Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Vadouvan, Custom Blended Especially For You

    A couple of years ago on my birthday Alan took me to Strange Invisible Perfumes in Venice (that's California not Italy) and had a custom perfume made for me. Now I'm not a real perfume kind of person. I like clean. I like citrus. I like subtle. I was so glad when the disco days of White Musk were behind me, and don't get me started on Patchouli. I'm totally down with John Cusack on that.
Get Your Patchouli Stink Outta My Store
   But there was something really special about having something made just for me. It's kind of the way I feel about a lot of stuff. It's why I started getting into making as many things as I can from scratch. The custom touch. It's what those tony British banker guys are always talking about when  they mention bespoke suits and bench made shoes. Well, I thought, what about some bespoke spices? Custom made just for me. Of course I was going to have to make them, but what the hey.., that's what I do, right?
   One of the basics in any sort of cooking is spices, and Indian cooking uses a lot of them. Spices and spice blends. Curries and masalas. Panch purans and chaunks. Anyone wanting to cook Indian quickly learns that curry powder out of a box does not a curry make, and every good Indian cook has their own special blend of spices. It's similar to the "gravy" found in Italian American homes. Everybody's family has their own special way of making it.
   After toasting and grinding spices for Indian food for the last 21 years, I thought I'd pretty much seen it all. And then I met Vadouvan. If I hadn't taken on the challenge of attempting to add an Indian twist to Workman Publishings' Bastille Day Celebration of Richard Grausmans' French Classics Made Easy I never would have heard of Vadouvan.
  So just what is this mysterious Vadouvan? In doing my research into the connection between Indian and French cuisine, I discovered a spice blend that found it's way back to Europe from the Subcontinent. Unlike the curry powder that the Brits took away, the French came up with a chunky blend of onions, shallots, leeks and assorted roasted, toasted, ground spices. But that's where the specifics end, because Vadouvan can be customized and tailored to one's individual taste. Pinning down one basic recipe is pretty nearly impossible.

Indian Vadouvan Watercress Soup

So here's how made my vadouvan:
 Chop  up:
  3 onions
  3 leeks
  12 shallots
 Drizzle them well with olive oil.
 Spread them onto a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet.
 Roast them in a 350 degree oven for about 1 and 1/2 hours.
Stir them around occasionally so nothing sticks and burns. When they're nice and caramelized, take them out.
  Meanwhile while all that's going on, dry toast in a skillet:
   1 Tbs of urid dal
   1 T of coriander
   2 T of cumin
   10 curry leaves
   1 tsp of ground cinnamon
   1 tsp of turmeric
   2 dried red chili peppers
   4 tsp of mustard seeds
   1/4 tsp of ground cloves
 After the spices are toasted, put everything into a spice grinder or blender and whirl it into powder.
Mix the ground spices into the caramelized onions etc.
When the mixture is blended, give it a taste. Add in a bit of light brown sugar, 1 tsp at a time until the spice mix has a nice, hot, spicy, blend with a sweet finish. Or not. You may like it just as it is, or want to put in some salt. You may choose to add garlic cloves to the onion mix or leave out the leeks. It's up to you. It's that kind of recipe. Vadouvan keeps for a month in the fridge in a nice tight jar. In the freezer it will last 6 months.
   But now the big question. You have your vadouvan, what to do with it?  Well, it can be added to sauces a tablespoon or teaspoon at a time. It can be put into dips or soups, and it can also be put into what goes into soups. Which is exactly what I did with it.
   I took Richard Grausman's  recipe for French Watercress Soup which you can find here.
I decided to make a sirkhand out of plain yogurt.  (Take a cup of yogurt and place it in a yogurt strainer suspended over a glass. Let it drain for at least 4 hours, or until it's slightly thickened.)
  You may also use thickened Greek style yogurt.
  Whip the sirkhand until it's creamy and add in a nice dollop of vadouvan. Swirl a tablespoon of this mixture into each serving of soup.
 That's it. You're done. You've added Indian flavors to a French classic.
 So there it is, a simple spice that you can put your own personal imprint on. Have fun. Coming up next Green Beans perfect for a Summer lunch. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori


  1. I love this fusion recipe, Kathy. And the spice mix look so flavorful. Caramelized onions..Mmm..this recipe is to treasure.

  2. As always brilliant writing & great photos illustrating how simple & flexible Indian cuisine can be!
    I've been doing some 'fusion' inspired experiments myself to introduce my Indian family to my culture a little bit.
    How does a Sonoma county inspired 'garam masala' with lavender sound?

  3. Wow, I have never heard of this - Indian cuisine and its influences are really endless ...

  4. @Trix,
    I hadn't either but am so glad I found out about it! Thinking of doing a dip with it that crosses the line into American finger food

  5. @Bibi,
    that sounds great..I was just picking some of my lavender today..let me know if you do this, I'd love to try it

  6. @Sanjeeta kk,
    I love the fact that one can tailor it to what is exactly needed.
    Indian cuisine is truly amazing

  7. Oh.mygod...
    a. I still love patchouli and even grow it so shut up.
    b. How cool Alan got you custom made parfume (love perfume that smells fresh)
    c. You made me want to make Vadouvan.

  8. @Janis..
    a) Patchouli never did it for me..I was a Yardley Lemon Girl actually I probably smelled like Joy Dish Liquid
    b.) yes..i am not a perfume wearer but when I do..I want it to be special..sort of like the Dos XX guy
    c.) you've got to, put your spin on to see what you do with it



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