This was how this post was originally supposed to go. The beauty of shrimp wrapped in banana leaf, the fresh shrimp glistening, the marination process. Note the show-offy intricate tying of the banana leaf with actual strips of banana fiber. Wow, ain't I smart. I had everyone in the kitchen gathered around watching me perform on the night of this dinner party. I was a regular Julia Child... only Indian style. I had two pounds of fresh shrimp, a packet of banana leaves and I was rockin'. Everything looked great, smelled great. Aren't those the famous last words though..."Well...it smelled okay... how was I to know......."
As I brought my steaming packets of shrimp to the dining room table, the guests clustered around the platter waiting me to cut the banana fiber ribbon. Shrimp cooked to perfection. Another culinary triumph. People were piling them on their thalis. For one fleeting moment I worried that perhaps I hadn't made enough. Then they tasted it.
What is the opposite of "Winning!" ?
That was me. I was Julia Child if the flipping omelet had flown out the window. Charlie Sheen stripped of his goddesses. I won't say that people were spitting them out onto their plates... but hell yeah they were. I had had a major fail and I don't say that lightly. It gets pretty drastic when your main course is inedible. Especially when it looks so beautiful and has the added value of being inedible.
Growing up, I experienced plenty of these moments. The exploding canned tamale that my mother forgot to take the lid off of before boiling. The blackened fish sticks waaaaay before the Big Easy turned America on to Cajun cooking. These weren't spiced, they were Gortons and just blackened. The flattened angle food cakes and the early "discovery" of volcano cake when my mother forgot to put her cupcakes into a preheated oven. So I had plenty of experience with "When Good Recipes Go Bad" and I made a vow when I started cooking..."Not on my watch!"
Of course everyone has their "little weaknesses." Mine continues to be cream puffs, but that's neither hear nor there. I pride myself on giving my guests a good meal when they come here to eat. And since I write about what I cook and how I cooked it, and I've also been cooking this cuisine for 21 years, so I figured I was sort of bullet proof. Boy was I wrong!
I'm still not sure what exactly was my fail point. I was using a recipe that contained some spices that I've never run across in Indian cooking. Actually, that was what intrigued me, and yes I know, there's one born every minute. Needless to say I will not stick my paw in that beehive again.
But what to do when one's guest are ptooey-ing your entree onto their plates. Admit it, I guess. I had to. There was no getting around it. The dish was wretched. It was Superbad. In most cases this would mean death to the dinner party and we'd all be going out looking for pizza somewhere. But this was an Indian meal and that was what made me glad that this is the cuisine I've chosen to make my cooking life's work.
In ordinary circumstances, when the fish burns, or the meat is overcooked, all that's left is a boring veg or two and maybe some potatoes or plain rice. Not so with an Indian feast where meat/fish is never the be-all and end-all. Besides the shrimp in banana leaf I was also serving 7 other dishes and 2 desserts! Needless to say my guests may have gone home disappointed that they didn't get to enjoy a very pretty looking shrimp dish, but they didn't go home hungry.
One of the big hits of the evening was a very simple and easily made ahead (a great reason to serve it) green bean dish.
This recipe is usually made with Chinese long beans, coconut and peanut powder, but regular old string beans work just as well. It's the sort of dish that makes all the green bean haters at the table relent and finally give that vegetable some props. Plus it's easily put together and travels like a dream. It saved my ass the night of that dinner and goes a long way toward proving the point to carnivores that a perfectly delicious meal can be made without any meat or fish in sight.
Indian Green Beans
Here's what to do:Cut about 3/4 of a pound of string beans into small 1/2 inch pieces.
In a skillet or kadhai heat:
2 tbs of vegetable oil
When the oil is hot toss in:
1/2 tsp of brown mustard seeds
When the mustard seeds start to pop, add in the green beans.
Then add in:
1 tsp of seeded chopped fresh serrano chili
1/2 tsp of salt
1/2 tsp of sugar
1/4 cup of peanut powder ( to make peanut powder at home, dry roast plain peanuts and then grind them in a blender or spice grinder)
1/2 cup of grated unsweetened coconut.
Serve it up at room temperature.
Coming up next, a mixture of vegetables and rice that looks like a mosaic in the making. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori