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Aroma Cuisine of India, Castro Valley CA

Zach surprised himself last night at SOMA when he fell in love with the Indian fare.  Emboldened by the experience, we sought an Indian restaurant for dinner tonight so that he could further explore the cuisine.  Online searching brought us to Aroma Cuisine of India, an establishment that is as small as its food is flavorful.  With only 32 seats inside but an expansive variety of dishes, this restaurant hosts an intimate environment with many tastes of the great subcontinent.

chicken samosas with chaat

chicken samosas with chaat

To ease into the meal and test our palates, we began with two chicken samosas, garnished with chaat (a smattering of street food-style toppings).  Deep fried patties shaped into irregular triangles held shredded white meat chicken.  The fried dough was light and had a flaky crust, and despite being deep fried, these were not oily.  A mild curry spooned over the top had a deep cumin flavor, and a tangy yogurt sauce helped to balance it.  Tender garbanzo beans, crisp red onion, and refreshing cucumber added an interesting sweetness – as sweet as vegetables can naturally be.

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Few Indian dishes can be eaten without naan, a traditional flat bread that is ideal for sopping up tasty curries and sauces.  We tried four of the vegetarian naan, including garlic, pesto, olive, and muglai.  The bright yellow of the garlic naan was attributed to the other spices blended with the garlic – what is Indian food without spices?  Pesto here also had a few spices, so don’t expect Italian pesto, although Indian pesto is some tough competition for the Italian one.  Minced olive was hidden inside the naan, not spread over the top; this way we could taste the naan itself and appreciate the fluffy texture, with moments of salty, bright olive here and there.  Muglai was essentially another Indian pesto naan, but with the additions of spinach, cheese, and more garlic.  We had to contain ourselves and hold back from nibbling these up, lest we run out before sopping up the juices of our entrees!

l to r: goat curry, chicken coconut curry, chicken tikka masala

l to r: goat curry, chicken coconut curry, chicken tikka masala

An Indian feast is not just for smelling and eating, but for gazing.  The colors of the sauces in these meat dishes were so vivid and enticing.  Zach had never tried goat before, so of course we had to order it to see if it was something he’d like.  Beyond tender, the meat was easily forked off the bones.  Of the three dishes this was the spiciest, although we would still consider it medium – nothing to make you shriek from the heat, as this traditional curry is onion-based.  The chicken coconut curry was the favorite at our table, surprising even August who usually avoids coconut.  In this trio the chicken coconut curry was sweet thanks to the coconut, but the sweetness was not overpowering and was very well balanced by savory mild spices.  Our server recommended chicken tikka masala, and we’re glad she did.  If the goat was spicy and the coconut curry was sweet, then this was the tangy dish among the selection, as tomatoes are the base of classic masala.  The white meat chicken in both the coconut curry and the tikka masala was very tender, just like the chicken in the samosas.

If you ever lived in close proximity to an Indian family, you’re already familiar with the hypnotizing scents of the cuisine; but if you haven’t actually tried the food yet, Aroma Cuisine of India is an excellent place to try this rich food for your first time.  Even the basmati rice was nicely spiced with flavors of India, proving that no detail is overlooked here.

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Broccoli and Beef with Steamed Rice

Egg rolls make a great appetizer or side dish, but they weren’t enough for Zach tonight.  Inspired to cook in an Asian style and wanting to use his brand new wok, he tried his hand at broccoli and beef, which turned out to be tasty and easy.

Makes 3 servings

12 oz. of beef tenderloin

4 cups of broccoli florets

2 large carrots

1/2 of one white onion

1/4 cup of water

4 tbs. of soy sauce

2 tbs. of oyster sauce

2 tbs. of vegetable oil

1 tbs. and 2 tsp. of corn starch

1 tbs. of brown sugar

1 tbs. of rice vinegar

1 tsp. of sesame oil

1 tsp. of sliced ginger

prepped

prepped

To prep the ingredients, first make a marinade with 1 tbs. of soy sauce, 1 tbs. of corn starch, the rice vinegar, and the sesame oil.  Slice the beef in 1/4″-thick slices, and marinade for 20 minutes.  Fill a medium-size sauce pot with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Blanche the broccoli florets for 2 minutes, then shock in ice water.  Julienne the carrots and chop the onion.

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok over high heat.  Saute the ginger first for 1 minute to activate the flavor.  Add the onion and saute for an additional minute.

Next, add the sliced beef and saute for 3 minutes.

The carrots are added next, to be sauteed for 2 minutes.

Add the broccoli last, and saute for 1 minute.

Mix together the water, remaining soy sauce, remaining corn starch, oyster sauce, and brown sugar.  Pour this into the wok, and cook for about 2-3 minutes until the sauce has thickened.  Remove the beef and vegetables from the wok with a slotted spoon, and serve with steamed rice in Arakawa Pottery.

• For the rice:

2 cups of washed jasmine rice

2 cups of water

Wash the rice with cold water until the water runs clear.  This is the key step that many people are unaware of; it removes the excess starch, and the result is fluffier rice that is not so sticky.  Combine the rice and water in a rice cooker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Pork Chile Verde with Spanish Rice and Homemade Tortillas

After a few days of super spicy food, we’re taking a break from the heat but not from the flavor.  Mexican food is stereotypically thought of as spicy, and while not all Mexican food is spicy, it is all well-spiced.  The chile verde sauce here is warm, but not at all hot.  If you have a Hispanic market nearby, take advantage of it to pick up some authentic garnishes like queso Oaxaca and Mexican sour cream.

que rico

que rico

Makes 10

• For the pork:

5 lbs. boneless pork shoulder

4 cups of chicken broth

1 1/2 lbs. of tomatillos

2 white onions

5 Anaheim peppers

1 bunch of cilantro

2 jalapeño peppers

1/2 cup of corn masa

1/4 cup of unsalted butter, plus 3 tbs.

6 garlic cloves

1 tbs. of coriander seeds

1 tbs. of ground cumin

2 tsp. of Mexican oregano

Salt and pepper to taste (but likely you’ll use at least 3 tbs. of salt in the chile verde sauce)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Peel the papery skin from the tomatillos and wash them, then put the tomatillos and all the peppers on a sheet pan.  Roast for 20 minutes.  Let cool for about 2 minutes, then put the peppers in a large zippered storage bag.  This will sweat the peppers, which helps loosen the skin.  Leave in the bag for 4-5 minutes.  Remove from the bag, cut the peppers in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and peel away the skin; discard the seeds and skin.

Add the roasted tomatillos, peppers, and cilantro leafs without the stems, to a food processor.  Blend until smooth.

cubing pork shoulder

cubing pork shoulder

Cut the pork shoulder into 1 1/2″ to 2″ cubes.  If cut too small, the pork will disintegrate as it cooks.  Season the meat with salt and pepper.

searing the meat

searing the meat

Melt 1/4 cup of butter over medium-high heat in a dutch oven.  Add the pork pieces but only a few at a time so as not to overcrowd them.

half-way seared

half-way seared

Sear the meat on two sides.  While the meat is searing, dice the onions and finely mince the garlic.

Remove the meat from the dutch oven and transfer to a bowl; set aside temporarily.  Add the onion and garlic to the dutch oven, and reduce heat to medium-low.  The onions will look deep brown almost instantly because they will deglaze the pan – don’t worry, they’re not overcooked.  Cook for 5 minutes until slightly tender.

almost all together

almost all together

Add the meat and any juices accumulated at the bottom of its bowl, the chicken broth, and the tomatillo-pepper-cilantro blend to the onions and garlic in the dutch oven.  Bring the heat up to medium, and bring the mixture to a simmer.

While working on reaching a simmer, grind the coriander, cumin, and oregano together with a mortar and pestle until finely ground.  Add the spices to the dutch oven and let simmer on the lowest heat possible, uncovered, for 3 1/2 hours.

after having simmered a while

after having simmered a while

Make a roux with 3 tbs. of butter and the corn masa.  Blend well with a fork in a bowl.  Test for saltiness and add salt to taste before adding the roux to the dutch oven.  Stir in the roux when there are 10 minutes left of simmering to go.

• For the rice:

2 cups of chicken broth

2 cups of long grain jasmine rice

1 1/2 cups of freshly blanched, peeled, and chopped tomatoes (about 4-5 plum tomatoes)

1 cup of fresh corn off the cob

1 white onion

1/4 cup of salted butter

5 garlic cloves

2 tbs. of tomato paste

1 tbs. of kosher salt

1 tsp. of Mexican oregano

Wash the rice by putting the rice in a glass bowl, place in the sink, and let cool water run into and out of the bowl.  Use your fingers to agitate the rice.  The water will be milky in the beginning but will eventually run clear.  Drain the rice with a strainer to remove all water.

blanching

blanching

In a medium pot, boil water to blanch the tomatoes.  Once the water is boiling, drop in the tomatoes and let sit for 2 minutes.  The skin will start to peel itself off.  After 2 minutes, remove the pot from the stovetop and put in the sink to run cold water into and out of the pot.  When the tomatoes are touchable, remove the skin.  Slice the tomatoes in long quarters in order to remove the core and the seeds.  Dice the flesh in 1/2″ pieces and set aside.

toasting

toasting

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes until slightly softened.  Add the rice and toast for 6-7 minutes until the rice is slightly golden brown.

cook it down

cook it down

While the rice is toasting, mix the chicken broth and tomato paste together in a large measuring cup.  Pour this into the rice once it is toasted.  Add the corn, diced tomatoes, salt, and oregano.  Bring to a simmer and then reduce to low heat.  Cook for about 20 minutes, depending on the brand of rice.

• For the tortillas (makes 20-24 depending on how big you roll the balls):

4 cups of corn masa

2 2/3 cups of water

1 tbs. of kosher salt

Butter for greasing the pan

good size

good size

Mix the masa, water, and salt by hand until fully combined, nicely moist, and soft.  Form the dough into balls.

between the sheets

between the sheets

If you don’t have a tortilla press, wrap the backside of two baking sheets with plastic wrap and squish the masa balls between these.

harder, harder!

harder, harder!

The harder you squish, the thinner they get.

rough edges

rough edges

You are not a factory.  Likely the edges will be a little rough, and that’s okay.

plastic wrap keeps things from sticking

plastic wrap keeps things from sticking

Heat the butter in a large frying pan or skillet over medium heat, using just a little bit of butter at a time to grease the pan for each round of tortillas.  Cook the tortillas for about 3-4 minutes on each side.  Don’t overcrowd the pan, but since you’ll be going through a lot, keep the waiting tortillas on plastic wrap so that they don’t stick to any surfaces and prematurely tear.

Serve with garnishes of queso Oaxaca, avocado, lime, and Mexican sour cream.