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The Journal Gazette

  • Turmeric and dill give life to this Rice Vermicelli With Dill and Green Chiles.

  • Photos by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post Honey-Chili Tuna With Mango Salsa is best when the tuna is cooked no further than medium-rare.

  • Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post Korma Sauce. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017 1:00 am

Recipe proves Indian doesn't have to be hard

Bonnie S. Benwick | Washington Post

In maintaining the integrity of its dishes, a restaurant cookbook can thumb its nose at the audience most eager to receive it. Put in terms a fan of Rasika will understand: Chef Vikram Sunderam has at long last published his recipe for palak chaat. It's the saucy, complex heap of crispy fried spinach that has dazzled Washington, D.C., diners since the elegant Indian restaurant opened in 2005.

But how many of us will opt for obtaining deggi mirch, an Indian chile powder blend; toasting the cumin seeds; making a base chutney and two sauces; and then maintaining a pot of 400-degree oil for batch after batch?

Washington chef-turned-writer David Hagedorn kept that in mind when he signed on to co-author the new “Rasika: Flavors of India” with restaurateur Ashok Bajaj and Sunderam. The Bombay (now Mumbai)-born executive chef has earned accolades and a coveted four stars for interpreting his cuisine with modern flair. The cookbook project took three years.

“Restaurant cookbooks can be intimidating,” said Hagedorn, who writes occasionally for The Washington Post. “What I discovered was that these recipes are not all difficult. Their techniques are not difficult. Sure, you have to prep, as you would for Chinese cooking ... It's a lot of cutting and dicing. A different way of cooking than most American cooks know.”

Korma Sauce

This yogurt and cashew-paste sauce is the versatile base of several dishes.

Make ahead: Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 1 month.

2 medium yellow onions, diced (2 cups)

3 cups water

1 cup unsalted, chopped cashews

1 cup whole-milk plain yogurt

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons homemade or store-bought ginger-garlic paste (see note)

Combine the onions and water in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onions have softened.

Transfer the onions and their cooking water to a blender. Remove the center knob of the lid so steam can escape. Add the cashews and puree until smooth for at least 1 minute, starting on a low speed and gradually increasing to high. Pour into a bowl, then stir in the yogurt.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the ginger-garlic paste and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly, then stir in the yogurt mixture. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring often; about halfway through, the mixture will begin to sputter so keep an eye on it, and keep stirring to avoid scorching, to form a thickened sauce.

The korma sauce is ready to use, or cool completely before storing.

Note: To make about 2 cups of ginger-garlic paste, combine 1/2 cup chopped (unpeeled) fresh ginger root, 8 ounces (11/2 cups) garlic cloves and 3/4 cup water in a blender; puree on high until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container; seal and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Makes 41/2 servings.

– Adapted from “Rasika: Flavors of India,” by Ashok Bajaj and Vikram Sunderam, with David Hagedorn (Ecco, October 2017)

Honey-Chili Tuna With Mango Salsa

This main dish, which appeared on the original menu at Rasika West End and is still featured there occasionally, is light and colorful. Make sure to get the oil very hot so just the outside of the fish sears quickly, keeping its interior a lovely medium-rare.

Make ahead: Tuna slices need to marinate in the sauce for 30 minutes before serving.

Canned mango pulp in syrup, rather than fresh or frozen mango, is best for this recipe.

For the tuna:

11/2 pounds good-quality raw tuna (in one or two pieces)

1/4 cup honey

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup canola oil

Chopped cilantro, for garnish

For the salsa:

3/4 cup canned Alphonso mango pulp, such as Deep brand (see headnote)

1/4 cup minced red onion

1 tablespoon minced red bell pepper (seeded)

1 tablespoon minced cilantro

1/2 teaspoon minced Thai green chile pepper (seeded)

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the tuna: Cut the fillet(s) into 12 equal pieces that are about 1/2-inch thick (about 2 ounces each).

Whisk together the honey, crushed red pepper flakes, ginger-garlic paste, lemon juice and salt in a glass bowl, then add the tuna and toss to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the salsa: Stir together the mango pulp, red onion, bell pepper, cilantro, Thai chile pepper, lemon juice and salt in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

When ready to assemble, heat the oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Once the oil shimmers, lay the tuna in the pan, discarding marinade. Cook long enough for a thin layer of the bottom sides of the tuna slices to turn white, then transfer to a platter.

To serve, stack 3 tuna slices on each plate so they alternate short and long. Spoon about 1/4 cup of the salsa over each portion, then top with the chopped cilantro. Serve right away.

Makes 4 servings.

– Adapted from “Rasika: Flavors of India,” by Ashok Bajaj and Vikram Sunderam, with David Hagedorn (Ecco, October 2017)

Rice Vermicelli With Dill and Green Chiles

Turmeric and fresh dill add vibrancy to this light accompaniment for a signature Rasika cod dish. You'll find it goes well with other main courses as well.

Make ahead: The vermicelli can be refrigerated a day in advance; cover and reheat in the microwave.

8 ounces dried rice vermicelli noodles

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon minced green Thai chile pepper (seeded)

1 teaspoon peeled minced fresh ginger root

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high. Remove from heat and stir in the rice vermicelli, making sure it's all submerged. Let sit for 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Then drain, return them to the pan and cover.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the butter sizzles, reduce the heat to medium-low; add the green Thai chile pepper, ginger, turmeric and salt, stirring to incorporate. Cook for 30 seconds, then stir in the cooked vermicelli. Turn off the heat, then fold in dill.

Serve warm. Makes 8 servings.

– Adapted from “Rasika: Flavors of India,” by Ashok Bajaj and Vikram Sunderam, with David Hagedorn (Ecco, October 2017)