It’s all about nuts, isn’t it? After all, it’s election season, and have you watched cable “news” or listened to talk radio lately?
But, those kinds of nuts aside ...
I’ve got a cashew jones — had it since I wolfed down that first jumbo when I was five or six years old. My throat closed, my lungs malfunctioned and my eyes swelled shut, all within five minutes.
I didn’t care. I had discovered a special niche in food Nirvana; my own, somewhat less than comfy spot in that dreamy realm. One that I have inhabited ever since, consequences be damned.
Now, I just accept that I’m allergic to the nuts and am very happy with the situation. Why? Since I will not stop eating cashew nuts, my body has adjusted to that fact; my system produces brain chemicals to counteract my allergic reaction. I’ve become addicted to the brain chemistry (I call this the “Macaroni and Cheese Syndrome”) and, as a result, I eat more cashews just to stimulate the reaction.
Works for me. It’s my favorite kind of vicious cycle. Well, one of my favorites, anyway.
The addiction, and syndrome, does not apply to other kinds of nuts.
I could care less for peanuts or walnuts or those grotesque Brazil nuts the commercial firms load their nut mixes with in order to take up space and cheat the consumer. Have you ever noticed what happens to the holiday nut medley? The good stuff gets munched right off the bat (provided there are no peanuts in the mix — those common little boogers taint everything in the neighborhood, making all else unfit to eat). A month later, you’ve got a bunch of stale Brazil nuts in the bottom of the can. They go to the trash, don’t they? Admit it.
I kind of like pistachios. But cracking those shells is a labor-intensive bit of effort for a pretty small payoff.
I am a bit more fond of pecans than pistachios.
But … when it gets down to nut-crunching time … bring on the cashews.
Stick me on the couch in front of the TV with a can of cheap, roasted and salted cashews (or cashew pieces, for that matter) and you better not bother me till the container is empty. Try to filch one of these precious morsels and you’ll lose an arm. It’s like trying to pet a grizzly through the bars of his cage.
So, with this powerful attraction of mine in mind you can’t imagine how thrilled I was when I read:
“Massukan 20g buah gajus yang telah dikisar bersama 200ml air, Kemudian kecilkan api dan biarkan masak selama 5 minit.”
I know, I know — I couldn’t believe it either! A whole 20 grams! I was beside myself with excitement.
There I was, casually scanning the recipe instructions on the back of a pack of Baba’s Serbuk Kari Daging my friend Ming brought me upon her return from a visit to Malaysia, and I unearthed a cashew bonanza.
A meat curry recipe with ground cashew nut as a major ingredient.
I had to make it!
I hustled to the kitchen and got right to work.
I fried some kayu manis, bunga lawang, bunga cenghkih, buah pelaga, jintan manis and jintan putih — about 10 grams worth. If you want, you can fudge on the amount, preferably adding a few grams more. (No metric measures, you say? No metric scale? What a shame.)
Then I added 50 grams of bavang besar yang dihiris nipis, about 3 grams duan kari and one tomato, quartered.
Into the wok went about 500 grams of daging ayam (I opted for the skinless/boneless version, and I cut it into fairly hefty chunks) 50 grams bawang putih (no, wait, I amped the bawang putih up to 75 grams) and 50g of halia yang telah disikar bersama dan gaulkan selama. I blended and stirred, then popped in about 900ml air dan and 16 grams garam. I cooked the mix, covered, for 10 minutes, as instructed. When folks from Malaysia give you instructions, a word to the wise — follow them!)
Then, in went 250g of ubi kentang (medium dice) and about 75g of the Serbuk Kari Daging.
Another 15 minutes was spent on the heat, covered, until the ubi kentang was tender.
Here’s where the Big Bang occurred.
In went the 20g of buah gajus yang telah dikisar bersama. Maybe 25g, who knows? I was in such a rapturous state, anything could have happened.
I hit the mix with another 200ml of air and cooked for another five to ten minutes.
Oh, the aroma; oh, the anticipation.
Add basmati rice (with a handful of roasted cashews tossed in for good measure) and some broccoli florets, stir-fried with garlic and splashed with a teensy bit of lemon juice and sesame oil and ...what a meal.
And made so by the addition of buah gajus yang telah dikisar bersama. No question about it: It was a brilliant ingredient. The stuff acted as a thickening agent and provided a flavor base for the entire structure. It was the tactile and taste foundation of one mighty fine curry.
Ground cashew nut.
Twenty grams. Or so.
This was not the first time curry and cashew have combined to provide a taste treat.
I’ve eaten curried cashew nuts for a snack, accompanying a beverage. Or three. Excellent stuff. All you have to do is take some jumbo roasted nuts and cook them over medium heat for a bit in a mix of butter, curry powder, salt. Mmm. Nibble a few while sucking down some gin. Imagine you’re British, taking the summer on your houseboat in Kashmir. Imagine someone shooting at you as you nibble the cashews. Imagine having to flee the country, leaving your shattered Spode behind.
Cashew nuts go with all sorts of cooked dishes — most notably the cliché Chinese chicken dishes.
But, hey, grind up some raw cashews, mix them with panko bread crumbs, some salt, pepper and herbs. Use the mix to bread fish or light flesh. I did it with a couple grouper fillets and accompanied them with a cilantro, lemon mayonnaise — a bit of mayonnaise, some chopped cilantro, finely diced shallot, a touch of Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, a splash of heavy cream.
How about a cashew butter, to add to all manner of things? Pulverize cashews in the processor with a bit of canola oil, a hit of salt and a hit of sugar. You got butter. I’m thinking about some dressings, aren’t you? Citrus, sweet, with some coarse chopped cashews added?
Toss the nuts into any saute of fish or chicken. Throw a few on a salad.
This is where I stray from the cashew course. Salads.
I made a roasted beet and goat cheese salad with a balsamic vinaigrette. And I sproodled some pecans about the plate. Excellent.
I took one large beet per diner, wrapped it in foil and roasted it at 375 for 90 minutes or so. I let the beets cool, unwrapped them and rubbed the skins off with a paper towel.
I sliced each beet into four or five fairly thick rounds. The rounds went in decorative array atop a bed of greens. On top of the beets went a thick round of herbed goat cheese. On top of the cheese went the frazzle of pecans and the whole mess was dressed with the vinaigrette.
A pretty basic beet salad, but nutty fine.
But, it wouldn’t harmonize with the curry. No salad there, please, unless it is a raita-like mix.
I suppose you could try to imitate the transcendental Malay mix with some regular, and very fresh Madras curry powder.
Heat some canola oil in a wok or large frying pan and gently fry a mess (note the departure from the metric) of freshly ground spices: Cinnamon, fennel, cardomom, star anise and clove.
In goes a white onion, cut into rings, some curry leaves (if you got ‘em) and the tomato.
Next up, chicken, a mix of chopped garlic and ginger, a bit of salt and some water.
When that’s cooked a while, some cubes of potato are added along with curry powder and the cooking continues until the potato is al dente. Then, in goes the ground cashew nuts and more water, or a water/coconut milk combo. Oh heck, why not pure coconut milk? Who needs arteries?
Cook to desired consistency, i.e. clotty good.
And remember: it’s all about the nuts.