So, in the slowest Thanksgiving I have had in over a decade, I decided to make my own vadouvan. Of course, vadouvan is like everything else hybrid in that if the recipe conformed exactly to the Indian recipes it would not be the authentic French vadouvan. And, as vadouvan is really a creole of French fanciness and Tamil tastiness, well, it is proof that authentic is often difficult to define. It is sort of like authentic Indian Chinese food—it is not Indian, it is not Chinese but some delicious hybrid.
I picked and chose from various recipes. The Gourmet recipe did not include black gram dal, but as we somehow have three bags of it at home (my father brought it to me when he realized Belle loves dosas), I decided to offload some here. The Gourmet recipe included nutmeg and cloves which were missing from the couple recipes I found on Tamil food blogs (Cook Food, Serve Love and Illatharasi). I split the difference including the cloves and not the nutmeg.
While I use these spices everyday, this blend smelled surprisingly different. The resulting blend was surprisingly sweet from all the caramelized onions while at the same time with the richness of mustard seeds and fenugreek. The smell is really intoxicating but in some ways light. And, it is way cheaper than spending $64 for 1 lb.
And then back to Thanksgiving, I made potatoes and Brussels sprouts roasted at a high temperature. Once cooked, I tossed the vegetables in a vinaigrette of apple cider vinegar, grapeseed oil, sautéed onions, and a couple T of vadouvan.
This somewhat long-winded post is my entry to Weekend Herb Blogging hosted this week by by Scott at The Real Epicurean began by Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen run by Haalo of Cook Almost Anything At Least Once.
Vadouvan my way
Slice into thin long slivers:
3 small onions
3 small leeks
12 small shallots
15 garlic cloves (peeled but whole)
Toss with olive oil and roast at 250 until caramelized and lovely
In a skillet, toast:
2 T split black lentils (urid/urad)
2 T cumin
1 T coriander
4 t mustard seeds
2 t fenugreek
10 curry leaves
1 t ground cardamom
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 red chilli peppers
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Whirl roasted spices until a thick powder. Combine with the alliums ground spices and form into balls. Refigerate or use immediately.