Cool as grated cucumber and mellow as a mango lassi, Sanjeev Kapoor is poised to conquer those few corners of the culinary world where he and his food are not yet well known. The 46-year-old Indian chef reaches an estimated 500 million people with his empire of cookbooks, convenience foods and appliances, decades of cooking shows and the new launch of his 24-hour TV food channel.
He was in Washington last week to promote his first cookbook aimed at an American audience: “How to Cook Indian: More Than 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Kitchen” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2011). He and his friend and former boss, chef K.N. Vinod of Indique Heights, found space in the Chevy Chase restaurant kitchen for Kapoor to cook this cashew curry for The Post.
Kapoor is out to prove that “easy” and “Indian” belong in the same recipe headnote. If you'd rather use store-bought ginger- and/or garlic paste, for example, he's all for it. As it happens, this particular recipe is substantially different from its original incarnation, which calls for tender green cashews and tender green coconut. Those ingredients are not readily available in the States. “I couldn’t do this book and not include this dish, though,” he says. So Washington food writer and cookbook author Monica Bhide, who helped him produce the book, suggested using shrimp instead of coconut. To approximate the texture of Indian cashews that are soft and almost creamy, we soaked raw cashews in very warm water, then drained them.
The curry’s level of heat can be adjusted by using the low-end range of cayenne and green pepper, and also by adding an optional dollop of coconut cream (the stuff that forms at the top of a can of coconut milk) at the end. Tamarind pulp is available at Indian markets.
Serve with rice.
For more on chef Kapoor and some of his casual cooking tips, go to washingtonpost.com/allwecaneat.
- 20 raw cashews, plus more for optional garnish
- 20 large or extra-large raw shrimp
- 1 or 2 small fresh chili peppers, preferably red
- 15 cloves garlic (from 1 or 2 heads)
- 2-inch piece ginger root
- 8 whole black peppercorns
- 4 whole cloves
- 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
- Leaves from 8 to 10 stems cilantro
- 1 3/4 cups water, plus more as needed
- 1 medium red onion
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 or 2 teaspoons red chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 4 teaspoons tamarind pulp (may substitute tamarind concentrate)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 to 4 tablespoons coconut cream (from the top of a can of coconut milk; optional)
Place the cashews in a medium bowl and cover with very warm water. Let sit while you prep the other ingredients. Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tails on if desired. Rinse in a colander and drain.
Stem the chili peppers (to taste) and place in the bowl of a food processor. Peel the garlic (see NOTE) and the ginger, cutting the ginger into small chunks; place half of the peeled garlic cloves and all of the peeled ginger in the food processor or blender, along with the peppercorns, cloves, the cinnamon stick (break it up into smaller pieces), half of the cilantro leaves and 1/4 cup of the water. Puree to form a paste, making sure the spices are thoroughly ground. Scrape into a bowl. Cut the onion into chunks and place in the food processor; pulse until it is finely chopped but has not released moisture.
Heat the oil in a large nonstick saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Crush the remaining cloves of garlic (using the flat side of a chef’s knife). Finely chop the remaining cilantro.
Once the oil starts to shimmer, add the crushed garlic cloves and cook for 3 minutes, stirring as needed to keep them from burning. Add the finely chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring to coat.
Add the chili pepper-ginger paste and cook for 5 minutes, stirring to incorporate. Add the chili powder (to taste) and the turmeric; cook for 30 seconds, stirring, then add the tamarind pulp (being careful to discard any seeds in it), salt (to taste) and the remaining 1 1/2 cups of water. Mix to incorporate.
Once the mixture starts to bubble at the edges, add the shrimp. Drain the cashews and add them as well. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring a few times, until the shrimp is opaque and just cooked through.
If desired, stir in the coconut cream (to taste). Add water as needed to form a smooth sauce.
Divide among individual plates. Sprinkle with the remaining cilantro and more cashews, if desired. Serve hot.
NOTE: To peel a head of garlic more easily, peel away excess papery skin, then soak it in warm water for 5 minutes. Or separate the cloves and place them in a jar with a tight-fitting lid; shake vigorously to dislodge the papery skins.
Adapted from Sanjeev Kapoor’s "How to Cook Indian: More than 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Kitchen" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2011).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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