British Occupied, India Fed: 1930’s Dinner and a Binge Watch {Summer Style}

 

There’s something to be said about dramas that unfold slowly. Whether it be of the kitchen cooking kind or the visual arts kind,  storytelling that marinates in its surroundings for awhile always proves worth the wait.  In today’s post, we are kicking off the start of lazy summer weekends with a masterpiece of both food and television… the two season BBC drama Indian Summers and the two-days-to-prepare recipe, Tandoori Chicken. Both are steeped in the colorful, cultural land of India in the 1930’s and both do a big number on your senses.

Just like the beautiful bouquet that was Downton Abbey, Indian Summers is stunning in cinematography, costumes and casting.  Taking place over several 1930’s summers in the Himalayan Mountains of British occupied India, the story centers around a brother and sister trying to navigate the political and polite terrains of affluent society.

Alice and Ralph

Alice comes with baggage to the exotic land she left long ago, escaping an unhappy marriage and an uncertain future.  Her brother, Ralph sets up house in a gorgeous mountain-side estate while pursuing a career in the British government that is vying for ultimate control over India.  Romance, mystery, intrigue, murder and scandal surround both characters as their stories intertwine with local residents and visitors.

The premise sounds simple enough, but the story gets more complicated with each new episode. A murder occurs right at the very beginning but it takes more than half a season to even begin to understand how the characters are connected to the crime and why it is significant to the broader story. It is such a subtle, sophisticated form of writing that by episode four I thought I missed something completely and had to go back to episode three to find an explanation. But as it turns I didn’t miss anything. Explanations unfold gradually as all the characters try to figure out for themselves the details and the reasonings behind the mysterious death. This leaves plenty of time for your own theories about what happened and why which makes the whole show really engaging. Plus there are plot turns and twists that you’d never see coming.

Here’s the trailer from Season 1…

Unfortunately, Indian Summers only had a 2 season run before being canceled so there are just 20 episodes in total. But this actually turns out to be the perfect amount of viewing time if you find yourself in need of a break over a long weekend. No seven season stretches that require months (or more!) here. Indian Summers is one tidy, compact easily digested show that will hook you from the opening scene and have you sailing your way straight through to the end.

To complement this marathon of mini-series viewing is the perfect, low-maintenance Indian dinner that takes two days to make and results in a  feast enough for six. Which means that you can binge-watch with friends AND feed them a fun dinner. Two days of cooking anything may not sound like it is low-maintenance to you at all, but even easier than a crock-pot recipe, all this chicken dish requires is ten minutes of preparation.

Tandoori Chicken, 1960’s style!

Introducing effortlessly easy Tandoori Chicken… the exotic entree that captured the appetites of mid-century eaters world-wide. Straight from Craig Claiborne’s 1963 Herb and Spice Cook Book, this recipe features simple ingredients, a slow marinade and a slow bake. As you fill your head with the dramatic experience of Indian Summers you’ll fill your space with an aromatic blanket of Indian spices. It’s a well-rounded sensory experience of a most magnificent kind!

The origins of this style of slow roasted chicken have their beginnings with Kundan Lal Gujral  who experimented with tandoori (a method of clay oven cooking) in a restaurant in Peshawar, British India during the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Kundan Lal Gujral

By 1947 he perfected his methods and started serving it in his own restaurant in Delhi where it turned into a favorite signature dish. By the 1960’s it was all the rage being offered everywhere from humble houses to luxury hotels, restaurants and even on-board airplanes.  Craig Claiborne loved it for its feature of the spice coriander, which symbolizes hidden worth.

There are many variations of Tandoori chicken featuring different spice combinations – some turning the chicken a bright fiery red, others turning it a deep orangey brown. This recipe lies somewhere in the middle. Dark upon exit from the oven and infused with a tangy warmth encouraged by the citrus and vinegar, it practically falls off the bone once it is out of the  oven.  Ideally you’d have your own tandoori to cook it in, but if not, then a regular roasting dish works just fine.

Tandoori Chicken, 1960’s style!

Tandoori Chicken

Serves 6

1 5-6lb. chicken

2 cups yogurt

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons coriander

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/3 cup cider vinegar

2 table spoons fresh lime or lemon juice

2 teaspoons salt

  1. Wash the chicken and place in a close fitting bowl. In a seperate bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, spices, vinegar, lime juice and salt. Mix well and pour over the chicken. Turn to coat well with the marinade. Place in the refrigerator and marinate at least 12 hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Just about to go in the oven.

3. Remove the chicken from the mixture and place it on a rack in a shallow baking dish or roaster. Save aside the marinade mixture for future basting.

4. Bake until tender, about 3 and a half hours. During the first hour and a half baste the chicken once with the yogurt marinade (at about the 45 minute mark). At the hour and a half mark  baste again with olive oil. And then repeat the olive oil paste two more times within the remaining baking period (about every 45 minutes).  You might need to tent the chicken for the last 45 minutes with aluminum foil to keep from over browning.

Tandoori Chicken, 1960’s style!

You’ll see in the photo above that the chicken does turn out quite dark – it was not burnt, as it sort of looks here – just very brown (similiar to the color of espresso) from the spices.

Once you remove the chicken from the oven let it rest for 20-30 minutes before carving. Serve it platter-style alongside warm naan bread and a simple salad of mixed greens and you have authentic Indian cuisine to pair with your Indian entertainment.

The house where Alice and Ralph live.

I hope the flavors and the film production transport you back to another era. If you have your own way of making Tandoori Chicken please share your recipe below. It would be fun to experiment with different herb and spice combinations!

In the Vintage Kitchen: Eggplant Pizza

Eggplant Pizza

Pizza has been a favorite in the U.S. since the early 1900’s with the first of its kind debuting in New York City in 1905. Popular right from the start, pizza wars started popping up all over the city, then the region then the country as Italian immigrants spread across America with their claims of making the best pizza in town.

G. Lombardi's the trendsetter on the american (pizza) frontier.

G. Lombardi’s on Spring Street in New York City was the trendsetter on the American (pizza) frontier.

And while bravado and traditional recipes may have fueled the pizza craze initially, creativity, with its variations on a theme, has kept it going ever since.

Strolling through 19th century pizza signs

A walk through 20th century pizza signs…

By the 1960’s American home chefs were experimenting with the complimentary trifecta of tomato sauce, bread and cheese in new and spectacular ways.  By thinking beyond the boundaries of size, shape and similarity, pizza was elevated to a nouveau cuisine that could incorporate a host of  ingredients from the humble to the exotic appealing to palates both simple and sophisticated.

One such experimenter determined to add a new twist to the traditional pizza pie was food editor, critic and chef Craig Claiborne.

craigclaiborne2

In his 1963 Herb and Spice Cookbook, he capitalized on the subtle yet dynamic flavor pairings of basil, oregano and garlic and came up with a dough-less version of eggplant pizza.

An Herb And Spice Cookbook by Craig Claiborne

Craig was no slouch in the cooking department. He knew his way around a home kitchen just as much as he did a commercial kitchen and he knew what and how people liked to eat. As the The New York Times food and restaurant critic for 29 years from 1957-1986, he pretty much pioneered food journalism in the Unites States at a time in the mid-1950’s when such editorial posts were primarily held by women for the female homemaker audience. But Craig was different, he was interested in casting wider nets, reaching more diverse audiences and bridging a relationship between restaurants, patrons and cultures.

craigclaiborne1

The author of over twenty cookbooks throughout his career, Craig’s Herb and Spice Cook Book is marvelous in both content and presentation. Organized alphabetically by spice or herb name it is a great reference cookbook when you have ten pounds of basil ready to harvest in your garden or you are craving a specific spice like curry or cinnamon… or marjoram!

marjoram

The eggplant pizza recipe fell under the oregano section which included recipes for Eggplant Antipasto, Chicken Napolitana, Herb-Broiled Swordfish and Creole Cabbage among four others. Excited by the possibility of giving her indoor oregano plant a hair-cut, Ms. Jeannie was happy to try this new version of pizza which turned out to be really delicious.

pizza1

It is a fun recipe for a few different reasons: 1} you make a quick version of homemade tomato sauce that takes little time and tastes great; 2} the “pizzas” can range in a variety of customizable sizes depending on the girth of your eggplant… if you have a skinnier eggplant you could serve those as appetizers or hors d’ouevres  for a party (maybe this weekend’s Super Bowl?!) or if you have a more rubenesque eggplant that would be a perfect size for dinner entrees; and 3} the breadcrumbs add a fabulous bit of crunch to the whole package just like a traditional pizza dough would.

So without further ado, here’s the recipe…Ms. Jeannie hopes you love this magical version of pizza just as much as the tradtional.

Eggplant Pizza (serves 6)

2 tablespoons cooking oil (Ms. Jeannie used olive oil)

1 small clove of garlic, minced

3/4 cup finely chopped onion

3/4 cup finely chopped green pepper

4 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon oregano

3/4 teaspoon basil leaves

3/4 teaspoon sugar

2 3/4 teaspoons salt* (Ms. Jeannie thinks this might be a typo as it seems like a lot of salt for this size recipe so please use caution and your own sensibilities with this ingredient. And remember you an always add more salt but never take it away.  Ms.Jeannie used about 1 teaspoon total but you might adjust that according to your taste).

1 medium eggplant

1 egg

1 tablespoon milk

1/2 cup bread crumbs (Ms. Jeannie used plain panko-style bread crumbs)

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesean cheese

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

flour for dredging

Oil for frying (Ms. Jeannie used olive oil)

Toppings of your choice: whatever  you normally like on a pizza ie: mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, olives, etc.

Directions:

1. Heat the oil in a one quart saucepan. Add the garlic, onion and green pepper. Cook, stirring, three minutes or until the onions and green pepper are limp.

pizza3

2. Add the tomato paste and water. Cover and cook, stirring frequently, over low heat until very thick, about ten minutes Add the oregano, basil, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt* before the end of cooking time. *Salt to taste here. If you think the sauce needs more add a little bit, just keep in mind you’ll be adding salty parmesean cheese and possibly salty toppings later).

3. Remove sauce from heat and set aside while preparing the eggplant.

4. Wash, peel and cut eggplant into cross-wise slices one half inch thick.

5. Beat the egg with the milk and set aside. Mix bread crumbs with the remaining cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper.

6. Dip the eggplant slices in the flour, then in the beaten egg, then in the seasoned bread crumbs.

7. Saute the eggplant in the hot oil until golden, turning to brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Repeat until all eggplants are cooked.

pizza4

8. Place the cooked eggplant slices on a cookie sheet and spread them with the cooked tomato sauce. Top with mozzarella cheese and your desired toppings . Place under a broiler until the cheese has melted and is lightly browned. Serve immediately.

pizza6

Ms. Jeannie kept her pizzas simple and just topped them with mozzarella, capers, basil and garlic but other ideas include prosciutto, pineapple, mushrooms, pepperoni, olives, figs, etc. So many possibilities!

Happy experimenting dear readers! With love from Ms. Jeannie and Craig Claiborne

You can find Craig Claiborne’s Herb and Spice Cook Book here and a host of other vintage recipes Ms. Jeannie has blogged about previously here.

Want to know what it is like to run a real-life modern day pizza kitchen? Check out the recently published book Delancey by Molly Wizenberg – it is completely entertaining. And if you are not craving pizza by the end of all this, you are extraordinary:)

mollywizenberg