Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dinner and A Movie: Monsoon Wedding

Chicken Tikka

I am a day late with this, but sometimes you just have to let go. I was nursing myself (again!) all day yesterday and simply couldn't do the write-up. A shame, really, because I could have had this ready to go, but as so many things this June so far, it simply didn't get done...

But, without further ado: Dinner and a Movie is the brainchild of Susan at
stickygooeycreamychewy, and Marc of no recipes, and is an event that combines two major indulgences: watching a film and eating a meal inspired by it. This time, the event was hosted by Marc, and the chosen film was Monsoon Wedding. (I think Marc is getting himself a bit of a name here, having chosen a film with a wedding as its theme for the second time running!!)

I hadn't seen this film before, or even heard of it, and I loved it. It's a feast for the eyes in vibrant orange, and I'm not just talking about the abundance of marigolds!

Director Mira Nair, whose debut film was Salaam Bombay!, set her tale of chaotic wedding preparations in New Delhi just before the start of the monsoon season.

The groom,
Hemant Rai, is an Indian who flies in from Texas, and other family members also arrive from distant places like Australia to attend the wedding of Aditi to this man she has known for only a few weeks. Her father, Lalit Verma, is trying to arrange the enormous and expensive wedding with the help of an increasingly more frantic and frazzled wedding organiser.
In the relentless summer heat, five intersecting tales unfold, revealing secrets and hopes, and the crossing of boundaries, not only of continents, but also of class and morality. So when it finally comes, as it must, the heavy monsoon rainfall is a cathartic downpour indeed.

For the best dance scenes, see here, the night before the wedding.

As a linguist, I was particularly fascinated by the use of
'na' in place of the usual English tags such as, "isn't it" (or 'new' English: "innit"), and even 'nee, nee, nee' (pron.: ~ nay) for "no, no, no", both of which sounded extremely 'homely', as those are linguistic features of the region in Germany where I come from - the Ruhrgebiet.

But let's come to the culinary creations inspired by the film! My feeling is that Marc would like us all to think a bit outside the box, in other words, not to be quite so linear and obvious. (He must have been very pleased with Kris's sorbet , prompted by the seduction scene in
The Wedding Crashers...)

In this instance, we should probably have thought of something representing the monsoon rain, or matching up two ingredients that 'don't know each other', as in an arranged marriage, or at least something that represents the clashes of old and new, of cultures, of continents.
But I'm afraid, I'm a predictable Pavlovian dog; one twang from a sitar, and I'm salivating for
Turmeric, Coriander and Green Chillies...

Mira Nair's background is Punjabi culture, and the main
masala (= the mixture of dried/dry-roasted spices, or a paste, combining spices and other ingredients) in a Punjabi dish consists of onion, garlic and ginger. In fact, a lot of the most popular elements of current Anglo-Indian cuisine derive from the Punjab:

Chicken Tikka
Rogan Josh
Tandoori Chicken
Tandoori Fish
Keema Naans

A tandoor is a clay oven the shape of a horizontally sliced pot, so tandoori food is hard to replicate. We have tried before, with the help of a marinade made from ready mix tandoori masala powder and yoghurt, which is nice but only an approximation. I have recently come across a recipe which I might give a go soon, and I'm toying with the idea of making naan bread more authentically by sticking it to the sides of my German clay pot (Roemertopf), but for the time being, on this occasion, I've stuck to Chicken Tikka.

Not only because because it's more orange than tandoori chicken, or because it's easier, and tried and tested. No. The perfect reason is the fact that Chicken Tikka is the starting point for Chicken Tikka Masala: a
hybrid dish (1), which has not only marched to the top but beyond. According to wikipedia, one in seven curries sold in the UK is chicken tikka masala. It is also widely regarded as Britain's National Dish now, and has produced other interesting off-shoots. In the UK, you can find chicken tikka in sandwiches and baguettes, on pizza, or on tagliatelle. For all I know, Blumenthal does a Chicken Tikka ice-cream or granita. Oh yes, cross-cultural merging and melting of cultures indeed.

I won't say: and this is how you do it, for obvious reasons. This is the easiest way:

chicken breasts, cut into cubes
plain yoghurt
Patak's Tikka Masala Curry paste (there is a mild version or a medium one)*

Mix yoghurt and paste in equal proportions. You need enough to cover the chicken pieces completely.
Leave to marinate overnight.

* You can also buy Tikka Masala powder, or if you want to make your own spice mixture, try the following:

Tikka Masala

1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp garam masala (see below)

You may also add some lemon juice and tomato puree.

The next day, thread the meat on to skewers and grill for about 6 minutes on each side, or longer depending how 'charcoaled' you like it.

After that, it's up to you how you want your chicken tikka. You can eat it just like that, hot or cold, with a salad and maybe a yoghurt raita. You can mix the chicken pieces with mayonnaise for tomorrow's sandwiches.
If you want a curry sauce to go with your meat, you could do the following:

Start with oil, and fry onions and garlic. Later, you add ginger, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, paprika, 3 green chillies (if you like it hot), or you could use more of the Patak's curry paste. Then add either passata, or tinned tomatoes and stock. You can also add yoghurt or cream, plus salt if needed.
Garam masala is again a key ingredient.

According to
Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible, there are hundreds of recipes, probably a different one in every family. In the UK, you can easily obtain bags of garam masala, alternatively, it can be ground if you have the following ingredients and a coffee or spice grinder:

Garam masala, for 3 tablespoons:

1 tbsp cardamom seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp black cumin seeds
1/3 of a nutmeg
a medium stick of cinnamon, 2-3 inches, broken up

Grind as finely as possible and store in a tightly lidded jar. (Cf, p. 327, op.cit.)

I decided to serve mine in a curry sauce on Salmon Tagliatelle (Taglione al salmone)!

Here is the round-up by Marc:

And here are some bits and pieces I have found on Punjabi Wedding Traditions.

Apparently, crude teasing songs are part of the celebrations, and incense is used liberally. Henna designs (
mendhi) are painted - most ladies get it done only on their hands but the bride gets it done on both hands and feet.
Before departing for her husband's home, the bride must tap her unwed female friends or cousins with her
kaliras. Kaliras are silver, gold or gold plated traditional ornaments that are tied to a set of red and cream ivory bangles (chuddha) which are touched by all present to signify their blessings and good wishes for the bride. According to tradition, if any of the kaliras fall on her friends' heads, it is believed that those friends will marry next.
Vidaai marks the departure of the bride from her parental house. As a custom, the bride throws phulian or puffed rice over her head. The ritual conveys her good wishes for her parents. Her brothers accompany the bride, and her other relatives throw coins in the wake of this procession.
(1) Madhur Jaffrey says, the idea of folding the grilled cubes into a curry sauce was most likely developed by Indian restaurateurs in the UK; wikipedia states it was invented in the 1960s in a Bangladeshi London restaurant, but they concede that this is hotly disputed, meaning that there are probably thousands of places which claim to be the original inventors .


Cakelaw said...

I adore chicken tikka, and this looks like an especially good one Zabeena - yum!

Anonymous said...

I am a huge fan of CTM--I even make one myself that I think is pretty darned good. I love your listings of variations--on sandwiches, on a pizza--opens up a world of possibilities. I love the way you presented yours on pasta. I have rice pasta--that might be a thought.... :)

werner from said...

Fantastic Idea! Watching a movie and eating a meal inspired by it. :-) Will have to do some more planning for my movie nights.