“When I came to New Orleans in the ’60s, I didn’t know how to cook anything. I actually learned to cook while I was living in New York, that’s when I got into this Asian cooking. How I got interested, that goes further back to when I used to go to England, before I came to America. I really liked the Indian food there, and then I met my wife who is from England, and we were going out to a lot of curry restaurants.
I’ve been cooking Asian food for over 20 years. The technique is very important when you cook Asian food. Everything has to be in the right order; you have to cook onions to a certain degree that I did not know about before. Also, certain ingredients like fresh curry leaves. Fortunately, I have a next-door neighbor who has a curry plant in his yard! I had a curry plant too before Katrina, but the plant died and the guy next door said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to plant one.’ And they are much better gardeners than I am anyway. He got the plant going and it’s becoming like a tree. So any time I need a few curry leaves, I just go over there and snap a branch off.
You use the curry leaves when you first put your oil in the pan. Heat the oil up and throw the curry leaves in there and this incredible aroma comes out of the pot. The curry leaves favor the oil. You don’t actually eat the curry leaves; they’re like bay leaves. It’s the same with the whole spices, cumin seeds or whatever you use; you fry them in oil also and they favor the oil, which then favors everything else in the dish. Those are the things that I’ve learned. And it’s made a big difference in my curries.
Most Indian chefs don’t use curry powders. They mix their own because each recipe has a different mixture. Most of the things I cook, I don’t use curry powder. I just mix cumin, coriander, turmeric, whole cinnamon and cardamom.
I cook some Burmese and Thai dishes. I make my own green curry paste with cilantro, and dried shrimp paste, and my own red curry paste—but I’m not really an expert on that. It takes a long time to make, but then you can keep it in your fridge forever. You make sure there’s no air in it; you knock it down and pour oil on top. That seals it. And each time you use it you reseal it again with more oil. I don’t cook Vietnamese food, because we have such good Vietnamese restaurants here and they’re so cheap, I don’t see any reason to cook it. That’s some of my favorite food in New Orleans.
When you’re cooking Indian food, chopping and cooking the onions takes up the most time. Once it gets cooking, then you don’t have to watch it so much, but the early preparation takes a lot of time. You have to watch it so you’ll be standing there. But it’s fun. I just put some music on. I enjoy it.
I started cooking New Orleans food when I was up in New York. I got some of Paul Prudhomme’s cookbooks. I lived in New Orleans in the French Quarter from 1965 to 1979 and then I moved to New York. I started cooking jambalaya. The reason I cooked it in New York was because I wasn’t in New Orleans—I could not get it, you know. But since I moved back here, I have not cooked gumbo because that’s an elaborate thing to cook. I guess Indian food is elaborate too, it’s true, it is, but I’d rather learn more about the Asian cooking. I’m going to try some other Asian things now, I’ve decided. I’m going to go with that, because that’s a lot of fun. I’d like to try some different lentil dishes, black-eyed peas with mushrooms, vegetable dishes I haven’t tried, and I’d like to try a korma, I’ve never cooked a korma, it’s a cream-based curry dish. Shrimps in coconut milk with chilies and curry leaves—that sounds great, too. Sesame seed lamb chops, I tried that the other day. It came out really good. You make a marinade with yoghurt and lemon rind and the meat becomes very tender, you tenderize meat with yoghurt. I was amazed. And here’s a recipe for lamb kabobs. I can’t wait to try that. Meatballs! In creamy cashew nut sauce. I would rather do those than the Swedish meatballs because I like a little more spice.
Learning about Indian cooking, I’ve had a few fops. You can’t do what you do in some European type of food, where you add spices at the end. You can’t do that in curries. That’s a total fop, then. Dried spices have to be fried in the early process. Otherwise, the dish doesn’t taste right. Also, you don’t want too much liquid, that can become a fop, too. And don’t worry about using too much oil because you can always take it off at the end. But if you don’t use enough, then the food doesn’t come out right. Because it’s the oil that favors all the food.”
Madras Chicken à la Lars
Edegran fnds his dried spices at International Market in Metairie.
4 tablespoons vegetable oil (or more)
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
10-15 fresh curry leaves
2 big onions, finely diced
1/2 head fresh garlic, minced
1 thumb-size piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
6 tablespoons madras hot curry powder (Rajah brand)
1 teaspoon hot chili powder or cayenne (optional)
6 lb chicken drumsticks
2 (15-ounce) cans tomato sauce
Pour oil into a deep frying pan. Add cumin seeds. Heat until seeds start to pop. Add curry leaves. Cover immediately and lower heat. After 30 seconds, uncover and add onion. Cook onion down until brown (not black) over low heat for about 30 minutes, adding garlic and ginger about halfway. Then, add curry (and chili) powder, adding a little hot water if food sticks to the pan. Add chicken and brown on both sides. Transfer chicken to a large casserole dish. Add tomato sauce to what is left in pan. Bring to a simmer. Pour sauce over chicken and bake in the oven, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, and then at 300 degrees for 90 minutes. Turn chicken pieces over at some point. Serve with basmati rice.