Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Nice Rice with Spice


This month, the Daring Cooks challenge took us to India - land of the Biryani. We enjoy Indian food and were able to make two distinctly different (but both delicious) biryani dishes.

Our first dish was Chicken Biryani. We previously reviewed an Indian cookbook for the Daring Kitchen (My Indian Kitchen, by Hari Nayak) –so we thought it would be nice to use a recipe from there. We made Saffron Chicken biryani, and to cut a long story short it was very tasty. We won’t reproduce the recipe here, but it’s on page 128 if you have the book Smile. However, one point worth making is that the key to getting fluffy, separate grains of rice in your biryani is to soak that rice in several changes of water, for up to an hour or two before preparing it. Here is an outline to give some idea of the flavor profile:

- Make a marinade for the chicken using garlic, ginger, mint. cilantro, green chili, lime juice, yogurt and garam masala. Marinate chicken for a few hours

- Partly cook the (pre-soaked) rice with whole spices (cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf and cloves)
- Fry onions in oil and remove; use the same oil to fry cumin and nutmeg powder
- Add the chicken with its marinade, and cook until browned.


- Add cilantro and mint, then cover with rice, drizzle with saffron milk and bake in a medium hot oven


Serve with the fried onions and cucumber raita:



Our second biryani for the month was inspired by the fresh corn that is currently available at our local farmers’ market (though we have also recently been inspired by moldy corn!) In this case, we reverted to our usual Monkeyshines procedure – look up a bunch of recipes, then make up our own way of doing it…

Corn Biryani


1 cup rice
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
1 bayleaf, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 cloves and 3 cardamom pods
1 green chili ( as hot as you like!)
1 tsp ginger/garlic paste (equal amounts of minced garlic and ginger)
1/2 onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp coriander seed
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
3 ears of fresh corn kernels, sliced from corn cobs
salt and pepper

  1. Soak the rice for at least 1 hr, in several changes of water
  2. Drain the rice and cook in coconut milk + water + 1/2 tsp salt for 10 minutes
  3. Fry bayleaf, cinnamon and cardamom pods in the oil until fragrant
  4. Add ginger paste and fry for another ~30 seconds
  5. Add onion and cook for 3-4 minutes until on ion starts to brown
  6. Add tomatoes and green chili
  7. Grind the cumin and coriander seed, and add to the pan together with the turmeric
  8. Add the corn and cook everything together with salt and pepper to taste
  9. Mix the rice with the corn mixture and cook, covered, for 6-8 minutes.
  10. Serve garnished with coriander leaves


Grace, one of our talented non-blogging Daring Kitchen members, was our Daring Cooks’ August hostess who shared with us some of her family’s tried and true Bengali Biryani recipes – all of them delicious and all of them prepared fresh from our own kitchens!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Getting Smutty in the Kitchen


Before our more sensitive readers get alarmed, fear not – Monkeyshines in the Kitchen has not turned into one of the more prurient corners of the World Wide Web. The smut that we are talking about is Ustilago maydis, otherwise known as corn smut – and celebrated in Mexico as huitlacoche.

U. maydis is considered an unwelcome pathogen amongst corn farmers in the US, since it infects ears of corn and replaces the sweet golden kernels with the greyish blue ‘tumors’ shown in the picture above. In Mexico, however, huitlacoche is prized and used in a variety of dishes. Last weekend, one of the vendors at our local farmers’ market was selling huitlacoche corn, so we figured we’d give it a try.

When you peel away the corn husk, this is what you find:

corn shucked_web

Cross section through the ‘tumors’:

Not the most appetizing sight! However, we chopped up the huitlacoche, stripped the remaining corn kernels from the cobs and set about turning it into something tasty.

Sopes de Huitlacoche

Ingredients (serves 2)

Corn hash
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 green Anaheim chiles, chopped
Huitlacoche from 2 corn ears, plus remaining corn
1 tbsp oil

Salsa verde
3 large tomatillos
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp chopped cilantro

Salsa roja
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1 mild red chile, chopped
1-2 scallions (to taste)

Masa dough mix

Queso fresco (or any other suitable cheese)
Avocado (optional)

Salt and pepper

ingredients copy
Top: onions and chiles, corn and huitlacoche
Bottom: ingredients for salsa roja and prepared salsa verde


  1. Saute the onion and chiles in the oil over medium heat in a large skillet until soft
  2. Add the chopped huitlacoche and corn, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the huitlacoche turns black. Add a little water if the mixture gets too dry and starts to stick to the pan
    corn hash
  3. Meanwhile, make the salsa verde. Boil the tomatillos for about 5 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. Toast the cumin in a small skillet until it gets fragrant, then grind in a mortar and pestle. Halve the tomatillos, then puree them in a blender with the cumin, cilantro and salt to taste.
  4. To make the salsa roja: mix all ingredients and add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. For the sopes, Prepare the masa dough according to the instructions on the bag, and shape into thick discs about 3 inches (7-8cm) wide. Cook on a hot griddle, flipping as necessary until brown spots appear on each side. Our sopes were more like thick tortillas, although sometimes they are made with pinched sides, so as to form a sort of raised rim. Either way works!
  6. Top the sopes with the corn hash, salsas and garnish with cheese and, if using, avocado. Serve immediately.

The sopes with corn topping:


…and the final plate:


So what did they taste like? We thought they were very good – the huitlacoche flavor was not assertive but it definitely added a richness and umami quality that we really liked. We will definitely be having further culinary adventures with smut!