We went on a bit of a South Indian adventure tonight in the kitchen with a friend. He suggested we make Peppertrail's Spicy Shallot Soup which has shallots, tamarind paste, curry leaves, mustard seeds, turmeric and chili peppers. I loved the idea of trying an Indian spin on something I knew: french onion soup.
Our soup was spicy, maybe too spicy for some. It had 16 thai chili peppers! The recipe says spice to taste, but my fiance, Mr. five-alarm-doesn't-get-my-tongue-out-of-bed-I'm-chasing-the-spice-dragon, was in charge of the peppers. I picked out the peppers from my bowl and actually didn't find the broth too spicy. My tastebuds were having more fun with the sour from the tamarind and the distinctive flavor of curry leaves.
Don't be fooled, curry leaves don't taste anything like curry powder. In fact, there's a misconception about curry that I learned about from Raghavan Iyer at the 2011 Minnesota Garlic Festival : curry is a western definition of an Indian word to describe sauce. It's hard for me to describe how they taste, except to say if you've had South Indian food and wondered what that unique punch of flavor was I would bet it was curry leaf. Some describe it as lemony; while, others "a slightly bitter backbone for other flavors." I guess it's hard to find fresh curry leaves in the US, so the fact our friend has a plant and brought them to share was a great treat.
You may be more familiar with tamarind's brownish red color and sweet and sour taste. Tamarind comes in many forms in the store, but starts its life as an acidic fruit in a large, long tan pod. Our friend had it in a pressed block which is prized for tasting more like fresh tamarind than the other option (i.e. paste.) We simply boiled the amount we needed and then used a strainer to turn the reconstituted pulp from the block into a paste. If you have tamarind concentrate you can use it to remove tarnish on brass and copper. :)
In the end, we didn't love the soup, but exploring new ingredients and enjoying flavors at home that we usually only experience in restaurants was fun. I'm guessing if we had more experience with the recipe and ingredients the flavors might have been more pronounced.
In addition to the main dish, we quick sauteed broccoli and brussel sprouts with turmeric, oil, black mustard seeds, garlic and salt which was a twist on our usual oven-roasted approach and really tasty.