We all mistakes in the kitchen, even those of us who’ve been cooking ten years or longer. My mistakes are all documented here on the blog: The Pound Cake That Threw Up. The Fried Chicken That Wasn’t Crispy. The Blueberry Disaster.
In all of these cases, the food was salvageable. The pound cake went back into the oven, the chicken was edible if not exactly crunchy, and the blueberry innards tasted OK over ice cream. But last week I made a dinner so repulsive, so awful, it could only go one place: the garbage disposal. Here’s what happened.
In our new apartment, we live very close to one of L.A.’s best Indian markets, India Sweets & Spices.
On this particular evening, I decided to make a chickpea curry, something that I like to do on a pretty regular basis. But instead of using just my usual ingredients, I decided to shake things up with a panoply of interesting spices and condiments and, my favorite Indian secret, fresh curry leaves. Here’s what I came home with:
That’s (clockwise from top left) coconut oil, black cardamom, mango pickle, coconut milk, coriander seeds, fresh ginger, black cumin and fresh curry leaves. For this particular post, we’ll want to pay attention to the black cardamom and the black cumin.
See, I didn’t know much about them but I’m pretty sure they’re mentioned in Daniel Boulud’s Braising book. “Oooh,” I thought to myself, “this isn’t just regular cumin, it’s BLACK cumin.” And: “Oooh, this isn’t just regular cardamom, it’s BLACK cardamom.”
When it was time to make my curry, I started by toasting my spices.
That’s coriander, mustard seeds, a few pequin chiles and the black cumin. (The black cardamom was already ground up.) I ground these spices in my spice grinder and set them aside.
Then I heated the coconut oil, and when it was hot added the curry leaves plus the stem, just like Asha Gomez taught me.
To that, I added a chopped onion:
Then lots of ginger:
Then all my spices:
And, finally, when the tomatoes broke down a little, a can of coconut milk.
I let that perc away for a while and after 20 minutes or so, I tasted.
Cue: the final scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark when that guy’s face melts. Not because it was hot or spicy or mouth-scorching in anyway; because it was powerfully, mind-alteringly disgusting.
Here’s a video of Craig trying it:
“It tastes like ash…not ass as in butt, but ash as in embers.”
That’s pretty much exactly right. It tasted like soot, like the stuff left over in a fireplace after you burn a pile of already burnt stuff. When we used to go to EPCOT, as children, we’d ride Spaceship Earth and they’d pump in this artificial fire smell when you rode through the burning of the library at Alexandria. It tasted like that.
And so it was that my authentic, Indian dinner ended with an inauthentic, Mexican meal down the street.
Black cardamom and black cumin? You are not my friends.