Adventures in Herbalism by Linda
Like many American families during the 1950s through the 1980s, our family ate from daily menus that were devoid of ethnic foods from around the world except for some Italian and Mexican recipes. We girls grew up in a fairly rural area of the Central Coast of California, and even the dishes that we made from these sophisticated world cuisines (that we assumed at the time were authentic) were, we were to find out later, mostly bastardized versions of the originals, pandering to the uneducated and rather bland palates of Americans, who are to this day, largely fans of fatty, sweet and salty. The good news is, as we who are interested in food all know, that times have changed for the better. Hallelujah!
I still remember the joy and wonder I felt on the day in 1977 when I opened the pages of my first copy Bon Appetit Magazine with a chocolate dipped strawberry on the cover. With the proliferation of information thanks to the internet, and the many recipes that have exploded onto the culinary scene, especially in the last 20 years, we sisters have had to opportunity to savor many cuisines from around the world, and also have a hand at trying to replicate many of those dishes in our own homes.
I began studying herbs and herbal medicine 18 years ago, when I started working in a tiny natural foods store on Oak Street in Solvang, California called Valley Whole Life Natural Foods. Within this small space I began an entirely new journey in life. I not only reaffirmed in a brand new way that what we eat not only matters in terms of our personal health, but that organic farming and sustainable practices are the only way to save our planet from the destruction and degradation that is ongoing at this very moment all over the world.
I learned that what we buy to eat, and who we buy it from can be a revolutionary act. It is an easy form of activism. We literally vote with our dollars every time we buy something. Our purchase of an item endorses nutritional content, growing methods, kinds of fat contained, additives, preservatives and artificial colorings, as well as the packaging that is used and how far the product traveled to get to the consumer.
During the two years that we spent time together off and on, we discovered that we loved to cook together. We spent many pleasant evenings listening to his favorite music from India and he tutored me in the art of making Paneer (cheese from cow's milk) for Palak Paneer, to cook a spicy cauliflower curry, and to grill up a tantalizing Tandoori chicken. He also taught me how to make my own chapati which are called roti where he was from. From him I learned the great trick of chewing on a cardamom pod after dinner to freshen the breath and help as a digestive.
In the end it turned out that he had been less than truthful about his marital status, and was in fact still in an arranged marriage that he previously had assured me was long over, and we parted ways, leaving me much the wiser about other aspects of Indian culture.
A couple of weeks ago, Michelle and I were craving Indian food, so we whipped up a feast of Chicken Tikka Masala, Palak Paneer (using paneer we made earlier in the day) and we made homemade roti. The house was filled with the heady aromas of garlic, onions and ginger cooking with garam malsala and other spices. We happily dined al fresco on a beautiful evening in Sonoma county under the ancient oak and very old Gravenstein apple tree that shade my deck. A carved statue of the elephant god Ganesha presided at the head of the table as we enjoyed the meal with a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc that was made from grapes grown just down the road.
Michelle and I made a comic toast to the Punjabi bad-boy who had taught me how to make such wonderful and nourishing food. We bowed our heads like the generations who have gone before us, and gave thanks for the abundance of food shared with family. And in my heart, I gave silent thanks for the partaking of herbs that share their earth magic and blessings to all who seek and eat. I also gave a thankful wink and a nod to cultural diversity.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Chicken Tikka Masala is a wonderful make ahead meal. Interestingly, it is the most ordered restaurant dish in Britain. Store in the refrigerator for up to three days and reheat gently before serving. It also freezes well, so we always double the recipe and freeze half. Grilling the chicken over a charcoal fire lends a pleasing smoky flavor to the finished dish. We like to serve the Chicken Tikka Masala with Palak Paneer and roti to soak up the delectable "gravy". The Masala would also be delicious served over basmati rice. This recipe is based upon Grace Parisi's, James Beard Award-Nominated author and Senior Test Kitchen Associate for Food & Wine magazine.
For the marinade:
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
1-1/2 tsps ground cumin
1-1/2 tsps ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, lingering fat removed and discarded
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup blanched whole almonds
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1-1/2 Tbsps garam masala
1-1/2 tsps pure chile powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 28-ounce can Muir Glen® Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes